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January 25, 2019

Is this the beginning of the end of the gilets jaunes?

Is the gilets jaunes movement about to disintegrate? Ingrid Levavasseur's list for the European elections sends another shock wave through the gilets jaunes, who are splitting over whether and how to politicise the movement. Some of their leading figures came out sharply against Levavasseur and her campaign manager Hayk Shahinyan, and even their own online community seems to have taken issue with the plan. One of their arguments is that the European Parliament is useless and in total contradiction with the aims of the movement. Some expect it to only play into the hands of Emmanuel Macron and his party. The far-right parties are not interested in a gilets jaunes list either, as it is likely to pick up some of their voters. After all, all those parties run on people's anger. 

L'Opinion predicts that the movement will disintegrate over its internal contradictions. Some gilets jaunes still believe that all the different undercurrents can unite behind a common initiative. The question then is how far can they go, and which way forward, with or without their leaders. 

Six groups with different leaders and methods can be identified inside the gilets jaunes. Some of them want to go for the regional elections instead of a European list, others do not want to enter the political fray at all. Some are more radical, others are more open to dialogue. 

Apart from these media figures there is also a crowd of small regional groups that seek to unite their forces nationwide. They count on internet platforms to consult with the citizens. Two platforms, Nous-citoyens (we the citizens) and Le vrai débat (the true debate), are about to be launched as a direct challenge to the grand débat national organised by the government. They want to stay away from self-proclaimed leaders. About 75 groups are expected to meet up in Commercy this weekend.

As long as the movement is in flux, it is hard to predict where it will go. What is clear is that it continues to put the government on the spot. Gérald Darmanin, budget minister, might be tempted to resign. If so, it would be another blow for Macron's attempt to hold it all together.

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January 25, 2019

Kurz speculates about longer Brexit delay

The prospect of a no-deal Brexit prompts growing speculation from EU leaders about how to avoid it by buying a few more months to find a way out of the current impasse. In Davos, Sebastian Kurz reiterated earlier calls to extend Art. 50 beyond the March 29 deadline. This would be unproblematic for so long as the extension does not trigger UK participation in the European elections in May, the Austrian chancellor suggested. Echoing speculation about legal loopholes allowing a longer extension, Kurz pointed to the possible legal precedent of Austria and other member states whose representation in the European Parliament at the time of EU accession had been ensured for a limited period of time by national parliamentary delegates rather than elected MEPs. A similar legal arrangement might make it possible for the EU to extend Art. 50 for longer than three months, without forcing the UK to elect MEPs but so that the UK can still be represented in the new European Parliament convening on July 2nd.  Michel Barnier had said earlier this week that the EU’s legal services were still exploring whether such a way forward would be legally sufficiently watertight — a challenge before the ECJ would be a near certainty.

We expect the EU to find a legal way to extend beyond July if this were necessary. But for political reasons the EU remains reluctant to grant a blind extension, at least not beyond June. The scenario portrayed by Kurz is thinkable if, for example, the UK were to hold a second referendum or an election with an ensuing change of government. In any case, as Michel Barnier said, the UK will need to have a strategy in place before an extension is granted. This is why we think the Cooper/Boles amendment is probably not as significant as it is made out to be by the UK press, since it is only procedural.

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