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August 23, 2016

Sarkozy launches candidacy in a book

Nicolas Sarkozy made his candidacy official. He announced his bid for the Republican primaries in his book "Tout pout la France" to be available in bookshops tomorrow. To announce a presidential candidacy in a book is a first in French politics, and in stark contrast to Alain Juppé, who announced his candidature on facebook. The newspapers got a copy to review this morning, so the secret is out. 

In the book Sarkozy repeats what he already flagged up before: a forceful offensive against immigration. He wants a reform of the birthright rules to prevent immigrant family reunions, a new Schengen treaty, and to "organise" Islam by subjecting imams to the control of the Interior ministry. He also advocates a ban on visible religious signs in universities and to pork-free options in school canteens. Those susceptible of becoming a security threat should be under constant surveillance also with electronic tags. In his book Sarkozy plays to the theme of national identity. He writes that it is time to start a determined battle against multiculturalism and accused the Socialists of doing more for minorities than for the French. With stark language he evokes a scary picture of France, at war against a limitless enemy, in need of a strong and authoritative leader, him. It's De Gaulle all over. 

In his economic policies Sarkozy wants to reinstall his tax-free overtime working hours (which was abandoned by Francois Hollande), to give small enterprises the right to negotiate working time themselves and to increase working time in the public sector from 35 hours to 37 hours. He suggests degressive unemployment benefits (20% less after 12 months), a gradual increase in the retirement age to 64 by 2025, a 10% cut in income tax as from the summer 2017 and the abolition of the solidarity tax on wealth, according to Le Point.

With this candidature Sarkozy also quit his post as party leader. It is not clear yet who will succeed him. Number 2 in the party Laurent Wauquiez expects to take over as acting president, but Eric Woerth and others do not support him and prefer a collective leadership instead, according to Journal du Dimanche.

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August 23, 2016

Rajoy plans to try again in October

As Spain gears up for Mariano Rajoy's investiture vote next week, the caretaker PM is already preparing for his foreseeable defeat. Rajoy can count on the support of the single Canary Coalition MP and, assuming the negotiations with liberal party Ciudadanos this week are successful, that would give him 170 votes out of 350. Rajoy's best hopes are to attract at least the abstention of the right-wing Basque nationalist PNV, or Catalan nationalist DiLl. The latter appears to have supported the PP and Ciudadanos in the vote to select the speaker of the Spanish parliament. Then the executive board of the parliament, at Ciudadanos' urging, denied the Catalan party its own parliamentary group. As, in addition, DiLl is still leading the separatist regional government in Catalonia, it is unlikely that they'll lend support to Rajoy, but anything is possible. The PNV, however, has made it known that they see a PP-Ciudadanos alliance as a coup-de-grace to Basque self-government.

Rajoy, however, does not give up hope. Since the political class will be otherwise occupied in September with the regional elections in the Basque Country and Galicia, Mariano Rajoy is planning to try again at the start of October. According to La Vanguardia, he's pinning his hopes on the PNV needing the support of the Basque PP and the socialist PSE to avoid losing the regional government to an alliance of Podemos and the left separatist Bildu, which remains highly controversial due to its associations with the armed group ETA.

Meanwhile, the PSOE gives no sign of relenting on its intention to vote against Rajoy. After the regional elections, the party may reconsider its position which currently is an impossible trilemma of No to Rajoy, No to new elections, and No to leading a government as it doesn't have the numbers for it. Ciudadanos, in a display of enthusiasm for Rajoy, is pleading for the PSOE to hold its nose and abstain.

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August 23, 2016

Turkey recalls ambassador from Austria

Turkey is recalling its ambassador from Austria for consultations, ostensibly in response to the Austrian government authorising a demonstration in Vienna by supporters of the PKK, which Turkey classes as a terrorist organisation. The Kurdish group, alongside the Islamic State and the Gülen organisation, are the three enemies of the state that Turkish government officials mention habitually when justifying their reluctance to bring anti-terror legislation in line with EU human rights standards, which is a key condition for the EU to agree visa-free travel for Turks. 

The diplomatic relation between Austria and Turkey has been souring for some time. Just last week at the council of ministers Austria was the only member state to openly advocate ending accession negotiations with Turkey. The Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern is said to have described Turkey's accession as a diplomatic fiction as its democratic standards fall short. In an background article last week, Profil magazine writes "it's 1683 all over again" between Austria and Turkey, and traces the recent diplomatic escalation. In the first week of August Kern had criticised the EU's "appeasement" of Turkey and the EU's dependence on Turkey over the refugee issue. His foreign minister Sebastian Kurz also demanded a Plan B on refugees, and predicted that the refugee deal would not hold. 

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