Tag Archives: european parliament

As Gabriel steps aside, Schulz gives Germany’s SPD best shot in a generation

Martin Schulz, formerly the European Parliament president, has returned to German domestic politics in recent weeks. (Facebook)

For the past two elections, Germany’s center-left has tried to stymie chancellor Angela Merkel with two jowly, doughy figures compromised by high service in Merkel-led ‘grand coalition’ governments. 

And for the past two elections, Germany’s center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) has won a smaller share of the vote than at any other time in postwar German history.

For months, it appeared that the Social Democrats were set to sleepwalk into making the same error in 2017.

With the federal election formally set for September 24, it seemed that the SPD would choose as its candidate for chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister who serves as vice chancellor in the current Große Koalition and who has served as the party’s official leader since 2009.

Though polls showed Merkel’s center-right Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union), in power since 2005, losing some ground to the eurosceptic and anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany), they still maintained a consistent lead of anywhere from 11% to 17% against the Social Democrats. With Gabriel at the helm, the SPD seemed content to lose another election to Merkel, perhaps willing to suffer as the junior partner in her fourth-term governing coalition or otherwise in complete opposition.

So it was a surprise to see Gabriel on Tuesday bow out of competition to lead his party into the 2017 elections and instead endorse Martin Schulz, who stepped down as the president of the European Parliament just weeks ago to return to German politics. Continue reading As Gabriel steps aside, Schulz gives Germany’s SPD best shot in a generation

Obama’s error? Prioritizing TPP over TTIP


I write tomorrow for The National Interest that the Obama administration made a deep strategic error in allowing the fight for trade promotion authority become dominated by the Trans Pacific Partnership when the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would have been an easier sell. USflagEuropean_Union

Now, given the difficult fight to win fast-trade promotion authority, momentum may be shifting against both the TPP and the TTIP, especially in Europe, where leftists in the European Parliament are having second thoughts. The ramifications of the Obama administration’s strategic choice will linger far into the next administration, whether Republican or Democratic.

I argue that TTIP would have been an easier (and better) trade deal for three reasons. Continue reading Obama’s error? Prioritizing TPP over TTIP

The 13 key EU players in the proposed Juncker Commission


On Wednesday, the incoming president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured above), released full details on the proposed commissioners within his Commission, which will serve as the chief executive and administrative body of the European Union between 2014 and 2019.European_Union

The most important feature of the proposed Juncker Commission is that he’s introduced the greatest amount of hierarchy in an institution that used to be flat. It’s not a secret that some portfolios have always been more desirable than others, especially as the Commission has expanded to include all 28 member-states. But Juncker has introduced a first vice president and five vice presidents, who will also serve alongside Italy’s foreign minister Federica Mogherini, who was appointed two weeks ago to serve as Commission vice president and high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

The delegation of so much power to five ‘super-commissioners’ with roving, supervisory briefs indicates that Juncker intends to be a much less hands-on Commission president that his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso. But it also reflects a Commission that, including Luxembourg’s Juncker, contains five former prime ministers (Finland, Slovenia, Latvia and Estonia).  It also contains four incumbents (Germany, Sweden, Bulgaria and Austria) who have served throughout the full second term of the Barroso Commission. That makes the Juncker Commission possibly the most distinguished in EU history.

Each commissioner must be approved by the European parliament and, while individual nominees have had troubles in the past, the parliament typically approves the vast majority of a Commission president’s appointments, all of whom were nominated by their respective national governments.

With nine women, it’s not as unbalanced as feared even a week or two ago, and with 14 members of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), eight members of the center-left Party of European Socialists (PES) and five members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), it generally reflects the results of the May 25 European parliamentary elections, though some social democrats and socialists are grumbling that the left doesn’t have enough representation.

So what can we expect from this illustrious college of commissioners?

Here’s a look at the 13 most important players in the proposed Commission (aside from Juncker and Mogherini, of course). Continue reading The 13 key EU players in the proposed Juncker Commission

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


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.


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

Despite Senate vote, Renzi’s reform push stalling in Italy


If Rome wasn’t built in a day, it’s certainly proving that it won’t be reformed in a day, either. Italy Flag Icon

Nearing a half-year in office, the most ‘impressive’ accomplishment of Italy’s new prime minister Matteo Renzi is engineering the relatively anti-democratic putsch of his own party’s prime minister, Enrico Letta in February.

Renzi, the 39-year-old former mayor of Florence, gave Letta just 10 months to enact urgent reforms before he executed his takeover of the Italian government. Six months into his own premiership, Renzi has greater support than Letta ever had to shake up Italy’s ossified government. But Renzi nonetheless has surprisingly little to show for half a year in office, even as the country slipped this summer into, incredibly, a triple-dip recession. 

When he ushered himself into power, Renzi came to the office with a wish list of reforms, all of which he promised would be delivered before the summer: a new election law, labor market reforms, tax reform and changes to Italy’s sclerotic public administration. 

Renzi isn’t much closer to achieving any of those today than he was in the spring. He’s lucky to have won a key vote last week in the upper house of the Italian parliament, the Senato (Senate), to reduce that chamber’s powers, making it essentially an advisory body, giving Italy a unicameral parliamentary system in all but name. Renzi must still win a vote in the lower house, the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies), where Renzi’s Partido Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) controls an absolute majority, as well as another final vote in the Senate before the reforms are put before voters in a referendum next year. Continue reading Despite Senate vote, Renzi’s reform push stalling in Italy

European Council proposes Juncker as Commission president


Bowing to pressure from European parliamentary leaders, the European Council has proposed as its candidate for the presidency of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg and former head of the Eurogroup, the informal gathering of the eurozone finance ministers. European_Union

That makes it virtually certain that the European Parliament will elect Juncker (pictured above) as the next Commission president, likely with the full support of the two major pan-European parties in the Parliament, Juncker’s own center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left, social democratic Party of European Socialists (PES). It also likely means that the PES candidate for the Commission  presidency, Martin Schulz, will become the Commission vice president. 

It’s obviously a defeat for British prime minister David Cameron who, just last week, was still holding out hope that he could pull together a blocking minority to keep Juncker from receiving the Council’s endorsement. But by the time the Council gathered to vote, only Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán joined Cameron in opposing Juncker. Not only did Cameron fail to win over allies, he failed to keep both Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt, neither of whom are enthusiastic about the prospects of a Juncker candidacy.

Contacted by a reporter for the Moscow-based RIA Novosti earlier today, I had a chance to put together some quick thoughts on what the Juncker decision means. Here are my real-time responses, which will double as my real-time analysis on where things go from here.  

On how the choice reflects the European parliamentary elections on May 25:

The choice reflects the fact that Juncker was the candidate of the European People’s Party, the pan-European group of center-right, Christian democratic parties, and the EPP won the greatest number of seats in the European parliamentary elections on May 25. The EPP nominated Juncker as its candidate for the European Commission presidency prior to the May 25 parliamentary elections, just as several other European parliamentary parties nominated their own candidates. The candidates — the German term ‘Spitzenkandidaten‘ developed widespread use across Europe — campaigned throughout the spring, and they participated in a set of debates on the EU’s future.

Under the Lisbon treaty, the European Council is supposed to ‘propose’ a candidate for Commission president, which will be ‘elected’ by the European Parliament, with the Council ‘taking into account’ the results of the parliamentary election. No one knows exactly what that means, but Juncker and the other parliamentary leaders believe firmly that the Council must propose Juncker as its candidate. In so doing today, the Council has set an important precedent for future parliamentary elections, though national leaders will be loathe to admit it.

Proponents of the Spitzenkandidaten system argue that Juncker represents the will of the European electorate, because he’s the candidate of the party that won the most votes, but it’s not so simple as that. There’s no real indication that the majority of European voters were voting on the basis of this or that Commission presidential candidate. Voter turnout has dropped significantly since the first European elections in 1979, and voters often cast their ballots on the basis of national governments or other factors. To the extent there was a unifying theme to the elections, it was the rise of euroscepticism on both the far right and the far left, with the victories of groups like the United Kingdom Independence Party, France’s Front national (National Front) and Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti (People’s Party). Whatever ‘mandate’ you take away from the European elections, it’s hard to argue there’s a groundswell of genuine democratic support for Juncker. It was only last October that Juncker’s own center-right Christian Social People’s Party suffered so many losses in Luxembourg’s national elections that he was forced out as prime minister after 18 years.

Continue reading European Council proposes Juncker as Commission president

Katainen hopes to trade Finland’s premiership for EU presidency


Just three years after taking power as Finland’s prime minister, Jykri Katainen is set to step down both as leader of Finland’s center-right Kansallinen Kokoomus (National Coalition Party) and as prime minister later this month, following the Saturday leadership election of Alexander Stubb as the party’s new leader. finland flag

Though Katainen (pictured above) is just 42 years old, he’s been at the helm of the National Coalition Party for a decade. Katainen stunned Finland in April when he announced he was resigning, with an eye toward pursuing a top job in the European Union. At the time, everyone assumed he was angling to become Finland’s next commissioner within the European Union, replacing Olli Rehn, the influential vice president of the Commission and, since 2010, the commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.

Rehn previously served from 2004 to 2010 as commissioner for enlargement, and he was recently elected to the European Parliament as a member of Finland’s liberal Suomen Keskusta (Centre Party).

But as the wrangling continues among Europe’s leaders over whether former Luxembourgish prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next president of the Commission, Katainen has tried to position himself as an attractive alternative.

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RELATED: The mother-of-all-battles over European integration has begun

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Juncker seems likely to command an absolute majority of the European Parliament, but there’s no sure bet that he’ll win the qualified majority within the European Council that he’ll need to win the Commission presidency. Juncker, led the pan-European campaign of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the May parliamentary elections, which won the largest number of seats in the 751-member legislature.

Enter Katainen, who’s guided a tenuous six-party (now five-party) coalition in Finland for the past three years, pushing through tough budget cuts, like so many other European governments over the last half-decade, in the face of economic recession. Before his National Coalition Party won the April 2011 national elections, Katainen previously served as finance minister and deputy prime minister, so he would bring to the job — or to any other top EU position — the experiences from governing through the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  Continue reading Katainen hopes to trade Finland’s premiership for EU presidency

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)

Nearly a week after the European elections, the reverberations are still shaking the entire continent, on at least two levels — the consequences of the historic level of eurosceptic parties elected across Europe and in terms of the growing battle between the European Parliament and the European Council over electing the next European Commission president. European_Union

In the first part of a Suffragio series examining the results of the May 25 European parliamentary elections, I focused on the five most populous countries in the European Union: the United Kingdom and France, where eurosceptic parties won the greatest share of the vote; Germany, where chancellor Angela Merkel won another strong victory; Italy, where prime minister Matteo Renzi won a near-landslide mandate just three months into his premiership; and Spain, where both traditional parties lost support to a growing constellation of anti-austerity movements — so much so that Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the leader of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Spain’s traditional center-left party, resigned

In the second part, I examined the results in nine more countries — Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.

In the third and final part, I examine the results in the remaining 14 countries of the European Union. Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)

The mother-of-all-battles over European integration has begun


Three days after the European elections, the reverberations are still shaking the entire continent, with leaders at the national and European level firing the first shots in what promises to be an epic battle over European integration — and that will determine who really calls the shots in the European Union.European_Union

Last night, at an informal meeting of the European Council, the leaders of all 28 member-states of the European Union met to discuss how to approach the election of the next president of the European Commission, the powerful regulatory and executive arm of the European Union. The term of current president José Manuel Barroso, who has served in the role since 2004, will end within six months.

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RELATED: In depth — European parliamentary elections

RELATED: The European parliamentary elections are real four contests

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They poured cold water on the notion that they would automatically propose former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission president. Since Sunday, Juncker has stridently made his case that as the Commission presidential candidate (the ‘Spitzenkandiat‘) of the European People’s Party (EPP), which won the greatest number of seats in Sunday’s EU-wide elections, he should have the first right to attempt to assemble a parliamentary majority. That’s a position that, ironically, even the center-left Party of European Socialists (PES), the second-largest bloc in the European Parliament has endorsed:

Commenting on the leaders’ decision, outgoing Socialist group leader Hannes Swoboda tweeted that it’s “absurd that Juncker has our backing to start negotiations but is blocked in the Council by his own EPP family!”

It’s already starting to appear that, behind the scenes, the EPP, which won around 214 seats, and the PES, which won around 191 seats, are coming closer to forming a ‘grand coalition’ to back Juncker’s candidacy in a bid to assert the precedent that the Parliament should be the institution to determine the Commission presidency, not the Council. Both Juncker and the PES Spitzenkandidat, German social democrat Martin Schulz, have argued repeatedly that the Parliament should reject any Commission president that wasn’t among the original Spitzenkandidaten.

But it’s not so simple. The Commission president must win not only a parliamentary majority. He or she must also win a qualified majority among the heads of government and state that comprise the  Council, and enthusiasm among those leaders seems to be flagging for Juncker.

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RELATED: Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

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The key player, German chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured above), seemed testy in two press conferences since the election when asked about the looming showdown. As the leader of one of the top parties in the EPP, she officially supports Juncker, but her comments should hardly give Juncker comfort:

She also thanked Juncker for the “good campaign” he ran for the European People’s Party, but seemed slightly irritated by the avalanche of questions as to whether she backs Juncker to become the next EU commission president.

“I don’t decide who gets the post. Juncker is our candidate, the EPP candidate, and we will put his name forward in the discussions. It’s always been said that it’s up to the strongest group to put forward the candidate, but just being the strongest group is not enough, a majority is required,” she said.

Why Clegg should step down as LibDem leader


Though he may well survive his party’s horrendous defeat in Sunday’s European elections, Nick Clegg’s decision to cling to the leadership of the Liberal Democrat will almost certainly doom it to equally damaging losses in the May 2015 British general election. United Kingdom Flag Icon

Appearing weary in a television interview after his party lost 10 of its previous 11 seats in the European Parliament, Clegg (pictured above) defied calls yesterday from both inside and outside his party to step down as leader.

It’s axiomatic that junior coalition partners tend to suffer in elections. ThFreie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), which joined German chancellor Angela Merkel in government between 2009 and 2013, lost all of its seats in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, for the first time since World War II in last September’s federal elections. It, too, suffered on Sunday, losing all but three of its previous 12 MEPs in Sunday’s election as well. 

In Ireland, the center-left Labour Party, the junior partner in a government led by center-right Fine Gael, lost all three of its MEPs and won just 5.3% of the vote. Its seven-year leader, Eamon Gilmore, who has served as Ireland’s Tánaiste, its deputy prime minister, and foreign affairs minister, since 2011, resigned on Monday, taking responsibility for Labour’s horrendous showing. 

Gilmore’s example makes Clegg’s position even more awkward.

Paddy Ashdown, a member of the House of Lords, and the party’s leader between 1988 and 1999, defended Clegg, as did former leader Sir Menzies Campbell. But private polls, leaked to the press, show that Clegg’s Liberal Democrats are headed for an equally jarring defeat in 12 months, and that Clegg himself could even lose his seat.

Clegg is widely viewed as having lost a series of debates with the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel Farage, who led UKIP to a stunning victory on Sunday, winning 27.5% of the vote and 24 seats in the European Parliament:


Farage credited his victory, in part, to the debates with Clegg, though he crowed on Monday that Clegg’s position as leader is untenable, and that he would be ‘surprised’ if Clegg leads the LibDems into the next election.

To Clegg’s credit, neither Conservative prime minister David Cameron nor Labour leader Ed Miliband were willing to debate Farage by strongly defending European integration and the continued British role in the European Union. Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair noted Clegg’s integrity yesterday for doing so, while accurately highlighting the more fundamental problem for the LibDems heading into election season:

Blair praised the way in which Nick Clegg had shown leadership in confronting the anti-EU mood in the country. “To be fair to Nick Clegg – I don’t want to damage him by saying this – over the past few years he has shown a quite a lot of leadership and courage as a leader.

“The problem for the Lib Dems is nothing to do with Europe. The problem they have is very simple: they fought the 2010 election on a platform quite significantly to the left of the Labour party and ended up in a Conservative government with a platform that is significantly to the right of Labour.

Partly in response to UKIP’s rise, David Cameron agreed last year that, if reelected, he will hold a referendum on British EU membership in 2017. Continue reading Why Clegg should step down as LibDem leader

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 2)

 Across Europe on Monday, officials, voters and everyone else were trying to sort through the consequences of yesterday’s voting, across all 28 member-states, to elect the 751 members of the European Parliament.European_Union

Late Sunday, I began analyzing the results on a state-by-state basis — you can read my take here on what the European election results mean in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

This post picks up where that left off, however, with a look at some of the results in Europe’s mid-sized member-states.

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RELATED: A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 1)

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With the count now almost complete, here’s where the Europe-wide parties stand:


The European People’s Party (EPP), which has been the largest group in the European Parliament since 1999, will continue to be the largest group, but with fewer seats (215) than after any election since 1994.

The second-largest group, the Party of European Socialists (PES) has 188 seats, a slight gain, but not the breakout performance for which it was hoping.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe (ALDE) will remain the third-largest group, notwithstanding the collapse of two of its constituent parties, the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom and the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) in Germany.

The European Greens have won 53 seats, just two less than before the elections. The Party of the European Left, which had hoped to make strong gains on the strength of its anti-austerity message, gained nine seats to 44.

The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a slightly eurosceptic group of conservative parties, including the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom, holds steady at 46 seats — that’s a slight loss of around eight seats. The Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy (MELD) gained six.

The real increase was among the ‘non-inscrits,’ the unaffiliated MEPs, which will rise from around 30 to 104. The bulk of those MEPs include the newly elected eurosceptics that have made such a big splash in the past 24 hours, including Marine Le Pen’s Front national (FN, National Front) in France.

But, in addition to being a pan-European contest with wide-ranging themes that resonate throughout the European Union, the elections are also 28 national contests, and they’ve already claimed resignations of two center-left leaders — Eamon Gilmore, of Ireland’s Labour Party, and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).

Here’s a look at how the European elections are affecting nine more mid-sized counties across the European Union: Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.

Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 2)

The US perspective on the European parliamentary elections


I sat down with Brian Beary from Europolitics late Sunday night to discuss the results of the European parliamentary elections, with a particular focus on the US perspective. USflagEuropean_Union

The link is here (unfortunately, subscription only), but here’s one excerpt:

Is there a US equivalent to the Eurosceptics that did so well in the European elections?

In a formal sense, it is a peculiarly European thing. There are no parties in the US that are saying ‘we need to pull out of the United States’. The one thing they do share is that politicians in the US, for at least two generations now, in every election run against Washington. And in Europe, whether it is the hard Euroscepticism of groups like UKIP or Front National, or the soft Euroscepticism of certain members of the British Labour Party, or Silvio Berlusconi, there is an anti-Brussels-ness that reminds me of the way US politicians campaign against Washington.

Though many commentators and academics like to refer to the European Union today as a kind of ‘United States of Europe,’ especially during the EU’s ill-fated constitutional debate in 2004 and 2005, I argued that the European Union today more closely resembles the confederation of US states that existed under the 1781 Articles of Confederation.

Most US headlines in the lead-up to the European elections have concerned Ukraine and the ongoing security crisis and showdown with Russia that’s caused a regeneration of interest in transatlantic security, NATO’s role and additional follow-on issues,  such as the potential US export of liquified natural gas to Europe. In the aftermath of the European elections, US headlines are focusing on the rise of eurosceptic parties like Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party and Marine Le Pen’s Front national in France.

In both cases, that’s understandable — and both topics are incredibly important. The real issues where the European Parliament will have the most impact in the next fiver years, however, are somewhat less sexy, but they should be on the radar of US policymakers and investors in the years ahead: Continue reading The US perspective on the European parliamentary elections

With Spanish left reeling, Rubalcaba steps down as PSOE leader


The European parliamentary elections have claimed their first national leader in Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the general secretary of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Spain’s traditional center-left party.Spain_Flag_Icon

In Sunday’s elections, Spanish voters elected 54 members of the European Parliament. The ruling Partido Popular (the PP, or the People’s Party) of prime minister Mariano Rajoy won the largest share of the vote, around 26%, and the largest number of seats, 16.

The PSOE placed second with just 23% and 14 seats — that’s a loss of nine seats in the European Parliament.


Rubalcaba, taking the blame for his party’s losses, announced he would step down from the leadership, calling a meeting on July 19-20 to select a new general secretary of Spain’s largest center-left party:

“We have not managed to regain the trust of the citizens,” Mr Rubalcaba told a press conference in Madrid on Monday, adding that he would not stand for re-election at an extraordinary party conference in July. “We have to take political responsibility for the bad results, and this decision is absolutely mine,” he added.

There’s no guarantee that the next PSOE leader will be able to unite the Spanish left, which has fractured in the face of the economic crisis in the past five years.

The PSOE’s performance was hardly much worse than Rajoy’s party, which lost eight seats. Taken together, the two major Spanish parties won around 49% of the vote. That’s down from nearly 84% in the 2008 Spanish general election, 80% in the previous 2009 European elections and 73% in the 2011 general election.

So while the greater pressure fell on Rubalcaba and the PSOE, the results are hardly heartening for Rajoy. Continue reading With Spanish left reeling, Rubalcaba steps down as PSOE leader

The six world elections taking place this weekend — and why they matter


I can’t remember a time when there have been so many crucial world elections taking place at such a frenetic pace.

The spring voting blitz began with a five-day period in early April that saw Afghanistan’s presidential election, Indonesia’s legislative elections, the beginning of India’s nine-phase, five-week parliamentary elections, Costa Rica’s presidential runoff and Québec’s provincial elections.

Since then, India’s finished its voting and elected a new government led by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Macedonia, Algeria, Iraq, Panama, South Africa, and Malawi have held elections, too, over the past seven weeks.

It all comes to a climax with five elections today — and another election that will take place over two days of voting on Monday and Tuesday.

Here’s a short look at each election — and why it matters to global policy. Continue reading The six world elections taking place this weekend — and why they matter

An interview with Greek-German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis


If there’s anyone in European politics who straddles the line between the two cultural realities of Europe today, it’s Jorgo Chatzimarkakis.European_UnionGermany Flag IconGreece Flag Icon

Born in 1966 to Greek migrants in the Ruhr Valley, in what was then West Germany, Chatzimarkakis has served for the past 10 years as a member of the European Parliament from Germany’s liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party). 

Over the course of the past five years, that’s put Chatzimarkakis in one of the most unique roles of any European policymaker. As a German MEP, he belonged to a party that was one of the most outspoken critics of using German funds for what seemed, at the heart of the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis, like an endless number of bailouts for troubled European economies, including Greece’s.

But as an MEP of Greek descent,  Chatzimarkakis also understood the emotional and social toll of the economic crisis from the other perspective, in light of the pain Greece continues to suffer due to the bailout — often referred to in Greece simply as the ‘memorandum,’ in reference to the Memorandum of Understanding that sets out the terms of the Greek bailout with the ‘troika’ of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

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Though the bailout program has kept Greece inside the eurozone, it’s come at a huge cost. The conditions Greece accepted in exchange for the loan program required tough budget cuts, tax increases, and reduced state salaries and pensions, exacerbating an economic downturn that, for Greece, has now developed into a full-blown depression. Unemployment is still nearly 27%, youth unemployment is even higher, and the Greek economy has contracted for six consecutive years:

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Cuts to education, health care and other programs have strained the Greek social fabric, civil strife and strikes are seemingly endless, and politician violence has increased. The neo-fascist Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή) is now the third-largest party in the Hellenic Parliament, despite the efforts of the current national government to prosecute many of its leaders. Though Greece’s economy may expand this year, for the first time since 2007, it’s clear that the effects of the downturn will reverberate for years to come.

In the 2014 European elections, Chatzimarkakis is running for the European Parliament in Greece, having formed a new political party, the Hellenic European Citizens (Έλληνες Ευρωπαίοι Πολίτες).  Continue reading An interview with Greek-German MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis