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March 09, 2018

The Franco-German axis and its opponents

We already noted opposition from eight smaller countries to the eurozone reforms, soon subject to bilateral Franco-German discussion. Sebastian Dullien (@SDullien) has calculated that these eight countries constitute less than 10% of the EU's population. Jean Quatremer notes two further obstacle to the reforms. The first and most important is Angela Merkel's duplicity, by agreeing to hold a dialogue with Macron but then stabbing him in the back with the vote in the European Parliament against transnational lists. There the EPP aligned with the parties of the right. Quatremer makes the point that the eurozone reforms demanded by Macron require treaty change, which in turn requires the consent of every member state including non-eurozone countries. Intergovernmental co-operation is always possible, but prone to shifts if there is a change in government, especially in a big country. This is now happening in Italy where the Five Star Movement is likely to be less supportive of the Franco-German agenda than the previous government led by the PD. Quatremer's conclusion is that, in the long run, the EU is much more likely to degenerate into a mere free-trade area.

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March 09, 2018

Auf Wiedersehen, Sigmar Gabriel!

One can debate endlessly the reasons for the decline of the centre-left in Europe, but yesterday we saw one of its big symbolic moments when the new leadership of the SPD told Sigmar Gabriel that he will not be part of the new cabinet. They nominated Heiko Maas to the job despite the fact that he has no foreign policy experience whatsoever. He is the current justice minister and another pale SPD careerist.

Gabriel had been foreign minister for only a little over a year. He voluntarily stepped aside from the SPD leadership to make way for Martin Schulz. He was a difficult SPD leader, prone to flip-flops that irritated his former underlings, especially Andrea Nahles who used to be SPD general secretary under him. Even before she is officially confirmed as party leader, she is wielding her influence to knife him. 

Gabriel is by far the most popular SPD politician, and he is a big political animal, a great orator, and by far the most colourful politician the SPD has - or had. Heribert Prantl writes in Süddeutsche Zeitung that the decision to get rid of him was a huge mistake. The party does not have a surplus of talents. The decision tells us that the new leadership emulates Angela Merkel's style of surrounding themselves with loyalists. Prantl noted that the CSU has shown how two larger-than-life personalities can co-exist when Horst Seehofer and Markus Soder agreed a power-sharing deal - with the former as CSU chairman and the later as Bavaria's prime minister.

The SPD has always been a coalition of workers and intellectuals, and it is notable that Jürgen Habermas and other intellectuals supported Gabriel.

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