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June 23, 2017

The offer, and what it says about the state of Brexit

We are becoming increasingly convinced that the single biggest risk to the Brexit negotiations is the creation of false expectations. We think that Donald Tusk is seriously ill-advised to continue speculating about a return of the UK back to the EU, even in the rather quaint way he did it yesterday. The British took his John-Lennon antics with a sense of humour, but what if the EU concluded at one point that there is a real chance that the UK might reconsider Brexit? Would the EU at that point not harden its own negotiating position in order to make a Brexit reversal more attractive? Could they refuse the offer of a transitional period for the same reason? 

Our concern is not so much that the UK reverses its decision, but that a miscalculation on the part of the EU could prompt the hardest imaginable Brexit. 

Theresa May should have spent her 15 minutes at the Council explaining that she will see through the process personally; that she won a greater share of the vote than almost any leader present; that the opposition supports her Brexit mandate; and that a change of government, though unexpected, would not make a difference. 

Her offer on the rights of the 3m EU citizens in the UK - us included - is not really surprising or meaningful because immigration is an issue where the small print matters more than the grand headlines. What we thought was more interesting than the offer itself was how some EU leaders reacted to it. While Angela Merkel was cautious as ever, the FT quoted others as being more open, especially on the vexed question of the role of the European Court of Justice, a demand some are already backing away from. May effectively gave up on March 2017 as the cut-off date, in favour of a date from between March 2017 and March 2019. In the end, what will matter in this particular subset of negotiations are the thorny details, like: the treatment of family members not residing in the UK, the very common occurance of incomplete paperwork or a short interruption of an applicant’s employment record, or the absurd 85-page application form which really requires the help of an experienced lawyer to fill out satisfactorily. These things matter more than the headlines. 

But the bottom line of what Theresa May is proposing is that everyone who arrived in the UK before March 2017 will be able to stay, those who arrive between now and Brexit day will have a chance to regularise their status, but may have to apply for permanent residence under a new regime. We predicted that this would happen. The EU’s red line in the negotiations is the protection of the rights of people who are residing in the UK now. The UK’s red line is sovereign jurisdiction. This is not really a hard issue to compromise on. A roomful of immigration lawyers could do this in a weekend. We assume that the UK will accept the EU demands on the important small print issues, while the EU gives up the demand of oversight by the ECJ.

If the biggest risk to the Brexit process is false expectations for a Brexit reversal, then the best way to achieve this outcome is to give misleading advice to Brexit negotiations and the politicians who are behind them. The debate is clouded by bitter British EU officials, who are understandably frustrated that years of their work in Brussels have come to nothing. These diplomats tend to offer poor advice not out of spite, but because they cannot see the difference between negotiating within the EU, which is their field of experience, and negotiating with the EU. This was our thought when we read Steve Bullock in the New Statesman, who gave a very accurate rendition of the negotiating methods employed by EU diplomats, where the key to success is trust. But it did not work for Greece. Nor is it likely to work for the UK in the Brexit negotiations, because the Brexit negotiations are between one country and a group of 27 represented by a joint negotiator with an inflexible mandate. One does not need to apply game theory to understand that a credible no-deal option constitutes an essential tool to balance the playing field, which in turn constitutes a pre-requisite for an agreement.

Peter Kellner is right in his UK political analysis: May is stable for now. A leadership challenge would make no sense whatsoever because the Tories would risk another election which they might lose. It is worth also reading David Owen on the Labour minority government in the 1970s. Such constructions are difficult, but can be surprisingly robust.

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June 23, 2017

Meet Germany’s next finance minister

Politico has an interview with Christian Lindner, the FDP chief, who after the next elections may be the foreign minister or the finance minister if the current polls prove correct. A CDU/CSU/FDP coalition is not exactly a new construct - Helmut Kohl governed with it for 16 years - but today’s FDP is very different. 

Lindner repeated his call for a Greek exit from the eurozone, but not the EU. He says that the recent deal in the eurogroup was intended only to get past the German elections. It is voter fraud. If Greek debt is not sustainable, as the IMF says, then Greece needs to restructure, which is only possible if it leaves the eurozone - at least temporarily. 

He said there is no way the EU could grant Greece debt relief inside the eurozone ,because this would produce moral hazard (a concept Germans are more afraid of than anything else). He says the Portuguese would then want to default as well. 

He also expressed his opposition to a common eurozone budget, saying the EU already had a budget. The only way a eurozone budget would distinguish itself from the EU budget is through outright redistribution. And no prizes for guessing what he thinks about Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for a eurozone parliament and a eurozone finance minister.

Instead, he wants a two-speed Europe. 

For those who read German, it might be worth reading a Whatsapp transcript by some of the AfD members in Saxony, who wanted to end press freedom when they take over power. It is a frightening read, and suggest that the party has drifted from a pure anti-euro position to the extreme right.

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June 23, 2017

When Greek drama meets French drama

With a hat tip to Keep Talking Greece, we noted a report by the Athens news agency, according to which Emmanuel Macron told Alexis Tsipras in respect of the recently agreed deal:

"We did it! The results were very good. We haven’t finished yet but the way is open” 

And Tsipras’ reply was:

“Indeed, now we need to continue with careful steps.”

This conversation has a certain Eugene-Ionesco quality. Everybody is pretending. Nothing gets resolved.

For a more realistic assessment of the Greek deal, see this article highlighting a research note by Fabio Balboni at HSBC, who notes - correctly in our view - that without QE or debt relief Greece will be trapped. It cannot exit the EU, and will most likely require a new fully-fledged bailout programme with full conditionality. It is the worst conceivable scenario for the country. One possibility, he notes, is a precautionary credit line instead of a full bailout.

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  • May 09, 2019
  • The EU's impossible dilemma
  • The horsetrading starts in Sibiu
  • May to bring withdrawal bill to Commons week after next
  • September 27, 2018
  • Two ways out of the Brexit impasse
  • February 16, 2018
  • How big will the euro budget be?
  • July 10, 2017
  • EU in self-destruction mode
  • The EU's fault lines
  • Fake News and Fake views
  • November 30, 2016
  • Is Russia behind a massive cyber attack in Germany?
  • Will Fillon move to the centre?
  • The Dutch left field is getting crowded
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • October 18, 2019
  • The horrifying implications of Merkel’s 5G decision
  • April 17, 2019
  • Why it is far from clear that the grand coalition will survive the year
  • Macron's chance and challenge
  • Eurozone firms' surprising response to sagging profits
  • The result of Spain's elections, a riddle wrapped in mystery
  • The MMT debate is coming to Europe - and Germany
  • Greek parliament seeks German war reparations
  • October 15, 2018
  • Black Brexit smoke
  • Bettel can relax and stay in office
  • Solving the crime vs solving the problem
  • April 16, 2018
  • Italy's and Germany's pained response to the Syria attacks
  • On the end of the eurozone's economic honeymoon
  • Why Bulgaria should stay out of the euro
  • Where shall we meet after Brexit?
  • October 16, 2017
  • What‘s the deep meaning of the elections in Lower Saxony?
  • Can Brexit be revoked?
  • Macron's grand narrative
  • April 19, 2017
  • Shadows of money
  • Breppe Grillo vs Eurointelligence
  • October 20, 2016
  • No games please, we are Europeans
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • November 14, 2019
  • Are France and Germany finally converging on security policy? We think they might.
  • July 04, 2019
  • What will the European Parliament do?
  • February 21, 2019
  • Sound and fury, but Brexit reality unchanged
  • Supertanker Deutschland moves to join internet age
  • October 12, 2018
  • A deal so close, and yet so far
  • AfD leaves Germans speachless and helpless
  • June 04, 2018
  • German discourse out of control
  • Wait for European disunity on US tariffs
  • January 24, 2018
  • AfD europhobe to chair of Bundestag's budget committee
  • Watch out for the Labour Party debate on the single market
  • On the productivity puzzle
  • September 18, 2017
  • Why Germany cannot lead Europe, let alone the free world
  • Will Macron help to build up Mélenchon?
  • Boris' Coup
  • May 12, 2017
  • What to do with Germany’s tax windfall
  • How Macron counts on building a majority
  • Options for the eurozone
  • January 05, 2017
  • French Socialist primaries - old wine in new bottles
  • Le Pen's hard ecu
  • Will Tusk get a second mandate?
  • Themes of 2017
  • August 30, 2016
  • Brexit facts on the ground
  • Burkinis and Republican primaries
  • The SPD and TTIP
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • December 02, 2019
  • Will pension reform protests spiral out of control?
  • Malta's PM resigns over murder case
  • October 22, 2019
  • High stake poker with Turkey
  • Without EU accession prospect, what is at stake for Macedonia?
  • September 13, 2019
  • Protecting our German way of life: on the decline of the car industry
  • August 05, 2019
  • No deal first, elections later
  • Free movement of labour? Not for politicians
  • Europe already lost the digital battle
  • June 27, 2019
  • Why it is an illusion to think that the Commons could stop a no-deal Brexit
  • Vestager for president
  • May 22, 2019
  • Better start those no-deal preparations right now
  • Europe's real transfer union is from east to west
  • April 15, 2019
  • Finland's far right changes the game
  • Brexit party drawing almost even with the Tories
  • March 11, 2019
  • Ask what Europe can do for Germany - AKK's EU manifesto
  • February 05, 2019
  • Pressure on Varadkar rises - the EP turns up the heat
  • When grounds shift - literally
  • January 04, 2019
  • Will the AfD become the Dexit party?
  • Romania's corruption problem in the spotlight of its EU presidency
  • November 26, 2018
  • Two German plus two Dutch makes four spitzenkandidaten
  • Yellow vest protests - radicalisation and new political alliances
  • October 24, 2018
  • Can the eurozone be governed without a parliament?
  • EU to grant UK-wide backstop
  • Merkel flip-flops on diesel legislation
  • September 25, 2018
  • Be careful what you wish for - second referendum edition
  • August 28, 2018
  • Urban politics and national crisis - the Irish case
  • How anti-semitism became one of the main issues in British politics
  • July 30, 2018
  • Brexit midsummer madness
  • July 03, 2018
  • Some realism about tariffs
  • How the Brexit carousel has come full circle
  • June 08, 2018
  • German car lobby in full panic mode - wants EU to cut car tariffs unilaterally
  • Turkey suspends migrant deal with Greece
  • Is Macron losing the left?
  • May 14, 2018
  • Catalonia: plus ça change...
  • Conveney says no to Brexit with border infrastructure
  • Why the noble Lords don't really matter
  • April 18, 2018
  • What Macron did not say in Strasbourg
  • Should we worry about Selmayrgate?
  • March 27, 2018
  • The IMF's proposals for eurozone reform
  • No concessions from Erdogan
  • Will the UK be shut out of Galileo on Brexit?
  • March 05, 2018
  • One rock, two vetos, three governments
  • Rutte weighs in
  • February 12, 2018
  • What the euro debate is really about
  • How Brexit can still falter
  • January 23, 2018
  • Berlusconi is a pro-European once again
  • January 05, 2018
  • Catalonia's government by Skype
  • The case for EEA membership
  • December 06, 2017
  • Ireland in search of its own path in the EU
  • Who owns the eurozone?
  • Gabriel's big speech
  • November 20, 2017
  • Showdown over Northern Ireland
  • Castaner and his list confirmed
  • Gennimata to lead the new left alliance
  • Brexit‘s ultimate irony
  • November 02, 2017
  • The Impact of Brexit
  • German court of auditors questions diesel tax break
  • On trade and violence
  • October 19, 2017
  • Germany is softening up over Brexit
  • The French budget and the wealthy
  • Will Borut Pahor win re-election as Slovenian president?
  • October 05, 2017
  • May clings on
  • On German ECB conspiracies
  • Mélenchon's crusade against the EU flag
  • September 22, 2017
  • The last German polls
  • September 11, 2017
  • Turkey issues travel warning for visitors to Germany
  • How nasty is the AfD?
  • August 31, 2017
  • Where are the Républicains?
  • Poland unmoved by EU rule-of-law sanctions
  • May will stay through Brexit, and then fight the 2022 elections
  • August 21, 2017
  • Soft, getting softer
  • Tsipras' chances of a boost
  • On the fallacy of a middle-ground option for the eurozone
  • July 31, 2017
  • Russia sanctions bill becomes US law
  • Spain's Guardia Civil in the eye of the Catalan storm
  • A grand bargain between France and Germany
  • July 24, 2017
  • Macron's popularity falls amid more budget cuts
  • Orbán to support Polish government against EU
  • No exit from Brexit
  • July 17, 2017
  • What Tony Blair's Brexit confusion tells us
  • Schulz advocates compulsory investments
  • Italy’s government has effectively lost its majority
  • July 11, 2017
  • The political fallout of the G20 in Germany
  • July 06, 2017
  • On Merkel’s imperial overreach
  • When the opposition opposes to oppose
  • Everybody wants the medicines agency
  • July 03, 2017
  • Can Greece exit its programme without a credit line?
  • The softening Brexit
  • Macron's state of the nation address
  • June 28, 2017
  • Is gay marriage Merkel’s next refugee problem?
  • June 26, 2017
  • Brexit - the central case and the tail-risk
  • The German fear of Macron