POLITICS & POLICY

Populist politics is back under the spotlight. On Sunday, the leader of the French National Front (FN) party, Marine Le Pen, argued that the political conflict between “left” and “right” belongs to the past. “Nowadays the electorate needs to make a choice between ‘nationalism’ and ‘post-nationalism’”, she said. In what sounded like an attempt to capture leftist votes, Marine Le Pen defended collective bargaining negotiations and opposed firm-based agreements. Moreover, the leader of the FN called for French voters to not give in to “the European Union, austerity policies, the weakening of the national welfare state and deflationary monetary policies”.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the leader of the leftist party Die Linke, Sahra Wagenknecht, tried to gain ground among the voters of the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) party. In the aftermath of the Berlin attacks of last December, Wagenknecht argued that the mix of austerity, migration, and foreign policies undertaken by the Government over the past few years should be held responsible for the attacks. However, several party members of Die Linke, among which party leader Bernd Riexinger, rounded on their parliamentary leader. In an attempt to defend herself from internal party criticism, Wagenknecht argued that “populism might even be understood as a way of taking people’s anxieties seriously”.

However, even the leader of the German Social-democratic party (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, took issue with the austerity course in Europe. Gabriel claimed that because of the enforcement of austerity policies across the continent, “a break-up of the European Union is no longer unthinkable”. His words sounded as a self-criticism given that the SPD party has been a junior coalition partner in Angela Merkel’s conservative government since 2013. Sigmar Gabriel is expected to run for the position of Chancellor in the next General elections, which will take place in September 2017.

In Italy, the Five Star Movement (M5S) lead by former comedian Beppe Grillo, decided to break its European Parliament alliance with the British UKIP party. On Sunday, Grillo said that the M5S was discussing the terms of a possible agreement with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) group in the EP. On Sunday and Monday, an online ballot among the rank and file of the M5S backed the decision of the leadership. However, on Monday the ALDE group declined the M5S’s proposition. ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt mentioned the “lack of common political ground” as he explained the group’s decision. On Friday, Verhofstadt officialized his candidacy for the Presidency of the European Parliament.

In other news, the Brexit debate makes the headlines in the UK and in Europe. On Sunday, on the occasion of an interview for Sky News, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May tried to explain the Government’s strategy on Brexit. May made it clear that the UK cannot keep “bits of EU membership”. For many analysts May’s wording implies that the UK is heading towards a “hard Brexit”, which would keep Great Britain out of the European Single Market. On Monday, former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, also said that the Government should follow through on such a full exit from the EU.

However, during the interview May also said that the Government will release further details about its Brexit strategy in the upcoming weeks. After the PM’s interview, The Economist magazine ironically titled its weekly issue “Theresa Maybe”, hinting at the PM’s wavering stance. Moreover, following May’s intervention, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the UK to not “cherry pick” bits and pieces of Europe. On the occasion of a yearly meeting of the Union of German public officials and employees, Merkel made it clear that the UK won’t be allowed access to the European Single Market without accepting free movement of people. Right after Merkel’s comments, Theresa May argued that the media misunderstood her position on the EU. Meanwhile, the Irish Agency, Enterprise Ireland, decided to start advisory activities for Irish enterprises making sure they will be ready for a hard Brexit.

On Sunday, Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed her intention to organise a second independence referendum should Westminster ignore Scottish concerns over Brexit. Meanwhile, the British Labour party is trying to find a precise position in the migration debate. According to Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, the party risks losing the next elections if it supports the “status quo” on this issue. Likewise, other senior Labour MPs from Copeland Cumbria rounded on Jeremy Corbyn for not giving a clear direction to the party with respect to the migration debate. However, according to media reports, Corbyn will soon put an end to his support for free movement of EU citizens on the occasion of a public speech in Peterborough. Corbyn’s public intervention should also be aimed at gaining back some popular consent after recent polls showed that the Labour leader is falling behind the ruling Conservative party.

On Saturday, Jason Langrish, a Canadian trade expert who has worked on the CETA trade agreement for the past decade, said that a deal between the EU and the UK could take decades to be fully defined. However, the UK eventually got some backing from the US. On Monday, Donald Trumps’s key aides reassured the British Foreign Ministry that Washington will be working towards a special agreement on trade with London.


THE STATEMENT

“As inflation is on the rise in the Eurozone, the European Central Bank (ECB) should start to move away from an expansionary monetary policy by the means of a tapering of the quantitative easing program”.

Lars Feld, Member of the Council of Economic Experts

Source: Die Welt, 09.01.2017


NUMBERS

10 million

The number of EU citizens who found a job thanks to the European Social Fund (ESF) between 2007 and 2014.

Source: EurActiv, 06.01.2016


Photo Credits CC Vimal Kumar 

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