Identity and Geography – Handle with Care

The past decade has witnessed a sudden uptick in secessionist movements in Europe. The uptick started on the western side of the continent with the 2009 Belgian elections, where the New Flemish Alliance emerged as the largest party in the country; further to the east, we might point to the Russian invasion and partition of Georgia. Flemings, Abkhazians, and South Ossetians rarely fall in the same category for analysis. Nevertheless, there is something they have in common that warrants exploration. Moreover, that something is shared by the Scots, the Catalans, and the Russian-speakers in Crimea and the Donbass region.

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The United States: Odd One Out

As the Trump Administration prepares for the G7 meeting in Canada, the bulk of commentary in the press is focusing on how isolated the United States has become. The aluminium and steel tariffs, the renegotiation of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the withdrawal from the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA) with respect to Iran, and the repudiation of the Paris accords all combine to create tension between the Trump Administration and its G7 partners. At the same time, the Trump Administration seems more interested in courting China, Russia, and North Korea than its traditional allies. Hence the question is not just what the Trump Administration hopes to achieve but also why it is bothering to attend at all. The answer is revealing both for what it says about the Trump Administration’s approach to global governance and what it reveals about the enduring legacies of U.S. leadership during the post-Second World War era.

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Catching Up with Italian Politics

The fast pace of change in Italian politics has left many observers outside the country struggling to catch up.  This collection offers a quick overview in bullet points with links to recent articles I have written in case you have interest in learning more.  I am going to list the material in reverse chronological order.  Most people want to know what is happening and then figure out why.  If you are one of those people who works the other way around, I advise you to follow the links from the bottom up.

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The Italian Situation in Eleven Questions (and Answers)

Yesterday I had the opportunity to have an exchange of emails with one of Italy’s leading financial journalists.  This is part of a longer conversation we have been having over the past few years about the state of European financial markets and the role of Italy within them.  The difference this time is that he published the exchange in gli Stati Generali, which is a project created to allow journalists to share stories or rely on formats that might not otherwise find their way into traditional media outlets.  Knowing the journalist, the Italian version of our exchange is much more articulate than the English-language original I am reproducing here.  The questions are in bold; my responses are in regular text.

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Populism in Europe – A Government & Opposition Collection (Updated)

When we first put together our collection of scholarship on populism for free access, we hoped to help researchers connect the scholarship we have published to current elections and other major political developments.  You can read our original introduction here.  Our focus was on the upcoming calendar and on recent events.  Nevertheless, we believe the strength of scholarship lies in exploring underlying trends and long-term causal mechanisms.  We still think ‘populism’ has immense political salience.  Nevertheless, we would argue that the longer-term trends are equally deserving of our attention.

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The Catalan Vote: Mobilization and Identity

The voting in Catalonia was a trap for Spain’s political leadership in Madrid. They were going to be criticized if they ignored the vote and also if they tried to stop it. Moreover, shunting responsibility for dealing with the crisis on the courts and the police as institutions was no way out. Ultimately, institutions are about people and not just words on a piece of paper. The voters in Catalonia know that. Now the Spanish government will be held to account. Political leaders everywhere should pay attention.

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The Danger of Building Walls in Europe

On 21 August, I was invited to talk about the importance of ‘walls’ in a European context at an annual socio-cultural-political event called ‘The Meeting’ in Rimini.  I sketched these notes as an aide for the interpreters who were supposed to render my unique version of the English language into fluent Italian.  My host, Paolo Magri, insisted that I speak in Italian instead.  What followed was probably more authentic as a set of off-the-cuff remarks using my one hundred and fifty mangled Italian vocabulary words, but it may not have delivered the full message.  My central argument is that we should be wary of identity-based political mobilization.  Any politician who wants to mobilize ‘us’ against ‘them’ is not your friend.  That is as true in the United States as it is in Europe.  Alas, Europe’s history with that kind of politics is a tragic one.  Let’s hope we don’t have to experience it again.

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