Weekly Vulcan View | Analysis of latest EU developments 22 – 26 April

Key Events This Week

Brexit: State of Play
If Brexit goes ahead, the Scottish Nationalist Party under Nicola Sturgeon will seek another referendum before the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary Elections. Sturgeon suggested that the case for independence is “even stronger now”, given the “profound changes” that have occurred since 2014.

Brexit has been a political gift to the SNP. 62 percent of Scots rejected it, in every single region – the most resounding Remain vote of the UK’s four nations. A year after the party’s barnstorming performance in the 2015 General Election, the referendum result gave the SNP a clear mandate: oppose Brexit at all costs. If Sturgeon does decide to hold another vote, victory for the independence camp is quite likely. Complaints that she is using Brexit as an excuse to re-run the 2014 poll have quietened now that the Brexit process has become such an excruciating international embarrassment.

The 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs have asked Theresa May to set out a “schedule and timetable” for her departure in all circumstances. May has already promised to quit if MPs pass the withdrawal agreement, but now senior Tories want a timetable for her departure if the Brexit deadlock continues. Sir Graham Brady, the 1922 Committee chairman, set out his committee’s latest demand as he confirmed that it was rejecting calls for the rules to be changed to allow an early no confidence vote in May. Under current rules MPs cannot trigger a new no confidence ballot until December, 12 months after the last one, but some Tories wanted this rule changed to allow a challenge much sooner.

The introduction of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party ahead of the European Elections in the UK had an immediate impact in the polls. One YouGov poll put the Brexit Party at 27 percent, while another conducted by ComRes around the same dates had the party on 17 percent. According to the YouGov survey, The Brexit Party is five percentage points ahead of Labour’s 22 percent, followed by the Conservatives on 15 percent and then the Green Party on 10 percent. The outcome suggested by the YouGov poll would have a major implications for the political groupings in the European Parliament, leading to another increase in the already substantial number of Euroskeptics that are expected to be elected.

 

Macron reveals long-awaited plans to appease Gilets Jaunes
On Thursday evening, Emmanuel Macron launched “a new act of the Republic,” in response to the five months of ‘Gilet Jaunes’ protests. Macron spoke in front of 200 journalists for more than two hours at the Élysée Palace. In his speech, Macron said he had listened and drawn conclusions from his three-month voter listening exercise, in which grievances were aired during thousands of town-hall style meetings.

Macron promised €5bn (£4.3bn) worth of cuts to income tax for lower and average earners as well as pension rises for the poorest and vowed no more schools or hospitals would be closed during his presidency. Despite his conciliatory tone, he rejected some of the major demands of protesters, including reinstating a tax on the wealthy, and making the democratic process more representative by holding citizen-led referendums.

A month before the European Parliament election, Europe played a prominent role in his address. Macron seemed to pass the responsibility for tackling climate change over to the EU, proposing an EU carbon tax, a carbon price floor and “more ambitious green finance” policy at the EU level. The Yellow Jackets protest movement, which has often led to violence, was largely spurred by the introduction of a national carbon tax, which Macron revoked a month into the protests.

In his first press conference in two years as president, Macron also expanded on his previous suggestion of “overhauling” the Schengen Area. This zone comprises of 26 European states that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders. Macron suggested that countries which either refuse to take in refugees or that don’t enforce border controls shouldn’t be part of the border-free zone. “On the European level, we decided to have common borders … it not working anymore.”

 

Stormont power vacuum back in the spotlight
British Prime Minister Theresa May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Irish President Michael D Higgins, DUP Leader Arlene Foster and politicians from across the political divide attended the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee in Belfast on Wednesday. Fr. Martin Magill, a Catholic priest asked during his sermon in the Protestant Belfast Cathedral “Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29 year old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?” This statement received a standing ovation – including by those holding up the Stormont talks.

Arlene Foster spoke after the funeral, saying : “Fr Martin Magill spoke very powerfully and plainly about what people want and said it is clear they want to see devolution back and power sharing back in Stormont very, very soon.” Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald responded to Fr. Magill’s comments by stating “In a clear, concise way he has said what I have heard all over Ireland. People want the Executive and the Assembly up and running, people want equality and they want good government they can have confidence in. Political leaders should be working together.”

Politicians from all sides are pushing the DUP and Sinn Fein to sit in the Stormont Assembly once again. Tánaiste Simon Coveney is making one big push to get the Northern government back up and running, travelling to Belfast for a series of private meetings. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley told MP’s in her address in the House of Commons, “I intend to hold discussions with party leaders later this week to see what progress can be made.”

 

Comedian wins Ukrainian Presidential Election
Ukrainian Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky defeated former President Petro Poroshenko in the country’s presidential election. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that there is “a chance to improve relations with our country.” Pressure will now be mounted on the comedian, who currently stars in a TV series to show, that he knows what he is doing. Throughout the election campaign, he avoided serious interviews and discussions about policy – preferring instead to post light-hearted videos to social media.

On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that makes it easier for those living in eastern Ukraine’s separatist territories to access a Russian passport. The move is seen as a challenge to Zelensky. In campaigning, Zelenskiy had signalled he could be more amenable to compromise on the separatist regions than the outgoing president, Petro Poroshenko, and he campaigned in part on Ukrainians’ exhaustion with the war. Now, Russia’s challenge could force him to take a harder line. His team released a statement on Wednesday calling Russia’s move another sign that Russia was “an aggressor state that is waging war against Ukraine”.

More than 13,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since fighting broke out in 2014 between the government and separatists armed and financed by Russia. The offer of Russian passports will be seen in Kyiv as an attempt to continue the integration of the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions into Russia, as well as to pressure the new president to come to the negotiating table. The text of the law, which appeared on the Kremlin’s website on Wednesday, granted Ukrainians living in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions “the right to request citizenship of the Russian Federation” as a humanitarian measure. The move met a very frosty response from the Unites States State Department and will further strain Russia-US relations in addition to the further deterioration of Russia’s relationship with the EU.

 

DATES AHEAD
Monday 29 April – Spitzenkandidat Debate (Maastricht)
Wednesday 8 May – Governing Council of the ECB: non-monetary policy meeting (Frankfurt)
Thursday 9 May – European Council. Informal meeting of heads of state or government, (Sibiu)
23 – 26 May – European Parliament elections

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting, a member of the EACCNY