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April 23, 2018

More bad news for the SPD

The most interesting aspect of yesterday’s leadership vote in the SPD has been the brief presence of a real debate. The challenger to Andrea Nahles, Simone Lange, disputed the party’s policy of committing to a fiscal surplus. Lange, a local politician with no national footprint, was not a serious challenger otherwise. But it is not often these days that an SPD politician says that a fiscal target should never be the central goal of a social democratic politics. This was seen - and probably intented - as a direct attack against Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s fiscally conservative new strongman. Lange managed to get a respectable 28% of the vote, depriving Nahles of the shoo-in victory she and the rest of the party's leadership had hoped for. In the end, all she got was 66% - the second-worst result ever.

We agree with Veit Medick who writes in Spiegel Online that this result is not good enough to start the new beginning that Nahles had promised. The problem is that large parts of the SPD don’t trust her - and that Nahles really has no plan for a new agenda. She says she wants to do things differently, but the first few weeks of the grand coalition have demonstrated that everything continues as is. And it is the CDU/CSU that set the agenda, with the SPD following the CDU on fiscal policy and the eurozone.

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April 23, 2018

Will Theresa May accept a customs union? The Times says yes. We think so too.

The Sunday Times reports that Theresa May will accept a House of Commons vote in favour of a customs union. The article quoted members of her inner circle as admitting that an internal political evaluation has concluded that several key Brexiteers, including David Davis and Michael Gove, would support the prime minister if she undertook such a U-turn, although both Boris Johnson and international trade secretary Liam Fox would still be expected to resign in protest.

The paper was told that 10 Downing Street "will not be crying into our beer" - as one of May’s political advisers is quoted as saying - if forced to accept a customs union. The House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment in support of the customs union. In the Commons, 10 rebel Tory MPs might also support a customs union amendment. The outcome is too close to call as there are also few rebel pro-Brexit Labour MPs. On our calculation, the supporters of a customs union will need more than 10 Tory rebels to secure a victory, but we think that this is possible especially in view of a story like this.

We have to be careful to over-interpret this story. There are different views within the government on the issue, and the story may well have been leaked by a customs union supporter. The Daily Telegraph this morning already printed a denial of the story, clearly talking to different sources in No 10. The Sunday Times article has details of a meeting, attended by chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins, in which those present concluded that May would have enough support - in the party and the Commons - to go ahead with a customs union arrangement. The paper said it had four independent sources that confirmed Gove’s position on this issue. The article said members of May’s Brexit war cabinet would meet on Wednesday to finalise the UK’s stance ahead of the EU summit on June 29. The strategy seems to be for May to continue to argue the case for the UK to leave the customs union. The issue is about what to do if the vote goes in favour of the amendment. 

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April 23, 2018

A comeback for Marine Le Pen?

The asylum and immigration are still highly divisive in France. The parliamentary debate over a draft law on asylum and immigration not only showed the divisions inside the LREM party, but also the power Marine Le Pen still has over the public debate. The topic is at the heart of the Front National movement. 

Commentators are already predict a comeback for Le Pen. As the editorialist of l'Opinion put it, Emmanuel Macron might have won the battle last year against Le Pen in the second round of the presidential elections, but he still has to win the war over the coming years to prevent her from reappearing in 2022. A recent Ifop poll for Paris Match confirms that Le Pen is still second, and would get 23% of voters intentions in a second round if she were to run against Macron again, which is even 2pp higher than her result last year. She is far ahead of Jean-Luc Mélenchon with 16.5%, while Laurent Wauquiez would only get 8% in a second round against Emmanuel Macron.

On the back of these positive poll results, Le Pen is occupying the media spotlight on a subject that is core to FN voters. During last week she multiplied her public interventions, and she even came out of parliament on Friday night to join a gathering against the government's law. Her case was also helped by protests at the French-Italian border over the weekend, held by the extreme right movement Generation Identity with banners calling to stop immigration.

So it looks like on immigration and asylum, the FN becomes once again the centre of gravity: The Republicans are divided, and Le Pen takes every occassion to point out all those FN proposals that Laurent Wauquiez took up for his party. The left decided to use immigration as the defining subject of their opposition against the government. Parties on the left, but also the LREM itself, struggled with the move of the FN to vote in tandem with the majority on one of the articles, which was about reducing the time frame to apply for asylum from 120 days to 90 days.

Officially the vote for the asylum and immigration law was planned to go through on Friday. Yet, on Sunday, after days of sometimes heated debates, there were still 200 amendments (out of a thousand) yet to be debated. The text should go through before reaching the Senate in June. The MPs might use their two weeks of holidays to take stock of what happened and how to move forward. For LREM it will be a good moment to define a common line after some 20 MPs to vote against their own government's text.

We also note that, while Le Pen makes headlines on immigration, her niece Marion Maréchal Le Pen is in the press with her new finishing school in Lyon to train the right-wing leaders of tomorrow. Marion is even more popular than Marine in the polls, despite the fact that the 28-year old is no longer in politics. People still expect her to come back some day.

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