Analysis Politics

Europe’s major powers struck by political discord

Gracie Daw examines political developments in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.

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While we have been watching the United States' political theatrics, there have been many political developments much closer to home, physically at least. The Netherlands have seen an entire government resign over a welfare scandal, Italy’s coalition is struggling, and Angela Merkel’s expected successor has been elected. Here is a quick rundown of some of the notable developments from across Europe over the past few weeks.

The Netherlands

Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, submitted a letter of resignation to the King, for the entire Cabinet. Since 2012, as many as 26,000 families were accused of child welfare fraud and asked to pay money back to the government. For some families this was over €100,000. They were targeted because there were minor errors on their paperwork, such as missing a signature. This has pushed families into severe debt, unable to pay their rent, electricity, or food bills. It has also meant that relationships between parents and children have broken down. The Cabinet resignation is said to have been decided unanimously and they will remain in power, in a caretaker role, until March when there are due to be Parliamentary elections. There is speculation that this was a clever political move – by resigning, the Cabinet has accepted responsibility for the scandal, and therefore garnered some good faith with the public prior to the election. Polls suggest that March could return Rutte to government, for the fourth time since 2010. This scandal has broken thousands of families across the Netherlands economically and emotionally. The government may have handled it well enough that it barely affects them politically.

Italy

This week, Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, gave his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella. He was leading his second coalition government since elections in 2018. His resignation follows a recent loss of Parliamentary backing. Last week, Matteo Renzi, pulled his party, Italia Viva, out of the coalition government which triggered a vote of no confidence. Conte won the vote across Parliament, with a 321 to 259 majority in the Chamber of Deputies, but only a 156-140 vote in the Senate, with 16 abstentions. This meant that Conte lost majority support in Parliament. Instead of choosing to haggle over every future Senate vote at this weak time for Italian democracy he chose to resign and attempt to form a new government. This is the second time that a coalition partner has pulled out under Conte’s leadership, leaving a government crisis, and causing Conte to resign. The first was over the summer of 2019 when Matteo Salvini pulled his party from the then governing coalition. Although Conte was able to form a new coalition a year and a half ago, he is in a much weaker position now. He may be able to persuade leaders to lend him their votes on a temporary basis until Italy has recovered more from the pandemic. If not, he will be leading his country into an election, at a time where the country is already unstable. One thing is certain: sooner or later, there will be an election in Italy.

Germany

Over two years ago, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany announced that she would not seek re-election in 2021. Since then, there has been a search for her successor. Within her party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), this role fell to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was appointed chair of the party two years ago. The CDU have decided that she is not up to the task of succeeding the German Chancellor as they have held an election to replace her. Armin Laschet won that election against two other candidates. The chair of the party does not have to be the candidate for Chancellor in September’s election – the decision for who will fill that role will be taken in the next few months. Laschet does not have any official challengers at the time of writing, but Jens Spahn, the Health Minister, and Markus Söder, leader of the CSU (the Bavarian sister party of the CDU), have both been touted as potential challengers. Whoever is chosen as the candidate for September’s election looks likely to succeed Merkel. While these men might inherit her title, it is not yet clear whether they’ll manage to fill her shoes.

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