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February 21, 2018

Whom do Wauquiez' indiscretions serve?

The satirical magazine Quotidien published the complete recording of Laurent Wauquiez' talk at the business school in Lyon, a treasure trove of indiscretions. It was an off-the-record talk, but one of the students taped it. These leaks happen all the time, so that is not the interesting bit. How it plays out in politics is.

Wauquiez used this occasion to define himself as the antithesis to Macron. He defended his straight talk, anchored in the real world, as opposed to Macron's discourse wrapped in silver paper. Cécile Cornudet reminds us that the French tend to vote for a president in opposition to the previous one: the hyperactive Nicolas Sarkozy followed the immobile Jacques Chirac, and was succeeded by the more normal Francois Hollande. Wauquiez' calculation is to create an anti-Macron profile to prepare for the elections in four years' time. This strategy is not to be dismissed.

Also those politicians who now hit out against Wauquiez - Macron's ministers who called for an apology or for his resignation - only make him bigger.  Xavier Bertrand called him worse than Donald Trump. The idea of a sanitised world with hypocritical standards is rejected by a large part of the population. Critics shot themselves in the foot, and in the end serve Wauquiez, concludes Ivan Riofol in his blog for Le Figaro.

We also noted with interest that Marion Maréchal Le Pen is speaking at a high-profile conference of US conservatives and Republicans near Washington this week. It is her first political appearance after she withdrew from politics last year. Many saw her withdrawal as a strategic move to distance herself from the defeat of Marine Le Pen. More conservative and more pro-market than her aunt, young and knowledgeable, she was the rising star in the far-right Front National party and the youngest MP ever elected to the assembly (at the age of 22). For many she still has that potential to return and challenge her aunt, who is struggling since her defeat last year. According to the Guardian she used her year out of politics to learn English. Will we see her more back home in France?

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February 21, 2018

Latvian claims and counterclaims

Latvia's central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics gave a press conference yesterday to lay out his version of events after being detained for questioning over allegations that he had extorted a large bribe of at least €100,000. He denied any wrongdoing and in fact he claimed he had been the target of death threats himself. Meanwhile, Latvia's defence ministry issued a statement that the detention of Rimsevics is likely to be the result of a foreign disinformation campaign. Without naming Russia, the ministry refers to information operations observed before the latest elections in France, Germany and the USA. 

The defence ministry refers in particular to an Associated Press exclusive we covered yesterday, which carried the explicit accusations by Narvik bank executives that they had been extorted by Rimsevics for €100,000 per month. The photo which accompanied the story is said to be manipulated to show Rinsevics in questionable Russian company, and he himself said at his press conference that the picture must have been doctored. The position of the defence ministry is in contrast to the calls by the PM and finance minister over the week-end for Rimsevics to step down. 

At his press conference, Rimsevics said that Narvik bank owner Grigori Guselnikov had asked him for help selling the struggling bank, and that Rimsevics had refused as the central bank does not provide that kind of help. According to Rimsevics the accusations of bribery are retaliation for this. He also said that executives at ABLV bank - the one which is now under a payments moratorium as a result of being labelled a primary money-laundering concern by the US treasury - would like to see a more pliable person at the head of the Bank of Latvia. 

Despite these jabs from Rimsevics at Narivk and ABLV, it appears to be true that his detention over the week-end had nothing to do with either of those two banks, as Latvian state media report. The case would be related to the liquidation of Trasta Komercbanka.

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February 21, 2018

Some observations about euro-ins and euro-outs

We noted a tweet yesterday - by the British embassy in Poland (@ukinpoland) - which is symptomatic of the problems facing the debate of EU and the eurozone. We call it the club-within-the-club delusion of a eurozone inside the EU. It is a frequent misjudgement we have come across particularly often in UK debates. Here is the tweet:

"Countries that do not join the #Eurozone should not be treated as second-class #EU Member-States..."

What this statement overlooks is that they are second-class states not because they are treated that way but because they have chosen the path of opt-outs voluntarily. They are no longer at the centre of the main political discussions by choice. 

The eurozone is not like the bridge society of your gentleman's club. It is the fulcrum of greatest integration drive in the EU, and it is now asserting its own interests against those of other member states. Brexit is the result of what happens when member states go down the path of opt-outs. And it is no surprise that there is also a discussion - albeit at an early stage - about Polish EU exit.

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