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October 18, 2016

The self-destruction of Francois Hollande

Reading the confessions of Francois Hollande in his book 'Un president ne devrait pas dire ca', it is easy to get upset. And many do. The footballers did. The judges did. They got an apology from Hollande. How many apologies will he have to issue to calm down the outrage? How can he restore confidence in himself if he shows no respect for others, not even his supporters or ministers, wonders Nicolas Beytout. When is enough, enough? Even Manuel Valls gets himself in position. Sure, he does not want to be Brutus, but if the self-destruction of Hollande continues, Valls will want to be ready, writes Cecile Cordnudet.

La Tribune looked at how Hollande described his engagements in the Greek crisis, and there, too, he portrayed an image that had nothing to do with the reality. In the book Hollande presents himself as the facilitator between Greece and Germany, the big brother who gives Greece a lesson in realism by not rocking the boat. The book shows once more that he does not understand the Greek situation at all. And what sort of brother is this anyway? He sides with the Germans, arguing that if the Greeks do their reforms, all will be good. Hollande does not show any understanding of the rise of Syriza. Recall that, when elected in 2012, he recommended that the Greeks vote for Samaras. In the book Hollande claims that France averted Grexit by sheer persuasion. This is of course utter nonsense. Tsipras' panic reaction after the referendum has nothing to do with French persuasion. The French proposition was rejected in the eurogroup on July 11, and Wolfgang Schäuble’s more punitive criteria were adopted and formed the basis for the acceptance of the bailout by Alexis Tsipras on July 13. The French only negotiated small parts of this agenda. Same in the eurogroup where France was not pulling its weight. Hollande had promised Tsipras support before the eurogroup on 9 March 2015. But the finance ministers rejected the Greek plans. He was not much of a facilitator. On the contrary, later the French joined the chorus putting the blame on the Greeks, for being late in implementing reforms. Hollande’s advice to look for support from Jean-Claude Juncker and the OECD was not helpful to Greece either. Hollande's priority was not to strike a new friendship with Greece, but to save his relationship with Germany. And he acknowledges this when he says that 'if Germany abandons me, this will be the end.’

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October 18, 2016

Brexit psychotherapy

What we still keep on noticing in the Brexit debates is that the commentators are largely talking to each other - with no influence whatsoever on the government, on the opposition, or on public opinion. The sheer amount of "why Brexit is a mistake" commentary is unbelievable, and so is the number of calls for Breversal - often dressed up in the form of some insincere legal argument. We read one comment according to which Donald Tusk's recent remarks had raised the possibility that the British parliament could force an in-or-out vote on Article 50. We can only assume that, after their miserable campaign, the Remainers are in need of some psychotherapy.

On this note we note a refreshing comment by Denis MacShane, a former Europe minister in the Blair government, who writes, correctly, that journalists and commentators should recognise the political reality that the Conservatives are in power, which is hard for the commentariat to accept after the long period of New Labour predominance. 

"... in the meantime and, especially for the crucial period ahead over Brexit, the only political game in town is the Conservative Party and its MPs and supporters. Britain needs a new generation of journalists, writers and intellectuals who can explore and report on the new dominant Tory politics. But it is so much easier to dwell in Labourland when the country is living somewhere else."

We agree with George Eaton who tweets: 

"It's as if Theresa's May opponents made a pact on 23 June to knock each other for the next five years."

The two most important Brexit issues in the near future are the upcoming legal ruling on the involvement of parliament in the Brexit process; and the implications of the fall in sterling. Both are important, but neither is likely to be dramatic. 

The High Court has now started proceedings with depositions from the legal team of the claimants, whose core argument is that it cannot be the sole responsibility of a government to dispense with Treaties. A ruling is expected mid-November, but no matter what the ruling will be, the losing side will take this issue to the Supreme Court which will take the final decision. It has been the hope of those who are trying to undo Brexit to get parliament to delay the entire process beyond the 2020 elections. We would expect a different development: if the Supreme Court rules against the government, we think that Theresa May would first seek a vote in parliament. If this is positive, as we would expect, the process continues. If is negative, she would construe this as a vote of no-confidence and call early elections, which she would win with an enhanced majority. 

On Sterling, Gavyn Davies is worth reading. He noted that the government was seeking a different policy mix - a more relaxed fiscal policy, and a tighter monetary policy. They are not picking a fight with Mark Carney on this (for now), but the truce between the government and the Bank of England is uneasy.

"Where will this bout of nerves lead us? There is nothing quite like the whiff of a sterling crisis to chill the spine of investors. But this episode should be eminently controllable. The ball is now in the Bank’s court, with the forthcoming Inflation Report due to appear on 3 November. With inflation expectations on the rise, a pause in monetary easing is needed to calm the foreign exchange markets."

There is a lot of confused debate about whether the Article 50 process can be reversed once triggered. If the British government wanted to, then yes, it is possible to do that if there is consensus within the European Council, which we presume there would be. But the role of the government is essential. Say the British parliament voted against the article 50 agreement. This does not imply that the UK stays an EU member unless that is what the British government wants. The British government may well say: if you don't accept the deal, then we will exit without an agreement. That is what the two-year period means. Once Article 50 is triggered, we are on auto-pilot for Brexit unless the government changes its view. That is very unlikely.

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October 18, 2016

At least three candidates for the PvdA leadership

Another European centre-left party is having a leadership contest, this time the Dutch PvdA. Yesterday, deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher declared his widely anticipated candidacy. He joins the incumbent leader Diederik Samson and Jacques Monash, who declared his candidacy last Thursday. Diederik Samson will face criticism for the flagging fortunes of the PvdA, which is lagging in the polls with projections that it may lose about half of its seats since the 2012 election. Monasch' candidacy has been somewhat of a surprise since he had announced in April this year that he would not be seeking reelection as an MP in the elections scheduled for next March. Monash appears to be filling the role of the candidate for the left-wing of the party. Diederik Samson is known for his green credentials. Lodewijk Asscher, who is also a minister for social affairs in the Rutte II cabinet, launched his campaign with a speech focused on national political themes rather than soul-searching for the left. He attacked the two right-wing parties leading in the polls, the liberal VVD and PvdA's senior coalition partner for its cold materialism, and the far-right PVV for its intolerance. Asscher's campaign motto is "forward together." Before an audience packed with immigrants in the district of Amsterdam where he used to be a local councillor, he criticised both radical islamists who refuse to integrate into Dutch society and the islamophobic populists who whip up fear of immigrants. According to NRC many PvdA members hoped that Amsterdam's mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb would run for the party leadership, but he excluded himself not wanting to run against Samson. MEP Paul Tang is also a potential candidate. Candidacies remain open until October 24.

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October 18, 2016

The unbelievable hypocrisy of Mario Monti

Mario Monti's interview in Corriere della Sera this morning is hard to beat as an example of hypocrisy. Monti explains why he will vote No in the upcoming referendum, a decision that has raised eyebrows, but is not hard to understand given that he himself is a life senator. He is, unsurprisingly, opposing a legal challenge that would curb his own influence dramatically. His interviewer, Federico Fubini, also noted that Monti had voted in favour of the constitutional changes in the first vote in 2014, and missed subsequent votes due to other engagements. He is not the only parliamentarian to have accepted the legislation behind the constitutional change, but are now campaigning against it in the referendum. We find the arguments logically bizarre. Monti says that a No vote would neither be damaging for the government nor the country. He says the government's political reforms matter less to the future of the country than economic reforms. We would agree with that point in principle, but this is not an argument to be made at the referendum stage. We agree that Renzi prioritised political reforms for entirely selfish reasons. But, if that is so, should this legislation not have been nipped in the bud early on? This reminds us of Italy's tendency first to agree to EU laws, like the stability pact and the BRRD bank bail-in rules, and then re-consider the position later. Reading this interview one gets the impression that Monti is looking after the interests of Monti, just as Renzi is looking after the interests of Renzi. This is fair enough, but please spare us the sanctimony.

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