It’s the 32nd Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with a Jamaican tale of social pillars of borderless consumption…and some Brexit (bear with us).
Like in any ‘war’, casualties are part and parcel. In the Brexit process so far one can be forgiven to find relief in an actual phenomenon. A real price is being paid for Brexit, one which is tangible and has consequences for families, economies and the institutional balance of power. On this last point, however, there is room for criticism and Eastern European countries have already called out the lost opportunity make them feel loved, just as some of them are lashing out (see Hungary). Unfortunately, whether out of sheer comfort or reasons more sinister the move of the EBA and EMA to Paris and Amsterdam respectively could be seen as a re-centralization of the EU to its core, one where France, Germany, and the Benelux countries reign supreme. Bratislava deserved a shot, even the southern countries who have born the brunt of the euro crisis deserved a shot (aka Milan). Better luck next time?
The Brussels Brief Team 👨👩👦 ✌️ 🇪🇺
- Jean Claude Juncker
President of the European Commission and heartstring-puller-in-chief on the signing of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Jamaica No More. After months of negotiations, bartering and political horse-trading the talks responsible for forming the next German government broke down in spectacular fashion this past weekend. The Liberal FDP party were dubbed to be, along with the Green party, to be Angela Merkel’s ‘Queenmakers’ in a veritable Jamaica coalition that would have been as bizarre as its name suggested. The German Chancellor, who won the elections in October, was looking to make a different coalition without second place socialist SDP, led by meme-king Martin Schulz and the far right trollsters, AfD who made relatively massive gains during those same elections. Mutti’s center-right CDU is struggling to shake off concerns about the Macron plan for Europe and Ms. Merkel’s immigration policy which many argue is the potential Achilles heel of her 12-year reign at the top of German politics. Naturally for the biggest economy in the EU to be in political disarray sounds the emergency sirens in Brussels where the dependence on Ms. Merkel’s leadership has been unflinching as it sailed through the storms of the financial, migrant and Brexit crises in recent years. How the impasse will be settled is anyone’s guess. Merkel’s team has given the negotiating parties two weeks to get their act together or face fresh elections. Commentators argue that neither option is good enough and the obstacle to a new government is Angela herself…unthinkable but it just may happen. [EUobserver, New York Times, Reuters, Eurotopics]
Friend request. The European project is quite the rollercoaster of unions. First the economic, then the political and monetary and now with a defense union closing all that is left is social? The first step was taken last Friday in a renovated factory in Gothenburg, Sweden by 25 heads of state and government who proclaimed and signed a Social ‘pillar’ of rights. Under a theme of ‘investing in people’, the pillar made up of 20 ‘social rights’ include education, employment and gender equality as priorities. In addition, education was cited by Commissioner for Education Tibor Navracsics as key to “develop a European identity” and announced the scaling up of everybody’s favourite philosopher/student exchange program, Erasmus, to new heights. The proclamation, however, is just that and the fact that it is not legally binding is among the criticisms of the move. The state of Social Europe has a lot of work cut out for it as currently there are 117.5 million people in the EU at risk of poverty or social exclusion. in terms of social justice, there exists a massive north/south divide as per the figures published by the Bertelsmann Foundation. Download the full report here. [BrusselsBrief.eu, Deutsche Welle, Christian Science Monitor, Reuters, Eurotopics, Bertelsmann Stiftung]
Consummation of international consumption. Commissioner Andrus Ansip’s Christmas wish came early this year. As part of the push to complete the mammoth Digital Single Market initiative, the EU institutions finally agreed on a measure to ban geo-blocking. For those outside the technology or consumer worlds, geo-blocking is the practice of online retailers discriminating against customers based on their country of origin. This usually limits customers to purchase goods or services from websites only in their home countries. With the new measures, however, citizens will “be able to buy their new furniture online, book hotel rooms or use their credit card across borders, like at home,” according to Mariya Gabriel, the newly minted European Commissioner for Digital Economy. However, audiovisual content is out of the scope of the new measures so bad luck if you want to catch up on that Slovenian soap opera that is the talk of the town. For a full lowdown on the European Commission’s ventures into ‘mystery shopping’ click here. [Euractiv, Phys.org, EUobserver, European Commission]
No Thanksgiving Turkey. Cold winds are rising between the EU and Turkey. After a few warming years in the early 2000s the gap between the EU and Ankara has widened as Turkish president Erdogan has lost favour with his EU counterparts. The move away from the rule of law, and recently a ban LGBT activities in Ankara, has put a €105 million blockage in the EU funnel of money going to Turkey, which was set to receive €4.5 billion between 2014–2020 to assist in moving it towards EU membership. However, as the situation stands now that might never come to pass and Ankara seems unflinched by the hardening EU position. Here’s hoping for a reconciling Christmas season. [CNN,Al Jazeera, European Commission, Hürriyet Daily News]
Who run the world? Men. But not for much longer if the Commission gets its way. The Commission is pushing a 40% minimum representations in company boardrooms seizing on what appears to be a watershed moment for equality in the western world in the wake of #Metoo. Women still only account for 7% of board chairs and 22% of all board members, but gender quotas have been controversial, even amongst equality frontrunners like Sweden. But the tide seems to be turning and getting diversity into companies could be good for business. Looking towards 2019 we might see the first woman leading the Commission as Commissioner Vestager is getting some early backing from France and has achieved the near-impossible: becoming a widely known EU politician with a popular track record. The world is changing to a new tuneindeed. [Fortune, The Guardian, Politico Europe, Vice News]
Brefugee Agencies. Finally one source of speculation is settled with regard to Brexit. Whatever happens in the negotiation we knew that the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) were leaving their home of London as a result of the triggering of Article 50, but the question remained where to? A whole host of cities battled it out in aconvoluted voting procedure that in one of the cases ended up in…a coin toss. That’s right, the EMA’s new home will be Amsterdam after a last minute tie in votes faceoff with Milan but it seems they got what they wanted. The others with a fair chance was Copenhagen who reached the final round and Bratislava, who just missed a chance to fight with the big dogs for the drugs agency. On the EBA side, things were just as tight but this time between Paris and Dublin in which the French capital won out. Naturally, geographical balance was controversy before the winning cities were selected (video) and indeed the failure to provide that has been met with rebuke from some of the losing member states. [Politico Europe, EUobserver,, CNBC, EU Reporter, Eurotopics]
Bill, bills bills. Destiny’s Child was a long time ago. But paying bills is still an inevitable truth and the UK has seemingly woken up to that. Chancellor Philip Hammond made the clearest statement towards “making some serious movement forward” on the point of paying the lion’s share of the up to 60 billion euros it owes the EU. The yet unrealised ‘concession’ is a direct result of Donald Tusk’s two week deadline given to the UK to sort their house out on this issue. As the EU shows it means business ahead of a December assessment of negotiations thus far and in another show of teeth, EU Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, went further in a hard hitting speech on the consequences of Brexit this week to the Centre of European Reform. Who owes who what? Check out this guide to settle all doubts (and debts). [Bloomberg, The Independent, European Commission, Quartz]
BONUS: Royal longevity. Queen Elizabeth II has been married to her husband the Duke of Edinburgh longer than the European project has been around, a full 70 years. Let that sink in for a second. [Euronews]
Salvator Tintin. Last week a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci known as ‘Salvator Mundi’ depicting Jesus Christ sold for a record-high €450 million in New York. The previous record had been held by a Picasso sold for 180 million euro in 2015. In modest comparison, a 1939 drawing of Tintin and his pup Snowy sold for €500,000. Belgian cartoonist Herge (Georges Remi) has been gaining in popularity as his drawings, particularly from the 1930s — 1940s are growing in value. His highest sold work of art was auctioned off at €1.5 million, setting the record for a cartoon purchase. Da Vinci, eat your heart out. [Eurotopics, Expatica]
Any plans yet? Summer ends, autumn kicks in and before you know it, the dreaded question: “what are you up to for New Year’s?” Don’t be betrayed by social pressures, now you’ll have a good answer: the Atomium. Brussels has decided to switch its firework show on the last night of the year from downtown to the renowned landmark. This switch has been associated with road works in the heart of the city that don’t make it much of a pretty place for the occasion. Still, a little change never hurt anyone, especially on New Year’s Eve. [Expatica]
Get your pussy hat out. Echoing the efforts of the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Mirabal Belgium has organised a demonstration in Brussels on Saturday 25 November. Over 80 women’s organisations pledged in support of the event. As stated by Sara Scheepers from Amazon ASBL, “even in 2017 violence against women — because they are women — is still the sad reality in Belgium and elsewhere. See you there. [The Bulletin]✂ EXTRA — From the Cutting Room Floor
The neverending story: Europe edition What is Europe? What does it mean to be European. These questions continue to be a hallmark of we are trying to do at Brussels Brief; trying continuously to discover and rediscover what European identity means. With a little help from our friends, an ensemble of European writers give a personal bid in ‘Goodbye Europe: Writers and Artists Say Farewell’ on what Europe means to them. From the Vltava river cutting through Prague to the delicious food an English child experienced in Paris or the birds of Europe, so freely travelling and living together without a thought of national borders. Like a bird on a wire is an appropriate farewell song. [The Guardian]
Trash olympics. Who says garbage can’t be interesting, or family friendly? Danish architecture firm BIG has created a truly innovative take on taking out the trash with the new Copenhill in Copenhagen. Located close to the city center the new Amager Resource Center (ARC) will be a state of the art facility for resource management, recycling and will burn excess waste. The main attraction, however, is a ski slope which will be installed on the roof allowing for round the year skiing on artificial snow meaning that children will soon be eager to take out the trash for their parents. Kudos to BIG founder Bjarke Ingels for providing waste management, energy and parenting solutions all-in-one. ARC will open in 2018 so book your trip to the garbage dump now. [Quartzy]
Prohibition, sort of. You wouldn’t think you would need fridges or gas canisters for anything else than precisely what they’ve been invented for. Think again. There are claims that the EU’s compound located in North-West Kabul is affiliated with the smuggling of alcohol in Afghanistan. Spirits, wine and beer that were initially purchased for consumption among EU officials was instead smuggled out through kitchen appliances (i.e. the fridges and gas canisters) and sold to locals. Alcohol is illegal in the in Afghanistan and could cause considerable damage to the EEAS should the investigation lead back to them. [The Guardian]💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project
Orwell, are you there? It’s me, Big Brother. It can be frustrating to read about what’s going on in the world, only to doubt the headlines you’re reading in fear of #fakenews. What about recognising that in the most recent Facebook post you’ve shared, your information is likely to be stored in some way. This reality is evermore present in the US, but really across the “Free World” too. In this status quo, Mark Leonard claims our differences to a growing dictatorship like that of China are not so many. The People’s Republic is collecting and analysing big data to keep its 1.4 billion citizens far from revolution. It’s also looking to acquire direct access to corporate decision-making in large tech companies which could give it more access to users’ data. And just like that, these two typically differing ideologies don’t seem so different anymore, do they? [Social Europe]
Criminal Intent. At last week’s EU Social Summit, Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, claimed that in light of work-related crime growing, information sharing among European countries also had to change. This is one of several suggested strategies to ensure that money laundering, currency smuggling, human trafficking, social benefits fraud and more do not prevail. At a time when European mobility flourishes, European states must look to increase cooperation between national control agencies, have stricter ID control of border-crossing workers and update registries. Only this can strengthen European cooperation, greater information sharing and the further development of a well-functioning labour market. [Euractiv]🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner
🔊 Podcast of the Week. European Union public affairs is the topic and the guest is Jason Descamps, founder and managing director of the executive search firm European Affairs in a conversation with Paul Adamson. [ESharp!]
🎥 Video(s) of the Week. Ratko Mladić also known as ‘The Butcher of Bosnia’ has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of genocide at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. See BBC Newsnight’s report of the heinous crimes against humanity ordered by the Bosnian Serb military leader and their legacy. [BBC Newsnight]
📺 GIF of the Week
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