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'Match Point' as Portugal hailed the new Ireland


Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and head of the newly-named The Republicans political party, delivers a speech during a rally in Paris, France, yesterday (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and head of the newly-named The Republicans political party, delivers a speech during a rally in Paris, France, yesterday (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and head of the newly-named The Republicans political party, delivers a speech during a rally in Paris, France, yesterday (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

Andrzej Duda's shock win in Poland's presidential election has capped a rapid rise from backroom obscurity to head of state, and may herald a new political chapter in eastern Europe's biggest economy.

Duda was a legal aide to conservative President Lech Kaczynski before his death in 2010 in a plane crash in Russia. Now 43, Duda sees himself as spiritual and political heir to Kaczynski, recalling how, two days before the flight, the president told him that a generational change was afoot, and that it would be Duda and his peers who would take responsibility for the future of the country.

"When I remembered this after the crash, it sent shivers down my spine," Duda said.

He quit when Bronislaw Komorowski won the subsequent presidential race for the ruling centre-right Civic Platform, becoming a local councillor, then a member of the Polish parliament and eventually a lawmaker in the European Parliament.

But he was still a relative unknown when opposition Law and Justice party, now led by the late president's twin brother Jaroslaw, endorsed him for the presidential election. Some observers described him as a stand-in for Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who they said was unwilling to risk running against the popular Komorowski.

Duda's unlikely victory, the conservatives' first major electoral success in nearly a decade, has Law and Justice smelling blood ahead of a parliamentary election in the autumn, with potential ramifications for Poland's standing in Europe.

To anyone who doubted his re-election strategy, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has had a simple answer: "Trust me". Now, a battering in local polls has cast doubt on his plan that an economic recovery will secure him a second term later this year.

In six months' time, when the next general election is due, the Spanish economy will be growing at 3pc and half a million jobs will have been created. This was Rajoy's message as he campaigned across Spain for his conservative People's Party (PP) before the municipal and regional polls last weekend.

But many voters have hardly felt the recovery and, following a string of corruption scandals that have touched the ruling party, they turned on Sunday to new forces such as the anti-austerity Podemos ('We Can') and market-friendly Ciudadanos ('Citizens').

Although the PP won the most votes overall, the rise of the upstart parties meant it lost its majorities in powerful regional governments and city halls across the country, its worst result in 20 years.

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The Greek government named former banker George Michelis as chairman of the country's bank rescue fund on Monday, which has been without a head since the resignation of both its chairman and chief executive earlier this year.

The Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), financed by the country's bailout package, is the rescue vehicle that recapitalised Greece's big banks and covered the costs of winding down others deemed non-viable.

Michelis has held a series of posts in the banking industry, including CEO at Bancpost, a Romanian subsidiary of Eurobank, and chief operating officer at Egnatia Bank, where he was a founding member. He also served as the mayor of the island of Skopelos from 2011 to 2014.

The HFSF has been headless since CEO Anastasia Sakellariou was asked to resign after prosecutors ordered her to stand trial for her role in bad loans issued by defunct state lender Hellenic Postbank. Its chairman, Christos Sclavounis, stepped down in March.

Celebrated among Europe's elite as a model of how to reform an economy after a debt binge, Portugal's enthusiasm for change has waned as Europe loses its appetite for further belt-tightening.

With Greece's future in the euro uncertain, after its leftist government all but tore up a reform-for-aid deal, Europe's policy setters are putting an extra shine on other countries that were bailed out - in part to avoid a spillover.

They have declared Portugal, following on the heels of Ireland, a recovery success story after a debt crisis that started with a financial crash and drove countries from Greece to Ireland to the brink of bankruptcy.

"l compared the case of Portugal to the film 'Match Point'," Jose Manuel Barroso, the former president of the European Commission, and one-time prime minister of Portugal said, referring to Woody Allen's film.

"Which side of the tennis court would the ball land on after hitting the net? Ireland or Greece. It was Ireland's. Recovery is now under way in Portugal."

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi chimed in last weekend, praising Portugal for grasping the nettle and making difficult changes to the way its economy works.

"A great deal has been achieved and we have praised progress where it has taken place, including here in Portugal," Draghi told a group of central bankers and academics gathered at an ECB event near Lisbon.

Yet Draghi's encouragement was tempered by his broader warning that Europe was letting its guard down on reform, underscoring worries about apathy in a region artificially buoyed by the ECB's trillion-euro-plus money printing.

Former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy won a court fight on Tuesday for the right to rename his conservative party "The Republicans", a prelude to an expected attempt to win back the presidency in 2017.

A French court dismissed demands for an emergency ban on Sarkozy's plan to change his party's name from the clunkier Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

Dozens of people had filed an emergency complaint to stop the rebranding, arguing that the name, by alluding to France's Fifth Republic, founded 57 years ago, was an attempt by the political right to usurp the values of the entire nation.

But a Paris judge ruled there was no justification for an emergency ban. The plaintiffs can appeal the ruling and can also file a regular complaint, but that would take months to be processed.

"Freedom won! We'll be able to call ourselves the Republicans!" lawmaker Daniel Fasquelle said on Twitter.

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