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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.