Back at my desk

I’m back in Melbourne after a three-week trip around Europe – mostly Germany, Austria, Spain and Belgium. So expect blogging to start returning to a normal frequency (one or two posts a day). And there’s plenty of available material in European events as well as the rest of the world.

Some of the topics I want to cover in coming days include:

Direct elections

The Australian Labor Party has just held its first ever leadership election in which the membership at large were given a say, but their say wasn’t enough: the winning candidate was favored by the MPs rather than the members. In Europe this is now a fairly well-worn path, and it often throws up some interesting results.

Germany and Austria

Elections on successive weekends last month both look like resulting in grand coalitions (one new, one re-formed), but it’s a slow process. Both cases show how little difference there is in Europe between the centre-left and centre-right; whether or not that’s a good thing depends on how you look at it.

The European project

As European economic recovery remains achingly slow, euroscepticism in many countries is more powerful than ever. It’s probably a good time to take a serious look at where the European Union is going, and whether some basic features of the project need to be rethought.

France and the far right

The National Front beat the centre-right in a local by-election yesterday and its prospects are good for municipal and EU elections next year. France’s somewhat un-European electoral system usually helps to conceal the far right’s strength, but there could be some big problems ahead for the mainstream parties.

Unhappy Syria

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won a Nobel prize and its prospects for getting chemical weapons out of Syria look reasonably good, but the larger goal of peace and democracy there still seems a long way off. Is there anything useful that western countries should be doing?

Budget deadlock in the US

Financial markets are deeply unhappy about the partial shutdown of the United States government and the imminent crisis over extending the debt ceiling. The Republican Party is hurting badly in the polls, but its search for an escape strategy is compromised by indecision over whether it’s fighting a crusade against big government in principle or against Barack Obama in person.

For all this and more, stay tuned.

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