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November 26, 2018

Two German plus two Dutch makes four spitzenkandidaten

Manfred Weber, German. Frans Timmermans, Dutch. And now Ska Keller and Bas Eickhout, German and Dutch. The four spitzenkandidaten from the three mainstream European parties — the EPP, the Social Democrats, and the Greens — that have decided to field them in the next European elections all come from just two countries. And not any two countries, two neighbours standing in the eyes of many citizens for a particularly rigid, unbending and unforgiving approach to the problems less prosperous states encounter in the EU.

ALDE’s liberals have decided to appoint a whole team of candidates for Jean-Claude Juncker’s succession, expanding the range of nationalities; but their impact will inevitably be diluted. Seen from an internal perspective, the nomination of Keller and Eickhout as green spitzenkandidaten makes sense. Keller represents, as she did in 2014, the European Greens’ strongest national party. Eickhout is one of the best thinkers the party can currently boast. Their positions on issues such as Eurozone reform do not represent the orthodoxy of their countries. Reducing Keller to a German and Eickhout to a Dutch politician would ignore what they stand for politically.

But politics is shaped by perception as much as by fact. In 2014, the main spitzenkandidaten were Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz, Guy Verhofstadt, Ska Keller and José Bové.  This time around, the regional imbalance is even more extreme. In Andalusia’s current regional elections, the Podemos' leader Pablo Iglesias whips up popular anger by campaigning on the theme of a South forgotten by the elites and by Europe. The current field of spitzenkandidaten provides perfect fodder for Europe’s southern and Eastern anti-Brussels populists. It seems that everything ahead of the 2019 elections conspires to discredit the spitzenkandidat model.

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November 26, 2018

Yellow vest protests - radicalisation and new political alliances

What to make of the gilets jaunes, the yellow-vest movement in France? The movement is losing momentum in terms of numbers. Last weekend only 106,000 turned up compared to over 240,000 the weekend before. But protests became more focused, and more radicalised too.

Last weekend in Paris the Champs-Élysées, which the French like to call the most beautiful avenue in the world, turned into a combat zone between radicalised yellow vest protesters and the police. Shop displays, traffic lights and bus stations were destroyed, and a barricade burned near place de la Concorde. The protesters had planned to march towards the Élysée palace, but the area was sealed by 2500 policemen. Amongst 8000 protesters in Paris, 24 were injured and 101 arrested. 

The new interior minister Christophe Castaner was quick to blame Marine Le Pen for mobilising her supporters to clash with the police, though her tweet only questioned why the government forbad the movement to protest on the Champs-Élysées. Emmanuel Macron is responding with carrot and stick: he denounced the aggression against the police force and fellow citizens as shameful, but he is also expected to announce some new initiatives on Tuesday. 

There is already an online call to mobilise for a third round of action next weekend, according to Nouvel Observateur. This time the call comes with concrete demands - more purchasing power and abolition of the petrol and diesel taxes; otherwise the protesters will call for Macron's resignation. They also promised to rein in the radicalised protesters so that they do not to tarnish the movement's reputation. So will we see more people next weekend or even fewer? Hard to predict, with no structure or organisation behind it. But what seems clear is that there are already political consequences.

It is interesting to note that these protests seem to have brought closer the far left and the far right. At roundabouts protesters had a good time together, with some support from the general public, and supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's LFI party and Le Pen's RN found out that their positions are not that far apart.

Could the Italian example inspire the two extreme parties in France to do the same, wonders Cécile Cornudet. The pollsters do not see this yet, as the two camps are too far apart on immigration. But it is no longer a taboo either. Both Le Pen and Mélenchon softened their most polarising positions. As for the European elections, Le Pen no longer aims for an anti-EU group but seeks a majority of votes based on concrete policy proposals, and is welcoming LFI MPs to join in. From the example in Italy, Le Pen also learned that, if there ever were to be an alliance between the far right and the far left, the former may well benefit more. 

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