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February 14, 2020

What defines political success nowadays?

Economic success is no longer a vote catcher. Fine Gael had counted on being credited for the growth surge in the Irish economy, but instead they lost the elections and come only third. French unemployment falls to a 12-year low, but voters do not want to hear about a Macron effect.

Unemployment was a political yardstick François Hollande used to measure his own success, but unemployment was still at 10% when Macron took over. Macron promised to bring unemployment down to 7% and, since he is in office, unemployment has indeed been falling. The 2019 Q4 figures suggest that his goal is indeed attainable. The unemployment is at 8.1% or 7.9% in France without overseas territories, a record low not seen since Q1 of 2009. Employment is rising too for all age groups, despite a modest economic growth rate of just 1.2% and social unrest last year. The figures suggest that France has moved from jobless growth to job-rich growth. Still, Macron's popularity is falling. Why?

Is the unemployment rate one of those statistical measures that do not capture peoples' everyday life experience? Recall that at the beginning of the eurozone, there was a gap between perceived inflation and measured inflation. French youth unemployment is still high and, even if employment increased, so did the statistical measure for inactivity. 

Or is it that other events intrude to relegate the economy and unemployment to the back of voters' concerns? In Ireland, housing and health became top priorities as house prices and homelessness went up sharply and stories of overcrowded hospitals questioned the Irish success story. In France, the constant drip of pension reform quarrels and protest movements have put the government in a difficult and unpopular spot over the last couple of months. There are open displays of anger and hate against Macron, accumulated over two years of delivering reforms with his Jupiterian attitude. The upcoming municipal elections make Macron's party members nervous about whether or not they can withstand the anti-Macron mood at the local level. 

So, the Élysée palace will have no time to celebrate what would otherwise be a big deal in French politics. The timing is just not right, and the good news gets lost in the avalanche of criticism. 

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February 14, 2020

Forget the green deal. Call it climate hypocrisy instead.

The interventions by Mark Ruffalo didn’t help. Like Greta Thunberg and so many others, he must have been shocked to discover that politicians do not always mean what they say. Yes, the EU would like a greener planet, but other stuff comes first.

The European Parliament yesterday voted, with a large majority, to support a slew of gas fracking projects that will maintain the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels way beyond the 2050 deadline for climate neutrality. So much for all this talk of a green deal and the European Parliament’s own grand-standing declaration of a climate emergency.

Germany was behind the lobbying effort to modify the EIB’s anti-fossi- fuels rule to allow this specific type of project to be funded. The total cost of the gas projects is estimated at €29bn. Gas plays an important part in Germany’s strategy to specialise in hydrogen fuel cells as a potential alternative energy source for cars in the future. This is also among the reasons why NordStream 2 is so vitally important to the country. The lobbying pressure was thus at its most intense.

What happened yesterday is the old European Economic Community at work. Whatever lofty goals it might aspire to, at the end of the day the EU serves sectoral interests.

Having lived through the eurozone crisis we are not surprised, of course. And in one specific respect yesterday’s vote is a positive development. The illusions are completely gone, as is the appetite to give Ursula von der Leyen the benefit of the doubt on her green deal. 

By kowtowing to the energy lobby the EU has lost the environmental lobby, judging by the hostile comments from environmental NGOs yesterday. After all the talk about a green deal, the new watchword is climate hypocrisy.

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