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February 07, 2020

Is Macron the best guarantor against Le Pen?

Will Emmanuel Macron be the best candidate to defeat Marine Le Pen? Or is Macron becoming the easiest candidate for Le Pen to defeat in the second round in 2022? There is clear nervousness in the Élysée palace as Macron is losing support on the right and can no longer count on the centre-left, writes Cécile Cornudet. 

It was the centre-left voters who brought Macron into the Élysée palace in 2017 with their vote to pre-empt Le Pen. Now they reject the idea of voting for Macron ever again no matter the consequences, even if it means Le Pen as president. Two years is a long time in politics, but the disillusionment among Macron's centre-left wing is palpable. 

With the pension reform Macron is now about to lose support from the centre-right voters he inherited from Francois Fillon. They were the ones in favour of a radical pension reform, but they are now wondering how the executive caused so much social tensions only to come up with such a compromised pension reform. In the Elabe poll for Les Echos Macron loses 7pp compared to last month, and his popularity down to 44%.

On both sides of the spectrum there are alternative candidates on the horizon. The particularity of the French voting system is that the two candidates with the most votes in the first round compete in the second round for the presidency. This double-stage game throws up strategic questions. Le Pen is the candidate that everyone expects will make it into the second round. Against whom? Yannick Jadot from the Greens is having a go at portraying the Greens as protection against Le Pen. And on the right there are those ready to pick up Macron's disappointed voters, like Xavier Bertrand or François Baroin. The system also shows why abstentions are so important. If the voters who supported Macron last time stay home, he might not have enough votes to beat Le Pen's solid electorate. The idea of a Le Pen presidency no longer seems to spook the left voters as much as it did in the past.

The question for the Élysée palace is now whether Macron should focus on those left voters that are ready to abstain next time, or those from the right that he convinced in the first half of his presidency. At least, Macron's original supporters remain loyal. among them his popularity increased by 5 points, up to 76%. 

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February 07, 2020

Catalan turmoil means Spain will struggle to pass a budget

Martin Sandbu has an interesting column in the Financial Times about all the things Spain could do in Europe if it focused on it and had clear policy direction. He says the Spanish government cannot be consumed with its first big task, passing a budget, and leaves it at that. But we think this underestimates both the importance of passing the budget and the difficulties that Sánchez faces to achieve it. At the moment it is uncertain whether a new budget for 2020 will be passed at all, and a failure could lead to elections again.

Sánchez has spent more time as a caretaker than as full-blown prime minister. He has had his full powers back for a month now, but he needs to pass a budget. This is not to please Brussels. Sánchez' government can hardly work on its programme with Mariano Rajoy's 2018 budget. And passing a budget, like the appointment of Sánchez himself as prime minister, hinges on the abstention of the Catalan left-separatist party, ERC, and also the Basques. The problem for Sánchez is that Catalan regional politics has become even more convulsed in the month since he took office. The prospect of early elections in Catalonia means that ERC cannot be seen to go easy on Sánchez for fear of losing votes to other Catalan separatists in the region. This puts Sánchez in a position to manage heightened expectations of making concessions to the Catalan separatists.

Yesterday Sánchez met with Quim Torra, the Catalan regional premier. Torra is a member of Junts per Catalonia, the conservative separatist party in coalition with ERC in the region. Torra received Sánchez in Barcelona almost as if he were a foreign dignatary. Sánchez presented to Torra a list of 44 policy areas where the Spanish government hopes to improve relations with the region. But all Torra wanted to talk about was an independence referendum, and amnesty for the Catalan politicians and civic leaders in jail for their role in the botched secession attempt of October 2017. The problem for ERC, Torra’s coalition partner, is that it risks losing votes if it supports Sánchez' budget while Sánchez ignores the Catalan demands for a referendum and an amnesty.

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