POLITICS & POLICY
European mainstream parties and institutions are close to coming apart at the seams because of the rise of radical and populist forces. In Germany, historical taboos are falling as a Conservative MEP, Hermann Winkler, suggested that his own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), should evaluate the opportunity to forge an alliance with the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in a bid to win the next parliamentary elections. According to recent polls, AfD is now the third political force in the country.
On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund warned about the economic dangers of populism in Europe. In an attempt to push forward European integration, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said that EU leaders need to agree on more “than poems and declarations”. However, even EU institutions seem to have blunt weapons at the moment. In a bid to instil fresh Europeanism into younger generations, the European Parliament suggested to grant free inter-rail tickets for any EU citizen turning 18.
Meanwhile, in France, the former Minister of the Economy, Emmanuel Macron, proposed a new strategy to revive European democracy, based on the active engagement of its citizens and a reform of the election process of the European Parliament. On October 5, economist and nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz claimed that the Eurozone will not look the same in a few years with Italy most likely to leave the euro. Stiglitz blamed Germany and other northern European countries for not understanding the meaning of solidarity when applied outside national borders.
The refugee crisis remains one of the most pressing issues in Europe. On Wednesday Greek Deputy Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas called for the EU and the United Nations to do more to halt migration flows. But all hell broke loose in Brussels over Greek claims: the EU institutions warned Greece that it will be forced to return half a billion euros if it does not use already disbursed EU funds to tackle the refugee crisis. The Greek government is under pressure also from local authorities. Giorgios Patouli, head of the association of Greek municipal executives, urged Alexis Tsipras to take action on the matter. According to the International Organization for Migration, between January and September 2016, the number of migrants reaching Europe via the Mediterranean sea has dropped by 40% on a yearly basis. However, the number of victims of human trafficking at sea has increased by 20% in the same period.
On the other side of Europe, in France, Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart tried to stop the construction of the wall planned to isolate the local refugee camp. However, the French government seems to be willing to overrule the mayor’s request, even in the UK’s interest.
On Wednesday, the Czech government distanced itself from the President of the Republic, Milos Zeman, who previously said that he would consider to “relocate economic migrants to uninhabited Greek islands”.
Meanwhile, the EU stroke a deal with Afghanistan over the relocation of unaccepted refugees to the central Asian country. However The Guardian revealed that the EU secretly put the Afghan government’s back to the wall, threatening to stop foreign aid. The deal came just at the wrong moment: on Tuesday, Amnesty International, a major NGO, released a report lambasting Europe for not doing enough in tackling the refugee crisis.
In other news, the Brexit debate continues to make the headlines across Europe. On Tuesday, speaking at a the Conservative conference in Birmingham, Home Secretary Amber Rudd pledged to shrink the number of non-UK citizens working in UK universities and businesses. Lord Rees criticized her, defining the statement “deplorable” and added that such a move would drastically lower the standards of scientific research in Great Britain.
After Theresa May’s statement, earlier this week, that only Westminster will have a say in Brexit negotiations, criticism came in from Scotland and Northern Ireland. On Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon said that the UK Prime Minister “is going out of her way to say that Scotland’s voice and interest don’t matter”. In the same vein, Ronan Lavery QC, a senior barrister, argued that Northern Ireland should have a say over any potential Brexit agreement, on the basis of the 1998 “Good Friday” agreement between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
On October 5, on the occasion of her closing speech at the Conservative conference in Birmingham, the UK Prime Minister confirmed her commitment to both limit immigration and get the broadest possible access to the European Single Market. Her precise objectives, however, continue to be unclear to most of the political class of Europe. What instead seems to be clear from her speech is that the Conservative party is undergoing a strong political transformation. As May claimed: “It is […] time to reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and to embrace a new centre ground in which government steps up – and not back – to act on behalf of us all”.
“You [the European Commission] did not want to punish the member states [Spain and Portugal], and now you are punishing the cities and the beneficiaries of EU funds”.
Lambert van Nistelrooj, Dutch MEP of the European People’s Party, talking about the potential suspension of EU funds to Spain and Portugal for their infringement of EU deficit rules.
Source: Euractiv, 4.10.2016
“This [Brexit] is not just about what London wants, it is about the interests that Scotland have, and the fact that they need to be heard”.
Michael Russel, Deputy of the Scottish National Party (SNP), talking about Theresa May’s intention not to consult the Edinburgh Parliament.
Source: Politico.eu, 5.10.2016
The number of days James Diane spent as leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Source: Euronews, 5.10.2016
The increase in the number of Irish passport requests made by UK citizens during the last month.
Source: The Irish Times, 6.10.2016
Photo Credits CC Dr Case