A specter is haunting the Western world — the specter of populism. The appeal of divisive political platforms pitting “ordinary people” against self-serving, out-of-touch elites has been on the rise for several decades. The 2008 financial crisis and the chaotic wave of asylum seekers who arrived on Europe’s shores more recently both accelerated the trend. Yet 2019 might be the year when the populist revolt starts stalling.
First, the more populists exercise power, the more apparent the costs of populism become. In Britain, the prospect of a chaotic “hard Brexit” has prompted a sense of panic and strong pushback among the Tories, possibly giving a new lease on life to Prime Minister Theresa May’s much-reviled withdrawal agreement with the European Union.… Seguir leyendo »
“The wind is back in Europe’s sails,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced last September. “The 21st century will be the [European Union’s] century,” Antonio Tajani, the head of European Parliament, predicted confidently earlier this month.
One wonders whether they are still as confident today, amid a panic in financial markets triggered by the government crisis in Tajani’s homeland of Italy, which has investors worrying about a possible Italian exit from the euro zone. Once again, the entrenched optimism of European elites stands in stark contrast with the continent’s grim reality. If the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election in the United States shook the continent’s leaders to their core, most failed to draw the right lessons.… Seguir leyendo »
To any fair-minded observer, President Trump’s authoritarian instincts, Twitter outbursts and divisive rhetoric should be greatly concerning. Americans might take comfort in the fact that the United States is not the first country to elect and live under such a leader. I would know.
Two and a half years after the fall of communism in 1989, the ruthless and charismatic Vladimir Meciar was elected as prime minister in my home country of Slovakia after a brief previous stint in the office. His larger-than-life personality and bombastic rhetoric filled much of the media space, often with lies and conspiracies. His opponents, many of them former dissidents from the old era, lacked the rhetorical skills, charisma and political acumen to compete.… Seguir leyendo »
Imagine for a moment that, instead of the federally run Customs and Border Protection agency, Texas, Arizona and neighboring states were charged with patrolling the southern border, while Montana, New York and so on were responsible for guarding the northern one. Taxpayers in affected areas would probably complain that they were being unfairly burdened. Meanwhile, states far from the two borders, such as Kentucky or Missouri, would have little incentive to pitch in and help.
That arrangement may sound patently absurd, but it roughly describes how things have worked in the European Union since 1985, when the EU abolished internal border checks.… Seguir leyendo »
Post-Communist countries can be likened to Western societies operating with a time lag — repeating the same debates that their Western counterparts had some 10 years ago. One such example is Slovakia’s current controversy over gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.
Although the institutionalization of gay marriages or child adoptions by same-sex couples hardly figures on the agenda of most political parties, the country has come a long way since its first Gay Pride event in 2010, which was disrupted by neo-Nazi youths. Because it is probably just a matter of time until gay unions and same-sex adoptions become palatable to most Slovaks, opponents of these reforms have launched a pre-emptive assault to make these reforms legally and politically costly.… Seguir leyendo »
For ordinary people of the Middle East and North Africa, the events of the Arab Spring were driven as much by a frustration at the lack of economic opportunity as they were a discontent with authoritarian, repressive regimes in the region. After all, the popular uprisings were triggered by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor who had been repeatedly harassed by local authorities. When he was prohibited by the officials to sell fruits and vegetables, with his goods confiscated, his life — and the lives of those who were dependent on him — were instantly ruined.
Unfortunately, three years later, things are coming full circle in Tunisia.… Seguir leyendo »
Aspecter of populism seems to be haunting Europe. While the trend is not winning elections yet, London Financial Times‘ Gideon Rachman fears that “anti-establishment radicals do not need to capture the position of president or prime minister to gum up the system. Even if traditional pro-EU centrists continue to lead most national governments in Europe, their room for maneuver at EU summits is greatly reduced if populist parties are making big gains back home.”
It is certainly the case that a diverse bloc of anti-establishment political groups have been gaining momentum throughout the European continent since the beginning of the debt crisis in the eurozone’s periphery.… Seguir leyendo »
As Mohamed Morsi prepares to mark his first anniversary as president Sunday, Egypt is bracing for a fresh wave of protests.
The Tamarod (or Rebel) campaign has reportedly collected more than 15 million signatures demanding Morsi’s resignation and an early presidential election. In response, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated ruling Freedom and Justice Party is organizing rallies in support of the government. Last week, tens of thousands of FJP supporters were brought in on buses from rural areas to Cairo’s Nasr City neighborhood, where they chanted slogans such as «Islam is the solution» and «The Koran is the constitution.»
Things could take a nasty turn; after all, the Rebel campaign headquarters were burned down on June 7, and attacks on local FJP offices have been reported.… Seguir leyendo »
First, there were only a handful of cranky Tory backbenchers and libertarian Nigel Farage who were receptive in the 2000s to the growing popular discontent over the way the European Union was being run. Seen as a fringe movement and part of British political folklore, few expected euroskepticism to get much traction.
The coming out of Nigel Lawson, former chancellor of the exchequer, seems to be a game-changer. Writing about leaving the European Union, the Tory peer concluded that “the economic gains would substantially outweigh the costs.” Lord Lawson was soon followed by two Cabinet ministers — Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defense Secretary Philip Hammond — who also indicated that they would favor Britain’s exit.… Seguir leyendo »
The ongoing debt crisis in the eurozone has given rise to a predictable genre of tasteless humor directed at the ailing nations on its periphery. A typical example would go like this: An Italian, a Portuguese and a Greek go into a bar and have a round of drinks. Who pays? The German.
Although it is unfortunate that the crisis fosters ill-advised national stereotypes, such jokes do raise the serious question of why nations in the eurozone’s Mediterranean area seem unable to deal with their fiscal problems. At some level, their problems are simple — they boil down to basic math.… Seguir leyendo »
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was welcomed to Athens this week with signs saying: “Angela don’t cry. There is nothing left in the larder to take.”
Although we may sympathize with ordinary Greeks who are suffering through a severe recession, double-digit unemployment and a government that cannot honor its spending obligations, that remains an uncharitable and misguided way of framing the problem.
Merkel did not visit Athens to pillage; she was there to try to help the Greeks.
In fact, if the euro is to survive, German policymakers have to play a much more assertive role in the governance of the euro zone.… Seguir leyendo »
During his electoral campaign, Francois Hollande declared war on “unfettered capitalism,” which he identified as the main contributor to the current economic crisis. His presidency promises a re-regulation of financial markets and marginal tax rates of up to 75 percent for top earners. Mr. Hollande also has announced a new labor-market reform, which — among other things — would prohibit profit-making companies with growing sales from firing their employees.
Regardless of what one thinks of his policies, what “unfettered capitalism” is Mr. Hollande talking about? European economies are among the most heavily regulated in the world, with new regulations being churned out by both national legislatures and European institutions.… Seguir leyendo »
After announcing her candidacy, French Finance Minister Christine La- garde immediately emerged as the front-runner in the race for the presidency of the International Monetary Fund. France, the United Kingdom and Germany all support her, while the emerging economies that oppose her candidacy – such as Brazil, India and Mexico – are unlikely to coalesce behind Agustin Carstens, governor of Mexico’s central bank.
While Ms. Lagarde’s victory might be applauded by European Union political elites, it is far from clear that having a French head of the IMF is desirable in the midst of the present crisis on the eurozone’s periphery.… Seguir leyendo »
As European leaders are frantically discussing whether the European Union’s bailout fund should be increased from its current size of $585 billion, it’s clear that the debt crisis in the eurozone is entering a new stage – one in which events can unravel quickly. At this stage, the European sovereign debt crisis has become a systemic problem for the European periphery as a whole – and not just a series of mishaps in its individual countries. As a result, it also has become a systemic problem for the European banking system, as much of the periphery’s debt sits on balance sheets of major German banks.… Seguir leyendo »
In 2007, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, spent most of the year assuring markets that the U.S. sub-prime mortgage loan problem would be contained. In an all-too-similar manner, the European Central Bank president, Jean-Claude Trichet, now keeps asserting that Europe’s sovereign debt crisis does not pose a significant threat to the overall European economy, let alone to the global economy.
American policymakers would do well to disregard Mr. Trichet’s sanguine remarks and brace themselves for a European economic tsunami that is all too likely to seriously derail the fragile U.S. economic recovery.
Among the surer signs that a currency arrangement is approaching the end of its useful shelf life is when policymakers are forced to vehemently deny the possibility of any change in that arrangement.… Seguir leyendo »