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November 30, 2017

Please tell us there is another way than fudging the border

All sides are intensifying efforts to find a solution for the border with Northern Ireland after Brexit, ahead of a meeting between Theresa May and Jean Claude Junker early next week. The Irish Times reports that there had been progress, as the language is more acceptable to the Irish, but there is still a distance to cover from the Irish perspective. The Irish are seeking a clear commitment from the British that there will be no change to the Border arrangements. Their proposal is for the UK to assure "regulatory equivalence" between the EU and the UK. But the British do not want to be compromised ahead of negotiations for a trade deal. Northern Ireland will leave the single market and the customs union with the UK, this is their position. But they are working with the EU to find a way forward. 

Britain and the EU have already agreed joint principles on the common travel area and the Belfast agreement, which both sides agree must be respected in its entirety. This could form the basis for an agreement on the future of the border, with both sides acknowledging that adhering to the agreement means maintaining cross-border relations essentially as they are today.

We also note that Sinn Féin's former minister Chris Hazzard warned yesterday that not only violent protests but also civil disobedience could be the result of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. But a hard border in theory needs not to be a hard border in practice, as pointed out by Newton Emerson. Former PM Bertie Ahern suggested that a hard border does not necessarily have to be enforced. Where there could be no technical solutions for border control, just turn a blind eye to it. This way you can fudge the border. We don't believe that a muddling-through strategy of deliberate non-enforcement is a way forward. There need to be an agreement in principle for it to be trusted.

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November 30, 2017

Could Gentiloni remain prime minister beyond the elections?

Antonio Polito writes that Paolo Gentiloni could remain Italian prime minister for a good while after the Italian elections, which are now widely presumed to take place in March. He goes through various political scenarios. Even if the centre-right were to gain the 40% of the votes required for a majority in the lower house, it would still not have a majority in the Senate and would need to form an alliance there with other parties or groups. 

Under the Italian constitution, the old government remains in office until a new government is formed. This is different from Germany for instance, where Merkel is no longer the German chancellor - only chancellor in acting capacity - which implies a dramatic loss of power during the interim period. After the election, there will be a period when the Italian parliament comes together. This will be followed by a potentially prolonged process of consultations between the president and the party groups. Sergio Mattarella will in the end nominate the politician with the best potential to assemble a majority in the parliament. It is thus very likely that Gentiloni will last until the summer next year. And Polito notes that Italy badly needs a government with the experience of ministers like Pier Carlo Padoan and interior minister Marco Minniti, the two ministers in charge of handling the country's biggest challenges: the economic recovery and the refugee crisis.

The Italian economy, meanwhile, continues to recover in terms of GDP but, as Federico Fubini notes in Corriere della Sera, this has not translated into a stop to the brain drain as young Italians continue to leave the country to work abroad. The number of Italians going to the UK is still growing, despite Brexit, contrary to migration trends from other parts of the EU.  Why is this so? Fubini argues that ongoing outflows despite the economic recovery could be related to the way Italian society works. While the economy has generated jobs, it has not generated the jobs that are attractive to young high-fliers. 

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November 30, 2017

Stage set for Babis minority government

The stage is set for business magnate Andrej Babis to take over as Czech PM. The procedure is that the outgoing government needs to tender its resignation, which it did yesterday, but it could only do so after the constituent session of the parliament which dragged on for over a week because it took several rounds of voting to fill all the positions of the board. While Babis will preside over a minority government, it is already becoming apparent that the working majority will be composed of his personal political entity ANO, the the far-right SPD, and the Communist party KSCM. Together they have 115 seats out of 200. The commentators at the liberal-conservative portal Echo24 are apoplectic at seeing the country governed by an alliance of oligarchy, populism, and communism.

The dynamics that can be expected from a very fragmented parliament was apparent already in the appointment of the key positions. The leader of the opposition Petr Fiala of the mainstream party ODS (conservative, eurosceptic) was voted into the board last. The speaker of the parliament, Radek Vondracek of Babis' ANO party, was appointed with the support of ANO, the Pirate party, the far-right SPD and the Communist party KSCM. One notable appointment was that of the chairman of the mandates committee which will decide on the parliamentary immunity of Babis himself, who is under investigation for fraud on EU subsidies at his agribusiness conglomerate Agrofert. The chairmanship of this important committee went to an outright Stalinist, Stanislav Grospic of the KSCM. 

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