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December 07, 2018

Fears that French protests could escalate this weekend

There is a real sense of panic in Paris ahead of tomorrow's demonstrations with a high chance of violence. Parts of the gilets jaunes have become more radicalised, some even announcing their determination to force entry into the Élysée palace. Radicals and conspiracists feed on each other. The government went public saying it expects people coming into Paris to destroy and kill. This worst-case discourse hardly matches the bundle of half-baked measures the government put out to calm the storm; if anything, this fuels more anger rather than soothes it, writes Mediapart. There is a real sense of violent insurrection, as the president's entourage talks about a putsch while MEP talk of death treats to themselves and their families. 

The police, understaffed after years of budget cuts, finds itself challenged to protect both the Paris districts and possible hotspots across the country. On the other hand they stand accused of heavy-handed tactics. Pictures of a strong clampdown on high school students by the police in Mantes La Jolie went viral on social media. No word from the government on the 80-year-old who died because of a teargas grenade fired into his apartment, or the three students hit by flashballs. Teachers and high school students are raising the alarm about abusive use of power. This all fuels the sense of public anger.

It is no longer about the diesel tax, not even about purchasing power. The main subject now is democracy itself. Fears of a quasi-civil war come up in the debates. Parties and seven trade unions denounced all forms of violence yesterday. Schools and businesses have been asked to call for calm in their organisations. Daniel Cohn-Bendit warns that the real winner of this insurrection is the right, not the left. Some right-wingers are calling for Pierre de Villiers, the former chief of staff of the armed forces, to replace Macron in the Élysée palace. He was ousted by Macron last year and has been in the news in recent weeks with a book about leadership.

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December 07, 2018

Another year for Leo Varadkar

Will Fianna Fáil support Fine Gael's minority government for another year? The agreement between both parties is under review and Michel Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, has not yet given his final verdict. But his mood has shifted according to the Irish Times and an extension seems to become more likely, despite the party's unhappiness with the arrangement. One argument is that Leo Varadkar will stand to lose more with the electorate if he stays in power. Another is Brexit and its timetable. The wider parliamentary party seems broadly in favour of an extension. Then there is hope that staying away from elections will allow the party to heal its internal split over the abortion bill. And the front-benchers who preferred an election have reconciled themselves with the idea of enabling Fine Gael for longer. So, it looks like another year in office for Leo Varadkar with the support of the former arch-enemy Fianna Fáil.

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December 07, 2018

Can Nord Stream 2 still be stopped?

Nord Stream 2 is another geopolitical embarrassment for the EU at a time of renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. FAZ offers a detailed analysis this morning on whether and how the project can still be stopped. The normal legal procedures cannot do the heavy lifting. There is no requirement for member states of a joint venture to comply with international law. There are four remaining levers. One could be the invocation of a force majeure argument - to withdraw the licence on national security grounds, as the pipeline weakens central Europe and Ukraine in particular. The main legal impediment is the argument that the licence was only fully granted at a time when Russian aggression against Ukraine had already started. Another possibility is for the German parliament to agree a law that makes the operation of the pipeline illegal. The article notes that EU has no direct role but can be highly effective if it were to apply internal market rules to make operations exceedingly difficult for the companies concerned. It could, for example, stipulate that Gazprom cannot both build and run the pipeline, and must open the latter to outside competition.

The Austrian presidency of the Council is dragging its feet on this, supported by Germany. The biggest danger to the project are full-blown US sanctions. Some of the companies involved, including Gazprom and the German Wintershall and Uniper, might be able to withstand the threats. But the weak link is Italy's Saipem, a highly specialised pipeline contractor. 

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