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February 13, 2020

Macron's small steps environment policies

Emmanuel Macron is entering into the second half of his mandate with a new agenda to satisfy the left and the right by pursuing both environment and security as top priorities. The question, though, is how far he can go on environment without alienating the voters on the right, and on security without alienating the left. Macron is to unveil his first batch of measures in a working committee today, and some climate change measures at Mont Blanc tomorrow. He will meet the two leaders of the German Green party over the weekend. He is seeking to make small steps rather than radical change. There will be some measures for the Mont Blanc region and other protected areas. More measures will follow once climate change is discussed in the citizen forum in April. His problem is that he clearly lacks credibility and gravitas in this area.  

The security agenda is vaguely defined and full of pitfalls as well. Talking about migration or police easily ramps up emotions in the public debate. It will be a challenge for the government to define measures that are meaningful without polarising public opinion.

The president told his MPs yesterday that it would be better to be associated with five or ten simple subjects rather than getting lost in complexity. This seem to encapsulate what he himself is trying to do.

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February 13, 2020

On the loss of judicial or central banking independence

We noted complaints yesterday about the politicisation of the judiciary following on from comments by Geoffrey Cox, attorney general in the UK. We agree that this is happening, but think this is the inevitable consequences of courts themselves acting more politically than they used to. Most recently, we saw evidence of this happening in the UK and Italy. In the US this trend has been on going for much longer.

One example from the UK was Lady Hale’s triumphalist comments after the Supreme Court, over which she presided, declared Boris Johnson's prorogation of parliament null and void. We recall that shortly after the referendum she seemed to favour additional legal hurdles for the trigger of Art. 50. The Leave/Remain divide clearly affected the judiciary. That was also very clear from comments by the various legal bloggers and twitterers we follow. There were hyperventilating like everybody else. If legal views become clouded or overwhelmed by politics, the subsequent political backlash should come as no surprise. Independence is not a God-given right, but an arrangement that suits societies until it doesn’t. 

Italy is the another country in Europe with a highly politicised judiciary. Yesterday, the Italian parliament voted in favour of lifting the political immunity of Matteo Salvini, after a prosecutor brought a criminal case against him over a decision he took as interior minister. We are not saying that politicians should be above the law, but we think that politically-motivated legal cases are dangerous. The case against Salvini will fuel endless conspiracy theories, and give him a political boost. We would not rule out a Polish-style backlash against Italy’s judicial system. Moreover, we would expect such a backlash to be deeply popular.

Our broad conclusion is that there is no space for absolute political independence in modern democracy. The US constitution gives a much clearer definition of the relationship between politics and the legal system. Judges and Justices are political appointments. Attorney generals are directly elected. But, once in office, they act independently. 

There are parallels to the world of central banking. In times when society has no consensus about what monetary policy should do, in contrast to the 1990s, it should come as no surprise that we have a debate on the politicisation of central banking as well. Mario Draghi’s backstop was a political decision. So would be any ECB support for climate change policies. The truth is that even independent central banks are part of government in the broader sense. And the courts are part of the democratic state.

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