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November 10, 2017

The Irish question intrudes

The big issue in the Brexit talks yet to be resolved before the December EU summit is the financial settlement. But the Irish question also looms large, and could potentially derail the process. The Irish government realises that its leverage in the discussion over Northern Ireland will be reduced after the summit gives the go-ahead for the second stage of the Brexit negotiations. This is why it is pressing for a solution to the Northern Ireland question beforehand - coupled with a threat to block the agreement if none is offered. The British had hoped that they can postpone this issue until later, on the grounds that there is nothing more to be said about Northern Ireland until the contours of the future trade agreement are drawn up.

Peter Foster of the Daily Telegraph has obtained the Irish position paper, which suggests that Ireland is now playing hardball. It says that the Article 50 agreement needed to respect the integrity of the internal market and the customs union, and recognise that Ireland will remain a member. It also insists that the UK avoid a hard border, and abide by EU rules. It goes on to say that the UK must ensure that it counteracts any regulatory divergence from the single market. The paper is effectively saying that the only solution to the Northern Ireland problem is for the UK to remain in the customs union and the single market, or at least accept 100 EU rules and regulations coverings customs and agriculture. 

The article says the Irish position was discussed at the EU's Brexit working group ahead of yesterday's talks. It points out that Dublin's demands present an impossible dilemma for the UK, as it would have to choose between the territorial integrity of the country, or the reversal of Theresa May's Brexit mandate.

The FT also has a story on the same issue, quoting one senior EU official as saying that the Irish had become worried by the lack of progress, and were ready to exert maximum leverage. Another negotiator expressed concern about the Irish "wild card"

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November 10, 2017

Beyond political parties

Can one be elected and stay without a party? La République En Marche campaigned as an empty vessel, but now that Emmanuel Macron has put Christophe Castaner as party leader, the question is how his ambition will manifest. Can one give LREM substance without becoming a party? The label is clearly different, as the talk about LREM continues to be not as a party but as a movement. Movement to signify continuous change. This is easier to organise with a concrete goal in mind, like winning an election, as opposed to a lasting structure that is solid and adaptable at the same time. What about content? Castaner said the priorities will be to support the government in its policies, to think about and anticipate future debates, and t select candidates for elections. Sounds a bit like a think tank (except for the last point). And its structure? Its organisation and practices are to be different, with more local autonomy and elements of participative democracy to offer concrete services, no intermediate political structure, and the head in Paris. Jean-Luc Melenchon’s party is experimenting with similar elements. 

But will this be enough to engage the people? There is another trend, that of depolitisation, practiced by those staying in the public sphere but working privately, points out Cécile Cornudet. Xavier Bertrand, François Baroin, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen are notable examples. Both movement and de-politisation are a response to the French having had enough of their political parties. Both trends are risky.

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November 10, 2017

The European Commission - friend of the Glyphosate lobby

When it comes to the trade-off between corporate interests and health and environment concerns, the European Commission has a long history of acting as champion of industry. We were reminded of this yesterday, when the Council failed to accept the Commission's request for the extension of the licence for Glyphosate, a herbicide deemed a potential carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. The European Parliament has voted to phase out Glyphosate by 2022, the Commission's proposal was not about phasing it out - but merely extending the licence until 2022 without any commitment to not renewing it again. The Commission proposal failed because France and Italy voted no, and Germany abstained, as FAZ reports. There is now another stage in the process, and if that fails, the Commission has the right to extend the licence by dictat, an outcome the Commission wanted to avoid for political reasons. We assume that the Commission fears the reputational damage from such an unilateral decision. Given the warning by the WHO, it seems irresponsible to push ahead with the licensing. We see similarities to the Commission's failure to stand up to the diesel cheats in the car industry by persistently failing to test emissions properly. We should be careful that European integration is not associated with a disdain for environment and health concerns.

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