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August 25, 2016

The costs of Brexit

What about Scotland? Was Scotland not supposed to boycott Brexit, either by vetoing any Brexit legislation, or by holding a referendum to exit the UK? For the moment, there is no need for any action until the UK government decides on its Brexit strategy. But there is now a good chance that Brexit will happen, and that Scotland will stay in the UK. George Eaton notes in the New Statesman that the latest public spending figures show that Scotland really cannot go it alone. Scotland's deficit has risen to 9.5% of GDP, even if one were to include Scotland's geographical share of North Sea oil revenue. The UK's deficit, meanwhile, has fallen from 5% to 4% last year.

One factor that has changed since the 2014 referendum is that the oil bonus has virtually disappeared. North Sea revenue was down from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Public sector revenues per person were £400 lower than in the UK as a whole, while expenditures were £1,200 higher. Eaton makes the point that the costs of Scottish independence would become prohibitive. If Scotland decided to go it alone, it would immediately have to impose Greek-style austerity. Eaton also notes that only 15% of Scotland's exports go to the EU-ex-UK, while two thirds go to the rest of the UK. The Scottish government will only ask for another independence referendum if it can win it, and that is far from certain - especially now the polls have turned and favour a No vote.

We also noted a comment by Rupert Pennant-Rea on the costs of Brexit for the UK as a whole. He makes the argument that the permanent fall in sterling is the real metric by which the costs should be judged. The costs come in the form of lower real wages. In theory this should help the UK rebalance. In practice this never happened in the past.

It is interesting to see how the many irremovable obstacles to Brexit seem to be disappearing fast: Scotland is no longer a problem. Northern Ireland still is. And, once the British establishment finally weans itself from the illusion that it can have immigration controls and single market membership, much of the fog surrounding Brexit will have lifted. It is a gargantuan technocratic task to separate the UK from the EU. But it is feasible.

We disagree fundamentally with the argument by Pennant-Rea, which we think of as inverse mercantilism - an asset holders' version. The strong value of the pound before the referendum reflected hot money inflows that funded an increasingly unsustainable current account deficit. The argument is not that the fall in the pound would miraculously restore balance, but that it is unsurprising for a currency to fall in the presence of such a high deficit. We believe that this would have invariably happened in any case - and that Brexit was merely a trigger, not the cause. And the lower pound will facilitate a new industrial strategy by the government.

On a broader point, those who supported Remain still seem to us in campaign mode. They would further their interests if they engaged in the debate on how to make Brexit work, rather relying on the hope that the Brexiteers in the British government will mess it up.

Show Comments Write a Comment

August 25, 2016

Redefining corruption

Having made "democratic regeneration" a lynchpin of its political programme, Ciudadanos disappointed observers by watering down its demands of the PP in negotiations this week. Ciudadanos' conditions included the immediate separation of any political official indicted on corruption charges, but the agreement reached with the PP on that matter is limited to personal enrichment or illegal party finance, excluding crimes such as making illegal decisions, misuse of public funds, bribery, and tax fraud. The argument given by Ciudadanos to justify this about-face is that making a mistake is not the same thing as putting one's hand in the till. In addition, the PP insisted that the agreement should only come into force three months after Rajoy is reappointed PM, and only affect national politicians and not those in local and regional governments despite the fact that most notable corruption cases in Spain occur at the local and regional level. As a way to salvage the credibility of the anti-corruption agreement, PP and Ciudadanos have proposed turning it into a "state pact" open to the rest of the political parties, but it is being met with general scepticism.

The conditions demanded of Mariano Rajoy were just prerequisites to starting negotiations on the liberal party's support for Rajoy's reappointment bid. And the negotiations have generally gone well except for the PP baulking at five policy demands of Ciudadanos: the drastic simplification of employment law into a "single contract"; tax and social security reform for the self-employed; the timing and size of an income tax cut; improving parental leave; and policies to encourage private R&D. Lately, Ciudadanos is complaining that the PP is adopting a take-it-or-leave-it position and warning that the conversations might be derailed. In particular they refer to Ciudadanos' demand to abolish provincial administration, and funding for an expansion of social programmes to tackle the effects of the economic crisis.

Given that Ciudadanos doesn't have the seats to carry Rajoy over the line next week, it is perhaps not surprising that the PP is resisting most of its demands. In these negotiations, as with the agreement between Ciudadanos and the PSOE last February, it is the smaller party that is being given a credibility boost by the large, traditional parties, to exclude Podemos, which is seen as the real threat to the establishment. But also, Ciudadanos' vetos of other possible partners other than the PSOE make it unlikely that Rajoy will be able to assemble a majority. Ciudadanos would see a side deal between Rajoy and the Basque or Catalan right-wing nationalists as a breach of trust.

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August 25, 2016

Greek government shocked, shocked...

The Greek government was shocked, shocked, as Captain Renault in Casablanca, that there should be any link between the Syriza government and the latest controversy about the former Elstat head Andreas Georgiou, who now faces prosecution for allegedly tinkering with the 2009 deficit figures. After all, this was in 2010, PASOK was in power, and it was not the Syriza government that launched the case but the judiciary system. The decision of a a supreme court prosecutor that Georgiou should stand trial provoked a huge wave of criticism at home and abroad. The government’s ambivalent stance was emphasised by state minister Nikos Pappas calling for light to be shed on the claims, and has raised concern that Georgiou may become a scapegoat. The European Commission sent a letter to the government asking the Greek government to take a stance on this issue. From the government’s reaction to the letter it looks like the government wants to stay clear of any overt implication into the case. However, even if Syriza and government members refrain from public comments on this case, the government will benefit politically from continued speculation about the validity of the data that triggered Greece’s first bailout by 2010, writes Macropolis. New Democracy, meanwhile, is having its round of bickering as in this case loyals want the ND to defend former prime minister Kostas Karamanlis, who was in power in the years to 2009 when the disputed deficits were recorded.

Show Comments Write a Comment

August 25, 2016

The costs of Brexit

What about Scotland? Was Scotland not supposed to boycott Brexit, either by vetoing any Brexit legislation, or by holding a referendum to exit the UK? For the moment, there is no need for any action until the UK government decides on its Brexit strategy. But there is now a good chance that Brexit will happen, and that Scotland will stay in the UK. George Eaton notes in the New Statesman that the latest public spending figures show that Scotland really cannot go it alone. Scotland's deficit has risen to 9.5% of GDP, even if one were to include Scotland's geographical share of North Sea oil revenue. The UK's deficit, meanwhile, has fallen from 5% to 4% last year.

One factor that has changed since the 2014 referendum is that the oil bonus has virtually disappeared. North Sea revenue was down from £1.8bn to a mere £60m. Public sector revenues per person were £400 lower than in the UK as a whole, while expenditures were £1,200 higher. Eaton makes the point that the costs of Scottish independence would become prohibitive. If Scotland decided to go it alone, it would immediately have to impose Greek-style austerity. Eaton also notes that only 15% of Scotland's exports go to the EU-ex-UK, while two thirds go to the rest of the UK. The Scottish government will only ask for another independence referendum if it can win it, and that is far from certain - especially now the polls have turned and favour a No vote.

We also noted a comment by Rupert Pennant-Rea on the costs of Brexit for the UK as a whole. He makes the argument that the permanent fall in sterling is the real metric by which the costs should be judged. The costs come in the form of lower real wages. In theory this should help the UK rebalance. In practice this never happened in the past.

It is interesting to see how the many irremovable obstacles to Brexit seem to be disappearing fast: Scotland is no longer a problem. Northern Ireland still is. And, once the British establishment finally weans itself from the illusion that it can have immigration controls and single market membership, much of the fog surrounding Brexit will have lifted. It is a gargantuan technocratic task to separate the UK from the EU. But it is feasible.

We disagree fundamentally with the argument by Pennant-Rea, which we think of as inverse mercantilism - an asset holders' version. The strong value of the pound before the referendum reflected hot money inflows that funded an increasingly unsustainable current account deficit. The argument is not that the fall in the pound would miraculously restore balance, but that it is unsurprising for a currency to fall in the presence of such a high deficit. We believe that this would have invariably happened in any case - and that Brexit was merely a trigger, not the cause. And the lower pound will facilitate a new industrial strategy by the government.

On a broader point, those who supported Remain still seem to us in campaign mode. They would further their interests if they engaged in the debate on how to make Brexit work, rather relying on the hope that the Brexiteers in the British government will mess it up.

Show Comments Write a Comment

August 25, 2016

Redefining corruption

Having made "democratic regeneration" a lynchpin of its political programme, Ciudadanos disappointed observers by watering down its demands of the PP in negotiations this week. Ciudadanos' conditions included the immediate separation of any political official indicted on corruption charges, but the agreement reached with the PP on that matter is limited to personal enrichment or illegal party finance, excluding crimes such as making illegal decisions, misuse of public funds, bribery, and tax fraud. The argument given by Ciudadanos to justify this about-face is that making a mistake is not the same thing as putting one's hand in the till. In addition, the PP insisted that the agreement should only come into force three months after Rajoy is reappointed PM, and only affect national politicians and not those in local and regional governments despite the fact that most notable corruption cases in Spain occur at the local and regional level. As a way to salvage the credibility of the anti-corruption agreement, PP and Ciudadanos have proposed turning it into a "state pact" open to the rest of the political parties, but it is being met with general scepticism.

The conditions demanded of Mariano Rajoy were just prerequisites to starting negotiations on the liberal party's support for Rajoy's reappointment bid. And the negotiations have generally gone well except for the PP baulking at five policy demands of Ciudadanos: the drastic simplification of employment law into a "single contract"; tax and social security reform for the self-employed; the timing and size of an income tax cut; improving parental leave; and policies to encourage private R&D. Lately, Ciudadanos is complaining that the PP is adopting a take-it-or-leave-it position and warning that the conversations might be derailed. In particular they refer to Ciudadanos' demand to abolish provincial administration, and funding for an expansion of social programmes to tackle the effects of the economic crisis.

Given that Ciudadanos doesn't have the seats to carry Rajoy over the line next week, it is perhaps not surprising that the PP is resisting most of its demands. In these negotiations, as with the agreement between Ciudadanos and the PSOE last February, it is the smaller party that is being given a credibility boost by the large, traditional parties, to exclude Podemos, which is seen as the real threat to the establishment. But also, Ciudadanos' vetos of other possible partners other than the PSOE make it unlikely that Rajoy will be able to assemble a majority. Ciudadanos would see a side deal between Rajoy and the Basque or Catalan right-wing nationalists as a breach of trust.

Show Comments Write a Comment

August 25, 2016

Greek government shocked, shocked...

The Greek government was shocked, shocked, as Captain Renault in Casablanca, that there should be any link between the Syriza government and the latest controversy about the former Elstat head Andreas Georgiou, who now faces prosecution for allegedly tinkering with the 2009 deficit figures. After all, this was in 2010, PASOK was in power, and it was not the Syriza government that launched the case but the judiciary system. The decision of a a supreme court prosecutor that Georgiou should stand trial provoked a huge wave of criticism at home and abroad. The government’s ambivalent stance was emphasised by state minister Nikos Pappas calling for light to be shed on the claims, and has raised concern that Georgiou may become a scapegoat. The European Commission sent a letter to the government asking the Greek government to take a stance on this issue. From the government’s reaction to the letter it looks like the government wants to stay clear of any overt implication into the case. However, even if Syriza and government members refrain from public comments on this case, the government will benefit politically from continued speculation about the validity of the data that triggered Greece’s first bailout by 2010, writes Macropolis. New Democracy, meanwhile, is having its round of bickering as in this case loyals want the ND to defend former prime minister Kostas Karamanlis, who was in power in the years to 2009 when the disputed deficits were recorded.

Show Comments Write a Comment

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