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By Arthur Beesley Read more
“Their world collapses. Ours is built.” So said Florian Philippot, the main adviser to Marine Le Pen, hailing Donald Trump’s victory as the start of a new order in world politics. Elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany will give this theory a thorough real-world test in 2017.
In France, Ms Le Pen of the National Front leads the way in first-round voting, but lags comfortably behind potential rivals in polls on a presidential run-off. Now, after duff calls in both Britain and the US pollsters are viewed with scepticism.
“Before the American result, the question seemed absurd,” says the Economist. “Now, the unthinkable has become conceivable.” The FT’s Anne-Sylvaine Chassany quotes Dominique de Villepin, a former French prime minister: “France and the US are like twins. What is possible in the US is possible in France, even if the system is refusing to see it.” Read more
For many of us, the idea of Germany getting tough on its own carmakers is about as likely as a French minister admitting he prefers Australian wine, or Viktor Orbán offering free hugs to asylum seekers.
But over the past few months, German regulators have been making a good show of doing exactly that. Chastened by the discovery in the US that Volkswagen had been cheating in emissions tests, officials have leapt into overdrive, probing manufacturers including Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz, General Motors’ Opel, as well as Fiat.
In Germany’s latest move, the country’s transport ministry is calling on the EU to tighten its ban on emissions test cheating – a far cry from its efforts last year to water down EU plans for more realistic environmental testing of cars. Ministers will discuss the German requests today in Luxembourg, as part of a debate on the dieselgate scandal.
So what exactly is going on? Read more
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Part of the job description of any political leader is to do your best to make it look like you get along with people who you actually can’t stand. But when does that willingness to grin and bear it boomerang and make a leader look weak for not standing up for his or her principles?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lightning visit to the Turko-Syrian border on Saturday, where she roundly praised Turkey’s willingness to take in millions of Syrian refugees, was just the latest example of the effort she is prepared to make to sustain the EU’s fragile deal with Ankara on returning asylum seekers from Greece. Her problem is that, try as she might, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is going out of his way to make it as hard as possible to be nice to him.
The heart of the problem is Mr Erdogan’s hair trigger when it comes to feeling insulted, slighted or provoked. From the beginning, Ms Merkel has had to deal with manifold criticisms from human rights groups about the refugee plan and doubts over Turkey’s status as a safe country to send people back to from Greece. But repeated rows pitting Mr Erdogan’s tendency to take legal or diplomatic action against critics versus the EU’s fundamental principle of free expression are threatening to overshadow the refugee crisis itself. Read more
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Did Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, engineer her surprise summit deal with Ankara to bolster her chances of winning three key regional elections this weekend? That was the question some of the more cynical European diplomats were asking themselves yesterday as they licked their wounds from what one called a “brutal” 12 hours of summit negotiations, where Ms Merkel essentially rammed through a bilateral deal she reached with her Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, on the gathering’s eve.
If Ms Merkel had hoped the unexpected agreement – which would have Turkey take back potentially thousands of refugees washing up on Europe’s shores in return for €6bn in aid and a visa-free travel scheme – would be hailed at home and win her political points before the Sunday vote, then she appeared headed for disappointment. Horst Seehofer, head of Ms Merkel’s Bavarian CSU sister party and her most prominent migration critic, was cool to the plan and other nominal allies were even more critical. Marcel Huber, a prominent CSU leader and secretary of the Bavarian regional government, said the visa liberalisation scheme would face “massive resistance” and was “not a matter for consideration”. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung notes the criticism even came from within Ms Merkel’s own Christian Democratic Union. Read more
Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland party found itself without a home in the European Parliament on Tuesday after the assembly’s European Conservatives and Reformists group, the political home of Britain’s Tories, gave them a firm push out of the door.
In the tersest of one-sentence statements, the ECR confirmed it had “invited” its two AfD members to leave. Just in case they didn’t get the message, it went on to say that, if they choose to stick around, “a motion will be tabled to expel them” at the next meeting of the group’s executive on April 12.
The decision by the ECR to open its doors to the AfD after the party’s success in the 2014 European Parliament elections was a headache for David Cameron from the start. The move was an embarrassment at a time when the the British prime minister was trying to improve relations with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who saw AfD as threat to her Christian Democrats on the right. Read more
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It has become customary to assume EU summits aimed at tackling the ongoing refugee crisis produce much rhetoric but little meat. But last night’s gathering of European leaders with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, may prove the one that broke the rule.
In talks that went on for 12 hours, the two sides emerged with the outlines of a deal that, if finalised next week, is as sweeping in its implications as it is in its substance. The German-engineered plan would allow the EU to turn back almost all migrants washing ashore in Greece and return them to Turkey. But the price will be high: in addition to billions of additional European aid to Ankara, the EU would expedite a long-dormant visa liberalisation programme that could provide Turkish nationals visa-free travel into the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone as soon as June.
That a significant deal was in the offing was clear late last week when Donald Tusk, the European Council president, travelled to Ankara and received strong signals that Mr Davutoglu was open to a massive programme of refugee returns. But the plan now on the table is significantly more ambitious than the one Mr Tusk was considering. It was driven almost entirely by Mr Davutoglu and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, with the help of Mark Rutte, her Dutch counterpart and holder of the EU’s rotating presidency. The EU’s nominal leaders (Mr Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president) were almost entirely cut out of the deal-making, which began in earnest when the Turkish, German and Dutch leaders held a pre-summit meeting on Sunday. In her press conference, Ms Merkel acknowledged as much, saying Mr Davutoglu presented new demands at the Sunday meeting – and she endorsed them wholeheartedly. Read more
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At the height of the eurozone crisis, EU leaders would frequently express annoyance that they were the focus of almost every major international conclave, from Group of 20 summits to annual International Monetary Fund meetings. Resentment would become particularly piqued when leaders from the developing world – like Brazil or Mexico – lectured their European counterparts on getting their economies in order.
That crisis may be in remission, but another European one – of refugees – is due to be among the main topics of conversation at the annual talkfest for global elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which starts today. According to the forum’s formal schedule, there are no fewer than five officially-sanctioned events on the topic, including a one-on-one session between host Klaus Schwab and Joachim Gauck, the German president; a panel discussion featuring Germany’s vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven; and a press conference with the head of the International Organisation for Migration.
In a pre-Davos interview with the Associated Press, Mr Schwab said Europe was at a “crossing point”, and it needed to find a balance between the humanitarian instinct to help struggling refugees with the reality of limited capabilities to do so. “My concern is that Europe, at the moment, is in a phase of disintegration,” Mr Schwab told the AP. “Europe would be completely marginalized if we break up into different nation-states again.” Read more
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The knives have been out for Angela Merkel almost since the outset of the refugee crisis. But the rebellion from within the German chancellor’s own ranks appeared to have subsided ahead of the Christmas holidays. Gone were pointed asides by Wolfgang Schäuble, who in November warned of an “avalanche” of refugees because of “careless” government actions. Many read that as an unofficial signal that the powerful finance minister – who has long coveted the chancellery – was prepared to step in should Ms Merkel fall.
But in recent days, the German press has been filled with renewed accounts of plotting within the centre-right coalition – her own Christian Democratic Union and its more conservative Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. The scheming was linked to anger surrounding the New Year’s Eve attacks by men of “north African and Arab” appearance on scores of women in Cologne. Ms Merkel even cancelled her annual trip to Davos to handle the political troubles at home, though Berlin later denied the cancellation had anything to do with Cologne.
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has reported that a confidence vote is likely to come before the end of the month, a measure backed by “several dozen deputies” within the CDU/CSU. Süddeutsche Zeitung notes that even the CDU general secretary, Peter Tauber, has got in on the act, demanding the deportation of 1,000 refugees denied asylum every day. Süddeutsche argues that the rather unchristian stance from Christian Democrats is just another reflection of pressures within the party, where voices are rising to shut the borders and set caps on the number of refugees accepted – a policy explicitly backed by Horst Seehofer, the seemingly mutinous head of the CSU. Read more
Just when is the real deadline before which Greece has to reach a deal with its creditors to gain access to €7.2bn in bailout aid?
Its current bailout ends on June 30, and officials think that if a deal is in place by the next scheduled meeting of eurozone finance ministers, June 18, there may just be enough time for Greece to pass the necessary legislation to get the rescue disbursement before the clock runs out.
But Stefan Wagstyl, the FT’s man in Berlin, writes to point out there’s another looming deadline that could cause problems for a Greece decision, tied to the upcoming recess of the Bundestag, which must approve any aid tranche:
It could be that Greece’s real deadline is much earlier that many realise: June 14. That is the date by which German officials say Greece and its bailout monitors must complete a new agreement for the German parliament to have time to vote on it before the end of the month.
If you didn’t know what the standoff over Greece’s bailout was all about, Alexis Tsipras, the new Greek prime minister, has provided an excellent primer in a letter sent a week ago to his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he is scheduled to meet Monday night in Berlin.
Our story about the March 15 letter, which the FT obtained a copy of, can be found here. But as is our normal practice, we thought we’d provide readers of the Brussels Blog a bit more detail – including a copy of the letter, which we’ve posted here.
It’s worth noting that eurozone officials say a similar letter was sent to a select group of other leaders, including François Hollande, the French president; Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank chief; and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.
For those who are having a hard time following every twist an turn in Tsipras’ dispute with his bailout lenders, the letter is filled with a lot of jargon and references to multiple previous exchanges of letters, which can be confusing even to a Greek crisis veteran. For that reason, below is an annotated version of the Tsipras letter, which is our modest attempt to explain its intricacies to the uninitiated.
The letter starts off by referring to a February 20 agreement by the eurogroup – the committee of all 19 eurozone finance ministers which is responsible for overseeing the EU’s portion of Greece’s €172bn bailout. That was the meeting where ministers ultimately agreed to extend the Greek bailout into June; it was originally to run out at the end of February, and the prospect of Greece going without an EU safety net had spurred massive withdrawals from Greek bank deposits, which many feared was the start of a bank run. Read more
Although the two-day EU summit that begins today in Brussels is nominally about defence policy, the main event most delegations were watching was whether summiteers would sign up to a German-backed plan that would require all eurozone countries to sign annual contracts with Brussels obligating them to liberalise their economies.
These so-called “contractual arrangements” have been bubbling around for more than a year, but fiercely resisted by Italy and other southern eurozone countries, who view it as another effort by Berlin to dictate economic policy for the rest of the currency union. Angela Merkel, in her maiden speech before the Bundestag after her re-election as German chancellor yesterday, mentioned them yet again as a necessity.
Paris has led the charge to change contracts into more of a two-way street: If eurozone countries are going to be forced to sign such agreements – which in many ways echo the “memorandums of understanding” that now are forced on bailout countries like Greece– then they should get some financial assistance in return.
Originally, Pierre Moscovici, the French finance minister, advocated a eurozone budget accessible to countries that participate and would pool responsibility for things like unemployment insurance. That idea didn’t go very far, but in the last draft of the summit communiqué sent to national delegations last night (and obtained by Brussels Blog) suggests other financial sweeteners – like loans, grants or guarantees – might be in the offing. Read more
Reactions around Europe to Angela Merkel’s sweeping victory in Sunday’s German parliamentary elections were mixed. As expected, fellow leaders – particularly those of the centre-right persuasion – sent their congratulations while some on the centre-left called for Merkel to join the Social Democrats in a grand coalition.
In Italy, the Berlusconi-owned newspaper Il Giornale warned the result left the EU “in the hands of the chancellor who helped exacerbate the economic crisis.”
The differing views reflect increasingly polarising opinions towards Merkel across the eurozone. Just last week, the German Marshall Fund published its annual “Transatlantic Trends” report, which included polling of 11 EU countries (plus Turkey) and their views of Merkel’s handling of the eurozone crisis.
After last month’s tension-filled EU summit – an all-night affair to agree the EU’s €960bn seven-year budget – the two-day gathering beginning today is expected to pale by comparison to a considerable degree. “A bit boring is not a bad thing on this occasion,” said one senior diplomat involved in pre-summit negotiations.
Although Hungarian prime minister Victor Orbán is expected to address the international press today following his government’s controversial passage of constitutional amendments which critics claim may violate the rule of law, the only real issue that could potentially generate much heat inside the gathering is the ongoing austerity versus growth debate that has been swirling since last month’s Italian elections.
There has already been some shadow boxing on the issue between France’s François Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel ahead of the summit – with Hollande making the case for France to get a one-year pass on its EU deficit targets, while Merkel conspicuously announcing her own intention to get to a balanced budget a year earlier than required. Read more
For those trying to figure out what the highly-anticipated EU treatise to be unveiled at next week’s summit on the future of the eurozone will say, it’s worth having a closer read at the International Monetary Fund report presented last night to eurozone finance ministers at their gathering in Luxembourg.
The concluding statement presented by Christine Lagarde, the IMF chief, contains almost all the elements being weighed by EU leaders who are writing the report, and Lagarde was quite open about the fact she actively consulted two of the institutions involved in its drafting: the European Central Bank and the European Commission. Indeed, Olli Rehn, the commission’s economic honcho, explicitly endorsed the report at a press conference last night.
The most likely areas of consensus are in Lagarde’s three long-term recommendations for a eurozone banking and fiscal union, though several of them remain controversial, particularly in Berlin, and it remains unclear whether the four EU institutions drawing up their plan will be as willing to confront the German government as head-on as the IMF has. Read more
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the tidal wave that unleashed a disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility and forced a profound shift in Europe’s nuclear debate.
Within weeks of the disaster, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, decided to switch course and phase out the country’s nuclear plants – a move that was subsequently copied by Switzerland and Belgium.
Talk of a nuclear revival that once filled the air in Italy and other member states – encouraged by the industry and supportive governments – has been dashed. Even in France, Europe’s nuclear champion, public opinion has turned increasingly negative.
The Deutsche Börse and NYSE Euronext exchange mega-merger is dead, the objections of competition officials prevailed, but it followed a tremendous political tussle in Brussels, full of intrigue and skulduggery. Here are some of the snippets from the final days:
The Merkel change of heart: A great mystery in this merger case was the deafening silence from Berlin. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was always said to be on the verge of intervening on behalf of the German exchange. But opportunities to say something came and went. Her reluctance was put down to coalition divisions and a complicated political picture in Hessen, the home state of DB.
But in the final days, Merkel did have her say, at least in private. Read more
All times are GMT. This post should update automatically ever few minutes, but it may take longer on mobile devices.
Europe’s leaders gather in Brussels today for another crunch summit. This time, we’re told, it’s different. Expectations are running high for a new grand bargain to restore sanity to the eurozone’s finances and chart a course out of the debt crisis. We’ll bring you all the build-up, plus:
Welcome back to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. By Esther Bintliff on the world news desk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world.
This post should update automatically every few minutes, but it may take longer on mobile devices. All times are GMT.
16.15: One of the areas where Angela Merkel appears to have backed down is around the role of the European Court of Justice, reports Joshua Chaffin, our correspondent in Brussels:
Ms Merkel had wanted the ECJ – the European Union’s highest court – to become the ultimate enforcer of new budget rules for the eurozone countries.
France and Germany may be divided over the key issues on the agenda of today’s European Union summit. But President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel have found common ground in the need to hammer Italy over its heavy debt load.
The leaders of the EU’s biggest and most powerful member states called in Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, this morning for a pre-summit tongue-lashing. The message they delivered, according to one diplomat familiar with the discussion, was that Italy must deliver “specific and convincing reform measures soon.” They communicated a similar message to Berlusconi at a gathering on Saturday evening held by the centre-right European People’s Party.
Sarkozy also expressed his displeasure with Italy’s refusal to make way for a Frenchman on the European central bank’s executive board, according to the diplomat. France is due to lose its seat when Jean-Claude Trichet steps down as ECB president at the end of the month to be replaced by Mario Draghi, the outgoing president of the Bank of Italy. Berlusconi infuriated the French this week when he declined to free up a seat on the powerful decision-making committee by refusing to name current board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi as Draghi’s replacement. Read more
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