Fortnightly Review & Analysis: USA, Russia & EU (Vol 2 Issue XVII)

Sep 1-15, 2017

USA

Deal with Democrats on ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals’ or DACA

In a dramatic disclosure on September 14, US President Donald Trump announced that he was close to a deal with Democratic congressional leaders on protections for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, astounding fellow Republicans and alarming his conservative supporters. Trump described the parameters of an agreement on the fate of the roughly 800,000 so-called Dreamers reached in his White House meeting on September 13 evening with top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and top House of Representatives Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

While some avid Trump backers have praised the president as a pragmatist trying to make deals with whomever he can, others recoiled at the prospect of Trump joining forces with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on immigration, and seeming to get little in return. "Many supporters of the president wonder whether our king has been captured and (White House Chief of Staff John) Kelly and a clique of generals and their globalist friends are now governing," said Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump. His comments reflected the growing concern among some Trump backers about the diminished presence of nationalist advisers in the West Wing.

President Donald Trump is reportedly moving closer to a deal including a potential pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with Democrats that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation. The startling developments, which were first announced by Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi and reiterated by Trump himself on September 14 morning, were met with immediate outrage from conservatives and put pressure on the President's Republican allies in Congress. This deal, if it comes through, would be the second major Trump-Pelosi-Schumer pact within a month, following the agreement on the debt ceiling and government spending.

Trump said House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are "very much on board" with plans to make the DACA program - which protected nearly 800,000 individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children from deportation -- permanent. Ryan, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, described the Trump meeting with Democrats as "a discussion, not an agreement or a negotiation." The House Speaker Paul D. Ryan dismissed the potential deal negotiated late 13 September evening over dinner at the White House between Trump and Capitol Hill’s top two Democrats as little more than a preliminary discussion - and insisted that any agreement must have buy-in from GOP leaders.

US-Russia Talks in Finland

US Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met in Helsinki on September 11-12. They also met Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, the Finnish presidential office confirmed to local media. The US State Department announced that the two ministers addressed “areas of bilateral concern and cooperation.”

Teija Tiilikainen, director of the Finnish Institute for International Affairs, told newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that in the current international political situation the meeting has a greater importance than usual. Although the agenda has not been released, Tiilikainen said it was comprehensive. She mentioned important issues such as the situation in Syria, the Baltic Sea and the North Korea that came up for discussion.

American and Soviet politicians and diplomats used to meet in Helsinki especially during the 1980s. The Finnish President visited the US in late August and perhaps paved the way for the resumption of a dialogue between the two Cold War adversaries. Commentators have seen the Helsinki meeting also as a prelude to the planned talks between foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov and Rex Tillerson, later in September in New York.

BREXIT

Theresa May has secured a key victory after MPs backed the EU Withdrawal Bill by 326-290 votes in the Commons early last week. “The result handed May an effective ‘Brexit majority’ of 36 after seven Labour MPs defied their own party whip to support the government, arguing that the referendum demanded the legislation be passed,” according to The Guardian. “Although there is more to do,” May said, “this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.” The bill, which would come into effect on 29 March 2019, when Britain formally leaves the EU, is designed to transpose more than 10,000 European laws onto the UK statute book, in order to prevent a legal vacuum.

Critics of the bill had argued that it will give ministers the power to make changes to laws without the need to consult MPs, using so-called “Henry VIII powers”. These provisions, allowing primary legislation to be amended by secondary legislation, are known as Henry VIII clauses, because an early example of such a power was conferred on King Henry VIII by the Statute of Proclamations 1539. The Government sometimes adds this provision to a Bill to enable the Government to repeal or amend it after it has become an Act of Parliament.

According to a BBC report, “The government says it needs to be able to make minor technical changes to ensure a smooth transition, but fears were raised that ministers were getting sweeping powers to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.” Following the vote, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said the bill was “an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab by government ministers”. His party would “seek to amend and remove the worst aspects from the bill as it passes through parliament”, he added. The bill may face tougher opposition in the Lords, where “emboldened Remainer peers” may feel “strongly enough about the implications of this bill to defy the Commons over it even if this risked prompting a constitutional crisis”, says The Spectator. Whatever the outcome, tough battle lines are drawn and the road to Brexit would be a contentious one.

German Elections

As the countdown to the German national elections on September 24 nears, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are polling a comfortable 17 percentage points ahead of would-be challengers, the Social Democrats. Social Democrats (SPD) struggle to make themselves heard while Angela Merkel tries to campaign as little as possible as she knows that a dull campaigning season should tilt the odds in her favour. A TV debate, the only one between Merkel and her challenger, Martin Schulz, was so dull that a seasoned British journalist called it one of the most depressing political experiences of his life. Schulz failed to dent Merkel's popularity and boost his own, meaning that the next chancellor will almost certainly be Angela Merkel.

In the latest Deutschlandtrend poll published on September 14, the Union of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) held steady at 37 percent to remain the strongest party. In contrast, the SPD under Martin Schulz slipped to 20 percent, making it the party's worst result since January. The debate in Germany will soon shift to which coalition will govern Germany after September 24th. Will the CDU/CSU govern with the SPD once more, or join forces with The Greens and/or the Free Democrats (FDP)?

As the polls currently stand, Merkel's CDU/CSU will be the largest party by a wide margin but the party will need a partner to command a parliamentary majority. According to analysts, the most natural coalition partner would be the FDP, a pro-business centre-right party that has been part of governing coalitions for much of Germany's post-war history (the last time between 2009 and 2013). If numbers permit it, Merkel's CDU/CSU are likely to choose the FDP over the SPD as coalition partner. But polls currently indicate that this 'Black-Yellow' coalition would fall just short of 50 per cent of the seats (with a combined vote share of 47 per cent).

In case neither the Greens nor the SPD agree to a coalition with the CDU/CSU, Merkel could form a minority government, supported by all three, the FDP, the Greens and the SPD. This would be a first at the federal level, and would make governing a lot harder for her, as she would have to find changing majorities for her policies. Such a grand coalition could undermine German democracy, and ultimately Europe, too. Given how central Germany is to many of the challenges facing Europe, from economics to security, another bland grand coalition would not be very good news.