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Brussels Brief | 39th Edition

2 February- 8 February 2018

It’s the 39th Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with German deals, a Balkan party and transnational lists…

Another month, another the plenary session of the EP. Most go by without much notice, sometimes with a resolution here, a Charlemagne prize there but rarely anything consequential. However, this week a notable vote happened. One that brought the progressive and conservative forces at loggerheads about the future of Europe post-Brexit. Whereas Commissioners are tasked with looking after the interests of the Union as a whole, national interests are all too prevalent in the agendas of MEPs at the European Parliament as is obviously the case with the Council. However, this week MEPs had a chance to change that. To open up the path for transnational MEPs to run for the EP mandated on a truly European platform, which is part of the Macron-esque vision for a more united and federal Europe. The S&D were on board, as well as ALDE but where were the EPP?Voting overwhelmingly with the eurosceptic side of the house, the Union’s largest (and most influential) party missed an opportunity to be an advocate for a more united Europe. Transnational lists were a unique opportunity to bring a sense of European priority to an increasingly nationalised member state landscape.

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The Brussels Brief Team 👨‍👩‍👦 ✌️ 🇪🇺

Collated and Curated over Bon Entendeur: “l’Humilité”, Brassens, Winter 2018on YouTube and a cup of (very) hot something ☕ in Brussels Brief HQ.

“Return to an active and leading role in the European Union.”
- Martin Schulz
Former EP President, German Socialist leader and potential new German Minister of Foreign Affairs on Germany’s role in the EU. Move over Emmanuel.

🔝 FRONT PAGE — Top News This Week

Pactus Germanicus. After four months of disagreement, consensus has been found after the German federal elections in September. Mutti Merkel’s party, CDU/CSU, has formed (or rather continued) a coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) in a deal agreed Wednesday. The final of many challenges holding up progress was assigning the different ministries to the two political parties. SPD has won control over 6 of the ministries, including the prestigious and powerful ministries of foreign affairs and finance. Former EP President and meme king Martin Schulz has stated he will step down from the party leadership and become Germany’s foreign affairs minister should the party agree to the negotiated deal. The deal, which also includes a halftime review — at approximately 2 years, is seen as a boon in Brusselswhere European leaders praised the coalition as ‘good for Europe’ as the new government has a strong plan for the future of the EU. Wins all around except for Angela Merkel who goes into a historic 5th term of office, beaten but not defeated. [Politico Europe, Buzzfeed, BBC, Reuters, Deutsche Welle, New York Times]

A change of hearts and minds. After a decade defined by the financial crisis, the record-breaking income of refugees, Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and most recently, Brexit, it seems the EU is looking to an expansive future. Through a final draft of the Western Balkans strategy, the Commission has announced that there is a strong likelihood of Serbia and Montenegro joining the European Union by 2025. The other countries that belong to the region, namely Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYROM and Kosovo have also had their spirits lifted with European authorities claiming there will be a considerable advancement in the negotiation process with each of them. The EU has asked that the region put aside a history of conflict, growing tensions among ethnicities and political unrest to make room for the rule of law in this region that hosts 18 million people. Ultimately, the EU states would also like the Balkans’ to take part in top-EU meetings concerning topics such as the environment, transport and foreign policy. The Commissioner for EU Enlargement, Johannes Hahnstated that “the EU [and] its Member States will never accept a State that hasn’t resolved pending issues or conflicts.” Should there still be any unresolved issues to tackle, the states would have until May when Bulgaria, who currently holds the rotating presidency, will host a summit to discuss further enlargement details with a more concrete decisions coming in June. [RadioFreeEurope, Foreign Brief, Reuters, Bloomberg]

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

Guardian of the currencies. Bitcoin and blockchain technology is predicted to be on the cusp of a major breakthrough. To gaze over the waters of blockchain waves Digital Economy Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel announced the creation of the EU Blockchain Observatory to help unite the different uses that blockchain technology can bring about and prepare Europe for the future. The initiative comes with support from Jakob von Weizsäcker (S&D, DE) who fears that the new technology could be monopolised if left unregulated. Blockchain technology has been hailed as a game-changing technology but so far its most known usage has been in the emergence of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which has experienced extreme price fluctuations in the last 12 months. Bitcoin, however, is not the only currency that risks volatility. The Euro could be in for a rough patch in the coming weeks as the ECB might finally see its year-long effort to get the inflation to rise, succeed. The warnings come on the back of good economic prospects as the Eurozone is growing at the best rate in a decade, helped by the extraordinary measures taken by ECB president, Mario Draghi, to stimulate growth and avoid deflation. It seems befitting that his work pays off as he is set to leave office next year with talks for who is to succeed him already in the brewing. [Bitcoin Magazine, Bloomberg, Reuters, Euractiv]

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

To customs union, or not to customs union. The Brexit negotiations seem bound on course for a Shakespearean drama, or perhaps a Greek tragedy, as palace intrigue seems to emerge every week from inside the British government over the future relationship with the EU. Contradictory statements from ministries claiming both want to be inside and outside the customs union (ie. not a possible solution) has made Theresa May’s strained position as Prime Minister look ever more fragile. At the same time, the EU27 are both annoyed and worried as the clock keeps ticking with only little more than a year before the UK drops out of the EU. But leaving the customs union will mean some form of barriers to trade as reiterated by chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier who’s telling the UK to get moving and start making some hard choices. In the meantime, Nigel Farage has been busy trying to sell the Brexit snake-oil in Irelandwhile at home a Macron-ish initiative has sprung from the fertile British EU soil in the form of the ‘Renew Party’. Much like its French counterpart La Republique En Marche!, it wants to break the stalematebetween the two political blocks in the hope of gathering momentum for a second EU referendum. [The Guardian, BBC News, Euractiv, The Washington Post,, Euronews]

180,000 to 200,000
- The limit on refugees allowed into Germany as agreed by the new governing coalition deal.

🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city

You have the right to remain silent. The only standing survivor behind the Paris attacks of November 2015, Salah Abdeslam was found in an apartment in the Molenbeek district of the Belgian capital in March 2016, five months following the attacks in the French capital. In attempting to capture him as he fled, there was a police shootout where four officers were injured and one died. This is what Abdeslam is currently being for tried for, a trial where his lawyer is trying to get the case thrown out because of a very Belgian Dutch /French linguistic procedural problem. The suspect himself has remained moot as he is yet to answer any questions in the process. [Euronews]
Inside and out. In tribute to the Belgian architect, Victor Horta, Brussels is hosting a year-long event, Horta Inside Out, which is composed of permanent and temporary exhibitions to celebrate the artist’s legacy. It is the collaborative effort of 20 cultural institutions that have gathered over 1,5000 photographs of the artist’s work. Guided visits have also been organised and for those who won’t be making it to the European capital, rest assured, visual tours have also been made available. Horta is known for having found creative, innovative ways to let the light into his buildings. As of 2018, he’ll be bringing creative light to our lives too it seems. [The Bulletin]

✂️ EXTRA — From The Cutting Room Floor

The you-know-who of countries. Family feuds can be some of the nastiest to settle. What can appear to outsiders as an insane argument over a simple moniker has rattled tensions for decades bringing hundreds of thousands to protest in Greece. The dispute has brought the Hellenic nation and “its neighbour to the north” the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (or Macedonia as most people outside Greece call it) has been in a conflict over the name, which is both the name of the country and the name of an adjoining Greek region. The Greeks fear Macedonia (the country) will lay claim to the Greek region if the named is accepted. Now a proposed solutionby “Macedonia” has heated the patriotic greeks to take to the streets to protest once more and maybe the Greek far-left Syriza government should try aninjection of referenditis to cure the fervour. But if FYROM, Skopje, Macedonia or “Macedonia” is to join the EU, a permanent settlement with Greece is necessary. [EUobserver, Al Jazeera, Reuters, CNN, Greek Reporter]

💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project

Health is wealth. The European continent is known for being old but technology and innovation are increasing its lifespan. In fact, scientists believe that children born in Europe after 2011 have a one in three chance of reaching their 100th year of life. By 2060, the population of those aged over 80 is expected to rise from 22 million to 61 million. This is great for those who look forward to seeing their great-grandchildren live a long life but for the Welfare State this also means a long(er) term commitment to research and policy. Miriam Dalli (S&D, MT), member of the European Parliament’s environment committee, claims that in a field that still fundamentally remains under national jurisdiction, cooperation and effort to expand health outcomes across the EU is a must. Currently, the EU’s main scientific funding program, Horizon 2020, has funded over €200 million for rare disease research alone. The Commission has made it clear that the ultimate way to tackle this challenge is to ensure stronger links between research and industry. [The Parliament Magazine]

🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner

🔊 Podcast of the Week. Andrew Adonis, a Member of the UK House of Lords and leading ‘Remainer’ talks to ESharp! about sabotaging Brexit via a second referendum. [ESharp!]

🎥 Video(s) of the Week. AfD joins Islam. As a government forms in Germany, Arthur Wagner, member of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party recently converted to Islam. [BBC Newsnight]

✏️ Cartoon(s) of the Week. EU on Iran Deal, Nigel Farage []

📺 GIF of the Week.

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