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Brussels Brief | 30th Edition

27 October — 2 November 2017

· Brussels,Europe,Brexit,Politics,EU

It’s the 30th Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with a spooky halloween edition for our third landmark. Thanks to all that have been there from the beginning of this journey and thanks to those who have just joined. Here’s to another 30 (at least).

‘Despite the EU’. That is an expression that the EU project cannot afford in the history books. ‘Despite the EU, populism ruled’, ‘despite the EU, the migrant crisis continued’ and ‘despite the EU, Europe fractured’. Wherever you lie on the Catalonia issue, there are many reasons to be behind some kind of EU involvement.
‘Despite the EU, Spain stayed united’ or ‘despite the EU, the Republic of Catalunya thrived’, are two narratives that relegate the EU’s position to a bystander to an issue that is a manifestation of a symptom. A symptom of one of the biggest shifts in modern political history; how a people can be close to power, safeguard their identity and still participate in a global economy. The EU has a chance to step in as an honest broker to try and alleviate what ineptitude on both sides of the argument have driven towards; an unprecedented impasse, one that which will not be solved anytime soon, no matter how many people are fired or how many regional elections are held.
To do so would not undermine the sovereignty of one of its member states on the one hand, nor empower secessionist crazies on the other, it would be fulfilling what the EU should be here to do, ensure peace, prosperity and democratic engagement for its 508 million citizens. Anything less is a cop out and the historical price will be a heavy one.
As always, follow us on SoMe (social media) and send us your tips, ideas and feedback to Tell your friends and convince your enemies alike to sign up. We will be off next week so keep your eyes peeled for special content on our social media channels.
Atentamente, (as our Spanish friends would say)

The Brussels Brief Team 👨‍👩‍👦 ✌️ 🇪🇺

*Collated and Curated over ‘Kölsch @ Tour Eiffel For Cercle # HQ 10/17’ on Soundcloud and coffee ☕ in Brussels Brief HQ.

“I am firmly convinced that Spain is the strongest country of the world. Century after century trying to destroy herself and still no success”
- Otto von Bismarck - First Chancellor of Germany (1871–1890) and misattributed soothsayer of international relations.
🔝 FRONT PAGE — Top News This Week

‘Putschdemont’ in Brussels.Tintin references emerged as the ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, set off a media storm in his spectacular flee to Brussels this week. Three days after the Catalan parliament declared independence and shortly after the Spanish senate declared direct rule, triggering the now infamous Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, the Catalan president and some of his cabinet members fled to Brussels under potential criminal charges. Rumours abounded that he and his colleagues were looking for asylum in a European country that is sympathetic to nationalist movements and can accept asylum seekers from other EU countries (Belgium). Puigdemont set the record straight on Tuesday in a tiny, tightly packed room in Brussels’ Press Club, where he set out his intention to not seek political asylum in Belgium whilst at the same time calling out the Spanish government’s aggressive tactics and pleading the EU to step in. It seems however, he is alone for now as those EU and world leaders that have come out on the topic have come out in favour of the Spanish state. The questions now is what is Puigdemont’s game plan now that he has accepted the regional elections imposed by the Spanish government on 21st of December, elections that he will not be able to run in as legal charges mount against him and unionists protest in Catalonia’s streets. A month after the referendum that brought Spain’s constitutional crisis about (video recap), time seems to be running out for the fugitive leader. [The Local, BBC News, Washington Post, Euractiv, Al Jazeera, Eurotopics, Politico Europe, Euronews]
 “Supporting a nation’s freedom struggle”. Those were the words of President Antonio Tajani as the European Parliament awarded its prestigious human rights prize in plenary session last Thursday. This year’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought went to the democratic opposition in Venezuela as represented by the country’s national assembly and a list of political prisoners. Tajani emphasized that the opposition-run national Assembly was the “only” democratically elected parliament in Venezuela, since a pro-government constituent assembly was set up taking legislative powers away from the former. The far-left European parliamentary group GUE/ NGL boycotted the ceremony citing political motivation behind the award named after Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. [New York Times, BBC News, Reuters, Euronews]
 Living on a prayer. In a democracy you can take as many opinions as you want but in a theocracy only one opinion matters. It was Pope Francis who in the ‘Catholic Church in the European Union’ conference spoke against Europe’s emerging nationalism and towards the peace that is a ‘fragile good’. Speaking at the end of a two day conference in Vatican City the Pope gave the EU a message of thinking as a single community which was taken with a pinch of salt in light of the holy elephant in the room, Catalonia. Naturally, less ‘progressive’ ideas were also discussed in a European context such as the sanctity of the traditional family and the role of secularism after incidents of banning of religious symbols in France and elsewhere. [Deutsche Welle, Reuters, Crux, Catholic News Agency, Euronews]

💸 ITS THE ECONOMY, STUPID — Top Economic, Trade and Innovation News

WhatsBadd? Only a few years ago social media companies could walk on the waters of the internet, but these days reality is sinking in hard, and fast. WhatsApp is under the continued watchful eye of the EU. After being fined €110 million earlier this year WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) is now under further inspections by the Commission for violating data privacy of its users. If that wasn’t bad enough the Commission is now opening up for new ways to get money out of digital companies through a new “unitary tax”, by using the digital activity in a country as the base of taxation. This should stop companies from dodging taxes by moving their headquarters to low-tax countries and take account of the ways digital companies operate in the real world. Zucks to be Zuckerberg. [The Guardian, ZDNet]
 Spring is in the air. Well at least one could be forgiven to believe so considering the flutter of news sprawling at the moment. Greece is (finally) on its way to exit its bailout programme. The Eurozone is growing faster than expected, even the Catalan crisis can’t put a damp on it, and the ECB is slowly moving back to normal by reducing its bond buying programme. Even the ESM (the European Stability Mechanism) created to help in case of a future crisis is being discussed metamorphosed into a sort of European IMF. Of course at almost 9% the unemployment rate is less than stellar and leaves room for improvement, but now concerns are focused on whether ECB chair Draghi is acting too slowly or just on the mark. In any case improving prospects ahead of the Christmas season shopping. [Euractiv, Reuters, Bloomberg, ESM, CNBC, Eurotopics]
 BONUS: Need quick catch up what the ESM is? Check this quick Video [European Stability Mechanism]

🇬🇧 STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION — Brexit Stories

Splash the cash. It seems that after five rounds of Brexit negotiations, the UK side has given the most concrete point of concession. Not only did UK Brexit Secretary David Davis indicate that a financial settlement will be likely, but it will favour the EU’s position. In a nutshell, this means that Davis is already engaging his own side in the foreplay for a financial payout of anything more than £20 billion, which is what has been suggested by the UK thus far, and under the £60 billion which is closer to the EU’s sweet spot. After a wake up call in the UK government to the old adage, ‘you have to spend money to make money’, they have decided to add 8,000 new civil service posts to ride out the negotiations in addition to the 3,000 they have already added since they started. Who knows, all that new economic activity from all these new civil servants might offset the economic downturn from Brexit, or maybe not. [ABC News, BBC News, The Guardian, Business Insider]

Farewell gift. A wonderfully ironic farewell gift from the EU would be a high profile Competition case wouldn’t it? That is what the Commission under cartel-slayer Margrethe Vestager is considering after announcing an in depth investigation into whether the UK has a special tax exemption for multinational companies. The investigation comes in light of large-scale Commission actions against US tech giants in other countries and it is estimated that multinationals in the UK have used foreign subsidiaries to as to avoid paying £5.8 billion in taxes in 2016. Considering competition investigations can go on for years, the move may just serve add a touch of spice to the complex Brexit negotiations due to conclude in March 2019. [Irish Independent, Fortune]
 BONUS: Brexit halloween myths debunked. The people at Bloomberg have gone through the arduous process of fact checking the top ten ‘zombie’ (those that never seem to die) myths that keep popping up about what seems the most publicized and speculated divorce negotiation in history. Check them out here. [Bloomberg]

- The percentage of Catalans that supported independence according to a July survey by the Catalan government’s Center for Opinion Studies (CEO).

🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city

Art is life, and shelter. Globe Aroma is an open art studio that allows newcomers and refugees to re-connect with their creative forms and to meet other artists. According to the artistic director, Els Rochette, it’s a place that offers “a space where a large variety of art forms find a home.” Its greatest characteristic lies in its ability to distance itself from a Western conception of art. In fact members joining in are varied, from tabla players (an Indian percussion instrument) to specialists in Iranian calligraphy. Many arriving in Brussels are fleeing conflict and persecution in their home countries, so in settling at Globe Aroma they find the comfort of art and human connection. [The Bulletin]
 Sweet ride. Say hello to Go-BEE a new bike-sharing system that has hit the streets of Brussels this past weekend. Aimed at better connecting certain neighbourhoods (looking at you, Uccle!), the 200 bikes released have a rate of .50 euro cents for the first half hour and a one-time 50 euro fee as a security deposit upon registration. Unlike some of its competitors, Go-BEE doesn’t have parking stations (amen to practical transport!). You drop it off in a safe, convenient location for others to pick it up from and the deed is done. Just need to find that safe, convenient location in the Brussels jungle. [The Bulletin]
 BONUS: Indieflix. If historic cinema productions in an iconic indie cinema environment sounds like your thing head over to STYX. First opened over four decades ago, this tiny almost living room type cinema is open once again after closing its doors for a long time in order to reclaim its status as one of Belgium’s best independent cinemas. [STYX, The Word]

✂️ EXTRA — From The Cutting Room Floor

Religion: total makeover edition. Oct. 31 was the 500 year commemoration of Martin Luther’s (in)famous break with the Catholic Church as he strode through the streets of his home town Wittenberg and stuck 95 theses that ought to guide Christian life on the local church door. Calling the Catholic Church perverted, he left an hitherto unparalleled mark on Europe, and the world, as Christianity split between catholics and protestants, a division still alive today as 500 years ago. Not only religion but society, politics and even economics owes a whole lot to Luther’s revolution, even in the secular age as North and South, East and West have followed different historical trajectories that are clearly visible today. One ponders the impact one man and a piece of paper can have. [Deutsche Welle,]
 Europe is scary. It was Halloween this week and while the real nightmare of croissants being 5 cents more expensive may have passed for now, the origins of Halloween are truly European. Originally known as Samhain or Hallow’s Eve the date was used to mark the end of summer and the start of the Celtic new year. Moreover, vampires a halloween staple, also have a quintessential European history. Belief in them was particularly strong in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe where several rituals related to misunderstandings of death, disease and decomposition of bodies had people eating dirt and rubbing themselves with dead people’s blood in order to protect themselves from vampires. [Expatica, Euronews, JSTOR Daily]
 Prost / Zum Wohl. At Brussels Brief we love arbitrary maps, they convey so much in so little space. We also love Europe and beer even more. This holy trinity has been brought together by Lufthansa in their European Beer Map . Not only do they give you the lowdown of the best beer place in Europe, the airline also gives you complimentary brews on its flights now. Guess it’s time to learn to say cheers in every other language now. [, Travel & Leisure, Expatica]

Let’s talk about EU. Living European philosophical legend and Europe’s let’s-talk-it-over advocate par excellence, Jürgen Habermas, delivers an impassioned essay for the vitality and forward looking Europe pushed by French president Emmanuel Macron. In contrast to Habermas’s own chancellor Merkel, whose leadership has been characterised by muddling through, economic nationalism and lack of vision, Macron is pushing for an inclusive Europe where citizens take center stage. The ball is in the hands of the Germans now. Time to see if the new German government is up to the task and move Europe forward, or sink deeper into the status quo. [Der Spiegel] 


💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project

 Who decides? The Catalan crisis has a new brought the question of self-determination to the forefront of discussions around Europe, but according to Michael Keating we need new ways of addressing these issues. The current debate is stuck between, on the one side, those arguing for an indivisible right to hold independence referenda as an axiomatic right, and on the other side, those who appeal to the need for common agreement between the parties involved, and healthy public debate before any constitutional question is addressed. The former approach is invoked by Catalans seeking independence whereas the latter is used in the example of Scotland’s independence referendum. Indeed without a new way to resolve such tensions we might be stuck in the mud for now. [British Policy and Politics Blog]
 Agent Cooper is coming to Europe. You better brew up some damn good coffee as the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) is coming to town, ready to take on criminals. The new body will investigate fraud across member states, but shady people will still be able to hide in the shadows as only 20 EU countries have signed up, far from good enough according to Carl Dolan, director of Transparency International EU. The new prosecutor needs more powers to prosecute and combat crimes in EU member states and crucially countries like Malta, which just saw the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia for her investigation of corruption, is not included. Not quite an European FBI but criminals should be worried. [Euractiv]

🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner

🔊 Podcast of the Week. The Economist: Money Talks discusses the role of the Dollar and the Euro as world’s leading currencies and the disappearance of the EU butter mountain in recent years. [The Economist]
 🎥 Video(s) of the Week. Ian Bremmer is an international relations superstar. Not only does his analysis of current affairs on social media keep everyone informed and enthralled thorough witty tweets and fascinating statistics, but he also does a lot of video too. His World in 60 Seconds is a must watch round up of the previous week in whereas in G-Zero World, he goes into the weeds of the major IR in 20 minute episodes. [Ian Bremmer]

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