The upcoming Dutch parliamentary elections on 15 March are the first test in a year that will see populist parties perform strongly in elections in France, Germany, and probably Italy as well. Earlier this week, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte ruled out any coalition with Geert Wilders, leader of the populist right Party of Freedom (PVV). Wilders’ agenda goes further than Marine Le Pen’s by unequivocally pushing for EU withdrawal and a ban on all Muslim migration. While Rutte’s statement on the PVV may come as a relief for many in the European mainstream, the key lesson from the Netherlands will be that populists can have an impact on the political process and debate even when they are unable to enter government.
UK immigration minister Robert Goodwill’s comments were very rapidly dismissed by his prime minister this week when he floated the idea of extending the proposed £1,000 a year charge on skilled migrant workers to workers from the European Union after the UK has left the EU. Aside from the now familiar sight of ministers being put back in their boxes after speculating on life after Brexit, this usefully drew attention to the big question of what a UK government might be tempted to do to reduce pressure on migration.
There was some comment this week about the fact that the UK’s largest financial services advocacy body TheCityUK has self-consciously ceased to advocate the retention of passporting rights for UK-based financial services businesses after the UK has left the EU. This was presented as a concession of ambition, but it is also a form of tactical retreat.
Campaign group Change Britain has published flawed and incomplete analysis suggesting the UK will gain £24bn a year, or £450mn each week, if the UK government pursues a ‘clean Brexit’ and leaves the single market and customs union.
The EU Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston yesterday delivered an important preliminary conclusion in the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) review of the ratification requirements of the EU-Singapore FTA. This sounds like an arcane question but is actually a big political issue. Because the question Sharpston has answered is the question of whether or not EU trade deals need to be ratified not only in Brussels, but by parliaments in EU member states. Sharpston has effectively today said that Wallonia should always get a say.
The European Commission today brought charges against Facebook, alleging the company misled the EU’s competition authorities during its acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014. The social media giant stands accused of submitting evidence to the Commission to the effect that it was technically impossible to match its users’ accounts with WhatsApp’s, something subsequently shown not to be the case when the companies announced in August this year that their accounts would be matched.
This week saw Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg launch the second phase of the work of the G20 Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. The report sets out a comprehensive framework to help a range of companies, from asset managers to the extractives industries, explain the potential impacts of climate change – and the efforts to tackle it – on their business. It also encourages them to set out how they are managing those processes. On Thursday, Global Counsel hosted Jane Stevensen, Task Force Engagement Director for the Carbon Disclosure Project who has spent the last year working closely with the Task Force, to discuss the implications of this landmark report.
Following yesterday’s formal confirmation of 21st Century Fox's bid to take control of Sky, UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley will soon need to decide on whether to launch a public interest investigation into the takeover. There is a strong sense of déjà vu with News Corporation’s ill-fated bid for BskyB in 2010.
At the end of November, the Chinese government indicated that it intended to exert greater scrutiny over Chinese outbound investment. Draft policy papers released online outlined a new policy whereby government approval would be required for foreign acquisitions valued over US$10 billion, or US$1 billion if the target was considered to be outside of the acquirer’s core business. In addition, a moratorium would be imposed on state-owned companies acquiring real estate overseas beyond a value of US$1 billion. In addition, it was mooted that the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) would lower the upper threshold for money transfers requiring approval from the current level of US$50 million to US$5 million.
Once again, much of the European mainstream was relieved on Sunday evening, when – against expectations - the far-right FPŐ candidate was defeated by a 46-54 margin by the Green-backed independent Alexander Van der Bellen in the re-run of the second round of the presidential elections. Following the UK vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency, the Austrian result has been hailed as a rare victory for liberal internationalism. However, this relief may be premature, as attempts to use this wealthy, Central European country as a proxy for balancing North, South, East and Western European attitudes work both ways. The FPŐ may not have won the presidency, but their candidate still came very close and won 46% of the popular vote, up from 21% in the 2013 parliamentary election and 15% in the 2010 presidential election.