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.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Avoiding taxes: Belgium or EU?

What happens in the European Union, stays in the EU. Quite too often national press ignores what comes from 'Europe', forgetting the measures in 'Brussels' are national news.

A curious case of Belgian press coverage was made by the Socialist party leader Mr Crombez, currently in the opposition. In a TV debate with his Liberal counterpart Ms Rutten, he questioned the liberal-supported government's position in the Council of the EU. Belgian Finance Minister Mr Van Overtveldt helped to delay the start of the so-called anti-tax avoidance directive. The directive aims to curb tax avoidance schemes, mainly used by multinationals. This way, big companies will still be able to continue their schemes a little while longer.
Belgium (right): still some taxes to avoid? © the European Union

While Mr Crombez exaggerated his plea (international press didn't focus on Belgium's leading role), it's a recurring issue. Ministers tend to defend more vigorously unpopular positions in Brussels, knowing the national press wouldn't follow their actions. Either because no one follows EU affairs, or because journalists feel issues are too technical to invest resources in.

On top of the lack of interest (or understanding) of the national press, the case uncovers a larger problem. The Council has, despite a modern website, a transparency issue. It's very difficult to understand which country adopts which position (for example, there's no way to know the Belgian position on the case above). This results in an alienation of EU citizens towards the European Union.

The EU's democratic model rests on many pillars to legitimise its actions: the European Parliament is chosen the citizens, the European Council consists of the EU's elected leaders, the Commission is composed of candidates of elected EU governments and the Council of Ministers of elected governments.

The sooner EU citizens understand their representatives shape EU policies, the better. So in the end, we need more politicians like Mr Crombez to put our governments' positions under scrutiny.