Europe/Americas update: September 25 2018



An investigation into the use/misuse of European Union project funds could wind up costing Hungary a cool $1.8 billion. The European Commission has been looking into Viktor Orbán’s habit of, say, funneling EU project funds to his friends and relatives, which puts “corruption” on the list of problems Brussels has with Orbán along with all of that “racist” and “increasingly looks like a fascist dictator” stuff.


As expected, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven lost a confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday and will now revert to a caretaker role while Sweden’s parties try to work out a new governing coalition following the election earlier this month. It’s still very unclear how that process is going to play out. Löfven could keep his job if he can convince a couple of parties in the center-right Alliance coalition to break with their partners and join him, which seems like a long shot. Alternatively the Alliance could make some kind of deal with the far-right Sweden Democrats to support a minority center-right government. But the Sweden Democrats sound like they’re going to insist on serious concessions in return, which could be a bridge too far for the Alliance. That leaves some kind of grand coalition between the center-left and center-right blocs, which is probably a mistake politically. The likely dysfunction of such a government would probably drive more voters toward the Sweden Democrats.


Speaking of governments in turmoil, take Italy…please! I kid, probably, but these guys are approaching a serious crunch. There seems to be no mathematical way for Italy’s governing Five Star-League coalition to meet its budget priorities (huge tax cuts for the League, increased welfare spending and worker benefits for Five Star) without driving Italy’s deficit over two percent of GDP. That’s a red line for the EU, and I know, fuck the EU, but apparently there’s a strong movement brewing within the coalition to stay below that line and avoid any issues with Brussels. That’s not sitting well with Five Star boss Luigi Di Maio, who reportedly told party members on Tuesday that any budget that doesn’t meet the party’s goals won’t get the party’s support. This is likely to be a real test for this fairly esoteric coalition.


Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told reporters in New York on Tuesday that the European Union needs to stop beating up on the UK and make a “fair” Brexit deal. Hungary doesn’t get along with the EU anyway and it benefits from British investment and trade, so it’s very well incentivized to call for a Brexit package that makes Britain happy and yet relatively powerless to ensure that it happens. But this does illustrate what might be the UK’s one hope for budging the EU toward a more conciliatory position, which is to appeal to poorer Central and Eastern European countries who stand to be hurt by an ugly British departure in ways that Germany or France simply won’t be.



A nationwide 24 hour strike hit Argentina on Tuesday over high inflation and President Mauricio Macri’s overall management of the Argentinian economy. Transportation workers led the strike, effectively shutting down commercial activity, with many public sector workers supporting them. Macri is trying to finalize the terms of an International Monetary Fund bailout loan, which is sure to make Argentinian workers happy what with all of its wonderful austerity requirements.


Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad has gained a considerable amount of polling traction since he became the replacement for one-time frontrunner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. A new survey from Ibope finds right-wing frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro still leading the first round field at 28 percent, unchanged in the same poll from last week, but Haddad is now comfortably in second at 22 percent, up three points from last week. What’s more, the poll now shows Haddad ahead of Bolsonaro in a runoff, 43 percent to 37 percent, where last week they were tied 40-40. Bolsonaro has positioned himself as the anti-corruption candidate and is trying to pitch himself to business types as the only guy who can keep the Workers’ Party out of power. But his far right positions have left him with high negatives, possibly too high to win a runoff.


The United States on Tuesday levied new sanctions against several Venezuelan individuals with close ties to Nicolás Maduro, including his wife Cilia Flores, while also announcing “$48 million in humanitarian aid for Venezuelans.” Maduro’s defense minister, his vice president, his communications minister, and other members of his government were also targeted.

Maduro, meanwhile, accused the governments of Chile, Colombia, and Mexico of conspiring  with the “terrorists” who tried to assassinate him by drone last month. All three denied his charges. On a possibly related note, the Trump administration’s nominee to head the US Southern Command, Vice Admiral Craig Faller, said in his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the US is not currently planning any kind of military operation to remove Maduro from power.


The administration is unlikely to make its Sunday deadline for concluding talks with Canada around a renegotiated NAFTA and will push for Congress to approve its bilateral trade deal with Mexico instead. The two countries reportedly remain far apart on a number of issues. Congress is likely to put up a bit of a fuss, as even most Republicans want to maintain a three-way agreement, but it’s unclear whether it will scuttle the US-Mexico deal. The Trump administration is operating on a completely self-imposed deadline because to delay past this weekend could allow incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to weigh in on the US-Mexico deal. So talks with Canada could theoretically continue.


OK, I guess we should recap Donnie’s big UN speech even though I really don’t want to do that. He showed up late, because he’s an asshole, but at least he got everything started with a laugh:

Trump later said he meant that part to get a laugh, which is such a ridiculous whopper that it would’ve probably gotten him another laugh if he’d come back later and told it to the UN audience.

Most of the early part of the speech was Trump’s standard stump route about how he’s Made America Great Again, which is inappropriate in that forum but hey, it’s not like Trump has a lot of ability to learn new words at this point. He lashed out at Iran, OPEC, China, and other countries what done him wrong, but his main UN-specific point was basically about how much he hates the UN and anything like it:

Tying his disparate targets together was his administration’s rejection of multilateral institutions and a warm embrace of the nationalist populisms that have wracked politics around the world.

“We reject the ideology of globalism and accept the doctrine of patriotism,” Trump said.

Activists and Democratic lawmakers were quick to react.

“It remains deeply unsettling to see an American president stand before the United Nations—a body in which American leadership has changed the course of the world for decades—and espouse a worldview that undermines so much of what we helped build on the global stage,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Trump’s overly-simplistic and distorted view of ‘sovereignty’ will be music to the ears of authoritarian leaders from Moscow to Beijing,” said Rob Berschinski, a senior vice president at the international human rights organization Human Rights First and a former Obama administration official.

It was a white nationalist speech from a white nationalist president running a white nationalist administration. It was a plaintive whine from the titular leader of the most dominant nation on earth about how everyone and everything is so damn unfair to him personally, and by extension to the US. It was, in short a speech delivered at the UN but targeted at Trump’s dipshit supporters all across America. I’m sure they enjoyed it.


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