Europe/Americas update: October 10 2018



Finnish media is reporting that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin may meet in Helsinki again next spring. Hey, it was so much fun the first time around, why not?


Romanian Defense Minister Mihai Fifor warned at a conference on Wednesday that Russia “is using the Black Sea to project force in the eastern Mediterranean.” The Romanian government has been spending like a fiend to boost its security infrastructure for the past few years, out of concern over Russian intentions in Eastern Europe. Since Romania is a NATO member and can in theory mobilize the alliance in its defense, these sorts of warnings can be fairly significant.


Foreign Policy asks a question that we’re probably all asked at one time or another: “is Sweden governable?” I have my doubts. OK, granted that Gustavus Adolphus guy seems like he knew what he was doing, but other than that? I’m not seeing it, frankly.

Bit of an odd hairstyle though (Wikimedia)

Seriously though, Swedish politics are stuck in neutral right now, and it’s symptomatic of a Europe-wide trend. At the macro level, the problem is pluralization–more major parties competing for the same pool of voters tends to produce more indecisive elections. At the micro level, the problem is more straightforward–the rise of toxically right-wing populism:

It’s not just right-wing populist parties that are contributing to the gridlock: Politics in numerous European countries are becoming increasingly fractured, with more parties entering parliament and earning a bigger share of the vote. In the Netherlands, for example, the 150-seat parliament now includes a record 13 parties; in Germany, the number of parties represented in the Bundestag went from four after the 2013 election to seven now. And it isn’t just far-right parties that have benefited from the decline of the traditional center-left and center-right parties, either. The Greens, far-left parties, and other upstart movements have also gained vote share.

But the rise of the right wing is particularly challenging because, in many countries, it is still considered completely unacceptable to include it in government. Although leaders of Germany’s major parties certainly can’t ignore the 92 seats the AfD holds in parliament, for example, it would be reputation-killing to form a coalition with it. In turn, a significant portion of parliamentarians are automatically excluded from leadership. This is a problem the German Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian wing of Merkel’s center-right coalition, will have to face after elections there next Sunday: The CSU will almost certainly need to build a coalition with another party, but it has already ruled out working with the AfD.


Giuseppe Conte, who was plucked out of obscurity to serve as the compromise prime minister in Italy’s coalition government, has shed that obscurity to such a degree that polling now shows him to be the most popular politician in the country, with a 67 percent approval rating. He’s actually more popular than the government he leads, which has a 64 percent approval rating, and more popular than the leaders of the coalition’s two parties (the League’s Matteo Salvini is at 57 percent and the Five Star Movement’s Luigi Di Maio is at 52 percent).


Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which supplies the support votes keeping Theresa May’s minority government in office, is threatening to pull its support for key legislation–like, oh, next year’s budget–if it doesn’t like the terms of whatever Brexit arrangement May negotiates with the European Union (assuming she does negotiate one). The DUP fears any arrangement that would result in an open Irish border that leaves Northern Ireland in the EU regulatory sphere and imposes customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Despite being a relatively small party, DUP wields outsized influence because of May’s boneheaded decision to call a snap election last year and then botch the campaign, losing 13 seats and its majority in the process. DUP saved May’s premiership and has retained the power to end it.



Chilean President Sebastián Piñera sounds like he’s ready to negotiate with the Bolivian government over giving Bolivia better access to the Pacific Ocean…provided Bolivia drops its claims on Chilean territory. Bolivia surrendered its coastline to Chile in 1904 after losing the War of the Pacific, and nowadays relies on Chile’s Arica port for its overseas commerce, but it has maintained a claim to a corridor to the Pacific that would obviously have to run through Chile, insisting that Chile was the aggressor in the war and took Bolivia’s territory illegitimately. It has pursued international legal claims to that end, but to no avail.


The first poll is out ahead of Brazil’s October 28 presidential runoff and it’s…not good. Openly fascist first round winner Jair Bolsonaro leads first round runner up Fernando Haddad by 16 points, 58-42. Haddad certainly has his work cut out for him. Bolsonaro is now ducking debates with Haddad, ostensibly because he’s still recovering from his stabbing several weeks ago but also because polling like this shows that there’s really no upside there for him to a public debate, and a good deal of potential downside.

Bolsonaro’s top economic adviser, Paulo Guedes, is reportedly under investigation for possible fraud, which could eat into Bolsonaro’s image as a law and order anti-corruption type. But it seems unlikely that will make enough of a difference to really affect the election.

At Foreign Policy in Focus, John Feffer looks at the wave of right-wing populism that has swept the world and is about to sweep into Brazil and sees echoes of the Protestant Reformation:

The Populist Reformation follows the same pattern as Luther’s earlier revolution. It targets a global elite. It criticizes a corrupt economic order. It speaks in a national language that the average person can understand. It uses the latest technologies — social media — to spread its message. It is full of fire and fury. And with Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections, it has spread to the very nerve center of the global order.

If it continues to follow the earlier example, this Populist Reformation will establish a powerful rival “church” that survives past the next election cycle. It may force some changes in the global order, but that order will survive as well. Protestants and Catholics generated one war after another in Europe. The current era looks to be equally contentious.


Keiko Fujimori, leader of Peru’s opposition Popular Force party, was arrested on Wednesday on corruption charges stemming from Brazil’s Odebrecht scandal. Keiko, the daughter of scandal-plagued former President Alberto Fujimori, is alleging that her arrest was politically motivated, and the scandal threatens to create a major new political crisis in Lima.



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Investors are apparently worried about rising interest rates and weakness in the Chinese economy. I am not, how you say, a market guy, but Donald Trump is now pissed at the Fed for raising rates so that seems fun.

Finally, as promised, here’s my Nikki Haley retrospective over at LobeLog:

But in truth, the midway point of Trump’s first term is a good place for Haley to exit the administration. Though they presumably do not include a presidential run in 2020, Haley’s ambitions aim toward the White House. Haley has been a high-profile UN ambassador, but that position is not traditionally a great perch from which to pursue higher office. Haley was to some extent passed over when Trump opted to replace ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo instead of her back in April, and Haley may have decided that her opportunities for further advancement within the administration had been closed off.

Haley can now raise her profile outside of the Trump administration and away from Trump. She can make herself a fixture on cable news or perhaps even make her way into the Senate if, as has been widely speculated, Trump replaces Attorney General Jeff Sessions with current South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham after the midterms. Haley’s distance from Trump could be crucial to her political future. For one thing, if Trump’s political fortunes take a downturn, hers won’t necessarily follow suit. For another, Haley will be exiting the administration in time to avoid overseeing the worst effects of the disastrous foreign policy she’s helped Trump implement. But with her departure on the horizon, let’s take stock of what she’s “accomplished” in her two years at the United Nations.


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