Gabe Lipton is the Associate Editor of Signal responsible for editorial execution of GZERO Media's written newsletter content. He holds degrees in Government and Economics from Wesleyan University, where he was a member of the international economic honors society, and is studying German in his spare time. At the age of 11, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) confirmed (in person) his take on an important political question of the day, forever sealing his fate as a close observer of global politics. His Spidey powers leave much to be desired.
Populist nationalists who have rocked the political establishment in European capitals from Rome to Berlin in recent years now have their sights trained on a new target: the European Union itself.
Starting tomorrow, voters across the bloc's 28 member states will cast ballots for the next European Parliament, the Union's legislature. Candidates from across the bloc compete for 751 seats that are divvied up roughly according to each member state's population.
The Parliament is the only democratically elected governing body of the EU, and it has final say over contentious issues like EU-wide migration policy, trade rules, and budget allocations. The EU Parliament also plays a role in selecting the EU Commissioner, the bloc's most powerful official.
That power is something that far-right populists, buoyed by success in their own countries, now want a bigger piece of. In particular, Italy's Matteo Salvini and France's Marine Le Pen, whose parties once advocated for leaving the EU, are now joining in a loose alliance with other populist nationalists, hoping to win enough seats to bend EU rules in the more anti-immigrant and nationalistic direction that their supporters want.
Polls suggest the nationalists will do very well: A pro-EU coalition of the center-left and center-right is expected to lose its majority for the first time in 40 years, as parties from the extremes, but particularly the right, surge.
But they are still badly fragmented. While the populist-nationalists agree that they want less oversight from Brussels and a more restrictive immigration policy, they haven't been able to coalesce into a single bloc, because of disagreements over who would lead the group and what its main objectives should be. That means that the next EU Parliament may end up deeply fragmented and ineffectual.
The campaigning for EU Parliament also has a lot to do with national politics, and here there are a few key implications to watch:
French President Emmanuel Macron's forceful and defining push for a more unified Europe would effectively be dead if populist parties score a big victory – that could pull the rug out from under him in national politics as well.
Italy's Salvini might call for snap elections at home if the polls confirm his Lega Party's growing popularity.
In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice Party, which faces national elections later this year, is looking to gauge whether its prolonged fight with the EU over rule of law and cultural issues has been a political winner or if it's a reason the party has lost some ground to the opposition.
The upshot: Far from a snooze-fest, this week's elections could significantly shift the direction of the world's largest economic bloc.
The top line findings of the Mueller investigation have all but ended one of the biggest scandals in modern US political history, by determining that the Trump campaign did not coordinate with Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. While that's certainly good news for American democracy – and for the rule of law – the deeply politicized response to the Mueller findings points to a bigger issue: Americans' trust in all of the most important democratic institutions has been falling for decades. Well, all except one.
Over the past 20 years, hundreds of millions of people in China have been pulled out of poverty by their country's staggering economic growth. Beijing today is a rising power on the global stage. That's all pretty great, and yet the country still ranks beneath war-torn Libya and perpetually melancholy Russia in the United Nations World Happiness Report. This week's Economist hazards a guess about what really makes people smile or scowl, but here's how China stacks up for joy against other countries.
Whoever wins Nigeria's election tomorrow will have a number of challenges to meet. Nigeria already has the world's largest population of people living in extreme poverty, and that number is set to soar over the next ten years. Here's how the outlook for extreme poverty reduction in Nigeria compares to several other countries.
The US and China bring different strengths to the contest for AI supremacy: America has an edge in private sector innovation and essential hardware like semiconductors. China has greater access to important types of data and is investing heavily to catch up elsewhere. Here's a scorecard of where the two global superpowers stand in developing this key new technology industry.
A high-stakes political trial in Spain threatens to reignite national tensions and topple the government.
The "trial of the century," which began in Madrid yesterday, pits twelve members of the separatist movement in the Spanish region of Catalonia against the national government. The defendants are accused of rebellion, sedition, and civil disobedience for organizing what Madrid alleges was an illegal referendum on independence from Spain back in 2017. They face up to 25 years in prison.
Catalonians who participated overwhelmingly backed independence in the referendum, sparking Spain's worst national crisis since its return to democracy in the late 1970s. It was only resolved after then-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved Catalonia's parliament and nationalized its regional police force.
What's at stake? The trial is already opening old wounds. Thousands took to the streets in Madrid on Tuesday to protest what they view as the government's soft stance on the separatists. New protests across are all but certain, and will further stoke political divisions throughout Spain. Only 22 percent of Catalans believe their leaders committed acts of rebellion, compared to 58 percent of all Spaniards. The contrast with Spain's conservatives is even starker: where 87 and 95 percent of supporters of the center-right Partido Popular and far-right Vox Party, respectively, felt similarly.
The court drama also spells trouble for current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who was just barely able to form a government last year by coaxing the support of two small pro-independence Catalan parties. By refusing to negotiate on regional self-determination, Sanchez's government is likely to lose their support and be defeated in a crucial vote today on its 2019 budget. That could prompt new elections within the next few months.
All the instability is good for the new kids in Spanish politics – the far-right Vox party. As we've written, Vox made big gains in recent local elections and has made a point of wanting to quash calls for Catalan independence. Polls suggest the party would win over 10 percent of the national vote if elections were held today, giving them their first seats in Parliament.
With mounting protests, a delicate coalition, and the far-right on the rise, Spain's government could soon be the latest in Europe to be swept aside.
Venezuela is one of the most broken countries on Earth today. At the moment, two men claim to be president, and millions of people have fled amid one of the largest peacetime economic collapses in history.
So here's a question: assuming that the political crisis could be resolved – a big assumption, but work with us – what would it take to put the economy of Venezuela, once Latin America's wealthiest, back together again?
Here's Gabe with a look at three big issues that would immediately need to be addressed:
Stemming hyperinflation: Venezuela's inflation rate is expected to reach 10 million percent by the end of the year. The Venezuelan bolivar is now worth less than the paper it's printed on because of the government's ill-advised policy of printing money to stave off economic collapse. Since no one wants to produce goods for worthless money – let alone goods subject to price controls – the result has been widespread scarcity and mass hunger that's seen the average Venezuelan lose 24 pounds in recent years. The most immediate task will be to address this devastating currency collapse.
Humanitarian relief: Venezuela is in dire need of aid beyond just food. The country's healthcare system has essentially imploded. Around 13,000 doctors have fled in the past four years, and there's currently an 85 percent shortage of medicines. AIDS-related deaths have tripled in recent years, according tothe FT. Diseases thought to be all but eradicated – like yellow fever, diphtheria, and tuberculosis – are resurgent. The US has sent food and humanitarian aid to Venezuela via Colombia, but it's currently being blocked by the Maduro regime.
Rebooting the economy: Rebuilding Venezuela's economy more broadly will cost an estimated $60 - 80 billion over several years, according to Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann. The first task for any new government would be to stabilize oil production, a crucial source of government revenue that has fallen to historic lows. It would then face the thorny task of settling massive debts with foreign investors and governments, estimated to total around $140 billion. Lastly, the government needs to woo back the many talented workers who are among the 3 million people who've fled the country since 2015.
The bottom line: Plenty of countries have confronted economic collapses, humanitarian catastrophes, or political crises. But Venezuela is one of the few to face all three of these challenges at once, making recovery that much more difficult.