Europeans sceptical on defence spend, Ukraine

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 4th July 2024.

People in major European countries such as France, Italy, Spain, and the UK don’t favour increased defence spending, a poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations – a pan-European think tank focused on European foreign and security policy – has found. That may pose a challenge as the continent seeks to bolster its military in the face of the war in Ukraine, and faces up to the prospect of a US less committed to transatlantic security.

The results, based on polls of 19,500 adults in 15 countries, also show many EU citizens sceptical about the bloc expanding to the east, just days after Brussels began the formal process of membership talks with both Ukraine and Moldova.

“European governments are unlikely to receive public support for direct military involvement,” said the policy brief by Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard. Kyiv and Brussels are “divided about the purpose of EU enlargement”, with Ukrainians saying membership would recognise their struggle, while EU nationals see it as part of an eventual settlement deal, they add.

The 25 June opening of formal membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova was described by European Council president Charles Michel as “a proud moment for both nations and a strategic step for the EU”, representing the start of negotiations that can in practice take years.

Scepticism about increased defence spending was highest in Italy, where over 62 per cent said the government shouldn’t splurge if that means cutting other priorities like health or education.

Interestingly, in Germany – a country pacifist since the Second World War – a majority of those expressing a preference favoured higher military spending – though there’s clearly an anti-war mood among voters too, courted by parties such as left-wing Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance and Alternative for Germany on the right.

The poll comes just before leaders from the NATO military alliance gather in Washington, DC, amid fears that a second Donald Trump presidency might not show the same support to Ukraine, or indeed Europe.

Von der Leyen’s re-election dilemma: look right, or turn green?

While Ursula von der Leyen seeks support from MEPs in her bid for a second term as European Commission president, her European People’s Party (EPP) does not plan to broaden a three-way centrist alliance with the Socialists & Democrats and liberal Renew group, but one way or another she might need the support of the Greens or the hard right.

A senior source within the EPP told Euronews the Greens group would not be invited to join. “There won’t be any formal inclusion of the Greens in the platform,” the source said, adding: “It will not happen.”

This was reinforced by a spokesperson for the centre-right group. “We have a coalition with Renew and the Social Democrats. It is then up to von der Leyen to negotiate support outside that,” the spokesperson said. “If she wants to negotiate with the Greens, or the ECR, that’s her business, not ours,” he added.

But the word “coalition” is perhaps a little strong for the nature of the cooperation between the three largest groups in the parliament, even if it is often bandied around. A historical grand coalition between the S&D and EPP died in 2019 when a surge of support for the Greens and liberals, and Eurosceptic populists, saw their relative power diminish.

Tories set to suffer total annihilation

The final United Kingdom election polls make grim reading for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives. YouGov’s MRP poll predicts Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour will win 431 seats, up 229 from 2019, with the Tories on 102, down 263 seats from the last election. These numbers would give Labour a majority of 212, the largest the party has ever enjoyed. Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats were on 72 seats, up 61. Nigel Farage’s insurgent right-wing Reform UK, meanwhile, was predicted to win three seats.

A massive Labour landslide would be a transformative result for British politics, sending the Tories packing after 14 years of rule and five prime ministers, during which Brexit and ongoing rows over immigration have divided the country.

A poll by More in Common released Wednesday predicted a 210-seat majority for Labour, showing the party on 430 seats, up 228 from the last election, while the Tories were down 239 seats on 126. The Lib Dems returned as the third party with 52 seats, up 41, while the Scottish National Party held 16 seats, a loss of 32. Reform UK won two seats.

A Focaldata poll also published Wednesday suggested an even higher majority for Labour of 238, allocating the party 444 seats to the Tories’ 108 seats. The Lib Dems would also return as the third party with 57 seats, while the SNP held just 15 of Scotland’s 57 seats. Reform would again win two seats.

YouGov, a long-standing pollster, correctly predicted a hung parliament in the 2017 general election in an MRP poll when other polling suggested a strong majority for the Tories.

In the House of Commons, 326 seats out of 650 are needed to govern with an overall majority. Labour’s last election-winning Prime Minister, Tony Blair, won the 1997 general election with a majority of 179, winning two further elections with smaller majorities.

Rishi begs Brits to stop Labour ‘Starmergeddon’

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer was frantically playing down fears Labour would get ‘unchecked’ power Wednesday as the election entered its final dash for the line. He tried to quell mounting alarm about that he was set for the biggest majority ever seen, insisting many seats will ‘go to the wire’ and polls do not predict the future.

The downplaying came as Prime Minister Rushi Sunak made a last-ditch effort to avert a complete Tory meltdown after getting a big boost from a joint appearance with former prime minister Boris Johnson.

At a rally Tuesday night, Johnson warned that Sir Keir would use a ‘sledgehammer’ majority to bring in ‘mandatory wokery’ and ‘uncontrolled immigration’. Sunak used the last day of campaigning to visit previously safe seats in Hampshire – with apocalyptic polls suggesting many will fall to Labour and the Lib Dems.

Touring broadcast studios yesterday morning, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride acknowledged that the Conservatives are on track for a dire result. He said Labour is almost certain to get an ‘extraordinary landslide on a scale that has probably never, ever been seen in this country before’.

However, Sunak insisted Stride had not ‘quite’ been conceding defeat, telling ITV’s This Morning ‘what Mel was doing was warning of what a very large Labour majority, unchecked, would mean for people’. He added: ‘I’m fighting hard for every vote.’

Other Tories privately insist that the reception on the doorstep has not been as bad as the polls indicate – and there have been glimmers of a narrowing in recent days, with the Reform surge seemingly ebbing.

As the UK braces to learn who will be in charge for the next five years:

– There are claims Sir Keir will install Harriet Harman as the next head of the equalities watchdog, despite concerns over her support for gender ideology;
– Suella Braverman has effectively launched the Tory post-mortem saying the election is ‘over’ and high immigration was to blame for defeat;
– Sunak has bizarrely insisted his favourite meal is ‘sandwiches’ during a This Morning interview;
– He also issued a warning to Sir Keir that he cannot be a ‘great dad’ and PM at the same time, after the Labour leader suggested he still wants to clock off on Friday evenings;
– Nigel Farage is still trying to seal the deal with voters in Clacton, as Reform struggles to turn votes into seats;
– A poll has suggested the SNP could remain the biggest party in Scotland after a threat from Labour.

Boris Johnson received a rapturous reception as he made a dramatic appearance at the central London rally Tuesday night. During an impassioned speech, he called on voters flirting with backing Reform to ‘draw back from the brink’.

He labelled Nigel Farage a ‘Kremlin crawler’ and unleashed attacks on Labour’s ‘mandatory wokery’ and ‘uncontrolled immigration’, bluntly adding that people who ‘have a few thousand to spare’ and ‘actually want higher tax’ should vote red.

Johnson swiped at Sir Keir saying it was ‘way past his bedtime’ after the Opposition leader admitted he tries to avoid working past 6pm on Fridays to spend time with his family.

Up until now the ex-PM had only endorsed specific Tory allies with video messages, as tensions linger with Sunak over the latter’s resignation triggering his eviction from Downing Street. The two men still did not appear together on stage Tuesday night.

But playing down the ‘trivial’ differences between himself and his former Chancellor, Mr Johnson said he was ‘glad when the PM asked for help’ and ‘could not say no’ because they both ‘love our country’.

On his first campaign stop of the day in Carmarthenshire, Sir Keir played down chatter about the scale of his victory, insisting that many seats will ‘go to the wire’.

Asked if he was worried about Mr Johnson joining the Tory attack, he said: ‘Not in the slightest. I’ve been arguing that the last 14 years have been about chaos and division –and last night, they wheeled out the architect of chaos and division. ‘That just shows the desperate, negative place they’ve got to in their campaign.’

In his intervention, Johnson hit out at Labour’s plans to hike taxes and said the party would not take a firm stance against Vladimir Putin, following his invasion of Ukraine.

‘Michelle Obama is the only one who can replace Biden and defeat Trump’

If Joe Biden were to withdraw to make way for another Democratic candidate in the race for the White House, only Michelle Obama could win more votes than Donald Trump. That is according to a survey by the institute Ipsos.

With growing concerns about Joe Biden’s health, especially since his failed debate with Donald Trump on June 27, some Democrats are beginning to question his candidacy for the November presidential election. A survey published by Ipsos could help them see things more clearly.

At least 25 Democratic lawmakers would be ready to ask Joe Biden to renounce the nomination if he continues to appear “shaky” in the coming days, according to Reuters, quoted by Fox News and Newsweek. Attention is focused on Biden’s interview with ABC to understand how the president manages to “manage a rapid succession of questions”.

According to the survey of 1,000 people, only Michelle Obama would fare better than Joe Biden against Donald Trump if the election were held today. The former First Lady of the United States would win 50 per cent of the vote for herself against 39 per cent for Trump. According to the survey, three per cent of voters would choose another candidate and four per cent would abstain. So Michelle Obama would do much better than Joe Biden, who gets 40 per cent of the vote, equal to Donald Trump.

With four months to go before the election, no other tested Democratic candidate is doing better than Joe Biden: California Governor Gavin Newsom has 39 per cent (versus 42 per cent for Donald Trump), Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, 39 per cent (versus 41 per cent for Donald Trump), Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, 36 per cent (versus 40 per cent for Donald Trump), and J.B. Pritzker, Illinois Governor, 34 per cent (versus 40 per cent for Donald Trump).

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s lead over Joe Biden is widening. According to a poll by the New York Times and Siena College, the former president has 49 per cent of the vote against Biden’s 43 per cent. Compared to a week ago, before the debate, the former president gained three points.

Le Pen’s party far from the absolute majority

The first Harris poll in France after the anti-far right withdrawals sees the Rassemblement National far from an absolute majority. The party of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella is expected to obtain between 190 and 220 seats in Sunday’s runoff, against the 289 needed.

According to this first survey, the “Republican barrage” is proving effective. The other two coalitions that have agreed on a “Republican Front” with an anti-RN function take advantage of the situation: the New Popular Front of the Left would obtain between 159 and 183 seats, while Ensemble, the arch of the Macronist parties, would win between 110 and 135 seats, still a heavy defeat, with a decrease of almost half the seats. Between 30 and 50 deputies would go to the Républicains and the party would still resist the split of Eric Ciotti, who switched to supporting the RN.

Meanwhile, French government spokesperson, Prisca Thévenot, and her deputy were attacked by around 20 people during an electoral activity in Meudon, near Paris. According to Europe 1 radio reports, during the attack on the two Macronian politicians, there were fists and scooters thrown at them. According to the France Presse agency, Thevenot ‘‘and her team’’ specified that they had suffered ‘‘an attack during an inspection for the posting of electoral posters’’ four days before the second round of the political elections.

Hamas’s latest ceasefire proposal gives room to move forward

A senior Israeli official says the updated hostage deal proposal Hamas submitted earlier today is positive enough to allow for the negotiations to move forward, after several weeks of deadlock since the terror group submitted its last response to the Israeli proposal. The updated Hamas offer brings the sides closer to a resolution regarding Clauses 8 and 14 of the Israeli proposal submitted on May 27, the senior Israeli official says.

Anti-Israel protesters breach roof of Australia’s Parliament

Meanwhile, anti-Israel protesters have climbed the roof of Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra and unfurled banners, accusing Israel of war crimes, TV footage shows, in a serious security breach condemned by lawmakers.

Four people dressed in dark clothes on the roof of the building, unfurled black banners including one reading, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a common refrain that critics say is a call for the elimination of Israel. The banners also include a red triangle, the symbol used by Hamas to mark targets.’

A Focaldata poll also published Wednesday suggested an even higher majority for Labour of 238, allocating the party 444 seats to the Tories’ 108 seats. The Lib Dems would also return as the third party with 57 seats, while the SNP held just 15 of Scotland’s 57 seats. Reform would again win two seats.

Photo: Picture alliance / EPA | SERGEY DOLZHENKO

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