Brexit on the backburner
UK [Domestic politics]
The potential impact of the UK’s upcoming departure from the EU continues to loom large over the nation’s politics. But that said, there are plenty of other challenges that Theresa May’s government needs to get to grips with in the meantime.
The good news is that all of the country’s political parties agree that the housing crisis is real; the bad news is that there is very little agreement on how to go about fixing it. Building more houses would be a start, while ensuring that a higher proportion of those built are affordable for most of the population would be even better. The UK likes to see itself as a home-owning society but it needs to give thought to its renters too. Rents have risen so high, particularly in London, that many people in their twenties are struggling to afford somewhere to live.
There are three problems wrapped up in one here. First, there is the challenge of high energy costs, which have put household budgets under pressure. Second, climate change: the UK needs to reduce its emissions to 57 per cent of its 1990 levels by 2030. And third, there’s the issue of supply: is the UK going to be able to find enough reliable energy sources? The government’s decision to shut down the Department of Energy and Climate Change suggests a joined-up approach is unlikely to present itself any time soon.
Britain remains a multicultural society but the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the referendum campaign, followed by a spate of hate crimes against foreigners, has dented that image for the rest of the world. May’s government has fanned the flames, be it suggesting that companies should list their foreign workers, telling foreign doctors they won’t be needed in a decade’s time or refusing to guarantee the right to remain for EU nationals currently in the UK.
Austria [Sebastian Kurz]
Austria’s Sebastian Kurz is no stranger to publicity: at 27 he became the youngest foreign minister in his country’s history, not to mention the youngest foreign minister in the world. Now 30, he dares to challenge the foreign policy of Austria’s northern neighbour.
In early 2016, at the height of the migrant crisis, he ruffled feathers with provocative suggestions – such as fortifying the EU’s exterior borders or housing refugees on islands – that challenged the stance of German chancellor Angela Merkel. He’s also widely seen as the one person who’s holding his flailing party together: the Christian-conservative ÖVP (Austrian People’s party) has been dramatically losing votes to the right-wing Freedom party in recent years. Speculation is rife that he might take the chairmanship soon.
The university city of Oulu on Finland’s west coast was hit hard by the 2011 collapse of Nokia but since then the city has been investing wisely to reboot the economy: €500m has been earmarked for the development of Oulu University Hospital. There will also be a new shopping centre and residential complex called Valkea, designed by UKI Architects. A growing number of small businesses are making their homes here too: more than 500 start-ups have launched in the past three years.
Right to reply
Angela Merkel’s obituary has been written several times since last year’s refugee crisis but her approval ratings are back up to more than 50 per cent and she is very likely to stand for a fourth term next autumn. Barring a catastrophe, she’ll win again too.
This one’s a lot harder to call. On current polls, president François Hollande is unlikely to make the second round, meaning France will have a choice between the right and the far-right. Alain Juppé and the more extreme Nicolas Sarkozy are duking it out for the chance to win the reluctant support of all those who can’t face the prospect of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen.
A nation of 17 million people has 150 parliamentarians representing 16 parties; it’s proportional representation in the extreme. The far-right Geert Wilders may be leading the polls but he is unlikely to find enough parties willing to back him as PM. Expect another rocky coalition.
A highly anticipated high-speed rail extension is due to be completed in summer 2017. Once it’s up and running, the new line will shave nearly an hour off the trip between Paris and Bordeaux.