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September 18, 2018

Strache joins Orban in challenging the legality of the vote

While MEPs from Sebastian Kurz' ÖVP voted unanimously in favour of triggering Art. 7 last Wednesday, Heinz-Christian Strache's FPÖ voted unanimously against. It is not unusual that national coalition parties vote differently in the European Parliament. But the differences continue to show up at home. 

Heinz-Christian Strache has now asked the foreign ministry to make a formal request that the EU council's legal services investigate whether last Wednesday’s vote was legal or not, according to Der Standard. The vote required a two-third majority, which was achieved according to the European Parliament with 448 MEPs voting in favour and 197 against, which is 69.5% compared with 30.5%. But Orbán now argues that the 48 MEPs who abstained needed to be accounted for. This would push the percentage down to 65% in favour, slightly below the required two-thirds majority. 

We think that, while there is a certain ambiguity in the texts, the parliament's legal services and the political landscape suggest that the complaint has near zero chance to succeed.

It is best to think of this as a political gesture by Strache towards Orbán. After all, if Fidesz were ever to be excluded from the EPP, the Europe of Nations and Freedom group would be the natural candidate for Fidesz to join. 

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September 18, 2018

How Brexit can still go wrong

This morning’s news stories were a good reminder that the Brexit process still has the potential of going wrong - both in the UK and the EU. We thought Michael Gove, the environment secretary, was unwise with his comment that the UK might unilaterally change what was agreed in the withdrawal treaty. It reinforces the EU’s determination to seek iron-cast guarantees, especially on the Irish border. 

The Times writes this morning that Sabine Weyand, the EU’s deputy negotiator, warned at a meeting of EU ambassadors last  week that the flexible nature of the UK constitution might produce some future surprises. It is possible that the EU might believe an issue to have been settled by the withdrawal treaty only to discover later that it wasn’t. The EU is therefore seeking credible commitments. There is fear that after Brexit Theresa May could be replaced by a successor who reneges on her promises. The Times also writes that the hardline position of the negotiating team was backed by President Emmanuel Macron while Donald Tusk and Angela Merkel seek a more flexible agreement. 

We also thought it unwise for the senior EU official quoted in the Guardian to say that the EU expects the UK to climb down in its darkest hour during the upcoming negotiations. If either side brags about victory and defeat, the risks of a hard Brexit would rise. If the UK perceives the deal as a humiliation, chances are that the UK parliament will reject it.

Neither should we underestimate the potential deal-breaker of the UK’s future immigration policies. Under the Chequers Plan, the UK will leave the customs union and the single market, but goods trade will be effectively subject to free cross-border movement. Theresa May outlined yesterday the UK’s future immigration policy, which will place newly arriving Europeans in the same category as citizens from third countries. As the Daily Telegraph reports, there are different views on this subject within the government - with Philip Hammond supporting a preferential system for EU nationals. We think that it would be a deal-breaker for the EU to have to accept a regime that would allow goods to cross freely, but not citizens. May’s comments on the BBC’s Panorama programme leave some room for compromise, but we expect this issue to come up in the negotiations. We should also watch out for today’s publication of an important report by the Migration Advisory Council, which was given the task to come up with a new immigration system for the UK post-Brexit.

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