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February 19, 2018

SPD divided over grand coalition

The SPD's referendum will start tomorrow - with results due on March 4. We urge readers to ignore any comments at this stage that express probabilities of one side or the other winning. This looks like a close contest, and the outcome will depend on events that will be unfolding in the next two weeks. Both sides have everything to play for.

It is generally true that the more senior SPD representatives - mayors, and deputies in federal, state, and local legislatures - tend to favour the grand coalition, while activists tend to be more opposed. It is at this stage hard to say how the terrible opinion polls will shape the views of SPD members, and how they view the cause of the party's decline. If they believe, as we do, that consecutive grand coalitions have deprived the SPD of their own identity, they may well risk an election defeat if this would bring about a renewal. But it is a risky choice that some members might not want to make. 

Suddeutsche Zeitung writes this morning that there is now a campaign by SPD members in North-Rhine Westphalia, which accounts for a quarter of the votes, against the grand coalition. This campaign has its own website - nogroko.de - and encompasses senior SPD members in the state legislature, as well as members of the party's executive committee in the state. Four years ago, 75% of members voted in favour of the grand coalition, but there was no contest then. The opponents are now much better organised, and they also get TV airtime. The head of the young socialists, Kevin Kuhnert, was on TV last night telling SPD members that a vote against the grand coalition would not trigger new elections but lead to a minority government. That's a potentially interesting argument because Angela Merkel and the SPD leadership cannot credibly defuse it. If Merkel were to rule it out categorically, President Steinmeier could nominate another CDU candidate as leader of a minority government. In the final round of voting, that person would only require a relative majority against other candidates. If there is no CDU candidate, he could nominate an SPD candidate, and thus force the CDU to put forth their own candidate. A minority government might not last the full term, and it might lead to a renewed attempt at a Jamaica coalition, possibly under a different leader.

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February 19, 2018

Wauquiez - the French Trump?

Laurent Wauquiez, leader of Les Républicains, caused a storm of outrage in France with his conspiratorial remarks against Emmanuel Macron and Nicolas Sarkozy. According to a video, he told students that Macron and his team had set up a demolition cell to destroy François Fillon during the presidential campaign. Also on record he accused Sarkozy of online manipulation with his texts and emails. Not really something to say if you want to reunite your party. 

Xavier Bernard, a prominent French Republican who recently left the party, compared Wauquiez to Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, and deplored the violence and cynicism his comments reveal. This puts the spotlight on to the other heavyweight, the moderate Valérie Pécresse, who decided to keep her silence. Instead she made headlines with the latest news about her building up her own movement inside the party. Different ways to respond. Politics remains politics, concludes Cécile Cornudet.

In l'Opinion Olivier Auguste writes that this incident confirms the worst fears inside the party, namely that Wauquiez's ambition is bigger than his sincerity, and this this damages his reputation among the right-wing electorate, which still venerates Sarkozy.

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February 19, 2018

Why Brexit will be extremely hard to reverse

Brexit produces mostly noise in the media, and especially on Twitter, and only rarely a succinct analysis. A true exception was an article in the Guardian last Friday by Anand Menon, who goes into some detail into why Brexit is unlikely to be reversed. We recommend this article to those of our readers who think a reversal is possible or likely - if only because Menon brings about some new arguments beyond those that we have made ourselves. He starts off the with the observation that a new campaign is now bringing together the diverse and often fractious Remain supporters, and there is now hope that this time they will stick together. In particular, they may attach an amendment to the Article 50 process, either to request a new deal, or to subject the deal to a referendum.

Menon makes the point that by October it will be too late to request a renegotiation. If the parliament wanted to shift the Brexit negotiating mandate - say, towards a customs union - it would have to do so now. It is also customary in other member states, like Germany, for the parliament to restrict the negotiating mandate.

He also notes - as we have done before - that the deal to be voted in October relates solely to the points already agreed between the EU and the UK last December - on finances, citizen rights, and the Northern Ireland fudge - plus the arrangements for the transitional period, on which there is not a lot to be negotiated. There will be no trade deal to vote on. And, on Northern Ireland, it will be a compromise of words only. 

He also makes an interesting observation about the polls. Yes, there is more support for a second referendum, but a substantial part of that support is by people who want a choice between accepting the deal and no deal - rather than the Remainers' preferred option of accepting the deal or remaining in the EU. We have pointed out before that the latter would be an illegal question in a referendum - and would be challenged by the electorate because the two options are not true opposites. It is impossible to have a second referendum that simultaneous asks a different question from the previous referendum, that asks a logically coherent question, and that could keep the UK in the EU. 

Menon now goes through a whole number of what-if options. If there is a referendum, would the Remain side really win? The wrong economic forecasts of the treasury at the last referendum will be seized upon by the Brexiteers, to discredit virtually all other economic argument of the Remain side (which has never progressed beyond a utilitarian defence of the EU). Then he goes into what would happen if Remain were to win by a 52-48% margin. Furthermore, he assumes that the subsequent negotations with the EU would also go well (which we would not take for granted). But, even if the UK were to remain in the EU after such a process, the country's political division would persist, or more likely get worse. And the UK would poison the EU from within. We fully agree with his conclusion:

"Remainers are, of course, entitled to try whatever they can to secure the outcome they want. But we should be frank about the numerous, often formidable, hurdles standing in the way of a reversal of the referendum result. And we should be honest about the significant problems such an outcome would generate."

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