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May 15, 2017

SPD and CDU disagree on how to respond to Macron

Frankfurter Allgemeine notes that SPD and CDU are divided on how to respond to Emmanuel Macron. Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has come out with a proposal for a common investment fund to finance a nuclear repository. Wolfgang Schäuble did not comment personally on this proposal, but his ministry is casting doubt on whether the money is not likely to be used as a slush fund for other projects. Der Spiegel reported over the weekend that Gabriel had written a five-page paper in which he proposed the fund, plus a common budget for the eurozone, and a eurozone finance minister. Gabriel wrote specifically that Germany should have the courage to question its position in the monetary union, and to open up to a compromise with France for a stable eurozone architecture. Schäuble responded that it would be wrong to think the Franco-German relationship needs a new chapter.

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May 15, 2017

Was Rajoy blackmailed?

On Friday, the spokesman for the Spanish government spent a substantial amount of time denying reports that Mariano Rajoy had years ago been blackmailed by a news organisation with recordings in which a businessman spoke about paying bribes to the PP. The story is that Julio Ariza, the president of conservative media organisation intereconomía, had allegedly threatened to release a tape in which a businessman, recently arrested in connection with the ongoing "Lezo" corruption case, would say he had given money to the PP treasurer in 2008. The alleged blackmail is contained in a wiretapped conversation involving Ignacio González, a former Madrid regional premier who was jailed preemptively for his involvement in the Lezo case. According to leaked court documents, González tells another PP regional leader about the blackmail. Julio Ariza has denied that he ever blackmailed the PM, but he does not deny the existence of the incriminating tape. He just wasn't able to authenticate it so decided not to publish it.

Mariano Rajoy faces a difficult week, in which he will not only be called as a witness in the Gürtel corruption case (involving alleged PP illegal party financing going back to the 1990s). In addition, the Spanish parliament will vote on the rebuke of the justice minister Rafael Catalá, as well as the attorney general and the chief anti-corruption prosecutor, over circumstantial evidence that has emerged in recent weeks that they interfered with the Lezo case.

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May 15, 2017

The rise of the re-leavers

The FT has an interesting analysis about the impact of Brexit on the elections. The British electorate is now splitting into three sections: the hard leavers are 45%, the hard remainers are 22%, but there is a group of re-leavers at 23% - these are people who supported remain but now want to leave. This puts support for Brexit at two thirds of the electorate. In other words, support for Brexit has grown massively since the referendum.

The article also notes that this will have important ramifications for the elections. The Tories are now fishing in the pool of the two-thirds, while Labour, LibDems, the Greens, and the Unionist are battling for just 22% of the electorate. Among the crucial group of re-leavers, the Tories are way ahead of Labour. The switch from remain to re-leave is also responsible for the continued weakness of the LibDems, who have not seen the surge in support that so many observers predicted.

In his FT column Wolfgang Munchau makes the point that, while there is now a broad consensus in the UK that Brexit will happen, there are still doubts on the continent. This may be one of the reasons the EU is offering the UK such a tough deal. Behind that lies the hope of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the deal on offer is sufficiently bad, the British will see sense and not leave. Münchau says the priority on the British side will have to be to get rid of these political miscalculations by pre-legislating a fully-costed and easily-understandable plan B that would automatically kick in if there is no deal ,or if a deal is refused. It is only at this point that the EU will start to calculate the costs of a hard Brexit - to supply chains of continental manufacturers and the legal uncertainty of financial contracts, for example. Plan B needs to be viable, but there should be no confusion that it serves the purpose of shifting expectations - it should not be seen as a favoured option.

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