It’s the 25th Edition of Brussels Brief and that means it’s the silver wedding anniversary between us and you, our loyal Eurocratic readers (congratulations mon amour). Coming up this week, we see Mutti (potentially) get her just desserts for being on the right side of a certain immigration debate, Boris shoots his mouth off, and the Swiss throw money down the toilet…literally.
We hope you’ve been enjoying the Brussels Brief comeback. However, it has not been without its ups and downs. As a humble startup, we’ve been having some technical glitches that means that some aren’t getting the newsletter in their inboxes lately. Sometimes we feel like Boris on a zipline, with these things but rest assured that we are working harder than a sign language translator translating a Donald Trump speech, on getting all snags and issues under the hood resolved. Meanwhile you can ALWAYS find us on our Website, Medium, Facebook and Twitter to get your weekly Brussels Brief fix…no matter what storms are brewing.
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Reading Time: 8min ️️
🔝 FRONT PAGE — Top News this Week
Just another boring Bundeselection. Who would’ve thought all that threat of populism was fun? At least to watch as they burn out in European elections. It turns out the German right-wing AfD don’t even stand a chance of getting a media soundbite let alone get close to the chancellorship which is being contested by, former president of the European Parliament (and meme god), Martin Schulz and the incumbent (and comfortably likely to be re elected) Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, the AfD’s steady ascendance (video) may result in their first ever seats in the Bundestag. That and the fact that there is a coalition dubbed the ‘Jamaica’ coalition are the funkier elements of an election that is due to be a predictable, technical and functional win for Merkel (explainer). That predictability and the stability, however, of the German economy and political system is deemed by some as a sign of inward looking navel-gazing by a Germany that is expected to be the leader of Europe, the EU and, par consequence, the free world. Boring but consequential indeed. For a full audio speculation click here for a couple of minutes with singing Angela Merkel click here (spoof video). [Buzzfeed Germany, Financial Times, SBS, The Guardian, CNBC, ECFR]
Schuman Roundabout vs Silicon Valley: Pay-Per-View. There have been more versions of this boxing match than the iPhone, but it seems that the EU drank its protein shakes during the summer in expectation of another round despite what seemed a knockout antitrust blow against Google in June. However, it seems that the new full-fledged attack has three elements. Firstly, there is a new assault on the tax practices of technology companies by over 10 EU countries, backed by the Commission who accuse them of skirting tax by using lower tax countries such as Luxembourg and Ireland as their bases. The solution, backed by the Commission via Pierre Moscovici, was suggested by the Estonian Presidency of the Council and its intricacies are explained in a neat cartoon video made by them. Ireland, of course, is not too keen on the idea. Secondly, the monster pact on data flows agreed by the EU and the US called ‘Privacy Shield’ was due for a review and Commissioner Jourova gave the US federal government a mild ‘C’ on their efforts whilst vowing to push for the establishing of an ombudsperson to oversee the process. She didn’t stop there in her terrifying tour of the US as she is due to visit Silicon Valley to discuss, not only the Privacy Shield, but also to push for companies’ actionagainst copyright infringement and hate speech on their platforms. [Reuters, New York Times, CNBC, EU2017EE, Bloomberg, Euractiv, Recode]
💸 IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID — Top Economic, Trade & Innovation News
Death by diesel. The Dieselgate scandal had a two year anniversary this week. The scandal, which revealed that German automaker Volkswagen had cheated on emissions test, has led, according to recent estimates, to an estimated 5000 premature deaths per year in Europe and justifiably sparked an outrage amongst consumers. In a twist to this sinister plot, some EU scientists were reportedly barred from speaking to the press, leading to heavy speculation of foul play. Luckily, lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory is on the case and has tracked the number of meetings the German government has had with carmakers. Diesel might be a thing of the past for Volkswagen, but a lot of things will have to be cleared out before the diesel saga is over.[The Daily Maverick, EUobserver, Corporate Europe Observatory, CleanTechnica]
How much for a…passport?. Being an active citizen has no price tag. Or so it was. Apparently it would seem that the price is somewhere around €2 Millionin Cyprus, where foreigners are given the chance to to invest in the country in exchange for a Cypriot passport and thereby EU citizenship including the right to work and live in all EU member states. But if your Oligarch friend doesn’t like halloumi. why not try Portugal, where €500.000 can buy you the same benefits. In tumultuous times people really want to stay at home, far away from home. (The Guardian, Euronews)
Bonus: Swiss Banking 2.0? The Swiss are known to be wealthy bankers but actually flushing money down the toilet might take it a bit too far. If you’re in Switzerland and don’t know what to do with extra cash, just send it to Brussels Brief. (Bloomberg)
🇬🇧 STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION — Brexit Stories
Bad Boris. It was a slow Brexit week, so hand it to Boris Johnson, the man behind Boris Bikes, insults like ‘mugwump’, and last soldier of the claim that 350 million pounds would return to Britain post-Brexit . In what was deemed the start of a leadership campaign within his party, the Foreign Secretary penned a long-winded op-ed (copy pasted on his Facebook wall) where he reasserted the infamous (and largely dispelled) claim on the side of the bus of a Vote Leave that £350 would be returned to once the UK leaves the EU if Brexit happened. In the 4000 word piece, he also asserted the hardline Brexit position of no concessions on a post-Brexit transitional trade deal which is at odds with his, admittedly, less colourful boss Theresa May’s intentions. [Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Irish Times]
Another one bites the dust. The man behind the man negotiating Brexit is now to be the behind the woman negotiating Brexit. Oliver Robbins was the leading official or ‘Sherpa’ in the talks between the UK and EU and will now be the Theresa May’s top EU advisor. A key advisor to Tony Blair by age 31, his his background is about as exciting as that of any civil service superstar…grey yet impressive. Or, if the Daily Mail has anything to do with it, he’s a nostalgic apparatchik yearning for the Soviet leanings of his youth. [The Guardian, BBC News, Daily Mail]
BONUS: Profiteering The buzzword that everyone would rather forget, is now available for commercial use according to EUIPOL (European Union Intellectual Property Office), the name is now available for branding of products after a legal dispute. You’ll soon be able to enjoy a refreshing drink from ‘Brexit Drinks Ltd’ and you can now listen to some tunes from ‘Brexit Bardot’. [Brussels Times, Soundcloud]
🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city
Danish mystique. A Danish woman traveling across Schengen territory through Brussels airport refused to remove her niqab for security checks and unable to confirm her identity, the woman was flown back to Tunis where her flight originally departed from. This brings a largely contested case on the use of niqabs and burqas, which Belgium has banned since 2011, back into discussion. Just in July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favour of Belgian law claiming it does not prevent the right to respect for private life and religious freedom. [The Independent, Al Jazeera]
Palais de Just-mess? What was once Europe’s largest building is today crumbling into pieces (literally) due to a lack of maintenance over the years. The Palais de Justice in Brussels, known for its internal complexity, is comprised of over 280 rooms and 5,000 steps and measured to be larger than St. Peter’s Basilica. Something to take pride in, but its structure makes it all the more difficult for the public authorities to manage its estimated costs for renovation of up to €100 million, a plan that is expected to end in 2028. Expensive, extravagant projects whose end results are rather short-ended and disappointing are a familiar feature in Brussels and cities all over Europe. Maybe politics and architecture have more in common than expected. (Euronews)
The King of B…urgers. As if an advertisement to choose between the King of Belgium and the King of Burgers (Burger King!) was not a loud-enough entrance, the fast food chain now has a fast way to get to its first location in Brussels: a bus! Yes, the Whopper Bus will take you across the city and straight to Auderghem where Burger King has just recently opened its doors. Maybe a kinder way to show its presence to the Belgian monarchy or maybe a creative way to boost profits, Royal Highness. [Adweek]
✂ EXTRA — From the Cutting Room Floor
Building the future in China. What do you do when the economy is crashing and there is no need for neither architects or edgy design? Move to China! Facing the economic crisis in 2008 many European architects were forced to find new places to work, especially those in high unemployment countries, and China has proven to be the place to go. Offering many opportunities and daring projects unimaginable in Europe, a whole generation of young architects have made a name for themselves and done more than would be possible in a lifetime in Europe. Loose (or simply lack) of building regulations combined with a new approach to building cities from scratch allows for daring and dreamy projects, an attractive offer for any young professional, who if returning home is finding a better work market than just a few years ago, showing that building the future is not a dream. [CNN Style]
💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project
Upwards and onwards, sort of. President Juncker set a positive tone to this year’s State of the Union. Valuable focus points included an emphasis on European values on which the EU (and all its member stand on — or should stand on): rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy among them. Improving cooperation over counter-terrorism and cyber security, as well as ensuring transparency on forthcoming trade agreements were also well articulated. We hoped it would never end but of course there were also some limitations. No mention of efforts to further democratise the EU, focusing on the participation of citizens and grassroots initiatives. President Juncker also neglected conversation over climate change, missing the opportunity to place the EU at the forefront of this pressing issue (now more than ever, perhaps). [European Movement]
Illegal democracy? The Catalan regional government has put forward 1 October as the day in which Catalonia will go to the polls and vote in a referendum on independence. However, such a referendum is both illegal within the Spanish constitutional system and politically bankrupt according to the Financial Times’ editorial board. Not respecting the Spanish constitutional court puts the referendum on a wobbly legal basis at best, but the fact that the Catalan government didn’t even receive a majority of votes cast in the recent election also puts them on weak grounding to even claim of a will of the Catalan people. If it wants independence Catalonia should follow other examples such as Quebec and Scotland who held referenda in agreement with the central government (if only they would agree). [Financial Times]
🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner
🔊 Podcast of the Week. Parlez-vous all the languages? What is the right amount of Languages for us to speak? Freakonomics Radio explores why it is that we speak some 7000 languages in the world and tries to answer the question: is the European Union the new Tower of Babylon.? [Freakonomics Radio]
🎥 Video(s) of the Week. Al-Andalus. Spain is a very particular target for ISIS as the attacks in Catalonia this summer attested to. It turns out that the so -called Islamic State not only sees it as a haven for infidels but lays claim to the land the Uymayyd empire once conquered for centuries. [New York Times]
📺 GIF of the Week
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