Foreign affairs

  • Palestinian leaders and activists have welcomed the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as a propaganda victory that will strengthen their case for international recognition
  • An account of the fall from grace of a Ukrainian oligarch, removed from his regional governor post by Kiev over fears that he had become too powerful
  • The European Commission plans to reboot its digital market reforms with measures to abolish mobile roaming fees, end ‘geoblocking’ of online video and change copyright rules
  • As Iran and Hezbollah try to drive back rebel fighters in southern Syria, they threaten to spur a larger conflict in one of the Middle East’s most volatile regions (Foreign Policy)
  • It’s fine to be gay on Japanese TV — if you’re outlandish and outrageous (Washington Post)

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As the Trans-Pacific Partnership does or doesn’t approach completion, arguments for and against have had another airing, including the contention that the deal is worth doing for foreign policy reasons to enhance the US’s geopolitical standing in Asia.

This is an appealing fall-back for those who don’t like the deal’s content, but is at best one of the weaker arguments in favour. Whether or not agreements help strategic alliances, the intrusive and one-sided nature of pacts negotiated with the US can arouse resentment as well as cooperation. Read more

The death of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, has focused attention on the economic miracle he helped to create.

In the three decades since Lee first became prime minister in 1959 until he stepped aside in 1990, per capita income in the city-state rose by a factor of 29, jumping from around $435 to more than $12,700. Nearby Malaysia only managed a ten-fold increase, from $230 to around $2400.

Yet economists remain divided over the causes behind this remarkable take-off.

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Is Bild going soft on Greece? After weeks spent hammering Athens over its debt-fuelled profligacy, the top-selling German tabloid has laid out the welcome mat for Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras for his first visit to Berlin.

“Willkommen in Deutschland, Herr Tsipras,” said Bild in a front page banner headline published hours before the radical leftist was due to meet chancellor Angela Merkel over dinner later on Monday. And just to make sure the visitor got the message, the paper filled the bottom half of its front page reproducing the headline in Greek. Read more

Two decades after the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war, EU governments have finally approved an association agreement with Bosnia-Herzegovina that puts the troubled state on track for eventual membership of the 28-nation union.

This is unambiguously good news for everyone who takes the view that democracy, prosperity and ethnic harmony will only take lasting roots in former Yugoslavia once all the states that emerged from its collapse, as well as neighbouring Albania, are full EU members.

But the EU’s decision to approve Bosnia’s association accord, taken on March 16, must be seen against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis. With Russian-western relations in their worst shape since the end of communism, the Kremlin has made clear over the past year that it intends to ramp up its influence in the Balkans. The EU initiative is a signal that European governments are pushing back. Read more

It seems as if good news is gushing out of Spain these days like water from a Seville fountain.

The economy is expanding at its fastest rate in seven years, leaving behind France, Germany and Italy. The government predicts Spain’s return to growth will create half a million jobs this year. A commercial airline (Ryanair) is going to fly in and out of Castellón airport, the unused, €150m facility near Valencia that was a symbol of wasteful expenditure in Spain’s pre-crisis years.

To cap everything, researchers say they have found, under a Madrid convent, some of the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote and Spain’s most revered literary figure.

If only Greece could boast similar successes – a healing economy, a society recovering from the euro crisis, and the discovery of Homer’s skull under the patio of an Athens taverna.

Without wanting to turn a sprinkler on Spain’s parade, I think a few words of caution are in order. Read more

In his Budget speech to parliament on Wednesday, the UK chancellor George Osborne indulged in the traditional needling of his opponents on the opposite bench. Whether it was a dig at Ed Miliband, Labour leader, for his two kitchens, or at the party’s recent electioneering in a “women-friendly” pink van, his jokes at the opposition’s expense met with the usual roars of raucous approval from his own benches.

But the second biggest target of his needling was rather more surprising – our friends across the Channel. Read more

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When Zlatan Ibrahimovic was caught on camera calling France a “shitty country” as he ranted against a match official after his team Paris Saint Germain lost against Bordeaux, Marine Le Pen saw it as a shot on open goal.

Speaking to French radio on Monday, the leader of the far-right National Front minced no words in saying that “those who consider that France is a shit country can leave it”. This was a clear reference to the Swedish-born footballer, who has landed a multimillion contract in France after playing, among others, for Juventus, Inter, AC Milan and Barcelona.

Ms Le Pen was not the only one attacking the PSG star. Patrick Kanner, France’s sports minister, called the remarks “insulting” and other Socialist party members have also been critical of the striker. Still, Ms Le Pen was the one who made the most of Ibrahimovic’s immigrant status – no surprise, perhaps, for a leader who wants France to leave the EU so that it is able to pull up the drawbridge against foreigners. Read more

By John Thornhill in Cernobbio

Fresh from his appearance in the glossy pages of Paris Match as a model of militant chic, Yanis Varoufakis pitched up at the luxurious lakeside Villa D’Este this weekend to spread his gospel of radical reform to Italy’s capitalists. Read more

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush arrives for a stop at Integra Biosciences Friday, March 13, 2015, in Hudson, N.H.

  © AP

It has been 15 years since Jeb Bush has been in New Hampshire for a political campaign – and then it was for his brother.

As he makes his first swing through the “Granite State” for a series of events this weekend ahead of the expected announcement of his own candidacy for the presidency, Mr Bush had a message for voters in the crucial early primary state: I’m a grown-up. Read more

There cannot be many legislatures in Europe where the largest political party and the second largest party are rivals, yet vote the same way 80 per cent of the time. Since last May’s European Parliament elections, the EU assembly has turned into just such a place.

What does this say about European democracy? I have some thoughts on that – but, first, the facts. Read more

China’s leaders are looking to the internet to offset sagging economic growth.

At the annual meeting on Thursday of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, internet and ecommerce merited a dozen mentions, culminating in Prime Minister Li Keqiang announcing an “internet-plus action plan”.

That, he promised, would “integrate the mobile internet, cloud computing, big data and the internet of things with modern manufacturing, to encourage the healthy development of ecommerce, industrial networks, and internet banking, and to guide internet based companies to increase their presence in the international market”.

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Just as talks between Iran and world powers to nail down a deal restricting Tehran’s nuclear programme enter a decisive phase, the Islamic Republic last week put on a show. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) placed a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, and then blew it out of the water. For the IRGC, praetorian guard of the Shia theocracy, it would not do to show flabby muscle tone at this juncture, to the US or its Gulf Arab neighbours.

In Washington, meanwhile, another form of triumphalism is on display. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, is tomorrow due to address the US Congress – at the invitation of its Republican leadership – and is expected to say that the nuclear deal under discussion amounts to capitulation to Iran and will allow it to build an atomic bomb. As well as a brazen electoral stunt before Israel goes to the polls on March 17, this is a calculated snub to President Barack Obama. Mr Netanyahu is flaunting his ability to go around the White House to Congress, where ordinarily he enjoys the near unanimous support he could only dream of in the Knesset at home. Read more

The stable of fictitious beasts from Greek mythology acquired a new inmate this week, unveiled in the letter from the Syriza government proposing economic reforms to keep the country’s bailout going. Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister, has bravely set off in search of that wondrous creature: “EU best practice across the range of labour market legislation”.

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Opposition candidate Mohammadu Buhari at a campaign rally in the northern city of Maiduguri Getty.

The postponement of Nigeria’s presidential elections on security grounds has flushed into the open scenarios reminiscent of the dark days when the country’s democratic aspirations were stifled by a military cabal. The polls will take place against a backdrop of regional and ethnic tensions, with the ruling Peoples Democratic party up against a well organised opposition. A free and fair vote could lead to the country’s first constitutional transfer of power, an event that, if handled peacefully, would not only further Nigeria’s political evolution, but provide a fillip to democracy across the continent. Read more

A useful report on EU-Russian relations was published last week by the EU committee of Britain’s House of Lords, the upper house of parliament.

The report shows how London and other EU capitals badly misjudged Russian intentions last year, before the February revolution in Kiev, President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the Kremlin’s armed intervention in eastern Ukraine. In particular, the way that the British government allowed expert knowledge and experience of Russia to waste away in the UK foreign office after the Soviet Union’s demise is indefensible. Read more

The election by parliament of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a centre-right former cabinet minister, as Greece’s new president on Wednesday night has sparked criticism from members of the governing Syriza party’s far-left faction who wanted to see an “anti-austerity” politician in the largely ceremonial post of head of state.

Puzzled Syriza voters wondered how Mr Pavlopoulos could have been adopted as the candidate of a government that wants to get rid of outdated political practices, given his track record while in office. Read more

Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban

In the West, Vladimir Putin is often viewed as something of an international pariah. Shift your perspective, however, and it is quite striking how many international friends, the Russian president has cultivated.

Mr Putin, who enjoys posing bare-chested, is particularly good at making friends with other “strongmen”. His roster of special friends include Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. This week, Mr Putin has also been demonstrating that he is capable of finding pals even inside the “enemy camp” – the European Union. The EU may have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, but that has not stopped Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary – and another self-styled strongman – from rolling out the red carpet for Mr Putin. Read more