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January 26, 2017

PenelopeGate

This could be a fateful turn for François Fillon. French courts opened an inquiry into the potential misuse of public funds after the Canard Enchaîné reported that François Fillon’s wife Penelope drew a salary totalling €500,000 as his assistant, but never actually worked.

We can't predict the outcome of this inquiry, but this has the potential to damage Fillon politically. First, there is his image of integrity. He always spoke about the courage to say the truth, advocated transparency, and gave Nicolas Sarkozy a lecture about ethical conduct. Commentators are now making him eat his own words: imagine if Charles de Gaulle was investigated? 

Second, the image of his wife, who "single-handedly" raised four of his five children while he was away doing politics, is tattered. So, was she the housewife as he always said she was, or his political adviser? A salary of up to €7,900 certainly does not suggest that the image we have of Penelope is the right one. Will the catholic voters still support him? His first defence, that it is a woman's right to work, as reported by Le Point, could not have been worse.

Third, what does this say about his call for reducing the number of civil servants by 500,000? How credible will he be to pursue such a discourse now?

This is a watershed moment for François Fillon, writes Cécile Cornudet, and it will change the course of his campaign into a totally different direction from what he had planned.

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January 26, 2017

Hamon on course to win nomination

Last night was the last debate between the two remaining candidates in the left primaries, Benoît Hamon and Manuel Valls. Polite in tone, they marked their mutual differences, talking at length about Hamon’s universal income proposal, about their different versions of secularism, and about the state of emergency. Manuel Valls refrained from interrupting Hamon, looking at him with a grave statesman's face, thus giving Hamon all the space to develop his ideas with ease. To the outside observer Valls seemed to have conceded defeat already, writes the Journal du Dimanche

If Hamon were to win the second tour this Sunday, expect Emmanuel Macron to benefit, as the only candidate left in the race to inherit François Hollande's supporters.

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January 26, 2017

Meet the (probable) next US ambassador to the EU

If Ted Malloch, a pro-Trump business professor and ex-banker, becomes Donald Trump’s ambassador to the EU, things are going to get interesting. The BBC has an interview with him, in which he said

“The one thing I would do in 2017 is short the euro...I think it is a currency that is not only in demise but has a real problem and could in fact collapse in the coming year, year and a half.”

To be clear, he is giving investment advice to bet on the demise of the euro, which he expects to happen with a time frame of 18 months. This is the kind of things columnists say, and they usually get admonished by ambassadorial types, but we are now living in a topsy-turvy world.

Malloch also expressed optimism about a US-UK trade deal, the main subject of the conversation. On this point we think he may be right. UK anti-Brexiteers are perhaps succumbing to wishful thinking that it is all going to be hideously difficult because of the UK's trade surplus with the US. But if Donald Trump and Theresa May make headway at their meeting tomorrow, we should not be surprised if such an agreement could be made. This stuff is strategic for Trump. Trump knows that he might otherwise unwittingly strengthen the EU, by getting tough on the UK. Malloch said there won’t be a deal signed in the White House on Friday, but there could be an agreement on a framework going forward, that might result in a deal within 90 days. He said "it sends a signal that the United States is behind Great Britain in its hour of need.”

He is less enamoured with the EU, to which he is expected to be assigned as ambassador. Malloch also said that TTIP was dead. 

“I personally am not certain that there will be a European Union with which to have [free trade] negotiations”.

In other words, the future ambassador to the EU thinks his job may soon be obsolete.

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