Barnier says Brexit deal possible by early November

The European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has come out saying it would be “realistic” to expect an agreement on Brexit terms within the next six to eight weeks.

Such quotes have emerged amidst reports that EU leaders could be holding a one-off summit to ratify the agreement in mid-November.

EU mouthpiece Barnier is keen to progress with this purported summit, stating that it is “vital” if the UK and EU Parliaments are to have sufficient time to vote on proposals before the UK is scheduled to leave on March 29th next year.

While this may sound like a positive step towards Brexit, at the same time PM Theresa May could be looking at a mass Tory rebellion if she continues with her Chequers plan. Senior Tory Brexiteers are concerned that these propositions, which were only agreed upon by Cabinet two months ago, will not stand up in Parliament, and that if May fails to change her approach, the party risks a “catastrophic split”.

Barnier’s announcement saw the value of the Pound rise dramatically as businesses welcome the long-awaited end to the period of uncertainty caused by not knowing the future trading arrangements.

How the rise of Sweden’s Far Right will leave the nation with a troubling dilemma

Sweden is holding its national general election on the 9th of September and with election day fast approaching, millions of Swedes will be considering to vote for the radical right-wing Swedish Democrats.

Political analysts and the media are worried that the Swedish Democrats may grow to become the second-largest party in the Riksdag, Sweden’s Parliament.

Opinion polling for the general election shows that the Social Democrat Party (SAP) are frontrunners. Followed closely by the Swedish Democrats and the conservative Moderate Party (MP).

The rest of the parties that are represented in the Riksdag are polling at 9% and below.
Polls predict the worst parliamentary election for the SAP in their history for over a century, following the trend of social democratic parties across Europe, only Portuguese and British left wing parties have escaped the decline.

The success of the Swedish Democrats will surely be riding on the wave of radical authoritarian, nationalist and anti-immigration politics that has swept throughout Europe. However, the SAP may be powerful enough to keep their influence, even if considerable, outside of government.

This, though, comes at the cost of a strong or united government.

The polls indicate that there are a number of outcomes that are not at all favourable for the political establishment.

For a start, the Swedish Democrats may become a kingmaker for the next government. Most parties have tended to avoid working with the Swedish Democrats, because of their Neo-Nazi roots. Their success in the election may work to soften that antagonism from rival parties.

A consequence of the Swedish Democrat’s stronger power may compel centre-party and right-wing parties, like the MP, to consider forming a government with them. Or it could force the SAP and the MP (the left and right-wing) to unite in a coalition. Simply because they want to keep the Swedish Democrats out of government.

Parties from opposite sides of the political spectrum that unite to form a coalition government often come to weak compromises on key issues. Also, forming a government to keep one particular (major) party out of government sets a weak political mandate and undermines the credibility of the parties in power. However, if necessary, it might be better than giving the Swedish Democrats political legitimacy.

To give Swedish Democrat MP’s top positions in government creates the space for politics to become a little more radical.

And right-wing.

It might seem unfair for Sweden to bear such a burden, but Sweden will have an important role in the next few years, as the circumstances of this election may very well be seen in other countries.
The radical right is only becoming bolder, like a malignant tumour. And we are seeing increasingly that the threat to democracy comes from within European countries.
The way Sweden deals with the Swedish Democrats, France with their National Front and Germany with the AfD, will set precedent for future countries who battle with authoritarian, populist parties driven primarily by fear.

Migration: The perpetual cycle

Failure to find safe haven

Europe’s perpetual cycle of migrants and refugees is intensifying the on-going immigration debate, primarily on how it can be handled and managed.  A copious number of migrants are coming in from the Middle East and Africa due to war, poverty, and many other contributing factors. But they face disappointment as many of them face abuse, both physically and emotionally, during their journey across the Mediterranean, and even when they land on the continent are still being rejected from entering certain countries.

Whilst some hard-line central and eastern European governments, such as Hungary and Poland, are pushing for tougher and stricter borders, others are still hopeful for a fairer distribution of new arrivals.

Recurring issues

In a statement made by Red Cross secretary General Elhaj As Sy, he addressed the recent rejection which migrants received from Italy and Malta. Italy’s denial of a safe and accepting welcoming for the refugees led to an outcry over the laws of migration, whilst people in Valencia, where a rescue ship with over 600 individuals was diplomatically stranded, joined together and saw the vessel accepted.

“People are coming to Europe seeking values. European values, values of solidarity and support and welcoming and helping those in need. So, doing anything less than that is really a betrayal to Europe itself.” The statement made by As Sy was regarded as a true reflection of what is currently going on. As Spaniards joined together to cheer and help the refugees, refugee activist Anira Lappara told Aljazeera News that “Europe is trying to turn a blind eye but we want to respect the rights and offer them a home, our land is their land.”

This is a frequently occurring issue, with tens of thousands of migrants travelling weeks and enduring extreme hardships, only to be left with nothing but a return ship back home and promises of safer environments or holding camps. French President Emmanuel Macron is an embodiment of false promises and hopes. Last year he backtracked after suggesting Libya was, in fact, a safe country for returns and he was in the process of planning camps there as well as in Chad and Niger. However, the people of Libya are still suffering from the recent trauma of the slave trade, poverty and the turmoil from the Arab Springs in 2011.

Steve, a Congolese born and bred who currently lives in the United Kingdom stated that “These people do not understand what goes on in Africa. The desperation you must be in order to flee your homeland with nothing but shoes and clothing. Setting up these camps where we may endure abuse, endangerment and more, what good does it really do? They know what we will endure but as long as we stay in our “African soil” and not on there’s that’s all that matters.”

Will there be any change?

The rise in anti-immigration sentiments across the continent means many of these migrants will be rejected despite being in desperation and looking to the continent that gave the world the enlightenment for help.

They come from far and wide. Those from Syria are fleeing a country still gripped by civil war in which has no hope in ending. Many Syrians flee to neighbouring countries, but even in doing this they are left with barely anything to survive. Vast quantities live in these countries as refugees and are not permitted to work, a restriction which leads them into a deeper hole of poverty.

It is said that many of those who flee are at great personal risk if they stay in the country. A report published by Think Progress concluded that “Refugees are also at risk of religious persecution.” According to Amnesty International, people from Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Egypt have been “abducted, tortured, unlawfully killed and harassed because of their religion” in Libya, particularly by ISIS.

In Kasserine, Tunisia, where many of the migrants can be found, there is a long political frustration which has led to mass unrest. Furthermore, life in Tunisa is becoming harder as incomes and employment opportunities are no longer available. According to the 2014 census, unemployment in Tunisia runs at roughly 15% leaving many without a job and onto the route of sever poverty.

The EU remains critically misunderstood in Brexit Britain

Brexit continues to be a buzzword in politics. It is the biggest constitutional decisions the UK has seen in decades. Ironically the frenzy around Brexit has led to an increased amount of EU coverage in the British media, however this new surge in EU coverage shares the same focus; Britain. The EU is now portrayed in all mainstream media as an organisation obsessed with Brexit.

If one were to take a gander through any news website’s ‘EU’ tag they would struggle to find a post where Brexit isn’t mentioned. This media consensus that overshadows all EU news has resulted in numerous misconceptions and an absence of knowledge about the EU within the British population. According to research conducted by Ipsos, 15% of people believe at least one myth about certain EU laws such as believing the EU has a law strictly prohibiting the sale of bendy bananas. The same research also showed that 18% of people don’t know that MEPs are elected and that on average people overestimate the amount of money the EU spends on admin.

Lack of basic knowledge about the EU exists across class, race, age, and gender and it is a problem that needs to be settled now even if it is a little bit late.

The EU is comprised of 4 main bodies with numerous other smaller organisations that are based across the entire union. The European Parliament is where MEPs sit. This is one of the two legislative bodies of the EU. The Parliament vote on policies and whilst the MEPs are elected as members of their national parties they form voting blocs within the parliament that transcend national identity. Where the Parliament represents the citizens of the EU, The Council of Europe is concerned with representing the member states. It is also a legislative body but unlike the Parliament, the specific people who sit in it depends on the policy on the table. The secretary of state for the policy area being discussed from each member state is present in the Council.

As if in an attempt to make itself seem more complicated, the third key institution of the EU is the European Council. The European council is one of two executive branches of the EU. It is comprised of the Head of Government from each member state. The key roles of the European Council are to set the policy agenda of the EU and appoint key officials like the President of both the European Council and the European commission.

The European Commission is, along with the Parliament, probably the most well-known EU institution. The European Commission is essentially the Cabinet of the EU. The commissioners are appointed at the discretion of the heads of the member states. The role of the Commission is to set aside national interests and work for the interests of the Union as a whole.

These 4 institutions conduct an impressively large amount of work every year with Brexit being a very minimal part of that. In fact, in the EU 2017 General Review only one of the 12 sections even mentioned the UK and its withdrawal from the Union. The majority of the review discussed the extensive work the EU had done that year. This work included reducing unemployment in the EU to 8.7% which is the lowest it has been since 2009.; fining Google 2 billion euros for ‘abusing market dominance’; launching the European Monetary fund and the Clean Air for All Europeans package. The current Junker commission’s main foci are a digital single market and establishing a trade deal with the US.

The overstatement of the EU’s focus on Brexit is further demonstrated by the fact that the UK is the most out voted member state in the EU and has been gradually distancing itself from the Union prior to the vote to leave the EU. This made the UK less integral to the functioning on the EU allowing the separation of EU proceedings and useful functions of the EU.

Although, the EU’s main focus isn’t Brexit and media coverage of the EU should not be focused around it, it is understandable why this is happening. Since joining the EU in 1975, the relationship between the EU and UK has become symbiotic. The UK relies on the EU for access to a single market and vast wealth of labourers and the EU becomes heavily reliant on their exports to the UK and the job opportunities it hosts for European citizens specifically those from Eastern Europe.

Brexit is undeniably important especially to those who consume British media however it is necessary to remember that the EU exists outside of Brexit. Whether you believe we should leave or remain it is our civic duty to educate ourselves about what is truly going on in the European Union.

To remain sustainable, the Eurozone must adopt a common fiscal policy

The Euro is a pioneering symbol of the European Union and one of its most innovative economic achievements. There is no doubt that greater economic integration has brought benefits to the EU and its citizens but whilst the euro area experiences a robust recovery, the framework supporting Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) remains incomplete. It is unsurprising, then, that the region remains susceptible to the possibility of further financial crises. Worryingly, the emergence of economic crises in the Eurozone symbolises a turning point in the history of European integration, illustrating the contradictions of having created a single currency without a suitable economic government, as well as the unsustainability of the EMU as it was originally drafted in the Maastricht Treaty.

As difficult as it is for some economists, a common currency should be viewed positively. Indeed, without it, currencies would be free to compete against each other on the global markets and this would greatly inhibit trade. However, a common European currency in its current form is not enough. The Eurozone must begin to develop elements of a common fiscal policy, including greater levels of risk sharing, to preserve and protect further attempts at financial and economic integration. For, without some degree of union, the region will continue the idiosyncratic existential shocks that policy will no longer be able to ignore.

If Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) were like any other large currency area, such as the United States, members would tackle financial shocks together with an empowered centralised mechanism – or jointly run institution – to resolve stressed financial entities and provide fiscal relief to member states. However, because the EMU is not a political union, member states are left exposed to economic or financial shocks, especially where public debt levels are high and governments have little manoeuvrability to respond with individualised fiscal policies. Similarly, private markets do not offer sufficient insurance against declines in consumption during an economic crisis. Government deficit spending is an alternative, but this comes with higher taxes or lower spending later and may not be an option when public debt is already very high.

It is not to say that there haven’t been attempts made to strengthen the EMU. Reassuringly, arguments in favour of establishing a common fiscal policy in the Eurozone have been advanced, in particular the ‘Report of the 5 Presidents’ (Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Mario Draghi and Martin Schulz) on “Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union”, as well as the declarations in the Werner Report (1970) and MacDougall Report (1977) have suggested that the European Monetary Union would benefit from a centralised fiscal stabiliser in order to deal with asymmetric shocks. But, without action, these arguments resemble nothing more than an empty shell.

Adding true representation to taxes

A common issue that pervades any mention of fiscal integration is the role of nationhood. It must be acknowledged that the ability to collect taxes and spend public resources symbolises a fundamental act of self-determination of each political community and thus requires strong democratic participation and acceptance from the citizenry.

For European federalists, the idea of a national identity is a foreign concept, and through the lens of European history, it is not difficult to understand why. European taxpayers in more prosperous nations may begrudge how their income is being spent elsewhere. Whilst political values influence the strength of resentment, differing national loyalties exacerbate the strength of these grudges. Further tensions undoubtedly stem from the fact that currently, nations cannot vote on each other’s economic policies.

As long as the power to control fiscal policy remains at a national level, current Euro budgets amount to a system in which taxation is not met with accountability and representation. During the European Debt Crisis, for example, the imposition of austerity measures in struggling nations represented a system of shoddy, intergovernmental deals in which the sovereignty of the recipient nations was quashed. A system of collective decision making, based on democratic control would have undoubtedly averted the clumsy response to the crisis.

The adoption of the single currency is incompatible with the preservation of national economic sovereignty, which needs instead to be pooled through the creation of an overarching democratic and transparent policy. Due to the reliance on interdependence within a monetary union, Member States would, therefore, be responsible for their economic policies not only to their national citizens but to all citizens of the union. Essentially, as the Eurozone shares a currency, uniting fiscal policy is the most logical answer.

The Solution?

If, then, we are to address the current structural issues policymakers from across the continent must call for the creation of a common fiscal policy to accompany the current Economic and Monetary Union. Such a union must require a significant degree of economic convergence, further pooling of decision-making power on national budgets to ensure fiscal discipline at a domestic level and prevent moral hazards. Such an economic policy should comprise:

a. an autonomous EMU budget: this could be financed through combined resources, such as, but not limited to a common carbon tax, excise duties, or corporate and personal income tax revenue; the imposition of European taxes should contribute towards a decrease in the level of overall fiscal imposition on taxpayers;

b. adherence to the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure (MIP) as part of the Six-Pack; to broaden the scope for surveillance and coordination beyond fiscal policy variables by providing a new tool for surveillance and correcting imbalances.

c. a fiscal stabilisation function – as outlined in ‘The Five Presidents’ Report 2005’ (Juncker’ to encourage stronger economic policy coordination to deal with a severe crisis. Such a fiscal capacity will obey the following guidelines:
i. it should not result in permanent transfers between Member States.

ii. it should not undermine the incentives and measures for sound national fiscal policy-making.
iii. it should not be an instrument solely for crisis management.

d. the creation of a common fiscal ‘shock absorber’ to provide inter-regional fiscal risk sharing, which allows the levelling of consumption from asymmetric output shocks among Member States. The benefits from international risk-sharing are well-established in economics literature (Obstfeld, 1994). In that literature, a diversity of membership is also seen as an opportunity to risk diversification. In the case of monetary union, a ‘non-Optimal’ Currency Area can thrive because asynchronous business cycles generate opportunities to share portfolio risks through financially integrated markets.

e. greater financial integration through the creation of solidarity tools such as ‘Eurobonds’- to encourage the mutualisation of debt and redistribute the effective cost of borrowing; stronger policy coordination via direct budget surveillance and the helping of weaker Member States to resume growth and avoid the risks of further liquidity crises.

f. the formation of a European Fiscal Policy Committee to replace or update the existing European Fiscal Board, composed of independent accountable financial experts tasked with providing binding recommendations to the European Commission on the euro area’s aggregate fiscal stance. Such an entity will:

i. be headed by a democratically legitimate Eurozone Finance Minister vested with the power to veto national budgets and the ability to utilise the European Economic and Monetary Union budget in order to stimulate economic growth, sustainable development, and cohesion, forming the basis of ‘shared-sovereignty’ and better internalisation of the externalities of fiscal policies.
ii. possess the power to enforce sanctions on member state sovereigns who refuse to adopt required fiscal policy stances. This reflects the view of a ‘stability union’ proposed by Germany in which a supranational European agency will ensure coordination and stability being guided by a euro-area perspective rather than by national interest.

g. the Eurozone Finance Minister should also hold the office of Vice President of the Commission, in a manner similar to the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy; as such, their duties would comprise:

i. chairing Eurogroup meetings in a coordinated approach.
ii. regular appearances before the European Parliament to rationalise and justify the actions of both themselves and the European Fiscal Policy Committee.

h. the inclusion of the European Parliament itself in the decisions regarding the management of the Eurozone budget by introducing an advisory ad hoc Eurozone Parliamentary Committee as proposed by the European Parliament itself in its Resolution of December 12th 2013.

Policy makers, should also calll on the European Central Bank to consider utilising its legislative ability under Article 129 (3) TFEU in order to reform, by general legislative procedure, Article 33(1)(a) of the ECB Statute, with the view of transferring a port of its net profit into the aforementioned Eurozone budget or a new resource of the Union. This should be achieved in a manner ensuring that only Member States that have adopted the single currency benefit from this profit.

Furthermore, the European Parliament, European Commission and individual national governments should take action towards the creation of a common fiscal policy in the framework of the European Economic and Monetary Union through the furthering of current proposals stipulated in the Five Presidents’ Report and a reform of the European treaties.

Trade war defused as US and EU agree to work towards zero tariffs

According to President Trump, the United States and European Union have agreed to launch a “new phase” in diplomatic relations and work towards a policy of “zero tariffs“.

It has been agreed that an increase in trade in services and agriculture will soon follow, including a higher level of soy bean exports to the EU.

The announced agreement has undoubtedly defused what was reported to be a fully-fledged trade war between the two powers, sparked by Trump’s imposition of tariffs on European steel and aluminium exports.

The Agreements

In what was described as a “good, constructive meeting” by Mr Junker, the two have agreed to temporarily postpone any further tariffs while negotiations are underway- and to work on reforming the World Trade Organisation.

According to President Trump, today’s agreements mark a “very big day for free and fair trade”.

The EU has announced plans to increase its purchases of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States whilst also increasing trades in services and agriculture. However, Mr Junker remarked that striking a deal on zero tariffs on industrial goods was his “main intention”.

As of yet no announcement has been made on vehicle tariffs, and it has not yet been declared whether any progress has been made on seeking a resolution to the issue of a 25% import tariffs imposed by President Trump.

Analysis from Oliver Murphy- Editor

Today’s agreement signals a promising return to rational discussion and a move away from tit-for-tat tariffs.

It would be unjust to suggest that the President is wrong to challenge the current trading system. According to the WTO, US average tariffs (trade weighted) are at 2.4%- lower than those of the EU (3%).

However, whilst Trump’s originally aggressive approach will have played well to his supporters in the “rust belt”, in the complex world of diplomacy he would have stood little chance of compromise.

Perhaps we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. Whilst the two leaders have certainly turned a page on trade, today’s announcement merely resembles a resumption of a dialogue. There has yet been a reassessment of national securities barriers or the current state of automobile tariffs.

Clearly, the avoidance of a cataclysmic trade war does not in any way resemble success. Indeed, there is still much work to be completed if full confidence is to be restored not only in the markets but the Office of the President.

 

UK survives NATO Summit despite Tump’s threats

The 2018 NATO Summit was without a doubt the most hotly anticipated summit in recent years. Donald Trump’s Twitter antics had sparked fear among NATO supporters that Trump might abandon it altogether.

However, with the UK’s defence spending currently at 2.10%, Trump appeared content with the UK. It should be noted that when publishing defence spending as a % of GDP, the MoD rather unusually include their pensions payouts, in an attempt to inflate the figure. Nonetheless, when NATO do their own independent audit, the UK remains compliant with the 2% baseline.

Notably, the UK is the only country other than the US that also spends 20% of it’s budget on equipment, the NATO requirement.  When portrayed graphically, the result is stark.

Germany came off worst from the summit, with Trump complaining of Germany’s natural gas reliance on Russia, asking ‘What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy’. 35% of Germany’s natural gas is imported from Russia, with Trump evidently worried about the leverage that affords Russia over Germany.

Indeed, Trump reportedly threatened countries (with the UK excluded from this threat) that if they didn’t pay 2% by January 2019, “we are going to do our own thing”. He reportedly singled out the UK as a country to follow.

Trump did make some rather unusual claims however, notably “Prior to last year where I attended my first meeting, it was going down, the amount of money being spent by countries was going down and down very substantially, and now it’s going up very substantially.”

However, In real dollars, European spending rose from about $254 billion in 2014 to $275 billion in 2017. That’s over an 8 percent rise in three years.

He also, rather typically, contracdicted himself on a number of occaisons. He stated at a conference on Day 1 “I was not in favor of that [Iraq] war. I was very much against that war”. But, when asked if he supported the looming invasion during a 2002 interview with Howard Stern, Trump said “Yeah, I guess so.”

Apart from Trump’s threat, it was a surprisingly uneventful summit. The UK however did not publish their Modernising Defence Programme (MDP), despite Mark Sedwill saying it would last month. The official line was the report was delayed. However, I’ve been told Downing Street never wanted to publish, instead preferring to wait until the Autumn spending review.

The report would have outlined the UK’s plans on how defence should evolve, and is expected to outline our strategy for cyber and EMW (Electro Magnetic Warfare) security.

Refugee Crisis Threatens Collapse of German Government

The Christian Union. A staunch alliance of the CDU and CSU, the bastion of German conservatism that has dominated the Bundestag since the days of West Germany. Yet last week, a fracture emerged; the refugee crisis threatened to devour this special relationship, initiating the collapse of the coalition. Horst Seehofer, the CSU leader and Interior Minister, demanded migrant holding centres in response to public backlash against Merkel’s open border policy. An agreement for a 48 hour screening of migrants to send them back to their country of registration calmed this heated rift in the political sphere. Yet this split in German politics threatens to turn German policy away from the open borders they have sought to sustain. And it has the power to transform migrant policy across the continent – bringing down Schengen with it.

Germany has absorbed more refugees than any other EU nation since the wave of Middle Eastern and North African migration began. With 12mn Germans expelled from Eastern Europe following the fall of the Nazis, Merkel has sought to recreate the culture of acceptance that enabled these Germans to settle elsewhere. Yet with over 1mn people having flooded into its borders, Merkel’s belief in ‘Wir Schaffen Das’ – We Can Do It – is being placed under increasing strain. And since they enter largely through the Southern States, it is this geographical asymmetry in disruption caused by migrants that has fuelled the divide in the Christian Union.

German law forbids the two parties from competing in the same states – with Merkel’s CDU taking the Northern regions, leaving the South to the CSU. Yet it is these Southern states who have been most hostile to refugees, and are most susceptible to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the AfD. Seehofer resigned as Minister President of Bavaria following a 10% slump in the 2017 election, a result of voter dissent with the influx of migrants. Merkel’s open border policy was causing serious damage to her ally’s electoral performance, driving Mr Seehofer towards a nationalist, anti-immigration solution to refugee integration.

Whilst the ‘Deutschland Drama’ between Merkel and Seehofer has never been short of conflict, such political rumblings remained merely background noise as Merkel rose to the premier of Europe. Yet now, the enormity of the divide on the migrant issue has shaken the conservative bloc. Seehofer is symbolic of German nationalism, imitating the AfD in his belief that “Islam does not belong in Germany”. Threatening to take Merkel’s insistence on open borders to the German Constitutional Court, Seehofers’ alignment is moving further from traditional conservatism and towards radical nationalism in an attempt to appease voters. The resolution for a 48 hour screening is but a temporary peace in a long war. Courting Merkel’s foes including Orban and Putin, Seehofer has proven a thorn in the Cabinet whose actions imperil the solidity of the Conservative bloc, ever since its last brief split in 1976.

If Germany does succumb to Seehofer and the AfD’s pressure, the post-war European project for freedom of movement is at risk of total disintegration. Unilateral German action could ignite a flame of border controls across Europe. Both Italy and Austria have threatened border controls following the Interior Ministers demands, with Austrian premier Sebastian Kurz declaring “full confidence in Seehofer’s words”. Schengen has been symbolic of European unity, replacing a fractured continent from centuries of war with an integrated system of peace. Yet the shock of the refugee crisis is the most significant test of European harmony to date.

The survival of Schengen rests in Germany’s hands. Whilst Germany may not yield the dominance it used to, its actions still send shockwaves across the continent. This test of the Christian Union, the backbone of German politics, is not yet over. If borders are tightened in Germany, the founding European principle of freedom of movement may crumble. Political struggle in Germany has the power to determine the future of European unity; only an open and accepting stance can protect it.

Socialist Sanchez can clense Spain’s rotten political scene

It was only last year when Pedro Sánchez, the new Spanish PM, won back his role as the leader of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). No one in his party or anywhere in Spain could ever imagine that months later he would be named prime minister. The former right government were swamped by indignation from a Spanish society completely disgruntled by corruption cases in within the Popular Party.

Mariano Rajoy, who served as PM for seven years, struggled all this time to shield himself from the stain of corruption but was unable to endure the political anger after Spain’s highest criminal court found his party had benefited from an enormous and illegal contracts scheme, known as the Gürtel case. Mr Rajoy was forced out with a successful no-confidence motion and Pedro Sánchez now leads the Spanish government with just 84 deputies (176 are needed for a majority) and he is doing so despite being the first prime minister in Spain’s history who is not also a deputy in Congress.

Sánchez resigned from his seat two years ago because he refused to take part in Rajoy’s investiture session. He did not want to follow his party’s decision to abstain from the vote but he did not wish to vote against his party either. It was a draining and bloody feud that divided the Spanish Socialists deeply and saw Sánchez expelled as the leader of the PSOE.

It is obvious Sánchez has an iron will. He is proven to be resilient and perseverant when all the odds stood against him. He is going to need that will if he is to govern until 2020. In his first interview since his inauguration on June 2, Sánchez said that the decision not to call early elections is founded on the need to “normalise” the country’s political life but his opponents claim he is going to try to implement his own policies even though doesn’t have the parliamentary majority.

There is no rule for what should happen after a no-confidence motion but surely his first job should be trying to repair the social and institutional damage done by the corruption of the former PP government so we are ready for a more stable general election in the future. His time won’t be easy. The Catalan crisis is still unsolved. His government is going to have to accommodate the very different demands of the parties that backed his motion and in a party level, he needs to convince the socialist supporters that he is the right candidate for the job. PSOE is showing signs of recovering in the polls but still far away from the Popular Party despite all the corruption, despite everything else.

Internationally it is a good opportunity for Spain to find its place after years of non-existent presence from Mr Rajoy. A firm believer in the European Union, Sánchez has assembled a strongly pro-European cabinet to the delight of Brussels. His economic minister is a former budget general director for the European Commission and his foreign minister is a former head of the European Parliament.

The new government wants to push for deeper integration in Europe and sees France, more than Germany, as it’s best ally to deeply reform the migration policies and tackle the so much needed reform of the euro. Spain is looking forward to strengthening its position in the EU, especially with Brexit around the corner. The final goal is to show the EU that Spain can be a reliable member ready to become the voice of the European south. His orders to welcome in Valencia more than 600 refugees was not only a humanitarian duty but also an opportunity to show the EU his government is the complete opposite of Italy’s new populist leaders. A change of air in the Spanish rotten political scene. Only time will tell for how long the new prime minister will be able to hold onto power for but for now, it is good news to be able to smell something more than corruption in Spain.

Turkish Elections: Polls close in controversial election

Turkish voters turned up to the polls today in the country’s most hard-fought election in years.

They will decide whether to grant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a second five-year term or vote in opposition candidate, the centre-left Muharrem İnce.

The election was called by Erdogan, a year ahead of schedule, as he looks to cement his power. The role of Turkish president was once ceremonial, but whoever wins this election will inherit new controversial powers narrowly accepted by the Turkish public in a constitutional referendum last year, which was marred by claims of electoral fraud.

Some fear similar tactics will ruin this election with Erdogan being filmed at a party meeting, urging supporters to do “special work” to defeat the opposition.

The president will now directly appoint top public officials, including ministers and vice-presidents. They will also have the power to intervene in the country’s legal system and impose a state of emergency. The role of Prime Minister will also be scrapped.

Critics have expressed concern over lack of checks and balances, with some accusing Erdogan of trying to impose one-man rule. His rival candidates have said they will not adopt these changes.

A key topic of this election is money. Turkey is currently in the middle of an economic slump with inflation rates north of 10%, and a huge fall in the value of lira, the Turkish currency, has left many voters demanding change.

Parliamentary elections will run side-by-side with the presidential poll and any dent into the majority AKP, Erdogan’s party hold in the 600-seat assembly could have a major impact.

Early polls suggest Erdogan is likely to win a second term, though thousands of voters turned out in Istanbul on Saturday in support of opposition leader Muharrem İnce. At the unprecedented rally he addressed the crowd saying: “Turkey’s hopes will be revived. This is going to be a united Turkey.”

The former physics teacher has pledged to restore the rule of law in Turkey and end the prosecution of dissidents and journalists. The country has been under has been under a state of emergency since 2016 after a failed coup led by the military. Over 107,000 public servants and soldiers dismissed from their jobs, and more than 160,000 detained according to the UN.

Whatever the result Turkey’s political landscape will be dramatically changed.