EU Elections: Turning a New Leaf

EU Elections: Turning a New Leaf

The results of the EU's parliamentary elections are in, but the work of parsing the 28-member bloc's most important election in decades has only just begun. Here are a couple of themes that emerged from the vote:


The center continues to collapse. The two big party blocs that have dominated the parliament – the center-right European People's Party and the center-left Socialists & Democrats – lost about a hundred seats between them. For the first time since direct elections began in 1979, they can no longer form a majority by banding together. They are now looking for coalition partners among smaller parties.

The former fringe has gone mainstream. While traditional centrist parties took it on the chin across the continent, Euro-skeptic populist and nationalist parties led by Italy's Lega and France's National Rally, the top vote-getters in their countries, surged to grab just under a quarter of seats.

But at the same time, the left-environmentalist Green Party also made strong gains, particularly in Germany. If the traditional blocs tap the Greens for a coalition, it could drag the EU's politics further left on some issues, like the environment, even as right-wing politics gains support.

Europeans aren't sleepwalking. More than half of eligible European voters turned out to vote – the strongest showing since 1994. What's more, this is the first time in the history of these elections that turnout increased from one election to the next. That suggests European voters aren't sleepwalking their way into a political realignment, they are actively running towards it.

What to watch next at the national level

In France, President Emmanuel Macron's centrist Republique En Marche, one of Europe's newest parties, came in second to Marine Le Pen's right-wing National Rally party, with 22 percent of the vote vs National Rally's 23 percent. While that's a setback for Macron domestically, it's far from a rout. And the increase in support for alternative parties at the EU level, including the Macron-aligned Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, could give the French president new influence in Brussels.

In Italy, Matteo Salvini's right-wing Lega party trounced his coalition partners, the 5-Star Movement. That's in line with Lega's broader ascent in Italy over the past year. The big question now is whether Salvini will call a snap election to capitalize on his growing momentum and rid himself of the need for a coalition with the discombobulated 5-Star altogether.

In the UK, does the victory of Nigel Farage's Brexit party heighten the chance that the Tories tap a Brexiteer like Boris Johnson as party head and prime minister? If so the risk of the UK careening out of the EU without an agreement on future economic relations would increase. If that happens, the EU, and especially the UK, could be in for major economic pain.

What happens next at the EU level: EU heads of state will meet in coming days to discuss the choice of next president of the European Commission – the executive body that drives EU policy. With no clear governing coalition yet to emerge, the debate is likely to be contentious – indeed, there are already signs of a split between Germany and France over their preferred candidates. Parliament will get its first chance to vote on a new Commission president on July 11. By then, we should have a clearer idea of whether the EU's fractured Europhile majority can hang together against an emboldened populist and nationalist right wing.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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