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October 17, 2016

Ceta is dead for now

Ceta, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada, was already in real trouble on Thursday after the German constitutional court restricted the provisional application of the deal to a bare minimum. On Friday, the regional parliament of Wallonia voted against Ceta by 46 to 16 votes. This means that the Belgian government is not in a position to give its assent to the provisional application of Ceta at the ministerial meeting that due to be in held in Brussels tomorrow.

The Toronto Globe and Mail is not a paper that we usually include in our daily briefing, but its extensive coverage of Ceta exceeds that of the European press by far. The article notes that the Walloons had rejected Ceta before, in April, and had revised the issue after intense lobbying by Canadian and European politicians. These lobbying efforts have had the opposite to effect. The parliamentarians were faxed pages and pages of what they called "interpretive declarations" about how Ceta would be applied in practice, which the paper writes left MPs exasperated. It quoted one of them as saying that the interpretative declarations were meaningless because they are not binding. They want the whole thing opened up, and the various clarifications put into the treaty itself, so that everybody knows where they are at.

Another MPs complained that the treaty covered all economic sectors, except those explicitly stated. It should have been the other way around. And there is also much unhappiness about the private-sector investment courts, which is also the main complaint in Germany. We would expect the German constitutional court to examine this particular issue very closely.

Why Wallonia? Apart from what we know, an aggravating factor may have been the decision by Caterpillar to close a plant in the region, with 2000 job losses.

So what is happening now? We expect to see one of the most massive efforts of political lobbying and bribery to be mounted. This has already started over the weekend. But even if this were to succeed (of which we are not sure, given the scale of the majority), it looks as though the scheduled October 27 EU/Canada summit might have to be postponed.

The vote has been met with outrage in Canada. Justin Trudeau noted that nobody would do business with the EU if they cannot sign such a progressive trade agreement, as he calls it. The prime minister of Quebec demanded that the Walloons go back to the drawing board and decide differently.

Wolfgang Münchau welcomes the vote. There are two things wrong with this agreement - and with TTIP, still under negotiation. The first is political. Ceta and TTIP constitute a fulcrum of anti-globalisation protests. The economic benefits they bring are relatively small. They are not worth the risk of driving more and more people to support anti-globalisation political parties. The second reason is that investor tribunals violate the constitutional principles of many EU countries, including Germany.

The fate of Ceta, he notes, is going to have a big impact on the Brexit debates in the UK. If the EU cannot strike a trade agreement with Canada, it will not be able to agree an even more wide-ranging deal with Britain. Münchau concludes that the idea of the UK leaving the EU, and then negotiating a trade deal, is not very attractive from a British perspective.

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October 17, 2016

L’après-Hollande, c'est Hollande

Could a book be the end of Francois Hollande’s ambitions to run for presidency? The book ‘Un président ne devrait pas dire ça’ (A president shouldn't say that) is the result of 63 interviews with two Le Monde journalists. Its intention was to explain politics to the general public in an informal tone with little anecdotes, but instead it showed the president's cynicism, malice, rancor, incompetence, hypocrisy, selfishness, and lack of recognition for others, writes Le Point. Within one week his fate seems to have changed. Claude Bartolone, president of the assembly, hardly hid his anger when he told the press that a president should not confess like this, and questioned openly Hollande’s will to run again. Other critics followed, including Manuel Valls though less forcefully than Bartolone. Is the post-Hollande era beginning, as many journals including the Journal du Dimanche predict? Their argument is that Hollande has no public support to run again. The latest poll suggests that the book did no good for his poll ratings either. 84% do not want him as a candidate, while 73% expect that he will run nevertheless. But for the Socialist party the options are less clear.  Without Hollande, the party is likely to become even more fractured. Hollande as a default option is still better than nothing. He has the institutions behind him and the tradition among presidents tells him to run again. He only needs the polls to show that no other candidate can run significantly better than him, writes Cécile Cornudet. L'après-Hollande, c'est Hollande.

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October 17, 2016

SPD against Russia sanctions

As the German elections approach, the SPD comes under increasing pressure to show where it differs from Angela Merkel. The SPD's extremely pro-Russian leadership has now chosen Merkel's policy towards Russia as one of the most important areas of disagreement. FAZ leads with a story that the party would not support Merkel's push for harder sanctions against Russia, following the escalation of attacks on the eastern parts of Aleppo which have been carried out with Russian assistance. The SPD says it regards sanctions as an expression of helplessness while the Greens support a tougher policy. Another area of likely disagreement between SPD and CDU/CSU is Merkel's call for an increase in the defence budget towards Germany's NATO commitment of 2% of GDP.

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October 17, 2016

Nissan to join customs union and other fanciful tales

It looks to us that officials in the British government are going through a no-holds-barred brainstorming exercise in the hopes of finding a solution to some of the negative implications of a departure from the customs union.

Here is one such brainstorming idea, we don't believe will fly. The FT reports that Nissan had been given assurances by Theresa May that it can stay in the customs union even if the UK were to leave it. Since Nissan is unlikely to qualify as a member state of the EU, we wonder how that can be achieved. The article does not explain how that is possible except to say that Nissan would benefit. Our interpretation is that this is not about membership of the customs union, but about compensation for companies, as the article mentions later. The idea would then be to compensate companies for tariffs, which would be possible since after Brexit the UK would no longer be subject to the EU's state aid rules.

In a separate article the FT writes that May keeps open the option of the UK continuing to pay into the EU budget.

We noted an argument from the Brexit campaign that is now being used to defend a tough line by the EU in the negotiations. The EU's exports to the UK make up only 8%, while Britain's exports to the EU are 44%. We would warn against these misleading statistics. For one thing, you'd have to look at supply chains in detail to understand the true effects. And the 8% are not evenly distributed. The UK is a much bigger trading partner for Germany, for example, than for other member states.

And finally, this piece by Mark Mardell of the BBC is worth reading. It is about whether May should ask parliament to invoke Article 50. Unlikely many other commentators, Mardell is not as emotionally attached to either the Remain or Leave position, so that he can look at this question with a cooler mind. He notes that the government fears an establishment stitch-up, and that it would be left to pay the political price for the betrayal. May derives her political mandate from the Brexit vote, which is why she is so adamant about pursuing it without compromise. He agrees with her political interpretation of what the vote meant (immigration controls first and foremost). He then notes that, while the referendum is a source of authority, it is not a bottomless one. His conclusion is that it would be unwise for her to push Brexit through without parliamentary involvement. The compromise would consist of granting some partial votes to placate backbenchers, while keeping overall control of the process.

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