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April 27, 2018

The return of Spain's government by parliament?

Mariano Rajoy's government has the weakest support of any minority government in the 40 years of Spain's democracy, and so in 2016 the opposition parties were making grand plans for a government by parliament. The idea was that the opposition - sometimes including Ciudadanos, which provides outside support to the PP government - would be able to use its numbers to set the legislative agenda. But this has been frustrated not just because the parliament's rules of procedure favour the government introducing legislation but because Article 134 of Spain's constitution gives the government a veto power over any proposed legislation with a negative fiscal impact. In under 18 months since Rajoy's reappointment as PM, his cabinet has exercised this veto 62 times, sometimes with a tenuous link to the budget. On two occasions the board of the parliament rejected the government's veto as unfounded, which led to the government filing a competence question before the constitutional court. The government argued that Article 134 gave it an absolute veto power, but the court has sided with the board of the parliament and ruled that the government's veto power is subject to the decision of the board. The court also stresses that the budget link has to be direct, real, and effective, and affect the current budget and not only future ones.

Ciudadanos has come to the rescue of the government by commissioning an opinion from the parliament's legal counsel on whether the court's decision means that the pieces of legislation stopped by the government so far can be reactivated or not. Ciudadanos has other objections to many legislative proposals introduced by the left opposition, and the government's fiscal veto was a convenient way for them to avoid taking a position on them.

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April 27, 2018

Towards elections in Ireland?

The relationship between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is deteriorating, a sign that snap elections are looming, writes the Irish Times. Their agreement that Fine Gael can run its minority government with outside support by Fianna Fáil has led the two parties to a constant stream of bickering and political mud-slinging. Its two leaders Leo Varadkar and Michael Martin don't get along - they are from different planets, as the paper puts it. Varadkar was chosen as a leader precisely because he would stand up to Fianna Fáil more than Enda Kenny did.

The recent string of attacks from Varadkar is no accident, but a calculated prelude of the end of the agreement between the two parties. And with that comes the perspective of new elections. The only question is when. Fine Gael is not keen discussing the next budget with Fianna Fáil. But none of the parties seem to be ready for elections before the summer, for example after the abortion referendum at the end of May, as one of the paper's columnists. So elections may happen some time towards the end of the summer, before the budget is discussed in the autumn. The government is convinced it can improve its ratings and its disappointing results at the last election were due to bad timing. 

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April 27, 2018

From Washington to the banlieue

Just back from Washington, Emmanuel Macron faces a challenge of a different kind. The centrist Jean-Louis Borloo, who is not a member of Macron's party, used the president's methods to make his own show. Commissioned by Macron to put together a battle plan for urban policy but ignored by the Élysée palace since, Borloo launched his report on how to transform the outskirts of the cities, the so-called banlieues, without the president's blessing. He presented the report in interviews with several newspapers and television, and styled himself the herald of the mayors. Like Macron he used a report to open up a controversial topic. Borloo challenged Macron, who himself has pledged to address all subjects that had been left behind by his predecessors, to prioritise the development of the banlieues, a topic that has been an blind spot in politics for decades, so Borloo. 

The Elysee and the prime ministers office played down the report as too old fashioned and too costly. It is not Borloo's decision and anyway the president will not talk about it until mid-May. But the deed is done. For the first time in this presidency a debate is launched without the executive's knowledge, writes Cécile Cornudet

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April 27, 2018

The case for a time-limited customs union

One of the experiences we have made in respect of EU-level negotiations is that even the most binary issues are not completely binary. There are several dimensions on which compromise is possible. And one of those is time.

In a comment in the Spectator James Forsyth complains about the potential the customs union controversy has to tear apart the government and the Tory party. But the more interesting bit is his answer to how this problem is likely to be resolved: through a customs union with a time limit.

"There is one obvious way of fudging this situation. Britain stays in the customs union, but only until the new systems needed to keep trade as frictionless as possible are in place. Mrs May could argue that this second transition period was needed to deliver a smooth exit and that it wasn’t just a case of Britain needing to be set for its post–Brexit future, but Europe too. She could point out that there was little point in, say, Dover being ready on day one if Calais were not. This might just work."

Quite. This is also the main scenario for Brexit. 

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