Tag Archives: TTIP

Why British sovereignty would be even weaker after leaving the European Union

Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg (left) meets European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (right). (EEA).
Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg (left) meets European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (right). (EEA).

Chief among the reasons that the ‘Leave’ campaign cites for its campaign to convince British voters to leave the European Union is sovereignty. European_UnionUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Here’s Ambrose-Evans Prichard, with a well-written and thoughtful essay endorsing Brexit last week in The Telegraph:

Stripped of distractions, it comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error.

For some proponents of the ‘Leave’ campaign, sovereignty matters so much that the warnings of a significant short-term disruption to the British economy simply do not matter. In the long run, Brexit’s benefits will come, supporters hope, from the ability of future British policymakers to enact laws and regulations unhindered by the grinding bureaucracy of Brussels and Strasbourg.

That Brexit will lead to such full-throated British sovereignty is not so clear — at least if the United Kingdom wants to leave the European Union while still retaining access to the single market, one of the world’s most integrated free-trade zones.

Britain, contemplating divorce, already has a ‘separation’ with Europe 

It’s not always easy to sort the alphabet soup within the European Union, let alone the rest of Europe that lies outside the technical European Union. But arguably the United Kingdom today enjoys much more freedom than any of the other 27 member-states of the European Union. As British voters consider divorce from Europe, they would do well to consideration that their country is already in something of a separation with Europe.

Today, the United Kingdom is neither a member of the euro currency zone and monetary union, nor (like Ireland) the Schengen zone of free movement. The former means that the United Kingdom still has its own currency, the pound sterling, and the Bank of England controls British monetary policy. The latter means that the United Kingdom retains more control over its borders than even non-EU states like Switzerland and Norway (both party to the Schengen Agreement).  Continue reading Why British sovereignty would be even weaker after leaving the European Union

Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton might find in German chancellor Angela Merkel a role model in the era of Trump (State Department)
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton might find in German chancellor Angela Merkel a role model in the era of Trump (State Department)

In 2008, US president Barack Obama won the largest Democratic mandate in a generation, in part, by pledging to change the tone in Washington.USflag

But in 2016, after eight years of increasingly bitter and partisan posturing, it’s Obama’s one-time rival, Hillary Clinton, who now has the opportunity to transcend the hyper-partisanship that began with the divided government under her husband’s administration in the 1990s.

Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party laid bare the long-growing schism among various Republican constituencies. Currently, the two living former Republican presidents (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), the party’s most recent presidential nominee (former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney), its one-time 2016 frontrunners (former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Texas senator Ted Cruz and Florida senator Marco Rubio) and the Republican in the highest-ranking elected official — speaker of the House (Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan) — have all refused to endorse Trump.

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RELATED: That transcending ideology thing from 2008?
Merkel did it. Obama hasn’t.

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Despite the promise that the coming general election will be nasty, even by the recent standards of American politics, Clinton, if she’s nimble enough, can become a unifying and moderate figure who can work with both Republicans and Democrats. If Trump loses as badly as polls suggest he might, the Republican Party will be a shambles on November 8. The fight for Senate control was always a toss-up, and a Trump debacle could endanger even Republican control of the House of Representatives.

Increasingly, the debate in world politics is tilting away from traditional left-right discourses, replaced by a much darker fight, for the first time since the 1930s, between populist nationalism and globalist internationalism — and not just in the United States, but everywhere from the Philippines to the United Kingdom. In that fight, Ryan (and Bush and moderate Republicans) have much more in common with Clinton and the officials who will lead a Clinton administration than with Trump.

Make no mistake, if Clinton wins the presidency in November, she’s not going to form a German-style ‘grand coalition’ with Ryan and leading Republicans. Postwar German politics operates largely on consensus to a degree unknown in American (or even much of European) politics. Still, German chancellor Angela Merkel has already paved the way for how a successful Clinton presidency might unfold, and Clinton advisers would be smart to figure out, as the campaign unfolds, how to position Clinton as a kind of American ‘Mutti.’ Clinton is already reaching out to moderate Republican donors, but the challenge goes much deeper — to become a kind of acceptable figure to both blue-state and red-state America.

It’s not clear that Clinton has the same political skill to pull off in the United States what Merkel has done in Germany.

But it’s a rare opportunity, nonetheless, if she can.  Continue reading Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

Obama’s credibility now on the line with Brexit vote

US president Barack Obama joined forces with British prime minister David Cameron on Friday to cajole voters in the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

It all seemed so rational, so normal.United Kingdom Flag IconUSflag

When US president Barack Obama took the stage yesterday in London (and on the pages of The Daily Telegraph) to dismantle, with surgical precision, the arguments against the United Kingdom staying in the European Union, it didn’t feel like a rupture in international politics.

But it was a radical departure from standard operating procedure.

US presidents, to say nothing of lower officials, have never had qualms intervening in the domestic affairs of foreign countries.

Rarely does an American president so do in such a public forum.

Rarer still that an American president would weigh in on a matter that will be determined by a foreign electorate in eight weeks.

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RELATED: How Corbyn can use Brexit to
reinvigorate his Labour leadership

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Standing beside the British prime minister, Obama was making the case against Brexit better than anyone else on the British political stage, in part because of the sheer scale of power that comes with the American presidency. Special or no, the body language of Obama and his British counterpart David Cameron spoke everything about the unequal bilateral partnership. Amazingly, Obama managed to shrink and upstage Cameron nearly as much as George W. Bush diminished Tony Blair, oft mocked as Bush’s ‘poodle,’ over the Iraq war in 2003.  Continue reading Obama’s credibility now on the line with Brexit vote

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

Seven things to watch for in Cameron’s next government


It’s morning in the United Kingdom, and the BBC is projecting that the Conservative Party will win 325 seats — exactly half of the House of Commons, and an increase of 20 seats from the 305 seats that the Tories held in the prior parliament.United Kingdom Flag Icon

What’s clear is that prime minister David Cameron will keep his job, and all the talk of a hung parliament and weeks of coalition-building seems to have been wrong.

But what will Cameron face in the next five years?

Here are the seven things to watch, as the second Cameron government unfolds: Continue reading Seven things to watch for in Cameron’s next government

What a Republican Senate means for world politics


On Tuesday, when tens of millions of US voters go to the polls, they are very likely to deliver a US Senate majority to the Republican Party.USflag

Six years into the administration of Democratic president Barack Obama and four years after the midterm elections that delivered control of the US House of Representatives to the Republicans and conservative speaker John Boehner, most polls and poll aggregate forecasts give the Republicans anywhere from a strong (70%) to moderate (74%) to an overwhelming (96%) chance to retake the Senate.

It’s not uncommon for the ‘six-year itch’ to reward the non-presidential party with gains in midterm elections. Throughout the post-war era, in every midterm election during the second term of a reelection president, the opposition party has made gains each time — with the exception of 1998, when the Democrats benefited from a strong economy and Republican overreach in pursuing  what would eventually become impeachment hearings against US president Bill Clinton over alleged perjury in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

It’s also not unheard of that foreign policy can drive larger narratives about presidencies.

Most recently, in 2006, Democrats recaptured both houses in midterm elections, forcing then-president George W. Bush to accept the resignation of his defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in light of the war in Iraq’s unpopularity and the unfolding sectarian civil war taking place there despite US military occupation. As it turns out, the 2006 midterms paved the way for a much more moderate tone to the final two years of the Bush administration and a change in strategy under Robert Gates, Rumsfeld’s successor, who ultimately stayed on as defense secretary until 2011, lending a sense of continuity to the Obama administration’s approach to defense policy.

So what exactly would a Republican Senate mean for US foreign policy in the final two years of the Obama administration? Continue reading What a Republican Senate means for world politics

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

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

The European parliamentary elections are really four contests

Festival of Europe Open day 2012 in Strasbourg

It’s hard to know exactly how to place the European parliamentary elections in the constellation of world politics. European_Union

From one perspective, they’re relatively unimportant — a largely apathetic electorate is choosing a body of 751 MEPs in a parliament that has less power within the European Union than most parliamentary bodies have within national governments. The Council of the European Union gives member-states veto power over EU legislation and the European Commission, the regulatory executive of the European Union, has the power to introduce legislation. Voters, since the first direct elections in 1979, have turned out in ever lower proportions with each election cycle. To the extent you talk to European voters who actually care about the elections, they mostly view them as an opportunity for a protest vote.

From another perspective, they’re incredibly important. They represent the one point of genuine democratic participation within the European Union and, given the tumult of the past five years with respect to the eurozone, the European economy and the power of relatively wealthier states to dictate the monetary policy and, increasingly, the fiscal policy of weaker states, the current elections  represent a major conversation about the future of EU policy. That’s especially true in the context of the weighty matters that the next European Parliament will face, including a new data privacy directive and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a potentially game-changing free-trade agreement with the United States.

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RELATED: In Depth: European parliamentary elections

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So which is the right interpretation?

It can be both — and many things besides — depending on your view. That’s because the European parliamentary elections are really four separate political contests, wrapped up and presented as one set of elections. The relative importance or unimportance that a particular actor places on the ‘European elections’ depends upon which of the four ‘contests’ most resonates.

So what are the four contests simultaneously raging across Europe? Continue reading The European parliamentary elections are really four contests

How EU regulation led to Oklahoma’s ghastly botched execution


When the European Union expanded Regulation 1236/2005 in December 2011, its regulators could hardly have known that it would lead, in part, to the excruciating scene of a failed 43-minute execution in McAlester, Oklahoma. USflagEuropean_Unionoklahoma_640

The EU decision expanded an existing ban on the trade of instruments used for torture to include those drugs specifically used by US state correctional facilities to execute prisoners by means of legal injection. It codified at the EU supranational level what had already become a growing practice at the national level in Europe, including in the United Kingdom, arguably the closest international US ally.

it served a laudable goal from the European perspective — making it more difficult for state governments in the United States to import the necessary drugs in the traditional three-drug cocktail used by most states for nearly four decades to execute inmates by lethal injection.

What’s more, that decision is the latest example of how the European Union’s policies are increasingly affecting the United States — from antitrust law to data privacy to trade harmonization, European regulatory standards will continue to shape US policies and outcomes in new and, for some Americans, often frustrating ways.

As a matter of human rights, both the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights denounce and ban the death penalty within the European Union. But the death penalty’s abolition goes beyond the immediate boundaries of the European Union — it’s banned almost universally across Europe, with the single exception of Belarus. Even Russia, which isn’t exactly the best-practices touchstone for human rights, has implemented a moratorium. Russia’s last execution took place in 1996. France’s last execution (yes, by guillotine) took place in 1977. Italy’s last execution (by firing squad) took place in 1949. The last UK execution (by hanging) took place in 1964. The entire era of executions by ‘lethal injection,’ which largely followed the US Supreme Court’s four-year moratorium* on capital punishment over concerns that executions violate the eighth amendment ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ comes largely after Europe abolished the death penalty. By the time that lethal injections became the standard practice for executions, Europe was largely out of the execution business.

Since 1977, execution by lethal injection in the United States has involved the use of three drugs:

  • sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that is used to render the convicted person unconscious;
  • pancuronium bromide, which is used to paralyze the subject and stop breathing, in part for the benefit of the audience observing the execution, because it provides the appearance that the victim isn’t suffering; and
  • potassium chloride, which stops the heart and, in theory, rapidly leads to death.

Ironically, the two most potent drugs are widely available. It’s sodium thiopental that’s become so difficult for state governments to obtain under the new EU regulations. With sources of sodium thiopental becoming increasingly scarce, correctional facilities are turning to some fairly desperate measures to avoid disruption of their regularly scheduled executions. In some cases, that’s meant sourcing drugs through illegal channels, and in other cases, that’s meant that states, like Oklahoma, have experimented with new combinations of drugs. When Missouri contemplated using propofol instead, European countries started talking about banning that drug’s export, too, which led to a deluge of concern among US health professionals that they would lose access to one of the most important anesthetics in medical use today. Missouri’s governor Jay Nixon quickly moved away from the idea.

As Matt Ford reported for The Atlantic earlier this year, EU efforts won’t necessarily end the death penalty in the United States, but they are certainly complicating its efficacy:

“The EU embargo has slowed down, but not stopped executions,” Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C, told me. “It has made the states seem somewhat desperate and not in control, putting the death penalty in a negative light, with an uncertain future.”

That’s left the United States where it is today. States like Oklahoma,  determined to move forward with executions, are left with few good options. Experimenting with new drugs will invariably lead to more botched executions like Tuesday night’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett (though it’s worth noting that lethal injections, and all executions, are potentially imperfect from an Eighth Amendment perspective — Ohio learned this in 2009 with the failed execution of Romell Broom). 

But the EU decision has also led to more astonishing measures. Oklahoma has taken extraordinary steps to keep secret the contents of its new experimental execution cocktail — if EU member-states discover which drug Oklahoma is using, they could easily ban that drug as well. Notwithstanding the fears that the drugs might cause the kind of 43-minute, tortured death that Lockett actually suffered last night, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin (pictured above) brought the state to the brink of political crisis over the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision to stay the execution earlier this month. Only after some of Fallin’s Republican colleagues in the Oklahoma legislature threatened to impeach the justices did they relent. 

Whatever you think of the death penalty and its continued use in the United States, it’s difficult to believe that it’s  worth undermining the judiciary’s independence on a matter of life-and-death constitutional rights or that it’s worth turning the penultimate expression of law and order, an irreversible deterrent, into a tortured science experiment.

It’s even harder to believe that in a 21st century liberal democracy with strong freedom-of-information traditions, a state government can legally keep secret the means of executing its own citizens.

If former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan, who placed a moratorium on Illinois’s death penalty in 1999, represents the sober view that the capital punishment is simply too flawed to be effective, Fallin will now become the symbol of the opposite — denying the basics of due process or constitutional rights all in the service of tinkering with the machinery of death, as the late Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun wrote in a scathing 1994 denunciation of capital punishment.     Continue reading How EU regulation led to Oklahoma’s ghastly botched execution

Trade blocs form the new borders of the 21st century global order


The most underreported aspect of the current crisis over the Crimea annexation is the extent to which Russia was willing to go to the brink of international crisis for the goal of a future trade bloc. USflagEuropean_Union

Why does Russian president Vladimir Putin care so much about the vaunted Eurasian Union, even though it’s a rewarmed version of the existing economic customs union among  Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan?

To turn Michael Corleone’s words on their head, ‘it’s personal, not business.’

Putin hoped that the revamped union could attract a few more stragglers in central Asia, Azerbaijan or Armenia and perhaps Ukraine — until February 22.

There are certainly potential gains from greater free trade, and negotiating multilateral trade blocs seems both more efficient than one-off bilateral agreements and more productive than pushing for greater global integration through the World Trade Organization (WTO) process.

Also unlike bilateral treaties or WTO-based agreements, regional trading blocs are also emerging as strategic geopolitical vehicles for advances regional agendas that have just as much to do with politics as with trade.

Ultimately, it’s same reason that the two South American customs unions, the Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR, Suthern Common Market) and the Comunidad Andina (CAN, Andean Community) joined to form the even larger Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR, Union of South American Nations), which came into existence in 2008 and covers the entire South American region.

It’s the same reason that Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta has put so much pressure on Tanzania to choose between the East African Community (EAC) or the Southern African Development Community (SADC) over the past year by accelerating plans for greater political cooperation within the EAC — with or without Tanzania. Or why admitting South Sudan into the EAC back in 2011 could have helped prevent its slide into civil war.

It’s the same reason that defining ‘Europe’ has been such a  strategic and existential issue for the European Union and its predecessor, the European Economic Community, since its inception. Does the United Kingdom belong? (In the 1960s, according to French president Charles de Gaulle, it didn’t). How to handle Turkey? (Enter into a customs union with it, then slow-roll accession talks since 1999, apparently). Should Ukraine join? Moldova? Georgia? If Azerbaijan can win the Eurovision contest, why not bring it into the single market? What about, one day, Morocco and Tunisia, which both have association agreements with the European Union?

That’s why it’s worth paying close attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but also the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP would create a super-free-trade-zone between the United States and the European Union, which together generate between 45% and 60% of global trade.

Continue reading Trade blocs form the new borders of the 21st century global order

An enjoyable panel at the Wilson Center on US-Canada relations

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I had the pleasure of joining a panel discussion earlier today at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Diane Francis’s new book, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country.Canada Flag IconUSflag

I’ve already written about the book, which has made quite a splash on both sides of the border.  It was a pleasure to meet Francis, an American-Canadian who’s been writing and thinking about Canadian policy for years.  With a Canadian federal election approaching in 2015, the US presidential election in 2016, and ongoing negotiations between the United States and the European Union over a free-trade agreement, it’s a particularly opportune time for both Canadian and US policymakers to be thinking about many of the policy ideas for greater bilateral cooperation that the book outlines.

You can watch the entire panel below the jump:

Continue reading An enjoyable panel at the Wilson Center on US-Canada relations

Can the Obama administration save François Hollande?

2ckb1152No one could miss the undertones of yesterday’s op-ed, co-written by US president Barack Obama and French president François Hollande, in The Washington Post and Le Monde:France Flag Icon

A decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed. Since France’s return to NATO’s military command four years ago and consistent with our continuing commitment to strengthen the NATO- European Union partnership, we have expanded our cooperation across the board. We are sovereign and independent nations that make our decisions based on our respective national interests. Yet we have been able to take our alliance to a new level because our interests and values are so closely aligned.

It was one of the biggest, wettest, sloppiest kisses that the Obama administration has given a foreign leader — and it’s not something that this administration does often.  It’s part of the red-carpet treatment that Obama is rolling out for Hollande, who visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, in Virginia on Monday, and will be the host of a state dinner tonight at the White House.

It’s clearly an opportunity for the newly single Hollande to move on after a dismal January, when sensational headlines over his trysts with a French actress overshadowed his his attempts to introduce a new economic reform package.  It became a nearly monthlong saga that sent Hollande’s partner, Valerie Trierweiler, to a Paris hospital for over a week, and that ended with their breakup.

Time magazine, which a wide-ranging interview, asks this week on its cover whether Hollande can fix France.  It’s worth asking whether, first, the White House is trying to help fix Hollande.  Polls routinely show Hollande with an approval rating in the low 20s (or even high teens), making him the least popular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, not even two years into his five-year term.

The White House treatment, including Monday’s joint editorial, undoubtedly hopes to share of Obama’s star power with the widely derided president.  Obama needs Hollande’s help to finalize the US-EU free trade pact, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, even though it could harm French farmers and wine producers by opening the European Union to cheaper US exports.  Obama will also need Hollande’s help to win a long-term nuclear energy deal with Iran while the temporary six-month deal remains in effect.

It’s true that France has been, surprisingly, almost as reliable a partner on US foreign policy as the United Kingdom in recent years.  Hollande has deepened France’s 21st century internationalism, of course, most notably through his decision to mount a largely successful intervention to keep northern Mali from falling to foreign Islamic jihadists, thereby giving Bamako the space to hold new elections and build a stronger national government.  French peacemakers in the Central African Republic may have also helped limit violence between Christians and Muslims in December and January and smoothed the way for Michel Djotodia’s resignation.  Hollande was willing to back a US military attack on Syrian president  Bashar al-Assad last August when the United Kingdom and the US Congress were not.


But credit for the hard work of repairing US-French relations, insofar as it relates to the newly muscular tone of French foreign policy, more appropriately rests with former president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose administration marked the true pivot on foreign policy.   Continue reading Can the Obama administration save François Hollande?

14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014


Though I rang in the new year with a list of 14 world elections to watch in the coming year (and 14 more honorable mentions to keep an eye on), I wanted to showcase a few more thoughts about what to watch for in world politics and foreign affairs in 2014.

Accordingly, here are 14 possible game-changers — they’re not predictions per se, but neither are they as far-fetched as they might seem.  No one can say with certainty that they will come to pass in 2014.  Instead, consider these something between rote predictions (e.g., that violence in Iraq is getting worse) and outrageous fat-tail risks (e.g., the impending breakup of the United States).

There’s an old album of small pieces conducted by the late English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, a delightfully playful album entitled Lollipops that contains some of the old master’s favorite, most lively short pieces.

Think of these as Suffragio‘s 14 world politics lollipops to watch in 2014.

We start in France… Continue reading 14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014

Despite CETA signing, Harper’s 2014 agenda remains unambitious


Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper today celebrated the signing of a landmark free-trade deal between Canada and the European Union, bringing to fruition one of the top accomplishments that Harper can claim since taking office with a minority government in 2006 and a majority government in 2011. Canada Flag Icon

Although the pact won’t be ratified until 2015, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) removes tariffs between Canada’s economy and the $17 trillion economy of the European Union, which comprises 28 countries and over 500 million people.  Together with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it will give Canada exclusive access to more than half of the global economy.  CETA will allow Canadian automakers to export 12 times as many automobiles to Europe, and it will fully open the EU market to Canadian fruits, vegetables, wheat, grains and dairy, while removing tariffs on European wine and spirits, all seafood, metals and minerals (including steel and iron) and up to 29,000 tonnes of European cheese.  Furthermore, Harper is considering granting compensation to Canada’s dairy producers, especially in Québec, if they lose revenue in the wake of the agreement.

What’s more, Harper (pictured above with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso) will be able to brag that his vision for a Canadian-European free trade agreement served as a precedent for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) still being negotiated between the United States and the European Union.

At a time when the Liberal Party has emerged from the brink of political oblivion with the selection of its popular, telegenic leader Justin Trudeau, to lead polls in advance of the 2015 election — an iPolitics/EKOS poll earlier this week gave the Liberals 36% support to just 26% support for Harper’s Conservative Party and 25% for the social progressive New Democratic Party — the completion of CETA and its ratification gives Harper three domestic policy wins.

First, it’s perhaps his most significant policy accomplishment in seven years.  Second, not only does it give him a substantive accomplishment, it gives him one that bolsters the case that he’s dedicated to creating jobs and strengthening Canada’s economy, and it provides a contrast to Trudeau’s often wishy-washy blather.  Third, it hoists a difficult choice on the NDP — support the CETA and anger labor unions, especially within its new Québécois stronghold; or oppose to CETA to draw a stronger contrast to Trudeau’s newly invigorated Liberals.

But don’t expect much more in the way of ambition from Harper’s government this year.

The agreement comes after the reading of Harper’s 2013 Throne Speech, much of which constituted a victory lap detailing Canada’s superior employment and economic record compared to its developed-world peers, such as the United States and the European Union, where political instability, stagnant GDP growth and joblessness have been more acute.  While Harper hopes to pass a law requiring balanced budgets in the future, it’s unclear whether he can actually pass a bill through Canada’s parliament or that future governments would keep it in place.

The rest of Harper’s agenda amounted to an odd mix of populist consumer protection schemes:

The government promised to “take steps to reduce roaming costs” for cellphone users. It says it will take action so that cable and satellite customers can “choose the combination of television channels they want” by “unbundling” channel packages. And it promised to move on “hidden fees,” including making it so that “customers won’t pay extra to receive paper bills.” If this part of the agenda reads like it was pilfered from the NDP, that’s because to some extent it was.

It’s puzzling for a market-oriented party like the Tories to prioritize these kind of measures — services like Netflix and Hulu are already, in part, helped to unbundle television packages through market forces.  Roaming costs for Canadian users are already coming down due to market pressures.  So many of the consumer goals Harper listed are likely to come about through the market without the need for government interference.

It’s equally baffling to know how Harper will reduce ‘geographic price discrimination,’ his term for the price differential between consumer goods sold in Canada and the United States. Presumably, if the price difference is enough, Canadians (90% of whom live within 100 miles of the US border) will make a trip down south to buy them at cheaper prices, or enterprising entrepreneurs will find a way to undercut them — especially in the world of e-commerce.

But even more, it’s small ball.  It’s the Canadian equivalent of former US president Bill Clinton’s much-derided 1995 agenda of school uniforms and ‘v-chips.’  Though consumer protection initiatives aren’t nothing, it’s hardly the kind of bold, conservative agenda that you might have expected Harper to champion upon coming to power seven years ago, and surely not what you’d expect from a government just two years after finally capturing a majority government.

John Ivison, writing in The National Post, likened the Throne Speech to ‘a botox treatment gone bad’:

The Throne Speech is littered with examples of the government wading into sectors of the economy to “fix” problems that should be left to either the market or the existing regulators — all to the detriment of millions of Canadian shareholders.  It’s all so transparent and light as tinsel.

But it’s not just this year’s Throne Speech.

Aside from CETA, it’s hard to point to any truly groundbreaking, signature legislative acts in the Harper era.  Sure, the government reduced the rate of the Goods and Services Tax from 7% to 5% by January 2008, and it will likely balance Canada’s budget by 2015.  But those accomplishments, significant as they are, won’t be remembered in 50 or 100 years in the same way that CETA could be remembered.  Continue reading Despite CETA signing, Harper’s 2014 agenda remains unambitious