Thursday, 31 May 2018

EU news in May 2018

What happened in the European Union in May?
Facebook's big chief who started the company, Mark Zuckerberg, came to the European Parliament. But many people working at the Parliament complained he didn't answer the questions well (article).

The EU has many conflicts. The Parliament against the EU countries. The north against the south. Left-wing against right-wing. However, a new one is getting in the news: 'liberals' against 'nationalists'. Liberals typically want EU countries to work more together, nationalists the opposite and are against immigration. At the liberal side: the Commission, France, Germany, and others. Two nationalists are Hungary and Poland (article).

Fun fact: they both say they're defending democracy. For example, Nationalists say they defend the will of the people. Liberals say they protect the independence of the judges. How did this conflict come in the news? With the proposed budget, the Commission wants to give part of the money only to countries that have a democracy with a liberal style (article) (another interesting article here).

© European Union , 2018   /   Etienne Ansotte

Is this conflict hard in the EU? Yes and no. The leaders of the Commission and Hungary are in the same European political party (see the picture, the two on the left). But in Hungary, some organisations that don't work for profit (NGOs) are being bullied so they have to leave (article). One of the consequences of this conflict is that the European migration laws aren't going to change soon - even if everyone thinks they need to change (article).

Some countries will get less money anyway from the European budget (for 2021-2027). Because some parts are only given to poorer countries. And Hungary and Poland became richer. Italy, on the other hand, will get more (article) (article). The European Parliament also looked at the proposal for the budget (article). Getting everyone's okay for the budget is a very long process - so no quick okays can be expected.

The Commission, the EU's government, proposed two new interesting plans: one is to have 15000 European 18-year olds to travel for free for one month in the EU this summer (article). Another is to ban some plastics that are only used once to have less pollution (article).

Also feel free to ask questions about the EU!

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Monday, 30 April 2018

EU news in April 2018

What happened in the European Union in April?
The United Kingdom is now paying more than it is receiving from the EU. Since the country is going to leave the EU, what should happen? Who will pay the 12 to 14 billion euro gap? Some think the EU's budget should be smaller - especially those that pay more than receive, like the UK now. Like the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Austria. Others think everyone should pay more. For example Germany and France (read more).

The budget Commissioner © EU, 2018 / photo: Jure Makovec

But the negotiations start with a budget proposition for many years from the European Commission (the EU's government). In this case, a budget from 2021 to 2027. On Wednesday 2 May, the Commission will propose it. After this proposition is made, the European Parliament and the EU countries will negotiate for a very long time. The Commission hopes to have the EU budget 2021-2027 ready by the elections in May 2019 (read more).

The European Parliament can invite political leaders for a chat. This time, France's president came. He said he wanted to work more closely together (read more, see the full videos here). But not all the leaders of the EU countries agree. For example, the Polish Foreign Minister wants more power for the EU countries and less for the central organisations like the Commission (read more).

In the Brexit negotiations, the main negotiator for the EU said there should be a real solution for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. But the negotiators aren't agreeing by when. If there is no solution, Ireland and Northern Ireland can't do business together anymore. Now, there is no real border. So it would be strange for everyone if from one day to another, you can't buy or sell anything just across the border (read more).

Sexual harassment has been in the news for a while. But it doesn't only happen in Hollywood. That is why the EU has a specialised agency to fight it. Some of their employees made complaints at the agency... about being sexually harassed at the agency. Shame on you (read more)!

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Saturday, 31 March 2018

EU News in March 2018

What happened in the European Union in March?
The top politicians of the European Union organisations saw the Turkish president Erdogan in a meeting. Turkey and the EU have a long history. Turkey asked in 1987 (yes, that's right!) to be part of the EU. Today, they are still negotiating. One of the biggest problems is the situation in the north of Cyprus. Turkey invaded a part of Cyprus, and that part has no normal relationships with the rest of the EU. Recently, Turkey and the EU made a deal on migrants. The EU gives money, and the EU sends a part of the migrants that come via Turkey back (more info here).
EU leaders and Turkey's president (red tie, like the Turkish flag) © EU, 2018

And what happened at the meeting? Not much. The EU leaders and Turkey disagree on many things. However, the Turkish president said he still wants Turkey to be part of the EU in the future (article) (article).

The EU organised another 'summit' (see previous newsletter). The leaders of France and Germany want to reform the Euro. Both countries want to work more closely together (article), but many other EU countries didn't want that (article). On the summit, they did agree to some reforms. For example, there could be an EU guarantee for people having money in the bank (article). In the history of the EU, France and Germany have changed a lot together.

The most powerful person in the European administration has been replaced, but not in a very transparent way (see previous newsletter). Many politicians of the European Parliament criticised this way of doing business (article). They asked the European Commission to explain this (article). In April, the whole European Parliament will vote on a resolution. Which means it's probably not going to be an issue anymore.

One of the (good) arguments to have the EU, is that it keeps the peace on the European continent. Yes, since the invention of the modern state at the end of the medieval ages, there hasn't been such a long period of peace. However, critics say, the EU produces a lot of weapons and sells them abroad. Which is not so peaceful. The number of weapons sold abroad is increasing (article).

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Wednesday, 28 February 2018

EU News in February 2018

What happened in the European Union in February?
3-4 times a year, the leaders of the EU countries gather to decide what to do next. So this is one of the most powerful organisations in the EU, because Presidents and Prime Ministers go to the meeting or 'summit'. This time, it was on 23 February and all the official information is here.

Of course, journalists write about the meetings. One important topic was how to select the president of the European Commission (the 'EU government'). Now, each political group proposes a candidate to become the next president. That candidate is called 'Spitzenkandidat' in the EU's special language.

The president of the Council (left) and Parliament (right) © EU
The EU parliament said before the summit it only wanted to have as the Commission's president one of those proposed Spitzenkandidaten. But, the leaders disagreed at the meeting: they want to keep the power to propose any candidate to become the president. Even if it was not one of those candidates. And in no way this procedure should be automatic. Read more articles here and here.

On the summit, the leaders also agreed that the budget should focus on security and migration (article).

Who's on top of the European administration? It's an important job: there's over 30 000 people working at the European Commission. The job is called Secretary General and there's a new one: Martin Selmayr. He used to be working for the Commission's President. And the way he got the job, was very fast and not so transparent

French President Macron wants to create a new party in the European Parliament, just like he did in France. However, he will have to find a lot of friends to be significant (article).

How corrupt is each EU country? Transparency International made an interesting report, check it out here. Denmark is seen as the least corrupt EU country, and Bulgaria as the most (article).

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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

EU News in January 2018

What happened in the European Union in January?
Bulgaria is the new president of the European Union since 1 January. It changes every 6 months, and means that all the meetings of the EU countries (the Council) are organised by the Bulgarians. For the Bulgarian diplomats, it's an opportunity to show they can get a lot of decisions done in the EU. There's always a website for each presidency, the new one is here.

The Bulgarian Prime Minister with the EU president © EU 2018

A new presidency is also a moment for journalists to take a look at the country. Bulgaria, the EU's poorest country, has been criticised because they might not do enough against corruption (article). 

What happens with the 73 seats in the European Parliament when the United Kingdom leaves the EU? No final decision yet, but a committee (a selected number of people in Parliament) have decided the Parliament should shrink. Plus, some of the remaining seats could be voted for in so-called trans-national lists.

These lists would allow all EU citizens to vote for those seats. Now they can only vote for the ones reserved for their country. If it becomes reality, some politicians will start campaigns in the whole of Europe. But not yet, because the whole Parliament still has to vote for the proposal in the beginning of February. Plus, the EU countries also have to agree (article).

Sometimes, several EU countries hold meetings with each other. One of these groups is called the 'Club Med', short for Mediterranean (article). All the southern countries had a meeting with their political leaders to mainly talk about migration. In the press conference after the meeting, they said they wanted to have better EU migration decisions (article).

In Brexit news, the EU agreed there could be a transition period after 31 March 2019. That is the date on which the UK has to legally leave the EU. In that transition period, the UK will have to continue to follow EU rules, but won't be able to make those rules (article).

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Saturday, 30 December 2017

EU News in December 2017

What happened in the European Union in December?
In Austria, a new government was formed with a far-right political party. When the same party came into the government in 2000, it was a scandal in the EU. Now, very few reacted. One reason is that the Austrian government is pro-European Union (article).

An EU plan from 2015 forces EU countries to take some asylum seekers. Not all EU countries agreed with this plan. But all EU countries agreed earlier that those kind of decisions should be taken with a 'big' majority. So while some say the decision was not democratic, others say it is. Because Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland didn't want to take any of those asylum seekers, the Commission sues the countries (article).

The 2015 plan was only for 2 years, so now the EU has to decide what's going to happen next. But because it's very sensitive, there are many options. Some want a similar plan. Others think a bigger reform is needed (article).

The EU diplomatic chief 
© European Union , 2017   /  Source: EC - Audiovisual Service   /   Photo: Mauro Bottaro

The USA said Jerusalem is Israel's capital. The EU's diplomatic chief said as a reaction that Jerusalem is the capital of both Israel and Palestine (article).

In 2013, the EU organisations promised to have 5% less planned employees by 2017. Indeed, the EU fulfilled its promise. But planned employees are not the same as real employees. For many reasons, a lot of EU organisations employed non-planned employees. For example, Croatia joined the EU. Or an overload of work due to the migration crisis. So the result is that the EU has a few more 'real' employees than in 2013 (article).

In Brexit news, the UK and the EU agreed on a few items, like how much the UK will pay the EU. The agreement was important so they could start to prepare talks about trade (article). Those talks are important for those in the EU who do business with the UK, and those Brits that do business with the EU. Without trade agreement, they have to stop their business. Negotiations will not start before March (article).

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Thursday, 30 November 2017

EU news in October & November 2017

What happened in the European Union in October and November?
The European Parliament said Poland should watch out. The Polish government wants to change the way Polish judges work with a few laws. The European Parliament and the European Commission think the judges will be much less independent if the laws are in place. However, it's still a long way before Poland could get a punishment. The next step is that a part of the European Parliament (a Committee) will write a report (article).
Since the United Kingdom is leaving the EU, they have to settle their accounts. When the UK was still in the EU, they agreed to pay for the pensions of the persons working at the EU's government and for a lot of projects that aren't finished yet. So, should the UK still pay for those? And how do you calculate how much it is? That's the so-called 'Brexit divorce bill', and it's what is being negotiated now.
The EU first want a deal on this. And only when this deal is done, the EU wants to talk about how to trade with the UK after it leaves (article).

In other Brexit news, two EU agencies know where they will move. Because the UK will no longer be in the EU, the two agencies will go to Paris and Amsterdam. EU agencies are there to take care of specific tasks. For example, the agency that goes to Amsterdam is the European Medicines Agency. It checks the medicines in the EU (article). 
EU countries promised to spend more money in defence in order to work more together. This is part of a response to Brexit. The army is one of the areas in which the EU doesn't do much together, compared to the other areas like trade or farming (article).
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