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June 15, 2018

1:0 for Macron against the SNCF unions?

The SNCF reform turned into law yesterday with a final vote. Four months of strike actions did nothing to prevent this. The French government prevailed in its main objectives, including the end of the special status for new employees, and preparing the company for competition. This does not end strike actions, though. The smaller the troops and the more lost the cause, the more radical the strikes are likely to be, predicts Olivier Auguste in l'Opinion. For the CGT, the strongest union in the SNCF and the most opposed of the four unions to the reform, it is a fight not only about the politics of the reform but also about their own identity. 

What about the two more moderate trade unions, the CFGT and Unsa? After the reform was launched, the relationship with the government first took a turn for the worse, as the government seemed ill-prepared and unresponsive to the unions. This was the time when they agreed to strike actions two days out of five each week. The government then changed the strategy in May and started a dialogue. In the end the two moderate unions obtained some important concessions from the government: a guarantee that all employees would be taken over in case of privatisation, long term investments and the takeover of a large chunk of the SNCF debt. Will they now pull the plug and call for the end of the strikes, risking to break the line with the other two unions? Also, will the reforms help to turn the SNCF around? It is one thing to win a showdown with the executives of the trade union, and another to get the employees back on board, warns Les Échos.

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June 15, 2018

Brexit showdown still on

In the case of Theresa May's Brexit diplomacy, the unsustainable ended pretty quickly. The BBC's former political editor Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) summed it up nicely on Wednesday:

"Let me see if I’ve understood what happened today. PM bought off a Remain revolt by convincing MPs they’d get a meaningful vote on deal but avoided Brexiteer revolt by saying she would not allow one. What can possibly go wrong? (Watching from Moscow so may have misunderstood ...)"

It did go wrong yesterday when the rebels found out that Theresa May had lied to them. Or rather, as Downing Street would put it, that they misinterpreted her. The issue is the so-called meaningful vote, a legal procedure that would put parliament in the driving seat if there is no Brexit agreement by February. We think this is a rather theoretical issue because that situation is very unlike to arise. We agree with Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, who said there is going to be a meaningful vote in any case. If parliament approves the deal, all is good. If not, there will undoubtedly be elections and a new government. The situation in which the meaningful vote amendment would most likely arise is for the government and the EU not to agree any deal by February. The timing was chosen to minimise the bluffing potential. But as the constitutional law expert Vernon Bogdanor pointed out, it is far from clear whether this amendment is in line with constitutional law, which gives the government the sole responsibility to negotiate international treaties. And, as we keep on pointing out, UK politicians have a tendency to frame the Brexit process purely in terms of their domestic political situation. They do not tend to take into account the other side. We doubt it very much that the European Council would start to negotiate with the British parliament, or even a government that has essentially lost its executive functions. It is also far from clear that an application for an extension of the Article 50 period would be acceptable if there is no pre-negotiated deal on the table. We only see the option of a short extension in case the ratification needs a bit more time. 

In proposing its amendment, the government has not given parliament the right to call the shots, only to have a meaningful discussion. Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general behind the meaningful procedure, called it unacceptable, and so did a few other rebels.

The bill will now go back to the House of Lords, which will pass its own amendment on Monday, and back to the Commons for a vote on Wednesday. The manoeuvre has bought Theresa May exactly one week, as MPs will be voting on essentially the same amendment they reject on Wednesday. This time, however, without the government's assurance of a compromise. 

The question is: has Theresa May been able to persuade enough of the rebels?

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June 15, 2018

Will Italy block Ceta?

Poor Canadians. First the insults from Donald Trump after the G7, and now they are becoming the political target of Trump's new European friends in the Italian government. The Lega's agriculture minister, Gian Marco Centinaio, has told La Stampa that Italy might not ratify the Ceta trade agreement with Canada. 

This was not a campaign issue, so we would at this stage not treat this as decided. But we would not be surprised if the Italian government were to make its approval of Ceta contingent on gaining other concessions from the EU, for example on fiscal policy. As we reported above, Angela Merkel is also desperate to strike a bilateral refugee deal, for which the new Italian government will surely exact a price. 

So far, 12 member states have ratified the Ceta treaty. France and Italy have not. Italy is the biggest uncertainty. Many politicians in the new government share Donald Trump's views on international trade. As the FT points out, the deal will only be dead once Italy notifies the EU that its decision not to ratify is permanent and irreversible. That has not happened yet.

We have been wondering why Italy would pick on Canada, and recalled the large imports of Canadian manitoba flour, used by Italian pasta manufacturers and also sold in shops. This is a special type of flour also produced in the wheat fields of northern Italy itself, so it would make sense for the Lega to speak for its local farmers. 

The FT also points out that a large share of the exemptions in the Ceta trade deal relate to Italy - many of the issues that might potentially arise for Italian farmers have already been taken care of. If Ceta fails, of course, that would also throw into doubt the ratification of the Japan and South Korea trade deals. 

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  • Will the ceasefire hold in Idlib?
  • October 27, 2019
  • German political centre is melting
  • Train drivers in all-out confrontation with Macron
  • Erdogan makes threats again
  • June 18, 2019
  • Retaliation threats over drilling
  • February 04, 2019
  • Watch out for the resurgence in Tory unity
  • The gilets-jaunes' effect on the European elections
  • What did he possibly mean by that?
  • September 27, 2018
  • Two ways out of the Brexit impasse
  • May 22, 2018
  • A €60bn ESM credit line - is this what they call a backstop?
  • Will Nato survive Trump?
  • Northern Ireland's Brexit disillusion
  • Would Corbyn become prime minister if he accepted the single market?
  • January 15, 2018
  • Is the section on Europe for real?
  • Can Drahos upset Zeman?
  • September 11, 2017
  • Turkey issues travel warning for visitors to Germany
  • How nasty is the AfD?
  • May 08, 2017
  • A message of hope
  • Barnier's not so easily agreed Brexit principles
  • The rebirth of the paranoid conspiracy theory
  • January 05, 2017
  • French Socialist primaries - old wine in new bottles
  • Le Pen's hard ecu
  • Will Tusk get a second mandate?
  • Themes of 2017
  • August 24, 2016
  • Towards a hard Brexit
  • Is there a pact of Ventotene?
  • La rentrée
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • July 01, 2020
  • Macron's executive - obstacle or enforcer?
  • New low in transatlantic relations
  • May 26, 2020
  • French fashion stores - lockdown is one crisis too many
  • An important German supreme court ruling against VW
  • Public scrutiny over lockdown rules
  • April 20, 2020
  • What if we are wrong?
  • March 16, 2020
  • Why many of the Covid-19 statistics are misleading
  • February 10, 2020
  • A new era in Irish politics with Sinn Féin
  • More fish, please
  • January 06, 2020
  • A decade that started with a bang
  • What to expect of Spain's next government
  • Divide et impera: Macron's pension reform strategy
  • November 25, 2019
  • Twenty years on - and less safe than ever
  • Philippe's last round of talks ahead of strike actions
  • October 24, 2019
  • Will the Bundestag stop Merkel's 5G unilateralism?
  • September 24, 2019
  • Corbyn’s sweet victory, and why it matters
  • Redistributing migrants rescued from sea - a first step
  • August 27, 2019
  • Remain’s narrowing pathway
  • Macron's diplomatic masterstroke
  • July 15, 2019
  • No queues in Berlin for von der Leyen’s succession
  • Mitsotakis moves fast with tax bill
  • The feel-good factor in the pre-Brexit days
  • June 18, 2019
  • Retaliation threats over drilling
  • May 20, 2019
  • Far right on the march
  • A plot against the EU - a new weapon to stop Le Pen?
  • April 24, 2019
  • May's final and biggest gamble
  • Will the EP be Brexit's great parliamentary beneficiary?
  • Can Loiseau fight the far right given her past?
  • March 28, 2019
  • Fidesz exposes EPP to barrage of provocations
  • How Berlin has turned the ghost of Aachen into a poltergeist
  • March 06, 2019
  • Weber toughens his stance against Orbán
  • The European loneliness of Emmanuel Macron
  • You really should not take EU's willingness to extend for granted
  • February 13, 2019
  • What to make of the man in the pub - and other tales
  • Macron loses more early advisers - or cuts them loose
  • January 24, 2019
  • A gilets-jaunes list for the European elections?
  • Let's take "off-the-table" off the table
  • Why Italy's centrist parties gain no traction
  • January 04, 2019
  • Will the AfD become the Dexit party?
  • Romania's corruption problem in the spotlight of its EU presidency
  • December 14, 2018
  • Running down the clock
  • Macron, Philippe - untouchable no more
  • EP blasts Commission over Babis
  • November 26, 2018
  • Two German plus two Dutch makes four spitzenkandidaten
  • Yellow vest protests - radicalisation and new political alliances
  • November 08, 2018
  • Macron under heavy fire
  • Don’t underestimate AKK
  • October 23, 2018
  • May hardens position on Irish backstop under pressure from cabinet
  • Greek pension cuts - a classic European dilemma
  • October 08, 2018
  • A renewed willingness on both sides to cut a Brexit deal
  • Latvian politics in turmoil after huge populist gains
  • September 25, 2018
  • Be careful what you wish for - second referendum edition
  • September 11, 2018
  • Brexit by November
  • Italian government to reverse the opening of Sunday shopping
  • August 31, 2018
  • How Macron uses the new European divisions at home
  • Macron's eurozone budget is probably a no-go
  • EU edging closer to a Brexit deal
  • August 20, 2018
  • ... and a subtle shift in EU policies towards both Russia and Turkey
  • Nothing to celebrate about the end of the bailout programme
  • Support for Brexit holding up
  • August 02, 2018
  • Remain campaign in state of panic over possible Brexit deal
  • Could Brexit trigger Irish reunification?
  • Syriza's politics after the deadly wildfires
  • July 24, 2018
  • A constitutional referendum in Poland?
  • On the future of the euro
  • July 16, 2018
  • How to think about the three Brexit options
  • How to respond to Trump
  • July 09, 2018
  • German panic about Target2
  • AfD level with SPD
  • How the EU could fail
  • July 03, 2018
  • Some realism about tariffs
  • How the Brexit carousel has come full circle
  • June 29, 2018
  • On the EU's red lines in the Brexit negotiations
  • As bad as Nafta
  • June 25, 2018
  • Trump's car tariff to come early
  • On the lack of a sharp focus in the eurozone debate
  • June 20, 2018
  • Does Macron support Merkel over refugees?
  • Arising doubts whether the meaningful vote rebellion will succeed
  • The message of two shocking polls
  • June 18, 2018
  • Some thoughts on the future of Europe
  • The end of Spanish income moderation?
  • June 15, 2018
  • 1:0 for Macron against the SNCF unions?
  • Brexit showdown still on
  • Will Italy block Ceta?