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April 26, 2016

Could Austria's new president veto TTIP

In the aftermath of Austria's first presidential election round, we noted a few articles and comments providing some further thoughts and background. FAZ has an interesting article on how the TTIP debate is playing in Austria. Both the government parties, the centre left SPÖ and the centre-right ÖVP are in favour of TTIP, while the two first-round winners on Sunday, from the far-right FPÖ and the Green Party, reject it. While the president is a largely ceremonial figure, he has right to refuse the signature of the treaty. Both candidates insisted that as president they would only sign TTIP after a referendum.

In a front page commentary, FAZ reminds us of the FPÖ's right wing past - they have lots of members with a German national tradition - not outright Nazis but the type of right-wing groups that ended up supporting Hitler in Austria and Germany in the early 1930s - like the German National People's Party. While technically liberal the FPÖ became the refuge of those nationalists in post-war Austrian politics. This, however, did not stop both the centre-left and the centre-right to form coalitions with the party. 

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April 26, 2016

Still squabbling over water charges in Ireland

Talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil ended last night with no progress on how long a suspension of water charges should last, the Irish Times reports. Fine Gael has proposed a temporary suspension of water charges, seven to nine months, but Fianna Fáil does not want to reintroduce water charges during the whole legislative term. They came up with alternative proposals, none of them convinced Fine Gael. So, deadlock again. They will have another round of negotiations this morning, before parliament reconvenes to find out in a vote whether there is enough support for a minority government with Enda Kenny as prime minister. 

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April 26, 2016

On Brexit and trade - why this is a difficult discussion

One of the problems we have with the trade debate in the Brexit discussions - on either side of the argument, by the way - is that the analysis always presumes a continuation of the status-quo, especially an unchanged composition of industrial activity. Other uncertain assumptions, of course, relate to future trading relations with the EU and the content of bilateral or multilateral free-trade deals, which are not knowable now. Britain's current industrial structure has grown to what it is today as a result of over 20 years of single market integration. While there are Brexit scenarios that would indeed produce a nasty economic shock because of the forced speed of adjustment, we find it hard to see that the long-term trajectory of the British economy would necessarily be negatively or positively affected by Brexit. In the long run, economic theory would suggest that economic growth is a function of innovation and skills, neither of which should be affected by Brexit. We think the short-term risk is a good enough argument against Brexit, but in the long run it probably does not matter because "stuff happens" that forces adjustment. 

After the UK Treasury report on long-term scenarios - which we think falls into the above mentioned trap - we now note a comment by Martin Sandbu who looks at the UK trade volumes and growth rates to debunk the argument of Brexiteers who compare the stronger growth rates of non-EU trade with those of EU trade. There is, of course, a volume effect - in absolute terms, EU trade is growing by more than non-EU trade - and the non-EU trade will eventually reach a plateau with lower growth rates. He also makes a Balassa-Samuelson effect argument according to which the tradable sector drives up prices in the non-tradable sector, which is about 88% of the economy. So there are large and complex interactions between the two. If one tries to isolate the 12% figure for the export share in overall economic activity, one understates the impact on the wider economy.

We think the latter argument is indeed interesting, and would merit further investigation. On the former, however, we feel this rests on too many assumptions about the future of trade, especially with the EU. We have no insights about a post-Brexit trading regime except that we find it hard to imagine that the UK would end without a more or less reasonable trade agreement.

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April 26, 2016

Brexit inspires FN

The whiff of Brexit is already inspiring parties like the Front National in France to use the pro-Brexit arguments or their own versions of them. The FN uses the British example to call for a referendum on Frexit, the French exit from the eurozone and EU. But the French have no appetite for this, as polls suggest that 71% and 73% are against Frexit, respectively. The FN strategy will not go down well with the older generations and will cut its chances for winning in the second round of the presidential elections next year, argues Les Echos. Marine Le Pen argued last Monday that every people should have the right to express themselves about the future of the EU. Le Pen even wants to come to England in support of the Brexit campaign, but the Brits don’t want her. Gisela Stuart from the Pro-Brexit campaign even called on the government to prohibit Le Pen to enter the UK on the grounds of her "extremist opinions". Nigel Farage from Ukip is also no friend of hers, saying that Le Pen's visit won’t help the pro-Brexit campaign.

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April 26, 2016

With friends like Theresa May...

Theresa May, the UK home secretary who is technically in the Remain camp, made a rather silly speech yesterday, which became instantly controversial. May enumerated - and qualified - the well-known advantages of EU membership for Britain: international influence; security; prosperity, and so on. But then she said it was not right that Turkey and the Balkan countries should be allowed to join the EU because they have

"poor populations and serious problems with organised crime, corruption, and sometimes even terrorism."

Turkey has land borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. As the UK cannot bar immigration from other EU member states, these countries' membership in the EU would be a problem for Britain.

The part about immigration from the Balkans and Turkey was immediately seized upon by the Leave camp. Iain Duncan Smith is now demanding that David Cameron commit to vetoing these countries' potential EU accession, given what his own home secretary has said. May's comments sparked an immediate backlash among the Remain camp as well. As Andrew Duff - a prominent advocate for Remain - tweeted, with friends like these...

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  • Getting real on debt relief
  • The re-alignment of the Italian right
  • A critique of Germany's Turkey policy
  • May 31, 2016
  • Grand Coalition below 50%
  • Strikes to continue in France
  • Which crisis will blow up first?
  • Verhofstadt loses patience with the pro-Europeans
  • May 22, 2016
  • Waiting in Austria
  • Greek court puts Turkey deal on hold
  • Sovereignty and rule of law in Poland
  • The age of the disgruntled
  • May 16, 2016
  • Is the Erdogan deal on the brink of collapse?
  • Towards the end of sexism in French politics
  • The case against TTIP
  • May 09, 2016
  • High noon over debt relief
  • A French plan for a core Europe
  • Polish opposition takes to the streets
  • May 03, 2016
  • TTIP now an election issue, meaning no deal
  • No hopes for a deal before eurogroup meeting
  • Turkey miraculously fulfils conditions for visa-free travel
  • 5,000 amendments for the El Khomri bill
  • The disaster of grand coalitions
  • April 28, 2016
  • What took them so long?
  • An Irish government possibly next week
  • Who could be the next president in France?
  • We are not sure that the OECD report is helpful for Remain
  • April 27, 2016
  • German grand coalition at 50.5%
  • French Socialists prepare for Hollande not signing TTIP
  • Not going well in Greece
  • What happens when you try to kick the water can down the road?