Europe update: May 27-29 2017


Donald Trump just returned from an extended trip in Europe, where he attended a meeting of NATO heads of state and then the G7 summit in Sicily. It…didn’t go very well:

Body language aside, there was much else to marvel at. In his speech at Nato’s new headquarters – the cost of which, he tactfully observed, he had been considerate enough not to question, even once – Trump bluntly accused 23 of the 28 Nato members of not paying their way.

He linked terrorism and immigration in a way very few of his fellow leaders would do, and failed to dispel persistent doubts about US commitment to Nato by endorsing Article 5, the mutual defence pledge at the heart of the alliance.

While arguably undiplomatic, this was at least familiar from Trump’s campaign rhetoric and thus, to some extent, expected. What European leaders did not seem to have anticipated was the US president’s patchy understanding of the bloc.

Trump’s performance, of course, comes at the same time that Britain is about to hold a snap election supposedly to strengthen its Brexit hand. So it’s a tense time on the continent. Which helps to explain why, yesterday, this happened:

Europe can no longer completely rely on its longstanding British and US allies, Angela Merkel has warned – saying the EU must now be prepared to “take its fate into its own hands”.

Speaking after bruising meetings of Nato and the G7 group of wealthy nations last week, the German chancellor suggested the postwar western alliance had been badly undermined by the UK’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president.

“The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over,” she told an election rally in Munich on Sunday. “I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”

The chancellor told a 2,500-strong crowd in the Bavarian capital that Germany and Europe would naturally strive to remain on good terms with the US, Britain and other countries, “even with Russia”, but added: “We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.”

London quickly, and hilariously, assured Merkel that she could continue to rely on them, anyway.

Now, Merkel could have been more tempered in her remarks–and, in Take Two on Monday, she was–but is she wrong? There’s no question, even this soon into Trump’s administration, that he represents something very different in the US-Europe relationship. And while Merkel has reason to welcome the chance to assert German dominance in Europe, and her remarks were undoubtedly pitched to a domestic audience, priming them to accept a stronger German role in continental affairs, she’s also trying to adjust to the new normal.

In addition to reiterating her own comments on Monday, Merkel also turned her foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, loose to really let Washington have it:

Gabriel said on Monday that “anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and who does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk”.

“The short-sighted policies of the American government stand against the interests of the European Union,” he said, judging that “the west has become smaller, at least it has become weaker”.

“We Europeans must fight for more climate protection, fewer weapons and against religious [fanaticism], otherwise the Middle East and Africa will be further destabilised,” Gabriel said.

That’s going to sting a bit.


Despite suspending his mediation efforts last week, UN envoy Espen Barth Eide insists that Cyprus is “very, very close” to reunification. And, sure, he’s not wrong that the two sides are pretty much in agreement on five of the six main issues. But that sixth issue, security guarantees, is a doozy of an issue and there’s no sign either side is prepared to budge on it. Over the weekend, Greek and Turkish Cypriots joined hands across the line of control separating the island in a demonstration of their desires for reunification, and that public push may be the only thing that can salvage the process.


The Moldovan government expelled five Russian diplomats on Monday. It’s not clear why, but like other West-leaning governments in Eastern Europe, Moldova isn’t on good terms with Moscow. The Russian government naturally responded angrily, but it’s unclear how it plans to retaliate.


It looks like Macedonia might finally be about to get a government. Prime Minister-designate Zoran Zaev has submitted his cabinet picks to parliament, a mere six months after the country’s most recent election. The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage has more background on this situation if you’re just getting caught up:

Macedonia is one of the states that emerged peacefully from the former Yugoslavia, and borders Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania. In 2015, Macedonia’s conservative government was accused of using the national security services to wiretap up to 20,000 people for its own political gain. To defuse the scandal, the European Union stepped in to help the four main political parties — the conservative VMRO-DPMNE, the Social Democrats, and two small ethnic Albanian parties — negotiate next steps. The conservatives Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski — accused of becoming increasingly autocratic — stepped down, and the country held snap elections in December 2016.

However, while the opposition parties gained seats, no party won a clear majority, and for five months negotiations toward electing a prime minister have been extremely heated. On April 27, legislators finally elected a new parliamentary speaker — Talat Xaferi, an ethnic Albanian from the Social Democrats’ coalition. Protesters supporting the nationalist conservatives were so furious that an angry mob broke into the parliament and attacked lawmakers, bloodying the Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev and injuring 100 others, including MPs and journalists. Nine of the attackers have been convicted; more than 30 others have been charged.

That piece also offers a few reasons why this situation should matter to Western observers, but you only really need one: it’s happening in the Balkans.


Whatever else you want to say about her remarks on Trump and Brexit, Merkel was on pretty solid domestic ground in making them. How do I know that? Because even Martin Schultz, the guy who would very much like to replace her as Chancellor later this year, backed her up:


This is kind of disturbing:

The Italian news agency ANSA is reporting that two Syrians have been detained in Sicily on terrorism suspicions even as seven top world leaders were meeting elsewhere on the Italian island.

ANSA reported Saturday that Italian anti-terrorism police detained the two Syrians after they arrived on a ferry from Malta in the port of Pozzallo, which is 130 kilometers (80 miles) from where Group of Seven leaders were meeting.

The report says the police found images on their phones of suicide bombers with explosive belts. They appeared to have ties to Libya.

I can only imagine the fallout from even a failed attempt on a G7 summit.


The King of Belgium is now engaged in a personal feud with his royal peer, the King of Burger, on account of a new ad campaign to tout the Burger King as the “real” ruler of Belgium. I have long warned of the danger posed by the unchecked, authoritarian madman Burger King, but he’s gone too far now. Why can’t we have a Burger Republic, hm?


French President Emmanuel Macron met with Russian President Vladimir Putin today, and it seems to have been an interesting encounter. There was no white-knuckled handshake, as Macron had with Trump last week, but after a meeting in which the two discussed Syria–Macron declared that any further chemical weapons use would prompt a French response, whatever that means–increasing their partnership in fighting terrorism, and Russia’s treatment of the LGBT community, Macron used their joint press conference to criticize–to Putin’s face–Russian state media:

“When news outlets spread defamatory untruths, they are no longer journalists. They are influence operations,” Macron said, as Putin shifted uneasily from side to side. “Russia Today and Sputnik were influence operations during this campaign, which on several occasions told lies about me personally and my campaign.”

Macron added that he considered the blatant rumor-mongering by the two outlets — which included promoting false claims that he had a gay lover and an off-shore bank account — to have been part of an attempt to interfere in France’s democratic process.

“I will never give in to that,” Macron said. “Never.”

Instead of reporting on his campaign, Macron said, the two Kremlin-funded outlets aimed at readers outside Russia had simply published “serious falsehoods” and “lying propaganda.”

Well then. Putin, for his part, denied trying to influence the French election in Marine Le Pen’s favor, but he seems to have been a bit on the defensive here.


The UK terror threat level has been reduced to “severe” from “critical,” which means “be afraid, but don’t crack each other’s skulls open” and also means the government no longer believes an attack is imminent. Over the weekend, soldiers who had been deployed in a domestic policing role during the emergency were drawn down. Meanwhile, the country’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, says it plans to conduct an internal review to determine how Manchester bomber Salman Abedi, who was known to British authorities, managed to plan and carry out this attack without attracting any attention from law enforcement. British security services have understood for some time that the risk of a domestic attack was on the rise as ISIS lost ground in Syria and Iraq, and would-be foreign fighters ran out of places to go to fight abroad.

Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party are still looking at an election win next month, probably, but man, that landslide she was planning on sure did go bye bye:

Opinium said May’s lead had slipped to 10 percentage points, down from 13 points the week before and from 19 percentage points on April 19. Its online survey of 2,002 people was carried out between May 23 and 24.

ComRes said the lead of May’s Conservatives had fallen to 12 percentage points in an online poll of 2,024 carried out May 24-26, from 18 percentage points in a comparable poll on May 13.

ORB said May’s lead had halved to 6 percentage points, according to an online poll carried out May 24-25.

A YouGov survey of 2,003 people between May 25-26 showed May’s lead had narrowed to 7 percentage points from 9 a week ago.

She’s now in a position where it might be a good outcome if she can just hang on to her current parliamentary majority, which means the purpose of calling this election was…? Plus, if that happens, or if she loses some of her majority, she’ll be heading into Brexit talks on the heels of a pretty public embarrassment.

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