Tusk, Mogherini appointed to top European offices. What next?

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The European Council appointed Polish prime minister Donald Tusk as Council president and nominated Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini as its new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.Italy Flag IconEuropean_UnionPoland_Flag_Icon

The appointments of both Mogherini and Tusk were widely expected in the days and hours leading up to today’s EU summit.

Tusk (pictured above, left, with his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy), age 57, was first elected prime minister in 2007 and reelected in 2011 as the leader of the center-right Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), each time defeating the more conservative, nationalist Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice). Essentially a moderate liberal and European federalist, Tusk has governed Poland for seven of the 10 years during which it’s been a member of the European Union. His elevation to the Council presidency marks the first time that a central or eastern European has held a top EU office, and it reflects Poland’s growing clout as one of the engines of the European Union.

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Mogherini (pictured above, right, with her predecessor, Baroness Catherine Ashton), age 41, only recently became Italy’s foreign minister in February, when prime minister Matteo Renzi maneuvered his way into the premiership. Though some Baltic and eastern European leaders doubted her level of experience and questioned whether she might be too sympathetic to Russia, she’s received strong marks in her six months as Italy’s foreign minister, marking her as a rising star in the new generation of leaders in Renzi’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).

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RELATED: Who is Federica Mogherini?

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Together with Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister, who was nominated by the Council in June as the president of the European Commission, the EU’s chief executive and regulatory body, Tusk and Mogherini will be responsible for setting EU policy through 2019.

The Council presidency was created by the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into effect only in 2009. Before Lisbon, the Council president was simply the leader of the country that held the six-month rotating Council presidency. Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister, served as the inaugural Council president. Upon the Council’s decision today, Tusk will begin his first term of 2.5 years in December, with the option for reappointment to a second term of 2.5 years.

The high representative role existed prior to the Lisbon Treaty, but it was greatly expanded when Ashton, a former Labour member of the House of Lords, was appointed to the role in 2009. Technically, Mogherini will serve as Italy’s representative on the European Commission and, accordingly, her term will run for five years and is  subject to the approval of the European parliament. 

Given their different backgrounds, Tusk and Mogherini were viewed as a complementary team. Eastern and central Europeans are delighted to see Tusk, a relatively hawkish voice on Russia, elevated to the Council presidency. Meanwhile, Mogherini brings gender diversity to the Commission, and she will join Martin Schulz, a German social democrat, as the chief voice of the center-left at the top of the EU policymaking apparatus.

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RELATED: Forecasting the EU power summit, part 1
Europe’s next high representative

RELATED: Forecasting the EU power summit, part 2
Europe’s next council president

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But what does it mean for the next five years of European policy? Continue reading

Forecasting the EU power summit, part 2: Europe’s next Council president

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When the European Council meets on Saturday for a summit of all 28 leaders within the European Union, it will not only choose a new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, but also a new president of the European Council.European_Union

It’s still very much a new role within the matrix of EU power — it was created only in 2007 as part of the Treaty of Lisbon, and Herman Van Rompuy, a former liberal Belgian prime minister, was selected in 2009 to take the role when the Lisbon Treaty came into effect.

For a position that had been, perhaps too optimistically described as the ‘presidency of Europe,’ Van Rompuy has hardly been the European Union’s George Washington. For more than three decades, the ‘president’ of the European Council, which is really just the collection of all 28 EU leaders, was the head of state or government of the country that held the six-month rotating Council presidency. That Council presidency still rotates (Italy is currently heading the Council), but the Lisbon Treaty created a full-time figure who could fill up to two 2.5-year terms to direct Council and EU policy.

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RELATED: Forecasting the  EU power summit, part 1:
Europe’s next high representative

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But it hasn’t exactly been clear when the power of the European Commission, the chief executive and administrative body of the European Union, ends and the European Council presidency’s power begins. Often in the past five years, the roles of Van Rompuy and outgoing Commission president José Manuel Barroso, a former conservative Portuguese prime minister, have blurred.

Defining those lines will certainly be one of the most vital institutional issues that incoming Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, a former Christian democratic prime minister of Luxembourg,  and his Council counterpart, will determine in the next five years.

Even in the past 24 hours, news reports give the young Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini an even greater edge to become Europe’s next high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, seemingly eclipsing the chances of Polish prime minister Radek Sikorski and Bulgarian European commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.

But it’s clear that the Council presidency role will follow from two factors — first, the June decision to appoint Juncker as the Commission president and, second, the decision in the next 36 hours over Europe’s foreign policy supremo.

If it’s Mogherini, as expected, the conventional wisdom is that, as Mogherini is a center-left, Italian woman, the Council presidency must go to an official from Central and Eastern Europe. That points to Polish prime minister Donald Tusk (pictured above) as the wide frontrunner for the Council presidency. If, for some reason, Tusk turns down the idea of moving from Warsaw to Brussels, former Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis,  former Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip or former Finnish prime minister Jykri Katainen, all of whom are already candidates to serve as their respective countries’ commissioners in Brussels, are ready alternatives. 

If it’s Sikorski, which now seems less and less likely, the conventional wisdom is that a center-right Polish official will require the balance of a center-left woman. The frontrunner would then be Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

If it’s the dark-horse candidate, Georgieva, a Bulgarian and the current European  commissioner for humanitarian aid, there won’t be incredible pressure to appoint a woman as Council president, but there will be pressure to appoint a center-left official, which still favors Thorning-Schmidt. Nevertheless, a surprise choice like Georgieva for foreign policy could open deliberations to truly dark-horse candidates, including liberals like Ansip or former Commission presidential candidate and former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt. 

Tusk, therefore, remains the frontrunner.  Continue reading

Forecasting the EU power summit, part 1: Europe’s next high representative

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With the European parliamentary elections finished on May 25, and the emergence of former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker as the president of the European Council nearly a month later, the next two pieces of EU governance will be determined at a summit of all 28 leaders of the European Union on Saturday.European_Union

The EU leaders, who together comprise the membership of the European Council, will meet at a summit on August 30 that is expected to determine outgoing Council president Herman van Rompuy’s successor, an office created under the Treaty of Lisbon that went into effect in 2009. 

They are also expected to appoint a candidate to succeed Catherine Ashton as high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, as well as informally consider which European Commission will hold which portfolios, though those decisions are unlikely to be announced until later in the autumn. 

It’s easiest to think about the two offices sequentially — first high representative, then Council president. That’s because there are just two major candidates viewed as credible possibilities for the EU foreign policy role – Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini and Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski — with a third, dark-horse candidate in Kristalina Georgieva, an economist and Bulgaria’s current commissioner, responsible for humanitarian aid and international cooperation.

The choices for the European Council presidency will  follow from the choice of high representative, and from the decision to name Juncker, a center-right federalist from Western Europe, as Commission president. (More on the Council presidency will follow in part 2).

From the available public reports, Mogherini (pictured aboveappears to be the slight favorite for the role. Continue reading

Afghanistan’s election becomes a farce — and a US policy disaster

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It’s hard, exactly, to pinpoint the exact moment when Afghanistan’s presidential election became a complete absurdity.afghanistan flag

With a US-brokered audit process of the election already behind schedule, and with outgoing president Hamid Karzai declaring September 2 as the swearing-in day for the country’s next leader, the election process suffered yet another blow on Wednesday when Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and the winner of the election’s first round, angrily pulled out of a UN-led audit process that’s designed to validate the results of Afghanistan’s June presidential election. 

As next week’s deadline approaches and the United Nations continues the vote audit, Abdullah is expected to meet with his rival, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (pictured above, center, with Kerry, left, and Abdullah, right) as well as US officials who are desperate to bring the two candidates into a national unity government.

Despite the last-minute talks, it’s hard to think of a recent national election that has been so thoroughly botched — with such dire consequences for the country’s future.  

In 2014 alone, Egypt and Syria held non-credible presidential votes and parliamentary elections in Iraq and Libya were overshadowed by the breakdown of any semblance of national order. 

It’s been a difficult summer for US president Barack Obama and US foreign policy interests – the ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia threaten Europe’s security, the rise of the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL) in Sunni Iraq and Syria goaded US military strikes in retaliation, and Israel’s summer war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip destroyed two years of efforts by US secretary of state John Kerry to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. 

But Afghanistan’s growing political and security crisis represents a fourth major foreign policy headache for Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration.

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RELATED: Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

RELATED: Is Ghani’s Afghan preliminary electoral victory a fraud?

RELATED: Will Kerry’s deal with Afghanistan’s
presidential contenders work?

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Though the audit is only slightly more than two-thirds complete, a premature inauguration of either candidate next week could splinter Afghanistan on ethnic lines, giving the next presidential administration virtually no hope of uniting a country already struggling to combat a Taliban-led insurgency.

Months of post-election accusations between the Ghani and Abdullah camps have polarized Afghanistan more than ever. What’s so staggering is that Afghanistan’s election season started off on such promising terms.  Continue reading

Can Abdullah Gül save Turkish democracy?

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On Thursday, Abdullah Gül, Turkey’s last indirectly elected president, will leave office after seven years.Turkey

Officially, he’ll have no role in either Turkey’s government or in the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) that his successor, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leads and that Gül himself co-founded with Erdoğan in 2001. 

Erdoğan’s victory in Turkey’s first direct presidential election on August 11 cleared the way for his plans to transform Turkey’s government into a presidential system, the culmination of years of gradual centralization since Erdoğan first became Turkey’s prime minister in 2003

Though Erdoğan will officially step down from any formal party and political role, he has made clear that he expects, unofficially, to direct both party and policy from his new perch at Çankaya Köşkü, the Turkish presidential palace, as the powerful leader of what he calls the ‘new Turkey.’ He’ll do so at first as a de facto leader. Late last week, the AKP chose Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister since 2009, as its new AKP leader and, accordingly, Turkey’s new prime minister. In that role, Davutoğlu is widely expected to follow Erdoğan’s lead in governing Turkey. 

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RELATED: Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

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That leaves Gül, perhaps the only figure in the AKP more popular than Erdoğan, as one of the few people in Turkey who have enough political strength to stand up to his successor. 

A year ago, the conventional wisdom was that Gül would trade places with Erdoğan and become prime minister, an office that Gül held briefly during the first four months of the AKP’s government. When the Islamists first won the 2002 elections, Erdoğan was still subject to a ban on his involvement in politics that the new government soon lifted. When Erdoğan subsequently became eligible for the premiership, Gül became Turkey’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, launching Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union in 2005 and asserting a greater Turkish presence in the Middle East. 

Despite some controversy over the rise of an Islamist to the Turkish presidency, Gül easily won the vote in Turkey’s National Assembly in 2007. As head of state, Gül generally observed presidential impartiality, though he courted controversy when he became the first Turkish president to visit Armenia and condemned Israel after it attacked an aid flotilla destined for Gaza in 2010.

But Gül also chided Erdoğan’s response to 2012 protests, which began over plans to build a new mosque in place of Gezi Park in downtown Istanbul and grew to encompass the growing authoritarian manner of Erdoğan’s government. In particular, Gül directly criticized police forces for the brutality deployed against largely peaceful protesters. Gül further argued that democracy requires liberal freedoms and the rule of law, comments that further distanced Gül from Erdoğan. Gül also strongly resisted Erdoğan’s short-lived attempt to restrict Turkish access to Twitter in the prelude to March’s local elections. 

Despite Erdoğan’s presidential victory, Turkey remains polarized over his leadership. Critics argue that Turkey is moving away from European-style democracy toward a more centralized style more reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s rule in Russia. Though many moderates and secular Turks welcomed Erdoğan’s rise over a decade ago, when he effectively thwarted the corrupt secular leadership that ruled in tandem with a coup-prone military that routinely harassed political Islamists. But they increasingly worry that Erdoğan is so completely consolidating power that he’s becoming an arguably larger threat to Turkish democracy.

Gül has indicated his disapproval of Erdoğan’s plans and, in his farewell address as president, Gül pointedly defended his impartiality, decried political polarization and otherwise emphasized and his commitment to the rule of law, press and personal freedoms, the impartiality and independence of the judiciary and a secular state balanced by the freedom of religion.

Continue reading

Macron, France’s new economy minister, angers French left

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One day after French prime minister Manuel Valls resigned, forcing French president François Hollande to invite Valls to form a new government, it’s not clear that the new cabinet is going to quell a growing revolt on Hollande’s left flank.France Flag Icon

Valls, less than five months into his tenure, took the dramatic step Monday after weekend comments from former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg criticizing his own government’s austerity measures that have aimed to reduced French debt and cut payroll taxes, in part, through spending cuts.

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RELATEDWho is Manuel Valls? Meet France’s new prime minister

RELATED: Valls-Montebourg fissure could bring early French elections

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Montebourg, along with allies like education minister Benôit Hamon, a rising star of the French left, and culture minister Aurélie Filippetti, were banished from the second Valls government, replaced by relatively minor figures deemed more loyal to Valls and Hollande.

Though everyone else in the government remained in government, from foreign minister Laurent Fabius to finance minister Michael Sapin to ecology and energy minister Ségolène Royal, Montebourg was replaced by the Hollande loyalist Emmanuel Macron, a 36-year-old ex-banker and graduate of France’s elite-producing school, the École nationale d’administration.

Macron’s appointment sends a message about the orthodox program of the next government, and it wasn’t particularly subtle. Le Monde called him the ‘liberal sauce’ of the government, and Le Figaro called him the ‘anti-Montebourg.’

After his graduation from ENA, Macron (pictured above) worked as a finance official in the French government for four years, then worked for four years for Rothschild in the private sector. When Hollande was elected, he became one of the new president’s top Elysée aides as deputy secretary general of the presidency, where he once exclaimed that Hollande’s push to institute a 75% income tax rate for millionaires made France equivalent to ‘Cuba, but without the sun.’

The Valls-Sapin-Macron axis in the new French government will assure the French business and investor class that Hollande is serious about a proposed €40 billion payroll tax cut and continued devotion to budget discipline, to the growing outrage of the French left.  

The best thing the left wing of Hollande’s Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) can say about the new cabinet is that Valls, at least, retained Christiane Taubira, a legislator from French Guiana who has served as minister of justice from the outset of the Hollande presidency, who pushed through perhaps the Hollande administration’s crowning social policy achievement in legalizing same-sex marriage last year, and who has often clashed brutally, if privately, with Valls, both as prime minister and when he previously served as interior minister, on economic policy as well as on her proposed prison reforms that would relax criminal penalties and eliminate mandatory sentencing for convicts.

There were other choices. Hollande and Valls might have convinced Martine Aubry, the runner-up to Hollande in the 2011 presidential contest and the author, as minister of social affairs in 2000, of the 35-hour workweek. After Montebourg, who routinely lambasted German chancellor Angela Merkel’s fiscal policy, told Indian steelmaker Lakshmi Mittal he wasn’t welcome to invest in France and who picked a fight with American tire producer Morry Taylor, Aubry’s presence in the cabinet might have been a win-win situation — replacing the mercurial Montebourg with a pillar of the French left.

Instead, Macron’s elevation is sure to accentuate the growing rift between the centrist and leftist wings of the Socialist Party, which could cause the government to fall later this year over the 2015 budget. That, in turn, could cause snap elections that the Socialists might lose altogether, ushering in another era of cohabitation, or divided government, with Hollande’s approval rating hovering between 17% and 20%. 

At the very least, the events of the last 48 hours potentially places Hollande in a difficult position — if Montebourg and the leftist rebels are strong enough, they can force Hollande and Valls either to accept their demands for a more growth-oriented budget this autumn or face a no-confidence vote. 

Amid high unemployment and a growth rate of just 0.1% in the last quarter, Hollande has struggled to implement policies to jumpstart GDP growth and economic activity. That’s left him open to criticism on the right and the left, including Montebourg, who on Saturday castigated Hollande’s administration for being held captive to Berlin — the last straw among the increasingly strident critiques from within his own government. 

What if Abkhazia held a presidential election and no one cared?

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Last Sunday, the breakaway Georgian republic of Abkhazia elected a new president.Russia Flag IconabkhaziaGeorgia Flag Icon

But Abkhazia’s new leader, former opposition leader Raul Khadzhimba (pictured above), didn’t receive the traditional cascade of congratulatory telephone calls from world leaders. Instead, he’ll face a world almost wholly united in non-recognition of his victory. None of NATO, the United States, the European Union nor Georgia’s prime minister Irakli Garibashvili consider the elections legitimate.

That’s because only four countries currently recognize Abkhazia’s sovereignty: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. Nicaragua and Venezuela are governed by socialist presidents friendly to Russia. Nauru, an 8.1 square-mile island northwest of Australia with just over 9,000 residents, established diplomatic relations with Abkhazia in 2009, allegedly after demanding from Russia $50 million in funding for economic and social projects. 

Since the 2008 military showdown between Russian president Vladimir Putin and former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, Abkhazia has existed in a state of international limbo, essentially occupied by Russian soldiers and governed by separatists.

But the cause of Abkhazian independence goes back to the breakup of the Soviet Union when Abkhazia, an autonomous republic within Georgia, wanted its own state and when Abkhaz separatists fought and won a bloody 13-month war in 1992 and 1993 against the newly independent Georgian state.  Continue reading

Valls-Montebourg fissure could bring early French elections

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It was always a stretch to believe that there was enough room in France’s government for both Arnaud Montebourg and Manuel Valls.France Flag Icon

Montebourg, who represents the unapologetically socialist wing of France’s Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), received a promotion in April as economy minister when French president François Hollande reshuffled his cabinet and replaced former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault with Valls. At the time, it was hardly clear that Montebourg deserved it after picking fights with prominent foreign businessmen in both the United States and India and waging an avowedly protectionist ‘Made in France’ campaign while serving as minister for industrial renewal. Montebourg (pictured above), with a charming grin, trim figure and a wavy swath of dark hair, who last weekend shared a photo of Loire Valley red wine on his Facebook feed, fits neatly into the American stereotype of the preening, tiresome, French socialist.

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RELATED: Who is Manuel Valls? Meet France’s new prime minister

RELATEDSapin, Royal, Montebourg headline new French cabinet

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Valls, meanwhile, is leading Hollande’s government at a time when the Socialist administration is turning even more to the center, with a much-heraled (if hokey) ‘Responsibility Pact’ that aims to cajole French businesses into hiring a half-million new workers with the promise of a €40 billion payroll tax cut, financed by an even greater €50 billion in spending cuts. Though he’s regularly touted as a reformer, it’s more accurate to say that the Spanish-born Valls is a tough-minded ‘third way’ centrist who wants to rename the Socialist Party, which he considers too leftist. As interior minister, he showed he could be just as tough on immigration and crime as former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy. When he became as prime minister in late March, Valls had the highest approval rating by far of any cabinet member. Today, his approval is sinking fast — an IFOP poll last weekend gave Hollande a 17% approval rating and Valls just 36% approval.

But Valls always had the support of Hollande and allies like finance minister Michael Sapin, and it was clear even in the spring that  Montebourg was destined to become more isolated than ever in the Valls era.

It took less than five months for the cabinet to rupture.  Montebourg publicly challenged Hollande over the weekend to rethink his economic policy in light of new data that show France’s economy remains stagnant — growing by just 0.1% in the last quarter, far below Hollande’s already-anemic target of 1%. Montebourg has also criticized Germany for encouraging austerity policies throughout the eurozone that he and other left-wing European politicians and economists blame for weakening the continent’s economic growth since the 2008-09 financial crisis.

In response, Valls orchestrating a dramatic resignation on Monday morning, though Hollande has given him a mandate to form a new government that won’t include Montebourg or allies like education minister Benoît Hamon and culture minister Aurelie Filippetti.

The drama surrounding this week’s reshuffle is hardly welcome so soon after Valls’s initial appointment, and Hollande risks a wider revolt on the French left that could endanger his agenda in the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly), where Socialist rebels could join legislators from the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement) in opposition to his agenda. Valls will introduce the 2015 budget in the autumn, and if he fails to pass it later this year, his government could fall and Hollande might be forced to call snap elections that the Socialists would almost certainly lose. Continue reading

Left hopes to make eastern breakthrough in German state elections

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Bodo Ramelow (pictured above) isn’t a Stasi throwback intent on socializing Thuringia into a communist hellhole.Germany Flag Icon

Instead, he’s a rather boring Lutheran born in West Germany, but he could also become the minister-president of the former East German state after state elections on September 14, which could give Die Linke (Left Party) control of its only state in Germany. Thuringia is just one of three eastern states voting throughout the next month, joining Brandenburg on September 14 and Saxony two weeks earlier on August 31.

The Left Party, in particular, has a strong following in the former East Germany, given its roots as the former Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (Party of Democratic Socialism), the successor to the Socialist Unity Party that ruled the eastern German Democratic Republic during the Cold War. As such, the traditional Western parties have been wary of partnering with the Left Party.

That’s beginning to change as the German left increasingly considers a more unified approach, and eastern Germany has been a laboratory for so-called ‘red-red coalitions’ between the Left and the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party). As such, the Left Party served as the junior partner in Berlin’s government for a decade between 2001 and 2011 and in the state government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern between 1998 and 2006. Furthermore, a red-red coalition currently governs Brandenburg, and its leaders hope to renew a second term for the government in September’s election.

Though the outcomes aren’t roughly in doubt, the elections take place under the backdrop of news that the eurozone could be sinking back into economic contraction. Initial numbers from the second quarter of the year showed the economy contracting by 0.2% — the first contraction since 2012 — after first-quarter growth was revised down from 0.8% to 0.7%.

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RELATED: Has the first Ossi chancellor been
good or bad for the former East Germany?

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That’s in addition to the income gap that still plagues eastern Germany, where economic growth lags significantly behind the states of former West Germany, nearly a quarter-century after reunification:

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The east’s lagging economic growth, the strength of Die Linke, and  growing unity between the SPD and Die Linke are common themes in all three state elections over the next month.

Saxony: August 31

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Saxony is the most populous of the three eastern states voting over the next month, making it the biggest prize. But it’s also where the governing Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) of chancellor Angela Merkel are most assured of winning reelection. Continue reading

Brazilian Socialists finalize Silva-Albuquerque ticket

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One week after the tragic airplane crash that ended the life  of Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, his party has quickly minted a new ticket for the October general election.brazil

As widely expected, Campos’s running mate Marina Silva agreed to run in Campos’s place as the candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), which only last year broke with its longtime alliance with the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), the party of Brazil’s incumbent president Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

For her part, Silva is a former PT legislator and environmental activist, who served as Lula’s environmental minister between 2003 and 2008 before she broke with Lula. She subsequently joined the Partido Verde (PV, Green Party) to run for president four years ago — winning nearly 20% of the vote against Rousseff in the first round of the 2010 election. 

In 2014, difficulties in registering a new party forced Silva to shelve, however reluctantly, her presidential ambitions and she joined the Brazilian Socialists. Campos, the former popular governor of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, named Silva as his running mate.

That all changed last week with the air crash in São Paulo state that killed Campos and brought the Brazilian election campaign to a halt as Rousseff, Silva and the rest of Brazil’s political class paused to mourn Campos.

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RELATED Campos, Brazilian presidential candidate, dies in plane crash
RELATED
: Why Marina Silva must now step up for the Brazilian left

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With 10 days to select a new candidate, and with just weeks to go before the election’s first round on October 5, the PSB chose Silva over the weekend to lead its ticket, on the condition that Silva, who hasn’t always been the most disciplined candidate in the past, and who is a newcomer to the PSB, will continue to honor the party’s electoral program and regional alliances. Technically, like Rousseff and center-right challenger Aécio Neves, Silva will head a coalition of parties in the presidential race. Silva’s coalition, though dominated by the PSB, also includes five smaller parties, such as the    Partido Popular Socialista (PPS, Popular Socialist Party). 

The whirlwind of events brings to the presidential race a candidate who, ironically, garnered much more support than Campos ever had. Continue reading

Pakistan’s Sharif caught between opposition and military

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Amid the chaotic urban anarchy of Karachi and the lawlessness of tribal border areas near Afghanistan, it’s rare that Islamabad becomes the central focus of political instability in Pakistan.Pakistan Flag Icon

But that’s exactly what’s happening this week in the world’s sixth-most populous country, and if protests against Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif explode into further unrest, it could trigger a constitutional crisis or even a military coup. That Pakistan’s fate is now so perilous represents a serious step backwards for a country that, just last year, marked the completion of its first full five-year term of civilian government and a democratic transfer of power.

Imran Khan (pictured above), the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, پاکستان تحريک انصاف, translated as the Pakistan Movement for Justice), is leading protests in the Pakistani capital calling for Sharif’s resignation relating to allegations of voter fraud in last year’s national elections. Sharif, in turn, is pressuring the country’s powerful military to guarantee order in Islamabad and the ‘red zone’  – a highly fortified neighborhood where many international embassies and the prime minister’s house are located and where Khan and his supporters have threatened to march if Sharif refuses to step down. Khan has increasingly escalated his demands, and he now seems locked in a high-stakes political struggle with Sharif that could end either or both of their careers.

In last May’s parliamentary elections, Sharif’s conservative, Punjab-based Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N, اکستان مسلم لیگ ن) ousted the governing center-left, Sindh-based Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی‎). Khan’s anti-corruption party, the PTI, won 35 seats, the second-largest share of the vote nationally, and the largest share of the vote in regional elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwestern border region near Afghanistan that is home to nearly 22 million Pakistanis, largely on the strength of Khan’s denunciation of US drone strikes on the region. Though Khan and the PTI hoped for a better result, it was nevertheless their best result by far since Khan entered politics in 1996.

Earlier this week, Khan directed his party’s legislators to resign from of the national assembly and three of the four regional assemblies. (The PTI wouldn’t, after all, be resigning its seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it controls the government).

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Khan’s protests dovetail with similar protests led by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (pictured above), a Sufi cleric and scholar who leads a small but influential party, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT, پاکستان عوامي تحريک, translated as the Pakistan People’s Movement). Like Khan’s PTI, the PAT is an anti-corruption and pro-democratic party. Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to Pakistan in 2012 after living for seven years in Toronto, has been described as the ‘Anna Hazare’ of Pakistan, in reference to the Hindu social activist who’s fought against corruption in India, and he protested the PPP with equal gusto.

Early Thursday, there were hopes that negotiations among the parties could relieve the political crisis’s escalation, if not wholly end it. But it’s more complicated that, because of the delicate role that the military still plays in the country’s affairs.

You can think of the current tensions in Pakistan as a triangular relationship:
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Gordon Brown: the not-so-secret weapon of the ‘No’ campaign

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Pity Gordon Brown, the long-suffering, long-plotting chancellor who assumed the British premiership only after Tony Blair’s three successive terms tested the British electorate’s patience on everything from Iraq to civil liberties.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

By the time Brown finally wrested the keys to No. 10 Downing Street from Blair, the ‘New Labour’ project was in serious political trouble, and Brown, lacking the easy charm of either his predecessor or then-opposition leader David Cameron, waged a doomed, if feisty, 2010 general election campaign.

Unlike Blair, Brown didn’t take a high-profile role on the speaker circuit or announce a global initiative to bring about Middle Eastern peace. He mostly just went back to Scotland, where he wrote a wonky tome on reforming the global financial system. Brown’s strong reputation today, more so abroad than at home, reflects his adroit handling of the 2008-09 financial crisis, when he prodded other European and US officials to follow his aggressive and proactive example.

Today, he remains the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, a southern Scottish constituency in Fife. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that Brown is emerging as a key leader of the campaign against Scottish independence — to the surprise of many both north and south of the Tweed.

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One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

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Voters go to the polls in Scandinavia’s largest country on September 14, and if he can hold onto the lead that his party has enjoyed for over a year, former labor leader Stefan Löfven (pictured above) will become Sweden’s next prime minister. Sweden

That’s slightly surprising because most Swedes don’t necessarily give center-right prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt poor marks. In two terms, Reinfeldt has earned praise, domestically and abroad, for his government’s economic stewardship, bringing Sweden out of the 2008-09 financial crisis with some of the strongest growth in the European Union. In that time, Reinfeldt has reduced the size of Sweden’s public sector, while nevertheless retaining the character of his country’s renowned social welfare state.

Reinfeldt’s governments amassed an impressive series of legislative accomplishments over the past eight years. Under his watch, Sweden privatized several public interests, including the maker of Absolut vodka, and otherwise deregulated the pharmaceutical, telecommunications and energy industries. Reinfeldt introduced the  earned income tax credit to reduce taxes on the poorest Swedes while instituting a series of tax cuts, including the abolition of the wealth tax in 2007 and a reduction in the VAT rate on restaurants from 25% to 12%. His government also passed a law to permit same-sex marriage in 2009 with wide support from the opposition.

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In his government’s second term, Reinfeldt avoided the recession that otherwise afflicted much of the rest of the eurozone. Though Reinfeldt and his finance minister, Anders Borg (pictured above, right, with Reinfeldt, left), have resorted to deficit spending to boost Sweden’s economy, their budget deficits haven’t fallen much below 1% of GDP. That’s a much better fiscal record than the average eurozone member, and it’s kept Swedish public debt at the relatively low level of around 40% of Swedish GDP.

It’s arguable that by reforming, privatizing or abolishing the least efficient areas of the Swedish public sector, Reinfeldt’s governments updated for the 21st century the existing welfare state that the long-dominant Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party) built in the 20th century. Continue reading

Chui faces easy reelection as Macau’s residents demand democracy

chui It’s not just Hong Kong that wants a greater voice in selecting its own government — its smaller cousin Macau is increasingly demanding wider democratic choice as well. China Flag Iconmacau

Earlier this summer, activists in Hong Kong waged an increasingly vocal campaign to bring greater democracy to the special administrative region (SAR), through an online referendum advocating the direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017, and a movement, ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace,’ that’s threatened to shut down the city’s downtown core in protest.

The central Chinese government responded with a white paper that appeared to disregard some of the fundamental tenets of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle that’s guided Hong Kong’s administration since its handover from British to Chinese authorities in 1997, forcing Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, not known for his democratic sympathies, to work to reduce tension between the two camps.

Perhaps no one was watching the tussle between Hong Kong and Beijing more than the residents of Macau, where its own chief executive, Fernando Chui, will almost certainly win reelection on August 31.

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RELATED: Hong Kong: One country, one-and-a-half systems?

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Macau, like Hong Kong, reverted only recently to Chinese control — in 1999 from Portuguese colonial authority that stretched back to the 17th century. Like Hong Kong, Macau operates on the principle of ‘one country, two systems,’ and it has its own Basic Law guiding the election of a chief executive and legislature. Unlike Hong Kong, however, Macau’s Basic Law does not include a commitment to ‘one-person, one-vote’ suffrage.

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Nevertheless, Macanese activists are organizing their own weeklong referendum on electoral reform meant to coincide with the chief executive election in the hopes of advocating direct election in the next contest in 2019.  Continue reading

How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

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After a century of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Turkish Kurds must wonder with astonishment how they have become increasingly in the span of less than a decade one of the most important swing groups in Turkish politics.Turkey

When prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Turkey’s first direct presidential election last week, he undoubtedly did so with the support of a significant portion of Turkey’s Kurdish population, which amounts to something between 15% and 25% of Turkey’s 76 million people. Continue reading

MAKING WORLD POLITICS LESS FOREIGN