SAIS Next Europe

European Politics



October 8, 2008 3:56 PM

Italy's 'Bridge to Nowhere'

At a time when the airline industry is crumbling in Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is focusing on other means of connections. He wants to build a bridge - not that we haven't heard that from politicians before. But while others eventually say, 'thanks, but no thanks,' Berlusconi smiles widely and says yes. He has given the go-ahead to start building the world's longest suspension bridge. It will be a grandiose national project. It will also be to Italy what was snubbed in Alaska: a bridge to nowhere.

This one will stretch more than two miles over the stormy Strait of Messina and link the toe of the boot-shaped Italian mainland to its closest island, Sicily. It will connect one poor region to an even poorer island. But is the project worthwhile?

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October 10, 2008 11:26 AM

Russia's Image Campaign

News Roundup: Russia

As the U.S. presidential elections approach quickly, Russia is scrambling to underscore its military determination and unyielding ambitions for regional dominance. While the Georgian conflict renewed world interest in Russian affairs in late summer, the subsequent John McCain hard-line statements on Russian affairs and the Republican campaign emphasis on Sarah Palin's Russian expertise have conclusively focused the global spotlight onto the country. The Kremlin wants the new American Commander-in-Chief to enter the White House with the clear idea that Moscow isn't ready to compromise.

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October 14, 2008 3:39 PM

Europe's Military Leadership Gap

In their two debates so far, Senators McCain and Obama have made but shallow references to America's European allies. The focus of the first discussion was U.S. foreign and security policy: the candidates exchanged views on Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China. Neither of them, however, mentioned the EU, nor did they sketch their visions of the future of trans-Atlantic relations. Why is that?

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October 20, 2008 4:25 PM

Will Comfort Conquer Europe?

It may sound strange at first, but think for a moment of the U.S. and the EU as empires at different stages of their evolution. What would that tell us about the way they're behaving as world players today?

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October 27, 2008 2:52 PM

In Financial Crisis, Europe Reexamines Priorities

Ironic Europe! After spearheading the fight against climate change for years, the EU now seems to encounter more difficulty reaching consensus on the environment than on the financial crisis.

Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Tusk, the Italian and Polish prime ministers, have led the rebellion at the latest Brussels summit. They claimed they did not have to follow EU restrictions, as they were not in power at the time the agreement was reached, an unprecedented denial of the supranational nature of so many of Europe's commitments.

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November 7, 2008 4:29 PM

Joining the Euro Club

The current financial crisis poses one of the greatest threats for Europe since the adoption of the euro as a common currency in 1999. With more and more European countries being affected, one has to wonder how Eurozone countries are faring as compared to their non-euro counterparts. Denmark, for example, has thus refused to replace its krone with the euro and is finding it difficult to cope in the midst of the crisis, prompting Danish leaders to more readily accept the notion of converting to the euro. Similarly, Iceland's problems with the krona have exacerbated the crisis within the country, leading many analysts to suggest that adopting the euro would help Iceland stabilize its economy.

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November 13, 2008 12:56 PM

Europe's Winner in Financial Crisis: Politicians

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy nearly abandoned capitalism during his speech in Toulon on September 24th. Coming from the current EU President, his comments added to the sense of panic, rather than showing resolve and leadership. Those comments may have resonated with socialist sympathizers in France, but left financial analysts scratching their heads. Many are wondering if this is just another French promised reformist, turned apathetic. A few weeks ago he gathered with his European counterparts for a coordinated rescue package, which calls into question the purpose of his Toulon rhetoric. Remind me which side was he on during the '68 protests? He's made a decent effort to spearhead negotiations recently among the EU and US counterparts, but now appears to be stalling the process with his insistence on including energy-related language. If the Kyoto and the EU carbon credit fiascos taught anything is that the US and the EU are nowhere near consensus on climate change.

Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi appeared too fixated on saving Alitalia to notice the looming global meltdown. Now, with the banking system called into question, the rescue of Italy's national airline is on the backburner. Although he's a successful business executive who must understand markets, with his three-thousand Euro suits Berlusconi embodies an air of the backroom-deal and golden parachute that many attribute as the prime causes of the financial crisis. It may be hard for the billionaire to appeal to the unemployed if the crisis gets out of hand in Italy, but the jury is still out, pending the country's financial state in the coming months.

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November 14, 2008 4:54 PM

Lithuania's Pop Star Politicians

Celebrities are all the rage in politics these days. Americans elected Barack Obama, famously labeled the biggest celebrity in the world by John McCain during a television advertisement three months ago. And now Lithuania has voted for a party composed entirely of TV and music stars to be part of its new government. Given the list of global challenges facing incoming world leaders, how did celebrities win against lifelong politicians?

Lithuanians wanted change. Like much of Europe, the Baltic country is reeling from the shockwaves of the American-centered global financial crisis. The tremendous growth of Lithuania during the past decade has been fueled by plentiful and accessible international lending. With credit dried up, its economy is headed for a hard landing. Lithuanians held the ruling Socialist Party responsible but many voters also appeared disgruntled with the other traditional political parties as well.

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November 26, 2008 12:21 PM

Obama's Wish List for Europe

European leaders have embraced Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections, expecting the beginning of a new, brighter chapter in transatlantic relations. French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed the feelings of many when he stated that Obama's election "has raised enormous hope in France, in Europe and beyond."

The new president is expected to make some policy reversals - such as closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp - that will please many Europeans. But the initial euphoria about change in the Washington could wear off quickly as Europeans realize that America's overall national interest - remaining the leading economic and military power in the world - will not change and will continue to guide US foreign policy.

NATO's 60th anniversary summit in France and Germany in April, 2009 may well offer Europeans their first reality check on the 44th president. While the global financial crisis is likely to dominate the transatlantic agenda until then, key security challenges will need to be addressed urgently. We therefore expect Obama to arrive at the summit not only to praise the Alliance's past achievements, but to also present a "wish list" of things he expects America's European allies to contribute to US political and military efforts around the globe. The demands will signal that the new administration takes its partnership with Europe seriously - something Europeans routinely request.

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December 16, 2008 5:09 PM

Germany's 'Madame No'

On a recent cover of Der Spiegel, Germany's leading newsmagazine, she's referred to as "Angela Mutlos". Translation: Fainthearted Angela. The headline of a recent article in The Economist asks where she can be found.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's response to the world's economic crisis has been slow and hesitant, earning her the nickname of Madame No in media across Europe.

Now, it has drawn criticism from within her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and particularly from its more conservative sister party, the CSU. And although her party still leads in the polls, the percentage of Germans who credit her with strengthening the country's economic power has slipped 17 percent in about a month.

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December 17, 2008 5:39 PM

Kosovo's Plot Thickens

Three German spooks are back home after a nine-day sojourn in a Kosovo prison, and a European rule-of-law mission named "EULEX" is now stationed in northern Kosovo after a nine-month vacuum there. Between them, the two events define the new landscape in the world's newest state.

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January 6, 2009 1:51 PM

Europe's American Obstacle: Republicans in Decline

Unfortunately for Europe, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the greatest reversal in modern U.S.-European relations is a Republican Party on the decline. Lacking a coherent strategy for explaining and justifying the Bush Doctrine, the last option for the party in shambles is obstruction and taking on their favorite bête noir and the future face of U.S. diplomacy, Hillary Clinton. Fresh off the auto-bailout filibuster, the National Republican Committee will be holding "soul-searching" sessions this month to discuss platform issues and the future of the party. A successful block of a coordinated U.S. financial bailout with Europe, and an Obama fumble in his first foreign policy test, may just be what the GOP is looking for.

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January 7, 2009 5:51 PM

For New EU President, A Baffling Array of Challenges

The Czech Republic took over the European Union's six-month rotating presidency on New Year's Day amid substantial apprehension across the continent. While Nicolas Sarkozy used the job to fill an American leadership gap during the outbreak of the world financial crisis, the presidency has shifted to an outlier of sorts: a country that does not use the euro, one of the two in the 27-nation bloc which has not approved the Lisbon Treaty, with a fiery Euroskeptic president, at a time when an uneven economic downturn offers the EU its greatest challenge in a decade. And additional tests did not wait long to pop up. In the first week of 2009, Israeli ground troops invaded Gaza and all Russian gas headed for Europe via Ukraine was cut off.

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January 16, 2009 1:44 PM

Artwork, Toilets, and EU Identity

A large art installation, billed as a collaborative effort between artists from the 27 member states of the European Union to highlight their respective countries, was hung above the entrance to the EU Council headquarters in Brussels this month. But the representations are hardly flattering.

The Netherlands: underwater, with only minarets poking above the waves. France: bearing a sign reading "on strike," stretched across the whole country. Luxembourg: a piece of gold for sale. Sweden: packed into an IKEA box. Romania: a Dracula theme park. Worst of all, Bulgaria: a series of toilets.

Nor is "Entropa" truly what its creators advertised: the work of 27 EU artists, as it was originally sold to both the EU and to the Czech government, which took over the EU's rotating presidency this year. In fact, it is the work of a single Czech artist, David Černý, perhaps best known for putting sculptures of creepy crawling faceless babies on the already weird-looking Žižkov Television Tower in Prague. The other artists don't exist.

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January 16, 2009 1:58 PM

Will the Euro Survive?

With its tenth anniversary on January 1, 2009, the euro has come of age. Sixteen European countries now use the euro as their national currency and the popularity of the euro for foreign reserves is on the rise. Policymakers have breathed a sigh of relief as the currency has so far withstood the current economic downturn, including crises in large multinational banks such as Fortis and Dexia.

But congratulations are premature. The euro area has yet to demonstrate its cohesiveness when confronted with the growing economic divergence of its member states and even the specter of a sovereign debt default.

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January 27, 2009 3:22 PM

Revisiting the Cyprus Problem

To the average American, Cyprus is a nondescript island in the Mediterranean - or perhaps an ancient parchment used in the times of the Pharaohs. But to practitioners of international conflict management, it presents one of the world's most puzzling and intractable conflicts.

Last week I joined the SAIS Conflict Management department on a research trip to Cyprus to examine the roots of the conflict and the current positions of the two sides, with an aim toward providing constructive recommendations for progress towards a settlement. We came away with the impression that ordinary Cypriots today in fact want integration - but their politicians lack the political will to push for compromise.

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February 26, 2009 4:17 PM

Can the EU Reunite a Dividing Bosnia?

Can EU accession unite a divided nation? That is the hope in Bosnia, where ethnic tensions have resurfaced, leaving the country's population divided and its politics in a stalemate. Over the past several years, postwar momentum toward a stable and unified Bosnia has slowed, leading members of the international community to speculate about renewed conflict or the dissolution of the state. The only thing that anyone in Bosnia seems able to agree on is that EU integration is the solution to its economic and political woes.

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March 12, 2009 5:01 PM

America and Britain: Still BFF?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's recent visit to the White House went according to plan. And that's what upset the British. There was no jovial banter between the two heads of state, no elaborate press conference or special honors bestowed on Brown, and no assurance by Obama that Great Britain enjoys a privileged relationship with America. To a country accustomed to a special standing with the world's superpower, Brown's uneventful trip to Washington was a disaster and marks a seismic shift in US-British relations.

President Bush's well-known friendship with former PM Tony Blair during the past eight years reinforced the long-standing perception that Great Britain is a unique ally of the United States. In fact, since the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, Great Britain has reliably supported the American stance on most major foreign policy issues (including the Iraq War). In return, British officials have enjoyed unprecedented access to American leaders. Churchill famously coined the Anglo-American link a special relationship.

But the Obama administration is not picking favorites, to the great dismay of Great Britain.

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April 1, 2009 5:37 PM

G-20 Stretching U.S.-Europe Bonds

This week's G-20 meetings might say more about the true state of U.S.-Europe relations than any other recent event, highlighting fissures in the post-Cold War bonds between President Obama and his European counterparts. Over the next few months, heads of state from both sides of the Atlantic will have to face their two most vexing concerns: the financial crisis and conflicts with non-state actors, especially in Afghanistan. Both of those threats require unified, international action, something the two sides are finding difficult to produce as their meetings progress.

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April 6, 2009 7:00 PM

Russia's Olympic Election

The Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi has yet to begin building the dozens of event venues and other facilities it will need to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. But the contest to become Sochi's next mayor is well underway, with a cast of candidates rivaling that of the 2003 California campaign that elected muscle man and action movie actor Arnold Schwarzenegger governor of the most populous state in the U.S.

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April 15, 2009 4:43 PM

Moldova's Non-Orange Revolution

On April 5th, 2009 the Moldovan Communist Party announced that it had won more than 50 percent of the votes and could thus once again reign supreme in Parliament with 61 seats, giving its deputies enough leverage to elect the new president. The following day, thousands of young demonstrators flooded to the streets of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, to protest the election results. Over 10,000 protesters gathered outside the parliament building demanding new elections and shouting, "Down with the Communists" and, "Freedom, Freedom." Unfortunately, the demonstrations culminated with the storming of the president's office and parliament building on Tuesday, April 7th.

The Moldovan protest had the makings of an orange revolution, but the sight of hundreds of youths pelting police with rocks, smashing windows, and trashing furniture had nothing to do with the Ukrainian precedent.

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April 15, 2009 12:09 PM

Europe's Democracy Legend

The belief that the European Union (EU) is the globally most successful promoter of democracy has become a part of the liberal orthodoxy on both sides of the Atlantic. The narrative tells us that by offering the ex-communist countries of Central Europe the juicy perspective of membership in their rich man's club, West Europeans benignly forced them to implement democratic reforms and thus made sure their democratic transition ended up, by and large, successfully.

The story of the EU as the foremost democracy promoter has recently gained extra popularity thanks to the neoconservative Middle East fiasco. Brussels mandarins love to lecture their American partners that where the U.S. failed with its aircraft carriers and stealth bombers, the EU triumphed with its "cohesion funds" and technocratic expansion of the web of institutions. American Democrats, reckoning with the Bush era, nod in approval. After all, Central Europe is soundly democratic and the Middle East is not.

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April 17, 2009 3:04 PM

Russia's Non-Democracy

If it weren't so sad, it would be funny to read Russia's President Medvedev's recent interview with Novaya Gazeta, in which he said, "Democracy [in Russia] existed, exists, and will exist."

Human rights still appear to be a luxury in Russia. Recently, Lev Ponomaryov, director of the Moscow-based Organization For Human Rights, and a leader in the new political opposition movement Solidarity, was reportedly beaten by a group of men outside his home . Stanislav Markelov, whom the Wall Street Journal called one of Russia's top human rights lawyers, was murdered in late January, as was Anastasia Baburova, a 25-year-old freelancer for Novaya Gazeta, which, according to the New Zealand Herald, is the last major publication critical of the Kremlin. Novaya Gazeta also lost three other journalists in the last decade-- Anna Politkovskaya, Yuri Shchekochikhin, and Igor Domnikov.

When I read about a journalist or a human rights activist hurt or killed because of their work, it hits a little too close to home. My father, who never joined the Communist Party, was a journalist at the Ostankino radio tower in Moscow until the end of 1993, when, after several years of trying to get permission to leave the country, my family and I immigrated to the U.S. with refugee status. I grew up knowing that certain opinions I heard at home were those of the minority and repeating them outside our apartment was not a good idea.

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May 22, 2009 12:26 PM

Shield of Dreams

The shift in the Obama administration's policy suggesting a freeze in deployment of the ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic has rekindled the debate in the two Central European countries about their future security relations with the United States.

Proponents claim that the suspension of the deployment, together with Obama's attempt to press the "reset button" in U.S.-Russian relations, undermines the security of the region. Opponents suggest that the decision on whether to base elements of a missile defense shield in Central Europe is an internal U.S. matter, and that abandoning the Bush policy could in fact enhance stability in this part of Europe by eliminating a thorny issue in relations with Russia. Moreover, even though the Polish and Czech governments signed on to the plan, neither the Polish nor the Czech parliament has yet to ratify the agreement, and popular opinion is strongly opposed.

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June 19, 2009 11:54 AM

Europe Sleeps As Power Passes It By

The European Parliament elections turned out to be a democratic disaster. Massive abstention underscored the strong disinterest - if not mistrust - many European citizens have toward the election of their European representatives. This is not good news, now that the European Parliament has begun to wield more authority. In addition, the anti-institutional vote was important. Political parties supporting more European integration actually represent only a small percentage of European citizens. The protest vote is likely to trigger -- or more precisely reopen -- a debate over the legitimacy and popularity of European institutions.

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July 10, 2009 4:52 PM

Bulgaria's 'Batman' Prime Minister

In 2003 California got its Governator. Last weekend, Bulgaria got a hero of its own: Batman was elected the new Prime Minister.

The 'Batman' in question is the former bodyguard Boyko Borisov, who for the past few years served as mayor of Bulgaria's capital and who received the nickname for his love of drama and action. He is known to appear promptly at the scene of any significant event, especially if it might be broadcast by any major media outlet.

It is not yet clear whether the results of the parliamentary elections, announced late on July 5th, are a cause for celebration or mourning. On the one hand, the Socialist government ruling the country for the past four years was finally sidetracked from the parliamentary landscape. On the other hand, Borisov, who emerged as the new Prime Minister with an uncontested majority, has great public appeal and popularity, but has done little to demonstrate his credentials for political leadership.

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July 10, 2009 4:02 PM

Albania's Outlook Unclear After Elections

The apparent outcome of the recent national elections in Albania in favor of the incumbent Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party will prove to have mixed results for that country's citizens. Politics in Albania is a very personal issue for most Albanians:political affiliations are strong, and elections can have a major impact on their day-to-day lives.

On the positive side, the continuation of Prime Minister Sali Bersisha's mandate will provide a great deal of much-needed internal stability to regional and local state institutions. The power structures in Albania are designed so that at least the director of virtually every public institution in the country is politically appointed, all the way down to the directors of schools and hospitals. Any changes in the ruling party at any level cause a great deal of disruption to these institutions as new, politically-appropriate, people are chosen to fill these positions. Unfortunately, many times these positions are left vacant for months until the decision is made, and the position is usually given as a form of patronage to a loyal supporter instead of to someone who knows how to run a school or a hospital. It takes time for these new appointees to learn how the institutions function and what their roles should be in them. And often, once the new director is chosen, he or she then replaces everyone working in that institution with friends and relatives, whether those people are viable candidates for the jobs they receive or not. Thus the victory of the Democratic Party in the national elections should help keep to a minimum the disruption to important services as a result of the political process.

On the other hand, Albania's most serious internal problem is perhaps that of corruption. There is virtually no interaction that takes place between citizen and state that does not involve some form of corruption. Students from elementary schools to universities often must pay teachers for grades, doctors in state hospital emergency rooms must be bribed before they will provide treatment, and drivers often must pay their way through roadside police checks. Stability in the administration of state institutions comes with the price that the state employees who perhaps took some time to find the best way to use their positions for personal gain will be able to continue those practices for the foreseeable future.

Albania is a country that is still learning what it means to be democratic and open. While the impact of the elections of late June on the lives of ordinary Albanians will be mixed, the elections are another small step toward political maturity and the dream of eventually joining Europe.

Brandon Dorman served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gramsh, Albania from March 2006 to August 2008 and is currently studying as a masters candidate with Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy.




July 27, 2009 11:47 AM

Resetting Russian Relations

Despite the murder of human rights activist Natalia Estimirova in Chechnya, the subsequent visit of Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev to Munich for the annual Petersburg Dialogue meeting between Russia and Germany appears to have gone off swimmingly. Medvedev spoke sharply against the killing and the meeting focused on energy and economic ties, including the purchase of automaker Opel by a consortium including Russia's largest bank.

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July 31, 2009 2:17 PM

Republicans Need Direction? Check Out Germany

It's been a tough four years for Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), so much so that comparisons with the U.S. Republican party's woes aren't too far off base. Chancellor Schroeder made an unpopular move to Gazprom just weeks after leaving office; party vice president Kurt Beck stepped down over supporting coalitions with the Left party (Die Linke). Now comes "Limogate": health minister Ulla Schmidt allegedly took her chauffeured limousine on vacation to Spain, where it was stolen. Now the SPD must explain why Schmidt needed the 100,000-Euro vehicle on her vacation, when it should be campaigning for the upcoming September 27th general elections. This won't be easy, since the trip only included two official events: speaking with German retirees and meeting the mayor of the village in which she stayed.

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.