Europe Dispatch – 10th February 2017

A weekly round-up of the biggest news from across the Old Continent

Britain – A political victory for Prime Minister Theresa May this week, as the House of Commons overwhelmingly passed a ‘Brexit Bill’ giving her legal authority to trigger Article 50 and begin exit negotiations with the European Union, by 494 votes to 122. Furthermore, a series of amendments introduced by the Labour Party were rejected, including ones designed to ensure greater parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiation process, safeguard the rights of EU nationals currently residing in the UK, and require consultation with the country’s various devolved authorities. While the bill has yet to pass the House of Lords, it is now likely that Prime Minister May will meet her self-imposed deadline of triggering Article 50 by March 2017.

Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn has been hit by a series of front-bench resignations following his decision to impose a three-line whip instructing all Labour MPs to vote in favour of the Brexit Bill. The instruction was opposed by many within the Parliamentary Labour Party, particularly MPs representing heavily pro-Remain constituencies. Of Labour’s 229 MPs, 52 defied Corbyn’s three-line whip to vote against the bill. Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis, a leading figure on the party’s left wing, resigned from the Shadow Cabinet prior to the vote. His position has now been filled by Rebecca Long-Bailey, rumoured to Corbyn’s preferred choice for a successor.

Scottish newspaper The Courier has reported that Theresa May and the Scottish Conservative Party believes First Minister Nicola Sturgeon may call for a second referendum on Scottish independence at the SNP’s party conference in March. Support for independence in Scotland has grown, and Sturgeon has said that the government’s commitment to a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit – in which the UK leaves not only the European Union but additionally the European Single Market – strengthens her case for a second referendum. 55% of Scottish voters rejected independence from the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum. The full report from The Courier can be read here.

A motion of no confidence in the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has been raised by a Conservative MP. James Duddridge, a former junior Foreign Office Minister, believes that Bercow has violated the political neutrality of the position of Speaker, following his announcement to the Commons that he would prevent US President Donald Trump from giving a speech to Parliament on his upcoming state visit to the UK. Though Duddridge has stated there is support for his no confidence motion among the Conservative backbenches, the Speaker has the support of Labour and the Liberal Democrats and will likely survive the vote. Bercow was a Conservative MP for twelve years before being elected Speaker in 2009. His statement regarding Donald Trump can be seen here.

France – The country’s presidential race has been upended as former Prime Minister and Republican Party candidate François Fillon continues to haemorrhage support following the ‘Penelope-gate’ scandal, alleging that Fillon paid his wife upwards of €500,000 from parliamentary funds for work she never performed. It is also alleged that Fillon employed his two children as legal advisor’s during his Senate career, though neither child was a qualified lawyer. The allegations, which are currently being investigated by French authorities, are particularly damning to Fillon, who had campaigned in the Republican primaries as having no history of corruption, in contrast to his then-rivals, Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Since winning the Republican nomination, Fillon had campaigned on cutting wasteful public spending and eliminating needless government jobs. Recent polls find that a majority of French voters do not believe Fillon’s defence against these allegations, and would prefer to see him end his presidential bid. It is now expected that the winners of the first round of voting in April will be Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front and Emmanuel Macron of the liberal centrist En Marche! movement, both of whom will then proceed to a run-off vote in May.

Germany – Angela Merkel’s chances of winning a fourth term as Chancellor in the country’s September general election are beginning to wane following the news that former European Parliament President Martin Schulz would lead the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) through the election. Schulz, one of the most popular public figures in Germany, has brought the SPD to parity with Merkel’s CDU in some polls, and even pulling ahead in some for the first time in years. A full report on Schulz’s candidacy can be read here.

Romania – The Eastern European country has seen protests in record numbers, as more than 140,000 Romanians have been demonstrating for days in opposition to a decree from the recently-elected government that would have decriminalised corruption in instances where the amount of money involved is less than €44,000, and pardoned several people currently serving sentences from corruption-related offences. The move was seen by many as entrenching widespread corruption in the country’s political system, and faced criticism from the European Commission, the Orthodox Church, and current President Klaus Iohannis, who joined protestors in the streets of Bucharest. The pardon would directly benefit Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the governing PSD party, who is currently barred from being Prime Minister after being found guilty of attempting to rig a referendum in 2015. The government has since withdrawn the decree, and Justice Minister Florin Iordache has resigned, though the street protests still continue.

France (Ifop-Fiducial) – First round: Marine Le Pen (National Front) 26%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 21%, François Fillon (Republican) 17.5%, Benoit Hamon (Socialist) 15%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France) 10.5%, others 10%.
Second round: Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 63%, Marine Le Pen (National Front) 37%.

Germany (INSA/YouGov) — CDU/CSU 30%, SPD 31%, Greens 7%, FDP 6%, Left 10%, AfD 12%, others 4%.

United Kingdom (ICM/The Guardian) – Conservatives 42%, Labour 27%, UKIP 12%, Liberal Democrats 10%, SNP 5%, Greens 4%, others 1%.

Scottish Independence (BGM/Herald) – Yes 43%, No 45%, undecided/wouldn’t vote 10%.

Five things to read this week:

1. The letter from European Council President Donald Tusk to the 27 EU heads of government about the various threats facing a unified Europe, including the Trump Administration.

2. A list from Politico Europe of some of the more . . . interesting parties contesting the Dutch general election this March.

3. A feature from The Guardian on the current state of Podemos, the left-wing populist party disrupting the Spanish political establishment.

4. A hypothetical piece from Worldcrunch imagining a near-future meeting between Presidents Trump and Macron in Paris.

5. An economic analysis from former Speaker of the House and current High Commissioner to the UK Lockwood Smith on what New Zealand’s trade history can teach Brexit negotiators, in the Financial Times.

— Taran Molloy, Capital Hardtalk. 


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