European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his State of the Union address to the European Parliament on Wednesday with a focus on global leadership. Oh good, this kind of thing always works out well in the end. Juncker called for European unity so that the EU might “impose our position on others,” an idea that I’m sure sounded fantastic to European powers back in the 19th century as well. Here he’s presumably talking about standing up to Donald Trump, and about Europe filling a perceived vacuum in world leadership left by the allegedly retreating US, though he didn’t specifically mention either of those things in his address.
Most European states that aren’t France or Germany will be reluctant to give up the kind of sovereignty that Juncker wants them to give up. However, one interesting bit in his speech involved what sounded like a call for the euro to become the main global reserve currency in place of the dollar. Juncker said it is “absurd” that European countries are conducting their commerce with non-EU states in dollars. Is it just me or does this kind of talk seem like it’s starting to become a trend?
Stonehill College professor Anna Ohanyan argues that Russia foments conflict and division in surrounding regions as part of a deliberate national security strategy meant in part to prevent its isolation:
In our new book, we call this a strategy of “regional fracture.” This means that over the past two decades, Russia has exploited existing regional conflicts and cleavages, and created new ones. In doing so, it explicitly prevented its neighboring states from consolidating into more organic regional groupings.
Russia is now a direct party in some of these conflicts and a self-proclaimed “security provider” and peace broker in others, as political scientist Robert Nalbandov points out. At times, as in Georgia, Russia even assumes both roles at once.
The Kremlin has two main goals: retain influence in its former Soviet space, and elevate Russia’s significance in world politics. The problem is that fractured regions can become global security threats. They can harden ongoing conflicts, distort development and undermine prospects of democratic futures in the developing world, as discussed by Richard Giragosian.
As expected, it was not a great day at the European Parliament for Hungary:
The European Parliament has voted to pursue unprecedented disciplinary action against Hungary over alleged breaches of the EU’s core values.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has been accused of attacks on the media, minorities, and the rule of law – charges which he denies.
More than two-thirds of MEPs backed the censure motion – the first such vote against a member state under EU rules.
If also approved by national leaders, Hungary could face punitive measures.
The harshest punitive measure the EU can levy is suspension of voting rights. Poland, which has a sort of protection racket going with Hungary, would likely veto that sort of move, as Hungary would be expected to do if the tables were turned. But it’s not clear Poland would stand in the way of some sort of lesser penalty. The Hungarian government claims that the vote was illegitimate for complicated reasons that you probably wouldn’t understand having to do with the shifting of the earth’s magnetic poles and so forth, and says it plans to challenge the vote legally.
You know how I’m pretty sure there’s not going to be a Brexit deal? Because we’re rapidly approaching the two-year deadline for the UK to leave the EU and there’s still nothing resembling an acceptable solution to the Northern Ireland border issue on the table. The EU remains committed to a “backstop” that would effectively leave Northern Ireland in the EU while pretending it’s not, though it’s now trying to reword that plan in such a way that it isn’t quite so obvious to everybody what’s going on. Hardline pro-Brexit Tories are still relying on magical technology woo (and private contractors!) to make a hard Irish border seem like a soft one, and the Democratic Unionist Party says not to worry, everything will be just fine no matter what. Historically speaking that last contention is a sure loser.
Theresa May’s idea that Britain should be sort of one quarter in the EU but three quarters out was thoroughly debased by Juncker in his address on Wednesday, and it’s still a non-starter because it’s still the UK thinking it can get most of the benefits of EU membership without shouldering most of the responsibilities. Meanwhile, that same plan is so unacceptable to the Brexiteers that they’re meeting in secret about plans to topple May in a Conservative Party revolt. Though apparently they’re too chicken to talk about those plans publicly.
The ELN rebel group on Wednesday released six hostages that it’s been holding since last month. That brings it to 10 hostages still in custody from the 19 it took initially. Colombian President Iván Duque has said that he will not restart peace talks with ELN leaders until all the hostages are free.
Former Salvadoran President Antonio Saca was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday over charges of embezzlement and money laundering. Saca had pled guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Finally, Andrew Bacevich looks at the media coverage of the Trump presidency and wonders if we’re ever going to get around to talking about the problems that made Trump’s election possible in the first place:
If you spend your days watching CNN or MSNBC or reading columnists employed by the New York Times and the Washington Post, you might conclude otherwise. But those are among the institutions that, on November 8, 2016, suffered a nervous breakdown from which they have yet to recover. Nor, it now seems clear, do they wish to recover as long as Donald Trump remains president. To live in a perpetual state of high dudgeon, denouncing his latest inanity and predicting the onset of fascism, is to enjoy the equivalent of a protracted psychic orgasm, one induced by mutual masturbation.
Yet if you look beyond the present to the fairly recent past, it becomes apparent that change on the scale that Trump was promising had actually occurred, even if well before he himself showed up on the scene. The consequences of that Big Change are going to persist long after he is gone. It’s those consequences that now demand our attention, not the ongoing Gong Show jointly orchestrated by the White House and journalists fancying themselves valiant defenders of Truth.
Trump himself is no more than a pimple on the face of this nation’s history. It’s time to step back from the mirror and examine the face in full. Pretty it’s not.