It’s been quite a busy week, one way and another.
Before we examine what the people thought back home about the Irish and German heads of government visiting the Orange House, let’s take a moment to look at the Dutch election.
The reaction on the night was a big “Phew!” as the Deplorable Geert Wilders’s PVV party didn’t do as well as it had seemed they might a month or two back, but in the cold light of day, there is still reason for concern. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, the main Dutch papers start with popups which confuse GoogleTranslate, so we’ll have to make do with some comments from next door.
First, Dirk Schümer in Die Welt:
At first sight, the joy is understandable. The polls since the beginning of the year predicted a landslide victory for the leader Wilders. If, after the evil awakening with Brexit and Trump, there would have been further bad news for other Europeans from The Hague – what a terrible omen for the upcoming elections in France and Germany!
In the Netherlands people were more relaxed, because there had already been a de facto participation in government by Wilders between 2010 and 2012, with very mixed experiences. But the country survived it.
In detail, however, the Dutch jubilee celebration looks more gloomy. Rutte is a winner who has lost just one-fifth of his electorate, while Wilders was able to gain a couple of percent despite the extremely high turnout.
Looking further at the sister parties of the CDU and the SPD, the satisfaction of Altmaier, Schulz and Merkel seems somewhat surreal. The Dutch Social Democrats of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA) did not experience a defeat yesterday evening, but a massacre.
Never before has a party in the post-war history of the country lost so many voters as the proud PvdA under their new and hapless leader Lodewijk Asscher. This is how it can go in the febrile digital democracy: until yesterday a proud grand coalition with 25 percent, now a splinter party with not even six percent. If this election brings “relief” to Martin Schulz, then good night SPD!
After the earthquake on the left, the Christian Democrats, the traditionally strongest and most dominant party in Holland, can now offer a natural coalition partner for the conservative-liberal Prime Minister Rutte.
But here, too, only on the modest level of a good twelve percent. This is just enough for the government benches, but in very modest form – and by no means an encouraging signal from the Dutch “champions” to Berlin, because the Christian Democrats are no longer a mass party for our Western neighbors.
The parties which did best were D66, the left-leaning Liberal party which split off from the VVD 30 years ago (which I support), and the Green/Left party, which more than quadrupled its vote.
In Der Spiegel, Hans-Jürgen Schlamp finds some reasons for optimism:
On the other hand, there are good, new reasons for optimism for all those who want a democratic, peaceful, economically and morally challenging Europe.
Some are provided by the national-populistic heroes themselves: they are currently exposed in many places as powerful, but incapable. Rutte has probably helped as much as the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: a stupider polemic than the one that has been distributed from Ankara about Western European politicians in recent weeks is hardly imaginable. He wanted to help Wilders, who wants to destroy Europe. Instead, the Turkish ruler, with his absurd attacks, has himself put off many people who want a strong leader, even a dictator: No, they would rather not have one like him.
Donald Trump, the superpopulist, also strongly supports populism. He, too, is constantly making himself ridiculous, and here his lies are exposed, there he is blocked by the highest judges of his country. He just cannot get things done. And around the world people see that it is quite another thing to tweet short slogans than to govern a country. Do we really want someone like that, even the Trump admirers in Europe ask themselves. Especially since many of those do indeed want to have order in their country, not chaos?
Rutte also scored a big hit when he reduced his opponent Wilders to one word: Wilders is chaos.
New faces with a new style
And suddenly, and this is where 2017 really differs from last year, new people are on the political stage. They do not use political jargon, but plain text, courageously argue for more Europe and are also still sympathetic. For example:
- Jesse Klaver, the 30-year-old Dutchman, has brought the Greens a leap from 2.3 to 11 per cent;
- Martin Schulz, 61, has turned the sleepy SPD into the possible chancellor party in a few weeks;
- Emmanuel Macron, 39, with his movement “En Marche” is gaining enough supporters from the right and from the left that the election process seems to be certain: Macron wins against Le Pen.
And there are a few more to come. And with the new figures, the old populists suddenly look the way they are: from yesterday. But beware! Nothing is decided yet.
That’s another consistent theme that’s coming up: voters are responding much better to politicians who haven’t been on the national stage for a long time. It may indeed be depressing that voters seem to value inexperience, but it would be pretty dim for campaign organizers to ignore this emerging trend.
TAZ’s column The Truth contains some disturbing news about Wilders:
In an eight-week expedition through the forests of Borneo, seven experts from the institute followed the trail of Wilders’ great-great-great-great-grandmother. “In the beginning it was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says Thijssen, smiling. “But with the help of genetic samples in the orangutan population and by means of historical animal portraits from the pen of research travelers, our team has been able to narrow down the territory of the long dead female and finally came across its skeletal remains. We thoroughly examined them. The result is clear: Geert Wilders is descended from this female orangutan. There is not the slightest doubt about that. ”
The whole thing sounds like a rubber pistol from the arsenal of a fake news factory. And even if the story were true – what would follow? Should Geert Wilders be deported to Southeast Asia? Or to the Zoo of Amsterdam?
…the World Wide Fund For Nature is now endeavoring to place Geert Wilders on the endangered species list and to construct him a habitat in the North Dutch dune reserve, where he would be relieved of the need to carry out new territorial battles. However, in the interests of proper animal husbandry, the cultivation of breadfruit trees would then be necessary. Under the supervision of trained veterinarians and rangers, Wilders would have the best survival chances in this reserve and, given good guidance, he could be released after a few years in the lowland rainforest of Borneo, although only on condition that the existing forestry and the local animal world could get along with the bear-toothed immigrant Wilders.
It seems great minds think alike: some of you will have seen Lord Bonkers’s revelations which I posted earlier in the week.
Let’s now head for Ireland, and see what they’ve been saying about PM Enda Kenny’s visit.
The Irish Independent’s opinion:
The owner of a golf club in Co Clare wants to pay a visit to Ireland in the next four years.
Who are we to object?
Whether US President Donald J Trump invited himself or he was invited, he says he wants to come here during his presidency.
Exactly how long his presidency will last is anyone’s guess. Not too many inside the beltway in Washington DC expect him to stick the full four years.
His first 50 days in office have certainly proven to be quite the rollercoaster.
Anyway, Mr Trump and Taoiseach Enda Kenny got along swimmingly yesterday.
Mr Trump said he “loves” Ireland as he sat in the Oval Office with the Taoiseach. And he confirmed he “absolutely” intends to visit Ireland.
“I really love Ireland. I’ll be there for sure,” he said.
Now there’s a hospital pass for Mr Kenny’s successor.
Even though Mr Kenny is on his way out the door, he did extend a warm invitation to visit our shores.
Mr Kenny was right to go to the White House.
He was right to meet with Mr Trump.
But any suggestion that he would express the discomfort of the Irish people about the new US president’s rhetoric were well wide of the mark.
And the Irish Times:
Just as Donald Trump has brought a new dimension to the notion of truth to the White House, he is also rewriting the language of diplomacy. And by its new evolving standard, Taoiseach Enda Kenny may consider the US president’s elevation of him to “my new friend” and Trump’s “I love Ireland, I really love Ireland, yeah” good returns on his politically risky St Patrick’s Day encounter. It could all have been so much worse.
Kenny, despite a perhaps unfortunately worded congratulations to his host on his election victory, managed above all to avoid the impression of fawning on the president. He also, by his own account, managed in his “constructive, beneficial” discussion, to get through with some issues of concern, notably immigration, to a president who does not have a reputation as a good listener.
Kenny raised with the president, the head of Homeland Security and congressional leaders the issue of increased legal paths to immigration, including the stalled E3 visa scheme, and the regularisation of the 50,000-plus Irish undocumented.
What the president made of it all we can only guess at, although an overheard Trump lunch aside to House Speaker Paul Ryan on the immigration challenge – “we’re going to do something about that” – might give some hope. Trump being Trump, however, it could also mean that he intends to step up deportations.
Jason O’Brien decided to do a decent piece on Spicey:
Sean Spicer was really hoping to enjoy St Patrick’s Day, but that was proving difficult.
The US Press Secretary earlier this year singled out the Taoiseach’s visit to Washington as one of the events he was most looking forward to at the White House, now he is on the inside.
He’s proudly Irish-American, fond of a pint of Smithwicks when good Guinness isn’t available, and not adverse to wearing green-and-white shamrock trousers at this time of year.
But here he was, eyes defiant, chin out, again angrily confronting members of the press as things got pretty heated in the daily, televised live White House press briefing, the dark green tie fooling no one into thinking he was enjoying the day.
The 45-year-old at one point snapped at a member of the press to “Calm down!”, though it was Mr Spicer’s voice that was hitting the higher pitch, before he launched into a monologue that did little to address the issue at hand.
That latest issue (if it actually matters) was the news that a US Senate Intelligence Committee had rejected Donald Trump’s claims – made on Twitter, naturally – that the Obama administration tapped his phones during the 2016 US presidential campaign.
“It’s going great,” Mr Spicer insisted to the Irish Independent, when asked about his high-pressure role as the man tasked with keeping the media, real and ‘fake’, vaguely on message.
The Rhode Island native, whose great grandfather was from Kinsale, was more bullish again when asked about the first meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kenny earlier in the day.
“Oh, they hit it off phenomenally, just phenomenally in the Oval Office,” he said. “I think and hope it’s just the very beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.”
Relentless positivity is, of course, another cornerstone of the new administration. You could argue relentless negativity is another. Just getting through each day is, presumably, a third.
Martina Devlin indulges in some actual analysis of what a Trump visit to Ireland might do:
It’s tempting to speculate that US President Donald Trump has promised to make space in his schedule for a trip to Ireland in the same spirit that he said he’d build a wall between the US and Mexico, forcing the Mexicans to pay for it. In other words, no need to worry about shampooing the red carpet and ordering bulk supplies of stars and stripes bunting just yet.
But if he lasts a four-year term, we can be sure he’ll call in the Taoiseach’s invitation. Not because he’s taking an interest in his “new friend” Enda’s little country. Not because he wants to inspect his Doonbeg golf resort investment. But because a state visit will help to secure the Irish-American vote.
Is the prospect of a Mr Trump State visit a disaster? Hardly. It’s a necessary evil in the world of realpolitik. Make no mistake, his racism, misogyny and homophobia are dangerous and repellent. But he is the democratically elected leader of the US and his office must be respected….But we’re under no obligation to line the streets, waving flags, when he comes calling. People are free either to ignore the visit, or to participate in protests. There is a 50-year tradition of serving US presidents visiting Ireland, and a practice that’s almost as long of citizens expressing disagreement with their policies.
It’s a safe bet that Mr Trump’s visit will be a diplomatic headache for whichever government holds office. Nevertheless, the Taoiseach had little choice but to extend the invitation. Galling though it is to welcome Donald Trump the man, it is essential to do it for Donald Trump the head of state. It’s called taking care of business…Some might say Enda wasn’t obliged to invite Mr Trump – he could have claimed he was about to leave office and suggested the White House should discuss it with his successor. But that would have undermined the Taoiseach’s mission in the US this week.
Besides, there he was with Potus, head of the world’s largest economy, enjoying a slice of access blocked into the calendar. How could he refuse to reciprocate if Mr Trump let it be known he fancied an invitation?
Mr Trump is a reality we are obliged to connect with, like it or not. Who knows what might spring from it? Despite sustained opposition to the visit by Ronald Reagan, he surprised people by mentioning Northern Ireland every day he was here – helping to push the need for a solution higher up the agenda.
Una Mullally didn’t think much of the St Pat’s Day reception:
Shortly after 6pm, Donald Trump and his “new friend” Enda Kenny took to the stage for their third appearance together that day. The US president again spoke of the strong ties between the United States and that “truly great country”, Ireland. The Taoiseach once again stressed the “deep and historic ties” between the two countries, recalling how Irish foreign military officers had helped George Washington to win the war of independence and have fought “in every war for America since then”.
The Taoiseach told the assembled guests that the White House was built by James Hoban, a Kilkenny-born architect, and modelled in part on Leinster House. But as Michelle Obama famously said, the White House – a proud new symbol of the American nation when it was completed in the flurry of energy and enthusiasm in the years following independence – was also a house built by slaves.
Hoban himself owned three black slaves, named in the White House records as Ben, Daniel and Peter – a telling example of the complex undercurrents of race, immigration and oppression that underpinned the development of America and continue to this day.
Immigration and tolerance were the real themes of this St Patrick’s Day. US media looked for any mention by the Taoiseach of immigration during his meetings with a man who has raged against diversity and inclusiveness.
The irony of the US president’s effusive praise of the “terrific contribution” made by Irish immigrants to American society, on a day when his proposed travel ban was scheduled to come into force, was stunning in its hypocrisy.
But no one seemed to care. For the crowd that assembled in the east room of the White House to see the president, there were no questions asked. That’s just Trump. What can you do?
While we’re with the Irish Times, they helpfully reprint pieces by Martin Wolf, whose native habitat is behind the FT’s paywall. He points out that Trump’s trade policy is insane. Yes, I’m aware you knew that, but this gives you a solid argument to explain precisely why when talking to people who don’t like multinational trade agreements:
The Marshall Plan is rightly regarded as among the most successful pieces of economic diplomacy in history. Yet it was not the money that mattered most. It was rather that it allowed war-battered western Europe to move away from mutually impoverishing bilateralism in trade.
It did so by removing the dollar shortage that drove the emphasis on bilateral clearing. Institutionally, it did so by creating the European payments union within the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. This led to convertibility on the current account and so to the world of liberal multilateral trade that we all now take for granted.
The economic nationalists who are influential in the administration of Donald Trump would presumably condemn this achievement by their predecessors. They prefer bilateral balancing to multilateral balancing in trade, bilateralism to multilateralism in policy and the exercise of unilateral US power to institutionally entrenched co-operation.
We must be grateful that the catastrophes of the 1930s had then discredited the holders of similarly narrow nationalist and protectionist visions. It is horrifying to imagine what would have happened if these people had held sway. They would have been desperately wrong then. They are wrong now. They must lose. Our fate depends on it.
I have argued that unsustainable US spending drove global demand, before the financial crisis of 2007-08. In this context, the excess savings of China, Germany and some others are a global concern, because we lack ways of absorbing them into productive and sustainable investments elsewhere.
Thus, overall imbalances are a legitimate issue for public policy, as John Maynard Keynes argued. But these cannot be dealt with through bilateral deals. That way lies policy failure and poisonous ill will.
They need to be dealt with multilaterally, because they are a multilateral phenomenon. It would also be far more productive to address them via macroeconomic policy and the capital account than via trade. The bilateralism now touted by the Trump administration is a delusion. It will not work. But it will do huge damage. It must be buried.
And, as we all know, the current leader of the free world visited the current laughing-stock of the free world on Friday.
The German press’s opinion of the meeting seems to be a pretty unanimous “Meh.” Typical is Clemens Wergin in Die Welt:
The chancellor spoke of having had a “very good, open first exchange”. “Open” is usually a diplomatic hint that there have also been differences. And these were evident in the case of trade questions, for example.
Trump reiterated his criticism of America’s trade treaties and said that Germany had very good deals with the old agreements, whereas America had done badly, and that had to change.
Merkel, however, reminded Trump that European countries do not negotiate their trade treaties bilaterally, but that the EU Commission does this for everyone, even if the individual countries, of course, bring their ideas into this process. In doing so, she apparently tried to counteract a frequently expressed statement by members of the Trump government that America could negotiate individual treaties with each EU country and thus play out its supremacy.
Once again, Trump was not able to get past a clear commitment to the preservation of the EU, which some of his advisors would like to break up, especially since Trump himself had also advocated Brexit. “America will recognize historic institutions,” said Trump.
At the same time, however, one also recognizes the right of every country to determine its own destiny. Trump thus sounded fundamental skepticism against multilateral institutions as well as its non-relation to the European Community project. This President will no longer be a friend of the EU.
The chancellor, on the other hand, made it clear that she wanted to support Europe for the lunch after the presser. “I will say that the success of Germany is the one side of the coin, and the other is the success of the European Union.” Germany’s fate is inseparable from the EU and Berlin does not want the continent to be divided.
Merkel was then asked for the very different political styles that she and Trump cultivate. The answer was a typical meandering Merkelism, which one can probably summarize as: People are different and that is also good and interesting. Moreover, their task is to represent the interests of their respective countries.
And that could sometimes be difficult. But if it were easy, you would not need any politicians. This was the knotted attempt to gain diplomatic success from the different characters of the two, who got on like fire and water.
All in all, one got the impression that both sides tried to make this first meeting a positive. But that there are many conflict points between the Trump government and the exporter Germany, which is involved in Europe, and which might have some blow-ups in the future.
The body language of both politicians also did not speak for the fact that they had already developed a good personal relationship. It was only a beginning.
You can read roughly the same article in every German paper, even if the authors are different. Which isn’t all that much of a surprise; Merkel is one of the most cautious operators out there and was definitely going to want to look the man in the face and come to her own conclusions rather than bang the table and cause a scene on their first date.
One may wonder why, unlike, say May or Kenny, she didn’t invite Trump to come to Germany. It wasn’t because she has feelings either way on the subject, but because the next G20 summit is in Hamburg, so he’s going to Germany whether he (or she) likes it or not.
That’s all for this week. Happy Sunday.
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