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NEED TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Green Wave

For all the talk of right-wing populism in Europe, the real winners of recent elections for the European Parliament were the Greens.

In the US, the Green Party is relatively weak in a system where two parties dominate, though Ralph Nader’s presidential run on the party’s line in 2000 likely helped swing the election for George W. Bush. Today, the Greens’ environmentalist, social justice message has found a home in progressive quarters of the Democratic Party.

In Europe, however, Green parties are a potent political force.

In Germany, the Greens came in second in the European Parliament polls in late May, almost doubling their share to 21 percent compared to the previous ballot, Euractiv explained. They’re now the country’s second-largest party in the parliament after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and its sister party, the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union.

The Greens came in third in France. In Britain, they came in fourth. Along with Green victories in the other 25 European countries, Greens are now the fourth-largest group in the parliament, the Financial Times reported. That puts them in a position to significantly influence who becomes the next president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.

They’re also already gunning for more radical action on climate change.

“Our voters, especially the younger generation, for many of whom we are now their first choice, are deeply concerned about the climate crisis, and they are pro-European – but they feel the EU is not delivering,” Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout told the Guardian. “They want us to change the course of Europe.”

That’s a daunting task, wrote the Independent. Government can’t necessarily afford all the Greens want. Case in point: Germany, a leader in the transition to renewables, slowed down its ‘green revolution’ known as the Energiewende over the past few years due to exploding electricity costs, the highest in Europe.

Another question is, can government work with the private sector to deliver green policies? They have yet to prove they can govern or handle the horse-trading that produces effective legislation. Germany again is a good example: The private sector has moaned and groaned over the Energiewende and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into transforming its own sector.

Those questions will be answered in the coming years. In the meantime, it’s important to learn the big lesson from the Green wave: Be skeptical that xenophobic nationalists exert the greatest appeal to ordinary Europeans.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which opposes immigration and seeks to diminish the EU, for example, won only 11 percent of the German vote in EU elections.

“The Greens have managed to articulate a vision on social and economic issues – pro-immigrant, pro-Europe – that the center-left has muddled a bit in recent years,” Vox wrote.

The far-right is realizing the true contest is not against the center but against the left now: “The Greens are our main enemy,” said Alexander Gauland, leader of the AfD, after EU election results were announced. “The Greens are the ones ruining Germany.”

As the center tries to co-opt some of the far-right’s platform to lure voters back, some far-right nationalists, including France’s Marine Le Pen, are adopting some Green-ish positions to capture voters seeking alternatives to the mainstream parties.

It’s a sign that democracy is alive and kicking in the Old World.

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

Splintering Crutch

Not long ago, Russian advisers allegedly interceded to stop Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from fleeing into exile amid a failed coup attempt. But in recent months, Moscow has withdrawn most of its key military advisers from the country.

The Russian defense contractor that has trained Venezuelan troops has shrunk its deployment there to a few dozen from around 1,000 at the height of the two countries’ military cooperation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The gradual pullout has accelerated over the past few months as the company, Rostec, has come to accept that Maduro no longer has the money to pay for their services, in part due to economic sanctions. It’s a major blow to the embattled president, who has relied on Russian support to back his promise to resist any foreign attempt to unseat him.

But it also signals that Moscow may have more difficulty accomplishing in Venezuela what it has managed in Syria, due to Russia’s own economic problems. There, too, US sanctions are hitting home.

FINLAND

Turning Left

After narrowly winning parliamentary elections in April with nothing close to a majority, Finland’s Social Democrats managed to cobble together a coalition with four smaller parties on Sunday.

As a result, Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne is set to become the country’s first left-wing prime minister in 20 years, Reuters reported.

“The government program is ready and ministerial posts have been allocated,” Rinne wrote on Twitter.

Reuters cited a leaked draft of a coalition agreement to highlight some of the government’s legislative goals. Among them is a planned tax hike of 730 million euros ($815 million) to fulfill Social Democrat campaign promises to fund an increase in public spending on social programs.

During the campaign, Rinne vowed to preserve the welfare state, boosting pensions, among other measures. According to the leaked agreement, he aims to fund spending with taxes on fossil fuels, rather than income taxes.

How much his government will be able to accomplish remains to be seen. The Social Democrats won only 17.7 percent of the vote, edging the nationalist Finns Party by just one seat in the parliament.

ALGERIA

Positional Play

The body that oversees elections in Algeria said it will be impossible to hold elections on July 4, as planned.

Instead, it is up to interim president Abdelkader Bensalah to set a new date for the vote, the country’s constitutional court said, according to the BBC.

That could be problematic if it doesn’t happen soon. After months of protests, long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in April. The protesters’ anger was initially triggered by the aging and ailing leader’s announcement he planned to run for a fifth term. But the demonstrators have since demanded a broader change in government, and many see Bensalah as too close to the former leader.

Protesters were already back on the streets Friday to demand the resignations of President Bensalah and the prime minister.

The court ruled out elections on July 4 after rejecting the two candidates, both unknowns, vying to for the nation’s top post, the Associated Press reported.

DISCOVERIES

Take It Easy

People sometimes can’t resist self-diagnosing their symptoms when they’re feeling under the weather.

Thanks to medical websites, like WebMD, it has become easier to track aches and pains, but – scarily – the results frequently put cancer as one of the causes.

Medical professionals, however, suggest that symptom tracking might not be the best road to recovery, according to Wired magazine.

Constantly thinking and worrying about symptoms can produce a state of anxiety and make them more likely to occur, a phenomenon known as the nocebo effect.

“The body’s response can be triggered by negative expectations,” said neuroscientist Luana Colloca.

Researcher Robert Ferrari studied the recovery period of people with whiplash injuries by dividing them into two groups. One group had to record and rate the pain they felt each day in a “pain diary,” while the other did not.

Ferrari noticed that after a three-month period only 59 percent of the participants in the pain diary group recovered from their injury, but that figure increased to 86 percent in the control group.

This doesn’t mean that individuals should outright stop tracking their symptoms, but health professionals suggest taking a break at times, and just taking it easy.

“If we use symptoms as the benchmark of our recovery, and we’re paying more attention to symptoms, how do we recover?” asked Ferrari.