Geopolitics

American Democracy Under Assault, A View From France

The raid of Congress by a crowd of Donald Trump supporters is the culmination of a tumultuous presidency that has deeply fractured the American political system.

Pro-Trump supporters inside the Capitol

-Editorial-

PARIS — Elected four years ago with the promise to "Make America Great Again," U.S. President Donald Trump is ending his term of office in shame. History will remember the date of January 6 when America's democracy was threatened — and momentarily suspended — by a mob of extremist supporters whom the president had personally encouraged to march on Capitol Hill to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from being declared the winner of the 2020 election.


In this world of denial, it matters not that some 60 court decisions, including those at the level of the Supreme Court, have rejected appeals for annulment of the election. It matters not that the president himself called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2 and demanded to change the election result, claiming that he could not have been defeated by 11,779 votes, as the records show, because he knows that he won "probably by half a million votes."


The U.S. has reaped what its populist, demagogic and narcissistic president has sown for the last four years, aided and sometimes even encouraged by the Republican Party. The leaders who, at the beginning of his term, had supported him in the White House, the famous "adults in the room" whom we counted on to assuage him, have either thrown in the towel or have been dismissed, one after the other. Trump made no secret of his seditious intentions: He had consistently refused, even before the election took place, to commit to respecting the outcome of the vote if it was not in his favor. He had also voiced support for the extreme right-wing groups such as the Proud Boys, to whom he had asked to "stand back and stand by" during the first presidential debate in September 2020.

Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi during the electoral vote count — Photo: J. Scott Applewhite - Pool Via C/CNP via ZUMA Wire

These were the partisan groups that stormed Capitol Hill and invaded the Congressional building on Wednesday, effortlessly overtaking a surprisingly light police presence, just as members of Congress started to vote on the certification of the presidential election. The elected officials were promptly evacuated, and only able to resume following several hours of unprecedented chaos, after Trump finally encouraged his supporters to go home.


It will be up to President-elect Joe Biden to rebuild the deeply shaken democracy. He now has the means to do so, thanks to the crucial Senate victory for the two Georgia Democrats on Wednesday and the Congressional confirmation of the presidency. Democrats now hold the Senate, the White House, and the House of Representatives, and Biden has exemplified firm and lucid leadership amid the Trumpist attempt at insurrection.


Still, after Wednesday's trauma, many unknowns remain. What will become of the insurgency's leader, Donald Trump, who still has two more weeks in the White House and has been abandoned by even his own vice president? Must he be removed, even though he has finally agreed to make the transition? What will happen to the 121 Republican Congress members who, on Thursday morning, continued to reject the election result on the pretext of fraud? How will the 74 million people who voted for Trump react? Will the departing Republican majority learn its lessons from this disaster? The entire world waits for answers.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ