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February 24, 2017

Schulz effect stabilises

Of all the polls in Germany, the ARD/DeutschlandTrend is probably the most noted because it is the one that is broadcast each month on Germany's main TV channel, and because it has a fairly decent track record. And it shows that, for the first time in over ten years, the SPD is ahead of the CDU. Here are the results, but note that the CDU/CSU are still ahead in the three other recent polls.  

ARD
 (Infratest Dimap) 
ForsaAllensbachInsa
CDU/CSU31343331.5
SPD323130.530
Greens8786.5
Left7789.5
FDP6675.5
AfD11118.511

The two largest parties are polling within the statistical margin of error in each of those polls, which means that they are inconclusive. This is a considerable achievement by Martin Schulz, who has managed to lift the SPD by some 10pp, which in relative terms is an increase of almost 50% from it previous voter base. If you do the electoral math in the ARD poll, you get to a joint SPD/Green/Left vote of 47%, which is just shy of a majority (the other parties have a joint 48%). This gap is within the margin of error as well. This means that an alliance of the left remains, at this point, a statistically possible outcome. With the two large parties polling at around 30%, they would have a comfortable majority for another Grand Coalition, an outcome both will seek to avoid if they have alternative options available to them.

Jasper von Altenbockum offers a good observation about Schulz. With him, the SPD manages to portray itself as a protest party, which is astonishing considering that it has been in power since 1998, except during 2009-2013. Schulz' anti-establishment appeal, and especially his railings against liberal elites and Gerhard Schröder's labour reforms, is directed in particular at voters of the Left Party and the AfD, both of which are now polling lower than they did before. This way he can score points without having to attack Angela Merkel's refugee policy.

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February 24, 2017

Wilders security breach becomes campaign issue

This was not supposed to become a campaign issue. This past Wednesday, after news broke that one of the police officers in Geert Wilders' security detail had been removed from duty following a suspected leak of information to a criminal organisation, NRC wrote that all Dutch political parties wanted to keep politics out of it. Wilders himself tweeted that he was happy that the government took his safety seriously. But now he has changed tack, and the Telegraaf is leading with Wilders' criticism of the government's soothing words that he was never in any danger. For the first time, Wilders compared himself to Pim Fortuyn, the populist leader who was murdered for his outspoken anti-islamism during the 2002 general election campaign. He said he will suspend all public appearances as long as he doesn't know what information was leaked, and to whom. 

What makes this incident potentially explosive is that the suspended police officer is of Moroccan descent, and is suspected of leaking confidential information to a Moroccan-Dutch criminal organisation. Wilders is famously opposed to Moroccan immigration into the Netherlands. In November he was convicted - but not punished -  for having encouraged crowds to ask for "fewer, fewer" Moroccans at political rallies in 2014. According to Volkskrant, the police officer in question was not physically guarding Wilders, but gathered information about venues. He was arrested on Monday on suspicions of money laundering and disclosure of confidential information, but the judge in charge of the case set him free on Thursday pending an investigation. It has emerged that the arrested policeman's older brother is also a former police officer who was dismissed from the police in 2008 for leaking information.

Grethe van Geffen writes that in the Netherlands ethnic diversity in the police is not taken for granted, but considered a political choice. It is therefore not surprising that the issue has quickly escalated into a broader political debate about diversity. A diverse police force is better able to police modern cities, whose ethnic makeup is quickly changing. But this latest incident comes on the heels of a controversy last November at the DBB, the Dutch police's surveillance and protection service. The image of the service suffered from revelations of internal conflicts, intimidation by superior officers, and complains about the working environment and abuse of privileges.

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February 24, 2017

Kenny wants Ireland clause in Brexit deal

Enda Kenny is pressing for a specific clause on Ireland to be included in the Brexit negotiations, the FT reports. Referring to East Germany’s seamless entry into the EU when Germany was reunited in 1990, Kenny said Northern Ireland should receive the same treatment if it ever joins the Irish Republic. Northern Ireland should have the possibility to join the EU quickly, and they have voted for Remain in the Brexit referendum. The Good Friday agreement allows for a referendum on reunification where there is reason to believe a majority in the region is in favour. Kenny’s move comes at a critical moment.

Northern Ireland goes to the polls next Thursday after a campaign that has not even addressed the elephant in the room. It still looks most likely that the DUP and Sinn Féin will emerge as the dominant parties, not least because the overall number of seats is being reduced from 108 to 90, writes the Irish Times. If the parties cannot agree on a power-sharing deal, a period of direct ruling from London looms. Depending on how occupied the UK is defending its own interests, this may change the framework for talks with the Republic of Ireland.

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February 24, 2017

On why Europe should not overreact to Trump

John Springford and Christian Odendahl argue that the EU should not overreact to the challenges posed by Donald Trump. They note that Trump poses three concrete economic challenges: tariffs, action about currency manipulation, and the border tax. 

"The temptation in Europe will be to oppose Trump because of who he is, not what he does. But the EU should be cautious: a trade war with the US would be costly, and would hurt the EU more than the US. The EU’s strategy should be to protect the institutions and rules that underpin global trade if Trump decides to withdraw the US from that role." 

The guiding principles should be to stick to the rules and to support the multinational institutions to challenge the US, rather than mounting a direct bilateral challenge. Also to be restrained in the response generally, to minimise the economic costs, and certainty to try to avoid the temptation of trying to teach Trump a lesson.

This seems sensible advice to us, but it is also indicative of the utter vulnerability of the European position. The combination of large external surpluses and a failure to invest in security and the strengthening of your geostrategic position makes you extremely vulnerable to external developments.

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