Monthly Archives: May 2014

Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, has accused China of using intimidation and coercion to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea and said America “will not look the other way”.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue Asian defence forum, Mr Hagel said China ​had in recent months undermined​ its own claims that the South China Sea was a “sea of peace, friendship and co-operation”. Read more

Park Geun-hye (Getty)

This is obviously the week for international conferences. The global elite have just convened at the Bilderberg conference in Denmark. Asian politicians and generals have descended on Singapore for the International Institute for Strategic Studies annual “Shangri-La dialogue” – which was opened with a keenly-awaited speech by Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister. Meanwhile, I have just spent a couple of days at the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity – which is billed as the Korean Davos.

The weather in Jeju is a considerable improvement on Davos, as is the fact that the event takes place in a single resort hotel – rather than being spread all over town. However, like Davos, Jeju covers an eclectic range of topics. The core of the discussions are security issues – which is unsurprising given that North Korea is just an hour’s flight away. Read more

Jean-Claude Juncker (Getty)

The fact that the leaders of the 28 EU nations are not rushing to appoint Jean-Claude Juncker as the next head of the European Commission is being denounced in the European Parliament – and elsewhere – as an affront to democracy. After all, say the parliamentarians, the main pan-European parties in the European elections all nominated leading candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) – who were their standard-bearers and nominees to be head of the European Commission. The poor-old voters were told that, if the centre-right EPP came out ahead, then Mr Juncker of Luxembourg was the chosen one. The EPP have now duly emerged as the biggest bloc and yet European political leaders are not leaping to appoint Juncker. No wonder the voters are bitterly disillusioned, and Euroscepticism is on the march!

Well, that’s the argument, anyway. But it needs to be pointed out that the idea that the European electorate has just risen up – en masse – and demanded that Jean-Claude Juncker should be their leader is laughable nonsense. Read more

By Stacy-Marie Ishmael

I still remember how I felt when I read these words, Maya Angelou’s words. Because I still feel it today. Breathless, simultaneously more alive and less. How did she know, I wondered, at 11, at 22, at almost 30. How did she know. Read more

The fallout from the European elections
The recent European Parliament elections have transformed the continent’s political landscape. Anti-establishment parties have scored remarkable victories in countries such as France, Greece and the UK while mainstream forces have done less well. But good results for Angela Merkel’s CDU in Germany and Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party in Italy show voters have not completely turned their backs on the EU. In this week’s podcast, Ferdinando Giugliano is joined by Tony Barber, Europe editor, Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief, and Guy Dinmore, Rome correspondent, to discuss the fallout from the elections

  • Borzou Daragahi reports on how the violence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon is merging into a single sectarian war whose Shia and Sunni protagonists are receiving support from regional powers “amid a dizzying and ever-changing cast of militia leaders, jihadi adventurers, sectarian politicians and rogue gangs dressed up as political groups”.
  • As for the conflict in Ukraine, Courtney Weaver discovers that dozens of Chechen fighters have joined pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, claiming to have been ordered there by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. “They’ve killed one of our guys and we will not forget this,” said Magomed, a 30 year-old Chechen fighter with a wolf tattooed across his chest. “We will take one hundred of their lives for the life our brother.”
  • On the European front, “the outcome of the European elections (at home and elsewhere) paves the way for Italy to play an active role in Europe,” says the Bruegel think-tank as it chews over the success of Matteo Renzi and the Democratic party. But now that Renzi has a mandate, “Italy should play a role and put itself forward as a decided leader in the project of more European integration.”
  • One for a quiet moment and a cup of coffee: The Guardian has gone deep into “enemy territory” and produced an outsider’s guide to the City of London. “I am trying to understand the culture of the City; to find out whether those who work there have learned the lessons of the crash of 2007-08, and if the City can ever be made ‘disaster proof’,” writes Stephen Moss.
  • On that note, Martin Wolf ponders the crisis-prone nature of capitalism and asks what governments must do to minimise the damage without having to resort to the comprehensive measures needed after the last crash.

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By Scheherazade Daneshkhu

Some good news for a change. Food security - the availability and affordability of food – has got better, according to research published on Wednesday.

The 66-page report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by DuPont, the chemicals company, found that despite last year’s freak weather patterns - drought in California, heatwaves in Australia and floods in Russia – food security improved in almost three-quarters of the world’s countries. Read more

The focus in last week’s European elections was on the seismic waves of the distinct currents of Euro-populism and reaction that “earthquaked” to the top of the polls in France, Britain (or at least England), Denmark and Greece. But arguably the most intriguing insurgency was Podemos (We Can) in Spain, a phenomenon worth examining outside the swish and swirl of populism.

Much of what I have seen written about Podemos has them “coming out of nowhere” – a cliché employed by politicians and analysts that means “we didn’t see them coming”. Yet a three-month-old party with a budget of barely €100,000 shot into fourth place with one and a quarter million votes and five seats in the European Parliament – similar to Syriza, the Greek left-wing party they plan to hitch up with.

The eruption of Podemos and its compellingly outspoken leader, Pablo Iglesias, has already triggered the fall of Alfredo Perez Rubalcalba, the Socialist secretary general who has presided over the party’s worst electoral performance since democracy was restored in 1977-78. But while obviously a rising current of a new left, Podemos could be a broader catalyst for political change in Spain and beyond. Read more

Tony Barber, the FT’s Europe editor, and Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief on whether populist parties will change European politics.

 

By Gideon Rachman
Read the headlines about political extremism on the march in the European papers this morning and you might conclude that Europe is succumbing to political hysteria. But the biggest danger is not actually hysteria, it is complacency. It is highly likely that, when Europe’s leaders meet on Tuesday night, they will attempt to shrug off the results of the European elections and retreat into politics as usual. That would be a big mistake – possibly a fatal one.

Now that most of the results have come in from the European parliament elections, let’s take a family photograph of Europe’s presidents, chancellors and prime ministers. Who have the broadest smiles on their faces, and who are sobbing into their handkerchiefs?

Among the European Union’s six biggest states – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK – the happiest leader must surely be Matteo Renzi, Italy’s premier. He won, and won big. Mr Renzi (above) demolished the notion that Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement is on an unstoppable roll. He also inflicted an emphatic defeat on Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party.

Even though it was not a national election, the youthful Mr Renzi can now claim to have a mandate of sorts for the political, economic and social reforms that he knows are necessary to modernise Italy. This is not to say that he will succeed – the power of entrenched anti-reform interests in Italy is formidable. But maybe he has a better chance than he did 48 hours ago. Read more

The European parliament is about to become noisier, more unruly, more confusing and more difficult to deal with as a result of the European elections.

A surge in support for populist anti-European parties on the right and the left in countries such as the UK, France and Greece will leave the 751-member assembly without any clear majority on either side of the political spectrum. Read more

by Janan Ganesh

It is hard to think of a more wounding assault on the political mainstream in postwar British history. With votes still being counted, the United Kingdom Independence Party appears to have won the elections to the European Parliament that were held on Thursday. Its platform of opposition to the EU and immigration has attracted voters across the country, including in areas of previous weakness such as Scotland. There have been insurgent tremors before – the Greens came third in the European elections of 1989, Ukip itself did well five years ago – but this is something nearer the “earthquake” that the party has been threatening for some time. Nigel Farage, its leader, has justified the media hype of recent weeks. Read more

No doubt about it, Sunday’s European parliament elections have produced a political tremblement de terre – an earthquake – in France, with Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) claiming victory in the poll. But across the 28-nation EU as a whole, the mainstream pro-European parties will breathe a sigh of relief tonight at having held their ground relatively successfully against anti-establishment insurgents from the far right, far left and anti-EU camps.

The protest vote is not nearly big enough to be labelled a comprehensive rejection of the EU, its political values and its economic crisis management over the five years since the last European elections. Eurosceptics, broadly defined, are projected to win about 130 of the EU legislature’s 751 seats. Given that the EU has just gone through the biggest financial shock and recession of its 56-year history, the damage could have been greater.

Conversely, the vote cannot be considered a ringing endorsement of the cause of closer European integration. The mainstream centre-right European People’s party looks set to be the winner, but with its representation in the EU legislature sharply down to about 211 seats from 273. Moreover, estimates of a pan-European voter turnout of just over 43 per cent – well below the levels recorded in national elections in every member-state – indicate that more than half of the 388m eligible voters simply do not think the European parliament matters much. Read more

For months, the Russian government has been proclaiming that “fascists” have taken over Ukraine. Now we have some exit polls from the Ukrainian presidential election and it looks like the two far-right parties – Right Sector and Svoboda (pictured above at a recent rally) – have failed badly, notching up just 0.9 per cent and 1.3 per cent of the vote respectively.

There is, however, a part of Europe where the far-right really is on the march. In France, the Front National (FN) have apparently come first in the European elections, with 25 per cent of the vote. Oddly enough, however, Marine Le Pen, FN leader, is an admirer of Vladimir Putin, and was treated with great respect by the Russian government on a trip to Moscow last month. Read more

For decades Italy has been dragged down by the pervasive presence of criminal organisations. But, for once, the mafia may have come to the country’s rescue. Read more

 

Nigerian teachers at a rally in Lagos protesting against the abduction of 200 schoolgirls and the killing of 173 of their colleagues by the Islamist Boko Haram group. Getty

Osama Bin Laden must be chuckling from his grave on the ocean floor. In the wake of 9/11 he explicitly targeted Nigeria as a new front-line in his global jihad. When the UN Security Council on Thursday blacklisted Boko Haram alongside al-Qaeda and its other affiliates, Nigeria had formally arrived.

It is the latest in a series of international gestures intended to isolate the group, which provoked international outrage for a series of atrocities including abducting more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and threatening to sell them into slavery. But its value is little more than symbolic.

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Martin Schulz has made a career of presenting himself as the ultimate European.

But when it comes to the crunch, the German president of the European Parliament is not afraid of clothing himself in the national flag in his campaign to become European Commission president. Read more

Relations between Russia and China
President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Beijing took on added significance because of the deep divisions between Russia and the west, caused by the Ukrainian crisis. The two countries signed a landmark deal on gas supplies, as well as other agreements covering trade and arms sales. So is a new Russia-China axis emerging? Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz and James Kynge to discuss.

Four days away from potentially her biggest election victory, Marine Le Pen (above) has had a sharp reminder of the biggest threat to her assiduous efforts to detoxify the far-right National Front (FN) in the eyes of French voters: her father.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN founder who handed over the party reins to his youngest daughter in 2010, remains its honorary chairman and is a candidate in Sunday’s election for the European parliament.

Before joining his daughter on the podium for the closing rally of the FN’s election campaign in Marseille on Tuesday evening, the party’s 85-year-old patriarch was heard discussing the issue of population growth and immigration with an FN mayor by two journalists from AFP, the French news agency.

The agency reported him as saying that France “risked submersion” from immigration and a low birthrate, complaining that the issue was being ignored.

In response to the suggestion that it was never to late to act, the agency said Mr Le Pen replied: “It is never too late, but still is it very late,” before adding: “Monseigneur Ebola could take care of it in three months.” Read more