The Italian question remains a concern for Europe, even after the nomination of a prime minister (to be confirmed by the Italian president), who is something of a lowest common denominator between the Five Star Movement and the League. Investors are breathing a sigh of relief, with the yield spread with Germany widening at a comparable pace than last week, as shown in the chart. However, many questions remain.
A number of points are worth raising:
1 – Italian malaise
Donald Trump’s announced sanctions on Iran are proving to be quite a headache for European companies that had re-expanded their business in the market since the July 2015 agreement.
It is vital here to draw a distinction between a potential political nuclear agreement between Iran and the other signatories of the previous 2015 accord (apart from the US) on the one hand and the issue of economic sanctions on the other, which would severely hamper Iran’s economic growth as foreign companies working with the country would be subject to hefty penalties from the US. Before 2015 we witnessed the extent of such penalties on banks that had tried to evade sanctions, and a number of banks had actually continued to steer clear of Iran, even after the 2015 agreement as they were not convinced it would last. In this respect, the timing of the ZTE affair is perfect. The Chinese company operating in the telecoms sector and specializing in 5G technology is highly dependent on US components to pursue its growth. After pleading guilty of shipping US components to Iran and North Korea in 2016, it is now facing legal action for failing to comply with measures it was supposed to take against managers involved in the affair. Continue reading
At a conference in London, I listened to a Welsh member of the European Parliament’s statements on Brexit this afternoon.
A number of points are worth noting on this MEP’s remarks:
The first point is the intention that has already been stated elsewhere of standing against the whole world to make Brexit a success, and this triumph requires the support of the entire British population.
[Comment: no objections from the floor] Continue reading
Agreement on the Brexit “divorce bill” is very good news, involving the UK settling its outstanding commitments to the rest of Europe. Trade negotiations will now be able to start and they will not be straightforward, as Michel Barnier recently explained with the backing of the remaining EU 27. There will be no exceptions to the rule, the UK cannot have a tailor-made agreement, all sectors will be treated equally with no special allowances. Continue reading
After the failure to form a coalition the first thing to notice is that Merkel is no longer at the center of the game. She has been replaced by the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will decide what will be the next steps.
These steps can be threefold
1 – A coalition between the CDU-CSU and the social democrats of the SPD but the SPD is reluctant to participate.
2 – A minority government but with the risk of doing nothing while important issues have to be managed (the current negotiation failed on the refugees’ question, on carbon emissions, on taxes and on education) These are important issues that cannot be postponed.
3 – New elections at the beginning of next year
I favor the third possibility but my guess is that in this type of situation domestic questions are at the center of the discussion or of the campaign.
European questions were not at the center in recents days but with Merkel’s recent point of view was a kind of guarantee that Europe would not be forgotten.
It could be the case in a foreseeable future if Merkel is no longer the leader. Europe could then be erased from discussions
The recent improvement in the perception of Europe is twofold.
1- GDP growth is stronger and employment is improving rapidly
2- The commitment between Merkel and Macron to improve the way institutions are working at the European level
If Merkel is weaker and focused on internal issues then European reforms will no longer be on the agenda
This would create an uncertainty that could reduce the economic horizon then limiting investment and the possibility to improve the potential growth. Therefore it can have a negative impact on growth and could be damaging.
Another point on reforms is that with stronger growth it limits the risk of populism. If, because Merkel is no longer at the center of the picture, reforms are not done then we will see the convergence to a lower growth trend rate and more that the come back of populism with the risk of weaker institutions. Some nationalists want to exit from the EU.
The political process in Germany is at risk not only for the Germans but also for Europeans as the current momentum would become more fragile opening the door to populism
The impact on Brexit negotiators will depend on the result of the current political process. A bias positive to populism would a piece of cake for the UK government as populists do not like Europe. It would be the worst situation for a European citizen.