Europe/Americas update: June 16-18 2018

EUROPE

RUSSIA

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin may be holding a summit in the next few weeks. Rumor has it that they’re looking at a meeting in Vienna while Trump is in Europe prior to a July 11-12 NATO meeting in Brussels.

Meanwhile, the Federation of American Scientists says that satellite imagery shows Russia “hardening” a nuclear weapons bunker in Kaliningrad, a project they appear to have started back in 2016. The FAS can’t say whether or not there are nukes currently at that site, but the fact that the Russians are strengthening it suggests they’re either there now or will be brought in once the work is done.

REPUBLIC OF NORTH (?) MACEDONIA

The Greek and North (?) Macedonian (I may be jumping the gun a bit here) governments signed their name accord on Sunday, potentially opening the door to North (?) Macedonia’s application to join NATO and the European Union. There are just a few hurdles left to cross before the agreement can go into effect, but they’re potentially big ones: the deal has to pass the parliaments in both countries and also get through a referendum in North (?) Macedonia. The problem is that polling shows 70 percent of the Greek public opposed to the deal, and anecdotally it doesn’t seem all that popular in North (?) Macedonia either. Passing the North (?) Macedonian parliament may not be a huge hurdle, even with President Gjorge Ivanov promising to block it (he really only has the power to delay it). But the Greek parliament, and that referendum? Let’s just say this isn’t over yet.

SLOVENIA

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar is taking Croatia to the European Court of Justice in July over Croatia’s refusal to implement an international arbitrator’s ruling on the two countries’ shared border. The arbitrator ruled that Croatia has to allow Slovenia access to international waters via its own waters, but Croatia rejects the decision and says it withdrew from the arbitration process in 2015 due to concerns over its objectivity. Zagreb insists it wants to negotiate a solution to this issue with the Slovenians, but, uh, if they could manage that then they probably wouldn’t have had to go to arbitration in the first place.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Andrej Babiš’s barely formed and still unofficial cabinet may be about to collapse. His coalition partner, the Czech Social Democrats, have put forward Miroslav Poche, a former European legislator, as their foreign minister pick. But both President Miloš Zeman and the Czech Communist Party are balking over Poche’s liberal stance on immigration. Zeman can probably be talked down by his friend, Babiš, but the Communists are a different matter. While not part of Babiš’s governing coalition, they are expected to support it in its initial parliamentary confidence vote. If they don’t, then the government won’t be allowed to form.

GERMANY

Well, as far as I can tell Angela Merkel is hanging by a threat but she may have a chance to keep her government together. Her Bavarian coalition partner, the Christian Social Union, has decided to give her two weeks to negotiate a Europe-wide approach to immigration that satisfies its hard-right proclivities before they revisit the possibility of dumping her as chancellor. Merkel plans to give it a stab at the European Union summit later this month. CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer insists that he doesn’t want to see a collapse of the long-standing CSU-Christian Democratic Union coalition, which might end Merkel’s political career (the Green Party has suggested it would be open to stepping in if CSU pulls out) but would, in the long run, hurt the much smaller and more vulnerable CSU far more than it would hurt the CDU.

At this point the more interesting phenomenon at play here is Donald Trump’s downright eagerness to throw Merkel, an ostensible US ally, an anchor while she’s struggling to keep her head above water:

With a rift over migrants bringing German politics to a boil, the country’s feuding leaders scraped together a truce Monday on an issue that threatens to topple the fragile government.

Then President Trump stepped in.

“The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, before falsely claiming that crime in Germany had risen because of immigration.

Part of this is domestic–Trump sees heaping on Germany as a way to frame his own thoroughly indefensible, reprehensible treatment of asylum seekers in the United States. He’s outright rooting for Merkel’s ouster, whether because he just doesn’t like her personally (which is certainly true) or because he’d like to see her government replaced by a harder right coalition featuring the Nazi-tangential Alternative for Germany party (also probably true). It is uncharted territory for a US president to be openly campaigning for the removal of an ally’s leader, but then we’ve been in uncharted territory since November 2016.

GREECE

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras won a no-confidence vote on Saturday over his naming deal with North (?) Macedonia (see above). This was expected, though not assured. The parliamentary vote on the deal itself will be a much tougher fight for Tsipras. Though Tsipras may have an ace up his sleeve on that front. Eurozone finance ministers are scheduled to meet with the Greek government in Brussels on Thursday to discuss Greece’s exit from its most recent bailout package. There are concerns that absent real debt relief Greece’s finances will collapse yet again and there are major disputes among Greece’s creditors about whether or not to do that, with the International Monetary Fund pushing hard for debt forgiveness and European institutions balking. Tsipras wants out of these bailout packages and their self-defeating austerity requirements ASAP. Now, Tsipras is hoping his flexibility with the naming issue will buy him some goodwill with those finance ministers. We’ll see. Something tells me he’s being too optimistic.

ITALY

This should end well:

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told a Lombardy television station Monday that he wants to conduct a census or “registry” of Roma in Italy. Salvini, the leader of Italy’s right-wing League party, insisted later the project’s purpose wasn’t to identify individual Roma.

“I’ve asked the ministry to prepare a dossier on the Roma question in Italy,” he told TeleLombardia, adding that the current situation of Roma, also known as Gypsies, was “chaos” several years after a crackdown.

A hard-right racist Italian leader taking a keen interest in the Roma? What could go wrong?

AMERICAS

COLOMBIA

As polling had indicated, right-wing candidate Iván Duque won Sunday’s Colombian presidential runoff against leftist Gustavo Petro with 54 percent of the vote. This is not surprising–Colombian politics run so far to the right that the fact that a real left politician like Petro even made it into the runoff was a minor miracle. But it may signal difficult times to come for the FARC peace deal. Duque offered the standard election night pablum about uniting the country and being president of all Colombians, yadda yadda, but the fact remains that he and his patron, former President Álvaro Uribe, oppose the 2016 peace accord and want to substantially revise it to increase the penalties paid by former FARC leaders. Duque is constrained in this by the fact that the deal is done and Colombian courts have already ruled that it can’t be retroactively changed, but he can certainly muck around with the accord’s ongoing implementation. So the question becomes how much time and political energy he wants to throw at this issue in the early months of his presidency.

Ivan_Duque_2018_(cropped)
Colombian President-elect Iván Duque (Wikimedia | Tokota)

NICARAGUA

President Daniel Ortega struck a truce with protest leaders over the weekend to end the demonstrations and violence that had claimed more than 160 lives since April. It lasted a few hours until police killed eight people (two of them toddlers) in Managua on Saturday in a shootout that ended with a family’s house in flames. Neighbors who attempted to save the family whose house caught fire say that police shot at them to prevent them from helping.

The crisis in Nicaragua has gotten so bad that protesters who have taken control of the town of Masaya, just south of Managua, declared on Monday that they no longer recognize Ortega’s authority. They’ve appointed a governing committee called the “junta of national salvation” to run the town.

UNITED STATES

Say, I wonder what’s going on with Donald Tru-

Donald Trump said on Monday he would direct the Pentagon to create a “space force” as a new branch of the US military to shore up American dominance in space.

You know what? Never mind. Instead I’ll leave you with the words of outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Raʿad al-Hussein, on a true human rights pariah:

In the United States, I am deeply concerned by recently adopted policies which punish children for their parents’ actions.

In the past six weeks, nearly two thousand children have been forcibly separated from their parents. The American Association of Pediatrics has called this cruel practice “government-sanctioned child abuse” which may cause “irreparable harm,” with “lifelong consequences”. The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable. I call on the United States to immediately end the practice of forcible separation of these children, and I encourage the Government to at last ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in order to ensure that the fundamental rights of all children, whatever their administrative status, will be at the centre of all domestic laws and policies.

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Author: DWD

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