15 March

Ania Lewandowska

15 March

Today the Dutch are going to the polls. An event that does not usually attract a lot of international attention is likely to be different this time. The vote is the first of several to take place across Europe this year and is seen as something of a bellwether for political sentiment on the continent.

As ever, the commentators are divided on whether today’s vote is likely to see the Netherlands surrender to populist attitudes.

However, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is worried, warning that the Dutch must prevent the “domino effect” that would see Holland become the next country after Brexit and the United States to be hit by the surge in populism. This is because the latest polls suggest far-right leader, branded a “Dutch Trump”, Geert Wilders is breathing down his neck. His Freedom Party is only two points behind and on course to win 16% of the vote. To make things more interesting for international observers, Wilders also promised a referendum on the Netherlands’ membership of the EU.

On the other side of the political spectrum, dubbed Holland’s Trudeau, Jesse Klaver, leader of Dutch Green Party is also expected to emerge as one of the main groups in the Dutch parliament. He insisted: “This year is not only about the election in the Netherlands, but elections in the whole of Europe”.

It is fair to say that the Dutch, in the weeks leading up to the vote, have been preoccupied with issues of immigration, integration and national identity; and their attitude towards the above and the European project as a whole will have a significant impact on the way they vote today.

News

Millions of families across East Africa are on the brink of starvation because drought and civil war have hit food supplies. The UN is warning that the world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. With life-saving assistance urgently needed. An appeal has been launched for four East African countries — South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia where 16 million people face severe hunger.

A YouGov poll for the Times suggested 57% of Scottish voters want to stay in the UK and 43% want independence, once “don’t knows” and those not prepared to vote were excluded. The findings suggest support for staying in the UK is at its strongest for two and a half years. Meanwhile, according to an academic study carried out by ScotCen Social Research, support for Scottish independence is at its highest-ever level. But the Scottish Social Attitudes survey also suggested the popularity of the European Union has fallen.

Donald Trump’s leaked tax return reveals he had to pay tens of millions of dollars in a single year because of a tax rule that he has specifically promised to abolish as president. Trump paid $38m (£31m) in tax on more than $150m (£123m) income in 2005, a leaked partial tax return shows. 
Two pages of the tax return were revealed by US TV network MSNBC but they gave no details on income sources or of charitable giving.

The right wing French presidential candidate François Fillon has been placed under formal investigation for misuse of public funds, a first for a presidential candidate in France. Fillon is alleged to have given his wife and children generous fake jobs as parliamentary assistants, funded by the taxpayer. If charged and found guilty, Fillon faces a 10-year prison term and a million-euro fine.

Business & Economy

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, issued a rare statement yesterday asserting its commitment to “stabilising the global oil market”, just asglobal benchmark Brent crude slipped towards $50 a barrel for the first time this year. The statement came after the Saudis notified the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that they hiked their output, reversing roughly a third of the reductions it undertook in January. (£)

The boss of Unilever is calling for a strengthening of UK takeover rules to protect “national champions” after the consumer goods giant saw off a £115bn bid from Kraft Heinz. Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever — the maker of Marmite, Magnum ice cream and Dove soap — 
says there should be a level playing field to protect British companies. Polman referred to countries such as the US, France and the Netherlands that have more safeguards in place to protect “national champions” and block takeovers. (£)

Euronet Worldwide has launched a $2bn bid for rival money transfer group MoneyGram International, sending the stock price soaring more than 20 percent. Euronet will offer MoneyGram investors $15.20 a share in cash, valuing the company at more than $1bn. It said it would also assume $940m of MoneyGram’s debt.

Markets

The FTSE 100 finished lower with markets cautious ahead of an expected US interest rate rise and the Dutch elections.

The index shed finished down 0.12%, or 8.52 points, at 7358.56, with RBS down 2.53%, M&S 2.16% lower and Standard Life down 1.7%.

Shares in Prudential rose 2.8% as strong growth in its Asian business helped its group operating profits to rise 7% to £4.3bn.

Oil stocks also took a hit after Saudi Arabia revealed it had let oil production creep above the cap set by Opec, sending Brent Crude to a fresh 2017 low. Shell and BP both fell.

On the currency markets, the pound fell to an eight-week low against the dollar, dropping 0.5% to $1.2157.

Finals 
Balfour Beatty plc (BBY), Forterra plc (FORT), Fusionex International plc (FXI), Gem Diamonds Ltd (GEMD), Hikma Pharmaceuticals (HIK), Manx, Telecom plc (MANX), Marshall Motor Holdings plc (MMH), Marshalls Plc (MSLH), Polymetal International plc (POLY), Robert Walters plc (RWA), Somero Enterprises Inc (SOM), Statpro Group (SOG)

Interims 
Brooks Macdonald Group (BRK), Clinigen Group plc (CLIN), Thinksmart Ltd (TSL)

Trading Announcements
Biffa plc (BIFF)

UK Economic Announcements
Claimant Count Rate — 09:30:00

Int. Economic Announcements
(11:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US), (12:30) Consumer Price Index(US), (12:30) Retail Sales (US), (14:00) Business Inventories (US), (14:30) 
Crude Oil Inventories (US)

Source: FTSE100, The Financial Times

Columns of Note

Michael Birnbaum, the Washington Post’s Brussels bureau chief, offers a detailed analysis of the Dutch elections and explains why, hours before the polls open, the Dutch have a real problem who to vote for. Birnbaum acknowledges “the unsettled political arena is also a warning sign that voters across Europe are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo ahead of pivotal votes this year in France, Germany and possibly Italy.”

In a rather provocative column, George Monbiot suggested a new question for the second referendum ballot paper: “when England falls out of the boat like a block of concrete, do you want your foot tied to it?” The author leaves no doubt on his stance with regard to the second independence referendum in Scotland, insisting that any attempts to block it would be undemocratic, as Nicola Sturgeon has a clear mandate laid out in her party’s manifesto. The author concludes Scotland “could cut the rope, pull itself back into the boat, and sail towards a hopeful if uncertain future”.

Cartoon Source: The Times

Did you know?

Today, March 15th is a national holiday in Hungary. It commemorates the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, which grew into a war for independence from Habsburg rule.

Parliamentary highlights

TODAY

House of Commons
Oral questions 
Northern Ireland

Prime Minister’s Question Time

Ten Minute Rule Motion
Network Rail (Scotland) Bill — Drew Hendry

Legislation 
* Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill — Jeremy Hunt 
* National Citizen Service Bill [HL] — Mr Rob Wilson

House of Lords
Oral Questions 
* Guidance to students from other EU member states wishing to study at UK universities on the costs of their studies and eligibility to access student loans — Baroness Royall of Blaisdon 
* Improving accessibility for disabled people to public premises — Baroness Deech 
* Statutory guidance to ensure that social media sites address online abuse — Baroness Nye

Legislation 
* Neighbourhood Planning Bill — 3rd reading — Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth 
* Higher Education and Research Bill — Report stage (day 4) — Viscount Younger of Leckie

Scottish Parliament
Portfolio Questions
Health and Sport

Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee Debate: Reports on the Implications of the European Union Referendum on Scotland

TOMORROW

House of Commons
Oral questions 
Culture, Media and Sport, including Topical Questions. Attorney General

Business Statement
Leader of the House

Statement 
* Publication of the Tenth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Lessons Still to be Learned from the Chilcot Inquiry. HC 656 — Mr Bernard Jenkin 
* Publication of the Sixth Report of the Health Committee, Suicide prevention. HC 1087 — Dr Sarah Wollaston

Backbench Business
Energy prices

House of Lords

Oral questions 
Introduction of legislation to give effect to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on prisoners’ voting — Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Debate 
Strengthening the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth, ahead of the UK hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018 — Baroness Anelay of St Johns

Scottish Parliament
General Questions

First Minister’s Questions

Members’ Business — S5M-03651 Ross Thomson: Impact on North East Businesses of the Hike in Non-domestic Rates

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee Debate: Reports on Draft Climate Change Plan, the Draft Third Report on Policies and Proposals 2017–2032

Legislative Consent Motion: Farriers (Registration) Bill — UK Legislation