[Discussion] European Political Landscape

There are three elections occurring over the coming year that are of huge importance. They are:

Italian Constitutional Referendum - 04/12/16
French Presidential Election - 1st Round 23/04/17, 2nd Round 07/05/17
German Federal Election - 22/10/17

This thread is to discuss the political realities, results and fallout around these elections. The scope is broad but try to keep the post relevant to the elections referenced above.

Edit - Updated thread title

No harm, Pred. The reality is German and French politics are important to the entire continent and tend to be closely viewed by other nations. Britain leaving the EU has only increased their dominance.

As it stands, Macron is doing to some good work but nothing that overshadows Germany's post-election fallout antics for now.

The bit about the Young Socialists (JUSOS) asking people to join in order to vote no was definitely in the news lately. The party leadership released a statement saying new members are of course always welcome, but they would hope they also decide to stay and contribute to strengthening the party. Encouraging people to join for two months just to swing a vote "is not how we expect to treat one another" (paraphrasing).

Hadn't heard about the AfD guy converting to Islam. I wonder if that will eventually be used by the party to claim they aren't totally anti-Islam after all, similar to how they hold up Alice Weidels as proof that they are neither anti-gay, nor anti-gay-couple-rasing-children-together.

You missed the best AfD story though...the AfD "climate expert" Rainer Kraft, in the Bundestag, accused the other parties as follows: (translation mine)

But you don't take your climate (change) goals all that seriously (either). ... Furthermore you support mass migration to Europe, even though the CO2-footprint of a central European ten times larger is than the one of a human in Africa. That means, that those one million people you bring to us create ten times as much CO2 as (if they had stayed) in Africa.

Quote in German about halfway down.

This coming from a party that doesn't even believe in man made climate change (but will use it when convenient to combat migrants and refugees entering Europe).

The best comment I saw about this was something along the lines of "Let's assume Mr. Kraft's assertions are true. That would then mean that if all the AfD members would go to Africa, then their CO2 footprint would only be one tenth of what it is here... Climate goal reached!"

At the end of the article it also mentions Michael Limburg, also an AfD "energy expert", who said that CO2 is good for plants and therefore emissions shouldn't be sanctioned, but rather rewarded: "Everyone who creates CO2 should get paid for it."

The article posits that if you combine Limburg's idea with Kraft's assertions, that rather than push migrants and refugees away, one should instead offer them "welcome money"
(East Germans and Polish Germans received this "Begrüßungsgeld" after the fall of the eastern Block when they crossed into West Germany for the first time.)

2018 is wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiild ya'll.

A discount on Nutella has led to violent scenes in a chain of French supermarkets, as shoppers jostled to grab a bargain on the sweet spread.

Intermarché supermarkets offered a 70% discount on Nutella, bringing the price down from €4.50 (£3.90) to €1.40.

But police were called when people began fighting and pushing one another.

"They are like animals. A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand," one customer told French media.

A member of staff at one Intermarché shop in central France told the regional newspaper Le Progrès: "We were trying to get in between the customers but they were pushing us."

All of its stock was snapped up within 15 minutes and one customer was given a black eye, the report adds.

Nutella IS delicious.

Ready for that giant meteor now.

That's completely overblown. There are no scenes of mayhem at the supermarket. To call them riots is ridiculous, even when you're using quotes. Sure, there seems to be pushing and shoving in the videos but it's no worse than what you can see at the start of sale season, and it's certainly a lot better than what you see on Black Friday.
And the slogan's translation is completely off: "arouses your enthusiasm", really BBC? That's the best you could come up with.

I saw this story today, and literally started laughing out loud.

BERLUSCONI'S BACK, BABY!

ROME — Silvio Berlusconi checked the puffiness of the pillow on his seat as he settled in for another comfortable interview on another of the Italian television channels he owns. In the final silent seconds before the cameras started rolling, a mischievous gleam crossed his eyes as he used an Italian double entendre to recall that, back in his old television days, people used to have sex on the studio floor.

Yes, Mr. Berlusconi, 81, is back. Again. His smile is brighter, his cheeks are Silly Putty-toned and tauter, his waistline is slimmed and his hair has regenerated into a Ken-Doll helmet. But despite his waxworks appearance, pre-Weinsteinian penchant for priapic innuendo and lingering criminal trials, Mr. Berlusconi, a former Italian prime minister, is no longer the joke of European politics.

Instead, political analysts agree that the only sure bet in Italy’s coming and critical March 4 elections is that Mr. Berlusconi will return as a major force in Italian, and possibly European, politics. Even if he will not be prime minister immediately (he is barred until next year following a fraud conviction), he is likely to be the kingmaker.

His resurrection is both astonishing and entirely unsurprising when one considers that Mr. Berlusconi has over the decades conditioned and desensitized an electorate that has picked him as prime minister three times despite, well, everything.

He has been investigated over accusations of mob links. He entered politics in part to protect his vast business interests and then, as the owner of the majority of Italy’s commercial television stations, used his sprawling media empire to stay in power. He hosted underage women at what he called “elegant dinners” but what the world knew as sex-fueled Bunga Bunga bacchanals. He made a habit of embarrassing Italy on the global stage.

And yet, in a measure of how unpredictable global politics have become, things have come back around for the pre-Trump era’s leading personification of conflicts of interest, outsize appetites and the politics of victimization and press demonization. In the age of President Trump — comparisons to whom Mr. Berlusconi cannot stand — the Italian mogul has successfully recast himself as grandfather, or nonno, to the nation.

Italian elections, frequent and feuding, are often dismissed as opera buffa offerings from a country that never changes. Not this year. After France and Germany gave the European establishment a breather by beating back far-right wing insurgencies, it is Italy’s unpredictable and angry Five Star Movement that worries them. In contrast, Mr. Berlusconi suddenly doesn’t look so bad. And the master salesman, as crafty as they come, is obligingly playing the role of wise and moderate statesman.

“He believes that he can reinvent himself infinitely, like you can see in his face,” said Sofia Ventura, a political scientist at the University of Bologna. Mr. Berlusconi, a master communicator, she said, was presenting himself as a consensus maker as he targeted older Italians who watched his television channels.

Portion italicized because I wonder if he doesn't like the comparisons because A.) The insane hilarious potential of him acting like he's "above" or "different" from DJT or B.) The even funnier possibility of him being like "HE STOLE MY ACT!"

Poland's Senate passes controversial Holocaust bill

Poland's Senate has approved a controversial bill making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.

The bill, which sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term as punishment, must be signed off by the president before becoming law.

President Andrzej Duda says Poland has the right "to defend historical truth".

But it has outraged Israeli MPs, who are now seeking to strengthen their own Holocaust denial laws.

Germany strikes explained: The long and the short of it

Members of the biggest trade union in Germany are on strike in a dispute that centres on workers' demand for time off to look after their families.

This week's strikes could be the first of many. So why do they matter? And what do they say about Germany in 2018?

Illinois only recently passed a law saying that employees in the state must be allowed to use sick days for family illness.

Folks might be surprised at some of the old-school things employers try to pull.

Hell, my coworker just missed his Uncle's funeral because our employer only gives bereavement for nuclear family.

When my father was in his final months, I was employed in Alabama. I used up my vacation staying home on some days, including the day he passed (somehow I had a feeling that I should stay home that day). When it came time to go to his funeral, I would have to take three days off, as he would be buried in Arlington National. One of the two partner's main concern was that I had used up my earned vacation days, and how we would reconcile that potential absence with the health insurance....

The time off worked out in the end, but in the moment I should have told him to get stuffed.

I'm glad to be in Germany now. Here, if you get sick on vacation, you get those vacation days back (with a doctors excuse). With the birth of a child, you get an additional vacation day as the father. I recently found out that in family illness situations, the law states that an employee may be gone for up to five days.
For a sick child, if you're with a public health insurance company, you can, with a doctor's note, get time off for up to 10 days a year per child if you're married, or 20 days as a single parent, up to 25 days as a married partner, and 50 for a single parent.
If your sick child is under 12 years of age and you stay home, you even get financial support with a doctor's note.

Source in German

The Future of France's National Front

(Paywalled, you must register to read 1 free article a month.)

"I was born with political setbacks." At the time she made this confession, back in October 2012, Marine Le Pen, then the up-and-coming new leader of France’s National Front party, did not mean it as an admission of doom. In her stark office on the second floor of the National Front’s headquarters in Nanterre, a lackluster residential banlieue a few miles west of Paris, she retraced her bumpy political life to me. For many years, she had operated in the shadow of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who generated decades of headlines and court cases with his anti-Semitic and racist outbursts. “To run for Congress and then to lose, that’s been our daily lot,” she philosophized. “Some have pleasant political journeys. Us? We trek with our backpacks on, we fall, we get back on our feet, we fall again, we get back on our feet again.”

In hindsight, Le Pen’s statement sounds prophetic. After a stratospheric rise that pushed her party to the front of the pack in the first round of regional elections in 2015, with up to 40 percent of the vote in some strongholds in the north and the south-east of France, Le Pen made it to the second round of the French presidential election last May only to be crushed, 34 percent to 66 percent, by Emmanuel Macron, a political newcomer. In the following parliamentary elections, the National Front spiraled down to a miserable 13 percent, the same score as five years before. Today, with party members jumping ship by the hundreds, dissenters openly questioning Le Pen’s leadership abilities, a trial for allegedly embezzling funds from the European Parliament on the horizon, and a financial crisis within the party, commentators have been quick to write Le Pen’s obituary.

Why Is China Buying Up Europe’s Ports?

China’s trillion-dollar signature foreign-policy project, the Belt and Road Initiative, is often lampooned as just a fuzzy concept with little to show for it on the ground.

But in bustling ports from Singapore to the North Sea, state-owned Chinese firms are turning the idea into a reality with a series of aggressive acquisitions that are physically redrawing the map of global trade and political influence.

A pair of deep-pocketed Chinese behemoths, Cosco Shipping Ports and China Merchants Port Holdings, have gone on a buying binge of late, snapping up cargo terminals in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Atlantic rim. Just last month, Cosco finalized the takeover of the terminal in Zeebrugge, Belgium’s second-biggest port, marking the Chinese firm’s first bridgehead in northwestern Europe.

That deal followed a raft of other acquisitions in Spain, Italy, and Greece in just the last couple of years. Chinese state firms, which once kept close to their home market, now control about one-tenth of all European port capacity.

The ports underpin the maritime half of the Belt and Road Initiative, snaking from the South China Sea across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and into the soft underbelly of Europe.

Yeah, this is an issue that is slowly bubbling away in the EU institutions, Pred.

Donald Tusk wrote:

Europe needs to better protect our people from unfair trade practices, for example by introducing more reciprocity. We agreed that the Commission will analyse investments from third countries in strategic sectors.

That text was not what some wanted as others wanted to make it stronger. There is a majority if the Council wants to put it to a vote but consensus is the preferred method. Watch this space as I expect this to be dealt with as many in Brussels were furious with Tsipras after he vetoed the condemnation of China.

Paris Attack suspect trial opens in Belgium. This is for shooting at the police in Belgium. He will face a French court for membership of an illegal organisation later.

Britain, China and the New Silk Road. Britain's visit to China has raised the concerns that Prederick highlighted with the above article.

Polish president signs law barring some Holocaust speech

Please oh please Trump commend this man for taking bold action...

Axon wrote:

Britain, China and the New Silk Road. Britain's visit to China has raised the concerns that Prederick highlighted with the above article.

Measured by purchasing power parity China already has the largest economy on the planet. And it'll have the largest by GDP within a decade.

China has already shown that it prefers to buy global influence instead of over-relying on the military stick like America does.

China is going to have massive influence on the entire planet from mid-century onwards. Literally nothing but starting a massive war with them is going to change that. If anything these concerns (and reports of everyone cutting deals with China) show how absolutely f*cking stupid pulling out of the PPP was.

And in a decade or two we'll start to see worrying articles about India because their economy is projected to top ours by 2050.

I dont mind Chinas growing strength. I can imagine worse countries to gain power - China seem fairly reasonable overall. At least compared to a bunch of the current alternatives.
But Europe and others have to think just a bit harder on protecting strategic important industries and research. Dont mindlessly sell stuff that is supposed to keep you safe or be major economic growth industries in the future.

Shadout wrote:

Dont mindlessly sell stuff that is supposed to keep you safe or be major economic growth industries in the future.

You say that, but in the case of my employer (Boeing), taking a drive past the 737 delivery center in South Seattle on any given day is instructive - see how many of those airplanes have Chinese liveries on them.

Not selling airplanes to the Chinese (that they can reverse engineer) is not a feasible option if you want to (a) not hand billions of dollars on a tray to your opposition, and (b) stay in business.

For better or worse, China is a huge part of the global market (and not just for airplanes). Choosing not to participate in that market is at best, a Pyrrhic victory, and at worst, a fatal mistake for your own business.

Oh, Im certainly not talking about not selling airplanes, or anything else for that matter. I'm talking, dont sell the actual means of producing those airplanes yourself. Or your energy production. Or your harbours. Etc.

It sucks for companies if China reverse engineers their tech, or outright steals it, but that is still mostly contained to the affected companies. China catching up is just fine. We are just a bit stupid if we dont try to make sure we dont get left behind through aggressive buyouts of the most important sectors and research facilities, in a way that makes us unable to even take care of ourselves in the future.

Trading with China is great. I hope Europe steps up to make a trade deal with China now that Trump decided to be isolationist. Selling goods and selling the means of producing those goods (in the most important sectors at least) are quite different things though.

German coalition talks over. The area of contention? Employers using fixed termed contracts for full time employees. Incredible. It's an underhanded practice that needs to be weeded out. Good to hear parties argue over actual practical realities that impact all citizen's day-to-day lives and not some populist non-issue.

SPD's list of ministerial positions are interesting. Finance, Foreign Affairs, Labour and Justice. That's basically the levers of power. Merkel, as far as I can see, is relegated to a chairwoman position as Chancellor. This will set the tone for coalitions forming across Europe as junior partners are realising they have more to lose and therefore want more control.

Just to flesh this out a little as the relevance wouldn't be clear to most English speaking goodjers. Over the past 30 years coalitions became evermore common place in Europe due to proportional voting systems. Britain was the exception due to it's plurality voting system but even that is breaking down but lets leave that aside for now. Essentially, the established post war parties began to have fragments and division break away from their standard bases of the left/right paradigm creating parties from all over the political spectrum. Forming governments required the larger and more national parties to go into power with smaller more issue or regional based ones. While initially this worked for the groupings involved, recently the political market became far more volatile and the junior partners were often becoming the ones to bare the brunt of the electorate. It's not unheard of junior partners getting wiped out at the ballot box. The reasons for this are many which can be argued up and down but the reality was it happened and was continuing to happen.

So we saw the SPD making a song and dance about going back into power with the CDU. Now it has some serious ministerial clout. As far as I can see it's basically all the levers of power in Germany. Would love to hear what AUs and other Germans think about this.

I can't help but feel Macron was in the background as well. I feel he and Schulz are far closer politically both nationally and on EU reforms. Parse all the language over the next few days folks. My money is on the fact that Macron is now effectively leading Europe.

Edit: A more detailed run down.

A bit surprising indeed. I guess Merkel does not want to end her career with a country in political chaos, thus accepting a worse deal for CDU.
Though it is hard to tell who is winners and losers just by the ministerial positions. If SPD is then forced to implement CDU policy, it could hurt even more being the people at the top.

Thanks for all of that Axon!

The short version of the Belt and Road is that China wants to recapitulate European trade colonialism, but as the predominant power this time rather than the victim.

Pretty much.

The government struggles in Germany seems to continue with Schulz being forced to not become part of the government himself.

As West Fears the Rise of Autocrats, Hungary Shows What’s Possible

BUDAPEST — The senior leaders of Fidesz gathered on the banks of the Danube, in a building known as the Hungarian White House, stunned by the scale of their good fortune. Their right-wing party had won unexpectedly sweeping political power in national elections. The question was how to use it.

Several men urged caution. But Viktor Orban, the prime minister-elect, disagreed. The voting result, Mr. Orban continued, had given him the right to carry out a radical overhaul of the country’s Constitution.

Mr. Orban won the argument.

The private meetings, recounted by two people who were in the room and by a third who was briefed on the discussions at the time, occurred in early May 2010. Nearly eight years later, Mr. Orban has remade Hungary’s political system into what one critic calls “a new thing under the sun.” Once praised by watchdog groups as a leading democracy of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, Hungary is now considered a democracy in sharp, worrisome decline.

Through legislative fiat and force of will, Mr. Orban has transformed the country into a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture. He has done this even as Hungary remains a member of the European Union and receives billions of dollars in funding from the bloc. European Union officials did little as Mr. Orban transformed Hungary into what he calls an “illiberal democracy.”

Now Mr. Orban is directly challenging the countries that have long dominated the European bloc, predicting that 2018 will be “a year of great battles.” At home, he is pushing new legislation, this time to place financial penalties on civil society groups that help migrants. His domestic political standing is largely unchallenged, partly because of changes he has made to the electoral system; he is almost certain to win another term in April elections.

Sounds familiar.

Lesson #3: Beware the one-party state.

Prederick wrote:

As West Fears the Rise of Autocrats, Hungary Shows What’s Possible

He has done this even as Hungary remains a member of the European Union and receives billions of dollars in funding from the bloc.

That's the impressive/interesting part, right?

I think it's most interesting how utterly unprepared the EU appears to have been for the possibility of one of it's member states becoming a soft autocracy.