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February 02, 2020

Is Sinn Fein the Irish anti-establishment vote?

This last week before the Irish elections is going to be interesting after all. Sinn Féin is now neck-to-neck with Fianna Fáil at 24%, ahead of Fine Gael with 21% according to the latest Business Post/Red C opinion poll. None of the two main parties had seen it coming and this development will shake up an otherwise lacklustre campaign. Is this the anti-establishment moment for Ireland that we have seen elsewhere in Europe?

Young people in particular wish to see change in the classic two-party system. Ireland did not have a movement similar to Podemos or Syriza. The young support a united Ireland and are not burdened by memories of the Troubles or the role of the IRA, of which Sinn Féin was the political arm. The once hard-left Sinn Féin has also softened its profile over the years, and its leader Mary Lou McDonald is particularly good at putting her message across to attract broader support.

For those without memory of the past, Sinn Féin's role in Northern Ireland just adds to the picture. Leading politicians of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil used to urge Sinn Féin to sit down and form a government in Northern Ireland, but at the same time they dismiss any suggestion that Sinn Féin could become part of the government in the Republic. Now that a government with Sinn Fein is a finally reality in the North, why not in the Republic?

Expect some intense exchanges this last week of campaigning. The governing Fine Gael is split over whether to continue to attack Sinn Féin as not a normal party, or to shift focus onto their policies, or to concentrate their efforts on attacking Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael was counting on capitalising on its handling of Brexit, Northern Ireland and the booming economy, but this is going nowhere as voters seem more concerned about health, homelessness and an uncontrollable housing boom. Fianna Fáil was confidently leading the polls so far with its spending promises. It will use the poll to tell voters that supporting them is the only way to keep Sinn Féin out of power, in hope of mobilising voters this way. Both parties rely on Project Fear. Sinn Féin, meanwhile, is sailing on an upward current. MacDonald said yesterday they were open to all forms of coalitions, but that the best outcome would be one without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

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February 02, 2020

Don’t assume that nobody will follow the Brits

We noted two commentaries this morning on the lessons of Brexit on future of the EU. Wolfgang Munchau argues in his FT column that the fundamental problem of the EU is an unresolved core-versus-periphery conflict dating back to the Maastricht Treaty. Brexit is ultimately a manifestation of that unresolved conflict. The EU will not live to its fullest potential unless it resolves that issue first. 

Munchau makes the point that the creation of a monetary union means that the EU is not integrated enough for the core, but is too integrated for the periphery. The two-speed Europe is a reality, and many of the EU's current policies stem from a desire to keep the union together. Munchau believes the best strategy would be to do the very opposite: for the core to create a deeply integrated union with a formal treaty-based link to a periphery taking full part in the single market and other policy areas. Only then will it be possible for the core EU to do all the things we think it should: create the infrastructure of a fiscal union, or leverage the euro as a foreign policy tool. 

One point Munchau makes is that the EU should not make early misjudgements on the economics of Brexit. The political fallout from Brexit in the UK served as a deterrent for other EU members. But what if Brexit came to be seen at one point as an economic success? Do we really believe the economic forecasts that tell us that this cannot conceivably happen? 

Writing in the New Statesman Jeremy Cliffe focuses on the role of pro-Europeans like himself in Brexit. He concludes that they were complacent, and consistently failed to make a positive case for Europe. What we thought was interesting was his reference to the role played by Gordon Brown in frustrating Britain’s euro entry at a time when Tony Blair was toying with the idea. Brown’s position was, and still is, considered as realistic by pro-Europeans in general. But that may have been only a prelude to Brexit.

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