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Brussels Brief | 31st Edition

9 — 16 November 2017


It’s the 31st Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with guns, worms and not-so-alternative facts.

Military worm no more. At least this is the message being sent out by the EU — an indication by 23 member states that Europe’s guns are here to keep the peace (ironically). After 60 years under the wing of the US and NATO, the dream of a European defence seemed like a distant idea. The economic crisis and the Europe-wide austerity measures crippling the continent seemed to be the end of European integration. But amidst an economic revival and an unpredictable US presence, it is high time for the continent with some of the strongest armies in the world to culminate its peace project. In other words, turn its guns away from each other for the last time and use them towards a future of shared defence and peacekeeping worldwide. Rosy thoughts indeed, but skeptics should turn back to last Saturday’s armistice commemorations, to not forget and not repeat the horrors previously committed in intra-European war.

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The Brussels Brief Team 👨‍👩‍👦 ✌️ 🇪🇺

*Collated and Curated over ‘Best of Worldwide Festival Sète 2017’ on Soundcloud and a cup of hot cocoa ☕ in Brussels Brief HQ.

“Europe is an economic giant, a political dwarf, and a military worm.”

- Mark Eyskens. Belgian Foreign Minister (1989–1992), and lyrical wordsmith
🔝 FRONT PAGE — Top News this Week

Pes & Co. It’s not a soda company but the branding behind an agreement that lays the foundations for an EU army. While Filipino proto-dictator Rodrigo Duterte was serenading Donald Trump over the weekend, the EU was (finally) getting its act together on defence. After decades under the US’ wing, 23 defense ministers gathered in Brussels to announce that they would collectively sign the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PesCo). The initiative was actually first proposed in the 1950’s but repressed since the UK’s membership of the EU. So now that the US is not paying for defence, the UK is not in the club, and a little Russian aggression in Ukraine gets you the perfect recipe for a defence agreement. They can now go about complementing NATO’s activities, as well as extending development aid to Africa an area where NATO has no foothold. It’s not all roses in rifles however, many have questions on how it will function in practice and the fact that they only managed 23 out of the 27 member states shows that some are having problems selling the idea (Portugal, Ireland, Malta, Denmark).Perhaps “making history” as High Representative Federica Mogherini described it, will go some way symbolically into fostering a true European identity as member states’ existential destinies are intertwined . [Euronews, Reuters, Washington Post, Eurotopics, Politico Europe, Deutsche Welle]

Alternative facts. Fake news. A term so prevalent in the modern vernacular yet so old in its use (propaganda). The phenomenon of fake news, notably state-sponsored fake news allegedly propagated by Russia is not only a phenomenon affecting the US. The use of Russian Twitter bots have been recently found to potentially have affected the Brexit referendum. More recently the Spanish government is crying foul that Russian and Venezuelan actors boosted the separatist movement in Catalonia not to mention the many incidents reported about interference in the French and German elections. Nonetheless, when an issue has reached peak maturity you can trust the EU to step in almost unprecedented fashion with a brand spanking new dedicated EU agency on the topic and stern words from a Commissioner. In this case it was Mariya Gabriel who announced on Monday that a Commission strategy paper will be published in 2018 to help “vaccinate” against the phenomenon. Fake news, however, is getting ever more difficult to detect and the presence of sophisticated false information is the new normal as even moving images of talking presidents (video) can be completely faked. [Engadget, Eurotopics, Politico Europe, The Guardian, Time, Euractiv, Monday Note, BBC Newsnight]

White fragility. Poland istaking the competition for the EU’s ‘most enfant terrible’ to a new level. As Independence Day commemorations went underway on Saturday to remember the reestablishing of the country in 1918after 123 years of being wiped off the map, some Poles thought it good idea to make it all about white people. Over 60,000 people took part in what is being described as a ‘far-right’ and ‘nationalist’ march where protestors carried signsof ‘White Europe’ and chanted against Muslim immigration, gay rights and EU rather championing a theme of ‘Catholic values’. Most astonishingly perhaps was the presence of children and families amid the crowds that, according to some, is reminiscent of the 1930’s and a consequence of the climate brought by the incumbent ‘Law and Justice’ aka PiS government. In Brussels, the reaction has been to threaten Poland with the same treatment as fellow ‘enfant terrible’, Hungary, of starting an Article 7 procedure which could end in Poland being stripped of its voting rights. The EU needs to assess whether measures such as the ruling party’s reform of the judiciary are compatible with the values of the EU. [NBC News, Washington Post, CNN International, Eurotopics, BBC News]

💸 IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID — Top Economic, Trade & Innovation News

Export love, not war. Before the EU starts imposing its military might it is first restricting weapons exports to other parts of the globe. This time around, Venezuela is the target of economic sanctions including a ban on exports of weapons after recent elections were marred by fraud by the ruling government, and is seeing the country descend into economic and social collapse. The move comes amid high expectations of the EU finalising a trade deal with Mercosur, the South American trade bloc (in which Venezuela’s membership has been suspended). After two decades of stalled negotiations the hopes for heightened trade relations between the two regions are high, and not least spurred by the vacuum left by the anti-trade rhetoric of US president Trump. [Reuters, New York Times, Yahoo News]

From sick man to Olympic sprinter. The European economy seems to be in for a good long upwards stride. Growth forecasts are being revised upwardsand the economic recovery seems to be strengthening and reaching out to all countries in the Union, except the one leaving. While some economists fear Brexit might spill over onto other countries and put a damper on the economic recovery others expect that European growth might stimulate global economic trends and even that Europe is on the verge of a golden decade. But growth is still largely being held up by loose monetary policy by the European Central Bank and unemployment is still alarmingly high in some countries. However the upwards swing is providing some much needed back cover for plans to ensure better fiscal integration in the Eurozone as promoted by French president Macron. [Nasdaq, Luxemburger Wort, Reuters, Bloomberg]

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

Game of calendars. It seems that the Brexit saga is always in crunch time / turning point but time is literally running out as the exact time of the UK’s withdrawal is the only thing set in stone. The next five weeks before the Christmas break will be crucial as the EU prepares for a ‘no deal scenario’ and gives the UK two weeks to cough up the money that is owed. Whether capitulating or rejecting this ultimatum will save Theresa May’s short career as Prime Minister remains to be seen. At least the March 29, 2019 deadline will serve as a reality check to speed up or closure for the most painstaking divorce in modern political history. [Quartz, Bloomberg, The Guardian, The Independent]

Canary in the coal mine. A study by top consultancy PwC concludes that the UK will lose 50% migration from the EU which will result in a small drop in GDP (1.1% or £22 billion). Sounds like a manageable amount but the drop will disproportionately hit the economic engine of London the most, as well as vital industries such healthcare, hospitality, retail, and construction. A case in point, one in five doctors and almost half of all health workers in the UK are considering leaving the country and return to EU pastures after Brexit. Forget GDP, the only wealth is health? [Quartz, Bloomberg, The Guardian]

BONUS Not So Little Britain. When the UK leaves the EU, it will be a weight off its mind, in more ways than one. At the risk of being accused of making a gratuitous fat joke, a related plague is hitting the rest of Europe in the form of late onset, or Type 2 diabetes, much of which is caused by lifestyle such as obesity and inactivity. [The Independent, Euronews]

€500 million
The European Defence Fund that will be used to partly fund the new PesCo agreement.
🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city

Let me see your rating. November 10 marked International Interns Day, rejoice! On this day that gives tribute and attention to all those looking to make a (professional) life for themselves — the tables have turned. “A Tripadvisor for Interns” was launched last week with the aim of providing a platform for those at the bottom of the ladder to rate their work experience. The type of work you were tasked with, your relationship with your supervisor, the environment in the office are all elements you can now assess in the hopes of providing helpful information for the many to follow. No doubt something to include in our next EU Trainee Bible (shameless plug). [The Bulletin]

It’s all fun and games until…. With a 2–0 victory against the Ivory Coast, Morocco qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. This prompted enthusiastic celebrations back home but also across Europe where many Moroccans or those of Moroccan descent reside. Approximately 1500 showed up in the Belgian capital where celebrations took an ugly turn with over 20 police officers injured in an attempt to manage a crowd of over 300 peoplewho had turned violent by burning cars and breaking shop windows. Belgium’s Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, attempted to remind us all of the spirit that defines the Belgian capital and home to the EU: “living together means respect.” [The BBC, Sky News, Reuters]

From Brussels, with solidarity. A day after several regional Catalan officials were jailed for their role in the Catalan independence movement from Spain, hundreds of sympathisers came together to rally in the heart of the EU on Sunday to show their support. Antoni Comin, the ousted Catalan Minister of Health was present. Still, Comin is one of five Catalan officials on ‘standby’ in Brussels as Belgian judges review a European arrest warrant filed by Spain on charges of sedition and rebellion against him and other four fugitive officials, including sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who was not present at the protest. [Yahoo News, The Local]

✂ EXTRA — From the Cutting Room Floor

33,293. Thirty three thousand two hundred and ninety three. That is the amount of people that have died trying to enter Europe since 1992. A figure to remember to those that think that the migrant crisis is a recent phenomenon. Known morbidly as ‘The List’ the tally was estimated by German newspaper, who painstakingly published the number along with details of every death and makes for a sobering read (48 page document in German). The newspaper went further to pin the deaths “as a result of the restrictive policies of Fortress Europe”. International organisations and NGOs corroborate the newspaper’s list in line with their own count of 14,000 of have perished at sea in the past four years and the approximately 3000 deaths this year alone. Those are LIVES not numbers. [, Der Tagesspiegel, New York Times]

The big bad Brexit wolf and other children’s tales. A picture is worth more than a thousand words. Marked by despair of the Brexit vote children’s book illustrator Alex Scheffler has called upon an army of his illustrator colleagues to promote and strengthen European identity in the form of adorable and poignant drawings. These are designed to engage in some self-described propaganda to further the idea of belonging to a greater community. Although not a political activist, Scheffler felt it necessary to take a stance and speak up for cross-national collaboration and cooperation and speak out against the Brussello monster phantasm spread by anti-EU politicians and press. The exhibition is in Berlin from 14 November to 12 December. [The Guardian]

BONUS: Have an MA in European Studies that you need to dust off? The people at e-International Relations have put together a video-laden refresherof everything you paid thousands of euros for and have probably now forgotten. [e-International Relations]

💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project

What goes around comes around. You would imagine that as the future of the (professional) world, interns would be treated with respect for their time and value but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Many interns are unpaid (1 in 10 MEP assistants in Brussels alone) and Bryn Watkins claims that above all, this should be what we look to change. In fact, there are over 3 million unpaid interns every year (comparatively, that’s Denmark’s entire workforce alone).Short-term, noncompetitive contracts and little to no salary (or benefits for that matter) make it challenging for interns to grow and develop the necessary skills to be the leading professionals of Europe’s, but also the world’s future. [Euractiv]

Loud but silent. An era of constant buzzing apparently reflects a society of constant exchange, communication and openness. Often times however, what is not discussed or tweeted, is what needs the most room for conversation. Not surprisingly, the #metoo online movement has spurred a series of confessions from women of all ages and races: a clear testament to the scope of sexual harassment . The most recent truth has been spoken by Irina Sheludkova, a journalist for Euronews’ Russian service who sheds a little more light on what it means (at least in part) to be a woman in this world. She claims that the more people come forward the more likely it is that we can evolve to create a reality where Hollywood producers, comedians and medical experts at Olympic level actually bring relief, comfort and safety into the world. [Euronews]

🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner

🔊 Podcast of the Week. Ian Bremmer discusses Europe with former Swedish PM and no fan of Vladimir Putin, Carl Bildt in the G-Zero World podcast. Listen to the audio here. [G-Zero World]

🎥 Video(s) of the Week. Diplomacy 101 courtesy of a Donald J Trump and Rodrigo Duterte serenade. Move over Simon and Garfunkel. [The Guardian]

✏️ Cartoon(s) of the Week. The Ascent and Descent of Man, Fake News Feed, Global Warming. []

📺 GIF of the Week

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