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June 22, 2017

Here comes the new guard

The French government crisis was short lived: François Bayrou and Marielle de Sarnez resigned yesterday morning. In the evening, Édouard Philippe presented his reshuffled cabinet, bringing in more women, more socialists, and more young people. With Bayrou goes one of the last experienced politicians in the government. Now it is all up to the newcomers. 

The reshuffle, which was supposed to be only a technical one after the legislative elections, ended up being a big renewal after the departure of four key ministers. Florence Parly, former state secretary under Lionel Jospin, will succeed Sylvie Goulard as defence minister. Nicole Belloubet, former socialist MP and member of the constitutional council, will follow Bayrou at the helm of the justice ministry. For European affairs we now have Nathalie Loiseau, an experienced diplomat and director of the elite administration school ENA, and a member of Alain Juppe’s cabinet in 1993. MoDem continues to be part of the government with two posts, though at the junior minister level. An interesting observation is that there is no more recruitment from the Republicans, not even from the Macron-compatible Republicans, who are calling themselves the Constructives, and together with the centrist UDI are forming a new opposition group in parliament (see our parallel story).

The undoing of François Bayrou was not only the probe into fictive employment against his MoDem party. Or the fact that he and de Sarnez went after François Fillon when he came under investigation. It was also the fact that Bayrou and his party became expendable after the legislative elections. La République en Marche got enough seats to be independent on MoDem for a majority (even if MoDem got their best results ever). The other reason is that the centre is now the majority, and represented by three parties - LREM, MoDem and the Constructive/UDI group, called LRC-UDI. Bayrou was once the lone defender of the centre, and incarnated this position throughout his political life. Now, when he finally got to the top, he has to let go. Life is unfair sometimes, concludes Cécile Cornudet.

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June 22, 2017

A new centre party in French politics

The other big story in France yesterday was that Macron-supporting Republicans split off from their old party to form a new group in the assembly together with the centrist UDI. The split has been in the making since Éduard Philippe took over as prime minister under Emmanuel Macron. About 20 of the 94 elected Republicans, together with all 18 UDI deputies, formed a new group in parliament yesterday. This will be formalised next week, under the acronym LRC-UDI. 

Thierry Solère, former spokesman for François Fillon and who had organised the Republican primaries, declared that the aim of this group is to support the government to pass through much-needed reforms, and oppose it when necessary. We have thus seven groups in the assembly, three of which are in the centre. With at least 38 MPs the new grouping is still behind MoDem's 42. But, given the latest dynamic and the relentless lobbying from Edouard Philippe and Bruno Le Maire, we expect the number of deputies in this new formation to rise. Some UDI MPs already dream of becoming the third-largest force in the assembly. Others look at the new political landscape and raise the concern that this presidency could end up in chaos. it is for sure a tectonic shift in French politics.

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June 22, 2017

UK government may be weak, but Brexit majority is strong

Juliet Samuel is right in our view. It is wrong to conclude that the weakness of Theresa May’s minority government, and especially her difficulties negotiating a deal with the Northern Irish DUP, would have a huge impact on Brexit. The reason is that the parliamentary majority in favour of Brexit is now overwhelming. 

But the government will have to offer a compromise, the kind of compromise we have been banging on about for a year now. It requires a transitional arrangement with several years of continued membership in the European Economic Area, to give the UK and the EU enough time to negotiate a free trade agreement. She observes that such a compromise would stand a good chance of getting through parliament, which is not true of the associated national legislation, the Repeal Bill (which no longer has the word "Great" in front of it). But a compromise of an exit arrangement is different, and would also defuse the row over soft versus hard Brexit, she writes. We would add it would also defuse the row over the exit bill and the citizens’ rights. Samuel also makes the correct observation that the government would in any case have wanted such a deal, but just did not admit to this in public. She writes that a transition would have to be subject to a time limit to prevent it turning into a permanent arrangement.

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