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."