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December 03, 2018

French protests coming to a head this week

The gilets jaunes insurrection will come to a head this week, after a second day of violent protests in Paris on Saturday with disturbing images of smashed shops and torched cars and protesters storming the Arc de Triomphe. There were over 500 arrests, over 200 were injured and there are reports of petrol shortages in two regions due to depot blockages. On facebook there is already a call for another round of protests this coming Saturday. Many gilets jaunes protesters spoke out against violence. The senate warned that there should not be a third Saturday like this.

Emmanuel Macron may hope to divide the gilets jaunes into constructive and destructive critics. And he passed on the baton to the prime minister to take the front line. The government is now considering whether to launch a state of emergency. There will be dialogue too: Édouard Philippe is to receive all opposition leaders including Marine Le Pen today. Also, the prime minister is to talk to a group of gilets jaunes. About ten regional representatives ready for dialogue will come with a long list of demands.

The majority in parliament is pressing for a concrete signal to the legitimate gilets jaunes. The moratorium on the diesel tax is no longer considered sufficient. How about a rise in minimum wage or a wealth tax? Both are problematic, for parts of the protesters and Macron himself. The protesters' list of demands, meanwhile, is increasing exponentially, and is often self-contradicting. They want more social services and cuts in taxation at the same time; or mobility solutions with a freeze on fuel taxes. They also demand more participation in the political decision-making process, a dose of proportional voting in elections, and referendums on social issues. 

Who are the gilets jaunes? According to an Elabe poll about 20% of the French consider themselves as one of them. This is a lot compared to the 24% who voted for Macron last year. Looking at their characteristics the most striking one is that 42% of them voted for Marine Le Pen in the first round of the elections last year. But we note that there are also 5% of Macron voters among them. They come predominantly from rural areas, left-behind people who struggle financially in smaller towns and villages. 

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December 03, 2018

The Galileo fiasco, an ill omen for the future UK-EU relationship

There is an optimistic view of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, one of a harmonious partnership between two friendly neighbours and powers cooperating closely across many areas of shared interests. And there is a dystopian one, where ill-feeling flares up time and again because the UK expects a relationship of equals the EU is not prepared to concede. For the pessimist camp, the UK’s decision to cancel its participation in the military aspects of Galileo, following the European Commission’s refusal to grant the UK equal participation in its development after Brexit, looks like a harbinger of things to come.

The key point here is not that the UK might fail to recoup all or part of its €1.4bn euro investment – in any case, we expect that ways will be found to avert a total loss. Similarly, it is a footnote at best that Sam Gyimah, minister for space technology, chose to resign over this issue. The trouble is that this fiasco highlights a chronic and pervasive misunderstanding in the UK, both of the nature of the EU and of the basis for its future relationship with the UK as a third party. Seen from an EU perspective, the notion that there is be any significant policy area or project where the EU will accept that the UK is effectively given the rights of a member state, let alone co-equal decision making, is quite simply outlandish. Doing so would negate what EU membership is all about, and will increasingly be about. It would also set a dangerous precedent, as other neighbouring states would sooner or later demand equal treatment to the UK's.

We find it astonishing that this basic fact is so often ignored in the British public debate. Senior Labour politicians peddle the fantasy that the EU might accept some future customs arrangement with the UK giving London influence over the EU’s trade policy, and do this in interview after interview without being immediately called out by the interviewing journalist. There is an extraordinary naïveté permeating the British debate, to the effect that the UK is somehow special and - because it is special - the basic realities of European and international politics will somehow not apply. We mention this with great concern because of many disappointments that will result if this misperception continues to shape public and political expectations, which would inevitably make for mutually detrimental and wholly unnecessary tensions in the future relationship.

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