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August 01, 2017

Macron threatens his ministers

Emmanuel Macron passes on the blame. Faced with falling popularity ratings after a stand-off with the military, outrage over the housing tax reform, and cacophony from the LREM group in the assembly, he decided to step in. At the cabinet meeting on July 13 he told his ministers not to be over-reliant on the civil service. Le Figaro has this quote that was doing the rounds in the press (our translation):

"This is a dog's breakfast what emerges from some of your notes. Do not get enveloped in the comfort of the documents written up by your civil servants. It might be comfortable for you to be placed into their hands. But if you continue like this, you will have disappeared in six months."

He called on his government to anticipate and make sense of the decisions taken, so that they can be understood by the citizens. So, how will the French understand his public admonishments? We remember the two times he did the same to his military chief, Pierre de Villiers, who resigned as a consequence. Can this happen again? Is this not an even more concrete threat? 

With this leak to the press Macron made sure that the public sees that he is not a technocrat. He also imposed his authority on the government. The same goes for the assembly. Le Monde reports that he met with key allies in the parliament last Friday and called for some vice presidents, who were outmanoeuvred by the opposition, to be fired. He also wants more training and support for new MPs. The government will also change the way it communicates with the public. Some political counsellors are even allowed to brief outside of official press conferences, something unheard of only weeks ago.

More streamlined efficiency is also promised by the president of the assembly, François de Rugy, who wants to limit the discussions about certain reforms to committees rather than in the plenary. 

The French government also recorded one clear success this week as the senate approved the labour law reform to pass by order. This is no small thing as there were differences with the assembly that needed to be overcome, writes Le Monde. The arbitration between the LREM dominated assembly and the senate, where Republicans are in the majority, produced a text that is now ready to go back to trade unions and employers before it is written into law in late September. The labour minister expects no surprises here, though there are demonstrations already in the pipeline for September.

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August 01, 2017

How to avoid an intra-Irish economic border

Leo Varadkar can be unusually outspoken for an Irish prime minister, also on Brexit. Last week he said Ireland was not "going to design a Border for the Brexiteers", much to the irritation of the DUP,  the Northern Irish party that is propping up the Conservative government in London.

Varadkar made it clear that the Irish government does not want an economic border. The position in Dublin is that either Northern Ireland on its own or Britain as a whole must stay in the European single market and customs union, to avoid an economic or trade Border across Ireland, writes the Irish Times. This ultra-soft Brexit is the only option on the table that honours what the government in Dublin agreed with Northern Irish parties including the DUP last November, according to Varadkar. But splitting Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK, and allowing it to remain in the single market or customs union on its own, would be strongly opposed by the DUP.

Vardkar said it is the responsibility of the UK and the pro-Brexit DUP to come up with suggestions on how to avoid a hard border, using technology or any other means. The idea that the border could be moved into the Irish sea to facilitate customs checks at air and sea ports was strongly rejected by the DUP, according to the European Tribune.

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August 01, 2017

Brexit confusion

A large number of Brexit stories in the British press are based on simple misunderstandings of legal terms. Downing Street wanted to put an end to the public squabbling among ministers by saying that free movement will end in March 2019. That is legally correct, because the UK will cease to be a member of the EU at that point, and therefore no longer be subject to EU law and its freedom of movement rules. At that point, the UK will need it own immigration law. However, if the UK were to enter a time-limited transitional agreement with the EU that maintains the current market access arrangements, it will have to accept an open immigration regime as a political quid-pro-quo, based on UK law of course. The EU has been very clear that it will not allow UK aeroplanes to move freely if the UK impose immigration controls.

The UK government's statement on freedom of movement is both legally correct and factually inconsequential. Philip Hammond’s position will prevail, not only because it has the support of a majority in the cabinet and the parliament, but also because there really is no technical alternative. And freedom of movement will technically end in March 2019, only to be reintroduced a fraction of a second later for the interim period through domestic legislation.

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