European Union

Athens, Greece—The big winners of Greece’s election this week were parties far removed from the political center. From the leftist SYRIZA, which came in second place with 17 percent of the vote, to the far-right Independent Greeks, who ended up with 11 percent, and the racist extremists of Golden Dawn, who gained 7 percent, the non-mainstream parties received an alarmingly large share of the total vote. What’s less clear, however, is what the vote tallies mean. Were they simply a reflection of anger against the ruling parties that have presided over the country’s current economic freefall?

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Major political change is afoot in France, where a presidential election has brought anti-austerity politician François Hollande to power. In the face of the EU’s economic crisis, incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy has cooperated closely with German chancellor Angela Merkel to push for tough austerity measures. Now, France’s leadership is poised to go in a different direction.

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Europe’s Angry Muslims: The Revolt of the Second Generation By Robert S. Leiken (Oxford University Press, 354 pp., $27.95)  After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent By Walter Laqueur (Thomas Dunne Books, 322 pp., $26.99)  In two separate incidents in March, Mohammed Merah, a French-born French citizen who thought he was waging jihad, ambushed four soldiers around Toulouse, killing three of them. A week later, he shot dead three children arriving for morning classes at a nearby Jewish school, along with a young rabbi who was father to two of them.

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“Smart cities” is the urban buzz phrase of the last few years, and fans often turn to European cities for inspiration. From Amsterdam’s bike lanes to Copenhagen’s wind power, from Barcelona’s 22@ innovation district to Berlin’s dramatic redevelopment, European examples abound.

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When Barack Obama released a video message to Sudan and South Sudan last Sunday, he urged the people of both countries to reject armed conflict and return to negotiations. Obama gravely warned that “heated rhetoric on both sides has raised the risk of war.” With the two countries once again on the brink of a full-scale armed conflict, the President’s message was well-intentioned.

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If the latest polls—and the accompanying press coverage—are to be believed, Nicolas Sarkozy's time as president of France will soon come to an end. In the all-important run-off election scheduled for May 6, most believe the incumbent will lose to his Socialist challenger, François Hollande. This is a prospect that no doubt worries Sarkozy and his supporters in France. But it should also worry people elsewhere in Europe, as well as here in the United States. To be sure, Sarkozy’s unmaking has been a long time in coming.

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Anyone anxiously waiting for the European Union’s death knell could do worse than circle May 6 on his calendar. That’s when Greece, a nation brought to its knees by an unprecedented economic crisis, is scheduled to hold what promises to be a turbulent parliamentary election. It’s an open question whether Europe’s fragile political balance—and Greece’s tenuous hold on membership in the Eurozone—will survive the subsequent aftershocks.

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On March 15, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stood before nearly 100,000 of his fellow countrymen in Budapest and declared, “Hungarians will not live as foreigners dictate.” Drawing an explicit connection between the European Union, which Hungary enthusiastically joined in 2004, and the Soviet Union, which brutally crushed a Hungarian revolt in 1956, Orbán said, “We are more than familiar with the character of unsolicited comradely assistance, even if it comes wearing a finely tailored suit and not a uniform with shoulder patches.” This style of demagoguery is nothing new for Orbán.

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Late last year, as the regime of Bashar Assad was continuing its murderous rampage against the people of Syria, the governments of Iran and Russia offered their diplomatic support. But Bashar also received significant practical assistance from a much more unlikely ally: an Italian surveillance firm by the name of Area SpA. Throughout all of 2011, employees of that company were being flown to Damascus to direct Syrian intelligence officers in the installation of a computer system that would allow the Syrian government to scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country.

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The economic crisis in Europe reached its latest crescendo last night, as Greece managed, through furious last-minute negotiations, to convince its creditors to give it some more breathing room. But if the Greeks have managed to stave off ruin for a few more minutes, nothing has essentially changed in their situation: Their economy is still in shambles.  The burning question on most observers’ minds, and rightfully so, is whether the Greeks will ever manage to pay back their debts. But at this stage, it’s also worth considering how we ended up on the precipice of such catastrophe at all.

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