1. Story of the Week
The lead candidate for the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, launched his campaign this week in a bid to become the next European Commission president. The MEP and current leader of the EPP in the European Parliament presented his snazzy 12-point-plan in front of a Greek audience in Athens amid a ‘rockstar’ welcome. The irony of a German Christian Democrat candidate launching a campaign in Greece was not lost on the country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who labeled him ‘anti-Greek’. Weber could have done well in launching the campaign in his own country as only 26% of Germansrecognise the man who wants to take the EU’s top job. Weber’s non-notoriety can only be rivaled by his main adversary, Social Democratic candidate, and Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who Weber debated last week.
Why it matters
With exactly one month to go to the European elections, expect high(ish) profile events to abound on the campaign trail as the spitzenkandidaten make their faces known to a European public that is used to seeing the European elections more like a carousel of political outcasts than integral to their lives. Meanwhile, as citizens dither, the trolls are organising. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally has joined Matteo Salvini’s pan-European alliance of right wingers and Steve Bannon, populist firebrand and former Trump White House Chief Strategist is coordinating populist efforts from an entity based in the very heart of Brussels.
Focus and turnout will be the key for the pro-European political forces in the 28 member states. That focus will inevitably be disrupted by phenomena such as the ongoing Brexit saga and the UK’s potentially problematic participationin European elections. Another less palpable but no less real threat is that of misinformation and disinformation leading to apathy. The European Commission this week welcomed a series of measures by Google, Facebook and Twitter to curb abuse of online behaviour by those entities, foreign and domestic, seeking to influence the European elections with fake news.
2. Tweets of the Week
3. Numbers of the Week
The percentage of assets in all the EU’s 28 member states that are owned by Chinese or China-based companies. Compared to the 29% owned by the US and Canadian companies it does not seem huge, but considering the European Commission’s assessment of China as a ‘systemic rival’ and a ‘strategic competitor’ it is significant, to say the least. This, added to Italy’s recent and controversial adhesion to the Middle Kingdom’s Belt and Road Initiative, will expose Europe further to Chinese infrastructure investment and inevitably, with it, Chinese influence.
The percentage of the vote that TV comedian Volodymyr Zelensky took in the second round Ukraine’s Presidential election. The political neophyte’s victory is seen as a victory against the Ukranian political establishment, such as incumbent president Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, to take the job he had been playing on TV for years. However, little is known of Zelensky’s political intentions as Ukraine faces the constant threat of conflict and Russian interference.
The number of journalists accredited by the EU institutions. Down from 893 four years ago, the number highlights the meagre number of European journalists that are assigned full-time to Brussels. The lax coverage of the EU at a national level and the worsening finances of news organisations means that little coverage of the complex and massive scope of the EU ever gets reported — unless you’re talking about the curvature of bananas or deluxe coffee machines that is…
The EFF — European Future Forum held its first general assembly at the European Parliament in Brussels, bringing together a large variety of NGOs and civil society organisations to share their projects with each other, workshop new initiatives and improve their communication skills and methodologies.
The EFF is the first European Communication and Project Development Network. It is open to any organisation and individual. For more information, visit their website.
4. Quotes of the Week
“She is not only a person of respect, but also a complete and endearing work of art”
A praising description from Jean Claude Juncker of outgoing German Chancellor Angela (Mutti) Merkel. Leaving her position as head of the German CDU party in 2021, she will not seek further political office. However, Juncker, not someone known for understatements, said he could not imagine her disappearing into thin air and added that she was ‘highly qualified’ for a European post. No shit Sherlock.
“No person should be punished for loving someone"
The stern rebuke from High Representative Federica Mogherini to the Government of Brunei regarding their brutal penalisation of gay sex. Responding to a recent move by Brunei to apply capital punishment to the act of ‘sodomy’, the measure was also condemned by a resolution in the European Parliament last week. Brunei defended its application of Sharia law by citing the safeguarding the “sanctity of family lineage and marriage” in a letter to the EU before the vote.
“It is like a company that only functions with interns”
The reaction of French MEP Alain Lamassoure at the polling that projects only 20 current (out of 70) French MEPs coming back in the new European Parliament. The gripe of the outgoing Les Republicains MEP could also be seen as sour grapes as much of the new intake of MEPs will be made up of Macron’s La Republique En Marche party which did not even exist when the last European elections were held and has taken much of the centre-right’s (and centre-left’s) mojo in French ballot papers.
5. Video of the Week