Europe/Americas update: July 7-8 2018



Several thousand people turned out in Skopje on Sunday in an opposition-organized protest against the Macedonian government’s deal to change the country’s name to the “Republic of North Macedonia” in order to appease the Greek government and potentially advance its membership bids for both the European Union and NATO. It’s never good to read too much into protests, but this could be taken as a sign that the deal is going to have a tough time getting past a scheduled national referendum this fall.


Another unexploded World War II bomb was found and disarmed on Sunday on the site of a Volkswagon facility in the city of Wolfsburg. Around 4000 people had to be evacuated and a rail line and canal had to be shut down temporarily, but I suppose that’s a small price to pay in this situation.


The Brexit plan that Theresa May presented to her cabinet on Friday in a “take it or leave it” meeting (they took it, or at least most of them did–see below) amounts to a kind of “soft Brexit” approach that caves in to the EU on the trade in goods:

Ministers have signed up to a plan to create a free trade area for industrial and agricultural goods with the bloc, based on a “common rule book”.

They also supported what could amount to a “combined customs territory”.

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg said the plan, agreed after a 12-hour meeting, would “anger many Tory Brexiteers”.

Our political editor said the prime minister had “picked a side” by opting for a closer relationship with the EU than many colleagues desired – and she now had to sell it to her party and the other European leaders.

Her plan calls for the UK to stay in alignment with EU rules on the trade in goods–parliament would technically have the final say in whether to adopt new EU rules, but with the understanding that falling out of alignment with Brussels would lead to a breakdown in trade. The UK will also “pay regard” to rulings of the European Court of Justice in areas where common rules are applicable, though the ECJ will no longer have any formal power in Britain. This arrangement would eliminate the need for customs checks at the Ireland-Northern Ireland border since the free flow of goods would continue.

May was able to cajole most of her cabinet, even hardline Brexiteers like Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, to get behind this plan or at least shut the fuck up about it publicly. Johnson’s fellow traveler Michael Gove, who is less a politician with principles than a human kite flapping in the political breeze, gave May’s plan his endorsement. But David Davis, May’s Brexit Secretary and another Brexit hardliner, resigned in protest on Sunday night, foreshadowing a tough road ahead for May as she attempts to sell this half-a-loaf plan to hardline Brexiteer backbenchers in her Conservative Party on Monday.

And the kicker here is that the EU will most likely tell May to cram this plan, which she clearly believes is a magnanimous compromise offer to Brussels, up her ass. The EU has been pretty clear all along that it views its four key principles–the trade in goods, the trade in services, the movement of capital, and the free movement of people–as indivisible from one another. May is still trying to cherry pick the parts of EU membership she wants, though as it’s become clear the EU won’t go for that she’s given up the idea that the UK should be allowed to set its own rules for the trade in goods. She still wants to set her own rules for the trade in services and the flow of capital, while opting out entirely from the free movement of people. Not only does the EU not need to give in to May on any of these points, it really can’t afford to give in lest other member states start thinking about busting out of the union under the same terms.



It was kind of an interesting day for former (and would-be future) Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The day started with a judge ordering Lula freed from prison pending an appeal to his corruption conviction. It ended with two other judges reversing that order and keeping Lula in prison. Some of Lula’s supporters are still trying to launch a presidential campaign on his behalf, but it’s hard to see how he could possibly run while behind bars.


It seems the only thing worse than the Trump administration pulling the US out of United Nations-affiliated institutions is the Trump administration not pulling the US out of UN-affiliated institutions:

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

Won’t somebody please think of the multi-national food product conglomerates?

The reason I’m sticking this under “Ecuador” is because Ecuador was set to introduce the resolution at the assembly, until the US told the Ecuadoreans that they could expect trade sanctions and aid cuts if they did so. The Ecuadoreans wisely backed out of the resolution. So did several other nations before Russia, which has little to fear from any additional US economic sanctions, finally agreed to introduce it. Now there’s talk that the US might reduce its funding for the World Health Organization. The administration couched its opposition in language about discriminating against mothers who can’t breast feed for whatever reason, but that’s a justification for lobbying for a change to the resolution, not for threatening to take an economic baseball bat to tiny Ecuador or for pulling funding for the goddamn World Health Organization.

I know US money supports these organizations and nobody wants to lose that funding. But I have to believe that the WHO, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Organization for Migration, etc. would on some level like to tell the Trump administration to collectively go fuck itself. And I can’t really blame them. In fact, the IOM actually did tell the Trump administration to go fuck itself while I was away, so good for them.


In a rare public speech on Saturday, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega refused to consider holding an early election as a way out of the political crisis gripping that country. An estimated 250 people have been killed since protests against Ortega’s government broke out in April. Ortega blames those deaths on his opposition, calling them “coup mongers.”


Protests over proposed fuel price hikes continued in Haiti over the weekend, even after the government suspended the price increases on Saturday. Demonstrations in Port-au-Prince turned violent, featuring flaming roadblocks and attacks on businesses. Those attacks turned into widespread looting on Sunday. Several US air carriers have begun cancelling flights to and from Port-au-Prince, leaving many people stranded at that city’s airport as it’s unsafe for them to leave it.


Finally, the Guardian’s Julian Borger says that America’s NATO allies are no longer sure that the Trump presidency is an aberration that the transatlantic relationship can survive:

Hitherto US and European officials have uniformly sought to play down the significance of Trump’s antics, insisting that the underlying sinews of the Atlantic alliance are strong. The implication is that Trump has come like a bolt from the blue and will eventually go, while the interlocking security institutions of the west and its common values will outlast him.

However, some western leaders and senior officials are beginning to wonder whether this somewhat complacent assessment is still valid. After all, they point out, Trump is not yelling into a void. When he trashed Nato in Montana, thousands of people yelled their approval. He won the 2016 election and maintains a 90% approval rating among Republicans because he has tapped into a deeply buried reflex in American politics.

In that case, the pessimists argue, perhaps Trump is not the exception, an anomaly in transatlantic progress. Maybe Nato and transatlanticism itself are the anomalies and that US suspicion of and disengagement from Europe are the norm.

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