Europe/Americas update: July 4-5 2017



Jean-Claude Juncker is the President of the European Commission and a man who also happens to be correct at least in this particular instance:

EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker called European lawmakers “ridiculous” on Tuesday for failing to turn up to an address by Malta’s prime minister, saying they should show more respect for smaller members of the bloc.

Juncker, himself from the small Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, was visibly annoyed as he watched the proceedings in the near empty parliamentary chamber in Strasbourg.

“You are ridiculous,” the European Commission president told the gathering called to listen to a speech by Malta’s Joseph Muscat, in a blunt public rebuke of another EU institution.

“The fact that there’s about 30 members of parliament present in this debate only really illustrates the fact that parliament is not serious,” he said. “The European Parliament is ridiculous, very ridiculous.”

Nobody takes the European parliament seriously–not the voters, who barely bother to show up for its elections, nor the parliamentarians themselves, most of whom belong to parties that would be happier if the EU simply closed up shop. And the disparity in how the EU’s larger and smaller members are treated is part of the reason it gets no respect.

With the experience of May’s G7 meeting, after which Donald Trump made the big announcement that he’s pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, G20 leaders are worried that this week’s summit in Hamburg will be followed by a big, chaos-inducing American announcement on trade, like that Trump is erecting a 69 percent tariff on all international porn or something. Trump, assuming you believe that any of his actions have any tactical or strategic thinking behind them, certainly appears to be laying the groundwork for it:

If Trump is going to go down this road he’ll probably start with tariffs on Chinese imports, likely steel first and then on from there. This will have the dual effect of Doing Something about the trade deficits he keeps harping on and punishing China, sort of, for its failure to take harsher action against North Korea. But such moves could easily spillover onto the EU, plus the EU could be Trump’s next target.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres is heading back to Switzerland to rejoin the Cyprus reunification talks, but it’s best you don’t read anything into that. Turkey has shown no sign that it’s flexible about the future status of its troops on the island, which is the main sticking point in the talks, and Turkish Cypriot leaders are complaining about the Greek Cypriot side’s inflexibility. Both sides seem to have a good rapport with Guterres so it’s possible that his presence will help shake things loose, but it’s clear he’s not rejoining the talks in anticipation of a breakthrough and/or big announcement.


Russian and American officials finally set a time for the big Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin meeting at the G20–it will happen Friday afternoon. Russian officials are looking to at a minimum talk about de-escalation in North Korea, and Putin is expected to ask for the return of the two Russian diplomatic compounds that were seized by the Obama administration late last year. Harder conversations about Syria, Ukraine, sanctions, and a host of other issues may have to be glossed over or put off altogether. Trump’s aides are, according to the FAILING New York Times, a little worried about exactly what Trump is going to say to Putin. They don’t want him to make anything that seems like a unilateral concession to Putin. Of course, if history is any guide, for all we know he could give Putin the nuclear codes.


The Trump administration may appoint an envoy to the Minsk peace talks, according to the State Department. Rex Tillerson has said he doesn’t want the US to be “handcuffed” to Minsk, whatever that means, but the desire for a US presence at the talks seems to be universally held by all the participants.

Whoever was behind the “NotPetya” cyberattack has reportedly emptied out the bitcoin wallet used to collect ransom payments and has allegedly offered to decrypt every infected computer for a ~$250,000 payment. Inasmuch as the security community has all but declared that the NotPetya attack was state sabotage disguised as ransomware, these developments are interesting in that they don’t really fit that narrative. They don’t necessarily contradict it either, to be fair–this could all be part of the smokescreen.


Trump arrived in Poland Wednesday on his way to Hamburg, and it’s remarkable how much is being read into this one presidential side trip. On the one hand, as Poland is governed by a hardline Euroskeptic party, Trump’s visit is being seen as an endorsement of that position. It’s unclear whether Trump and the White House are aware of this. On the other hand, as Poland is a NATO member and geographically very close to Russia, Trump’s visit is being seen as a sign of his commitment to the alliance and its defense of its eastern members. The White House clearly wants to emphasize this aspect of the trip.


A day after announcing that it would station tanks and hundreds of soldiers along its Italian border to interdict migrants, the Austrian government spent Wednesday trying to walk back those comments in the fact of an angry reaction from Rome:

“One must clear up misunderstandings like the ones that have evidently arisen with Italy,” [Austrian Chancellor Christian] Kern told a joint news conference with Doskozil. Austria is preparing to introduce controls at Brenner if there is a surge in migrant arrivals there, but there is no need to at present, he said.

“We are not deploying tanks at Brenner and I can emphasize again that cooperation with Italy is really good,” Kern said, adding that there was no indication Italy had lost control of the situation on its southern flank.

Italy is looking to other European countries to help it cope with the influx of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. But Kern has to worry about his right flank in Austrian politics, so he’s not in much of a position to offer assistance.


The new French prime minister delivered his message to parliament on Wednesday, and boy, what an inspiring message it wazzzzzzz…

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday it was time to end France’s addiction to easy public spending, promising to cut expenditures over the next five years and rein in debts he said were at an unacceptable level.

New president Emmanuel Macron regards taming spending and reducing its budget deficit as key to winning the trust of European Union partner Germany and persuading Berlin to embark on reforms to shore up the bloc.

“The French are hooked on public spending. Like all addictions it doesn’t solve any of the problems it is meant to ease. And like all addictions it requires willpower and courage to detox,” Philippe told the National Assembly to applause.

Philippe said that for every 100 euros Germany raised in taxes it spent 98 euros, while France spent 125 euros for every 117 euros levied in taxes.

“Who really believes this situation is sustainable?”

If you’re wondering, that sound you just heard was Marine Le Pen’s 2022 presidential campaign message writing itself. Leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, meanwhile, is calling for a day of protest next week against the government’s pro-handouts for businesses, pro-austerity for everybody else agenda. He’s accused President Emmanuel Macron of “becoming intoxicated by his omnipotence,” but I can’t imagine where he’s getting that fr-

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 11.51.53 PM
Oh, right, got it

That’s Macron being lowered from a helicopter on to a fucking submarine so he could play badass navy man or live out his stunted childhood Jack Ryan fantasy or something. Unfortunately he didn’t have to ditch in the ocean.

Amazingly for an era in which Donald Trump is a legitimate world leader, I think Macron may be the biggest narcissist in world politics at the moment, and it will be hilarious to watch his inevitable struggles as they unfold.


Secessionist parties in the Catalan legislature on Tuesday proposed a bill that would allow Catalonia to hold an independence referendum in October and said the province would declare independence within 48 hours of a vote to secede. The legislature may vote in August on whether to hold the referendum, but Spain’s national government and its constitutional court may have other ideas. It’s also not clear that the Catalonian people would vote to secede–a non-binding referendum in 2014 saw 80 percent vote to secede, but turnout was only around 40 percent.



In a written brief presented Wednesday to a congressional committee investigating Michel Temer, the Brazilian president’s legal team dismissed corruption charges against him as the product of an illegally obtained, vague, and doctored recording, and the testimony of criminals looking to plea-bargain. Two-thirds of the lower house of Brazil’s congress will have to vote in favor of allowing Temer to be tried by the country’s supreme court for this case to proceed.


Supporters of President Nicolás Maduro stormed Venezuela’s parliament building on Wednesday, attacking opposition lawmakers, journalists, and others inside. At least five lawmakers were hurt during what became a nine-hour standoff. Military police tasked with guarding the building seemed to allow the mob in, which could reflect Maduro’s remaining control over the military.


At least 26 people were killed Wednesday in a gang shootout in the country’s northern Chihuahua state, the latest incident in the string of drug-related violence that’s been sweeping across the nation. Chihuahua state has been one of the hardest hit places in the country, as the 2016 arrest of cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has left rivals battling for control of his former operations.


Investigators looking at possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign appear to be focusing now on #FakeNews, only in this case I’m talking about news that’s actually fake rather than the true but unpleasant stuff Trump likes to call “fake news”:

The spread of Russian-made fake news stories aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton on social media is emerging as an important line of inquiry in multiple investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Investigators are looking into whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news, including stories implicating Clinton in murder or paedophilia, or paid to boost those stories on Facebook.

The head of the Trump digital camp, Brad Parscale, has reportedly been summoned to appear before the House intelligence committee looking into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee carrying out a parallel inquiry, has said that at least 1,000 “paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia” were pumping anti-Clinton fake news into social media sites during the campaign.

Warner said there was evidence that this campaign appeared to be focused on key voters in swing states, raising the question over whether there was coordination with US political operatives in directing the flow of bogus stories.

Many of the fake news sites that cropped up during the campaign, all with sketchy Eastern European connections, appear to have been intended to target Bernie Sanders supporters to try to dissuade them from voting for Clinton in November. There are obvious questions as to the efficacy of this kind of operation, though in a campaign that turned on the equivalent of a razor’s edge it’s possible that these operations were one of any number of elements in the campaign that did make a decisive difference. Similar sites seem to have cropped up during the Republican primary to target candidates perceived as less friendly to Russian interests. There’s no question that these things existed and not much question that at least some of them can be traced back to the Russian government–the real question is whether the Trump campaign was involved in any way.

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