A weekly round-up of the biggest news from across the Old Continent
Britain – The House of Lords gave the government another setback in the passage of the ‘Brexit Bill’ to trigger Article 50, this time by supporting a Labour-led amendment to give parliament a final vote on the outcome of the Prime Minister’s exit negotiations, theoretically to have been worked out by 2019. The Prime Minister had previously assured parliament would be given a vote on the final deal, albeit a ‘take it or leave it’ vote, in which MPs could either support the deal or Britain would leave the EU with no arrangements intact, defaulting to WTO rules. Opposition lawmakers had decried the vote as offering no real choice, with crashing out on WTO rules likely to result in lasting economic damage. The amendment, passed by the Lords 366 to 268, would likely allow parliament to instruct the Prime Minister to return to the negotiating table if the deal is considered unsatisfactory. As with the amendment on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, the future of this amendment is likely to be short, as the bill returns to the Commons where Theresa May enjoys a full majority. In the same sitting, the Lords also voted to reject an amendment putting any final deal to a second referendum, with continued EU membership an option on the ballot.
Sweden – The Scandinavian country’s government announced a return to military conscription, stating that in 2018 4,000 young Swedes will be called for military service, selected from a group of 13,000 conscripts and volunteers aged 18 or 19. The reason for the draft’s return, so quickly after its abolition in 2010, is largely due to concerns over Russian aggression and expansionism. Following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Sweden has grown increasingly concerned by the presence of Russian fighter jets extremely close to Sweden’s borders, intelligence reports that Russian diplomats posted in the country may be spies, and large military exercises on Russia’s western border. The move is hardly unprecedented in the region, either; nearby Lithuania reinstated its own conscription programme in 2015 for similar reasons. Lastly, the move is politically uncontroversial in Sweden, hence its election year roll-out in 2018 – a 2016 poll conducted for the Dagens Nyheter newspaper saw 72% support for the measure.
France – Centre-right presidential candidate François Fillon put to rest questions about the future of his candidacy this week, giving a defiant rally in which he vowed to continue his campaign for the presidency, and insinuating the investigation into the supposed ‘fake jobs’ given to his wife and children is politically motivated. Another former Republican Prime Minister Alain Juppé, who Fillon defeated in a primary battle late last year, announced he would not step in to take Fillon’s place, while saying the candidate was at ‘a dead end’. While Fillon has attracted some back to his campaign following last week’s defections, including the centrist UDI party re-instating their endorsement, Fillon continues to lag in the polls. He currently sits at third place with 20%, which would leave him eliminated in the first round of voting. The opinion polling out this week also shows for the first time centrist liberal Emmanuel Macron outpolling the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the first round of voting.
Finland – Timo Soini, co-founder and leader of the Eurosceptic right-wing Finns Party has announced his plans to step down as party leader by June, a position he has held since 1997. Any hypothetical next leader of the party, currently the second largest in the Finnish parliament and a participant in the three-party coalition government, is widely expected to be further to the right than Soini, and less open to political compromise. The Helsinki Times has reported there is now speculation about the future of the three-party coalition, consisting of the Finns party, the centre-right National Coalition, and led by the moderate Centre Party. Despite this, Soini has called for the next leader to support the coalition and expressed a desire to stay in his post as Foreign Minister until the end of the parliamentary term in early 2019. The Finns Party won 17.7% of the vote in the 2015 election, but has lost support after many in its voter base grew dissatisfied with compromises made with other coalition parties, and now polls in high single digits.
France (Harris): First round – Marine Le Pen (National Front) 25%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 26%, François Fillon (Republican) 20%, Benoît Hamon (Socialist) 13%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France) 13%, others 4–4.5%.
Second round — Marine Le Pen (National Front) 35%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 65%.
Germany (INSA): CDU/CSU 30.5%, SPD 31.5%, Greens 6.5%, FDP 7.5%, Left 8.5%, AfD 11%, others 4.5%.
United Kingdom (ICM / The Guardian): Conservatives 44%, Labour 28%, UKIP 11%, Liberal Democrats 8%, SNP 4%, Greens 5%, others 1%.
Italy (EMG): Five Star Movement 29.1%, Democratic Party 27.6%, Forward Italy 11.8%, Northern League 13.3%, Italian Left 1.7%, Brothers of Italy 5.1%, New Centre-Right/Popular Area 2.5%, Democrats and Progressives 4%, others 4.9%.
Five things to read this week:
1. This Bloomberg View column contextualising the concerns surrounding Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) and the upcoming Dutch general election.
2. This piece from The Economist, looking at what the two most prominent elected office-holders from Italy’s populist Five Star Movement tell us about the party at large.
3. This dispatch from the New Statesman on the shadow Brexit cast over Northern Ireland’s Assembly elections this week.
4. This article from the New York Times on a European Parliament vote to end visa-free travel for American citizens.
5. Taking a break from the hectic pace of day-to-day news, The Guardian’s excellent series of historical analysis, ‘The 1930s Revisited’ explores the parallels between the decade of the Great Depression and today’s turbulent politics.
This episode of France 24’s French Connections programme, looking at the powers and perks of the office of President of France.
- Taran Molloy, Capital Hardtalk