Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Monday, 27 November 2017

The coalitions podcast: chaos in Berlin, calm in Bonn

Germany's political future is now uncertain after 'Jamaica' coalition talks collapsed. Meanwhile, the global climate coalition is holding strong after a summit in Bonn.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Berlin: the uncapital

People often use 'Berlin' as shorthand for a powerful Germany. But in reality this is not a power center, economically or politically. And many people like it that way. 

I've been in Bonn, Germany the past two weeks, covering the UN climate talks. It's my first time in the former West German capital, and it's been a very eye-opening experience. 

One of my clients is Deutsche Welle, Germany's public international broadcaster (roughly the equivalent of the BBC World Service). I work for them in their Brussels and Berlin offices, but their headquarters are in Bonn. So these weeks were an opportunity to finally meet many of my colleagues in person for the first time. 

When I tell people outside Germany that DW's headquarters is in Bonn, and Berlin has a much smaller satellite office, they're surprised. "Why wouldn't they be based in Berlin?" they ask. In fact, DW's situation is not unusual. Very few German media companies are based in Berlin. The TV stations and national papers are often based in Hamburg or Cologne, maintaining only small 'Berlin bureaus'.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Today's divides aren't between states, they're across them

In Europe and America, today's urban educated elites have more in common with their counterparts in other countries than their own compatriots. It is resulting in a new type of international nationalism.

I was in Belgrade last week moderating at the Belgrade Security Forum, an annual policy dialogue about Balkan and European issues. 

During a discussion on challenging inequality, one of the panelists made a point that stuck with me. Responding to a comment from former Greek prime minister George Papandreaou about the uneven benefits of globalization, Hakan Altinay from the Global Civics Academy noted that the benefits are being felt by a certain class in each country, and that is bringing them closer together across borders while they drift ever-further apart from their countrymen. 

People working in and around the European Union institutions in Brussels are often accused of living in a bubble, forming an international echo chamber in which they have more in common with each other than with people back home in their own countries. But in fact, this is a phenomenon that is linking national capitals across Europe - and it has little connection to the EU. The bubble isn't just in Brussels. It is spread across Europe's cities.

A few days later, I heard a very similar description of the situation in the US on NBC's Meet the Press, America's main public affairs program. During a 'data download' segment, host Chuck Todd described how NBC News had crunched the numbers. Despite the caricature of America being divided between red and blue states, the divide is really between red and blue people - and that split defies geography.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Three different Berlins

My journey from Schöneberg to Neukölln to Prenzlauerberg.

Ever since going freelance in March of 2015, I’ve lived an itinerant life. In addition to keeping apartments in Brussels and Berlin and traveling between them, I’ve also gone traveling in the Southern hemisphere over the winters.

It’s been a fantastic and enriching experience, but today I’m reining it in. I’m on the train from Berlin to Brussels now, having given up my Berlin apartment. The back-and-forth was just getting too exhausting - I had to pick one city or the other. Professionally, that city has to be Brussels - at least for the moment. But that’s a subject for another blog entry.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The future of Europe - Macron vs. Lindner

This week, Emmanuel Macron threw down the gauntlet for his vision of a stronger, more federal European Union. But his bold words were tempered by the election result in Germany two days earlier. And just a few days later, violence in Catalonia further undermined his vision of European unity.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Angela's bad night - a German election special

Today's German election has dealt a blow to the country's mainstream parties, with a dismal performance by the centre-left SPD and a hit for Angela Merkel's CDU. Meanwhile, the new populist far-right Alternative for Germany is set to become the country's third largest party. Tyson Barker and I give you the latest from Berlin, live as the result come in.

The speeches podcast: May in Florence, Trump at UNGA

It's a week of speeches - Theresa May asking for extra Brexit time in Florence, Donald Trump ushering in the dog-eat-dog era at the UN, and Emmanuel Macron spelling out his vision of EU reform.

Friday, 22 September 2017


Facing increasing panic over a looming exit deadline in March 2019, Theresa May has called for a ‘transition period’ in which the UK loses its EU voting power but still has to follow its rules. It could easily turn permanent.

Desperate to salvage Brexit talks which have gone off the rails, British Prime Minister Theresa May gave a much-anticipated speech in Florence today. She surely hopes it will stem the panic over the country’s lack of preparedness for the ‘cliffs edge’. That is March 29, 2019, when the country must leave the EU.

There is now little prospect that an agreement on Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU can be agreed by that date. And so the prime minister had little choice but to do something to calm the jitters of British businesses and markets. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Should Germans stop speaking English in Berlin?

A rising star in Merkel's CDU party has criticized Germans in Berlin for speaking too much English, calling them "elitist hipsters". Is he right to say the omnipresence of English in Berlin is exclusionary?

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Juncker's Wallonia bypass could save Brexit

Next week the Commission is expected to outline a plan in which governments will no longer have veto power over most EU trade deals. It could be a game-changer for the Brexit negotiations.

One year ago, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepared to board a plane tp Brussels to sign a landmark free trade deal with the European Union, he had a bone to pick with some fellow Francophones 4km to the south of the EU capital.

The deal was done and all 28 EU national governments had agreed to it. But the tiny region of Wallonia, the French-speaking, politically far-left Southern part of Belgium, was threatening to wield a veto. A region of 3.5 million people was about to unilaterally kill the trade deal agreed by the other 509 million. 

The premier of Wallonia asked Trudeau to cancel the visit, saying it would be a "provocation" to do so while Wallonia had not yet given its assent. The Canadian PM cancelled his flight, but he was not pleased. "If, in a week or two, we see that Europe is unable to sign a progressive trade agreement with a country like Canada, well then with whom will Europe do business in the years to come?" he asked.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Fake Brexit: Is Britain heading for pseudo-independence from the EU?

On this week's podcast, we look at issues of national pride. Would a 'fake Brexit' be enough to satisfy British yearning for a feeling of sovereignty? And as the German election nears, what does a recent uproar about the use of English in Berlin say about the changing nature of German politics?

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Who will be Merkel's dance partner?

Germany’s upcoming election is eliciting a collective yawn in Europe, with a Merkel win almost certain. But surprises may be in store in who voters choose to be with her in government.

Compared to some of its neighbors, Germany isn’t known for having elections with edge-of-your-seat excitement. Particularly in the past decade, as Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc has dominated politics, federal elections haven’t had much in the way of surprises.

But this year was supposed to be different. People expected a real contest between two credible candidates on September 24. That didn’t pan out.

Merkel has now been in power for twelve years, and she is running for a historic fourth term that could make her, along with Helmut Kohl, the longest-serving chancellor in modern German history. But many of her decisions have proved unpopular, particularly her controversial move to welcome Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s civil war in August 2015. It was thought that voters were ready for change.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Estonian issues: Charlottesville, collective memory and technology

As Estonia takes over the EU presidency, we talk on this week's podcast about two issues central to the Baltic country - technology and historical memory. 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

My prediction: Britain will join the EEA

Like in Norway and Switzerland, British elites will have to accept an arrangement they know is bad in order to indulge the illusions of a slight majority of voters. 

The political class was stunned. After a nationwide in/out referendum on EU membership, expected to yield an 'in' result because the entirety of the political and business establishment supported it, people awoke to the news that people had voted out, by 52%. A yearning for national sovereignty had won the day.

This wasn't 24 June 2016. It was 29 November 1994, the day after Norway's referendum on whether to join the European Union. 52% voted for Norway to be outside the EU, while 47% voted to be in it - an almost exact mirror of the UK result 22 years later. The result was a political shock that sent reverberations through the government and business establishment. 

What happened in Norway in the ensuing years was a lesson in how politicians must sometimes pull their citizens along begrudgingly, or even unwittingly. Because even though EU membership had been rejected, Norway effectively ended up becoming an EU pseudo-member - under terms much worse than if it had become a member state. The same fate awaited Iceland and Switzerland. 

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Eurovision imperialism?

Eurovision Asia is coming. Get ready for the battle of the song contests, as the European Broadcasting Union tries to head off global upstarts.

The Eurovision Song Contest has come a long way since it was established as a small project between Western European countries in 1956. 

Since the contest was extended to post-Communist countries in the 1990s, it has grown to become the most-watched non-sporting live television event in the world. Last year it attracted 204 million viewers, achieving an audience share of 36.3% across the markets in which it aired. That means that 1/3 of the people watching television on that night were watching Eurovision. That's more people than watch the Oscars or the Superbowl. In fact, it's only beaten by the World Cup.

Compare this to the 1990s, when the struggling song contest was weighed down by a French-imposed rule that countries could only sing in their national language and with a live orchestra. Viewing figures averaged around 50 million.

All of this has opened the question of what the contest should do with the increasing global success of its brand. This week, the European Broadcasting Union, the association of broadcasters that organizes the conference, announced the launch of Eurovision Asia. It will use the Eurovision format but for Asia Pacific countries. The official website was launched on Friday -

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Air Berlin's 'poor but sexy' collapse

The airline is suffering from the same fate as the city for which it was named – exuberant over-expansion flying in the face of economic reality.

On the outskirts of Berlin, hidden among closed motorways and unused train tracks, lies Germany's national embarrassment.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, originally scheduled to open as the German capital's first real properly sized airport in 2010, has been beset by delays and still sits unused today. As I discovered when I visited the site for a radio piece on Deutsche Welle two years ago, construction has actually finished and the airport is ready to go. But a fatal engineering flaw involving exhaust fans means it cannot open, and there is no solution in sight.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Will Germans really deliver Merkel a historic fourth term?

On this week's Brussels2Berlin podcast, Tyson Barker and Dave Keating talk to Deutsche Welle reporter Sumi Somaskanda about the upcoming German election.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Auto chiefs win again in Berlin. But beware Hendricks revenge

Germany's powerful carmakers got what they wanted from yesterday's diesel summit. But everything may change after the election.

At the press conference following yesterday's crisis summit in Berlin to deal with the unfolding Dieselgate scandal, you would have been forgiven for losing track of who was who.

With only five lecterns and around 20 participants, they had to play a round-robin of auto executives, each taking the stand to say how very, very sorry he was over revelations of cheating and collusion that have come out. Each middle-aged white German man was more indistinguishable than the next. 

But all the while there was one woman standing to their left, looking very out of place. It was the summit's co-host, the center-left German environment minister Barbara Hendricks. And as the German auto chiefs detailed the agreement reached inside, an agreement in which she had been politically defeated, you would see on her face that she was already plotting her revenge. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Is Berlin overthinking dieselgate and Russia sanctions?

On this week's Brussels2Berlin podcast, Tyson Barker and Dave Keating talk about the two issues engulfing Berlin at the moment. Both may be a bit overblown.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The German autostate

Whether or not it was illegal, revelations about German automakers cheating the system are denting ‘brand Deutschland’. Do Germans play by a different set of rules?

The allegations that have surfaced this month against German automakers seem to confirm the worst suspicions that many in Europe hold about the EU’s largest country: while they insist on rigid enforcement of rules for everyone else, Germans seem to think the rules don’t apply to them.

A report by Der Spiegel magazine last week alleged that Germany’s five biggest automakers - Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Porsche and Audi - have been colluding for two decades on pricing, suppliers and diesel technical standards, in order to give them leverage over foreign competitors. This week the European Union said it is investigating the issue, and has appointed a vice president to oversee the investigation.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Thursday, 20 July 2017

“Why are you still here?”

As they exit international bodies, the US and UK are refusing to give up their seats at the tables they plan to leave. The question is whether their international partners will let them get away with it.

This week, the difficult negotiations over the UK’s exit from the European Union began in earnest in Brussels. David Davis, the UK’s chief negotiator, squared off against Michel Barnier, his EU counterpart.

Davis called for both sides to “get down to business” for arranging a swift British exit from the EU. He then promptly went back to London, 60 minutes later. He gave no explanation for his own swift departure, which left the EU negotiators perplexed. Just days earlier, Barnier had warned the UK that it is is running out of time to negotiate its exit, which must be completed by March 2019. “The clock is ticking” he said sternly.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Friday, 30 June 2017

Germany’s late but welcome turn on gay marriage

Merkel’s decision to allow same sex marriage is a calculated political move ahead of the election. 

For several years, Germany has seemed like a strange anomaly in Western Europe on one of the key cultural issues of the modern era. 

As country after country passed gay marriage in Europe and the Americas, Germany held out

On the gay marriage map of Europe, a wave of dark blue came rushing in from the West. Starting with The Netherlands and Belgium in 2001, countries adopted full gay marriage. 

The most surprising development came in 2015, when the Irish voted in a referendum to allow gay marriage - the first country to do so by public vote. Long known as a conservative country dominated by the Catholic church, it was a chance for the country to demonstrate just how much it has changed over the past three decades. 

But meanwhile in central Europe, everything remained frozen.

Friday, 9 June 2017

So where does this leave Brexit?

Theresa May scored an own goal with her disastrous decision to call a snap UK election, but her humiliating defeat was not a plea from the public to stay in the EU. 

When Theresa May called a snap election in April, it was a nakedly opportunistic move. 

The opposition Labour Party was in disarray, 20 points behind the Conservatives in the polls. Their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, did not command the loyalty of his MPs and had only held on to his position because of grassroots support. 

The UK Independence Party essentially had no raison d'etre any more. The one-issue party had gotten their wish - Britain was leaving the EU. The Scottish National Party looked to be in trouble in Scotland as well. May saw an opportunity to hoover up Labour, UKIP and SNP votes and give her perhaps the largest majority in UK history - making the country effectively a one-party state. It would be a big improvement from her existing situation, having inherited a razor-thin majority government from David Cameron.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Who is Germany’s anti-Trump?

The US President heaped further scorn upon Germans during last week’s NATO summit. In a German election year, he will become the perfect foil.

Even before last week’s NATO and G7 summits in Europe, Angela Merkel knew that Donald Trump would not have kind words for the Germans.

Having already suffered the indignity of having him refuse to shake her hand during her state visit to Washington - possibly as revenge for her frosty response to his election - Merkel could have expected that Trump’s obsession with the German trade surplus and lack of military spending would again bring hostility during their second meeting. It did.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Hurricane Trump comes to Brussels

While the current US president bullied and berated in Brussels, Obama awed and inspired in Berlin. Which man truly represents the American people?

Perhaps no image of Donald Trump's visit to Brussels will be more enduring than the now-notorious video of him pushing the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way so that he could get to the front of a shot of NATO leaders.

As an US citizen, I felt a deep sense of shame watching the incident. There was something painfully American about it. The worst part was his expression after the shove - the brash sense of entitlement, the obscene strutting. In just a few seconds Trump had confirmed the stereotypes that so many Europeans have about Americans. And it was consistent with his behavior during the entire Brussels visit - bullying, gloating, preening.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

After trauma of Lisbon, Macron faces uphill battle for EU treaty change

The new French president may have softened Merkel's resistance to change, but leaders across Europe will be wary of opening a pandora's box.

Emmanuel Macron made his first foreign visit as French president yesterday, coming here to Berlin for a meeting with Angela Merkel.

That Berlin was his first destination is no surprise. The Franco-German relationship is the most important for Paris, and also the most important relationship in the European Union as a whole. But there was an added importance to this first visit. During his campaign Macron made promises about a process of renewal and reform of the EU. None of that will be possible without the cooperation of Germany's chancellor.

We still do not know if Merkel, a conservative, will be that chancellor. Germany is having a general election in September and she may be unseated by her center-left challenger Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament.

Monday, 15 May 2017

In Eurovision, as in politics, the people wanted an outsider

At a time when the public is voting for political leaders who say they are from 'outside the system', Portugal's surprise Eurovision win shows entertainment is not immune to this trend.

When Salvador Sobral took the microphone to accept his victory in the Eurovision Song Contest in Kiev on Saturday night, it went a little differently than people might have expected.

Such speeches are usually filled with breathless platitudes, with artists thanking the fans and talking about how great the song contest is. But Sobral is not your usual Eurovision winner. He used the occasion to rail against "disposable" pop music in general - taking a few cryptic swipes at the song contest he had just won. His was "a victory for music and for people who make music that actually means something."

Given the political events of the past year, it all gave me a sense of deja vu.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Italy should win Eurovision 2017, but it won't

Bookies think Francesco Gabbani is the man to bring Eurovision back to Rome for the first time since Italy won with a song about the EU in 1990. But language and performance issues present high hurdles.

With the defeat of far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in Sunday's French election, Europe breathed a sigh of relief. It's no time to relax just yet, but at least for the rest of the week the continent can turn to more fun diversions. And on that note - Sunday also marked the start of Eurovision week.

Of course, the Eurovision Song Contest isn't the same politics-free distraction it once was. This year's competition is in Kiev, following Ukraine's shock win last year with an unabashedly anti-Russian song. After a viciously clever trap set my Moscow, Russia has pulled out of the 2017 contest. Their absence will be keenly felt this week.

Every year, countries try to emulate the previous year's winner. 2017 has been no exception. To match Jamala's haunting winning song about the Soviet genocide and deportation of Crimean Tatars, we have a whole crop of dark, brooding songs this year about serious subjects. But none match the emotional intensity of Jamala's performance last year.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Today the dark clouds over Europe parted. Let's fix the roof while the sun is shining.

President Macron represents an opportunity for Europe to save itself. Will it be squandered like so many opportunities before?

When Emmanuel Macron took to the stage tonight for his enormous victory rally outside the Louvre in Paris, he did so with Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' playing in the background. It was a truly shocking moment, because it is a tune that Europe's national leaders have been running away from for 12 years.

The Ode to Joy is the EU's unofficial anthem - unofficial because its official status was removed from the proposed European constitution after French voters rejected it in 2005. It is still played before sessions of the European Parliament nonetheless. But for national leaders, Beethoven's rousing melody has represented nothing but a headache.

For France's new president, it represents an opportunity.

The enthusiastically pro-EU centrist candidate Macron has handily defeated far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen - a woman who had promised to dismantle the EU. Brussels, and national capitals across Europe, are tonight breathing a sigh of relief.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Le Pen and Trump: politics-as-entertainment

The French presidential debate echoed last year's US debates. Like Trump, LePen laughed while she bullied and mocked her opponent. We are living in an age of clowns.

Last night marked the one and only debate between the two candidates who will participate in Sunday's final round of French presidential elections, far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and centrist internationalist Emmanuel Macron. For me, it had eery similarities to last year's Trump-Clinton debates in the United States.

Donald Trump had a way of getting under his opponents' skin. He would mock them, call them names, and laugh in their face. Marco Rubio was "Little Marco". Ted Cruz was "Lyin' Ted". Hillary Clinton was "Crooked Hillary". He dragged the Republican presidential primary into the mud, as his opponents desperately tried to counter his popularity by sinking to his level. Trump even goaded Rubio, a US Senator, into challenging his penis size.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Europe’s new hope

Emmanuel Macron’s first-place finish in France’s first round of presidential elections was calming for people fearful of the rising nationalist tide. But Le Pen still poses a clear and present danger.

Standing in front of the EU and French flags last night, the man who came first place in France’s first round of presidential elections spoke passionately of a France at the heart of Europe, and part of a global community.

Emmanuel Macron came top in the country’s first round of voting, and is now heading for a run-off with far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen. In an extraordinary development, the two of them have exiled the country’s two mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties from power. And both could significantly change France from the country it has been under those parties’ rule over the past 30 years. “The people of France wanted change so badly…in one year we have entirely changed the French political situation,” he told the crowd.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

There is no such thing as Frexit

You cannot exit something that no longer exists.

I'm in Paris this weekend covering the first round of French presidential elections, a historic contest which will have a profound impact on Europe and the world.

Tomorrow's first round of voting could result in a run-off between a far-left and a far-right candidate, both of whom are hostile to the European Union and have in the past called for France to leave the EU. The latest polls show a race that is anyone's game, and could result in any number of second round combinations across the political spectrum. It is an election like France has never seen, and nobody knows that tomorrow will bring.

A first round win for far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and far-left communist Jean-Luc Mélenchon would send shock waves throughout the world. It would not only mean the collapse of the mainstream political infrastructure in France. It would put the future of Europe, and of Western liberal democracy as a whole, in terrifying doubt.

Friday, 14 April 2017

It's official - Russia has pulled out of Eurovision

For the first time since the country entered the song contest in 1994, Russia will not broadcast the event. Will they ever come back? Or will they launch their own 'illiberal' Eurovision alternative?

After weeks of protracted negotiations, the organiser of the Eurovision Song Contest announced the news everyone expected: Russia will not participate in this year's competition.

The big question now becomes - will they ever come back?

Eurovision is hugely popular in Russia, and the loss of this significant audience is a big blow to the European Broadcasting Union, the coalition of national broadcasters that stages the contest. What is terrifying for the EBU is the prospect that Russia will now permanently pull out of the contest. 

Russian politicians have been calling for it to do so for years, ever since a bearded drag queen named Conchita Wurst won for Austria in 2014. One Russian MP said the contest had become 'a celebration of perversion', and said Moscow should revive the old Cold War alternative, Intervision, as a family-friendly alternative.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Mélenchon would 'renegotiate' Europe and call a referendum after. Sound familiar?

The far-left firebrand's plan to completely overhaul the EU or call a referendum on membership if he doesn't get his way is as naive and dangerous as David Cameron's 2015 gambit.

Two years ago, British Prime Minister David Cameron was running scared.

Faced with unending sniping about the European Union from his backbench MPs, and a UK Independence Party with the wind at their backs (they had finished first in the UK's European Parliament election the year before), Cameron panicked. He promised to 'renegotiate' the terms of Britain's membership of the EU, and then hold an in-out referendum based on the result.

As The Economist wrote earlier this month, it was a solution in search of a problem. Only 5% of British people saw the EU as one of the most important issues facing Britain at the time (more than half see it that way today). It was a move to placate politicians in his own party, not to address any real pressing concern from the public.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Europe's misplaced relief after Trump's Syria strikes

Does Trump's military strike in Syria signal that the American military protectorate over Europe is back? 

Last night at a mixer of policy wonks here in Berlin, I could feel the relief in the air.

The details were still emerging, but we knew at that point that President Trump was launching airstrikes against Bassar Al Assad's forces in Syria in retaliation for a brutal chemical weapons attack against his own people.

"It took some time but he's finally becoming serious," one Berliner told me. "He can say all he wants on the campaign trail but now that he's president he has to live up to American responsibilities."

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

With Brexit looming, time for a Celtic Union?

David Davis says Northern Ireland can opt to stay in the EU by joining with the Republic. So why can't Scotland?

Today British Prime Minister Theresa May took the historic step of requesting a divorce from the European Union. 

It will be remembered as a defining moment in history. Some are predicting it is the beginning of the European Union's disintegration. But others say, perhaps more convincingly, that it signals the start of the British union's disintegration.

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament voted to back First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's call for a new referendum on Scottish independence. The timing was no accident. Sturgeon timed her announcement of the new referendum push earlier this month to be one day before May planned to submit her divorce letter to the EU, upstaging the British PM and forcing her to delay the delivery until today. Scotland is remaining one step ahead of Westminster.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Russia just won the Eurovision propaganda war

Ukraine’s decision to ban Russia's Eurovision contestant from entering the country makes Kiev look like the bad guy. Once again, Moscow has outmaneuvered its enemies.

Eurovision, the annual contest in which European nations compete against one another to produce the best song, has been no stranger to political controversies over its 60 years. But nothing compares to what is now unfolding in Kiev.

This year, the song contest has become entangled in today's most controversial and beguiling geopolitical conflict - Russia's 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea.

The stage was set last May, when Ukrainian contestant Jamala scored a shock win in the 2016 contest with a song about Crimea. It wasn't explicitly about the current conflict. Instead, it was an emotionally intense song about the Soviet Union's mass deportations of Crimean Tatars to Siberia in 1944.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Spectres of a Dutch past

Modern Holland sells itself as enlightened and peaceful, but this perception is not shared in Indonesia. Will today’s election return the Dutch to a more brutal era?

I’m flying somewhere over India at the moment, making my way to Amsterdam after a fascinating week on the Indonesian capital island of Java. Once I land in the morning I’ll be spending the day covering the Dutch election, and it’s safe to say the things I saw here on the other side of the world will be shaping my impressions.

The degree to which today’s election will say something about the direction Europe is heading has been a bit overstated in the English-speaking media. Headlines have declared breathlessly that far-right firebrand Geert Wilders is set to “win” the election and bring the Netherlands into the same axis of populism as the UK and US. But it's not quite that.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Life after the coup

Educated city-dwelling elites in Thailand despised their democratically-elected leader, and many welcomed the country’s 2014 military coup. Are there lessons here for America?

In the centre of Bangkok, at a large roundabout, stands what is perhaps the most ironic monument in Thailand today.

The Democracy Monument, built in 1939 to celebrate the 1932 Siamese revolution which established a constitutional monarchy, attracts few tourists. It is much less of a landmark than its counterpart the Victory Monument not far away, which commemorates the 1941 Thai victory over the French.

As I stand alone below the four solid spikes of the edifice, I see cars and motorbikes wiz by without a glance. Perhaps they are too uncomfortable to look. Thailand has not had a democracy for two years. And if you ask Bangkokians, they’re just fine with that.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Five paths for the post-Brexit EU27

Wednesday's Commission tract on the EU's future suggests a 'two-speed Europe' is probably the way forward. But wouldn't this just create more chaos and confusion?

Should the European Union separate or federate, or somewhere in between? 

This was the question posed in yesterday's remarkably honest and self-reflective white paper on the future of the EU, published by the union's executive body in preparation for a 'declaration of purpose' to be adopted at a summit in Rome next month by the 27 member states who will remain in the EU after Brexit (if it ever happens, that is).

The paper outlines five scenarios for how the EU should react to the Brexit vote - not in terms of how it should proceed with the divorce negotiations, but whether and how it should change itself to avoid any more member states choosing to leave.

Monday, 20 February 2017

A Canada-EU alliance is forming against a Russia-US-UK axis

Simultaneous visits to the EU by Justin Trudeau and Mike Pence reveal the ideological rift that is rapidly tearing the West apart.

If Mike Pence was expecting a warm welcome in Brussels today, he will have been unpleasantly surprised. The arrival of the US vice-president was greeted with protests from citizens on the streets and scowls from European Union lawmakers, in scenes reminiscent of the 2003 fallout from the Iraq War.

The hostility in the air was all the more palpable when compared to the reception of the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau just three days earlier. The European Parliament had Trudeau-mania, and some lawmakers were even seen being moved to tears by Trudeau's call for EU-Canadian unity, as detailed hilariously by Euractiv's James Crisp on Friday:

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Europe's 2017 elections are turning into referendums on Trump

Feelings of nationalism are running strong in France, but anti-Americanism may be stronger.

Three years ago, when a former investment banker named Emmanuel Macron was appointed as interior minister in the French government, nobody had ever heard of him. 

Today, he has come out of nowhere to second place in the French presidential election. It looks increasingly likely that he will be in a head-to-head with French far-right leader Marine Le Pen in May's second round of voting. More than anything else, there is one element that explains his meteoric rise: he is presenting himself as the anti-Trump.

His candidacy comes at a time when many in France, and indeed the entire European continent, are terrified that the French presidency will be snatched by Le Pen's far-right National Front - a party with anti-Semitic routes from the ashes of the Second World War. Were Le Pen to win, it would not only have implications for France. It would probably mean the collapse of the European Union, or at least its transformation into an irrelevance.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Europeans have been lied to their whole lives. They have three months to learn the truth.

European politicians have never explained to their citizens how dependent they are on America. As the Trump emergency unfolds, many still do not understand the danger they are in.

At the tail end of 2016, as Europeans adjusted to the reality that Donald Trump had won the presidential election, I found myself having two very different conversations in Europe.

One was with my Brussels and Berlin friends from what some might derisively term the 'educated elite'. They were scared, talking about what the result meant for Europe and how things on the 'old continent' were about to change.

Then there was the conversation I found myself having with people I just met, or acquaintances - people who don't follow politics or world events very closely. "What do you think about Trump?" they snickered, as if he was entirely my problem and not theirs. They expected a reaction of, "I'm so embarrassed for my country" or "things are going to be bad in my homeland". I've told them the entire global order is about to be thrown into chaos, starting first here in Europe. They stared back at me in confusion. Surely, Trump is America's problem, not Europe's.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Six things that surprised me about Australia

Happy Australia Day.

I've spent the last month down under, and I just so happen to be departing this country on its national holiday. I'm on a plane now to Bangkok, where I’ll base myself for the next month while travelling around Southeast Asia.

I actually didn’t know this was Australia Day – their version of the Fourth of July - when I booked the ticket. But in the end it didn’t make much difference. From what I observed the holiday doesn’t seem to be a very big deal for Australians, and in fact many people I asked told me they are working today as normal. It was only made a formal public holiday in all states and territories in 1994 (although it had been unofficially observed since 1935). As one Australian told me, throwing in a Mean Girls reference, “the government is always trying to make Australia Day happen. It’s not going to happen”.