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September 19, 2016

Unhappy in Bratislava

We note that we are not alone with our criticism of the emptiness of the Bratislava summit. A day after, Matteo Renzi went back to his old playground, the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, in which he criticised the EU's tendency to hold summits in different places with declarations without heart and vision. He called Bratislava a missed opportunity. Italian newspapers noted that his absence from the final press conference was a sign that he did not want to be associated with this meeting. He is quoted by Politico as saying the following

“If on some issues both are satisfied with the outcome, I’m happy for them,” he said. “I can’t do a joint press conference with the German chancellor or the French president because I don’t share the conclusions to the same extent than they do.”

For those with ample time on their hands can the Bratislava declaration in full. We would like to draw three comments to your attention. Wolfgang Munchau writes in the Financial Times that the EU is suffering from attention deficit disorder. The causes for the deep dissatisfaction by voters are the catastrophic economic policies since the global financial crisis, both in the eurozone and, for different reasons, in the UK. In the UK, the median voters' real incomes had fallen over the last 13 years. If EU leaders want to fix the problem, they will need to reverse their economic policies, rather than trying to solve the problem through formal declarations of European unity

"Having messed up the economy for the last fifteen years, they are now turning to security."

Sven Giegold made a similar observation. EU leaders are turning the EU into a security union. The governments will not achieve solutions for high unemployment, low investments and structural weaknesses of entire regions. They have left that discussion until December.

Federico Fubini notes in Corriere della Sera that the latest Eurobarometre polls shows Italy's support for the EU as lower than even that of the UK. Only 49% of Italians feel European, in second last place ahead of Bulgaria, and only 32% have a favourable view of the EU.

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September 19, 2016

Au nom du peuple

A spectacular campaign start for Marine Le Pen, with a new slogan "au nom du peuple", evoking memories of Charles de Gaulle - a takeover bid of the French electorate on the right, as Cecile Cornudet put it. Not much content, as her programme will not be known until February 2017, but a lot of emotive ideas. "France", "nation" and references to the country's great history are all over the place. In front of 5000 supporters Le Pen defended the “France libre” and focussed her speech on the themes of sovereignty and identity. There were no sharp edges nor polemics. One of the most cited passages in the press this morning was that “without identity there is no France and that without sovereignty nor people, there is no democracy”. This was her reply to a polemic by journalist Eric Zemmor, who focusses only on identity in his writing, and who is adored by supporters from the Front National. She clearly is fishing in the Republican terrain.

Guillaume Tabard in Le Figaro makes the point that while Republican candidates battle for those who voted for their party before, Le Pen woes voters who never did vote for her before. This is a different ball game. The message from this weekend, backed by one poll after the other is that Marine Le Pen can win, and will win next year. Though Beatrice Houchard from l’Opinion considers this as unlikely, she also sees the risk for the Republican candidates and says they should start to worry about her.

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September 19, 2016

Pressure rising towards a hard Brexit

Brexit produces a lot of news noise, such as vacuous veto threats. The British are threatening to block a defence union (which they cannot do any more under the Lisbon Treaty). Slovakia's prime minister Robert Fico and his Visegrad friends are threatening to veto the Art 50 deal unless their citizens are given a right to stay in the UK (which they cannot do either since Art 50 requires only a qualified majority). Our advice to readers is to stop reading immediately when somebody uses the word "veto", and to turn to the sports section. 

The two relevant news items that caught our eye were a story by Bloomberg, according to which Philip Hammond has accepted the argument that immigration control and single market membership are incompatible. And since his government prioritises immigration control for political reasons, they will have to give up on the single market, and the single passport in particular. The agency says it obtained the information from two unnamed sources - we presume people close to Hammond as opposed to something they might have picked up in a pub. 

The Daily Telegraph has a story according to which a new lobby group has been formed to plot a campaign in favour of a hard Brexit. The group has won the backing of three former cabinet ministers and is led by a businessman, and has support from the business community and some economists. The fundamental goal of this group is to get out of the single market. They want to go into the Art 50 negotiations with the explicit acceptance that they might not get a deal at the end, or as the leader of the campaign put it: "No deal is better than a bad deal."

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