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July 23, 2018

A Watergate affair for Macron?

The affair around Emmanuel Macron's body guard, Alexandre Benalla, is quickly turning into a political crisis since last Wednesday Le Monde published a video showing him beating up a protester at the May 1 demonstrations.

The matter has dominated work in the national assembly since then. Many lawmakers are aghast that Benalla still had an office in the presidential palace two-and-a-half months after the incident, and that he was not immediately reported to judicial authorities. Instead he only received a two-week suspension as punishment, which many MPs call too weak of a response. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is spearheading the attacks on the government, did not hesitate to compare this to the Watergate affair, according to Le Point. This is certainly exaggerated but the government is clearly responsible for a failure of judgement, and Macron's reputation will take a hit. The question we are interested in is how far it will bring him and his government off course. The government already had to suspend the assembly debate about constitutional reform. The opposition parties are likely to keep up the pressure, and the government is in defensive mode. Will Macron still have what it takes to deliver on other reforms? In a way it is good that it is summer and the schedule is less packed. If the affair drags on into autumn, however, we expect an even bigger knock-on effect.

Gérard Collomb, interior minister, will be grilled by MPs at a committee hearing. Benalla, meanwhile, was fired from his job as security guard at the Élysée palace on Friday. Yesterday he was taken into custody and placed under formal investigation together with Vincent Crase, who worked for LREM and was on his side during the May 1 events, and three police officers who circulated the video. 

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July 23, 2018

Irish insist hard border is politically impossible

Leo Varadkar is touring central and eastern Europe to drum up support for a soft-border agreement with the UK after Brexit. Romania will be holding the rotating EU presidency in the first half of next year and therefore on the official Brexit date.

The Irish government is adamant that it is politically impossible to enforce a hard border. As part of the withdrawal agreement Varadkar will lobby for a backstop, officially called the Irish protocol, on which the UK still hesitates to sign off. The backstop is a legal guarantee that no border will be erected within the island of Ireland, even if the EU and UK can't secure a functioning trading relationship after the latter leaves at the end of March 2019. An amendment precluding Northern Ireland from having a different customs arrangement from the UK was voted through in the UK parliament two weeks ago. Ireland understands this as incompatible with the backstop arrangement. 

The Irish government is also preparing to defy WTO rules, according to the Irish Independent. Under WTO laws, Ireland and the EU will be obliged to install a hard border for customs and regulatory checks once the UK territory is classed as a third country, outside EU jurisdiction for goods. The Irish government is getting ready for a major confrontation with the WTO as they insist that a hard border is politically impossible.

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