The theme of this week’s convention could have already been ‘I Took a Pill in Cleveland,’ because it’s clearly more Mike Posner than Richard Posner.
All eyes last night were on Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who lost the Republican nomination to Donald Trump and, notably, Cruz’s pointed refusal to endorse his rival in a rousing address that is one of the most memorable convention speeches in recent memory. Trump’s allies instructed delegates to boo Cruz off the stage, and they spent the rest of the night trashing Cruz for failing to uphold a ‘pledge’ to support the eventual nominee.
But shortly after Cruz’s speech, David Sanger and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times published a new interview with Trump about foreign policy, in which he indicated that he would be willing as president to break a far more serious pledge — the mutual collective defense clause of Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty that essentially undergirds the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the organization that has been responsible for collective trans-Atlantic security since 1949:
Asked about Russia’s threatening activities, which have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”
“If they fulfill their obligations to us,” he added, “the answer is yes.”
Mr. Trump’s statement appeared to be the first time that a major candidate for president had suggested conditioning the United States’ defense of its major allies. It was consistent, however, with his previous threat to withdraw American forces from Europe and Asia if those allies fail to pay more for American protection.
The comments caused, with good reason, a foreign policy freakout on both sides of the Atlantic. The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote, ‘It’s Official: Hillary Clinton is Running Against Vladimir Putin.’ In The Financial Times, a plethora of European officials sounded off a ‘wave of alarm.’
In successive waves, NATO’s core members expanded from the United States and western Europe to Turkey in 1952, to (what was then) West Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982, the new eastern and central European Union states in 1999 and 2004 (which include three former Soviet republics, the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), and Albania and Croatia in 2009. Of course, many of the more recent NATO member states spent the Cold War behind the Iron Curtain subject to Soviet dominance.
Above all, so much of eastern Europe joined NATO to protect themselves from Russian aggression in the future. Article Five provides that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all NATO countries, entitling the NATO country under attack to invoke the support of all the other NATO members. This has happened exactly once in NATO’s decades-long history, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
It’s not the first time Trump has slammed NATO during the campaign; he called it ‘obsolete’ in off-the-cuff remarks at a town hall meeting in March:
“Nato has to be changed or we have to do something. It has to be rejiggered or changed for the better,” he said in response to a question from an audience member. He said the alternative to an overhaul would be to start an entirely new organisation, though he offered no details on what that would be.
He also reiterated his concern that the US takes too much of the burden within NATO and on the world stage. “The United States cannot afford to be the policeman of the world, folks. We have to rebuild this country and we have to stop this stuff…we are always the first out,” he offered.
The latest attack on NATO and, implicitly, the international order since the end of World War II, came just days after NATO’s secretary-general, former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, announced a new plan for NATO cooperation on the international efforts to push back ISIS in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Stoltenberg, it’s worth noting, is the first NATO secretary-general to come from a country that shares a land border with mainland Russia. So he, more than anyone, understands the stakes involved. Continue reading NATO comments show why Trump could inadvertently start a global war→
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s governing party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice), is now as important figure in European politics as French president François Hollande.
No one should be surprised that Kaczyński is now the de facto leader of Poland, and no one should have doubted that he would direct a PiS-led government to pursue its full-throated agenda of populist economic sops to Poland’s poorest easterners and socially conservative values, mixed with equal amounts of nativism, euroscepticism and paranoia.
But Poland’s fresh government is facing criticism at home and abroad that it is now dismantling many of the features of the country’s post-Cold War democracy. Notably, critics argue that the new PiS government is co-opting both Poland’s constitutional tribunal and its state-run media.
Andrzej Duda, Poland’s new president has refused to seat five judges appointed by the outgoing government to Poland’s constitutional tribunal. Though two of those judicial appointments were subsequently ruled invalid, the new PiS government pushed forward with five new appointments anyway, leaving three judges validly appointed and unconfirmed. Moreover, the new PiS government passed a law mandating a two-thirds majority (not a simple majority) for constitutional rulings. The new government has also asserted greater political power over the state-controlled media.
Barely three months into Poland’s new government, the European Commission is opening a formal inquiry against the PiS-led administration, headed by EC first vice president Frans Timmermans, to determine whether the new government’s actions amount to a ‘systemic risk’ to Poland’s rule of law, a standard that — so far — hasn’t been breached in Hungary or Romania.
Those concerns are legitimate, especially insofar as the new government is undermining judicial independence and press freedom, and some Europeans hopes that US president Barack Obama will even exert pressure, through the NATO alliance, on Poland’s new government. But the overwrought response from EU elites will only play into the hands of the PiS’s most eurosceptic leaders and, what’s more, Polish democracy is far too developed in the year 2016 to crumble as easily as many of Kaczyński’s critics fear.
Throughout the European Union, the Greek economic crisis and lingering problems with the eurozone have undermined the monetary pillar of EU integration, while the deluge of migrants from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and elsewhere, in greater numbers than at any time since World War II, have eroded the Schengen zone and the principle of internal European borders. EU leaders have far greater problems than allowing Kaczyński and the PiS into goading them into confrontation, especially as British voters focus on a 2017 referendum that could result in the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Continue reading Give PiS a chance: why the EU has to play nice with Poland’s new populist government→
On Sunday, voters in Poland, the pivotal country of eastern and central Europe, will almost certainly vote to eject the governing, center-right Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), handing an embarrassing defeat to Donald Tusk, the former prime minister who left Polish politics last year to become the president of the European Council.
With the conservative, nationalist Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice) set to return to power after eight years, Poland’s rightward move could undermine Tusk’s European role. More importantly, for a country of nearly 39 million people and a rising economic powerhouse in the European Union (with the rising clout to match), it could shift European policy to the right on refugee policy. Ever skeptical of Russia, a new conservative government would also agitate for greater European, US and NATO activism to counter Russian president Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and elsewhere.
May’s presidential vote: prelude to a electoral meltdown
In retrospect, the outcome of the October 25 parliamentary elections seems to have been settled five months ago when Polish voters narrowly ousted incumbent president Bronisław Komorowski in favor of 43-year-old Andrzej Duda, a conservative novice in Polish politics and little-known member of the European Parliament.
Former prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński, a controversial figure on the Polish right, determined earlier this year that he would not seek a rematch against Komorowski, who defeated Kaczyński in 2010 after a tragic airplane crash killed the incumbent, his twin brother Lech Kaczyński, along with dozens of other top Polish officials over Russian airspace. Kaczyński instead, handpicked Duda from relative obscurity to carry the presidential banner.
Komorowski, technically an independent, nevertheless boasted the support of the governing Civic Platform and, until the very end, seemed likely to win reelection. But his wooden style and a lack of engagement did him no favors in a campaign where anti-establishment rage was on the rise. For example, rock singer Paweł Kukiz attracted nearly 21% of the vote as a protest candidate, running an acerbic and populist campaign that won Poland’s youth vote in the first round of the presidential election.
Komorowski fell narrowly behind on May 10 in the race’s first round, and he lost the May 24 runoff to Duda by a margin of 51.55% to 48.55%.
A kinder, gentler Law and Justice Party?
Duda’s outsider status matched a growing sense that Poland’s strong economic performance hasn’t necessarily filtered through to the entire population, especially in Poland’s east, where traditionally conservative voters have missed the boom that’s developed in the country’s west and in urban centers like Warsaw. Moreover, Duda campaigned hard against Poland’s future accession as a eurozone member. Though Poland is notable for achieving the highest growth rate in the European Union since the 2010-11 eurozone sovereign debt crisis — GDP growth peaked at 4.8% in 2011 and achieved an impressive (by European standards) 3.3% growth rate last year — voters are nevertheless in a mood for change.
Kaczyński quickly learned the lesson of Duda’s success, and his party is running the same strategy for the October parliamentary elections. Instead of personally leading the party’s efforts for the parliamentary elections, Kaczyński turned the campaign over to another newcomer, Beata Szydło, a PiS deputy since 2005, the year that the PiS first took power (in a short-lived, two-year government that Jarosław Kaczyński led as prime minister while his brother held the presidency).
At a June party convention, Kaczyński quickly passed the political baton to Szydło, and Law and Justice held a lead in the parliamentary contest ever since. Like Duda, Szydło has taken a softer center-right tone throughout the campaign, avoiding the controversial topics that might otherwise have dogged Kaczyński.
Barring a complete meltdown, it’s nearly certain that Law and Justice will push Civic Platform out of power for the first time in eight years. The latest IBRiS poll, dated October 19, gives Law and Justice 36% of the vote to just 22% for Civic Platform, followed by the Polish left’s electoral coalition with just 11%.
Economic angst and refugee crisis impede Civic Platform’s reelection
Such a damning defeat will leave Tusk somewhat isolated as European Council president and, potentially, in the awkward position of working against Poland’s soon-to-be government, notwithstanding the fact that Tusk’s election was something of an honor for Poland. Befitting the country’s centrality among the set of central and eastern European states that joined the European Union in 2004, Tusk is the first eastern European to hold one of the top EU offices of state.
Tusk left his government in the hands of Ewa Kopacz, a Tusk loyalist, former health minister and former marshal of the Sejm (akin to a parliamentary speaker), who has struggled in the last 13 months in an increasingly Sisyphean attempt to lead Civic Platform to its third consecutive victory. That may have less to do with the amiable Kopacz than a sense of restlessness over eight years of government by a party viewed increasingly as elitist and out of touch. Nagging scandals have emerged in the past two years, the most damaging of which involved the release of secret recordings of former foreign minister Radek Sikorski, former finance minister Jacek Rostowski and others making crude comments, including about the bilateral relationship with the United States, in Sikorski’s case.
As Law and Justice attacks the fits and starts of a Polish economy that still has some wrinkles to work out, Kopacz has been left promising, with little credibility, that young Polish workers can fare just as well at home as in western Europe. Despite growth, Polish nGDP per capita is just around $13,000, far below wealthier countries like Germany and France.
In addition, since the May presidential election, the European migrant crisis is now boosting the Polish right, as the number of refugees across the continent surges to numbers unseen since World War II. In the leaders’ debate on Tuesday evening, Szydło boldly attacked EU refugee policy and argued that ‘Poles have the right to be afraid’ of the unknown consequences of accepting so many refugees. Kopacz, for her part, argued that her government successfully negotiated down the number of refugees that the European Commission’s original quota plan entailed.
The former mayor of Brzeszcze, Szydło is virtually unknown outside of Poland (and perhaps even inside Poland until her elevation earlier this summer), which is somewhat staggering for someone who is set to become the leader of the European Union’s sixth-most populous member:
An ethnography graduate and mother to two sons, the erstwhile PiS backbencher was only recently as unknown as Duda. But she has a reputation for being well-adjusted, hard-working and resilient. But also a little dull…. She doesn’t have to pretend to be down-to-earth — she just is.
Though Kaczyński himself formally nominated Szydło as the Law and Justice prime ministerial candidate, the party founder will surely play an important behind-the-scenes role if the PiS returns to power. So the largest question mark hanging over the coming PiS government is just how much it will be Szydło’s government and not just Kaczyński’s government. Last week, for example, Kaczyński made headlines by suggesting that migrants are bringing ‘all sorts of parasites and protozoa’ to Europe.
For all of Kaczyński’s odd statements, he may turn out to be more distraction than puppetmaster. Duda, for example, has taken a much friendlier line towards Germany than Kaczyński might have liked, and Szydło would be wise to follow Duda in avoiding the confrontational approach with European leaders that Kaczyński deployed a decade ago. Nevertheless, Poland will certainly continue to take a hawkish line against Russia, pushing for greater EU and NATO engagement over Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.
Poland’s voters will elect all 460 deputies of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, and all 100 senators of the upper house, the Senat. The deputies are elected by proportional representation in multi-member constituencies that contain between 7 and 19 representatives, subject in each case to a 5% national threshold. (Senators are elected on a first-past-the-post basis).
For a decade, Polish politics has been a contest between two visions of the ‘right’ — Tusk’s liberal, business-friendly and pro-European variant and Kaczyński’s socially conservative, religious, populist and eurosceptic version. That will remain the case on Sunday, though there are a handful of other parties vying for seats, a handful of which are new to the political scene.
The traditional party of the Polish left, the Democratic Left Alliance, joined forces with four other smaller leftist, centrist and green parties to form the Zjednoczona Lewica (ZL, United Left), under the leadership of Barbara Nowacka. The parties together won 18.8% of the vote in the 2011 election, but polls suggest it will be lucky to win barely 10% in 2015. Though the party boldly advocates taking in as many Syrian and other refugees as possible, the Polish left has long been out of sync with the electorate.
Kukiz, whose own anti-establishment movement took the presidential campaign by storm, seems to have stalled, with support for his ‘Kukiz ’15’ movement fizzling gradually since May, though the group may still win some seats in the Sejm.
The longstanding Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe (Polish People’s Party), a traditional Christian democratic party, and the more libertarian, anti-immigration and anti-European ‘KORWIN’ coalition of the hard-right MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke could also enter the Sejm. Nowoczesna (Modern), a liberal party formed in May by economist Ryszard Petru, is also hoping to cross the 5% threshold.
If all three parties make it — and if Law and Justice fails to win a 231-seat majority, a distinct possibility — Szydło might be forced to include one of them as a partner in a governing coalition.
There’s no doubt that the landmark vote in Ireland on May 22, the first such referendum where a popular majority enacted same-sex marriage, has been received as a huge step forward for marriage equality and LGBT rights in Europe.
While the United States supreme court is set to rule later in June on marriage equality as a legal and constitutional matter within all 50 states, it may feel like a watershed moment in Europe as well, where French president François Hollande and the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) and British prime minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party both swung behind legislative efforts to enact same-sex marriage, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel officially married his own partner in May, but it was only six years ago that Iceland’s Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir became the world’s first openly LGBT head of government, followed shortly by Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo.
Yet the lopsided Irish referendum victory — it passed with 62.07% of the vote and the ‘Yes’ camp won all but one constituency (Roscommon-South Leitrim) — obscures the fact that additional marriage equality gains across the European Union will be slow to materialize. Leave aside the notion, now reinforced by Ireland, that the human rights of a minority can be legitimately subjected to referendum — a precedent that Europeans may come to regret. Amid the recent burst of marriage equality in Europe, the immediate future seems grim.
Nowhere is that more true than just next door in Northern Ireland, which is the only part of the United Kingdom that doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. With the Protestant, federalist electorate dominated by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), one of western Europe’s most harshly anti-LGBT political parties, there’s little hope that Northern Ireland will follow in the footsteps of England, Scotland and Wales. At the end of April, Northern Irish health minister Jim Wells was forced to resign after suggesting same-sex couples were inferior parents. It’s home to the late Ian Paisley’s ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign in the late 1970s, and it’s where sexual relations between two consenting same-sex partners were illegal until 1981, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Northern Irish law violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
But Northern Ireland is not alone in its reticence — marriage equality faces long hurdles in some of the European Union’s most important countries, including Germany, Italy and Poland.
Suffragio is on hiatus for the next week — I’ll have extremely minimal access to the Internet, and I’ll be busy meeting new friends in a new place.
In the meanwhile, there’s going to be quite a bit of electoral politics to watch:
Irelandvotes on May 22 in a referendum to permit same-sex marriage. If polls are correct, it would mark the first time an entire country chooses by direct vote to legalize marriage equality. Ireland, however, remains a socially conservative country where the Catholic church’s influence is strong. Abortion was essentially legalized only in 2013, and there’s every possibility that anti-marriage forces could win an upset. Polls may not be accurately capturing ‘shy’ anti-LGBT voters and, although there’s a majority of Irish voters in favor of marriage equality, it might not be as motivated as anti-marriage voters. RELATED: Scotland passes same-sex marriage,
joining England and Wales
Ethiopia votes on May 24 in what it calls an election. But there’s no indication that the vote will be free and fair, especially in a government climate that disrespects press freedom and has suppressed Oromo and other ethnic groups. Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a southerner, is the nominal successor to the late Meles Zenawi, but there’s no real indication he is anything more than a figurehead. Meles’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, or የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝቦች አብዮታዊ ዲሞክራሲያዊ ግንባር) and, in particular, Tigray figures within its leadership, continue to call the shots. RELATED: Can Hailemariam retain power in Ethiopia?
Poland votes on May 24 in a runoff to determine the chiefly ceremonial president. Polish president Bronisław Komorowski narrowly trailed his conservative rival Andrzej Duda in the first round on May 10, with over 20% of voters choosing neither candidate and instead supporting former rock musician Paweł Kukiz. The two contenders are now facing a too-close-to-call runoff. If Komorowski loses (and even if he narrowly wins reelection), it could mean trouble for the ruling Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), which has held power since 2007. RELATED: Komorowski trails in shock Polish presidential vote result RELATED: Kopacz puts imprint on Poland’s new government
Spain holds regional elections on May 24, a harbinger of December’s general election, in 13 of its 17 autonomous communities. The most populous include Madrid, Valencia and Castile and León. The elections will be a test for the two traditional Spanish parties, prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party) and the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party), which have both presided over difficult economic conditions and budget contractions in the past six years. It’s also a test for two newer groups that hope to displace them, the anti-austerity, leftist Podemos and the centrist Ciudadanos (C’s, Citizens). RELATED: Socialists thrive in Andalusian regional elections
Upon return, on May 26, I’ll have some brief thoughts on each election and, in particular, Ethiopia, which is one of the most fascinating and dynamic countries in sub-Saharan Africa today, even if its political system remains essentially authoritarian.
On May 31, Italy holds regional elections in several parts of the country, including some of the largest Italian regions like Puglia, Campania, Tuscany and Veneto.
The most important elections of the summer come on one day — June 7. That’s when Mexico holds midterm congressional elections and Turkey holds parliamentary elections.
It’s still a quiet spring and summer for electoral politics after the blitz of 2014’s elections. But there’s still much to look forward to later this autumn — from Guatemala to Canada, from Burma/Myanmar to Denmark and from Portugal to Argentina. And the lull in electoral politics will provide a chance to delve into the fascinating political dynamics of China and the Middle East — just because a country doesn’t have elections doesn’t mean it doesn’t have politics. Suffragio will be there for all of it.
It’s safe to say that Polish president Bronisław Komorowski’s surprise second-place finish in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday was one of the most unexpected events in Polish politics of the past decade.
Even after exit polls showed Komorowski (pictured above) training the conservative Andrzej Duda, it was still difficult to believe the popular, capable, moderate incumbent could have failed in a race where polls previously gave him a wide lead.
Though the presidency is chiefly ceremonial, the president serves as commander-in-chief of the Polish army and represents Poland in international affairs, though the prime minister (nominally selected by the president) establishes foreign policy. Notably, the Polish president also has a veto right over legislation, though a three-fifths majority of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, can override a presidential veto.
The presidential vote is widely seen as a prelude to the more important parliamentary elections expected to take place in October 2015.
Complacency among Komorowski’s supporters, the gradual rise in support for Duda (pictured above) and the surprisingly robust protest vote for former rock musician Paweł Kukiz, who waged a populist campaign that called for more direct representation in national elections. Kukiz demands the elimination of party-list proportional representation and the introduction of single-member constituencies, with legislators individually responsible for their voters’ demands. Ironically, Kukiz’s call for a first-past-the-post system coincides with widespread dissatisfaction with the electoral process in Great Britain, where the FPTP system made for some rather inequitable results in last week’s election. Nevertheless, Kukiz won over one-fifth of all voters on Sunday, and both remaining candidates are keen on winning over his supporters.
Both candidates will now advance to a May 24 runoff and, though Komorowski is still expected to win reelection, there’s a chance that Duda could use the momentum of his first-round victory in the next two weeks to propel himself into the presidency. Duda, a 42-year-old member of the European Parliament, is the candidate of the nationalist, conservative Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice) that held power between 2005 and 2007. Unlike Komorowski, he opposes plans for Poland to join the eurozone.
Komorowski, nominally an independent but tied closely to the more pragmatic governing Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), receives generally high marks for his performance as president. Komorowski, a former defense minister, has struck a reassuring tone on the threat of growing Russian ambitions in Ukraine and eastern Europe, and his reelection campaign has sought to reassure voters that he will be a steady hand with respect to Poland’s security. Continue reading Komorowski trails in shock Polish presidential vote result→
Part of the undeniable appeal of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign is her push to become the first woman to lead the United States, enhanced by the fact that she aims to succeed the first African-American president.
But, if elected, Clinton will be far from the only powerful woman on the world stage.
If she wins the November 2016 presidential race, she’ll join a list of world leaders that includes German president Angela Merkel, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.
What’s more, there’s never been a better moment for women leading their countries. Assuming that Clinton wins the presidency in 2016 and serves two terms, it’s not inconceivable that she’d lead the United States at a time of ‘peak’ female leadership. But nowhere is that more true than in Europe. In fact, it’s not inconceivable that each of the six largest member-states of the European Union could have women in charge during a potential Clinton administration.
Almost as soon as it happened last Thursday, nearly every economist in the world started asking — just why, after three years of maintaining a currency floor for the Swiss franc, did the Swiss National Bank suddenly declare that it would no longer intervene in currency markets to keep the franc‘s value artificially low?
The truth is that we won’t fully know until Thursday, when the European Central Bank is expected to announce a bond-buying scheme that ECB president Mario Draghi has been pushing for months — according to reports, a €550 billion program that amounts to Europe’s first major attempt at introducing quantitative easing into its monetary policy as the threat of deflation creeps across the eurozone. But it’s becoming clearer that the two events are related.
Draghi’s announcement that Europe will join the Bank of England, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan by dipping its toes into the waters of quantitative easing almost certainly forced the SNB’s hand last week. The looming ECB decision set into motion a set of domino actions throughout the world, starting with the SNB’s decision last week, which in turn caused a mini-crisis in Poland, where nearly half of the country’s mortgages are denominated in francs. It’s essentially the first major political challenge for Poland’s new prime minister Ewa Kopacz, who succeeded Donald Tusk last year when he became the president of the European Council. Kopacz faces a tough election hurdle in elections that must be held this year before October.
Meanwhile, Denmark is now under pressure, too, with its central bank forced to lower interest rates in the face of speculation that, like Switzerland, it might be forced to abandon its permanent policy of pegging the Danish krone to the euro, under which the krone trades within a 2.25% band of a rate of 7.46 krone to the euro.
Over the past 12 months, the world witnessed a pivotal general election in India, presidential elections in Indonesia, congressional midterm elections in the United States, European parliamentary elections and elections (of varying competitiveness) in over a dozen of additional countries in the world, all pivotal in their own ways — Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, South Africa, Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Serbia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Belgium, Sweden and independence referenda in Scotland and Catalunya.
After such a crowded 2014 calendar, it’s not surprising that 2015 will not bring the same volume of electoral activity. But there’s still plenty at stake, especially as volatile oil prices, Chinese economic slowdown and the return of recession in Europe and Japan could stifle global economic potential. The most important of those elections that will determine policy that affects the lives of billions of people worldwide.
For Poland, former prime minister Donald Tusk’s elevation to the presidency of the European Council wasn’t the end of a complex inter-institutional process so much as the launch of a new domestic political process.
When former parliamentary speaker Ewa Kopacz, a Tusk loyalist and former health minister, succeeded Tusk as Poland’s second female prime minister on Monday, she did so with a reshuffled cabinet that she will hope to lead into the next Polish election, which must take place before October 2015.
For the time being, Kopacz (pictured above, left, with president Bronisław Komorowski) is expected to act as little more than a placeholder for Tusk, and the rap on her is that she won the job through her loyalty to Tusk, not through any innate political ability or policymaking chops. For now, she’s expected to do Tusk’s bidding, even as he and his team head for Brussels. It’s rumored that Komorowski disapproved of Kopacz’s elevation to the premiership, and there’s no shortage of figures within her own center-right Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform) who would rather be prime minister instead.
But if she wins a mandate in her own right, Kopacz could gradually build her own political base and, as time passes, you can expect Kopacz to develop her own policy priorities separate from Tusk’s.
Among the most surprising changes was the end of Radek Sikorski’s seven-year tenure as foreign minister. Sikorski, one of the most hawkish voices against Russian aggression, instead assume the job that Kopacz once held, the marshal of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament. Though the job doesn’t bring the same high-profile notoriety as the foreign ministry, it will given Sikorski more direct parliamentary and domestic political experience and it’s technically second only to the prime minister. That makes it more likely that Sikorski himself could become prime minister one day, especially if Kopacz fails to win a third consecutive term in government. Continue reading Kopacz puts imprint on Poland’s new government→
As if timed to coincide with this week’s NATO summit in Wales, which could mark the most important gathering of Western allies since the end of the Cold War, US-based commentary this week took a huge leap forward in its assessment of the Russian threat — though not necessarily in a way that’s incredible rational.
Call it the ‘underpants gnome’ theory of understanding Russia today:
Russian aggression in Ukraine + ????? = World War III!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
In the latest fallout from an increasingly disruptive series of leaked audio conversations in Poland, its foreign minister Radosław Sikorski apparently called his country’s ties with the United States ‘worthless,’ and otherwise disparaged the bilateral Polish-US relationship:
Mr Sikorski called Poland’s stance towards the US “downright harmful because it creates a false sense of security”, according to the new leak. He has not denied using such language.
According to the excerpts, Mr Sikorski told former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski that “the Polish-US alliance isn’t worth anything”.
Using vulgar language, he compared Polish subservience to the US to giving oral sex. He also warned that such a stance would cause “conflict with the Germans, Russians”.
At one point, Sikorski used the Polish word murzynskosc — meaning ‘slavery’ — to describe the bilateral relationship in a conversation with former finance minister Jacek Rostowski.