breaking news from the world of ideas

by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 24
January 2023
Analysis
07:00

Russia realism makes a comeback in Central Europe

Untrammelled support for Ukraine is no longer the default position

A dispute over proposed deliveries of German-made tanks could herald the start of a new, difficult phase in Western support for Ukraine. With Chancellor Olaf Scholz citing fears that the war will “last a very long time,” German hesitancy indicates a possible re-emergence of realist voices who, looking to the long term, see strategic value in saving what can be saved of old relations with the Kremlin. 

Following extraordinary international pressure over the weekend, Germany’s Foreign Minister indicated Berlin “would not stand in the way” if other countries want to send Leopard tanks to Kyiv, before Scholz again seemed to cast doubt on this late on Monday night. The earlier half-hearted consent showed a determination that no matter what happens, Berlin will not be held responsible for the shift in the calibre of Western military support.  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 17
January 2023
Analysis
07:30

Peace has become a dirty word in Central Europe

Attitudes to the Ukraine war now form a major fault line on the continent

The war in Ukraine has made notions of peace controversial throughout Central and Eastern Europe. In the Czech Republic, first-round presidential voting at the weekend has led to a run-off between two candidates defining themselves by their attitudes to war and peace.  

The favourite, former NATO chief Petr Pavel, is one of the country’s sternest voices in opposition to Russian aggression and influence. His opponent, former prime minister Andrej Babiš, has meanwhile opened campaigning for the second round with adverts drawing heavily on the anti-war rhetoric of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.   ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 10
January 2023
Reaction
07:00

Putting populists on trial is a dangerous game

The acquittal of Andrej Babiš on fraud charges has only boosted his popularity

Populist politicians throughout Europe are habitually accused of undermining the rule of law, so it’s no surprise that opponents exert huge pressure for them to face the judgement of the law, especially when they lose power. 

But the risks of such strategies were exposed in the Czech Republic on Monday. This week saw the acquittal of populist former prime minister and current presidential candidate Andrej Babiš in his trial for allegedly assisting in EU subsidy fraud before entering politics. Babiš stood accused of complicity in a claimed scheme to make a company in his Agrofert conglomerate eligible for EU funding by changing its ownership status.  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Wednesday, 4
January 2023
Analysis
17:15

Is Poland playing politics over reparations?

Its claim to compensation is fuelled by anti-German resentment

Poland and Germany are EU neighbours, but their alliance is a strange one. The relationship is increasingly bitter, and on Tuesday the German government announced that it won’t consider new claims by Warsaw for over $1.3 trillion in reparations for damage inflicted by the Nazis during World War II. In response, Poland said it will take its claim to the United Nations.

Germany insists that Poland waived any reparations claims in a 1953 agreement. Warsaw representatives say that decision was made under pressure from the USSR, and that it never made a sovereign choice on the matter.  

Reparations claims are all the rage in the West. From demands for compensation over historical slavery and imperialism, to claims that advanced economies must pay “climate reparations” to poor countries around the world, it’s fashionable to suggest that levelling out inequalities demands visiting the sins of distant ancestors upon those living today.  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 3
January 2023
Dispatch
08:15

Across Europe, nobody accepts blame for the recession

EU leaders are ignoring the bloc's self-inflicted errors

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, gave a sobering warning to welcome in the New Year. A third of the global economy will be in recession in 2023, she said, with the European Union to be hit particularly hard. The IMF expects half of the bloc to be in recession this year. 

Yet even as Europe faces up to harsh economic realities, there’s no agreement about their underlying cause. Countries have been battered by various self-inflicted and self-exacerbated economic shocks, from Covid lockdowns to the current energy crisis, while economic orthodoxies have left them unable to take effective action to counter the risk of recession. But governments keep on interpreting monetary problems through the narrow lens of party politics.  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Wednesday, 28
December 2022
Explainer
11:00

Serbia troops on high alert as Kosovo tensions rise

Road blockades are raising the prospect of renewed conflict

War is far from over this Christmas. While fighting continues to ravage Ukraine, road blockades erected by Serbs in north Kosovo are raising the prospect of new conflict stemming from an old and never resolved dispute.  

Serbia’s strongman President Aleksandar Vučić, who served as the country’s Minister of Information during the Kosovo War in the late 90s, put the Serbian armed forces on their highest alert level on Tuesday. Before Christmas, he requested permission from NATO peacekeepers for Serbian forces to enter Kosovo to protect the Kosovo Serb population from alleged aggression; unsurprisingly, the request was not granted.  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Wednesday, 21
December 2022
Spotted
10:00

EU attempts to blame bribery scandal on ‘external forces’

The bloc's spin campaign is whirring into action

When news broke of an investigation by Belgian police into corruption in the European Parliament, it was assumed that the EU would be forced to face up to institutional failings — and even, perhaps, to learn a little humility along the way. The investigation has already seen four people charged, including a European Parliament vice-president, and around €1.5 million in cash seized by investigators. 

The money was allegedly used by Qatar to buy influence among MEPs, in a system of corruption which also implicates NGOs and lobbyists. There have been hints that Morocco also used shady connections between politicians and lobby groups to buy influence in Brussels.  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 13
December 2022
Reaction
15:15

Viktor Orbán names his price

The Hungarian PM has fallen into line with EU leaders after a €5.8 billion deal

Late on Monday night, an agreement was reached in the EU’s long-running “rule of law” tussle with Hungary. Brussels’s plan to financially punish the miscreant member state will become reality but, in classic EU style, a compromise allows both sides to claim victory. Viktor Orbán has allowed himself to be bought off, having created significant political problems for the Union in recent weeks.  

The EU will approve Hungary’s pandemic recovery fund worth €5.8 billion and reduce the proportion of regular funding programmes to be withheld from Budapest, from 65% to 55%. In return, Hungary has relented in its controversial opposition to EU implementation of a global minimum corporation tax and loans for Ukraine.  ...  Continue reading

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