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February 27, 2017

May’s next gamble

One of the important open issues about Brexit is the status of EU citizens in the UK and the cut-off date from which the right of residency will be applied. Theresa May has told the Daily Telegraphy that she plans to make the day of the Article 50 trigger the cut-off date. The government previously explored to backdate the cut-off date to the referendum last year, but was told by lawyers that this would illegal, while the trigger date would not. 

We are somewhat surprised by this move since the latest statistics show that net immigration has fallen last year as a result of the Brexit referendum. At some point there were fears of a last-minute rush by foreigners to take up residency in the UK before the deadline, but these concerns seemed to be misplaced in view of the latest statistics. 

The UK will not apply immigration controls from March, but will use March only as the cut-off date in future decisions about residency status of EU citizens after Brexit. The decision is thus not a breach of EU law. But May's unilateral decision will almost certainly impact the Article 50 negotiations. The report in the Telegraphy said that Downing Street had come under pressure from the EU to delay the cut off date until 2019, the presumed year of Brexit. One government source is quoted as saying that they fear that 

“We could end up with half of Romania and Bulgaria coming here if we wait that long.”

In another important Brexit-related news, the Times reports that May is preparing for another Scottish independence referendum to be announced immediately after the Article 50 trigger. The polls show no majority for independence now, but the political assessment in Downing Street is that March is the last moment for Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, to move ahead. Otherwise she risks losing momentum. Technically, May could reject another referendum, but will not do so. Instead, she will insist that the referendum be held after Brexit is legally in force, so that the referendum does not turn into a choice of England-vs-EU. Independence would not change Scotland’s position in the EU. The SNP is eyeing a date of autumn 2018.

One note about Scotland. It in fact makes no difference whether Scotland declares itself independent while the UK is still a member of the EU, or soon afterwards. Scotland will not automatically inherit the UK’s EU membership, and would have to make a new application in either case. And this application would, before Brexit, be rejected by Spain. Whatever the case for independence may be, it is not EU membership. We think Theresa May is right to insist on a postponement on the referendum, simply to introduce some clarity on this point. We recall that the SNP claimed during the last referendum that Scotland could remain in the EU and adopt the pound as its currency. The UK government clearly wants to avoids a re-run of this scenario.

We are more critical about her decision, if true, to set March as the cut-off date for immigration. The decision is based on exaggerated fears of a last-minute immigration rush, and is likely to complicate the negotiations about mutual residency rights.

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February 27, 2017

Macron and the rise of the centre

Emmanuel Macron is rising in the polls, and getting closer to Marine Le Pen in the first round. A week after François Bayrou threw his support behind Macron, he gained three percentage points and now stands at 23%. Marine Le Pen is still leading with a steady 26%, despite her own scandal about fictional employment. She can count on a steady and loyal electorate, but also attracted 17% of former Sarkozy voters and 7% of Hollande voters. In the second round, however, she is down by two or three percentage points when pitted against Francois Fillon or Emmanuel Macron, who would both win against her. 

Macron's gain also has to do with the weakness of Benoît Hamon. The polls suggest that Macron got 50% of Hollande voters, up from 18% last week. Commentators wonder whether the elections could be won from the centre, something completely new in a bi-polar system like France. One of the arguments is that Marine Le Pen mobilises the less politically engaged. The centre thus becomes a symbol for acceptance of pluralism, according to the historian Jean-Pierre Rioux in Le Monde. But Macron must still show that the centre is audacious and determined, and that it is not just about moderation, writes Cecile Cornudet.

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February 27, 2017

Bite the bullet and get on with it

Two polls show that the majority of Greeks want to see the second review concluded. In the Kappa poll 61.5% of the polled prefer the government to make a deal. Only 27% want snap elections. Some 64.5% said that Greece should remain a member of the eurozone, while 27% percent opted for returning to a national currency. 

The Alno poll shows similar results, and also that 40% do not think that New Democracy would have reached a better deal if it had been in office. About 24% of the participants believe that the result would have been better, while 23% think it would have been worse. The poll was taken after the latest eurogroup meeting.

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February 27, 2017

Who is the AfD?

We noted a very long essay by Justus Bender in FAZ, an abstract from a book he wrote on the AfD, in which he explains in gory detail how the party has ended up as extreme as it is today. That wasn’t always so. The party started off as a rather diffuse eurosceptic movement, a coalition of professors in favour of flexible exchange rates and German nationalists. But over the years the party radicalised due to the way it is internally organised. While the SPD is strong in working-class communities, and the CDU/CSU in middle-class areas, the AfD has no natural local base. It owes its success to the internet as its main platform of discussion. The internet has allowed the party base to interact on a national scale. The internet is the ideal place for conspiracy theories, which can multiply unchecked, and it is a place where people can scream their head off - like car drivers who swear at other drivers in a language they would never use in a face-to-face conversation. This has radicalised the party to the point that it can no longer distinguish between what is and is not important. The party lacks a proper debating culture.

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