Europe

By Gideon Rachman

The way the press treats political leaders marks a crucial dividing line between free and authoritarian countries. In an authoritarian state, presidents and prime ministers demand and receive reverential treatment. In democratic countries, political leaders know that they will be subject to satire — and vicious and sometimes unfair criticism.

The Isis threat to European security
Last week’s attacks in the Belgian capital have raised fresh questions about the extent of Isis operations in Europe and whether security services and law enforcement agencies are capable of containing the threat. Ben Hall discusses the attacks and their ramifications with Peter Spiegel, the FT’s Brussels bureau chief and Sam Jones. defence and security editor.

By Gideon Rachman
The EU has faced two major crises over the past six months — one involving the euro, the other involving refugees. By coincidence, the same two countries are at the centre of both problems — Greece and Germany. Last summer, Germany almost forced Greece out of the euro, rather than agree to the EU lending further billions to the Greek government. Now, Germany is reeling under the impact of the arrival of more than 1m would-be refugees, most of whom have entered the EU through Greece.

Brussels launches probe into rule of law in Poland
Poland’s conservative government has taken decisions about the courts and media that are causing concern across Europe, prompting the European Commission to launched an investigation into the rule of law in Poland. Gideon Rachman discusses the unprecedented move with Henry Foy, FT correspondent in Warsaw, and Neil Buckley, East Europe editor.

By Gideon Rachman
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans populated the world. Now the world is populating Europe. Beyond the furore about the impact of the 1m-plus refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 lie big demographic trends. The current migration crisis is driven by wars in the Middle East. But there are also larger forces at play that will ensure immigration into Europe remains a vexed issue long after the war in Syria is over.

By Gideon Rachman
At the beginning of this year, Angela Merkel had a good claim to be the most successful politician in the world. The German chancellor had won three successive election victories. She was the dominant political figure in Europe and hugely popular at home.

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By Henry Foy in Warsaw

Pride and relief mixed on the streets of Warsaw the morning after Polish prime minister Donald Tusk’s election to the top of Europe’s political hierarchy, after seven years leading a country that is unsure of whether he would have remained in charge.

Mr Tusk’s selection as the new President of the European Council late on Saturday gives Poland the most important global political position in its history and confirms its rise to the continent’s top table.

But with his domestic ratings in the doldrums approaching a general election that his party will likely struggle to win, most are happy to wish him well on his way.

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Attempts on Monday by Russia to shift the blame for the shooting down of Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine away from the separatist rebels have had a few western analysts scratching their heads.

The Russian military gave journalists a high-level and highly detailed briefing of its take on the situation in the area where the Malaysian airliner was shot down. The presentation came just as the first apparent hard evidence was emerging from the crash site that the jet was hit by a large surface-to-air missile, similar to an SA-11 launched by the Buk-M1 system. 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

By Amie Tsang and Gavin Jackson

After a decade of negotiations, Russia managed to wrangle out a gas deal with China – and just in the nick of time.

Europe has been looking to extricate itself from its dependence on Russian energy, while Putin wants to show Europe that it has friends – and customers – in the east.

When China’s largest oil company signed up to a 30-year deal to buy from Gazprom up to 38bn cubic metres of gas per year from 2018, it helped the Russian gas company to make its first shift away from the west.

Europe’s demand for energy is critical to the Russian economy: gas and oil exports make up some 52 per cent of Russia’s government budget, which has slipped back into deficit in the last two years. So Russia needs to find another market for its energy exports. Read more

The differing responses to the Ukraine crisis
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, and Ukraine will top the agenda. Washington has led the way on sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russians and scores of companies, in an attempt to show Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that his interference in Ukraine will bring rising economic costs. The EU on the other hand, seems deeply resistant to tougher economic sanctions, given the much more important ties between Europe and Russia. In this week’s podcast, Ben Hall, world news editor, is joined by Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, and Stefan Wagstyl, Berlin bureau chief, to discuss how the two leaders should handle the escalating situation

About twelve months ago, as I was travelling across the Northeast of Italy during the electoral campaign, I went hunting for evidence of mounting euroscepticism across voters. Overall, my search was rather unsuccessful. Italy’s long love-story with the euro and the EU more generally was certainly under strain, but its end did not look in sight. By and large, the people I spoke to continued to consider Brussels a source of economic stability and peace.

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In his address to the World Economic Forum, the prime minister was his
fluent self. But there was also an obvious tension between his embrace of
a globalised and open UK and his determination to curb immigration.

This led to a very pointed question from a Swedish MEP on precisely this
contradiction. Mr Cameron defended himself by pointing to the case for
curbing access of immigrants from the EU to welfare benefits and the need
to recognise the challenges created by the huge income gaps between some of
the new members and the old members. Read more

When President Francois Hollande steps up to the podium in the splendid Elysee Palace at 16.30 Paris time, 15.30 GMT on Tuesday for the third formal press conference of his 20-month old presidency, the first question on everyone’s lips is likely to be about the revelations of his apparent affair with a film actress.

How he deals with this embarrassing issue –Valerie Trierweiler, his partner and France’s first lady, remains in hospital recovering from the shock – will inevitably overshadow an event originally intended to concentrate on the economy.

But the financial markets, business leaders and France’s European partners will nonetheless be watching most closely what Mr Hollande has to say about his New Year resolution to inject some much-needed vitality into the French recovery, which is lagging behind those of the country’s biggest neighbours. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

What defines the west? American and European politicians like to talk about values and institutions. But for billions of people around the world, the crucial point is simpler and easier to grasp. The west is the part of the world where even ordinary people live comfortably. That is the dream that makes illegal immigrants risk their lives, trying to get into Europe or the US.

By Luisa Frey
♦ Spaniards may have less faith in European institutions than before, but no eurosceptic parties have risen in the country, writes the FT’s Tobias Buck.
The higher the fire burns in Middle East, the more the US seems intent on turning away, says FT columnist Philip Stephens.
♦ As part of a soviet-inspired urban plan, superblocks are being built in China. The gated compounds in suburbia have residential towers and houses inside them, but force the new urban middle-class to drive back to the city for services.
Rising anti-semitism is bringing fear to Europe. A third of European Jews are considering emigration because they do not feel safe in their home country, according to The New York Times.
♦ Local newspapers called Wednesday’s breakthrough in peace talks aimed at ending Colombias’s half-century-old guerrilla war “historic”. But many Colombians are sceptical, reports the Global Post
Tens of thousands of middle-class Syrians are trying to get to Europe’s wealthy northern states: “Whether they wind up in Nordic comfort or desperate straits on the fringes of Southern Europe is often a matter of luck”. Read more

♦ Gideon Rachman writes about how “the big danger to the European single currency is that the political consensus that underpins the euro could come unstuck” and next year’s European parliament elections could be a breakthrough moment for the “European Tea Party”.
♦ Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief has said that he plans to scale back cooperation with the US to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest against Washington’s policy in the region, raising tensions after Riyadh’s decision to renounce a seat on the UN Security Council.
♦ Norman John Gillies, the last surviving St Kildan, died at the end of September: the Economist looks back at the man’s life and his memories of life on an island 110 miles off the Scottish coast.
♦ Vigilante groups are fighting back against Boko Haram in Nigeria.
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By Gideon Rachman

America’s debt-ceiling crisis achieved something quite remarkable. It made the EU look well governed by comparison. Both the EU and the US systems are weighed down with checks and balances that make it hard to get things done. But Europe currently has one thing going for it that America lacks. All the most important decision makers in Brussels are committed to making the system work. There are no Tea Party types who regard compromise as a betrayal.

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The first official German election results are in and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats enjoyed a huge swing in the polls, but remain five seats short of achieving the first absolute majority since 1957.

That fires the starting gun for coalition talks, raising some interesting questions, especially after the chancellor’s existing coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic Party, has crashed from its best-ever election result in 2009 to parliamentary annihilation, failing to reach the five per cent threshold. Read more