Foreign affairs

Croatia: culturally and geographically, central European.

Even before the 1991-95 war of independence which liberated them from the old Yugoslavia, the people of Croatia bristled if outsiders labelled their country part of the Balkans.

These days they are no less insistent that Croatia is, culturally and geographically, central European. The broader implication behind this otherwise not unreasonable claim is that civilisation in Mitteleuropa is more advanced than in the benighted backwaters of the Balkans.

However, with the rise of “illiberal democracy” in nearby countries such as Hungary, Poland and to a lesser extent Slovakia, and after Austria almost elected a far-right politician as its president, one might ask if Croatia would be well-advised to play down its central European credentials. Or are there, in fact, signs that illiberal democracy is spreading into Croatia? Read more

Apart from the likely economic damage, a British vote to leave the EU in the June 23 “Brexit” referendum would throw up troublesome political and constitutional questions. A period of profound uncertainty could be in store for Britain and, by extension, the EU as a whole.

Let us imagine that the Leave camp wins the referendum. David Cameron would surely resign as prime minister and give up the leadership of the Conservative party. Whoever his successor in both posts might be, it is obvious that he or she would have to honour the electorate’s verdict and start preparing legislation to extract Britain from the EU.

But what would be the substance of this legislation? The Leave camp is a mixed bag of anti-EU campaigners. It is not united behind a specific plan for redefining Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU. Read more

The three remaining candidates in the race – Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – are all out in California today – and for good reason.

New polls show that Clinton and Sanders are locked in a tightening Democratic primary there, while Trump has declared plans to put California in play come November. (The deeply blue state has voted Democratic in every presidential election since George H W Bush ran against Michael Dukakis in 1988.) Read more

Politicians all over the world are struggling to cope with the new world of social media. Donald Trump has proved particularly adept at abusing his opponents on Twitter. But there are also gentler ways of attracting attention. One increasingly popular stratagem for politicians is to post photos of their cats – which are far more likely to attract likes and retweets than any number of dull policy documents.

Two prominent cat-lovers who have risen to power over the last year are the new president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party. Both leaders are single, but are noted for their devotion to their cats. President Tsai has kept a low profile about her relationships with humans – but has posted frequent updates and videos about her cats. Her aides admit that these are considerably more popular than her policy pronouncements. A recent FT profile of Kaczynski noted that he “prefers to spend his evenings at home with his cat”. Photos of the Polish leader with his ginger moggy have tended to soften his rather authoritarian image. Read more

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This week, it has been a quarter of a century since Thelma & Louise sailed their battered convertible into the Grand Canyon, securing their place in Hollywood’s pantheon of heroes. This week is another in the saga of the Venezuelan government’s push on the gas pedal towards the approaching abyss. Read more

GCHQ suffers from a shortage of Arabic, Mandarin and Russian speakers

The decline in knowledge of foreign languages in Britain is a familiar tale, but an extremely important one nonetheless. I want to draw the attention of readers to a Cambridge university report, “The Value of Languages”. It is the most concise, up-to- date survey of the problem that I have come across.

All too often the status of English as the world’s lingua franca leads people in Britain to the complacent conclusion that there is no need to bother with foreign languages. As the Cambridge report observes, however, a shortage of foreign language speakers is bad for British businesses, is potentially harmful to national security and carries risks for the criminal justice and healthcare systems.

Companies with global operations recruit globally, the report notes. “UK graduates must be aware that the asset value of English diminishes commensurate to the number of international graduates entering the global labour market with fluent English and other languages,” it says. “Too often [employers] report that British graduates have very limited experience of life outside the UK.” Read more

The abrupt cancellation of the latest round of negotiations aimed at ending the Cyprus dispute is the latest indication that the prospects for a comprehensive peace settlement, seemingly bright at the start of the year, may be dimming again. Who now would be brave enough to put money on a Cyprus deal by the end of 2016, the target date everyone was talking about in January?

This time, the problem concerns gourmet food and diplomatic protocol. Nicos Anastasiades, president of the internationally recognised, Greek Cypriot-controlled state of Cyprus, was due to hold talks on Friday with Mustafa Akinci, head of the Turkish Cypriot entity in the island’s north.

But on Tuesday the Greek Cypriot leader called off the talks. Mr Akinci, you see, had attended a banquet on Monday evening that the Turkish government gave for heads of state gathered in Istanbul for a UN summit. Read more

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Speaking of internecine politics, it seems France is the stick in the mud in trade talksbetween the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trading block. France is leading a rebellion of 13 countries concerned about the impact the deal could have on European farmers. The move comes ironically as Mercosur looks finally ready to budge on trade with a new investor-friendly government in place in Argentina and one possibly on the way in Brazil if Mr Temer gets in. Read more

Donald Tusk, European Council President (L) Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (far R), Martin Schulz, President of the European parliament (2nd R), with Joseph Weiler

The three EU chieftains– Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, and Martin Schulz – swapped the corridors of power in Brussels for the halls of Rome’s Capitoline Museums on Thursday night, but the magnificent setting only seemed to deepen their gloom about the state of European integration.

The trio was in the Italian capital ahead of Friday’s ceremony to deliver the prestigious Charlemagne award to Pope Francis at the Vatican. But first they had to debate the future of Europe at a time when it appears to be in serious jeopardy amid the rise of populism, weak economic growth, and, the migration crisisRead more

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Many Latin Americans who like myself stepped into nightclubs for the first time as the generals in dark glasses were retreating from the political scene, used to listen to Mick Jones pounding “should I stay or should I go?” That is a question several leftwing leaders in the region maybe asking themselves these days. Read more

Albania: A role model for Britain?

For several weeks, the “Leave” campaign seemed to be having the better of Britain’s debate on whether to stay in the EU. But the last few days have been much better for Remain. The arrival of President Obama on Thursday – who is expected to endorse British membership of the EU – will boost the pro-Europeans. The UK Treasury has just released a heavyweight report on the negative economic consequences of Brexit, which the Leave side has had difficulty refuting.

But, perhaps most important development of all has been a dangerous gaffe by Michael Gove, the pro-Brexit Justice Secretary – who, in a speech on Tuesday, appeared to suggest that Albania would be a suitable model for post-Brexit Britain. Read more

Campaign posters in Vienna for Freedom party presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer

Slowly but surely, the political tides are turning in favour of Austria’s rightwing populist Freedom party. Thanks to the impact of Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis, and thanks to declining public confidence in the two mainstream parties that have dominated Austrian politics since the second world war, the Freedom party is top of the opinion polls, consistently attracting more than 30 per cent of public support.

Now the Freedom party, unashamedly playing its anti-immigrant, anti-Islam cards, wants to upset the apple cart in Austria’s presidential election, to be held on Sunday. The top two candidates will go through to a second round on May 22. According to the latest polls, these will be Alexander Van der Bellen of the Greens and either Irmgard Griss, an independent, or Norbert Hofer of the Freedom party. Read more

Written by Samantha Pearson

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has not had a particularly easy life. As a Marxist guerrilla, she was captured, tortured and spent three years in jail. She’s gone through two divorces and was struck down by lymphoma in 2009. As president, she’s received death threats and was regularly humiliated during the World Cup when thousands of fans swore at her in unison in front of the world’s media. But even by Rousseff’s standards, this has been a week from hell. Read more

Frauke Petry, AfD leader, suggested that it ought to be acceptable for police to shoot refugees to stop them entering Germany.

A new chapter was written this week in the long and often tortured relationship of Britain’s ruling Conservative party with the European Parliament. This chapter comes with a twist. For once, something positive and sensible happened, though admittedly on a fairly small scale.

On Tuesday, British Conservative members of the assembly severed formal ties with Germany’s rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland party. The two parties had been part of the same parliamentary group, the European Conservatives and Reformists, since the May 2014 elections to the EU legislature.

If you are in an unforgiving mood, you may think that the Conservatives in Strasbourg should have had nothing to do with AfD from the start. This was certainly the view of the Conservative party leadership in London. Prime Minister David Cameron and his advisers were well aware that Angela Merkel, the centre-right German chancellor, would take a dim view of Conservative flirting with AfD. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

It is the morning of June 24th. Britain has just voted narrowly to leave the EU. Jubilant pro-Brexit campaigners wave Union Jacks in Trafalgar Square. Read more

We know that Pope Francis was unimpressed with Donald Trump after the pontiff accused the mogul of not being Christian because of his stance on immigration and wanting to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. But is the Pontiff leaning towards Bernie Sanders? The Vermont senator announced with pride on Friday that the Vatican has invited him to speak at a conference about social and economic issues – one of his signature subjects. But it turned out the invitation did not come from Pope Francis himself, so we might have to hold our breath a little longer. The Vatican story was a nice break for Sanders who has spent much of this week trying to explain why he was unable to explain one of his main goals – to break up the banks. Here is our story on what Sanders wants to do.

The Democrats and Republicans are focusing on New York, which holds its primary on April 19. Trump is back in force on Twitter after recovering from his disappointing loss to Ted Cruz in Wisconsin. He reminded people on Friday that running for president is not the only thing he does every day. “So great to be in New York. Catching up on many things (remember, I am still running a major business while I campaign) and loving it!” Read more

Donald Trump had a terrible night on Tuesday, although you would not know that from his Twitter feed, which went uncharacteristically dark for hours after it emerged that Ted Cruz had crushed him in Wisconsin, aka the Badger State. Looking beyond the headline results should make the tycoon even more concerned, as his Texas rival has started making inroads into some groups – lower-educated and lower-income voters – that had been fertile terrain for Mr Trump.

The creator of this Trump colouring book may need to add some kryptonite to the superhero image of the billionaire on the cover. As for Mr Cruz’s image, he likes to make a virtue out of the fact that he is anti-establishment (which has inspired T-shirts like this), but the Texan may need to change his tune now that the establishment is coming on board to defeat Trump. Read more

Donald Trump is clearly not satisfied with simply being the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. Watch the video he tweeted out today, which suggests that he sees himself as Luke Skywalker. His Republican opponents, who are scared stiff that he will destroy the party, might prefer to say Anakin Skywalker.Trump is facing the prospect of losing to Ted Cruz in the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday. That would increase the odds of a contested convention in July, which in turn would raise GOP hopes that the establishment could parachute in someone to save the party. Increasingly, the whispers in Washington are about Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who has denied wanting the job, but has chastised Trump on several occasions recently. Read more

Within eight days, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has delivered verdicts in two of its most important cases since its foundation 23 years ago. They could not be more different. The decisions risk damaging both the court’s reputation and even the development of international law.

On March 24, one court chamber convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of genocide, for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, and nine other charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Read more

This is the latest edition of LatAm Viva, our weekly newsletter on the continent. To receive it every Friday by email, sign up here.

Most everyone is down on Barack Obama’s foreign policy at the moment. A recent essay on the “Obama Doctrine” in The Atlantic is one reason. The ISIS attacks in Brussels another. But this week, Cuba showed at least one fruit of Obama’s approach. The president was flawless in Havana. Se puso la pelota en China – he hit the ball to China, as the saying goes. Read more