One of the most contested issues, before and since the referendum on UK membership of the EU, has been the potential impact of Brexit on the UK economy. The exercise is almost as difficult now as it was before the referendum, because we still don’t know what Brexit will mean for the UK’s trading relationships, or the regulatory environment in Britain, two issues that will have a significant bearing on the long-term economic consequences.
After the withdrawal of the liberal FDP from coalition negotiations, German politics is faced with a similar dilemma to Spain in 2015-2016: an inconclusive set of elections, the unwillingness of the centre-left to support the incumbent centre-right Prime Minister, and ultimately the possibility of another set of elections. In both instances, it was up to social democrats to resolve the stalemate; what lessons can the German Social Democrats (SPD) learn from the Spanish experience?
The UK government’s official response to the Taylor Review on Modern Working Practices is expected imminently. However, there are major questions over whether ministers will be able to support many, if any, of Matthew Taylor’s wide-ranging recommendations for reforming UK employment law. While a wholesale reform of employment law seemed unlikely when May commissioned the Review with a majority government, the prospect for comprehensive reform seems even less likely now she has lost it.
Last Sunday’s regional elections in Sicily were the last major electoral test ahead of Italy’s general elections next spring, and they do not bode well for the Five Star Movement. The party had high hopes of winning the contest, in a region that saw the party’s best results in the 2013 general elections. After its victories in Rome and Turin in 2016, winning Sicily’s regional government would have been the party’s highest elected office, demonstrating not only that the party could win a serious contest, but also show “proof of concept” of what it would do once having control of the sort of domestic policy levers available to autonomous regions like Sicily. Instead, the Five Star Movement was defeated by a greater than predicted 5-point margin, a result that will likely demobilise a party’s base that had believed that the party could win and be a serious electoral force.
In New Delhi last week, I joined business and political leaders considering the prospects for the digital sectors in India and Europe. The differences and the similarities, in the outlook and the issues being confronted by policymakers in each market, are equally striking.
The parliamentary elections in Czech Republic last weekend produced an unsettling but not unexpected result. The moderate populist ANO party won nearly 30% of the vote, but fell far short of a majority in the parliament. Other anti-establishment parties – the Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) and the Pirates Party – have significantly strengthened their positions. Support for the traditional parties, including Social Democrats who led the previous government for four years, dropped to single digits. Only Eurosceptic Civic Democratic Party (ODS) managed to regain some of its centre-right ground lost in the previous elections.
While in Australia at the start of this month, one question that came up repeatedly was how Australia should approach its trade relationship with Europe.
Brexit was conspicuous by its absence in the German election campaign. Migration, Islam and relations with Turkey dominated the only TV debate in early September. Relations with the second largest European economy were not even mentioned once. The EU itself also hardly figured in the campaign, beyond the usual vague commitments to the union, and having more of it. That changed after the election, when German debate about the big ideas being floated by Emmanuel Macron gathered steam. Whether or not Germany should be openly debating its future relationship with the UK, its debate over the future of the EU is likely to have important implications for that relationship.
Prime Minister Theresa May restarted the UK energy bills debate last week, announcing a draft Energy Bill which would allow Ofgem – the UK national energy regulator – to cap household energy bills in the form of the time-limited introduction of a ‘safeguard tariff’. While the GC energy practice watched from afar in Rome, some unexpected lessons from the Italian market emerged in discussions we were having with Italian policymakers and market participants.
News this week that the EU and the UK have agreed on a methodology for dividing current farm trade quotas between them was expected at some point. These ‘TRQs’ are in effect a piece of EU property that the two sides needed to agree how to divide. The problem is, of course, that they are used by other WTO members to trade with the EU and the UK, and these members will inevitably have a view on how they should be divided. This week we got the first sight of that view. What did it tell us?