Europe/Americas update: December 17 2018

EUROPE

POLAND

The European Court of Justice upheld its own interim ruling on Monday ordering the Polish government to immediately suspend a law, passed in April, that lowers the mandatory retirement age for Polish judges from 70 to 65. Poland’s right-wing government pushed that law through in order to purge the judiciary of uncooperative judges and appoint its own people, but several of the “purged” judges have refused to comply. The ECJ will issue a full (and negative) ruling on the law next year.

In the meantime, the Polish government, which swore earlier this year that it was done making concessions to the European Union (which saw the law as a threat to Poland’s independent judiciary) over its handling of the country’s judicial system, immediately caved, suspending the law and reinstating judges who’d been forced to retire. It would appear that the ruling Law and Justice Party of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has determined that Polish voters actually like being part of the EU, and with elections expected in mere months, it’s decided to try getting along with Brussels instead of constantly feuding with it.

CROATIA

The Croatian government, on the other hand, may be about to have its own feud with the EU over migrants. A migrant watchdog group has produced video that appears to show Croatian authorities literally shoving would-be migrants back out of its territory and into Bosnia and Herzegovina. That’s counter to EU law, which allows migrants, once they’ve crossed into an EU member state, to apply for asylum. The migrants are trying to get to Slovenia, which is a member of the EU’s free movement zone, the Schengen Area. Croatia, as an EU member, is required to join Schengen at some point but has not done so yet.

HUNGARY

Protesters demonstrated in Budapest on Monday for the fifth day in a row against Hungary’s new so-called “slave labor law.” This time they particularly targeted the country’s public broadcasting station, MTVA, after the station expelled two members of the Hungarian parliament who attempted to read a petition against the law on air. In what could be a bad sign for the Hungarian government, the protests seem to be taking on a more general character, with people demonstrating against Viktor Orbán’s authoritarianism and his government’s corruption in addition to the new law.

GREECE

Somebody early Monday morning set off a bomb outside the Athens offices of Greece’s Skai TV, a media outlet that has been critical of the Greek government. The incident was preceded by a warning call, which allowed enough time to evacuate people from the building and meant that there were no casualties.

UNITED KINGDOM

Theresa May is rescheduling the vote on her Brexit plan for the week beginning January 14. In response, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a vote of no-confidence in May and demanded that she allow it to take place before Christmas. At this point Labour is likely to lose that vote, as May’s opponents inside the Conservative Party as well as the Democratic Unionist Party have said they’ll back her. If all Tories and all DUP members vote to support May, that will give her a narrow majority.

AMERICAS

COLOMBIA

Colombia’s ELN rebels have declared a ceasefire for the holidays and say they’re still interested in negotiations with the Colombian government. New Colombian President Iván Duque has refused to negotiate with ELN unless it suspends violence, releases its captives, and conveniently herds its fighters into designated areas as prerequisites, terms that the ELN rejects.

CENTRAL AMERICA

At Foreign Policy, journalists Maya Averbuch and Sarah Kinosian argue that if the Trump administration wants to reduce migration at the source, it’s going to need to commit substantially more foreign aid to Central America:

Over the past two years, the United States provided about $1.3 billion in aid to Central America, mainly to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The money was part of a U.S. push, announced in 2014, to double the aid to the region under a plan known as the Alliance for Prosperity.

But in this period of time, the money has not made a decisive difference in any of the countries, according to experts and officials. While $1.3 billion is a lot, it’s still a relatively small sum for countries in need. And even when specific aid programs provide benefits, it’s not clear they outweigh the perceived advantages of immigration.

“It’s not a negligible amount, but it’s also not the kind of help that’s going to change the conditions of life for the entire population,” said Hugo Noe Pino, an economist at the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies.

It’s not just the amount of aid, to be clear–it’s also making sure that aid actually gets to people who need it. Most US assistance to regional governments is devoted to the War on Drugs, the War on Terror’s older and more failed cousin, and usually winds up being funneled toward buying yachts for various government officials and financing their reelection campaigns.

UNITED STATES

It doesn’t get said often enough, but fuck Donald Trump:

The Yemeni mother of a dying boy in California is being prevented from seeing him due to a US ban on visitors from her country, the family says.

Two-year-old Abdullah Hassan was born with a brain disease that doctors say he will not survive. 

His relatives say his mother wants to see him one last time before they take him off life-support.

His father says the boy’s mother cannot come to the US due to the Trump administration’s travel ban.

Fuck everybody who works for him and/or supports this shit, while we’re at it.

Finally, the Carnegie Endowment’s Christopher Smart hums a tune that regular readers should hopefully find familiar:

The dollar’s central role in world financial markets reflects both faith in American leadership and the absence of reasonable alternatives. Currency dominance has also been a linchpin in America’s efforts to shape a global order around free markets and democracy while serving as a foundation for the sustained growth of a more integrated global economy. These roles now face rising risks. Both Republicans and Democrats question the benefits of an open and integrated economic order that seems to drain good jobs and demand repeated bailouts of bad banks and corrupt foreign governments. Meanwhile, allies and rivals alike raise doubts about the durability of U.S. leadership and the wisdom of depending so heavily on one dominant power.

Such talk hardly portends imminent financial collapse or reconfiguration of the global order. America’s military and political strength remain paramount and investors still retreat to dollars whenever risks mount—even when those risks originate in the United States itself. Nevertheless, signs of an unravelling consensus are unmistakable. They lie not in the declining percentages of U.S. currency held in sovereign reserves, but rather the weakening faith in America’s ability to hold the system together. The clues are in the early elements of financial plumbing that bypass dollar markets, international financial institutions without active U.S. participation and increasingly rudderless economic gatherings of finance ministers. The risks for the existing global order are not that another power will displace Washington on these issues, but that there will be no leadership in areas that have become increasingly important to global commerce. Worse, the response to the next financial crisis will be uncoordinated and disastrous.

Smart does a “both sides” thing here that’s frankly bullshit–Europeans are talking about setting up a dollar-free commercial mechanism because Bernie Sanders came in second in the 2016 Democratic primary–but he correctly notes that this transition is going to be hell on the American Imperium. It’s not going to happen fast–Smart is also correct to note that there’s currently no obvious alternative to dollar primacy, even if it’s slowly being chipped away–but it is happening and will continue to happen. Smart, as a Very Serious DC foreign policy person, seems to think this is going to be as bad for the global economy as it will be for US hegemony, but that depends on what kind of system emerges to replace the current one.

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