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September 02, 2016

Et tu Austria

In our coverage on the slow death of TTIP we focused on Germany and France. We are now hearing that the Austrian SPÖ, the majority partner in the governing grand coalition, is also opposed - and not only to TTIP but also to the CETA deal with Canada. Der Standard quotes Chancellor Christian Kern as questioning CETA just after vice-chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner from the ÖVP, the centre right coalition partner, questioned TTIP. Kern is planning to consult his party base before taking a formal decision but this procedure is certain to lead to the rejection of the project. He said TTIP constitutes a massive shift in power towards multinational companies and against democratic rule - and this is a fundamental design flaw of both TTIP and CETA. Mitterlehner was more nuanced than Kern, saying that it was a shame that the otherwise decent CETA deal was discredited by TTIP. He said if Austria rejected CETA it would most likely be outvoted in the council, where decisions on these matters are taken with a qualified majority vote. 

Eric Frey has a comment in Der Standard in which he notes that the failure of TTIP is due to the cowardice of politicians. Not one, except perhaps Angela Merkel, has openly campaigned for it. Even Austria's ÖVP has not. The truth is that small export-driven economies would benefit enormously from this agreement, but the debate is entirely dominated by NGOs and critics of globalisation. The strongest argument against TTIP is the hostile public opinion. But this is the fault of politics.

We disagree with Frey fundamentally. We are living at a time when people are considering voting for extreme policies like Brexit, and extremist politicians like Trump, Le Pen, or various Austrian characters on the right. This is a response to the failures of the globalised economy since 2008. An intelligent response cannot consist of doubling down on what was done before then: more free trade, lower taxes for multinational companies, and more loss of democratic control. What we are seeing is not a flaw in democracy, but democracy in action: the system is rebelling.

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September 02, 2016

Watch out for Sunday's state elections in Germany

There is an election in Germany on Sunday, in the north-eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Angela Merkel's home state. The CDU is not doing well there - absolutely as well as relatively to polls taken in April. Here is an extract of three polls, the first one taken in April, the last two over the last few days. It shows that the CDU, the Greens, and the FDP have been on a downward trend, while SPD and AfD are gaining. Note that, in the Insa poll, the AfD has overtaken the CDU as the state's second largest party. 

in %IT/Dimap IT/DimapInsa
28 April25 August31 August
CDU242220
SPD222728
Greens856
FDP432
Left161415
AfD182123

There is more mixed news for Merkel. According to the latest ARD-DeutschlandTrend by Infratest Dimap, Merkel's popularity rating slipped by two points to 45, which is now only marginally ahead of Sigmar Gabriel and CSU chief Horst Seehofer. A small majority of respondents said they do not want Merkel to run for a fourth term. There is a lot of speculation, but no hard information, on whether she will run or not.

We notice a report by Noah Barkin of Reuters, who spoke to one Merkel's closest advisers, suggesting that she would indeed seek a forth term. The argument put forward by the adviser is that Merkel's biggest challenges as unresolved - refugees, Europe after Brexit, and the digital transformation of the German economy. The adviser said it would be negligent for the chancellor not to continue. We note that, when leaders serve a long time, they tend to think of themselves as indispensable. Merkel told aides a few years ago that she wanted to quit in time, and not hang around. The trouble is that leaders always find an excuse to continue. 

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September 02, 2016

Republican candidates outline their economic programmes

Though the official campaign for the Republican primaries (November 20 and 27) has not yet started, the competitors are already well into campaign mode. Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppé, Francois Fillon, Bruno Le Maire, all have outlined what to expect from them in terms of economic policies. They all promise structural reforms in key areas, and more liberalisation. There is an unprecedented promise to reduce public expenditures by between €85bn and €110bn, depending on the candidate, All want to get rid of the 35-hour week, but with different measures, and to facilitate hire-and-fire. All candidates want to raise the retirement age and end special pensions but differ in pace and methods. As for taxes, they all want to abolish the solidarity tax on wealth, but there are differences on income tax cuts. They all want to reduce the number of civil servants, increase working time, and raise wages. They advocate social dialogue at the firm level and, in case of non-agreement, an enterprise referendum. Les Echos. has the specific differences among the candidates.

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