Morning Briefing

Italy Moves Right

For a time, he was the sunny boy of Italian politics. But Prime Minister Matteo Renzi played a risky round of poker with his constitutional effort to strip senate powers, and lost. According to exit polls, around 60 percent of Italians voted against his project, which morphed into a referendum on Renzi himself. He resigned last night. Eurosceptics like “Beppe” Grillo and ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi are elated. Italy will have its 64th post-war change of government, and investors are certain to pounce on the highly indebted country. A quote from Rome’s own Cicero sums up Renzi’s predicament: “He remained the same, but he was no longer good.”

Austrians yesterday did what Germans can’t fathom: They elected a president from the Green Party. Alexander Van der Bellen decisively beat right-wing contender Norbert Hofer. Concerns over galloping populism in the United States and Britain appear to have elicited a pro-E.U. backlash in Austria. The big losers again were the pollsters. As in the U.S. and U.K., they got it wrong in Austria and should heed Austrian singer, actor and playwright Johann Nestroy: “I can already hear the grass growing I’m going to bite into.”

Carmaker Opel has dug deeply into its box of tricks to polish sales figures, Handelsblatt has learned. Nearly every second car this year was effectively bought by Opel, its dealers, or car rental firms through a special registration practice, according to the Center of Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Many vehicles are then resold as “new used cars” at substantial discounts. The research center says the practice is widespread in the German car industry. But Opel appears to master it like no other.

Some VW employees and investors yearn for the return of its tough and frugal former chairman, Ferdinand Piëch. According to newspaper “Bild am Sonntag,” Piëch ended the popular board-member practice of flying on vacation on company jets. He even personally checked executives’ travel expenses and forced many to pay back millions. If only VW’s supervisory board were as rigorous with its investigation into the Dieselgate scandal.

Last week at an event to promote my book “Who Owns the World?” which I wrote with Handelsblatt editors, I bumped into Left Party co-leader Sahra Wagenknecht. The parliamentarian criticized capitalist excess and praised the foundations of steelmaker Saarstahl and precision instruments maker Carl Zeiss, while rejecting trade deals between powerful and weak economies. That came as no surprise. Neither did the Left Party’s decision yesterday to nominate Wagenknecht and co-leader Dietmar Bartsch as its top candidates for federal elections next year.

As they battle through Germany’s transition to a renewable energy economy, big utilities like RWE and E.ON finally have an early success to report: Their spin-offs will join Germany’s MDAX Index of 50 mid-cap companies. Staff at RWE’s renewable unit Innogy have grown particularly fond of the old hit by the late crooner, Udo Jürgens, “The Sun Keeps Rising.” But that’s about the only bit of certainty RWE and E.ON executives have these days.

Picture of the Week

12-05
Around 1,200 skiers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate the opening of the ski season in Verbier, Switzerland. Source: :Jean-Christophe/EPA
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