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June 12, 2019

What Spain wants from the EU

As a result of the recent European elections and Spanish general elections, Pedro Sánchez has emerged as a sort of informal leader of the European social democrats. He is not only the socialist PM of the larger country, but his party has the largest national contingent among the S&D group in the European parliament. The question is what he will want to do with that political capital. Miguel Otero and Ilke Toygür argue that Spain's priority is deepening the economic and monetary union (EMU) and for this Sánchez is likely to try and push for the first vice-presidency of the Commission. As a result Spain will not seek an EU top job.

Spain might not even put up of a fight to oppose Weber. There is support for a stronger role of the European Parliament, which is why Spain supports the spitzenkandidaten system. The authors dismiss the idea that Spain will want to seek the job of the high representative for foreign policy. The feeling in Madrid is that the job does not have enough influence in Brussels.

For these reasons, it is possible that Spain may seek the first vice-presidency of the Commission, the position Frans Timmermans used to hold in Juncker's college, with responsibility for all the significant economic directorate-generals. This includes budget, taxation, economic and financial affairs, trade, and industrial policy. Spain is also interested in increasing its influence by having people at key second-tier positions, for instance the secretary general of the Commission or the Council.

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June 12, 2019

What to focus on in the Brexit procedure, and what not

There is another attempt today by the House of Commons to seek control of the legislative agenda. Another of those Cooper-Letwin amendments is in the works. We think this is largely irrelevant. The purpose this time would be to make it illegal for a prime minister to prorogue, or suspend, parliament.

In reality it is unlikely to come to that. The EU will extend the deadline only if there is an election or a referendum. The UK parliament is not in a position to force a Brexit delay.

If Boris Johnson wins the Tory leadership race, we think he will want to seek an immediate election to gain a mandate to take the UK out of the EU by October 31. The fragmentation of UK politics and the first-past-the-post system is likely to work in his favour. We noted a poll this morning, by ComRes, which attempted a constituency-level breakdown of the UK vote. It shows that Johnson is the only Tory leadership candidate with a hope to secure a majority of seats - in fact a whopping majority with almost 400 seats. None of the others come even close. This massive gap in seats does not reflect on Johnson's popularity, but on the simple fact he is the only candidate who can neutralise the Brexit Party. The Brexit Party would otherwise eat into Tory support in many marginal constituencies. With Rory Stuart as leader, the Conservatives would be down to 51 seats - behind the LibDems - and the Brexit party would end up with 252 seats. That won't happen of course, since Stewart has no chance of getting elected leader.

It is still best to think of Brexit as a political process, and not to focus too much on parliamentary tricks. That's the reason we think that a no-deal Brexit is not related to the eccentric instrument of prorogation, but to the likelihood of Johnson winning the leadership race.

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