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February 23, 2018

The politics behind the Novartis case

The Greek parliament will have a preliminary inquiry into the Novartis bribery case and the involvement of each of the ten politicians allegedly implicated. After 20 hours of debate the parliament for a one-month investigation by a committee of 21 members: ten from Syriza, one from Anel, five from New Democracy, and one from each of the other opposition parties. The preliminary inquiry has similar powers to those of a first-instance prosecutor. Once the results are published, they are expected to be sent back to the judiciary for further investigation. It could well be that some of the names will drop off the list, writes Macropolis. Yannis Stournaras already presented evidence of why he could not possibly be a recipients of the bribes.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis insisted in his speech that the government stitched this up to frame the opposition and divert attention from their own troubles with Turkey and with the Macedonia name dispute. Mitsotakis agreed that the Novartis case is a scandal, but just not one where politicians are involved. Alexis Tsipras on his part delivered a relatively low-key speech, emphasising that the inquiry starts with the presumption of innocence. He focused more on the political aspect of the scandal. He wondered whether any politician would assume responsibility for waste and corruption in the health sector over those years, linking the resulting fiscal deficit explosion to Greece's need for a bailout in 2010. Tsipras clearly has a post-bailout narrative already in mind, painting the opposition as part of the old political system like he used to do while campaigning, and deflecting criticism towards the fight against vested interests. Even if none of the cases can be substantiated due to lack of evidence, there could well be a political win in this for Tsipras.

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February 23, 2018

German decision on diesel cars postponed

We flagged earlier in the week the German court hearing on diesel bans yesterday. In the end, Germany's federal administrative court decided to postpone its decision until Tuesday next week because of the number of legal complexities involved. The ruling concerns an appeal by two German states against diesel bans imposed by Düsseldorf and Stuttgart. If the appeal is rejected German cities, not just those two, would be allowed to go ahead with diesel bans. 

One important new issue that came up in yesterday's hearing is a potential role for the ECJ. It is possible that the court might refer the case to the ECJ, which should rule whether local councils have the right to impose emissions targets if those exceed the required levels.

The German states argue that the ban can only be imposed by the federal government. But the federal government has no intention of doing so given its exposure to the car lobby. Even the Green-led state government of Baden-Württemberg priotises its relations to the car industry over the emissions targets. The local council are the only layer of government ever likely to impose a ban. This is why this ruling is so important: it will determine who can ultimately take the decisions on diesel.

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February 23, 2018

The Le Pens

The Le Pen family is occupying the French papers this morning. There is Marion Maréchal-Le Pen giving a speech at a leading US conservative meeting, a sort of comeback after her retreat from French politics. The founding father of the party Jean-Marie Le Pen just published his memoirs. And her daughter and current Front National leader Marine Le Pen announced the new statutes for the party. All on one day, a triple whammy. 

Marion's speech at a high profile CPAC conference near Washington got most of the press coverage. She told conservatives that she wants a France-first for the French people. She lambasted the EU as slowly killing ancient nations, and France for giving up its catholic roots to Islam out of political correctness. Her well-received appearance is in stark contrast with Marine Le Pen's visit to the Trump towers during her presidential campaign, when Marine waited in vain for Donald Trump or someone of his entourage to come and greet her. 

The contrast in pictures this time could also not be starker. Marion beaming from the stage with the US capitol in the background, Marine posed next to a cow at the agricultural fair. Marine has another target: the rural voters. She has been courting them ever since she ran for presidency. Laurent Wauquiez is certainly a new challenger with his red anorak. And Emmanuel Macron made sure the scene is not left to them, with some photos of him talking to young farmers. 

As for the new statutes L'Opinion obtained the letter Marine sent to the Front National members, promising the party to become more democratic, participative and efficient. Also she wants the statues to abolish the role of an honorary president, and thus a role for her father Jean Marie Le Pen. The two have had a rocky relationship ever since Marion tried to limit her fathers influence and de-demonise the party.

Jean Marie made sure that he is not forgotten. The first volume of his memoirs new was just launched, a 450 pages strong retelling his personal history from childhood to the years of Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac. Controversy is assured, like his endorsement of Philippe Pétain, who collaborated with the Nazis. 

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