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May 17, 2016

Could the Podemos-led alliance surpass the PSOE?

We think it is possible that the PSOE, Spain's socialist party, is on its way to being surpassed by the Podemos and United Left (IU) alliance, both in terms of votes and seats. Podemos and IU have recently agreed to run under the joint list of Unidos Podemos ("united we can") in the June 26 general election. So far, the polls conducted in May put the UP ahead of the PSOE in votes though not in seats, but the seat lead of the PSOE is only slight. To get a feel for the state of the race, we find the following map from election news portal electomania useful. UP is ahead in the regions where there are regional languages other than Spanish, plus a majority of the provincial capitals including the most populated except for Sevilla in Andalusia in the South. UP winning in the most populated provinces and the PSOE in the largest number of less populated provinces explains that UP would be ahead in votes but not in seats. 

Another feature of the polls is that they tend to give PSOE + UP about the same number of seats the parties got at the last election, slightly over 160 while a parliamentary majority requires 175. Polls give the centre right parties PP + Ciudadanos a few more seats, but usually short of 170. So, Spain is headed for the same arithmetically possible coalitions as in the previous elections. Another feature of the polls is that PP and UP have been rising steadily in the poll averages since the end of March, with PSOE and Ciudadanos declining. This bears out the conventional wisdom that repeat elections polarise the vote.

The prospect of a Podemos-led alliance becoming the leading party of the left has both the PSOE and PP attacking UP as a "communist" and "radical" alliance. The PSOE's lead economic advisor Jordi Sevilla, a former minister who took a leading role in the technical teams negotiating a government in the past few months, has ruled out an alliance with Podemos after the June election under any circumstances.

But, even if UP managed to win the election, their joint programme is less threatening to the status quo as one might think. This at least is the conclusion of Bill Mitchell. He notes that Podemos, for all its anti-establishment rhetoric, has attempted to distance itself from the traditional left and to win over the centre by presenting itself as a 'new Keynesian' party - with an economic programme of investment, social rights and redistribution - in the framework of the European Union. IU had been more radical, with its Communist roots, and left euroscepticism, but in the 50-point government programme agreed with Podemos they abandon their most radical positions. 

Mitchell notes that IU used to run on a platform including a limited job guarantee, but has given this up in favour of Podemos' preferred universal basic income proposal. Also, the 50-point programme includes a new deficit reduction path without ultimately challenging the logic of austerity. 

"The problem is that this looks to be going down the Syriza path. Some sort of unbridled optimism that Spain is too big to be treated badly as it renegotiates the SGP etc. Syriza was quickly crushed because it had no Plan B – no exit threat – not because it was small. The new Podemos-IU, similarly, has no exit threat. Indeed, Podemos is pro-Euro and IU have been dragged along for the ride – perhaps hoping to sort things out later. No threat – no power."

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May 17, 2016

Afraid of Merkel

This is a really sad story. In Austria, they hired a manager because no social democratic politician of sound mind wanted to become chancellor of the country - and thus a member of the European Council. The newspapers there described the job as a suicide mission. The same is now happening with the German Social Democrats. Sigmar Gabriel suggested over the weekend that he may welcome some real challengers for the 2017 nomination, and proposed a primary among members. His general secretary, Olaf Scholz, immediately dismissed the idea, saying that the party leader should have the first go. The decision now is to wait until the election in North-Rhine Westphalia in the spring of next year, which is just a few months before the elections. If those elections are lost, which the Social Democrats seem to expect, then the backlash might be so strong that Gabriel would be off the hook on having to run a campaign against Merkel, which he knows he will lose. In any case, he agrees with Merkel on most of the big political issues anyway. Their differences are due to the necessity of pacifying their respective parties. Frankfurter Allgemeine has an astute comment this morning, which says that Gabriel's lack of consistency is to blame for the SPD's plight, and the best thing he should do is to stop digging whilst in a hole.

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May 17, 2016

Is Montebourg back?

Remember Arnauld Montebourg? He quit Manuel Valls' government in 2014 after calling for an end of austerity policies and to focus on growth instead. Now he is preparing his return to front-line politics. The media was with him on his annual ascent to Mount Beuvray, a political event that fosters a personality cult. Everyone is now speculating whether he could be a presidential candidate. But this is not so easy without a primary and lacking enough allies inside the Socialist party, writes Le Monde

Cécile Cornudet writes that the two, Arnauld Montebourg and Emmanuel Macron, are respectively to the left and to the right of Francois Hollande politically. But both are similar in character. They both have the will to seek new ideas outside their political hemisphere, and both have a relatively small supporter base inside the Socialist party, relying more on their own self-confidence. They both are ambitious beyond measure. None of them wants to break the party, but neither expects Francois Hollande to be the next candidate. This leaves some space to speculate.

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May 17, 2016

The Netherlands and Germany wrangle over a few hundred refugees

For all the talk of refugee redistribution and the halfway generous quotas agreed last Summer, it appears that nobody wants to host them. This time it is the Netherlands that is locked in a dispute with Germany over the fate of 2000 refugees which the Dutch want to send back because they were initially registered there, reports Algemeen Dagblad. At least 900 of them have been rejected by Germany, in the case of a group of Afghans on the argument that they were registered only for the purpose of processing their asylum application, but that otherwise Germany has no authority over them. This flies in the face not only of the original Dublin agreement but also of the apparent understanding between Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte - who as rotating EU president helped negotiate the Turkey deal. 

If this is the way things are going it's hard to see that the European Commission's more ambitious plan to reform the Dublin system is going to work.

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