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February 27, 2018

Irish transport prepares for Brexit scenarios

Contingency planning for all forms of Brexit is in full swing in Ireland. Irish Rail is currently assessing whether electronic tablets can be used for border checks as of March 2019, with the options of checking either on board or before boarding trains in Dublin and Belfast. 

Irish Rail is also awaiting a Brexit report by the Irish maritime development office about traffic through the vital "land bridge" transport link to Europe through the UK, the Irish Times reports. Part of the plan is a high-speed rail link between Dublin and Belfast, to reduce the journey time by one third from the current 135 minutes to 90 minutes. They are also looking into the possibility of direct ferry links to continental Europe from the Rosslare and Waterford ports in the southeast, in case of a significantly hard Brexit scenario. The government is backing this with a €116bn national development plan for infrastructure, allowing for growth regardless of the Brexit option - hard, soft, orderly, or disorderly - according to the transport ministry.

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February 27, 2018

One last Dutch referendum

The Netherlands is now abolishing its referendum law. The current consultative referendum mechanism was only introduced in 2015, and led to the No vote on the EU's association agreement with Ukraine. Mark Rutte managed to negotiate a fudge with the EU to accommodate the referendum result, but the whole episode gave the Netherlands a new populist political party, Forum for Democracy. It started life as an organisation to promote the referendum and now has two seats in the Tweede Kamer. Its leader, Thierry Baudet, competes successfully for media attention with Geert Wilders. 

This brush with direct democracy left the Dutch political class shaken, and after last year's election the Rutte III coalition agreement included the abolition of the consultative referendum. The biggest U-turn here was by left-liberal party D66, which is big on improving democratic participation and was a leading proponent of the original consultative referendum. Now, as part of the government, they agree that the actually existing consultative referendum is detrimental to Dutch democracy. The Dutch lower house voted to abolish the consultative referendum yesterday, with some tension as they have a majority of just one seat so all majority MPs needed to be present. The upper house is expected to vote on the issue in April. 

An NRC editorial argues that in today's fast-moving society a vote every four years can hardly be described as the ultimate form of democracy. The consultative referendum was introduced as an emergency brake allowing voters a last say on issues of importance, and there was consensus in the Tweede Kamer two years ago to reform, not abolish, the referendum law.  The decision to abolish it is likely to increase voter disaffection, warns the paper.

Before yesterday's vote, a second consultative referendum managed to sneak in. Opponents of a new internet wiretapping law managed to get the requisite signatures to organise a consultative referendum that will be held simultaneously with the local elections of March 21.

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February 27, 2018

Is the CDU a conservative party?

Germany does not have many genuinely conservative commentators - of the kind the UK has far too many. FAZ's main political commentator, Jasper von Altenbockum, is an exception. What makes him interesting for us at this particular time is that he is putting the CDU's internal conflict in sharper focus than anybody else we have seen. The CDU is the real protagonist in German politics right now - more so than the Social Democrats, who have been killed already. The CDU is still a rather big party, polling at over 30%, but a on a strong downward trend. He asks why it is that the CDU reacts so allergically to the notion that it is, or should be, a conservative party.

His first observation is that German political parties are all conservative in a narrow sense - they want to conserve what matters to them: the market economy, the welfare system, the health of the forests. It is the classic bourgeois reaction to the French revolution. The CDU is conservative in that sense, too, but not in the sense of a conservative party that reaches deep into the right wing of the political spectrum (like the Republicans in the US or the Tories in the UK). The AfD has not only filled that political vacuum, it has also pushed the CDU further into the political centre. The key political issue in Germany today is not economics but immigration, as many citizens feel a sense of alienation in their own country. 

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