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June 20, 2018

Does Macron support Merkel over refugees?

We were struck by the main headline in FAZ this morning: Macron supports Angela Merkel in her refugee policies. Is this true?

Macron said he agrees with Merkel that both want to achieve a harmonisation of asylum law in the EU. And their joint declaration condemns unilateral and un-coordinated action that would endanger Schengen. This is a clear snipe at Horst Seehofer's declared intention to send migrants back, starting July. 

We consider this a fairly meaningless statement since progress for an EU wide deal is held up by the refusal of countries to agree to binding quotas. France is one of them, and Macron has not shifted his position. And we doubt very much that the likes of Matteo Salvini and Seehofer will be impressed by the joint declaration. Seehofer said European efforts had failed, and that it was time for domestic solutions. And Salvini has previously talked about an exit from Schengen. We are not sure what problem this would solve for him. Most of Italy's refugees do not come across the Schengen border, and he could flood the EU with unregistered refugees if he keept that border open - a much more potent weapon than a Schengen exit. 

Stephan Löwenstein has an informed comment in FAZ on the role of Austria in this debate, the country that will take over the EU presidency as of July. Sebastian Kurz is a political ally of Seehofer and of Jens Spahn, Angela Merkel's conservative opponent inside the CDU. Kurz and Spahn were spotted having a coffee in a public cafe in Berlin. Vienna is also outwardly relaxed about Seehofer's threat to send back registered migrants - even though they would be sent back at the Austrian border. But Löwenstein notes that the position of the German and the Austrian right are hardly compatible, since they have different material interests.

Vienna's main focus in its EU presidency will be the protection of the EU's external border, and in particular the strengthening of Frontex. This is obviously not a project that can be implemented within a short time. Even if the European Council agreed on a road map for reform of Frontex, we doubt it would be sufficient to bring the likes of Seehofer and Salvini on board. Merkel's problem remains unresolved.

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June 20, 2018

Arising doubts whether the meaningful vote rebellion will succeed

Today is a big day in the Brexit process. The meaningful vote amendment is back in the House of Commons after a second successful passage in the House of Lords. It is an important amendment with serious potential to derail the Brexit process in all sorts of ways. The vote is expected to be tight. We noted a tweet by Chris Lockwood, the European editor of the Economist, who wrote:

"Hearing the rebels likely to chicken out on Grieve2. Doesn’t bode well for the vote on the withdrawal agreement in Oct (or whenever the hell it comes)."

The Daily Telegraph informs us that Theresa May's advisers believe that only 8 out of the 15 potential rebels will support the amendment. If those numbers are correct, that should give the government a small majority. The paper lists the names of five MPs who were in talks with government whips yesterday.

We noted two very good comments this morning. Daniel Finkelstein writes in the Times that the amendment would lead to a hard Brexit, rather than soften it as its authors intended. He gives three reasons. The first is that the EU's position should not be taken for granted. Second, the Labour Party's priority is to defeat the government. Labour may not support the withdrawal deal, but Labour would also not support any of the alternatives either. This produces the absurdity that there is simultaneously a parliamentary majority against staying in the single market, and against leaving it. The same goes for a second referendum. Labour might support a referendum, but not support a second Leave vote. The objective is to produce chaos, not to solve problems. And finally, he says the authors of the amendment underestimate the strength of will of those who support a hard Brexit. This is after all the default position under Article 50. A Brexit reversal does not happen by default. It requires a majority.

The crucial part in this puzzle is the position of the Labour Party. If the Labour Party were united in a position to reverse Brexit, or change the Brexit mandate, they could achieve that. Nick Cohen has a very good comment in the Spectator on Labour's position, in which he is desperately trying to make out a rational explanation for why Jeremy Corbyn behaves the way he does. One possible explanation is that he is planning a siege economy with import and exchange controls. 

"Anyone who has spent time in a left-wing party, trade union or university department will recognise the New Labour adviser Hopi Sen’s description of the process at work in the 21st century. You are in a meeting and everyone agrees to a policy until someone ‘takes one step to the left’ and in an accusatory voice denounces it as a betrayal of the true values of the left. Until, that is, there are no more steps to take and the movement collapses."

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June 20, 2018

The message of two shocking polls

We have had two opinion polls in the last few days, which are indicative of where the EU is heading right now. In Germany, an Insa poll has asked the hypothetical question of voting intentions if CDU and CSU were to split. The result is, in %:

in %
CDU22
CSU18
SPD17
AFD11
FDP6
Left12
Greens10

The poll shows the political costs of Merkel's refugee policies - the gap between the combined vote of the CDU/CSU now and the sum of the votes above is around 10pp. A separate CSU would be able to get some of the votes back that migrated to the AfD. The poll shows us what is possible, not what will happen. A breakaway, well managed, would offer an opportunity to the CSU to strengthen its position. It would be a de facto equal partner in a coalition with the CDU. But note that there is still no majority for a restrictive immigration policy even under this poll. CSU, FDP and AfD would not have a majority of their own, and we don't see the CDU agreeing to entering a coalition with the AfD. 

Another intriguing polls came from SWG in Italy: 

in %
Lega29.2
Five Star29
PD18.8
Forza Italia9.2
Fratelli d'Italia4.1

It does not really matter whether the Lega has marginally pulled ahead of Five Star. This is all well within any forecasting error. But it matters that the Lega is now emerging as one of the two large independent forces of Italian politics. Berlusconi's Forza Italia is turning into a splinter party. The centre-right coalition will hold, but it will be dominated by Matteo Salvini, the new strongman of Italian politics. Every day he manages to capture the news headlines with another outrageous statement. The louder he speaks, the more support he gets. The latest is his declared support, via Twitter of course, for  

"a mass cleansing, street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood."

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