Politics

Catchup on the continent:

Not all about Brexit, where are Europe's key battlegrounds?

by Christopher Jones

Despite recent talk that victory in politics (particularly in Europe) now requires politicians to either fight from the extreme-left, or extreme-right, the current political battle in Germany takes place in the centre. Sunday’s federal election saw current Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union, hoping to win a fourth term in office. Opposing her was Martin Schulz, leader of the centre-left Social Democratic Party. These warring politicians, and their respective centre-bound parties, represented the current political climate in Germany.

The Bertelsmann Foundation, an independent foundation based in Germany, found that 80% of Germans view themselves as ‘centrist’. For comparison, the average ‘centrist’ result across the EU is 66%, with the UK having 67% of people identifying as either centre-right or centre-left. 77% of Germans surveyed said their financial situation had either improved or remained the same over the past two years. This would explain the lack of polarized viewpoints from the German population, as the country continues its course of political pragmatism that began following the end of the Second World War.

At the time of writing, the polls find Merkel’s CDU with 38% of the prospective vote, with Schulz’s SDP at 23%. Germany’s recently amended electoral system is about to enter its second round of voting, with the CDU expected to win but without a majority.

In May, French President Emmanuel Macron won an unprecedented landslide victory for his centrist party En Marche! by utilising resentment towards the far-right National Front and its leader Marine Le Pen. Since then, however, Macron’s centre position has made him enemies on both the right and left, and alienated him from voters who don’t identify themselves as centrist. The Bertelsmann Foundation survey found that only 51% of French voters view themselves as ‘politically central’.

Macron has also vowed to cut €58 billion (£53 billion) in federal spending by 2022 and is pursuing this aggressively. Socialists who viewed Macron as a superior liberal alternative to Le Pen in May have been angered by the promised cuts, while conservatives have rallied against the proposed €831 million (£763 million) cut to military spending.

Macron has further alienated his base by appearing uninterested in appealing to their demands. The President regularly refuses to participate in interviews, deciding instead to simply send out photos. In June, he broke with tradition by cancelling the Bastille Day press conference, which has been a staple of the President’s public image since the 1970s. Macron defended his decision by reportedly saying his ‘complex thoughts’ would be too much for the journalists at the conference.

Finally, Brexit talks are underway between Britain and the European Union. The negotiations finally began on 19 June, almost a year after the UK voted to leave the EU. For one week per month, the UK’s negotiating team will meet with their EU counterpart to discuss the policies of Britain’s exit. Chief among these are the rights of UK and EU citizens, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, immigration, and the ‘divorce bill’ (essentially how much money the UK will need to pay to exit the EU.). As per Article 50, these negotiating teams have until 29 March 2019 to settle these disputes, as this is when the UK will officially leave the EU.

While Brexit made an impact politically on the country, it has not done so economically, as the economy continues to expand as it did before the referendum vote. Inflation has risen somewhat, but unemployment has fallen to 42-year low, while the rate of house price increases has also fallen.

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