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November 14, 2016

The populists are winning

The European response to anything these days are meetings and grand pronouncements but no action. Frank-Walter Steinmeier had hoped to repeat the little stunt he pulled off after the Brexit vote with an emergency foreign ministers' meeting, but this time, both the UK, and notably France, boycotted last night's dinner, and the symbolism is now reversed. The EU shows the outside world that its reaction to the Trump vote is one of division, as opposed to "sending a signal of what the EU expects" of Trump, as the FT quoted one unnamed diplomat. Boris Johnson's decision not to attend received much publicity over the weekend, while Jean-Marc Ayrault stayed in Paris to meet Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato general secretary. The Hungarians also missed the meeting, which they described as hysterical. The article quoted a diplomat as saying: "When the EU’s most powerful country wants to lead, other member states don’t necessarily follow." What this means is that we have long reached the limits of what an inter-government system can do. Huffing and puffing won't extend them.

Meanwhile, team Trump are already doing their best to highlight Europe's divisions. Apart from Nigel Farage's little PR stunt as the first European politician to visit Trump, a story circulated over the weekend that Trump's newly appointed special adviser Stephen Bannon, a white supremacist, had reached out to Marine Le Pen. We noted a tweet by Le Pen's niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who tweeted yesterday:

"I answer yes to the invitation of Stephen Bannon...to work together."

There was some confusion about whether or when this invitation was made though.

There was further criticism of the decision by Andrew Marr of the BBC to interview Marine Le Pen on Armistice day (we are with the BBC on this - she is a serious contender for the French presidency, and it would be mistaken for the rest of us to pretend that this isn't so). In this interview, Le Pen reiterated her determination for France to leave the EU, which she said should not last "two minutes longer", and said there was not a hair's breadth between the FN and Ukip. She said her main foreign policy objective was to make the EU less reliant on the US and more open towards Russia.

The impact of Trump on Italy is more complicated as this article points out. Italy's right is highly divided. While the Five Star Movement is best placed to capture the anti-establishment vote, especially in a straight run-off with the Partito Democratico, support for Trump is, however, low within that party. It is therefore not all clear how a surge in Trump support would pan out in the Italian political system.

Timothy Garten-Ash had a good comment in which he describes big ideological shifts as requiring time to work themselves out.

"Does history teach us anything about such wave-like phenomena, appearing at roughly the same time in many places, in different national and regional forms, but nonetheless having common features? Nationalist populism now, globalised liberalism (or neoliberalism) in the 1990s, fascism and communism in the 1930s and 40s, imperialism in the 19th century. Two lessons perhaps: that these things usually take a significant period of time to work themselves out; and that to reverse them (if the wave is of a kind you want to see reversed) requires courage, determination, consistency, the development of a new political language and new policy answers to real problems." 

We disagree, however, with his conclusion, that Angela Merkel is now the leader of the free world. How can that be, we wonder, when she didn't even manage to provide leadership during the eurozone crisis as she prioritised German national interests? Ulrich Speck (@ulrichspeck) agrees in a tweet this morning:

“Merkel cannot be Europe's leader. What she can do is to keep German foreign policy Europeanized and to broker compromises on EU level."

In a comment for NRC, Caroline de Gruyter reports that at a recent security conference in Warsaw delegates were concerned about the prospect of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin redrawing and mutually recognising their spheres of influence, with echoes of Yalta but without British participation. The scenario reflects the fear of former Russian satellites that the US may be willing to let them fall again under Russian control. But the concern was not universal. According to De Gruyter Hungary is more concerned about the threat of refugees. EU states disagree on almost all matters, and in particular they cannot find agreement on how they should respond to the possibility of losing the military backstop of the US. Leadership in this area too may fall by default on a reluctant Germany, as the UK is withdrawing from the EU and France and Italy become more inward-looking. De Gruyter concludes with the thought that the EU needs to answer the question of how to organise its own defence. Otherwise it will be every country for itself, without the US coming to pick up the pieces.

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November 14, 2016

The Trump effect on the French Republican primaries

How will Donald Trump influence the election campaign in France? While everyone is looking at the Front National, it is the first round of the Republican primaries this Sunday where the effect could be seen first. After months of no shifts, polls now suggests that the race is getting tighter. They show Alain Juppé losing support, Nicolas Sarkozy gaining and François Fillon catching up. There are two scenarios here to watch out for, and they all are related to the question of how candidate Juppé is perceived in a Trump world.

The more extreme scenario would see Juppé not making it into a second round. For this Fillon would have to make quite a leap compared to where polls now put him: the poll for Le Figaro shows that Juppé gets 36 % (- 6), Nicolas Sarkozy 30 % (+ 2) and François Fillon 18% (+ 7). But, do the polls really capture what's going on? After Brexit and Trump, there are no certainties anymore. There are signs that Fillon’s potential is underestimated. This Thursday night will be the last debate between the candidates, and the first two already benefited Fillon. What will it do this time? There are also some Juppé supporters starting to wonder whether Fillon is not a better opponent to Sarkozy, according to l’Opinion. And ,if Emmanuel Macron declares his presidential candidacy, he might well take away Juppé's appeal. In his interview with le Journal du Dimanche, Fillon says Juppé was too moderate and did not stand for change. 

The other scenario to watch out for assumes that both Juppé and Sarkozy make it into the second round but that Sarkozy comes first rather than second in the first round. This would change the dynamics for the run-off. In that scenario it is hard to see how Juppé can mobilise sufficient support to secure his nomination. Sarkozy was the first to come out after Trump’s win to claim that he is the real anti-establishment candidate. None of the candidates underestimate the impact of a new electorate that is hostile to elites, power and polls. But it is Alain Juppé who could well be the first victim in this massacre, warns Cécile Cornudet.

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November 14, 2016

ND to target disenchanted Syriza voters

The new initiative from New Democracy is to capitalise on disenchantment with Syriza.  The partylaunched a new campaign to woo voters to the centre-left, disenchanted Syriza supporters as well as disgruntled voters of the centre, according to Kathimerini. Their take is that the largest share of undecided voters backed Syriza in the last elections, but are ideologically not attached to the left. A poll conducted by the University of Macedonia last week indicated that 9% of those who supported Syriza in 2015 vote have since migrated to ND. 

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November 14, 2016

Debt repayment postponed to infinity

Sunday’s Kathimerini reveals that in April 2015 three Greek ministers granted three municipal authorities an extension to repay their debt (€535m) to the state and the social security fund for up to 2129 years. This unprecedented extension of more than 21 centuries was given to one of the three, the municipality of Fyli, the other two only got extensions of 13 and 166 years. The three ministers include Nikos Voutsis (now speaker of parliament) and Panos Skourletis (now interior minister). The decision is also unusual in that it requires the local authorities to hand the state 5% of their budget allocation of the interior ministry every month.

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