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March 27, 2017

Governing formation troubles - Northern Ireland edition

Over the years we have seen in Europe increasing difficulties in forming a government, be it on a national level or regional level. We have more minority governments, more party fragmentation, and the call for devolution of power seems more prevalent than ever. 

In Northern Ireland, it is Brexit and a homemade political crisis that has led to political limbo. It left the region without a governing body since January, and now it looks like they won’t even have one at the moment when the British government triggers Article 50. 

Sinn Fein pulled out of talks yesterday, just a day before the deadline for talks to find a cross-party governing agreement elapses. James Brokenshire, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, may yet decide to extend the deadline for talks, but it is unclear whether there is the willingness of the two main parties for this. 

Behind the conflict there are some concrete issues  the two sides disagree on, such as the official recognition of the Irish language. But there is also utter mistrust. Sinn Fein accuses the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and the governments in London and Dublin of failing to fulfil their responsibilities. Sinn Fein triggered the elections after walking out of budget talks in January over a public spending scandal involving the DUP leader and first minister Arlene Foster. In the elections Sinn Fein got significantly more votes, coming only one seat short of the DUP. During the talks afterwards they made it clear that there will be no return to the status quo ante. If no solution can be found, new snap elections will follow. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long appears to have taken on the role of arbiter to find a solution in the current talks, saying new elections would just be a vanity project.

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March 27, 2017

Did Trump present Merkel with a bill for Nato?

The Times reports that Donald Trump presented Angela Merkel with a $400bn bill during their meeting last week - money Trump says Germany owes to the US for its support within Nato.

There seems to be some obsession these days with countries handing bills to each other  - the EU’s insistence on a Brexit bill is just as unreasonable, at least beyond the first-order financial issues that needs to be settled. The article said that the bill (we presume it is a list or something of the kind) was actually handed over during the meeting. Merkel’s reaction was apparently restrained, but the article quoted an unnamed German minister as expressing outrage, adding that the purpose was to intimidate the other side. The article presents all the numbers in pounds sterling, which obviously cannot be the unit in which Trump made his demands - so these numbers are our rough translation. The US administration uses 2002 as a base year for its calculations, the year when Gerhard Schröder made the promise to increase Germany’s military spending to 2% of GDP. The cumulative total defence spending deficit is put at around $300bn, and the total figures is arrived at through compound interest. Another German sources quoted in the article dismissed the bill as a misunderstanding of the role of Nato, which is not a club with a membership fee. The 2% commitments are not related to Nato directly, but to its members’ investment in their own defence budgets. Merkel has decided to ignore the provocation, but to continue with the policy of raising defence spending gradually.

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