By Gideon Rachman
Discussing Britain’s Europe policy earlier this year, a senior adviser to the prime minister shrugged: “I know we’re accused of putting all our eggs in the Merkel basket. But, frankly, we don’t have another basket.”
Croatia's economy is not so sunny
The slow, painful healing of the Greek economy after a catastrophic debt crisis raises an interesting question. Which country now holds the title of No.1 Economic Basket Case of the European Union?
The answer is surely Croatia. It is a small country (4.3m people, not even 1 per cent of the 28-nation EU’s 506m inhabitants) that did not join the EU until last July. It is not a eurozone member. It has gorgeous islands and beaches where life seems distinctly pleasant. So Croatia and its economic troubles often slip under everyone’s radar.
But Croatia is now in its sixth successive year of recession. During this time it has lost almost 13 per cent of its gross domestic product. Unemployment is about 17 per cent of the workforce, and among young people the rate is close to 50 per cent. Read more
Just when it seemed that European politics could get no harder for Angela Merkel, a new complication has emerged in the tangled world of the EU.
The German chancellor is already involved in a head-splitting row over the probable appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president. This week while Ms Merkel was in Brazil watching Germany’s opening victory of the World Cup, the first big split emerged in her ruling coalition.
Sigmar Gabriel, her deputy, pounced on Ms Merkel’s absence to challenge her eurozone economic policy, in an intervention that has the potential to sour relations long after the original dispute is forgotten. Read more
In recent days there has been heavy briefing that Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, would be the perfect candidate to head the European Commission. The idea of a Lagarde candidacy is particularly popular in Britain, where the government is desperate to stop the job going to Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg. Headlines such as “Angela Merkel wants Christine Lagarde as EC president” have fuelled the frenzy. But while the German chancellor may or may not want Lagarde for the job, nobody seems to have paused to ask whether Lagarde herself is interested. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The idea that Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next head of the European Commission evokes a strange, irrational rage in the British. I know because I share that rage. There is something about Mr Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg – his smugness, his federalism, his unfunny jokes – that provokes the British.
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
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
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
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.
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