On December 5, Austrians voted against far-right populism and for Europe. Norbert Hofer, the presidential candidate of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), conceded the election to Alexander Van der Bellen, former head of the Greens who ran as an independent. Van der Bellen ran an unabashedly pro-European Union (EU) campaign at a time when the EU faces increasing internal pressures from the migrant crisis, lingering economic stagnation, and the fallout of Brexit. In his victory speech, Van der Bellen said that he would be an “open-minded, a liberal-minded, and first of all a pro-European federal president of the Republic of Austria.” But while his win is certainly a positive sign for the future of the European project, this should not give cause to Europe’s centrist, pro-EU forces to celebrate.

Read More

Vogue cannot get enough of Ukraine’s new designers and eye-catching traditional designs. Since the Euromaidan, the magazine has covered the country’s hot fashion scene half a dozen times.

On November 30, seven of Ukraine’s designers were on display at a fashion show in Washington, DC, “to celebrate Ukraine’s creative culture,” said Alexa Chopivsky, executive director of the American Center for a European Ukraine and one of the organizers.

War, internally displaced persons, and the never-ending Minsk process dominate international coverage of Ukraine—when it is covered at all—but that’s not the full picture.

Read More

Former Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili’s opening remarks at the Kyiv Post’s Tiger Conference on November 29 were puzzling. “Thanks for a couple of cameras,” he said.

He was referring to the fact that even though he is a national figure with a resonant message in Ukraine, he’s the victim of a news blackout by the country’s oligarch-controlled TV media.

Such concentration of media ownership is one of the cornerstones of Ukraine’s pervasive corruption.

By contrast, the press has been focused for years on Saakashvili’s success in turning around Georgia through rapid reforms. In 2015, he was recruited by President Petro Poroshenko to bring about reforms as Governor of Odesa Oblast. But he quit this year after obstructionism made him realize it was too entrenched to change internally.

“I want to replace the entire political class. Elections happen and nothing changes, it gets worse. These guys have been around since the 1990s and they really think Ukraine’s their property. Twenty-five years of this political class and Ukraine has become the poorest country in Europe on a per capita GDP basis. After independence it was better off than Poland,” he said.

Read More

An undercurrent of apprehension regarding global affairs and concern in the aftermath of the US presidential elections defined the 6th Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, held on November 29 by the Körber Foundation in Berlin, Germany.

In a wide-ranging and deeply contemplative dialogue, Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s Federal Minister of Finance, made the case for a strong Germany within a united Europe, as the world prepares for the possibility of the United States playing a smaller role on the global stage.

Read More

Of the key battles fought in post-Maidan Ukraine, the one over land reform attracts little attention. That’s a shame, too. Parliament’s unwillingness to allow the sale of private farmland “is the biggest source of immediately available economic growth that the government has failed to utilize,” Swedish economist Anders Åslund has noted.

The latest clash over land reform took place on October 6; the old-timers in Ukraine’s parliament, still trapped by Soviet economic dogmas, won the day.

Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe, is blessed with fertile black soil. Today it is capable of feeding half of Africa, or 600 million people. But instead of tapping into this fantastic resource, Ukrainian legislators stubbornly refuse to allow the sale of private farmland, which would unleash farmers’ productivity and massively benefit the economy. The October vote was the eighth failed attempt to lift the moratorium on selling agricultural land since it was first introduced in 2000. Since then, Ukraine has had two revolutions and four very different presidents, but politicians of all persuasions remain adamant: the 6.7 million landowners who own a total of twenty-seven million hectares shall have no right to be full masters of their property.

Read More

The results from The Gambia’s presidential election, which pitted opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) candidate Adama Barrow against longtime president, Yahya Jammeh, made history as they trickled in late at night on December 1. The small West African country, bound on three sides by Senegal, has been ruled for more than two decades by the eccentric and repressive Jammeh.

Early on December 2, The Gambia’s electoral commissioner called the election for Barrow, citing his 45 percent of the vote compared to Jammeh’s 36 percent. The victory is a massive upset in an election whose result was widely considered a foregone conclusion; Jammeh has already claimed victory in what Freedom House declared to be four “violent and rigged” elections since seizing power in a coup against the government of Dawda Jawara in 1994. The outcome of the 2016 election represents a victory for democracy in Africa—but also requires a supportive US and international response to protect this nascent gain.

In the immediate aftermath of the election one vital issue remains unsolved: Jammeh himself has not officially conceded.

Read More

Donald Trump’s election as the next president of the United States has created uncertainty for the future of the nuclear deal with Iran. On the campaign trail, Trump made no secret of his opposition to the deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, even if Trump’s administration retards the implementation of the JCPOA, the United States probably cannot singlehandedly unravel it.

The JCPOA is not a bilateral agreement. It is between the United States and six other governments, none of which oppose the nuclear deal, which Trump has called “the worst deal ever.” Of course, as president, he will have to work with Russia, China, and Washington’s European allies, none of which are likely to withdraw from the JCPOA. The foreign policy establishment in Washington, too, overwhelmingly favors the deal.

Read More

The US-led coalition offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the final major foothold of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq, has progressed slowly but positively over the course of the past month. However, questions still remain whether the offensive, Operation Inherent Resolve, will prove to be a coalition of convenience that dissolves without a clear and common enemy, or if political wills in Baghdad and Erbil, both in Iraq, are able to hash out a post-conflict structure that preempts ethnic opportunists and revenge killing. The battle for Mosul may mark the culmination of a protracted effort to build some semblance of unity amidst Iraq’s factionalist disorder.

Read More

A “yes” vote in the Italian referendum on December 4 will reinforce Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, bolstering his leadership in the face of rising populism throughout Europe and enabling his efforts to encourage economic growth, said Andrea Montanino, director of the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics Program, in a Facebook live discussion on December 1.

Montanino, a former officer in the Italian ministry of finance, joined Ole Moehr, a program assistant with the Global Business and Economics Program, to consider the repercussions of Italy’s upcoming referendum.

Montanino described how the constitutional changes proposed in the referendum will simplify the Italian legislative process and clarify the processes of government. While the success of the referendum has the potential to provide a moment of stability for Europe, Montanino said, a “no” vote can reduce confidence in Italy, negatively affecting the banking system as well as foreign direct investment in the country.

Read More

Russian aggression is not likely to go away soon. As a result, Ukraine needs to revise the current framework guiding its economic disengagement from the occupied regions of the Donbas and Crimea. Economic disengagement limits the risks of financing terrorism with money coming from mainland Ukraine, and makes sure that the occupied areas of Donbas don’t turn into an economic grey zone and center of smuggling. It is also important to counter the Kremlin’s policy, which seeks to preserve control over the occupied areas of the Donbas without taking any economic responsibility for the region.

Disengaging from the occupied areas of the Donbas will be complicated; prior to Russia’s aggression, the region generated 16 percent of the country’s GDP. Despite the overall ban on Ukrainian business relations with the region, there are a number of important exemptions.

Read More