Europe Geopolitics – December 20, 2021

| December 20th, 2021

We’re starting the week off with a discussion of the (future) new leader of the CDU, Friedrich Merz, and Germany’s relationship with China. In the UK, we focus on Boris Johnson’s damaged reputation and the resignation of Lord Frost. In France, Macron will have to deal with the political consequences of mandatory vaccines. In the East, we explore sanctions as a weapon to counter Russia. Last but not least we include Italian political drama and the connections between the Dutch government and the WEF.

1.  GERMANY

1.1 Friedrich Merz wins absolute majority in first round of voting as new party leader – Welt

The CDU members have already elected Friedrich Merz as the new party leader in the first round of voting. According to the results, he received 62.1 percent of the votes cast by the members – and thus won clearly against Norbert Röttgen (25.8 percent) and Helge Braun (12.1 percent) in the first round. Formally, he is to be elected at the CDU party conference on 21 and 22 January 2022.

In a first reaction, Merz spoke of a “party that is alive”. “Yesterday was already a good day for the CDU,” he said, referring to the turnout. He said it was impressive that two-thirds of the membership had participated. “That, I think, is a win for all of us.” He thanked the staff at Konrad Adenauer House and his team.

Merz stressed that the CDU had a mission. “We are not there for ourselves, but we have a mission – also here in Berlin as opposition.” He said he would strive to carry out this mission with “all his strength”. Merz pointed out that the election was not a final decision, but a vote of the members. Officially, the CDU leader must be elected by a digital party conference on 21 and 22 January. However, it is considered certain that the delegates will abide by the vote.

Comment: Times have changed. Christian Democrats are out of power in all the big EU countries. The German CDU/CSU (Union) has collapsed to 20% in the polls and its average member age is 61.

On Friday, Merz got 62.1% of the member’s votes, which means there’s no need for a second-round. The party congress will officially elect him in January. 

Both the CDU and CSU are now led by alpha males who cannot stand each other. It is likely that both Söder and Merz want to run for chancellor in the next election. If the CDU ditches Söder a second time, this could trigger a separation of the two parties. The case for that is already strong as it is.

Merz will look to reposition the CDU on the centre-right of the spectrum after Merkel spent het years in office moving the party to the left. This will likely give the CDU some voters back who switched to the right-wing AfD, but it won’t break the new coalition between SPD, Greens, and FDP.

While it needs to be seen if Merz can modernize the CDU, he will seek the formal role of opposition leader in the Bundestag, trying to replace Ralph Brinkhaus, the current CDU/CSU leader in the Bundestag. This is his old job. If Merz excels at it, he will be seen as the obvious candidate in the 2025 election.

Additionally, as Welt editor-in-chief Ulf Poschardt points out, Merz will put constant pressure on the coalition in times of economic turmoil.

“Especially in view of the clouding of the economic mood, the dangerous inflationary spiral and the FDP’s still shaky stand on euro debt, a middle-class opposition led by an economic expert like Merz can serve the country. The smarter the opposition, the more the governing parties will have to make an effort. That’s a good thing.”

1.2 Olaf Scholz will not follow Washington’s China playbook – Nikkei Asia

During her long stint as German Chancellor, Angela Merkel shaped German and European policy toward China. During her first term in office that began in 2005, she placed human rights and values high on her agenda. That focus did not last long.

For 16 years, as leader of Europe’s biggest economy and a country that is one of China’s most important trading partners, Merkel pursued three main policies in dealing with China.

She put Germany’s economic interests before values. She pushed for a more independent European policy with Beijing instead of supporting the United States’ more combative strategy toward Beijing. And she avoided adopting policies that would isolate or antagonize China.

Her successor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, is expected to take a different approach.

His coalition not only includes the pro-business Free Democrats but also the Greens, whose leading member, Annalena Baerbock, now runs the foreign ministry. She has put values at the top of her agenda.

[…] If Baerbock has her way, that policy could consist of three elements. First, Berlin will pursue a dialogue with Beijing that is more open, frank and more European. The bilateral policies that Merkel pursued will be replaced by Berlin working much more closely with the European Union in forging a stronger, united stance. This is important, as it could prevent China from playing off EU member states against each other.

Second, when it comes to doing business with China, Berlin intends to adopt a much tougher policy again with its European partners.

Merkel, to her credit, repeatedly defended the need for transparent procurement and tender procedures. And she never gave up on the need to protect intellectual rights or make investment rules more attractive and fairer to foreign companies. German companies and business lobbies are today much more vocal and critical in demanding a level playing field.

And third, Berlin wants the EU to work more closely with the United States in forging a common economic and political strategy toward Beijing.

[…] But the political climate in Europe toward China has changed from continuing, often uncritically, with the status quo to one that recognizes China’s global role and its position as a competitive rival. A recent poll by the German-based Koerber Foundation concluded that less than 10% of the German public regard China’s growing international influence as positive.

Skeptics can argue that Baerbock’s commitment to human rights and values, coupled with a dialogue anchored on those views, will be overridden by the Chancellery.

After all, it is the Chancellery that has immense influence over foreign policy, especially the dossiers related to China, the United States, Russia and the EU. Merkel kept a firm hand on those dossiers, to the detriment of the foreign ministry. But 2021 is a very different era from the Germany and China of 2005.

Comment: It’s not a short article, but it’s important. We frequently cover the German/Chinese relationship and its implications. Chancellor Scholz is in a tough spot as he seems to pursue a Merkel-like approach in his first weeks in office. He is unwilling to confront the Chinese as his economy is dependent on Chinese consumers and the need for the Chinese economy to buy German machinery. However, most Germans do not consider China to be “friendly” and his coalition partners are eager to take a tougher stance on China. As we discuss in today’s European economic newsletter as well, it’s important to take a tough stance on China and to develop a long-term game plan that reduces the German dependence on China. It will not be an easy task, but it’s needed as Germany is a Chinese foothold in European geopolitical and macro-economic issues. That’s no longer acceptable but a by-product of the German expansion into Asia that started in the 1980s.

2.  UNITED KINGDOM

2.1 The Times view on a damaged prime minister: Wounded Johnson – The Times

Earlier this week it became clear Boris Johnson had lost the confidence of many of his backbenchers, almost half of whom rebelled against his policy on vaccine passports. Yesterday it became clear he had lost the confidence of a large swathe of Conservative voters too. The North Shropshire by-election was a contest that need never have happened if the prime minister had accepted the Commons Standards Committee’s conclusions on Owen Paterson’s lobbying, rather than trying to rewrite the rules to get the former MP for the constituency off the hook. It is certainly a by-election the Tories should never have lost. The party was defending a 22,949 majority in a heavily Leave voting seat that had been Conservative for 200 years. Instead it crashed to a 5,925 vote defeat to the Liberal Democrats in the biggest swing against an incumbent government since 1993.

[…] There’s no question that a string of stories regarding the government’s conduct have been damaging both to Mr Johnson’s authority and the Conservative brand. The Paterson affair, revelations about Downing Street Covid-busting parties and the Electoral Commission’s findings over the funding to redecorate his Downing Street flat have all raised doubts about Mr Johnson’s honesty. In the wake of previous scandals, including Dominic Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle and Matt Hancock’s breach of lockdown regulations, Mr Johnson gives the impression he considers himself above the rules that apply to lesser mortals. That has made him toxic to many voters.

Even so, Mr Johnson’s biggest problem is not sleaze but the government’s patchy record. Although he delivered on his promise to get Brexit done and has largely succeeded with the vaccine rollout, many other manifesto pledges have been broken.Taxes are being raised to levels not seen since the 1960s, the pension triple lock has been broken and in the north promised new high speed train lines have been abandoned. The government appears to lack solutions to some of the most urgent crises facing the country. A plan to fix social care turned out to be a plan to inject billions more into an unreformed NHS. Flagship reforms to planning rules have been scrapped. Levelling up remains a slogan in seach of a policy. Overall there seems a lack of a firm grip on government and of a serious, competent person in charge. Backbenchers are being alienated by the sense this is a big state government antithetical to more traditional Conservative values.

That does not mean Mr Johnson is under imminent threat of removal. Assuming Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, and Lord Geidt, the adviser on standards, do not find that he misled them over the Downing Street parties or flat redecoration, he is likely to ride out the scandals. In the absence of any obvious successor who could unite an increasingly fractious party, the prime minister is wounded, but not fatally so. The party has asked for a reset and for more accommodation with the back benches. That is not Mr Johnson’s style. He will bulldoze on. The party will move against him only when they conclude he is no longer an electoral asset and they have a better candidate. We are not there yet. But it is getting closer.

Comment: Things are looking very bleak for Johnson. However, it’s not over as explained by UnHerd:

[…] And so Mr Johnson finds himself under fire from all sides. On the Right, they say he is not the Prime Minister they hoped he could become; on the Left, they say he is everything they predicted. Either way, amid all the frustration his leadership ratings have crashed to the lowest level on record: this week, Survation put Johnson’s net favourability on minus 29, a new low. 

[…] Johnson’s electoral dynamite always came from the fact that he was the first mainstream politician to offer a genuine break from that consensus: to leave the EU, strengthen the country’s borders and level-up a forgotten blue-collar Britain. And this is why he was able to completely transform the Conservative Party’s electorate along the way.

It is why he won three-quarters of the Leave vote. It is why he demolished one flank of the Red Wall and left another vulnerable. It is why he mobilised a new coalition of voters who are spread across the country far more efficiently than Labour’s voters who are concentrated too heavily in big cities and university towns. And it is why he had an almost 20-point lead over Labour among the Greggs Guys — Britain’s plumbers, mechanics and factory workers who, like the True-Blue Tories in the south, rallied behind Johnson because they believed he offered a genuine alternative to our dreary politics.

[…] The only way forward for Johnson now, for his increasingly rebellious party too, is to reconnect with the very people who put them in power to begin with, to double down on the realignment and forget about everybody else. It’s not popular but it is politics. Brexit may be fading into the distance but there are many other issues that could just as powerfully unite the new Conservative electorate particularly ahead of a general election at which a Labour-SNP coalition is a serious prospect. Immigration is one. Crime is another. Defining and delivering a serious levelling-up strategy is another. And so too is robustly defending British identity, history and culture from an increasingly radical progressive left (just ask Republicans in Virginia).

There simply is no alternative. If you think that after everything we have witnessed in the past two years — Brexit, Cummings, Covid, Johnson’s personal failings and the utter chaos in No. 10 — that the Conservative Party can win back the Londoners, Remainers and professional middle-classes in time for the next election, then I have a bridge to sell you. No, the only way forward for him now is to start ditching advisors and doubling down on where he began.

If Johnson reconnects with his core voters he will extend his premiership until the end of this decade. If he loses them he will lose his premiership and party. This core vote strategy would not be popular in SW1 but it is now the only thing that will keep him, the Conservative Party and those Red Wall MPs in power. Two years ago, Johnson was swept into power because he challenged the consensus on Europe. Whether he is willing to keep challenging that consensus will now determine whether he stays there.

2.2 Brexit minister Lord Frost resigns over Covid plan B measures – The Guardian

Brexit minister Lord Frost has resigned from the cabinet, the Mail on Sunday has reported.

Lord Frost, who has led negotiations with the EU, is reported to have handed in his resignation letter to Boris Johnson last week. But the Mail on Sunday reported he had been persuaded to stay on until January.

The newspaper reported it was the introduction of plan B coronavirus measures, including the implementation of Covid passes, that prompted Lord Frost’s decision. It also said he had become disillusioned by tax rises and the cost of net zero policies.

Lord Frost has recently been locked in tense rounds of talks with European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič as the UK and the EU attempt to close gaps in post-Brexit arrangements.

Comment (The Spectator): Boris Johnson’s premiership has been plunged into further crisis by the resignation of the Brexit minister Lord Frost. Frost has, according to the Mail on Sunday, quit over the political direction of the government, citing Plan B, tax rises and net zero.

His decision to go makes Johnson more vulnerable than he has been at any point in his premiership. He has lost the man who negotiated his Brexit deal, the person he used to reassure hardline Brexiteers he wasn’t going soft and the second most popular member of his Cabinet among the party faithful. Frost, a canny political operator, will know just how much his departure will weaken Johnson, and the reasons he has given for leaving hit the Prime Minister’s weakest spots with his activists. There’s little doubt that it will be seen by a group of Tory MPs as a signal to put letters in.

Frost’s resignation is a body blow to Johnson. Johnson has made much of his Brexit sherpa, he elevated him to the Cabinet – in part to stop him leaving government– put him in charge of relations with EU governments, much to the then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s chagrin, and repeatedly praised him as the greatest Frost since the Great Frost of 1709. Frost was meant to act as a sign of the government’s resolve on Brexit-related issues. For him to go while negotiations with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol are ongoing is devastating.

In recent months it has been increasingly clear that Frost was unhappy. He felt that the government was not seizing the opportunities of Brexit. He was clear that if the UK was to leave the single market and the customs union but carry on as before, Brexit would not succeed. In a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies he declared:

“If, after Brexit, all we do is import the European social model, we will not succeed. We haven’t successfully rolled back the frontiers of the EU with Brexit, only to import the European model after all this time. So we need to reform fast and those reforms are going to involve doing things differently from the EU. If we stick to EU models, but behind our own tariff wall and with a smaller market, obviously we are not going to succeed.”  

In Cabinet, he was one of three ministers to speak out against increasing National Insurance to pay for more spending on health and social care. Privately, he was adamant that leaving the EU and then hiking taxes was the wrong thing to do. Publicly, he warned that divergence from EU rules was a ‘national necessity’ if Brexit was to succeed. This raised the question of why there had been so little of it.

Now, Boris Johnson faces the greatest crisis since his election victory two years ago. Defeat in North Shropshire and the national polls are chipping away at his standing as an electoral asset and David Frost – a man he elevated to the Lords and the Cabinet – has now taken a hammer to his Brexit credentials. Combine this with the unpalatable decisions that Johnson is facing on Covid and it’s clear that the Prime Minister is now in a very exposed political position.

2.3 Brussels urges reset in EU-UK relations to tackle key issues – Financial Times

The EU’s Brexit negotiator has called for a strategic partnership with the UK to tackle key issues including climate change and European security, saying that a resolution of the dispute over Northern Ireland would “re-establish political trust”.

Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, said London and Brussels should seek to resolve the “politically sensitive issues” over the Northern Ireland protocol early in the new year and before campaigning begins for the regional assembly’s May elections.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Friday, the day before UK Brexit minister Lord David Frost’s resignation became public, Sefcovic welcomed the UK’s “more constructive” approach in the past two weeks. London dropped a demand for the European Court of Justice to lose its role in enforcing the protocol and signalled further compromises, which some political observers believe prompted Frost’s decision to quit.

[…] But the Slovak former diplomat added that the UK threat of triggering Article 16, which would suspend much of the protocol, was making it harder to advance other aspects of the relationship, including UK membership of the Horizon scientific research programme, which remains suspended. He called for London to “restore the value of the signature below the agreements which have been signed”.

“On our side there is much more care into studying the documents we are signing.”

Frost’s hardline stance did persuade Brussels to offer changes to the protocol in October, accepting it was creating trade disruption and political concern in Northern Ireland.

[…] Brussels on Friday legislated to ensure British medicines could continue to be marketed there. It has also offered an “express lane” for goods heading to Northern Ireland that were unlikely to leak across the border into Ireland and the wider single market.

It claims that the changes would cut customs checks in half and health checks by 80 per cent, although the UK has questioned those figures, with the result that talks have hardly progressed.

Sefcovic said he could guarantee those reductions but “everything depends on the quality of the safeguards” from the UK, such as giving the EU real-time access to customs data.

Comment: The EU is getting what it wants, but it’s not over and on the UK side, we’re seeing a change in personnel as Boris Johnson has appointed Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, to oversee Brexit negotiations after the resignation of Lord Frost according to The Times.

Truss voted Remain but has since become a Brexit enthusiast, repeatedly suggesting that Britain should become less dependent on trade with the EU. In her roles as both trade secretary and foreign secretary she highlighted that fact that none of the fastest growing economies in the world were in Europe.

One ally of Truss suggested that it could significantly boost her leadership ambitions. “It just brings her back into the centre, it consolidates her power-base” they said. “It’s a big land grab. Her current view would be it’s a big world, don’t confine yourself to the EU. But she also sees the opportunities and doesn’t want a hostile relationship with the EU.”

Another ally said that she and Frost are “very close” and are “ideologically on the same page”. “She’s battle-hardened as trade secretary,” they said. “She is looking forward to getting stuck in. She feels the EU and Europe more broadly are important allies in facing down malign actors such as Russia. She wants to strengthen economic ties.”

Truss will take on ministerial responsibility for the UK’s relationship with the EU, becoming the co-chair of the partnership council and the joint committee.

3.  FRANCE

3.1 Macron: how to mutate into a candidate? – L’Opinion

One week before Christmas, Jean Castex has sounded the alarm: the Prime Minister, who is definitely a man of bad news, announced on Friday evening, at the end of the umpteenth health defence council, that the Omicron variant, whose speed of propagation is “lightning fast around us in Europe”, “is going to spread very quickly, to the point of becoming dominant at the beginning of 2022” in France.

This is why the health pass will become a vaccination pass at the beginning of the year, which can only be activated with a complete vaccination schedule. “This is a way of achieving compulsory vaccination,” agreed Health Minister Olivier Véran. The government is also considering imposing the health pass at work. Vaccination should be offered to all children aged 5 to 11 from Wednesday. These are “very timid measures, not likely to be able to change the curve”, says public health professor Mahmoud Zureik, an epidemiologist, in the Journal du Dimanche.

In the programme “Where is France going”, recorded on Sunday 12 December and broadcast on Wednesday 15 December on TF1 and LCI, Emmanuel Macron refused to predict the end date of the Covid-19 epidemic. “The one who dictates the rules and the rhythm is the virus,” he said cautiously.

[…] After having, in the spring of 2021, raised hopes of a return to normal life thanks to the vaccine, the executive is thus confronted, three and a half months before the presidential election, with a double difficulty: more than 5 million French people (10% of those eligible) are still not vaccinated, and the variants “resist” the vaccine, requiring regular boosters. “I see the fatigue that is there, many of our compatriots are tired,” admitted the head of state on TF1.

Politically, the epidemic rebound due to the Omicron variant could have structuring effects on the campaign of the outgoing President. Basically, Emmanuel Macron, in order to be a candidate, must answer a very important question, but not a trivial one: why a second term?” said Bruno Cautrès, researcher at Cevipof. For the moment, he does not give a clear answer to this question. However, the prolongation of an endless crisis helps the President of whatever it takes to find an answer: as we saw on TF1, he is trying to smooth things over, to appease, to show that he no longer has the disruptive side of 2017. The prolongation of the crisis can help him to consolidate this narrative, to further inscribe this narrative, to give it meaning, that of a second mandate based on innovation and protection, as if the events were helping him to transform himself.”

[…] Everything depends, however, on how the outbreak of Omicron turns out. “If the new variant leads to a new serious crisis in the hospital and a large number of contaminations, this will greatly attenuate the message of efficiency, which is fundamental for Emmanuel Macron,” emphasises Bruno Cautrès. For the researcher, “the French will have the feeling that the victory of the health pass was without tomorrow, this will accentuate a feeling of loss of reference points”. Not to mention a possible slowdown in economic activity, which will prevent him from surfing on the “recovery”, as he has done since September.

[…] According to an Odoxa-Blackbone Consulting poll for Le Figaro, among those who followed the interview, only 37% found the Elysée’s tenant “convincing”. His posture during this interview is also judged severely, since two thirds of them believe that he “expressed himself more like a candidate than a President”. People don’t want to listen to him as a candidate,” said Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, president of MCBG conseil. He risks being confined to the role of crisis manager. A role that did not prevent Nicolas Sarkozy from being defeated in 2012, after having “well managed” the financial crisis of 2008. Nor did the “warlord” Winston Churchill from being sent back to the opposition after winning the war in 1945.

Comment: Macron is on thin ice. The way things are looking now, Pécresse can beat him in the second round of next year’s election. Macron’s approval rating is at just 41% and the left doesn’t like him. Once the right gets united, it will be very tough for him to win. 

Things are now getting worse due to the surge in COVID cases in Europe. Macron has decided to go the totalitarian way as the government is preparing a law to turn the green pass into a vaccination pass, to be presented to parliament in January. This includes the possibility to make vaccines mandatory at work. So far, mandatory vaccinations “only” apply to healthcare workers.

Mandatory vaccinations are a hot topic, which is polarising the political spectrum. As aforementioned, both the left and the right dislike Macron. These are also the groups that are against mandatory vaccinations. While Pécresse is unlikely to defend the unvaccinated, Macron is in the hot seat. He needs to be careful as uniting the left and the right would make it close to impossible for him to win next year. 

4.  UKRAINE

4.1 Britain unlikely to send troops to help Ukraine, says Ben Wallace – The Times

Ben Wallace has said it is “highly unlikely” that Britain or its allies will send troops to defend Ukraine if Russia invades.

The defence secretary appeared to row back from previous comments when he said that the UK could deploy “defence capabilities” to see off a threat from Russia.

Wallace said that Ukraine was not a member of Nato and so the concept of collective defence did not apply. He told The Spectator magazine: “It is not a member of Nato so it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to send troops into Ukraine to challenge Russia. We shouldn’t kid people we would. The Ukrainians are aware of that.”

Asked if that meant Ukraine was on its own, he said: “We can all help with capacity building but to some extent Ukraine is not in Nato and that is why we are doing the best diplomatically to say to Putin don’t do this.” He said deep and serious economic sanctions with long-lasting implications were being threatened against Russia instead.

British and European officials do not believe President Putin has yet decided whether to invade. Russia has continued to build up its forces in the past few weeks despite warnings by the US of harsh economic penalties.

[…] The Russian foreign ministry published its demands to Nato on “security guarantees” in return for withdrawing troops on Ukraine’s border. Russia’s publication of two draft legal treaties is highly unusual in international diplomacy and is regarded as an ultimatum that threatens the existence of the western alliance.

The draft treaties call on Nato and Washington to halt any enlargement of the alliance eastwards and “not to deploy weapons and forces” where it “would be perceived by the other side as a threat to national security”.

Demands include the call for all troop deployments in eastern Europe to be rolled back to the levels before 1997, effectively removing Nato protection from countries that have joined since.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined Nato in 1999, followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

“Putin is demanding that President Biden abolish Nato,” an Eastern European diplomat said. “If the West blinks then the alliance that stopped Soviet aggression and protected the peace is dead.” The demands are not considered to be a credible starting point from the European perspective and have been viewed in the UK as part of a pattern of disinformation aimed at creating a pretext for a Russian attack.

Comment: This article sums up why it’s no option to give in to Putin’s demands. Ukraine is a red line. It has been for a long time as Putin does not want Ukraine to become a NATO country. It would basically mean armed western forces in Russia’s backyard (or as Putin calls it “his lawn”). However, while Ukraine is not going to join NATO, Putin wants a full military withdrawal that could lead to Russia putting pressure on Poland and other east European countries. According to Frankfurter Allgemeine, Russia follows a pattern that started in the early 1990s:

“However, it is questionable whether such appeasement will work. Achieving a Russian-Ukrainian peace agreement is an important goal. But historical experience shows that Western concessions to revanchist Russia do not contribute to lasting peace in Europe. On the contrary, new Western compliance with the Kremlin would only invite further intervention. That, at least, is the lesson of the Russian incursions in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Crimea between 1992 and 2014, which were not punished at all or only lightly. The willingness of many Western politicians, diplomats and experts to make concessions is all the more astonishing because there is a wide range of non-military means other than concessions.”

The next article focuses on measures that could work – and why they might work.

4.2 No reason to surrender in the Donbass – Frankfurter Allgemeine

[…] The apparently considerable potential of unused Western sanctions against this background must be seen in the context of two other recent empirical studies by Snegovaya, a Russian political economist living in Washington. Snegovaya has demonstrated a correlation between Russian expansionist aspirations and revenues from energy exports, as well as the country’s overall socio-economic situation associated with them. The aggressiveness of Russian presidents’ foreign policy rhetoric is related to the level of oil prices and export revenues.

Moreover, the Russian population is more adventurous in foreign policy during periods of good socio-economic development. These studies do not address the question of sanction effects. However, they do indicate that Russian economic performance and its social impact are a determinant of foreign policy thinking among both the elite and the population of Russia.

The dictum that an unjust compromise between Ukraine and Russia is better than a war between the two countries could indeed become topical one day. But such a declaration of bankruptcy under international law seems unnecessary so far. We cannot say with certainty that even tough sanctions, as in the case of North Korea, will not bring about any moderation in the Kremlin.

A de facto Ukrainian surrender in the Donbass brought about by the West therefore seems premature. It is so far only the second least bad option. On the basis of studies like Snegovaya’s, we can rather assume that sanctions have the potential to turn political calculations (if not dynamics) in Moscow to the positive.

Comment: Sanctions are an increasingly likely tool to protect Ukraine without having to use the military. Western countries are not willing – and not obligated – to defend Ukraine in case of a Russian attack. However, sanctions could work as Russia is currently benefiting from strong oil prices and sky-high natural gas prices in Europe. Shutting down Nord Stream 2 is a way to start as it would hurt Russia’s plans to bypass East-European countries. The problem is that Germany’s SPD chancellor Olaf Scholz is unlikely to approve such measures as the SPD has strong Russia connections. Moreover, if Russia lowers natural gas exports, the EU is in deep trouble as current natural gas prices are already far from sustainable and a reason for governments to launch multi-billion-dollar rescue programmes. Also, oil prices are unlikely to fall on a longer-term because of demand/supply imbalances. Russia has leverage. Combating this with targeted sanctions needs to be done carefully.

Based on this context, the United States Senate will hold a vote on whether or not to pass mandatory sanctions on Nord Stream 2 on January 14, 2022. The proposal needs 60 votes to overcome the Senate’s filibuster rule for ordinary legislation. Assuming that Ted Cruz, the senator who backed the move can get all other 49 Republicans to vote with him, he will need 10 Democrats.

The problem is that a lot of Democrats are only willing to go this far (sanctions on NS2) in case of a Russian invasion. So, in order to make progress, Ted Cruz has cut a deal with Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s Democrat majority leader. In return for it, Cruz will unblock some of Biden’s appointees that are still waiting for confirmation.

However, please be aware that Nord Stream 2 won’t be operational soon anyway. The German Federal Network Agency – the regulator responsible for NS2 – will not decide on it in the first half of 2022.

5.  ITALY

5.1 Aged 85, Silvio Berlusconi has his eye on one last political job . . . president of Italy – The Times

He has been a cruise ship crooner, property developer, TV mogul, football chairman, prime minister and convicted fraudster.

Now, at 85, Silvio Berlusconi is aiming to round out his varied career by moving into the sprawling presidential palace in Rome that was once home to popes.

With a discreet lobbying campaign, Berlusconi has reportedly been sounding out the MPs who will elect Italy’s next president in January when the incumbent Sergio Mattarella steps down.

[…] After ducking out of recent court hearings claiming he was in poor health after a bout of Covid, Berlusconi appears to feel strong enough for the seven-year presidential mandate, even though he would be 92 when he steps down.

“Age is not a problem, Queen Elizabeth is 95 and she is more influential in the fight against climate change that Greta Thunberg, who is a good deal younger,” said Tajani.

If he stands, there is rising speculation Berlusconi will go up against another heavyweight contender, the prime minister Mario Draghi, who has earned rave reviews for his handling of the economy and his vaccine drive since being drafted in as a technocrat leader in February.

“I think Draghi wants the job,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of polling and political analysis firm YouTrend.

Ten months after Draghi’s appointment, 80 per cent of the over-12s in Italy are double jabbed, the economy is rebounding and plans have been made to spend the nearly €200 billion in EU grants and loans to rebuild Italy after its brutal pandemic.

From a country synonymous with sleaze, stagnation and squabbling politicians, Italy was this week named country of the year by The Economist magazine.

[…] If he stays on as prime minister until the next general election due in 2023, he can retain control over the EU-backed rebuilding programme for one more year.

But since he is unlikely to stand in the election, he faces the danger of becoming a lame duck as the year wears on and Italy’s parties get out on the campaign trail.

The alternative is to get himself picked as president. Usually a ceremonial role, Italian presidents step in to sort out political crises and many believe Draghi could use his prestige to expand the role and try to keep an eye on the massive spending plan.

The risk is the coalition government he has kept in check collapses if he steps down as prime minister, triggering elections in early 2022. As the Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta put it: “I don’t know if this majority would survive without him.”

If there is an election, Matteo Salvini will ally with the hard right Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni who has stayed in opposition this year. Given they have a good chance of winning, the EU billions would then be in the hands of two politicians who have built a career on bashing Brussels and befriending EU renegades such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

“The paradox is Italy is doing better on Covid than its neighbours, its economy is growing and it has the most respected leader in Europe, yet things could unravel really fast, heralding a return of chaotic Italian politics,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a politics professor at Rome’s Luiss university.

[…] Berlusconi has the backing of Meloni and Salvini, although looks unlikely to have the votes to clinch the job, which is decided by 1,008 members of parliament and local administrators.

His right-wing backers have about 450 votes, fewer than the 505 majority needed, and even if he could lure some votes from the over 100 unaligned MPs in parliament he may struggle to win, paving the way for a candidate with appeal across the board, just like Draghi.

Comment: “Italian politics are harder to predict than ever” is what people keep repeating. It’s true as it basically comes down to what Draghi wants. He is in a good spot. The media loves him. So does the political EU mainstream and the banks. Berlusconi does not stand for stability but as the Italian President does not have major responsibilities, that’s something Italy can recover from. 

Also, as it is unlikely that a majority wants Salvini and Meloni to benefit from new elections, it is almost reckless to risk new elections. 

After all, Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia is polling at 20% – almost 100% higher compared to early 2020 polls. Lega is polling at 19%, which is down from the low 30% range at the end of 2019. 

Unfortunately for people who don’t like drama, this is just a part of the story. Italy still has not passed its budget, and they need to do so before the end of this year. According to La Stampa, none of the budget amendments submitted to Italy’s Senate have been voted on, and neither has the bill itself. Major discussion points are the tax payment windows for next year as well as the continuation of the super bonus, a subsidy for eco-friendly renovations.

Draghi’s problem is that timing is getting tight, with less than two weeks to go until the bill needs to pass, and a real risk that the Senate won’t approve a text until after Christmas. A planned vote for 23 December is already looking unlikely.

To overcome this, the government has floated the idea of a maxi-amendment, representing the points of agreement, that would bypass rapporteurs from Senate committees. This idea, however, has made the parliamentary group leaders for the governing parties unhappy. They view it as subverting parliament.

At this point, the question is not whether the budget will pass, but how many bridges the government will burn with parliamentarians, ahead of the presidential vote. 

6.  NETHERLANDS

6.1 Cabinet gives in to FVD: ‘Yes, we make legally binding agreements with the World Economic Forum’ – De Dagelijkse Standaard

The cabinet has entered into “legally binding agreements” with the World Economic Forum of Great Reset propagandist Klaus Schwab. This is the Cabinet’s admission in response to parliamentary questions submitted by Gideon van Meijeren of Forum for Democracy.

By now we are all familiar with Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum (WEF). This globalist organisation wants the coronavirus to be used to carry out a worldwide Great Reset, in which a totalitarian control state must be introduced everywhere. Because that’s “safe” and “efficient.”

No, that is not a conspiracy theory. Schwab is very honest about it in books he has written on the subject (such as Covid-19: The Great Reset), and also on the WEF website this kind of topic is openly discussed. The content of those plans is downright shocking.

[…] Because this Great Reset is so serious, it is of course worrying that Dutch politicians have a warm relationship with this despicable organisation. That is why Forum for Democracy has asked questions about this. How warm are these ties, actually? And are agreements made between them about matters the voters know nothing about?

The answers are in… and they are possibly even more shocking than the contents of the Great Reset plans themselves. Because, the cabinet admits to FVD MP Gideon van Meijeren, who submitted the questions, there is indeed cooperation between the cabinet and WEF. And yes, agreements are also made with the Stalinist organisation. And if that is not bad enough… those agreements are also legally binding.

“Dutch ministers regularly participate in meetings organised by the WEF,” the cabinet said in its answers to Van Meijeren’s parliamentary questions. “In addition, there are cooperative agreements with the WEF that have been established in the following areas: Sustainable Investment Policy, Tropic Forrest Alliance, Food System Initiative, Food Innovation Hubs.”

“The commitments set out in these agreements are legally binding.”

Comment: “Legally binding” are the two words one of the fiercest opposition parties in the Netherlands can now add to its arsenal to fight the new coalition over the next four years. Forum voor Democratie is one of the most outspoken parties when it comes to the pandemic and the relationship of the World Economic Forum. It’s a tricky thing to discuss as it is accompanied by a lot of conspiracy theories. In this case, however, it’s no longer a theory. The Dutch government is actively working with the WEF on multiple areas. They have legally binding contracts and have worked together for years. 

What is also known is that the WEF wants to use this pandemic to remodel the world. Its website is full of blogs that envision a new future where people “own nothing” but are “happy”. It’s indeed a neo-communist agenda.

There’s more. The following letter was sent to Sigrid Kaag (Dutch foreign affairs minister) and discusses its role in implementing Great Reset plans.