Europe/Americas update: March 7 2018

EUROPE

POLAND

The Polish government’s new “solution in search of a problem” Holocaust law may affect its ties with the United States. There have been reports in the Polish media that the law, which criminalizes the suggestion that Poland participated in the Holocaust, may lead to a suspension in meetings between top Polish leaders and President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. And if the Polish government targets any American citizens under the law, that could lead to significantly more penalties. Washington would like the Polish government to amend or repeal this law, but it has to avoid putting overt pressure on Warsaw lest it create a backlash effect.

KOSOVO

Clocks all over much of Europe have been steadily slowing down since January and the reason has to do with Kosovo’s rocky relationship with Serbia. Apparently Kosovo hasn’t been generating enough electricity to maintain the European power grid, and while it’s supposed to be Serbia’s responsibility to make up for Kosovo’s deficiencies, Belgrade hasn’t picked up the slack because of its tensions with Pristina. As a result, the grid has been fluctuating and affecting timepieces in particular.

AUSTRIA

There were two knife attacks in Vienna on Wednesday evening in which four people were seriously wounded. It’s obviously way too early to conclude anything but there is a possibility that these were terrorist incidences.

ITALY

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has dropped his claim to being the “coordinator”/kingmaker for the center-right alliance that won the most votes in Italy’s parliamentary election on Sunday. This presumably clears the path for the League’s far-right leader Matteo Salvini, whom Berlusconi says he will support, to be the unquestioned center-right PM candidate and, arguably at least, the favorite to get first crack at forming a government.

Italian journalist Anna Momigliano says that talk of the “collapse” of the center-left in Italy is overblown, but only because the center-left Democratic Party was such a mess to begin with:

When Italy went to the polls on March 4, most observers predicted that the ruling Democratic Party (PD) would perform poorly. In fact, the center-left party, which is headed by Matteo Renzi and includes Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, suffered a blow that exceeded expectations. It garnered a mere 19 percent of the vote for both the lower house of parliament and the Senate — down from 25 and 27 percent, respectively, in 2013. At the peak of its popularity, four years ago, the PD was winning as much as 40 percent of the votes for the European Parliament.

 

Many analysts were quick to view the PD’s defeat as the latest episode in a series of mainstream progressive parties collapsing all across Europe. And yet the PD was never a typical European party. Unlike its counterparts in France, Germany, and Spain, it doesn’t come from a long social-democratic tradition — in fact, it doesn’t come from a long tradition at all. Founded a decade ago, from a merger of ex-communists and centrist Catholics, Italy’s PD has been a unique experiment in European politics — and a fragile one, since its very beginning.

UNITED KINGDOM

European Council President Donald Tusk on Wednesday brought the hammer down pretty hard on Theresa May’s remaining “have our cake and eat it too” Brexit fantasies:

The EU has dismissed Theresa May’s vision for a post-Brexit trade relationship, laying out instead the offer of a more limited deal, as it warned that Brexit would make life “more complicated and costly” for both sides.

 

Unveiling the union’s guidelines on the future relationship, the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, said it was “simply not in our interests” to give way to the prime minister’s “pick and mix” approach.

 

“I fully understand and respect Theresa May’s political objectives to demonstrate at any price that Brexit will be a success and was the right choice”, he said. “I’m sorry, this is not our objective.”

 

“No member state is free to pick only those sectors of the single market it likes, nor to accept the role of the ECJ only when it suits their interest. By the same token, a pick-and-mix approach for a non-member state is out of the question.”

Brussels seems unwilling to offer the UK much more than a standard free-trade agreement, and even that is going to require hard assurances from the UK that it won’t lower taxes and worker/environmental standards to try to undercut the EU.

A former British double agent in Russia’s security services, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter are in critical condition after having been found unconscious in the city of Salisbury on Sunday. Investigators believe that they were both dosed with a nerve agent of some kind. Obviously you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the likelihood of a Russian hand in this incident, but there’s no hard evidence of that as yet.

AMERICAS

MEXICO

New polling indicates that leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is increasing his lead in advance of Mexico’s presidential election in July. López Obrador is now getting 35 percent support, up only one point in the same poll compared with last month, but  his lead has grown from 11 points last month to 14 points this month. It appears that as other candidates battle to become López Obrador’s main opposition, they’re only damaging each other and thus helping López Obrador in the process. Mexican elections don’t have a runoff, so all López Obrador needs is a plurality in the July 1 election to win.

CANADA

I don’t think about it that often, but Canada seems like a nice place:

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 700 physicians, residents and medical students from the Canadian province had signed an online petition asking for their pay raises to be canceled. A group named Médecins Québécois Pour le Régime (MQRP), which represents Quebec doctors and advocates for public health, started the petition Feb. 25.

 

“We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” the petition reads in French.

 

The physicians group said it could not in good conscience accept pay raises when working conditions remained difficult for others in their profession — including nurses and clerks — and while patients “live with the lack of access to required services because of drastic cuts in recent years.”

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