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June 16, 2016

Dutch eurosceptics join Leave campaign

The Dutch eurosceptic group GeenPeil has joined the Brexit campaign on the side of Nigel Farage, to return the help the UKIP leader gave them campaigning in the Netherlands before the April referendum on the EU association agreement with Ukraine. The thrust of the argument is to illustrate the undemocratic nature of the EU by means of the way the successful challenge to the Ukraine agreement has been ignored by the Dutch government. As we reported back then, Mark Rutte's government gave itself an indefinite amount of time to think about how best to interpret the referendum result, not wanting to press the point of ratification of the Ukraine agreement during the Dutch EU presidency, and also preferring to delay any action until after the Brexit referendum in the UK. In connection with this, we note a comment by Joris Luyendijk in the Guardian last week, where he reflects on the Dutch public's turn from one of the most progressive and forward-looking in the EU to what he calls a traumatised, angry and deeply confused nation. Dutch euroscepticism reflects a loss of faith in the elites, who appear incompetent and helpless. As he writes, 

There was a time when mainstream Dutch politicians and opinion-makers would answer breezily that the EU was a work in progress and that successful integration would simply take a generation: why would the children of immigrants remain socially and culturally conservative if they could also be Dutch?

That self-confidence is gone and what will take its place is anyone’s guess. What seems certain is that the heady days of progressive optimism are not coming back.

But none of that is on offer from today's timid leadership, as illustrated by the Dutch government's lukewarm campaigning in the Ukraine referendum and the uncomfortable silence since. Meanwhile, Eurosceptic English media are carrying a poll by De Telegraaf showing a majority of the Dutch back Brexit.

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June 16, 2016

The 'resign' movement

About 10000 people gathered yesterday around Syntragma Square to protest for Alexis Tsipras to resign. The numbers were exceeding the expectations of the organisers of this new movement. People from all ages came together to call for Tsipras to resign, boing and yelling while recorded messages were played of Tsipras’ pledges that the bailout agreements would be torn and the debts would be written off. People did not carry political banners, just Greek and EU flags. Nonetheless, a handful of active politicians were present, including Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and Adonis Georgiadis from New Democracy. 

In Kathimerini Alexis Papachelas comments that Tsipras is now facing the beast of populism that Syriza nurtured before and predicts that it is going to be even tougher in winter when the new taxes will start to kick in. The government tries to set an antidote to the wave of negative news but lost its ability to control the agenda. Tsipras has demonstrated that he can survive politically and has his way of communicating with the wider public, but he has not a lot of time to turn around the deteriorating mood.The opposition parties have their own problems too. Papachelas writes that worst mistakes made by Greece’s political leaders were made while in opposition. They failed to prepare themselves and the public opinion adequately.

The truth is the first casualty of war, wrote ancient dramatist Aeschylus, and it seems that this also applies in economic crises. In an excellent comment Nick Malkoutzis bemoans that misinterpretations, half-truths, and lies have become a staples for the Greeks in the years of economic crisis. He cites the example of a report from Handelsblatt, when the Bundestag’s finance committee meeting decided to postpone the decision on its verdict for the loan release to Greece. It was a purely procedural decision but turned upside down in the Greek media, nurturing the fear that the process could be hold up and that the Germans did not consider that the implementation is enough. There are many factors contributing to this poor state of accuracy in reporting. Lack of reporters on the ground, a thirst for sensational stories, twisting news in order to fit a certain agenda or the politicians ferocity to prove their side is right. 

We agree with Nick Malkoutzis on the poor state of accurate reporting. It has been our experience too. And it is not only limited to Greece (though maybe there it has a tendency to be a bit more dramatic). When it comes to the crisis, national media take a national standpoint in the debate. When the common narrative disintegrates, news reporting retreats to the national context. Accurate reporting requires quite some knowledge of what is going on elsewhere.

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June 16, 2016

France getting nervous about demonstrations

Within a short time the political climate in France has changed. The murder of police officers, violent clashes in the anti reform protests on Tuesday and violence amongst football hooligans in Marseille this week all raise the question of the authority of the state.

The scenes on Tuesday with pictures of a hospital targeted by vandal prompted Francois Hollande and Manuel Valls to threaten the ban of further protests. This comes after there had been police reports that some unionists participated in the violent acts, according to Le Monde. Even if the government believes that the game is over for the CGT, this threat of banning the demonstrations gave the unions a new reason for crying out loud. The CGT came out to reaffirm its decision to go ahead with its demonstrations planned for June 23 and 28 and asked the parliament to suspend further debates. Philippe Martinez from the CGT says these accusations are unacceptable, and that it is the responsibility of the state to look after security and order. Christian Paul, the leader of the Socialist rebel group, says that the rioters are not from the unions but the ultra left and that the state is also responsible for this social tension.

State authority is a subject conservatives are more likely to benefit from, writes Cecile Cornudet. First of all Nicholas Sarkozy, who focuses on the civil and financial responsibilities of the CGT trade union. Alan Juppé is keen not to leave this platform to Sarkozy alone, and also suggests to ban demonstrations. The Socialist government is trapped. Without any spectacular security measure to come out with, they will have to continue to support the police and not to cut 13,000 jobs as they had planned to do. If they want to win the presidential elections, they better get rid of this debate, so Cornudet.

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June 16, 2016

More on the insurrection against Renzi

The former Italian prime minister Massimo D'Alema denied the comments attributed to him by La Repubblica yesterday, but the paper this morning doubles down. It went into great detail of where he said that he would vote for the Five Star Movement candidate; also of whom he had discussions with on organising a No campaign in the October referendum on Matteo Renzi's constitutional reform. A failed referendum could trigger the resignation of the prime minister. The paper quoted three sources that have independently confirmed what he had said. In our - often sceptical - view of media scoops, this one seems genuine. The plans for an insurrection against Renzi are one of the main themes to watch out for after the June 23 referendum in the UK. The two referendums have in common that the outcome is impossible to predict, and could have wide-ranging political ramifications. The Italian polls show a lead for Yes, but the same was the case for Remain in the UK some time ago. As the campaign becomes more political, the Yes vote faces two types of opposition: those who genuinely reject the changes, and those who regard it as a mid-term opportunity to express their frustration about the government.

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June 16, 2016

Expect no new cuts in Spain

In an economy debate organised by El País among the four major Spanish parties, the only point of agreement appears to be that there won't be a need for further fiscal cuts, despite the EU's recommendations on Spain's deficit overshoot. PSOE and Podemos advocate tax raises to close the deficit gap, while PP and Ciudadanos argue that it will just be necessary to reduce taxes ore slowly. All of them agree that the deficit targets will be met, and Luis de Guindos sticks to the government's line that there won't even be a fine. All the other parties use the possibility of a fine to attack the goverment's credibility and what they see as complacency on the country's economic performance under current policy. The PP and Ciudadanos say economic growth will allow budget flexibility, while PSOE and Podemos expect to be able to negotiate a slower pace of deficit reduction with the help of France, Italy or Greece - as is usual in the Spanish political debate, Portugal is ignored. It is noteworthy that, despite falling on different sides of the divide on fiscal policy, PSOE and Ciudadanos tend to not attack each other in public. They appear to have a nonaggression pact after the - now lapsed - government agreement they struck in February.

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