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February 14, 2017

Elites vs underdogs - French edition

If you look at the voters of Emmanuel Macron, you might wonder what his chances are to win against Marine Le Pen. Ifop looked at the profile of those who intend to vote for him. One of the striking statistics was that Macron only gets 14% from workers, the same as Jean-Luc Mélenchon (!). In this class Marine Le Pen reigns with 37% support, while Benoit Hamon does slightly better than the others with 18%. The most telling feature, in our view, is that the more educated people are more likely to vote for Macron and the less educated go for Marine Le Pen:

Education has been one of the dividing lines also in the Brexit vote and the American elections, and we all know what happened there. Add to this that Macron is the urban favourite, but not in the outskirts, the infamous banlieues, and you end with a candidate of the elites against a candidate of the underdogs. And it is not that immigrants living in those banlieus are against Le Pen, as one might expect. Many of them have been there for some time now and the last thing they want is more immigration.

So if Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron end up in the second round, will we see another stand-off between the elite candidate and the underdog star? They effectively stand for two different world views. Le Pen divides the world into globalists and patriots, Macron into progressives and conservatives, notes Journal du Dimanche. In the US, Chris Arnade saw Trump's victory as a result of the social isolation of the uneducated whites. Could this also happen in France?

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February 14, 2017

A rock on the road to Brexit

The Financial Times writes that Spanish diplomatic objections over the status of Gibraltar's airport are currently holding up some European legislation. Looking forward, the dispute over Gibraltar's airport threatens to hold up negotiations on Britain's membership in the European common aviation area, or alternatively a bilateral "open skies" agreement between the UK and the EU. Despite earlier assurances by Spain's foreign minister Alfonso Dastis that Spain "won’t put Gibraltar at the centre of negotiations", we have no doubt that Spain will be willing to exercise its veto rights at key moments in the Art. 50 negotiations, if the EU does not accord Gibraltar a separate status from the UK.

The narrow point of dispute over Gibraltar's airport is that Spain interprets that the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht did not grant the UK sovereignty over the isthmus of Gibraltar, where the airport is built. Spain cannot allow an agreement between the UK and the EU to apply to Gibraltar's arport, as that would recognise the legality of the UK's claim to the airport. Thus Spain will demand that the status of Gibraltar's airport will be negotiated separately from that of the other UK airports.

The broader point of international law is that Gibraltar is not actually part of the United Kingdom. Under British law it is a British overseas territory under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the UK. Under European law it is a European territory for whose external relations a member state - the UK in this case - is responsible, according to article 355.3 TFEU. And it is recognised by the UN as a non-selfgoverning territory pending decolonisation. When Spain joined the then-EEC in 1986, it did not contest the arrangement standing since the UK's 1973 accession and which governed the application of European law in Gibraltar. However, since 1986 Spain has taken the position that the status of Gibraltar is a bilateral affair between Spain and the UK. As the FT quotes chancellor Philip Hammond (then foreign secretary) in 2014, the UK considers Spanish obstructions "political point-scoring" in its push to regain sovereignty over Gibraltar.

The view from Spain, reflected in this analysis piece by Alejandro del Valle Gálvez for the Elcano think-tank last October, is that Brexit strengthens the hand of Spain in negotiations over Gibraltar, where it had been weakened substantially since Mariano Rajoy's government ended the tripartite dialogue forum set up by the previous administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Spain will have two opportunities to exercise its veto over the Brexit negotiations, first when the European Council (at 27) provides negotiating guidelines according to Art. 50.2, and then at the time of ratification of the final agreement by the EU and each of the 28 member states. Before this, the Council (at 27) must adopt the final agreement by qualified majority, but it is felt desirable that this is also done by consensus - at that point Spain will enjoy a not-quite-veto.

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February 14, 2017

A short note on politicised forecasting

There was a time when we dutifully recorded economic forecasts by various institutions, but given their persistently dismal record, we decided that these forecasts actually detract from knowledge. They are also heavily biased politically. The Commission does not want to upset the delicate political balance in Italy, but wants to ensure that the French president is mindful of the deficit targets. Hence, they are relatively cautious on Italy, keeping up the pressure but without threats of a renewed excessive deficit procedure. It is also not surprising that the European Commission has a more negative view of the economic impact of Brexit than the Bank of England. In other words, these figures tell us what we already know. 

The Commission’s forecasts are perhaps most useful in terms of confirming what political fights to expect. The Commission sees Germany’s current account surplus, of 8.7% in 2016, falling only gradually, to 8.3% in 2017 and 8% in 2018. This issue won’t go away. The gradual economic recovery will help consolidate the fiscal position of member states, whose aggregate deficit is forecast to decline from 1.7% to 1.4% this year. The French deficit for 2018 is put at 3.1% - which means that France is on course to miss its much-delayed target of a 3% deficit once again, unless corrective action is taken. The purpose of this forecast is clearly to put the new administration under pressure to undertake another round of fiscal consolidation. The only candidate in the French elections who has publicly supported strict adherence to the 3% target is Emmanuel Macron, the current favourite in the polls - though we wonder what will happen if his conservative fiscal stance becomes a subject of the election campaign.

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