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July 20, 2016

Brexit illusions

For us the biggest disaster before June 23 was the mis-selling of the EU by those who purported to support it. The biggest disaster after June 23 is the inability by the same group to focus on what the country should do now. The deep causes for all of this is variable geometry - an EU without the euro and Schengen is extremely hard to sell. And those who try are now finding that the needs of the eurozone severely constrain the political options.

In this context we noted an article by Vernon Bogdanor, a man whose knowledge about the British constitution is surpassed only by his ignorance of EU treaties. Like so many Brits he finds it hard to understand why continental Europeans care so much about free movement of labour. If the EU were to change the freedom of movement principle, this would open the door for a second referendum in the UK. Another option would be simply to violate the principle, just as countries violate the stability and growth pact. We wish him good luck with a treaty change to abolish free movement of labour. You might as well call for the simultaneous abolition of the euro and the single market. 

We have been saying for some time that Britain has essentially three categories of choices: membership of a vanilla EEA, with no control of immigration; a free-trade agreement similar to that of Canada, but perhaps more comprehensive; or a hard Brexit. The latter two allow full control of immigration. It is a political choice for Britain to make. John Springford goes into the details of the various EEA agreements, how they differ, and why none of them will be offered to Britain. There are various reasons why the EU is going to be tougher on the UK than on Liechtenstein and Norway: Britain is leaving after all, and the EU does not want to give a leaver a cherry-picking deal; for a tiny city-state like Liechtenstein, an emergency brake on immigration is understandable for purely physical reasons.

"...the UK will have to put all of its diplomatic effort into a two-pronged strategy: maximising market access in goods, and ensuring that there is no damaging hiatus between leaving the EU and the start of the bespoke trade agreement...the second prong of the UK’s strategy must be to try to convince the EU to give enough time for a comprehensive agreement to be negotiated, perhaps by being a member of the EEA until the trade deal is agreed. But, if there is one thing that the Norwegian, Swiss and Canadian 'options' tell you, it is that Britain does not have a lot of options."

Zsolt Darvas takes a look at the financial contributions of the EEA states and notes that Norway's contribution to the EU budget is higher than the UK's as a percentage of GDP but lower on a per capita share. On the other hand, the UK's contributions are lower than that of other EU members, including even of Italy, due to the rebate. There is no way the EU would offer Britain a rebate for EEA membership of course. 

Frankfurter Allgemeine has an opinion poll among German company chiefs according to which a majority want to penalise Britain on Brexit. The polling institute noted that the support for penalising the UK was even stronger among German politicians. We note that Angela Merkel will try to keep a level-headed approach, but the UK should be under no illusion about the limited appetite even in Germany for a soft deal. We don't think the EU would deny Britain a vanilla-type EEA agreement, but we should not think this is in the bag.

And finally, we noted another article in Frankfurter Allgemeine, citing an internal memo of Deutsche Bank, according to which Frankfurt will not benefit much from Brexit. Other than Deutsche, not many banks will shift staff to Frankfurt. Citigroup, Barclays and Bank of America are looking to expand their operations in Dublin while Goldman Sachs is currently debating whether to enlarge their offices in either Frankfurt or Paris. Deutsche Bank said the big constraint on any expansion is the lack of qualified personnel. DB expects the UK to have third country status - as a result of which the UK operations will have to be fully capitalised after Brexit.

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July 20, 2016

Ringfencing the refugee deal

The massive crackdown that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is carrying out in Turkey has made visa liberalisation all but impossible in the near term, based on a sample of German political sources by the Financial Times. However, Angela Merkel and her allies continue to hope that the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey will hold. After all, the deal was not based on trust but on interest. Volker Kauder, Merkel's Bundestag whip, says one does not choose one's neighbours and the EU will always have to talk to Turkey about refugees. If the situation in Turkey deteriorates further, this will increase domestic political scrutiny of Merkel's relation with Erdogan, as she tries to sustain her popularity in the run-up to next year's federal elections in Germany.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama finally talked with Erdogan yesterday, and they discussed the extradition of Fetullah Gülen. According to Obama's press secretary the US government is still going over the documents submitted by Turkey, and it is not clear yet whether they contain a formal extradition request. Obama is also said to have told Erdogan to conduct the investigation into the coup in a manner that respects democratic principles. Meanwhile, commentators are beginning to wonder about the safety of 50 nuclear warheads thought to be stored at the Turkish base or Incirlik, from where the US launches bombing raids on targets in Syria, though obviously the Pentagon will not confirm their location. The base has been a focus of attention since the coup. It is reportedly still without external power and running on generators. For some time over the weekend it looked like Turkey would prevent the US from continuing to use it to stage its attacks on Isis. And since the coup Turkish security has raided the base and arrested its commander, who reportedly was rebuffed by the US for political asylum.

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July 20, 2016

Electioneering after Nice

Last night the French assembly voted to extend the state of emergency for another six months, with 489 for and 26 against. This is more than the three months François Hollande had asked for, since the Republicans wanted the state of emergency extended for a whole year. This is the fourth extension of the state of emergency since November 2015. The Senate examines the text today.

Le Monde writes that, with a view to the presidential elections next year, it is clear that security will be on the top of the issues. But the quality of the debate has clearly hit a low after the Nice attacks. There is also a temptation for the Republicans to outbid the Front National in proposing irresponsible magical solutions. Instead, the parties should seek the advice of experts like François Heisbourg and do the groundwork to find out, by going through past errors, what needs to be done. There is no simple formula to find nor any reason to feel powerless facing the challenges.

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July 20, 2016

Saving the world as we know it

Martin Wolf has an article on how to safeguard liberal globalisation. The to-do list is daunting - even more daunting than similar lists of what needs to be done to ensure the survival of the eurozone. He notes that falling real income is the main driver, though not the only one, behind the rise in anti-globalisation populism. He proposes five fixes:

  1. accept the principle of global governance, which must focus on providing essential global public goods;
  2. reduce the role of global finance;
  3. tax the wealthy;
  4. accelerate aggregate demand and raise minimum wages;
  5. do not give in to populism by controlling immigration or restricting imports.

One of the lesson of modern European history is that a healthy integration does not happen by itself, but needs to be well managed. If you want global public goods you will require a form of global democracy, and for that you will need to sacrifice an element of national sovereignty. We are seeing in Europe how difficult it has become to shift power from member states to the EU level. Our real problem is that we are trying to provide global (European) public goods through nation states. That process has now hit the ceiling. If you want to maintain globalisation, you will ultimately require some form of democratic accountability at the global level.

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July 20, 2016

On inequality in Germany

One of the surprising facts about Europe is the comparative poverty of the median German. Marcel Fratzscher has been arguing for some time that Germany is one of the most economically unequal societies in the whole of Europe. In this article he discusses six important facts about the extent and causes of inequality in Germany:

  1. the rise in the level of employment masks widening differences in the quality of employment - Germany, for example, has the highest gender gap of all industrial nations;
  2. among 40-year-olds the income differentials are twice as high today as they were in 1970;
  3. almost all of the GDP growth since 2000 benefitted shareholders, and only a tiny fraction went to employees;
  4. social mobility is falling again;
  5. Germany has the highest wealth gaps between rich and poor in the eurozone;
  6. the German educational system magnifies this inequality.
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