Europe/Americas update: April 24-25 2018



Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama headed to Berlin on Wednesday to begin European Union accession talks and, in addition to warning that Brussels’ failure to expand into the Balkans could leave the region open to Russian influence, had a message for right-wing European populists:

From Britain to Hungary, populist parties have made electoral gains by playing on the alleged dangers of large-scale Muslim immigration, while the opening of west European labor markets to poorer new members has been blamed for stagnant wages.


“Statistically, Albania is a Muslim-majority country, but I would say the main religion in Albania is Europe,” Rama told Reuters. “So all these forces, they are practically the main investors in radicalisation from the side of Europe. So I abhor them.”


Andrej Babiš’s efforts to form a governing coalition with the Czech Social Democrats may be over before they even really got started. The SPD wants any cabinet members in a coalition government to resign immediately if they’re convicted by a court–which seems like a reasonable thing, to be honest, but is a direct shot at Babiš and the fraud case he still faces. Babiš is, as you might imagine, balking at this demand. But even if he caves, there’s also the problem that support for a coalition among the SPD’s rank and file appears to be pretty tepid. The party’s entire senate bloc, for example, is reportedly against the idea.


Coalition talks are looking a bit better in Italy, where the center-left Democratic Party appears to be softening its opposition to forming a coalition with the Five Star Movement. The PD had been insistent on not joining a coalition, but said on Tuesday that it would negotiate with Five Star if Five Star’s leader, Luigi Di Maio, were to publicly end his efforts to form a coalition with the right-wing League. Which, hey, Di Maio did a short time later. Here too, though, there’s not much apparent enthusiasm within the PD for negotiating with Five Star. But this pairing may be Italy’s last shot at a government before new elections have to be called.


After he got done bro-ing it up with Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, wherein he ripped into pretty much everything about Trump’s politics:

To begin with, Macron paid tribute to common sacrifices and values shared between the United States and its oldest ally, through two world wars to today’s common struggles against terrorism at home and in places like Syria.


But then he took a barely concealed swipe at the ideological grounding of Trump’s populist nationalist philosophy, that is mirrored in anti-establishment political movements across Europe.


“We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” Macron said.


“But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse, but inflame the fears of our citizens.”


He said no one should take transatlantic ties or common values for granted, warning that the liberal internationalism was under siege, raising the need for a new 21st Century world order based on fundamental values, the rule of law and human rights.


“Other powers with the strongest strategy and ambition will then fill the void we would leave empty. Other powers will not hesitate once again to advocate their own model to shape the 21st century world order.


“Personally, if you ask me, I do not share the fascination for new strong powers, the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism.”

Well then. Macron warned against abandoning the Iran nuclear deal, even though that seems like a foregone conclusion, and talked about avoiding trade wars and combating climate change.



Efraín Alegre, the centrist who came in second to Mario Abdo Benítez in Sunday’s Paraguayan presidential election, is demanding a recount. Abdo’s margin of victory, while smaller than expected, was still nearly four points, which isn’t really recount territory. But Alegre say that he’s found “very clear samples of fraud,” a claim that runs counter to what international observers have reported. Abdo, meanwhile, says he wants to pursue constitutional reform of the Paraguayan judiciary and, possibly, to allow presidents to serve two terms–though of course he insists that he himself has no interest in serving two terms.


Assuming that the Very Principled Rand Paul grows a spine and/or a conscience at some point in the next few days, Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA Director could be in jeopardy. Paul has pledged to vote against Haspel over her involvement in the CIA’s torture program and subsequent coverup, though as we all know Rand Paul has a tendency to change his mind suddenly about these kinds of things.

Still, with the Senate at 99 members due to John McCain’s health condition, Paul’s “no” vote could be enough to defeat Haspel provided no Democrats vote “yes.” Which is fairly unlikely, actually, but on the other hand the CIA’s unwillingness to come clean on Haspel’s record isn’t exactly winning her any support from that side of the aisle:

On Tuesday, the Agency said it would allow senators to review only some of the documents related to Haspel’s past, and that it was “actively working towards” publicly sharing some of this information, according to The Hill.


A trio of Senate Democrats reacted furiously on Wednesday, describing these offers as “wholly inadequate.”


“Concealing her background when no sources and methods are at stake shows nothing but contempt for the Senate and the public,” said Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

No Democratic Senators have yet said they would vote for Haspel, and there may even be another Republican or two who are on the fence.

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