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.