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August 17, 2016

Towards Canada

UK Cabinet ministers have briefed Robert Peston that they will be seeking a Canada-style free trade agreement. It is the first time that we have heard of any concrete plans since the new government came into office seven weeks ago. We think this is a plausible strategy - though the article omits any mention of the intermediate regime, which is almost certainly necessary because a bilateral trade agreement will take many years to negotiate. Peston writes that he had been told the government would insist on three pillars defining its future relations with the EU: discretionary control over immigration policy; also over lawmaking; and no contributions to the EU budget. This would rule out the EEA option and other hybrids such as the Swiss agreement (which will not be on offer in any case). The newly created ministry for international trade, which will be in charge of negotiating the bilateral trade deal, is working on a deal similar to that of Canada, except that it would include a big element for the service industry. His sources are hopeful, but not sure that such a deal is realistic. Peston's article touches on an important issue we are very likely to discuss in future years. Will this be treated as a simple EU-wide trade deal, which would not require national ratification? Or will this require unanimity, based on national ratification? Peston's bet on the timeline is that Art 50 will either be triggered in March, still the most probably date, or late in 2017, given the electoral timetables in Europe. 

We also noted an FT interview with Sandro Gozi, Italy's Europe minister, who warned that a further delay of Brexit could delay progress in talks on the future of the EU, which will start with the Bratislava summit next month. Italy is pressing for a further push in European integration. We don't see that a short delay in Brexit is going to have a big impact on those discussions. What is far more damaging to this process is the paralysis due to the Dutch, French and German elections next year. Bratislava may kickstart a process, but there will be no meaningful progress until 2018 at the earliest. By that time Art 50 will have been triggered.

We noted an interesting comment by Barry Eichengreen, who admitted that the economics profession overreached with its dismal predictions about life after Brexit. While the economic implications are not yet clear, the impact will not be anywhere nearly as bad as in 2009 simply because the financial sector is in much better shape. And, even though the banks had hoped for a Remain victory, they did prepare for the possibiity of a Brexit. His prediction, which seems reasonable to us, is that of a U-shape recession and recovery. The slump will be less severe than in 2009, but the recovery will not be as swift since policy makers will not be able to remove uncertainty. His prediction is that the government may not trigger Art 50 for many years, until new trade agreements are in place.

And finally, Rachel Sylvester writes in the Times that Brexit supporters will be shocked to learn that the costly Brussels bureaucracy will now be replaced by a much more cumbersome Brexit bureaucracy, especially now that there are three government departments in charge of Brexit - the foreign office, the new Brexit ministry, and the new international trade ministry. Lawyers, economists and trade negotiators are being hired at great cost. The departments are already squabbling over personnel, and are duplicating work. 

We think the most likely course of events is an Art 50 trigger at some point in 2017 - we assume Q1, but it could be later - followed by a time-limited interim EEA deal that could be prolonged, and finally by a bilateral trade agreement. This makes more political sense than not triggering Art 50, because failure to do so would increase the probability of a reversal after the next elections. We do not think the Conservative Party is mad enough to agree to this - especially since it is possible to agree a vanilla EEA transition regime.

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August 17, 2016

Spain on hold

The process of forming a government in Spain is where we left it before our two-week break, and where is has been for eight months: going nowhere. After waiting things out in the first four months of the year, the PP now has the initiative but all they're doing is trying to shame the PSOE into abstaining to allow a weak minority government. In this they are being helped by Ciudadanos, which might support Rajoy's investiture vote. The political calculus is that the two parties together have 169 seats, which is close enough the required 176 that the PSOE will be forced to just wave Rajoy through. Ciudadanos, however, has set out six mostly procedural conditions to negotiate their support for the PP. Julio González García says in his blog that three of the conditions are not in the PP's hands to concede - electoral reform, end of judicial exceptions for elected officials, and term limits - because they require parliamentary supermajorities. And the other three don't require the PP's consent - a parliamentary committee of inquiry on the PP's own B accounts, dismissal of any public official indicted for corruption, and no pardons for people serving sentences for corruption - because all of these are already within reach of the opposition in the current hung parliament.

The regional governments' budgets are other means of pressure that the PP is bringing to bear on the PSOE. The argument is that a caretaker government won't be able to set a spending ceiling for the regions, which is necessary for the latter to prepare their 2017 budgets. If they have to roll over the budgets, they will have to freeze spending or may need to cut it. The PP would blame the PSOE for this. However, the PSOE is not biting, and they say that they won't vote in parliament for either a national budget or a regional spending ceiling presented by a Rajoy government.

Rajoy's last resort has been to warn the PSOE that Spain will become "the laughing stock of Europe" if a third round of elections is necessary. We don't think that argument will stick. Ana Pastor, speaker of the parliament, former development minister and a loyal Rajoy lieutenant, gives no indication of setting a date for Rajoy's investiture vote, which would start a two-month countdown for a new government or new elections. And with Pastor leaving the government and health minister Alfonso Alonso also leaving to run in the Basque regional elections, Rajoy's government is decimated. As a caretaker he cannot appoint new ministers and he's already lost three since the start of the year - the third one was José Manuel Soria who resigned due to the Panama papers.

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August 17, 2016

New candidates for French primaries

In French politics the timing of declaring one's candidacy for the presidential bid is crucial. As it is still the summer season and the big shots are on holidays, the media space is used by the others, who seek their chance to come out.

Benoît Hamon is joining the field for the Socialist primaries. He is a party rebel, who after 3 months as education minister quit in protest over François Hollande’s business friendly policies. Hamon advocates a further reduction in the 35-hours week, a higher minumum wage and a €35bn stimulus package. Two other left-wingers in the party have already declared their own bids, Senator Marie-Noëlle Lienemann and unionist Gerard Filoche. Arnauld Montebourg is expected to declare his candidacy this coming Sunday. Although Hamon is unlikely to become a frontrunner in the primaries, he and his supporters could form an alliance with Montebourg at a later stage, according to Journal du Dimanche. However, if the differences between the two men are as large as Les Echos suggests, the left would then end up in the nightmare scenario of multiple small candidates, and the only one to benefit from this would be François Hollande. He is expected to announce whether or not he will run by the end of this year. 

On the right, candidates like Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Hervé Mariton or Frédéric Lefebvre use the holidays of Alan Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy to get media attention and mobilise support for their own bids. For their candidacy to be accepted, they will need to gather by September 9 the signatures of 20 parliamentarians, 230 local elects, and 2500 militants, writes Les Echos.

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