POLITICS & POLICY
On Sunday, German citizens are called to renew their national Parliament. During the last week of electoral campaign, polls indicted a slight drop in voting shares for the two mainstream parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Both formations seem to have lost some ground in favour of smaller parties. The right-wing, Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Liberal party (FDP) are head to head in the race for third place.
According to recent calculation based on the polls, the AfD could enter the Bundestag with some 80 MPs. Such a result would appear as a breakthrough and could shift the balance of the public discourse in Germany for years to come. On Wednesday, the former leader of the party, Frauke Petry, said that recent positions and slogans of the AfD could render the party a harbour for right-wing extremist and push away more moderate voters.
Summing the expected seats of the CDU, the FDP, the AFD, and the Christian and Social Union (CSU), the German Bundestag would inevitably shift rightwards. As a consequence, the prospect of a major European governance reform to take place, appear grim. Last week, on the occasion of a meeting between the German Chancellor and the French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, Merkel made it clear that she does not endorse the establishment of a “Eurozone budget”.
The SPD, led by the former President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, could face a stunning defeat. Current numbers point at an electoral result that could be worse than 4 years ago. At the time, the SPD could not do better than 25,7%. 74% of Germans argue that if the SPD fails to obtain a better result, the party should refrain from engaging in coalition talks and lead, instead, the Parliamentary opposition.
The refugee crisis remains the main political concern across the EU. On Wednesday, Austrian authorities strengthened security controls along their border with Slovakia. Public authorities established four new checkpoints in the North-Western region of the country. The Austrian Minister of Defence, Hans Peter Doskozil said that new strategic routes have been opened by smugglers in the Balkans, according to National intelligence investigations.
After migrant inflows on Greek island increased again this month, the mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos, wrote a letter to the Greek Government and to the European Commission. Galinos recalled that the island is currently hosting 6,000 asylum seekers.
Yet, in Germany, the number of citizens who think that the influx of migrants “represents a big problem” has decreased since 2016. A poll released by Forsa reveals that the percentage fell down to 36%, from 59% last year. Yet, the issue remains by far the most pressing concern in the eyes of the national population.
The Hungarian Minister, László Trócsányi, said that it would be useless to force Central European Member States to welcome refugees. Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice ruled against an appeal by Hungarian and Slovakian authorities who refused to abide by the European Refugee relocation scheme.
In France, Emmanuel Macron’s labour market reform is dividing the public opinion and social partners. On Thursday trade unions are set to take to the streets again in what will be the second strike this month. Eventually, even the Force Ouvriere (FO) trade union announced it will join the mass protest. FO had rebuked the call from the major Confederation General du Travail (CGT) to join another strike, earlier this month.
However, Macron cooled down waters, speaking from New York, shortly after his first intervention at the UN. Macron said that street action is not the only thing that matters in democracy. “I equally respect the mandate of voters”, he said. The leader of La République en Marche (LREM) argued that he was elected on the basis of specific reform pledges.
In other news, the Greek bailout is making the headlines in Greece. On Tuesday/Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned MPs that there is no time to waste and that the Government is in a race against time. Tsipras said that the Parliament needs to approve some 80% of reform proposals into law by the end of the year. By approving the reform packages the Government aims at securing another tranche of fresh financial resources from international creditors.
Although the Hellenic country found its way to growth over the past two years, many economic sectors are still in turmoil. On Thursday public transport in Athens will be put on hold because of an alleged “deterioration of conditions”. Over the past weeks, the Government had to deal with the risk of a drop in foreign investments in the country. The Canadian mining company, Eldorado Gold, threatened to block investments because of some delays in the issuing of permits by the Government. Workers protested outside of the Energy Ministry, given that they face the risk of job losses.
Meanwhile, Athens holds its breath looking at the German electoral campaign. If the German Liberal party (FDP) enters the Government together with the ruling Christian and Democratic Union (CDU), the bailout negotiations between Greece and the EU might become more difficult, especially considering that the FDP has already eyed the Financial Ministry as a condition to enter a coalition Government.
In Spain the clash between the national Government in Madrid and Catalan authorities is monopolising the public debate. On Wednesday, judicial authorities stormed the offices of Ministers and public officials in Catalunya. According to media reports, a dozen people are under arrest, among which Josep Maria Jové, the Regional Vice Minister of Economy. Actions to support the Catalan referendum on October 1 are considered illegal after several national Court sentences ruled against the independence vote earlier this month.
The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy defended the actions of the judiciary and thus the detention of Catalan public officers before the national Parliament. Moreover, on Wednesday, Rajoy invited the leaders of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the centrist Ciudadanos party, Pedro Sanchez and Albert Rivera, to the Moncloa for a debrief on the Catalan situation. Nevertheless, earlier during the day, Rivera accused Sanchez of negotiating with political forces overtly backing the independence referendum.
Meanwhile, the President of Catalunya, Carles Puigdemont said that Madrid has “de facto” created a “State of exception” and shut down the “autonomy of the region”. Yet, on Thursday, the spokesperson of the Executive, Méndez de Vigo, accused Puigdemont of “looking for popular approval and political legitimacy on the streets”, rather than through democratic institutions.
However, the arrest of Catalan public officials triggered harsh reaction across the political spectrum. Both, representatives from Basque Country and the Balearic Islands condemned the move by national judicial authorities. The leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, said that the arrested officers have to be considered political prisoners.
Yet, former President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell said that the Catalan referendum is nothing but a putsch. And that Catalonia has been living in a sort of “magical realism” for the past 25 years. Confronting some claims of Catalan independence movements, Borrell argued that the Spanish Constitution fosters financial devolution as no other in the EU. Abroad, the Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, said that the Northern America country wishes to maintain strong ties with a “democratic and united” Spain.
Meanwhile, Brexit is making the headlines in London and Brussels. On Wednesday, the international press wrote that Theresa May will offer €20 billion to the EU to break the deadlock over the so called divorce bill between Brussels and the UK.
However, political and institutional leaders across Europe are waiting for the UK Prime Minister to hold her speech in Florence on Friday 22. It is understood that May will outline Downing Street’s next step in the Brexit negotiation on the occasion of her visit to the Italian city.
In the UK, the leader of the UK Liberal and Democratic Party, Vince Cable, said that the EU risks pushing London towards a hard Brexit. Cable made his comment on Brexit as he referred to the State of the Union speech of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker as “dreadful”. Over the past few months, the LibDem party has lost some visibility in national media outlets, after former leader Tim Farron resigned from his office. Many British opinion makers question Cable’s ability to lead the party.
Meanwhile, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Liberal Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament (EP) and chief negotiator on behalf of the EP said that it is up to the UK Government to suggest a “unique solution” for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is set to visit Theresa May in London, next week.
Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister, Theresa May and Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, clashed over the Brexit strategy of the Government. An article of The Guardian explains the divisions between May and Johnsons and other prominent Ministers in the Cabinet.
“I think you have to fight populism primarily on the national level. But I don’t think that by creating a new function you will be a populist. And on the contrary, it could be that raising expectations without any possibility of delivering even enhances populist feelings. You have to beat populism with policies”.
Van Rompuy, Former President of the European Council.
Source: EurActiv, 20.09.2017
The expected growth rate of the Eurozone in 2017,according to IFO, ISTAT and KOF.
Source: Handelsblatt, 20.09.2017
Photo Credits CC: radiowood
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