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March 24, 2017

French Polls suggest two battles

A poll aggregator for France shows two main battles, and recent polls suggest a change in the lead position: Emmanuel Macron gains momentum and surpasses Marine Le Pen in several of the most recent polls. And, for the first time, Jean-Luc Mélenchon gets ahead of Benoît Hamon.

Macron stood up to the test of the TV debate and enlarged his voter and political-supporter base, while Marine Le Pen’s support is stable between 25%-27%. She did not benefit from the TV debate so far, and thus languishes at the lower end, 25% in the most recent polls.

Mélenchon is improving his poll performance, while Hamon has been losing momentum for some time now. Some of the Socialists from the Hollande/Valls camp are leaving the boat to join Macron, and Hamon's big rally in Paris seem to have made no difference to the polling. Mélenchon benefited from a rally in Paris and his performance in the TV debate.

Among the small candidates we also note the rise in the polls of the nationalist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who rejects the euro, opposes several EU treaties, and supports Brexit. He increased his polling, coming up to 5% in the latest polls. In 2012, he got 1.79% of the votes. 

Macron got another boost from the support by defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Drian is respected among the left and the right for his work, and he already helped Macron write up his defence programme. He is the third cabinet member to join En marche!. Macron also got support from the right, a supporter of Alan Juppé and minister under him, Philippe Douste-Blazy. In an interview he said that Macron is perceived as a beacon of hope in the current climate of a descending Fillon and a disappointing Hamon, and in a world where the differences between left and right seem increasingly artificial. 

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March 24, 2017

Meet the Catalan assembly of elected officials

Now that the Catalan regional government has its budget with a line item to fund an independence referendum, one can expect from them one final push to try and convince Mariano Rajoy to negotiate the terms of a referendum in Catalonia. The Spanish government is unlikely to change its position that a constitutional referendum can only be held in the whole of Spain. We would then be in unilateral referendum territory. The Spanish government appears ready to use the constitutional court to first issue injunctions against unilateral actions by the Catalan government, and then suspend public officials that ignore these injunctions.

For this reason the Catalan association of municipalities for independence (AMI), of which the Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont is a past president, is already looking ahead at a situation where the Catalan government is unable to act on its promise to organise a referendum. It is also possible that the separatist majority in the Catalan parliament might be decimated by Spanish court actions. To prepare for these eventualities, the AMI last October promoted the creation of a Catalan assembly of elected officials, which would gather on a voluntary basis the over 9000 elected officials from Catalonia. The vague stated aim of this assembly is to be ready for the eventuality that there are obstacles to the referendum. The assembly, which gathered 2200 members in its first month, has over 2500 now, five months after its creation. This week, on the occasion of handing out the first ID cards to assembly members, the chair of the AIM said

"If there are obstacles and it cannot be done in the normal way, the assembly will be here to act and make possible what citizens have demanded of us. It would be negative to anticipate more details."

The subtext of all this is using the assembly to act instead of the regional parliament, to either organise a unilateral referendum, or issue a unilateral declaration of independence, Tennis-Court-Oath-style.

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March 24, 2017

Could there be a coalition that prevents a Brexit deal?

Simon Nixon is the European commentator of the Wall Street Journal, whose opinions are almost always the very opposite of ours on virtually any issue. Unsurprisingly, he does not share our relative optimism about a Brexit deal, either. While we disagree, his argument is nevertheless interesting. He sees a no-deal scenario as not only preferable for the Brexiteers, but also for the EU itself.

He writes that the EU will make a series of politically unacceptable demands for any deep market-access deal, like the existing ones with Switzerland and the EEA. This means full compliance with EU regulations and legislation, as well as with ECJ rulings. This will not only affect product standards. It will also affect areas such as labour law and social legislation, as the EU is sensitive to what it calls social dumping. The EU will also insist on country-of-origin rules. As regards the process, Nixon expects serious negotiations not to start until next year, which leaves time for a long process of political tensions. He notes, for example, that the European Parliament will give its view on the process on April 3, before the European Council is due to meet, in an attempt to influence the Council’s discussion. 

“Faced with these obstacles, some Brexiters have come to the conclusion that the cleanest and easiest way forward is for the U.K. to leave the EU without a free trade deal and default to World Trade Organisation rules. Some in the EU are coming to the same conclusion.”

We cannot exclude the possibility that something goes seriously wrong during the Article 50, and that the negotiations break down. But the UK is not seeking a deep market access agreement at this stage as it now accepts that an FTA will take longer to negotiate. So the scope for the Art 50 negotiations is going to be far more limited. There will have to be an interim agreement, during which not much will change, except that Brexit will have formally taken effect. That’s a fair price to pay for the UK, and ultimately not a hard sell either. And while there are MEPs and officials who would prefer a cliff-edge Brexit, we don’t think that this is going to be the position of the European Council, which may instead conclude that it will still need to co-operate with the UK in the future, including on issues as terrorism.

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