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October 26, 2018

Towards Fine Gael II minority government

Brexit may divide politics in England, but in Ireland it seems to unite Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in their attempt to preserve the political status quo despite major misgivings. Some party members may be tempted not to extend the agreement that allowed Fine Gael to govern with the parliamentary support of Fianna Fáil since 2016. But the alternative of snap elections in the midst of Brexit negotiations is a risk none of the two parties is keen to take. 

Now that the agreement is up for a review, and there is general willingness to proceed, the art will be for both parties to find a way forward without being seen as accommodating each other too much. There will have to be some tiptoeing around sensitive issues, and overcoming deep-seated suspicions will always be a major challenge given these two parties' long history of resentments and opposition.

Despite the display of goodwill to continue the Fine Gael minority government, there is a potential for accidents along the road. Fianna Fáil announced it wants to review the current agreement to identify what has not been achieved since 2016, and whether this was due to political blockage or administrative hurdles. Health overspending and the delivery of housing supply are two areas most likely to feature on this list. 

The Irish Times writes that the two parties may end up discussing the removal of those political blockages before budget talks can continue. This gives quite some leverage to Fianna Fáil. Leo Varadkar on the other hand told his MPs and senators that his negotiation team is vigilant of any stalling tactics from Fianna Fáil. The time schedule is for both parties to exchange papers next Tuesday, followed by a full plenary session on Thursday November 1.

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October 26, 2018

EP votes for Saudi arms embargo, but who cares?

The European Parliament is afflicted with a long, worthy, and frequently ridiculed tradition of voting for all kinds of resolutions to make the world a better place. The reason for such persistent do-goodery is simple. Before the EP acquired the substantial legislative powers it has today, there was not much else the chronically underemployed MEPs could do.

On the surface, yesterday’s quasi-unanimous vote of 325 for and one against, with 19 abstentions, on a motion calling on EU governments to agree a joint embargo against Saudi Arabia, falls squarely in that tradition. Virtue comes easy when the EP has no powers to constrain the governments to act or even to debate the issue. If it did, various lobbies as well as many MEP’s own electoral calculations would have ensured a different vote.

And yet. As we noted yesterday when we highlighted the crass divergence on arms sales to Saudi between partners as close as France and Germany, EU governments continue to fail completely to cooperate even on topics as powerfully symbolic and strategically important as this one. Occasionally, tragedy becomes farce as when Spain summersaults through wildly different positions only to decide that protecting Spanish jobs must take precedence after all. Often, disunity allow governments to pretend they would love to act if only everyone else did the same.

So let’s risk a prediction here. If Europeans continue to wait for the day when governments voluntarily align their positions when big jobs and big power are at stake, and when the immediate threat is not a lethal one, they can wait until their face turns European blue.

In the United 50 States of America, Congress can vote to block arms sales – and  the world takes note. In the 28 disunited states of Europe where every capital can hide behind any other, the world very sensibly responds with a shrug. Fed-up with the lack of European global foreign policy power? Give power to Europe and, yes, even to its parliament.  

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October 26, 2018

It's not easy being green - French edition

Cécile Cornudet makes the interesting point that, apart from immigration, the environment will be a big subject in the upcoming European elections. Green policies allows parties to distinguish themselves and to put their stamp on what it means to be environmentally responsible. This is what this diversification looks like for France.

Emmanuel Macron puts exit from nuclear power on the back burner, and focuses instead on achieving climate goals through tax incentives. On the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Benoît Hamon or Yannick Jadot want both exit from nuclear and climate policies based on a change in the business model for the economy. For Marine Le Pen the environment means food safety and animal welfare, which translates into opposing global free trade. Laurent Wauquiez, leader of the Les Republicains, is keen to prove that there is a right-wing ecological conscience in rural France, while Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who leads a break-away party on the right, wants to prove that one can be green and hostile to wind turbines at the same time.

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