EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 07/02/2020

The Financial Times – Arthur Beesley / Leo Varadkar loses his shine with Ireland´s voters

  • When Mr Varadkar succeeded Enda Kenny as prime minister in 2017 he seemed to have his finger on Ireland’s pulse, subsequently winning a referendum to overturn the country’s abortion ban that established him as a liberal icon. Now his bid for a new term is in trouble, with little apparent dividend from the country’s full employment or the steady Brexit diplomacy that won him international plaudits.
  • Instead, he faces a backlash from people grappling with a shortage of affordable housing who feel left behind by Ireland’s rebound from the economic crash in 2010.
  • By contrast, the momentum of the election campaign is with Mary Lou McDonald, leader of the nationalist Sinn Féin party since 2018, who is campaigning with an anti-establishment message to try to break the stranglehold that Fine Gael and its main rival, the centrist Fianna Fáil party, have had on Irish politics for almost a century. Sinn Féin was the political wing of the IRA during its bloody campaign to force Britain from Northern Ireland before the Good Friday peace pact in 1998. Its support for violence relegated it to the fringes for decades in the Irish Republic.
  • Sinn Féin is not presenting enough candidates for Ms McDonald to win the election: either Mr Varadkar or his rival Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, will almost certainly become Taoiseach. But polls suggest that Sinn Féin may be on course for a breakthrough that would leave it holding the balance of power — raising difficult questions for Mr Varadkar and for Mr Martin, who have each insisted that they would never govern with Sinn Féin over its IRA links and policy differences.
  • Politico – Eoin Drea / Ireland´s never been more alone in the EU: Dublin needs a new strategy in a Britain-less European Union

The New York Times – Julian E. Barnes / White House Confirms Killing of Terrorist Leader in Yemen

  • The United States killed the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, the White House confirmed on Thursday. The confirmation came about a week after it was first reported that the United States believed it had killed Qassim al-Rimi, the Qaeda leader, in January after months of tracing him.
  • The statement said Mr. al-Rimi’s death will degrade the Yemen affiliate and the global Qaeda movement and “brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security.”
  • Mr Trump has highlighted his record of ordering the killing of terrorist leaders and other adversaries. In his State of the Union address, he highlighted the Army Delta Force raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader, as well as the drone strike in Baghdad that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most important general.
  • Mr. al-Rimi was one of the founders of Yemen’s Qaeda affiliate and was among the few remaining Qaeda leaders whose terrorist pedigree traces to the era before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
  • Although the affiliate’s power and ability to conduct strikes in the West has diminished under the pressure of strikes by the American military and C.I.A. aircraft, it is still one of the world’s most potent forces. It remains to be seen how much Mr. al-Rimi’s death will set the group back.
  • Al-Monitor – Bryant Harris / Intel: Morocco played up Iran rhetoric as it eyed US-Israel deal on Western Sahara
  • Al Jazeera – Sultan Barakat What is behind the talk of Sudan-Israel normalisation?

Politico – Hans von der Burchard / EU budget battle joined ahead of summit showdown

  • Michel has called a special summit to start on February 20. His invitation letter pointedly did not say when it would end. The haggling, always brutal, normally requires two summits and months of agonizing trade-offs.
  • This year, however, leaders face two unprecedented challenges: Brexit has left an annual hole of about €12 billion in the EU’s pocketbook even as issues like climate change present new expenses; and Michel, confronted with a late start and a short timetable before the current budget expires on December 31, wants leaders to cut a deal in one shot. For Michel, the budget negotiations represent an early trial by fire.
  • Chosen as Council president in part because of his experience brokering tough compromises as prime minister of Belgium, Michel, nonetheless, is navigating a new universe and confronting a multi-dimensional process that pushes even the most battle-hardened EU diplomats to the brink. While Michel’s liberal political affiliation positions him somewhat in the middle of conservatives to the right and social democrats to the left, he is the referee of a game with unclear rules.
  • The Council president is navigating between countries that want to keep their contribution to the EU’s coffers broadly at current levels and those who think the bloc needs to invest much more in its collective endeavours. He will also have to reconcile sharp differences of opinion when it comes to the basic question of how the EU should prioritize its spending in the broadest sense.
  • The frugal camp, which is led by the Netherlands, and also includes Austria, Denmark and Sweden, is demanding, as Rutte has put it, that an EU now smaller without the Brits, do more with the same. The Friends of Cohesion group, meanwhile, is pushing back against proposed cuts, with Portuguese Prime Minister Costa, taking a leading role within the group.
  • However, it plays out, Michel’s handling of the budget negotiations is likely to set the tone for the balance of his presidency, and his credibility among leaders will hinge largely on his ability to keep everyone talking.
  • The Financial Times – Sebastian Shehadi & Valerie Hopkins / Serbia´s embrace of Chinese FDI raises questions of transparency

The Washington Post – Michael Scherer, Holly Bailey, Sean Sullivan & Annie Linskey / Behind the chaos: How a small-city mayor and a democratic socialist finished on top in Iowa

  • The outcome of the Iowa Democratic Caucus was far messier than anyone expected, mired in chaos and uncertainty in the wake of the state party’s counting meltdown a surprise winner has emerged.
  • By the time most of the results had been tabulated, it was clear that the young former small-city mayor was the biggest surprise of the Iowa campaign — outpacing a pack of far more established and seasoned politicians.
  • Pete Buttigieg, the youngest candidate in the race joined the oldest, 78-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, at the top of the heap, with both men declaring victory as results were still being counted. With 100 percent of precincts reporting Thursday night, Buttigieg held a narrow lead of 26.2 percent in state delegate equivalents, the traditional metric by which an Iowa winner has been determined. Sanders had 26.1 percent and held a slight lead in the popular vote. And both men won bragging rights, as they are expected to draw roughly the same number of Iowa delegates to the national nominating convention.
  • Iowa nonetheless provided an unexpected — and potentially transformative — twist to what has been a consistently unpredictable Democratic nomination fight. More than two dozen candidates, including a former vice president, seven senators and a businessman who boasted of being “an Asian guy good at math,” had thrown themselves for months before a traumatized and nervous Democratic Party.
  • Meanwhile Former vice president Joe Biden, the leader in national polling, found himself humbled in fourth place by a process that exposed his campaign’s dysfunctional organizing and muted grass-roots energy — a “gut punch,” as he put it this week.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the third-place finisher in the state, who branded herself the “I have a plan for that” candidate, found her hopes diminished by an inability to settle on a health-care plan that satisfied both sides of her coalition.

The selected pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Javier Solana and EsadeGeo. The summaries above may include word-for-word excerpts from their respective pieces.

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