How will Europe respond to a wave of Afghan refugees?

On Tuesday, Franek Sterczewski made a break for the border. Wearing a long trench coat and carrying a blue plastic bag, he managed to outrun one armed soldier before being stopped by a line of officers. Sterczewski, however, wasn’t fleeing his native Poland — he was trying to help those who desperately want to get in. August 24, 2021 Brussels has accused the Belarusian government of actively shipping in would-be refugees The rebellious 33-year old MP had planned to hand out medicine and water to the line of asylum seekers camped out on the eastern frontier with Belarus. Hundreds of people from countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have begun

Matthew Lynn

President Barnier would be a disaster for Britain

An arrogant, aloof, wordy, pro-EU centrist drawn from the same narrow elite that has dominated the country for decades. It’s not that hard to see how French voters might choose to replace Emmanuel Macron with Michel Barnier. Apart from the fact he is older, his hair is greyer, and his wife is slightly younger, it is quite hard to tell the difference between them.  His hardline stance meant both sides ended up with a far worse deal than was necessary and an atmosphere of mutual mistrust Even so, the veteran politician has this week launched his candidacy for next year’s presidential election, vying to become the centre-right challenger to the incumbent.

Germany is facing political stagnation

Jamaica, Germany, Kenya or traffic lights? The names of the potential German coalitions — and their corresponding party colours — can be quite exotic. But as the vote has begun to split in the run up to the federal elections next month, the possible combinations that will make up Germany’s government have grown. The race is still wide open. Coalitions were purposefully built into Germany’s post-war democracy — the voting system mixes first-past-the-post with proportional representation to ensure a workable splintering. With one notable exception in 1957, no political party has received the votes of over half of the electorate outright. It usually falls to the party with the most

Europe has been a helpless bystander in Afghanistan

America’s allies in Europe understood months before President Joe Biden’s fateful April speech to the American people that a full and complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was a very real possibility. Biden talked about the urgency of getting the United States out of what he termed ‘forever war’ conflicts which required tens of billions of dollars a year (not to mention thousands of US troops on the ground) to maintain. Indeed, anybody who bothered to pay attention to Biden’s words for even a moment recognised the phrase was intrinsically tied to the war in Afghanistan, which had outlasted three consecutive presidents, resulted in the deaths of over 2,440 US

Who’d want to move to America now?

There’s a biopic released this summer, Roadrunner, about the late great chef, writer, bon viveur and TV presenter Anthony Bourdain. It recounts the many invaluable lessons Bourdain taught, such as: never eat the lower colon of a warthog; never order fish in a restaurant on Monday (it will probably be three days old); and, most of all, the American Dream is over. This last fact may seem jarring. Bourdain was a proudly patriotic American. However, I firmly believe he reveals this truth in the 36th episode of his splendid food-and-travel TV show, No Reservations. In this particular episode Bourdain visits Cleveland, Ohio. In his boyish, enthusiastic way, Bourdain tries all

Viktor Orbán goes to war on the European parliament

‘Times have changed, and whereas thirty years ago we believed Europe was our future, today we understand that we are Europe’s future’. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has never been one to shy away from controversy when it comes to the European Union. But on Hungarian Independence Day on Monday, he went a step further by presenting an alternative vision for the bloc.  Orbán’s plan involves a major restructuring of the European parliament, which he described as a ‘dead-end’ for democracy. He wants to fix the EU’s democratic deficit by building a ‘democracy of democracies based on European nations’.  In practice, this would mean a reformed European parliament consisting of delegates

European nations are reasserting themselves

All but the most hardened Remainer will admit that the EU’s vaccine rollout has been poor. Up against the UK’s handling of the same feat — and in the face of the European Union’s aggressive response to Britain’s success — many are declaring Brexit a triumph. But the EU’s vaccine debacle demonstrates something more profound and worthy of deeper examination — the continuing importance of the nation state. As Europe’s vaccine rollout has demonstrated, nation state can often do things faster and better in a crisis than a multi-national entity like the EU Commission. Some will say this proves the nation state should be the highest form of governance, and

Now FBPE try to cancel Lionel Barber

It has not been a great nine weeks for the European Union. Readers both inside and outside the supranational bloc will have been horrified at the dithering, disinformation and mixed messages of the commission and its national leaders, now considering an export ban to stop vaccine orders to the UK being honoured. The French position on the Oxford jab for instance has gone from banning it, to allowing it for just those under the age of 65, to allowing it for all, to banning it and now allowing it only for those over 55. Polling now shows 61 per cent of people in that country think the AstraZeneca vaccine is unsafe.  It all seems to

The census is the latest Brexit battleground

The end of the Brexit wars have left some Remainers feeling redundant. A few are now turning their attention to a new target: the census. The small group of voters who are reluctant to accept the result of the referendum are responding to the question asking ‘How would you describe your national identity?’, not with ‘British’, or ‘English’ but, with the answer, ‘European’. As a Remainer, this strikes me as somewhat embarrassing. For a start, of course, ‘European’ is not a nationality. But that small point aside, how is this going to convince Brexit voters that their votes were a mistake? The idea seems to be that if you state your nationality on

The EU-AstraZeneca row: a complete timeline

Oh dear. This morning Sweden has become the latest European country to suspend use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. It follows reports that some people have suffered blood clots after being given the jab despite AstraZeneca’s data showing there have only been 37 such reports among the 17 million people across Europe who have been given the vaccine. Yet while some European health ministries across the continent are raising concerns about its effectiveness, others are lambasting AstraZeneca for failing to deliver enough jabs. French Europe minister Clement Beaune appeared on Radio Classique this morning and raised the prospect of the EU actually suing the company over breach of contract. Citing

The mask scandal threatening to destroy Merkel’s legacy

In Germany, masks have been one of the least controversial elements of this pandemic. Most people have accepted that they have to be worn in the supermarket or on public transportation. But now these items of PPE are at the centre of a full-throttle political scandal that risks badly damaging Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in this important election year. The Christian Democrats Georg Nüßlein and Nikolas Löbel are accused of profiting from government deals to purchase face masks. Löbel is alleged to have received £200,000 in payments as part of a state purchase of masks, while Nüßlein is accused of making £500,000 through a consultancy firm. Both politicians have denied

Barnier and France fear Brexit Britain’s next moves

Michel Barnier – still officially the EU’s Brexit taskforce leader – gives few interviews. As a Savoyard and keen mountaineer, as he habitually reminds us, he is a cautious man who advances step by step with the long climb firmly in his sights. So it was something of a surprise to see him appear on 16 February before the French Senate Brexit follow-on committee (renamed ‘groupe de suivi de la nouvelle relation euro-britannique’). It is a sign of the importance of how Brexit will play out for the French that the Senate has formed a very senior 20-strong commission to monitor and react to Brexit implementation and next stage negotiations.

Welcome to Trump’s second term

President Biden’s emphatic assertion that ‘America is back’ at the Munich Security Conference last month was met with a lukewarm reaction from European leaders. ‘Europe has moved’, William Galston explained in a Wall Street Journal column pointing to a recent survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations that revealed a persistent distrust of the United States among Europeans and a resistance to taking the US side in America’s competition with China. Yet there is another side to the story. America is not really back. True, president Biden was quick to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and to extend warm and fuzzy feelings toward our traditional allies. But the sentiment

The EU needs to stop punishing Britain for Brexit

There have always been those on the European side who believe that for the EU project to succeed, Brexit must fail and must be seen to fail. So it is a problem that the first major act of Brexit Britain — going its own way to obtain and approve vaccines — appears to have been a success. For this reason, EU leaders must cast doubt on the achievement. As I say in the magazine this week, look at how Clément Beaune, Macron’s Europe Minister, went out of his way to tweet out his criticisms of the UK approach. (To be fair, there is a Brexiteer version of this hostile sentiment.

William Nattrass

Why Eastern Europe is looking to Russia and China for vaccines

With Central and Eastern European countries still gripped by Covid-19, the EU’s slow vaccine rollout has offered little solace in the region. The light at the end of the tunnel seems far away, leading many to wonder whether the answer to vaccine shortages lies not in Brussels, but to the East. Interest in Russian and Chinese vaccines is certainly fast becoming a diplomatic issue for the region. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš recently caused a stir with two international visits. The first was to his Visegrád Four ally Hungary, the second to non-EU Serbia, far and away mainland Europe’s vaccine leader: Babiš suggested both trips were made with the intention

Central Europe’s vaccine scepticism problem

Countries around the world are in a race against time to vaccinate their populations against Covid-19. But there is one particular region which appears to have a growing problem with vaccine scepticism: Central and Eastern Europe. As a British expat living in the Czech Republic, I have noticed the lack of eagerness with which many Czechs discuss the vaccine rollout. This may in part be due to the country’s floundering and much-criticised vaccination programme. But it is noticeable that anti-vaccine sentiment is more common – and gets much more attention – here than in the UK. Ex-President Václav Klaus recently told a large anti-lockdown rally in Prague that vaccines are

Vaccine wars: the global battle for a precious resource

Armed guards are patrolling the perimeter fence of a sleek factory. Software experts are fending off hackers. Border officials are checking trucks and ferries, not for weapons or illegal immigrants, but for a mysterious biochemical soup, while spies and spin doctors are feeding social media with scare stories flaming one national champion or another. Welcome to the first great geopolitical battle of the 21st century. It may sound like something ripped from the pages of a dystopian sci-fi novel, but in truth we’re seeing the opening salvos in the vaccine wars. Rather than co-operating with one another to roll out a global vaccination campaign to rid the world of Covid-19,

Is Joe Biden’s administration fit for the 2020s?

Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees have been warmly received by the massed ranks of anti-Trumpists in Washington. But the warmth stateside is nothing compared with the rave notices the incoming administration is receiving in much of Europe. There is particular delight in the UK, where the special Boris-Donald relationship evaporated within seconds of Biden’s election victory. The enthusiasm derives partly from a sense that, as some have put it, the adults are back in the room. The image of Trump as ‘toddler-in-chief’ was projected on to his whole volatile administration. Now the line-up announced by the incoming President looks and sounds serious, sober and a lot more like US administrations are

The EU has botched its vaccination programme

It was the most excruciating moment of Ursula von der Leyen’s short tenure as President of the European Commission. On Friday morning she hastily put together a press conference to counter the growing media storm across Europe over the EU’s handling of vaccine procurement. She doubled down on ‘solidarity’, announcing that the Commission had managed to secure more doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, but also that the EU would stick absolutely to buying together. ‘We have all agreed, legally binding, that there will be no parallel negotiations, no parallel contracts,’ she insisted testily. ‘We’re all working together.’ At the same moment, however, her former colleagues in Berlin, where she was

The EU must ditch its deal with China after the arrests in Hong Kong

Earlier this morning, 53 democrats from Hong Kong were arrested. Their crime? Trying to win last September’s elections. As absurd as it sounds, the new reality in Hong Kong is that it is now effectively a criminal offence, under the National Security Law, for the opposition to have the audacity to try and boost its representation in parliament. ‘The operation today targets the active elements who are suspected to be involved in the crime of overthrowing, or interfering (with)…the Hong Kong government’s legal execution of duties,’ said John Lee, Hong Kong’s security minister. But, as he later suggested, in reality this meant that those who were arrested were simply trying to win a majority