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November 30, 2016

Is Russia behind a massive cyber attack in Germany?

The German media are full of stories of a major cyberattack on the network of Deutsche Telekom, which managed to cut 900,000 customers off from the internet. The German government and the federal police believe this is just the beginning of a concerted series of cyber attacks. Angela Merkel herself is getting nervous as she suspects Russia as a potential source of this threat. She said Germany would have to get used to this kind of hybrid conflict - as the Russians call it - and said that the Federal Office for IT Security will do everything to identify the sources of the latest attacks. Germany's interior minister Lothar de Maizere said the attacks were intended to hijack Telekom routers and to use them for further attacks. The latter objective seems to have failed, but this is not verified information. With further reference to Russia he said the borderline between the criminal activity within a state, and criminal activity by a state, is hard to draw. He also said there were some indications that the source of this attack was Russian. 

The fear behind this incident is that Russia might seriously disrupt next year's German elections as Vladimir Putin would presumably like to see the back of Merkel. We are generally careful about the significance of such operations and their political impact. Donald Trump didn't win because of Putin. Nor does Russia have anything to do with the UK's decision to leave the EU. 

Corriere della Sera notes that the only thing the European centre-left likes about Trump is his cosy embrace of Putin. Italy's foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, noted a more open approach towards Russia. He said he was not worried by this development, but happy. The paper notes that Gentiloni's views were aligned with those of Germany's pro-Russian foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The article discusses the impact on Europe of the precise relationship Trump will forge with Russia. If Trump tells Putin that the US is no longer interested in interfering in Russia's wider backyard, then this could seriously destabilise Europe and increase Russia's influence. In the context of the cyber attacks in Germany, it is not hard to see that relations with Russia could turn into one of the main political themes in Europe. The articles notes that Matteo Renzi is also getting more hostile to any suggestion of using Russian attacks on Aleppo as a reason in favour of sanctions, while in France the two leading presidential candidates are also both more pro-Russian.

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November 30, 2016

Will Fillon move to the centre?

François Fillon was quick to act and show his grip on his party. Bernard Accoyer, a loyal Fillon supporter and former Assembly president, will become the secretary of the party, replacing Eric Woerth. Accoyer is a man of consensus, who worked with the different currents in the party already in the past, writes Journal du Dimanche. The current interim president Laurent Wauquiez, a Sarkozy supporter, was kept as vice president against all rumours, but next to another Fillon supporter Isabelle Le Callennec. There will be no longer an official president of the party, which means that the secretary general will manage the party with Fillon as de-facto chief. Woerth, another Sarkozy supporter, no longer has a place in the party leadership, but will play a role in Fillon’s campaign, so his team. 

How much will survive of Fillon’s radical programme? It is one thing to win the primaries with it, another to take it into the national elections where he has to appeal to a wider electorate. Fillon might stick to his guns, as his campaign on ‘truth’ and moral values would suggest. Or he might soften it around the edges. 

Fillon has the advantage of starting off on the right so he can open up to the centre, unlike François Hollande who campaigned in 2012 on a centrist programme for the primaries and had to offer something radical to rally the left (the 75% tax on the super-rich), writes Cécile Cornudet. There are other lessons from François Hollande’s victory in the primaries last time around, according to Françoise Fressoz. First, it does not automatically settle the leadership crisis within the party. Fillon will have to be present to avoid losing legitimacy and authority amongst Republicans. And second, the primaries exaggerate the ideological differences within a party. For the Socialists this came to the point that the prime minister called them "irreconcilable". The Republicans could face the same fate. 

Le Point has a good comment on the anti-establishment epidemic in France. Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are the classic icons of this movement, but now there is also Arnaud Montebourg, Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon. Not that these candidates are anti-establishment themselves. Fillon is a perfect example of how to have a very traditional and successful career inside the political system and win over the public with an anti-establishment twist. Nor is Macron really someone who ascended out of nowhere from the rabbles. So what does it really mean to be anti-system? It all depends on the angle from which you look at things. And an anti-establishment rhetoric seems to be the winning ticket. So, who is next? François Hollande?

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November 30, 2016

The Dutch left field is getting crowded

One of the stories to watch out in the run-up to the Dutch general election in March is the fate of the labour party PvdA. Polls are now predicting the party will lose half if not two thirds of the nearly 40 seats it got in 2012, and which allowed it to form a coalition with Mark Rutte's liberal VVD. In the interim, the PvdA has lost a number of MPs, which have gone on to found new political parties. One of them is Denk ("think"), a political party founded by two Turkish-Dutch former MPs and appealing to the immigrant vote, and which is getting a couple of seats in election polls. The other is the newly created Nieuwe Wegen (new roads), led by Jacques Monasch, a firebrand MP to the left of the PvdA who had been voicing his discontent with the party's direction for some time. After saying he would quit the party at the end of the current parliamentary term, he decided to enter the current leadership contest only to quit it shortly afterwards. Monasch appears to be running on a eurosceptic left platform, appealing to popular concerns about immigration. While it is possible that the PvdA will rebound as the election approaches, the proliferation of parties on the left of the Dutch political spectrum is generally bad for them. Also, one feature is that the PvdA is splintering mostly on the immigration issue.

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