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October 31, 2018

Macron's break raises some worrying questions

Just as Angela Merkel announced her exit from politics, the French president takes a five-day break. The official story is that the president needs some rest before a demanding travel schedule to celebrate the 100th anniversary of World War I. But what if rumours are right and Macron is exhausted or, even worse, suffering from burnout? He is the type one could see this happening to. If this is a case of exhaustion, a refreshed Macron might be back after a week. If it is a burnout, five days won't make a difference. 

Signs that all is not well are the increasingly frequent incidents of uncontrolled outbursts, like the most recent one in Slovakia where he referred to the leaders of Hungary and Poland as crazy minds who lie to their people with anti-European slogans. He said it was structural funds from Brussels that financed their parties and helped their careers. Others are concerned by his tendency towards indecision. 

We won't know what is going on for a while. But what has been happening this week is not good for Europe. With only seven months to go before the European elections, the EPP faces a future with Viktor Orban and without Merkel. The political momentum of Macron's new alliance European alliance has been fading. It will need substance beyond bashing against populists. If both leaders of France and Germany are weak, the question is who will dominate the political centre in Europe. Are we up for another surprise?

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October 31, 2018

Tsipras campaigns on constitutional reform

Alexis Tsipras is pushing for a revision of the constitution with the aim to mobilise Syriza's base and to frame the opposition as a party resisting change for electoral purposes, writes Macropolis. This reform has been on and off the agenda for the past two years. Two of the main subjects are the separation of church and state, and to allow voters rather than MPs to elect the Greek president. The latter is to prevent MPs stalling the election of a candidate and trigger elections as happened in the past. The article notes that Tsipras somehow mellowed his position on the church, and instead of scrapping Art. 3 altogether is now suggesting to add a sentence about the religious neutrality of the state. 

Other subjects popular with the party base are limiting parliamentary terms for MPs to two, and strengthening referendums. This will go some way to cheer up Syriza supporters. New Democracy stayed clear of the pitfalls for now, responding that they are all for a constitutional reform in principle but want to make their own proposals and leave it to the voters to decide which version they prefer when they go to the polls, writes KT Greece.

The whole procedure is long. The ratification process means that for an article to be eligible for revision, 180 out of 300 MPs must vote in favour now. For the change to be made, 151 must vote for it under the next Parliament. Otherwise, if only a simple majority is secured now, 180 votes will be needed in the next Parliament for the change to be approved. 

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October 31, 2018

A further move in Warsaw to submit to the ECJ’s authority

We had already noted the precedent-setting importance of the reaction in Poland to the ECJ’s injunction to halt the replacement of its supreme court judges pending a final ruling.

Last week, the judges the government wanted to force into retirement returned to work. Yesterday, a further move to comply occurred when Poland’s national judicial council announced that it would halt the recruitment procedure for new judges to replace those the government wants to pension off. This is to reform the judiciary, says the government; to gain political control over it, says a chorus of critics including the European Commission, which has brought the case before the European judges. 

It is not the first time Poland has obeyed an ECJ injunction; the last such intervention from the EU’s supreme judicial authority was to stop logging in one of Europe’s last primeval forests on the border with Belarus. Yesterday Poland’s primeval trees, today (dare we say?) Poland’s primeval judges. Both cases are about the protection of something precious in Poland that is precious also to Europe, as part of a common view of the proper order of things. 

What if this common view is no longer shared to a sufficient degree by political majorities in each member state of the EU? Three things can happen. States can choose to leave. Disintegration can occur from within. Or the common view becomes a common order imposed and successfully enforced from above in a classic process of state formation. It is the third response that is at work in the EU — forget all the analysis being written about how EU integration has come to a halt.

The EU’s nascent fight against dark money and corruption, the halt to Poland’s judicial reform – these are just two of the manifestations of European power expanding its reach and moving to assert control in important and unprecedented ways. Is it a struggle? Of course it is. An easy one? Of course not. But it is a sign of the EU responding to challenges of a kind that were always going to be inevitable in a hugely expanded Union of 445 million inhabitants and 27 States, with more power rather than new weakness.

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