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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Sunday, 1 October 2017

EU news in September 2017

What happened in September in the European Union?
  • The president of the European Commission made a speech. This speech happens each year and is called the State of the Union. The president said he wants the EU to work more closely together (Full speech here​). The EU countries' reacted​ differently: some like the idea, others don't. 
  • The UK's political leader Theresa May also gave a speech​ about an important EU topic: Brexit. The UK will leave the EU at the latest in March 2019. However, May doesn't want to change too much the two years after (article​). 
These two negotiate Brexit... © European Union , 2017   /  Source: EC - Audiovisual Service   /   Photo: Lukasz Kobus​​
  • Germany had elections​, leaving their political leader Angela Merkel fewer options to continue to rule her country. In other news, she said​ the EU should work closer together when dealing with countries like China and Russia, possibly because of the unpredictable president of the USA.
  • Some in the European Parliament want to allow for European election lists, meaning a French person could for example vote for a Romanian candidate (article​). Because of Brexit, some seats reserved in the European Parliament could be used like this.
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Monday, 14 November 2016

Turkey and the EU: one step closer... to Tuxit?

Inspired by Trump's victory and Brexit, Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan proposed to hold a referendum on EU accession in 2017.

The Council of the EU, represented by all the EU countries' foreign affairs Ministers, discussed the situation in Turkey on Monday 14 November.

Istanbul: to EU or not to EU? (c)
This follows the publication of the so-called 'progress report' on Turkey a few days earlier, reporting how Turkey evolves as an country applying to become member of the EU.

It isn't the first time the Turkish president criticised the EU - and it won't be the last time. Seeing the political opportunity amidst increasing Euroscepticism, might just not be working for Turkey.

At the end of 2015, 56% of surveyed Turks thought they would benefit from EU membership, against 30% who don't. It is lower than about a decade earlier (63 - 27), but still not in Erdogan's favour.

Still, the EU isn't going to pace up with the progress reports' phrases like: 'Corruption (...) remains a serious problem', 'high numbers of arrests of journalists', or 'efforts continued at a limited pace'.

The country with the 5th most jailed journalists (before the coup!) will have to work more to respect the rule of law, adopt all EU legislation and normalise relationships with Cyprus. And that's entirely up to Turkey, referendum or not.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

No story, no votes

Do you know Donald Trump's slogan? Sure you do. Do you know Hillary Clinton's slogan? (silence)... And that's why Trump won. Without a story, no votes to win. Just because Clinton is a woman, that doesn't entitle her to anything.

Sure, Trump bashed the establishment. And 'the establishment', by the voice of Clinton, doesn't know how to bash an outsider, especially a reckless, insulting person that broke every rule an aspiring president shouldn't. But the establishment will be back in just a few sentences.

A story we've already heard in the Brexit campaign. Why bother using rational arguments in an irrational debate? Again, 'the establishment' was defeated. As in the US elections, the polls were wrong: people reply in polls in a socially acceptable way. They feel ashamed they choose the irrational vote. But in the end, no one's asking who they're voting for when they're at the ballot.

But the establishment is back in the Brexit. Judges in the United Kingdom ruled Parliament should vote on the Brexit - strange a Prime Minister is scared of her own Parliament, isn't it supposed to represent the people?

Also, it took the Prime Minister over 3 months to decide when exactly the procedure to leave the EU would start. In the first quarter of 2017. 6 months is an eternity in politics - who knows what will happen by then.

Regarding Trump, he'll have to deal with Congress and his own Republican party to get bills passed. Something Trump has about 0 clue how that has to happen, but that might be an advantage. Trump will have to hold press conferences and meetings - with Latin American leaders as well as females.

Trump will have a whole number of advisors with plenty of 'establishment' experience. Trump will have to deal with administrators from every US administration. In other words, Trump will be confronted with establishment about every day. Difficult not to become part of establishment.

A little Belgian story: a rather anti-establishment political party of whose prime goal is the independence of Flanders, has been in the federal government for years. Not one step closer to independence, but much more part of the establishment. Will the same happen to Trump?

Even if we don't know the answer, we can list his name between Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and George Washington.