Europe/Americas update: October 20 2017



Angela Merkel is beginning her already unwieldy coalition talks with the Greens and the libertarian Free Democrats with a new complication just coming to light:

Highlighting the challenge, a report by Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) found that there would be only 30 billion euros free for new projects over the next four years if parties stuck to their commitment to taking on no new debts.


The shortfall will make all the more difficult the tricky three-way pact, dubbed a “Jamaica” coalition because the three parties’ colors – black, yellow and green – match those of the Jamaican flag, which is untried at national level.


Higher EU contributions as a result of Brexit and lower central bank profits might reduce spending room by some 15 billion euros, according to calculations seen by Reuters, an obstacle to the FDP’s demands for tax cuts or the Greens’ hope for environmental and infrastructure spending.

These are two parties that are likely to have, let’s say, some fairly well-formed and undoubtedly incompatible ideas about taxation and government spending. Less available money is going to make those differences even starker.


The New York Times explains article 155, the provision in the Spanish constitution that’s about to be exercised by Madrid to take control of Catalonia:

It allows the central government to suspend some of a region’s autonomy under specific conditions. But it is ill-defined and has already prompted a debate among legal experts about exactly how the government can suspend or remove powers now held by Catalan authorities.


The article allows the government to intervene in one of Spain’s regions if its autonomous government “fails to fulfill the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way seriously prejudicing the general interests of Spain.”


It is such a broad instrument that its use has been considered only once before, in 1989, when Felipe González, the Socialist prime minister, threatened to wield it against the Canary Islands to force it to comply with tax obligations.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will probably start the process of exercising article 155 on Saturday, but the full process could take another week before it’s all worked out (there’s even a chance Rajoy could lose the necessary vote in parliament, though it’s a small one). The fact that it’s only been invoked once means there’s no real precedent to govern how much or how little power Rajoy will have.

One of article 155’s provisions calls for the government to come up with a path back to regular order, and that will likely mean an election for a new Catalan government. But how that will happen is up in the air, and if, say, pro-independence voters choose to boycott then it’s not clear how this vote would be any more legitimate than the independence referendum–though, to be fair, it would at least be a legal vote.

If all else fails, Rajoy could invoke martial law. But that’s a step I assume he would rather not take.


With Theresa May still anxious to start talking about the UK’s post-Brexit trade relationship with Europe and the European Union still insisting that talks on actual Brexit haven’t advanced far enough to start talking about what happens after Brexit, May is apparently looking at a two-month deadline to advance talks lest Britain risk crashing out of the EU with no trade deal at all. If Brussels isn’t prepared to move on to talking about a trade deal by the next European Council meeting in December, then realistically it’s going to be very hard to settle Brexit and do that deal before Britain’s 2019 departure.



Some of the best evidence to support the idea that Nicolás Maduro tampered with Sunday’s gubernatorial elections has to do with Maduro’s own approval rating, which by any measure is dismal. Most Venezuelans say they would support Maduro’s recall, so this is not a guy whose ticket should be able to carry the day when push comes to shove. But the thing is, this isn’t anywhere close to conclusive proof that Maduro rigged the election, something that Venezuela hasn’t seen on that kind of scale. The simpler explanation is that turnout, which was depressed, reflected a lot of opposition voters deciding not to bother voting since, with the constituent assembly controlling everything anyway, there was no point participating. That coupled with state media bias and other structural elements put in place by Maduro before the election was enough to produce this outcome.

In hindsight, you could make a strong argument that the opposition’s decision to boycott the constituent assembly referendum in July was a bad idea. The vote may have lacked legitimacy as a result, but that hasn’t stopped Maduro from using the new body to totally take over Venezuelan politics. Now he’s threatening to redo the gubernatorial elections in the five states won by opposition candidates, because those governors-elect won’t take their oath to the assembly (Venezuelan governors usually take an oath to state legislatures).


The US State Department says that 24 people suffered effects from the “sonic attack” or whatever it was they experienced while in Cuba. That doesn’t get us any closer to figuring out what happened, but to my knowledge there’s been a number put to this. That said, it’s not clear from that short Reuters report whether it’s 24 people overall who were affected or 24 American diplomats. There were diplomats from other countries–Canada for example–who were affected, as well as (reportedly) a few private citizen travelers.


Hopefully this won’t come as a huge surprise to regular readers of this blog, but Curt Mills at The National Interest notes that the Trump administration, at least when it comes to Iran, is eagerly climbing into bed with the core of the neoconservative establishment, also known as the same people who brought us the Iraq War that candidate Donald Trump pretended to oppose:

“I love FDD,” declared H. R. McMaster, national security advisor, in opening remarks Thursday at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies security summit at the St. Regis, blocks from the White House. Following the president’s decision to decline to certify the Iran nuclear deal last week—a move FDD pushed hard for, both internally with the administration and externally with the press—the mood at the conference was ebullient.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.