POLITICS & POLICY
The constitutional crisis in Catalunya is making the headlines in Spain. On Wednesday national judicial authorities announced that they will kick off interrogations of Catalan majors who decided to back the independence referendum. Nevertheless, Ada Colau, the Major of Barcelona, said that she will take part in the referendum. Though she did not reveal her voting intentions. An officer of the city is understood to have kicked off discussions with the Catalan Presidency with the objective of opening up ballot boxes in the regional capital. However, national authorities ordered the Catalan police to confiscate ballot boxes.
Speaking before the national Parliament, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that the priority of the government is to preserve the Constitutional order, not to reform it. Over the past few weeks, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) asked for the establishment of a Constitutional committee aimed at rewriting relations between the State and the regions.
On Wednesday, former President of the Catalan region Artur Mas spoke before the UK Parliament. Mas claimed that the Spanish Government is conducting a wholesale repression against Catalonia. On Thursday King Felipe VI poured oil on fire by saying that the “constitutional order will prevail over those who try to unsettle it”.
In France, trade unions took the streets in several cities in a mass protest against the labour market reform of the Government. On Tuesday, over 220,000 workers and citizens voiced their concerns against the law that could be approved by the end of this month. The Government claims that the new measures will bring down unemployment. Yet, trade unions claim that the bill will only foster precarious work and lower social security standards for French workers.
French President Emmanuel Macron received accolades from the President of the German Association of Employees, Ingo Kramer. Kramer called Macron’s reform efforts “exemplary”. However, the leader of the leftist party La France Insoumise, Jean Luc Mélenchon, pledged a strenuous opposition against the Government’s plan. Strikingly, the right-wing party Front National – who fiercely opposed Macron’s reform plans during the electoral campaign – has kept a low profile over the past few weeks. According to French media reports, the populist force is undergoing a profound moment of internal change and is split over the labour market reform.
In Germany, the public debate is focused on the ongoing electoral campaign. The leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Martin Schulz, called for Angela Merkel to go on television for a second electoral debate. But the Chancellor rebuffed Schulz request.
In an interview released by the French newspaper, Ouest-France, Schulz said that he appreciated Macron’s reform proposals for the European Union. Schulz said that he “regrets Europe has not been that much of a topic during the German electoral campaign”. Moreover, the Social Democratic leader smashed the rhetoric of the German Government according to which “every country in the EU needs to do his homework first before claiming for EU action and reform”.
Nevertheless, EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger blasted Macron’s reform proposal to establish a Eurozone budget. Oettinger said it would be useless. At the same time, he announced that Bulgaria might soon join the Eurozone.
Meanwhile, the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is dealing with a new scandal. Media reports revealed that the leader of the AfD, Alice Weidel, hired an asylum seeker to work on her electoral campaign with no contractual arrangement. The AfD campaigns on a platform against refugees and immigrants.
On Wednesday the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, spoke in front of the European Parliament outlining his vision for Europe. Juncker argued for the enlargement of the Eurozone to all EU Member States. Likewise, the EC President called for EU institutions to foster accession prospects for the Balkan countries. Shortly after the speech, the Foreign Minister of FYROM, Nikola Dimitrov said that the country wishes to become part of the EU soon (yet, FYROM needs to settle a long lasting fight with Greece over the name of the Balkan country). Moreover, Juncker advocated the “fusion” of institutional key figures, such as the President of the European Commission and of the European Council, into one single representative. In a similar fashion he said that the Eurogroup should be chaired by a Eurozone Finance Minister whose role should overlap with the one of the EC Economic Commissioner.
But according to the German economic newspaper Handelsblatt EU Finance Ministers did not endorse a similar scenario yet. The Ecofin Council is expected to meet on Friday in Tallinn.
Meanwhile, Spanish media focused on an alleged German plan to renew the Board of the European Central Bank. According to El Mundo, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is working behind the scenes to let the Bundesbank President, Jens Weidmann, steer the ECB after the departure of Mario Draghi. The Spanish Minister of Finance, Luis de Guindos, should serve as Southern representative in the higher rankings of the ECB and more specifically, as Vice-President. Questioned about the rumours, De Guindos said that he hopes that the ECB will be led by figures of high prestige.
In other news, Brexit is making the headlines in the UK. On Wednesday campaigners from pro-EU citizen rights lobby groups gathered outside of the UK Parliament to voice their concerns about the future migration policies of the Government. Meanwhile, former Trade Minister Mark Prince said that, paradoxically, the issues that lead to Brexit will not be solved by leaving the European Union.
The debate on social policies is also gaining momentum in the UK. Over the past few weeks, Theresa May has been confronted fiercely by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over the public workers’ pay cap, as well as over in-work poverty. Moreover, in an upcoming Parliamentary vote on tuition fees and NHS pay, the right-wing DUP party is expected to vote side by side with Labour MPs. The alliance could cause new troubles for the Conservative party who stroke a deal with DUP only a few months ago. The alliance was aimed at granting the Tory Government a Parliamentary majority, after the snap elections of June 2017.
“We need a radical change in the economic policies of the European Union”.
Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)
Source: Eunews, 12.09.2017
500 billion of Euros
The amount of financial resources the European Fund for Strategic Investments (Juncker Plan) should mobilize by 2020 according to a new deal between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the EU Council.
Source: Handelsblatt, 13.09.2017
Photo Credits CC: Ville Miettinen
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