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

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The party host has confirmed it was a great night, thanked everyone for coming, and wished you all a safe journey home. But one guest is still clinging to the drinks table and opening himself a new bottle of beer. That guy is Bernie Sanders.

On Thursday the Vermont senator took his refusal to officially admit that the good times were over to a poignant new venue: the White House. 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

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Last night, eight years after her failed 2008 presidential bid, Hillary Clinton declared herself this year’s Democratic presidential nominee and the first woman to claim her party’s nomination.

On Wednesday, she did something almost as momentous: she took the day off. Read more

Tensions rise in the South China Sea
China and the US clashed over the South China Sea at a defence forum last weekend, amid island-building by Beijing and increased naval and air patrols by the US. Gideon Rachman discusses the escalating tensions with Geoff Dyer, the FT’s Washington correspondent and former Beijing bureau chief, and James Crabtree, contributing editor.

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If Hillary Clinton were able to handpick an evening to claim the Democratic nomination, she could hardly have picked a better moment than tonight.

With polls soon to close in New Jersey, California, Montana, New Mexico and the Dakotas, Clinton is at long last in spitting distance of the Democratic nomination, an achievement that will make her the first woman in US history to secure her party’s nomination. Read more

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Another day, another Donald Trump scandal.

While winning the Republican primary was meant to herald the beginning of an easier campaigning period for the New York billionaire, today Trump is facing almost as many daily controversies as he was in February. As usual, his biggest obstacle tends to be himself.

For days now, Trump has been trying to defend comments he made last week about the judge presiding over a case against Trump University, a now defunct educational group which purported to teach students how to invest in real estate like Trump. (Gina Chon and I wrote about the history of Trump University and its potential legal ramifications for Trump back in January.) Read more

By Gideon Rachman

In the referendum campaign on Britain’s membership of the EU, each side has one trump card that they will play repeatedly until voting day on June 23. The Remain camp will talk about the economy. The Leavers will talk about immigration. 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

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Okay, Hillary, you’re giving it a shot.

In yesterday’s newsletter I said Hillary Clinton had not found an effective line of attack on Donald Trump. Today she was a different person, throwing everything at him in her first all-out assault on the Republican presidential nominee.

We’ll still have to see whether the mud sticks, but it was fierce stuff as she assailed him for being “temperamentally unfit” and pushing a “dangerously incoherent” foreign policy, as Demetri Sevastopulo reportsRead more

Europe’s central bankers are gathering in Vienna to deliver their latest monetary policy decisions and unveil the ECB’s new set of quarterly economic forecasts. Last month, ECB president Mario Draghi used the post-meeting press conference for some verbal sparring with some of his fiercest German critics.

Key things to watch

  • Respite for Greece – will the ECB reward Greece by resuming lending operations to its banks?

  • Rosier economic forecasts – analysts expect higher inflation forecasts on the back of the rising oil.

  • A more hawkish Mario Draghi? Investors will be focused on the president’s press conference tone.

 

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With Hillary Clinton casting around for an effective attack line on Teflon Donald Trump, Barack Obama had another shot at the task for her on Wednesday.

The president went for the “false consciousness” approach, telling the middle-class they were deluding themselves if they thought Trump’s economic policies would help them rather than the mega-rich. Read more

Is Venezuela becoming a failed state?
Life in Venezuela is becoming increasingly difficult, with soaring crime, widespread food shortages, rampant corruption and a political stalemate that thwarts all attempts at change. Gideon Rachman discusses whether the country is becoming a failed state with the FT’s Latin America editor John Paul Rathbone and Andes correspondent, Andres Schipani.

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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Among all of Donald Trump’s punching bags, few top the media, at once Trump’s sworn foe and his greatest ally.

Today, the emphasis was on foe, as Trump faced off against his press corps at Trump Tower in a news conference that was ostensibly about the media’s coverage of a Trump fundraiser for veterans in January, yet ended up being more about Trump’s relationship with the media. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Politics in the west are so dramatic at the moment that China can look relatively staid and stable by comparison. But that impression is deceptive. Xi Jinping is taking his country in radical and risky new directions.

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

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

Donald Trump has disappointed millions of people in America – and probably the head of every television network who hoped to make a killing – by deciding not to debate with Bernie Sanders. On Thursday he revealed that the campaigns were in discussions about a debate, which would have been a huge television hit. But on Friday he reversed course, saying it would be “inappropriate” because Sanders has no way to beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Read more

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Donald Trump held a press conference to celebrate crossing the 1,237 delegate line, which ensures victory when the Republican Party holds a formal nomination vote at its July convention in Cleveland. He took the occasion to hit out at Barack Obama for doing a “horrible job” after the US president said in Japan that world leaders were “rattled” by the property mogul’s rise and the isolationist “America First” message of his campaign for the White House. “When you rattle someone, that is good,” said Trump, who has spent the past 10 months rattling everyone from Mexican immigrants to the Republican establishment. 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