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April 25, 2017

Germans conflicted about Macron

There is no such thing as a German view about Emmanuel Macron. Some Germans see him as a catalyst towards the next stage of European integration - which would necessitate change in France as well as in Germany. Others see him as a failed reformer, and thus lacking in credibility. The main commentaries in Frankfurter Allgemeine's politics and economics sections reflected those two views.

Michaela Wiegel recalls an essay by the French philosopher Joseph Rovan at the end of the second world war, entitled “the Germany we deserve”. His point was that France would have to play an important role in turning Germany into a democratic European country. Wiegel argues that the converse is now true. Germany needs to support France, and in Macron it has the best possible partner, one who unlike François Hollande will not start the relationship with Berlin on the basis of confrontation. She concludes that Berlin should embrace Macron's European agenda, and his legitimate concerns about economic imbalances in the eurozone.

The paper’s orthodox economics editor Holger Stelzner, by contrast, calls Macron a failed reformer. As a former economics minister he shares the blame for the country’s desolate economy, he writes. Stelzner calls Macron’s proposal for a reduction in the state share from 53% to 50% homeopathic. Sticking to the 35-hour week will not boost the French economy, nor will his commitment to keep the pension age at 62 years. And he wonders how a €50bn investment programme can be desirable in a country with a 100% debt-to-GDP ratio.

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April 25, 2017

A choice over Europe

Béatrice Houchard writes in L’Opinion that the run off between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen could not be between more extreme choices: liberalism against protectionism, openness versus closeness, more European integration versus a retreat to the nation state. Le Pen's electorate and Macron's are diametrically opposed to each other on metrics such as income, occupation, education, or geography. On Europe they represent two versions of France, fractured since the 2005 referendum or going back even to the Maastricht Treaty, argues Houchard.

More than 50% of the voters chose a candidate who rejects the European Union in one form or another: Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, but also Jacques Cheminade, François Asselineau, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud. It is true that not everyone mixes the European question together with immigration, but all of them reject the idea of more Europe.

Marine Le Pen chose to campaign on a referendum that brings to people's minds the 2005 referendum when a majority of 54.7% rejected the Lisbon treaty. Le Pen never gets tired of accusing Nicolas Sarkozy and François Fillon of stealing this majority's voice by choosing to pass the Lisbon treaty by a parliamentary vote in the end. Le Pen sees the second round on the present election as taking her revenge on behalf of those forgotten people.

Even if Macron is set to win, if anything he will need to learn from the failures of the past. The fractures between the two versions of France have not healed, as governments have so far failed to convince this majority of people that Europe is good for France.

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April 25, 2017

Who can stop the Tories?

The French pollsters were eerily accurate - or lucky. What about the UK? The latest polls in the UK give massive majorities to the Tories, according to the Telegraph, including in traditional Labour territory. The Tory majority, currently 17, might go up to 130. The Tories are performing particularly well in Wales, partly due to the collapse in support for UKIP. They are now on course to become the largest political force in Wales for the first time in 100 years. An ICM poll for the Guardian shows that Labour is particularly vulnerable to losses to the Tories in marginal seats. The polls suggests a change of 65 Labour constituencies to the Tories. Nationwide, the Tories have an overall lead of 48%, against 27% for Labour, with the LibDems at 10%.

What then to make of the Open Britain campaign, which encourages tactical voting against Brexit-supporting MPs? As the Guardian reports, Open Britain is supporting tactical voting in about twenty selected seats held by prominent Brexiteers, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, and London Labour MP Kate Hoey. The hope is to mobilise half a million pro-Remain supporters on its database against the incumbent MPs. In addition, the group also wants to defend about 20 MPs who backed Remain and whose seats are vulnerable. Open Britain is a cross-party platform. Most of the attack seats are in London and the South-East of England. We don’t think that the campaign will change the election outcome. But it may score a few symbolic points. 

Tony Blair, meanwhile, criticises the decision by his own party to ignore Brexit in the upcoming election campaign. He says he will vote Labour, but despairs over the party’s lack of interest in Brexit, which Blair considers the defining issue of our time. Blair wants a "Bremain" reversal clause - allowing the parliament a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. The idea, of course, is to turn this into self-fulfilling prophecy since the EU would not give the UK a good deal if that was a prospect. Blair acknowledges the difficulties for Labour MPs in Brexit-majority constitutencies, but he says a pro-Remain strategy would still pay off:

“The alternative – to talk about something else – will not be powerful enough in the context of this election. And, frankly, you might as well rally those remainers – even if it was only 25% who voted to stay in the EU."

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