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November 07, 2019

Merkel's Huawei decision now questioned by SPD

There is a leadership election going on in the SPD right now, probably the most important in a generation. This explains a lot of the policy hyperactivity of recent days. Olaf Scholz' European deposit insurance and the minimum pension have become campaign themes for the SPD's ministers. Huawei's 5G bid is another one. 

Heiko Maas, the foreign minister, yesterday re-opened the Huawei case. He said that Huawei can only be considered as a contractor if Germany has legal assurance that Huawei is not forced to share data with the Chinese state. That is not the case now. He said that a test of trustworthiness needs to be added to the process, according to a report from Reuters. Maas made it clear that Huawei does not pass the test. 

We assume that Angela Merkel had made some private undertakings to President Xi when she intervened in a recent administrative procedure to insist that Huawei should be able to bid in the 5G auctions. Her argument was that China would otherwise react in kind. As we have been arguing before, economic strategies that rely on export surpluses, like Germany's, make a country vulnerable to political blackmail. We are not sure that Maas thought through the industrial implications of a Huawei ban as much as Merkel and Peter Altmaier had. Maas has a law-and-order background.

Will the Maas/Scholz strategy work? Quite possibly. We would be surprised if the SPD's ageing membership were to rebel against the party's centrist establishment. But it's a tough battle. Scholz' main opponent, Norbert Walter-Borjans, is also skilled at generating news headlines. Yesterday he called on the SPD no longer to field a candidate for chancellor. This is partly in order to frustrate Scholz, who might re-emerge as a chancellor candidate if he were to lose the party leadership race against Borjans.

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November 07, 2019

Decentralisation: the Achilles' heel of Macron?

We normally leave local elections alone but this time we are keeping an eye on the French local elections next March. After all for Emmanuel Macron and his party La République en Marche it is the first time ever they participate. And it is not looking good.

The LREM election committee opted for a variable strategy to back either one of their own people or an outgoing mayor from Les Républicains, the Socialists or Modem. This strategy clearly eyes to enlarge the party's support base for the next general elections in 2022. But it also brought up many misgivings among local activists and officials, writes Le Monde. A clash between the principled and the pragmatists is in the making. Many Marcheurs also criticise decision-making within the party as too centralised, and openly oppose the orders from high up.

Marcheurs are divided in many cities: an official candidate and a dissident will face each other in Paris and in Lyon. Internal divisions and rivalries also emerged in Lille, Valenciennes, Roubaix and Villeneuve-d’Ascq. In Metz, LREM's departmental coordinator refuses to endorse the official LREM candidate. In Aix-en-Provence a former deputy threatens to challenge the LREM deputy by running as an independent. 

The Marcheurs won the presidential elections with their plea to revolutionise the political landscape. Are they now facing their own internal rebellion? What is clear is that the first dissident candidature of Cédric Villani in Paris was no outlier. In response the party softened its rules for dissidents and will not automatically expel them from the party. But allowing dissident voices does not prevent dissident candidatures nor competition, much to Macron's chagrin. 

Also to watch out for is François Baroin from Les Républicains. He just published a book. In France this is how presidential bids usually start. Standing in the tradition of Jacques Chirac, the mayor of Troyes and president of the mayors' association kept a low profile for years but also stood loyal behind François Fillon. Now he comes back onto the scene to help the new party leader Christian Jacob. If the local elections go well for Les Républicains, Baroin has a great power base to build on. Remember Chirac won the presidential elections in 2002 thanks to the mayors. Baroin lobbies hard for decentralisation. Whether he will want to raise up to the occasion is another matter. That he is making some strategic moves in this direction is undeniable, though.

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