It’s the 35th Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with an end of year bang and an understated ‘sufficient progress’. As we end 2017 there will be countless year-in-review and faux reckonings posted in the media about the past 12 months. In light of this mood of reflection, ironically the concept of 'sufficient progress' comes to mind It is all too easy to highlight failures in retrospect. Sufficient progress means that the 'petits pas' that are usually ignored should be given a cheer. After a detox of sorts, this edition brings back many themes that have been haunting the European project this year Trump, Brexit, and populism but to name a few. But, within the same edition, you can see many of the breakthroughs that this year has brought, much of it in response to these problems. These are namely, enhanced defence cooperation, guarantees for citizen’s rights post-Brexit and the signing of the world’s largest free trade agreement with Japan. On top of that, there is a general feeling that the eye of the populist storm missed most member state elections this year, and, although there is still no government in Germany, there is a new champion in France to protect and propel Europe into the future. We call him Cousin Manu.
🔝 FRONT PAGE - Top News This Week
Unite and resist. Jerusalem is the holy city to holy cities. Not only is it home to three of three of the world’s biggest religions but is also potentially the capital of two states…one is Israel (existing) and another Palestine (in limbo). The history of the region is worth volumes but the newest clash in the age-old conflict was provoked US President Donald Trump. He recognized the city unilaterally as the capital of Israel last week unleashing a steady stream of condemnations and diplomatic headaches in the region. Emboldened with a diplomatic win under his belt, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu took to Brussels ‘uninvited’ to do some diplomacy with the EU, the first time the country does in 22 years. However, High Representative Federica Mogherini was ready for the charm offensive from Netanyahu who urged EU countries to follow Trump’s example in doing the same. Mogherini met this overture with a stern ‘no’ citing ‘full EU unity’ in finalizing an Israeli Palestinian peace agreement that would effectively make Jerusalem the capital of both Israel and Palestine. There is much to be said, however, about the EU’s waning influence in the region, and the rise of an Islamic anti-Islamic right-wing in Europe may prompt member states to break ranks with this unity in the future. What is sure is that the rejection has not gone down well with some in Israel, as the consequences of Trump’s decision await the New Year. [Al Jazeera, EUobserver, BBC News, Deutsche Welle, Washington Post, Jerusalem Post, Eurotopics]
BONUS: Guns for Christmas. Waking up the “Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty” is how Jean Claude Juncker welcomed the Council’s decision to formally adopt the PESCO initiative announced in November. Something to hopefully keep the haters at bayduring the holidays. [European Commission, Brussels Brief, The Telegraph]
💸 ITS THE ECONOMY, STUPID - Top Economic, Trade and Innovation News
Mighty Morphin trade dealers. Time to pop open the sake bottles just in time for NYE as the EU and Japan reached a historic trade deal after 4 years of negotiating. The agreement will create the world’s largest economic zone and cover some 600 million people and more than 30% of global GDP. Japan has been eager to find new EU partners since US president Trump sank the Asia-Pacific TPP trade deal and amidst the sudden US vacuum, the EU is seizing the opportunity for global leadership by pushing for free trade and international cooperation. Much to the chagrin of Brexit advocates, the deal came the day as the breakthrough in Brexit talks and further undermines arguments that the UK can conduct trade deals by itself, as other countries and economic blocs are increasingly tying themselves to the EU and European standards. The deal is a significant win for trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström who hopes to ride the tsunami wave of free trade and conclude a trade deal with South AmericanMercosur next year. [Politico Europe, New York Times, The National Law Review, MercoPress]
No country for tax evaders. Last week the Commission and EU member states agreed to toughen up on tax evading countries but reliably neglected to include any EU countries on the newly minted blacklist. MEPs, however, weren’t impressed by this display of selective negligence and has issued its own list. Malta barely avoided being branded a tax haven this time, with Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg receiving the unflattering status in the EPs PANA report (named after the Panama Papers scandal). The report's rapporteur Jeppe Kofod (S&D) has amongst other things called for an EU wide minimum tax rate and the report, which contains more than 400 proposals is now submitted to the Commission and Council for further discussions. [Euractiv, The Malta Independent]
🇬🇧 STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION - Brexit Stories
Squaring the circle: An end of Year Brexit Roundup. And so it goes at the eleventh hour of the (almost) 11th month all comes together as if nothing had happened in the preceding 9 months (literally). It took two teams of very highly paid civil servants on both sides thousands of pages to come to a point of ‘sufficient progress’. The beginning of the end of the first round of negotiations was rocky as UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, was DUPed by her own coalition as the deadline whooshed by. Fast forward 48 hours and a late night dash, the EU agreed to move on to trade talks after securing its main requirements of rights of EU citizens in the UK, a financial settlement (40billion) and no hard border in Ireland. The details, however, remained blurry and even though the majority of EU governments were welcoming of the news, they also remained realistic on what was achieved recognising that it isn’t a done deal. The next stop was the European Parliament who, after a marathon debate yesterday, voted overwhelmingly to back the declaration. On the UK side, however, things haven’t gone as smoothly as envisaged as hard brexiteers slammed ‘Theresa the Appeaser’ for effectively capitulating to the EU’s demands. In order to quell their anger, May announced that she would try to avoid a ‘full alignment’ in Ireland and Brexit minister David Davis made the extraordinary claim that the agreement with the EU was not “a legally-enforceable thing”. By the time he backtracked, the EU took notice and are making moves to make the final approval by the EU Council, this Friday, “David Davis proof” by making the terms legally enforceable. As to the trade deal that is the raison d’etre of all this melee? Michel Barnier came out saying that the 1 year and few months left before the UK’s exit would likely not be enough for a full trade deal, making any transitional deal all the more vital. If the last minute drama wasn’t enough, last night May lost a vote in the House of Commons against a measure that will now give the UK parliament a vote on the final deal with the EU before the withdrawal begins. Here’s to another excruciating Brexit year in 2018. [Brussels Brief, CNN, The Guardian, Politico Europe, The Intercept, EUobserver, Reuters]
🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE - News about the city
Schumanification. The EU with the help of a Belgian-Danish architectural project is looking to redesign the renown Schuman roundabout: a trademark of the European Institutions in Brussels. Looking to turn much of the area from a traffic nightmare into a pedestrian and bike-friendly hub, the Brussels minister of mobility Pascal Smet that Brussels is going from being “a city for cars to a city for people.” This, of course, excludes the infamously transited Avenue de Cortenbergh and Rue de la Loi next door. Following the acquisition of work permits by end of next year, construction is likely to begin in 2019. [The Bulletin]
Conciliable differences. In 2011, Belgium broke the record of the country going the longest without a government - 289 days to be precise. The country to previously hold this record was Iraq, a state dealing with conflict and post-conflict dynamics since 2003. And that's the thing about Belgium, isn't it? A rather small, wealthy, European state of 11 million inhabitants that can occasionally stir enough political turmoil to reach record-breaking lows. The difficulty, however, lies in the country's varied composition: in the North, wealthy, typically centre-right, Catholic, Dutch-speaking Flanders and in the south, Wallonia – land of the typically centre-left, atheist, French-speaking population. Still, Linda A. Thompson argues, if Belgium wants things to get done, it is by perfecting the art of compromise that will guarantee agreement, and thus, progress...for all our sakes. [The Bulletin]
United in similarity. A trait of the European Institutions, and Europe, in general, is to pride themselves of is the diversity of its people. Coming from every corner of Europe, it really isn't hard to see it: predominantly white, middle/ upper-class individuals rule the Brussels bubble. There are approximately 50 million people that stem from a racial and ethnic minority in Europe, that is 10% of the population of the EU. Contrast with the representation of racial, religious and ethnic minorities within the EU Institutions, 1%, and you can see where there could be an issue. In an attempt to cover up racist comments made in 2016, Commissioner Gunther Oettinger’s response was an acknowledgment that the Institutions should ensure individuals feel "valued and accepted, irrespective of their age, gender, sexual orientation or disabilities." Race or ethnicity did not even come into the conversation. In a fragile Union beset by emerging racism and nationalism perhaps 'united in diversity' should be better practiced than preached in the Brussels Bubble. [Politico Europe, Euractiv, European Network Against Racism]
BONUS: Hipster Christmas Markets. Does Brexit have you feeling like Ebeneezer Scrooge? Get your holiday spirits raised in the creme de la creme of Europe’s least known Christmas markets. [Business Insider]
💡 OPINION - Top minds muse on the European project
A privilege or a right? Malcolm Torry analyses the highly contested concept of UBI: universal basic income. For those of you that are unfamiliar with it, it would grant everyone in the world a sum of around €900 per month. The argument behind it lies in the right for everyone to have equal opportunity and an equal advantage but would also remove the necessity from being gainfully employed. Nonetheless, its proponents claim it would ensure companies and workplaces in general to improve conditions and the types of professions offered, as people would be less inclined to do a job they are not passionate or intrigued by. Malcolm Torry, on the other hand, argues that the way to expel inequality without demeaning people's own ambitions, reciprocity between state and citizen and other such things, would rather be to remove elements like the Income Tax or the Primary Earnings Threshold, creating a realistic, sustainable scheme. [Social Europe]
🎧 PRESS PLAY - Media Corner
🔊 Podcast of the Week. Linking ideology, history with current discrimination, Lars Rensmann discusses his new book on the legacy of the Frankfurt School as a framework for understanding today’s ‘politics of unreason’. [New Books in European Studies]
📺 GIF of the Week.
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