Last September, I sat in the European Parliament in Strasbourg listening to Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech.
“The wind is back in Europe’s sails”, he declared.
The President of the European Commission was reflecting on the previous 12 months.
But he was talking nonsense.
His words were a clear demonstration of how out of touch the political elite across Europe often prove themselves to be.
Mr Juncker was speaking towards the end of a year which had begun with nervousness.
In early 2017, the centrist moderates who run the majority of countries that make up the European Union were just getting used to the idea of Brexit, and there were rumblings of trouble elsewhere.
So-called populists were riding high in the up-coming elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria.
Could it happen? Le Pen in France? Wilders in The Netherlands? Hofer in Austria? And what about the AfD in Germany?
No one had even begun to think about Italy, after all, no election was set there.
The Northern League (as the League was then known) was Italy’s main offering of a hard-right party but it was predominantly a secessionist campaigner and not a player beyond the north.
A comedian with big hair was running a disruptive movement called 5-Star. It appeared to be growing in popularity – but no one was taking it particularly seriously.
The biggest debate was over whether 5-Star was left wing or right. Could it be both? Neither? It confused the establishment centrists. It didn’t conform to the norms of the political spectrum.
What did all this populism and polarisation mean? They didn’t know because they didn’t take enough notice of what was happening.
Then the elections began and on the face of it, all was tickety boo. Mr Juncker and his ilk sighed relief after each vote.
In The Netherlands, a hard-right Geert Wilders government was never a genuine prospect because of the country’s proportional representation system. The centrists prevailed.
In France, voters chose a European integrationist – the young, dynamic Macron who has quickly established himself as the new driver of an EU with apparently renewed confidence.
In Austria, the race for the presidency was close and rerun. But the liberal green candidate beat the far-right man with a Nazi past.
And in Germany, the continent’s senior stateswoman prevailed, wounded and limping for several months, but with another centrist pro-EU grand coalition now just weeks away.
And so “phew” said the establishment. Mr Juncker made his speech: “The wind is back in Europe’s sails.”
The centrist liberals like Macron, Merkel, Rutte, Van Der Bellen did not prevail because the radical populists failed.
On the contrary – they won in spite of significant gains by the populists and they won because they mimicked some of the populists’ policies.
Close behind each centrist success was a populist runner-up.
From Athens to Barcelona, Calais to Catania, Rome to Paris, it is so easy to find disenfranchised people looking for something different.
Their gripes are the same: they feel forgotten and not listened to. Their worries are almost always the economy and immigration and whether you call them racist or honest, they are voting with their feet.
In the Netherlands, Mr Wilders’ anti-immigration and eurosceptic views were “eloquently” articulated and they resonated.
In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party is now a central part of a right wing coalition government.
In France, Le Pen lost but still made it to the second round of the election with historic gains.
In Germany, despite all its history, a far-right party will, this month, become the official opposition party.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) will be boosted by official opposition funding and seats on influential parliamentary committees.
Then came Italy this weekend. Here, the populists didn’t just make gains, they won.
Of all the EU establishment’s possible nightmare scenarios for Italy, one of the worst materialised.
The League and the 5-Star Movement are euro-sceptic, anti-immigration and led by untested radicals.
Results suggest as many as one in three people voted for the 5-Star Movement. The League could be the largest party in the centre-right coalition, which may get the arithmetic to form a government.
As populists they have both promised their voters the earth but may struggle to deliver. They have been chosen by the voters to fix a broken system but have said little about their alternative.
And if you are looking for a clear demonstration of why people feel they’re up against a broken system, glance back to Germany.
In last September’s federal election, the German public roundly rejected the centre-left SPD party, giving it a kicking at the polls. It performed worse than it has ever done.
And yet, the messy nature of democracy has put the SPD back in government.
This weekend they agreed to form a coalition with Mrs Merkel’s conservatives. That will only add frustration to those who think their vote doesn’t count for much and their view isn’t heard.
Politics is polarised and fragmenting in pretty much every EU country. For Mr Juncker to say otherwise is plain wrong.
Reacting to his far-right party’s victory in Italy, Matteo Salvini said he needed to thank Mr Juncker. “Every time he speaks, I get more votes,” he said, with glee and sarcasm.
In Italy, the wind is in his sails.
Prince Harry and Meghan meet top UN official amid world leaders’ gathering in New York | World News
Prince Harry and Meghan have met with a top UN official during the world body’s biggest annual gathering.
Ms Mohammed said they discussed “how to engage on issues we care about deeply”, such as vaccine equity, climate action, the economic empowerment of women, youth engagement and mental wellbeing.
“It was a lovely meeting,” Meghan said afterwards.
The UN said Ms Mohammed welcomed the couple’s work to address the organisation’s 17 sustainable development goals, which were created in 2015 and include objectives like ending hunger and poverty, achieving gender equality and combating climate change.
The trio met ahead of their scheduled appearances at the Global Citizen concert in Central Park later on Saturday.
The star-studded, 24-hour event aims to encourage climate action and urge wealthier countries to share one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with other nations.
Billie Eilish and Ed Sheeran are among the musicians expected to headline the festival, which features performances in cities including New York, London and Sydney.
Tens of thousands of people are set to attend, with millions likely to tune in to the broadcast.
Prince Harry and Meghan are due to speak at the event in New York as part of their first major public trip since quitting as senior royals.
Earlier this week they visited the city’s memorial for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the state’s governor, Kathy Hochul, joining them.
The UN is currently hosting the annual general assembly of world leaders, who have been discussing efforts to fight climate change and COVID-19.
Meghan has been involved with the UN women’s agency for several years, acting as “advocate for political participation and leadership”.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were among those chosen as Time magazine’s 100 most influential people last week.
Last year, the couple stepped down from royal duties, moving to California and launching their Archewell Foundation.
They have previously supported other Global Citizen initiatives, acting as campaign chairs for a Vax Live event in May which encouraged donations to Covax, an initiative working to provide vaccines for low and middle-income countries.
In a speech he made on stage, Prince Harry called for coronavirus jabs to be “distributed to everyone everywhere”.
German election: Voters want fresh leadership even if many seem unconvinced by the options | Politics News
They’re already putting Angela Merkel out to pasture at the Tussauds waxworks in Berlin, decking her out in clothes to go hiking, which the chancellor says she wants to do more of when she’s retired.
Madam Tussaud’s studio assistant Karen Fries says it will be strange when she is gone.
“It’s going to be weird, yes, because it’s now 16 years and we are not used to getting along without her, but we’ll see.”
The same sentiments are around the corner at the Brandenburg Gate.
Another race was under way ahead of the election: rollerbladers gathering to speed around the route of the marathon that is run this weekend.
“Both of us, we are 23,” two young bladers told us. “We just know Angela Merkel. So I think an era comes to an end.”
Another man told us none of the candidates can replace her: “No, they are too weak.”
Is this just another country’s election or one we should all be interested in?
Angela Merkel was called the leader of the free world, a moniker she herself thought was absurd. But it gives a sense of the void she may leave in these uncertain times.
Mrs Merkel has been credited with steering Germany through numerous crises but critics say she did not do enough to see them coming or warn Germans about others on their way.
Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico’s chief Europe correspondent, says: “The problem is that Merkel has shielded the population for a very long time from the realities of what’s going on in the world.”
Mrs Merkel was more of an administrator than a leader, he says, and has left one key question unanswered for her successors to address.
The way they do could have ramifications far beyond Germany.
“What’s at stake, really, is what role Germany is going to play in the world,” he says.
“Does Germany want to be a real player on the world stage, or does it want to act more like a giant Switzerland in the middle of Europe, trying to be all things to all people?”
Germany after Mrs Merkel will be under pressure from America to take on Russia more and be a more useful partner within the EU.
For Europe’s largest country and richest economy, it has not punched at its weight in the minds of many in Washington and elsewhere.
Others agree that Mrs Merkel cossetted Germans and protected them from global realities too much.
Green MEP Sergei Lagodinski, who helped write his party’s foreign policy, told Sky News: “I do hope very much that after this very comfortable sleep that we had with a very comforting leader who actually drove us and directed us quite good through a couple of crises, we need now to wake up not only to survive crisis and get back to the business as usual, but try to reimagine both Germany and Europe in this new age.”
The world and Germany are very different now than 16 years ago when Merkel first came to power.
Climate change, populism and artificial intelligence are all challenges that need proactive leadership, arguably not a strength of Mrs Merkel’s.
“I think it’s tremendously important, not just for Germany but for Europe,” Mr Lagodinski says.
“We have a situation where we have a change in terms of who’s going to lead Germany but also we have a totally changed global situation.”
There is the sense of an era coming to an end on the eve of this important election.
In the dusky light of a warm September evening, the voters we spoke to seemed relaxed about the future but conflicted too.
They want change but also continuity.
There is a yearning for stability with such a familiar figure bowing out and in such unpredictable times. But 16 years is a long long time to have one leader, we have been told repeatedly.
Germany and the world have new challenges to take on and new demons to fight, and voters want fresh leadership even if many seem unconvinced by the line-up they have to choose from.
Dean Berta Vinales: Fifteen-year-old World Superbike star dies after crash during race in Spain | World News
Fifteen-year-old motorcyclist Dean Berta Vinales has died following a crash at a World Superbike Championship race in Jerez, Spain.
After 11 laps in the Supersport 300 support race, the Spanish athlete crashed at the second turn, along with three other riders.
He suffered severe head and spinal injuries and was treated by medical crews who arrived on the scene, World Superbike said.
They attended to him on the track, in an ambulance and at the circuit medical centre.
“Despite the best efforts of the circuit medical staff, the Medical Centre has announced that Berta Vinales has sadly succumbed to his injuries,” World Superbike said.
The race was red-flagged by the director and cancelled, along with the rest of Saturday’s action.
Vinales was MotoGP rider Maverick Vinales’s cousin and he rode for his uncle’s Vinales Racing Team.
In a statement on social media, Vinales Racing Team said it was “devastated”.
MotoGP said on Twitter: “We’re devastated by the tragic loss of @DeanBerta21 following a crash in #WorldSSP300 Race 1 today.
“Sending all our love and strength to Maverick Vinales and Dean’s entire family, his team and loved ones.”
Six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez wrote: “Rest in peace Dean. All my support to family and friends.”
We’re deeply saddened to report the loss of Dean Berta Viñales.
The #WorldSBK family sends love to his family, loved ones, and his team. Your personality, enthusiasm, and commitment will be hugely missed.
The whole motorcycle racing world will miss you, Dean. Ride in Peace. pic.twitter.com/46KuUt4Vnl
— WorldSBK (@WorldSBK) September 25, 2021
World Superbike said Vinales was “enjoying a recent run of good form” in his rookie season in the FIM Supersport 300 World Championship, coming in fourth in Race 2 at the Magny-Cours circuit and sixth in Race 2 at the Barcelona-Catalunya track.
He had set the fastest lap in Race 1 and the organisation said he was “showing great potential”.
The tragedy is the latest in a series of crashes that have claimed the lives of young riders.
Fourteen-year-old Hugo Millan died after crashing at a race in Alcaniz, Spain in July, while Swiss Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier, 19, died in May from injuries he sustained in a three-bike crash during a qualifying session at the Mugello circuit in Italy.
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