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The Brain Dead Edition

14 November 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?

Macron spoke, the world listened...and trembled with what it heard. The French President who is approximately halfway through his term of office layed out a reality check during a recent long-form interview with the Economist. Refreshing to some and concerning to others, his remarks on the "brain death of NATO" have received most fanfare. His commentswere made in the context of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall last Saturday and Manu laid out the dirty laundry of the 70-year-old military alliance, which pulled together Western allies after WWII to keep the Soviet threat at bay. An alliance which, according to Macron, is at threat due to a lack of coordination with a NATO-skeptic US government and a potentially rogue member, Turkey, wreaking havoc in the Middle East to the chagrin of its allies. As the EU launches new defence projects this week (in which France is prominent coincidentally) the French president will no doubt want to push the message that the EU is becoming a hard power player and Macron's airing out of the dirty laundry in public is concerning EU and other NATO allies, many of whom rely on NATO almost completely to stave off major threats.

Why it matters

Macron's NATO comments come in the midst of other controversial comments and actions from the French president of late. His rejection of EU candidate status for North Macedonia and Albania have struck deep in the Balkans who are looking for a way out of Russian influence. He managed to make even less friends in the region this week when he described Bosnia as a "ticking time bomb" allegedly referring to returning jihadist fighters in the Muslim majority country. This has sparked anger among the Bosniaks but also allegations of islamophobia in his policy, not only towards Bosnia but to the Western Balkans generally. Elsewhere, he is also subject to criticism for his stance on immigration this week and internally he has the prospect of further battles with French unions to contend with. On the international stage, however, he is seen and wants to be seen as the safe pair of hands. A pair of that could potentially be a "power broker" between the US and China as they conduct their trade war all while championing an anti-nationalist and green economic agenda.

 

The takeaway

Emmanuel is the hero the EU doesn't want but desperately needs. The harsh tough-love style of his recent comment is a stark deviation from Angela Merkel's meek yet effective style of diplomacy. Times, however, have changed and the threat of an outspoken and unrelenting far-right both within and outside the EU is too much to ignore. The opposite of populism is effectively doing what is not popular, but fundamentally right. This is the role of the leader which has been abdicated in recent years as Western leaders point to 'complexity', external market shocks and populist narrative disseminated via technology as a hindrance to them precisely doing their job - to lead. As Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen said recently, Europe needs to speak the language of power and Macron is fluent in power. Unlike the diminishing star of Merkel, Macron has a mandate in France and intends to spend it in Europe. He is one of the few leaders to effectively stand up to Donald Trump, knowing how to play his game of flatter me / crush me style of diplomacy (as well as arm-wrestling him), held his own with Xi Jinping, and knows how to deal with the strongarming of Erdogan when it comes to Turkey's role in NATO. All in all he is the last centrist hope in the stand against the right-wing and perhaps fears that Europe and the world might soon look to the far-left as a counterbalance to the right-wing threat.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

47

The total number of defense projects approved under PESCO. Although you might think otherwise, PESCO is not a species of fish but a handsome EU acronym for Permanent Structured Cooperation, which links 25 Member States together in a mosaic of programmes designed to enhance Europe’s defense capabilities. With the slate of new projects which just got the green light, there’s cause to think Europe might finally be ready to step up and take action in its own neighborhood rather than waiting for Uncle Sam to do the heavy lifting.

10,000

The number of jobs that Elon Musk estimates can be created as the result of a new ‘Gigafactory’ his company Tesla plans to build near Berlin. The Gigafactory will be the company’s first in Europe, in addition to two plants in the US and one in China. The German auto industry was at the front of the automotive race in the last century but turning from combustible engines towards electric vehicles has proven to be a lingering headache for the industry. Hopefully, Tesla can help speed up that process as we are drifting towards the climate’s finish line at a record pace and need innovation sooner rather than later. While the original plan was to put the plant in the UK, Brexit has casts shadows of uncertainty (business speak for “no-no”) over the prospects of making a billion euro investment there. The first cars are expected to roll out in 2021.

4.8

The estimated number of migrants and refugees who were living in Europe illegally in 2017, according to a study by the Pew Research Center which found that half of all unauthorized migrants are living in just two EU Member States, Germany and the United Kingdom. The encouraging or despairing fact, depending on how you look at the glass, is that this is a drop from a peak of 5.3 million estimated in 2016 when the refugee crisis was at its zenith. However, with conflict, inequality and climate change looming over vulnerable people the issue is not going to self-deport like some might hope. On a hopeful note, the study found that Europeans were increasingly starting to see migration as a complex and nuanced question that leaves room for hope.

A Message From Our Partners

The EFF — European Future Forum brings 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

 

“It’s the unity, stupid.

Scathing but sober departing words from Donald Tusk at the College of Europe as his tenure as President of the European Council comes to an end. Feeling the chains of responsibility loosen, Tusk gave a no-holds-barred speech with a scathing dress-down of all three UK Prime Ministers he has dealt with during his tenure. He also went for his namesake in the US, Macron’s recent outreach to Putin, Northern frugality in the Eurozone crisis, all while managing to line his speech with hope of a future where Brexit is thrown on the ash heaps of history. Tusk is set to take over the leadership of the European People’s Party (EPP) next year and tasked with reviving it after Europe’s conservatives received their worst results ever in May’s European Parliament election. It remains to be seen if there are toes he hasn’t stepped on yet but why not keep up to snuff on the Donald until he roars again.

"We ask the government to help us. This is the result of climate change

The tragic but sober assessment of Luigi Brugnaro, Mayor of Venice, in the face of flooding which is causing catastrophic damage to the historic city and its many world heritage sites. Two people have died already and the damages caused by the floods, the second-highest since records began in 1932, are estimated to run in the hundreds of millions of euros. Italy wasn’t the only country to face flooding this week as England was hit too and on the far side of the planet, Australia saw its first day ever on record without rain. Scientists expect extreme weather will become ever more frequent in the coming years unless we stop the climate crisis in time.

"Place of provenance of a foodstuff must… be indicated"

The legal jargon for a highly controversial verdict reached by the European Court of Justice. The phrase means that products which stem from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories must be labelled with indications of that origin so that consumers can be make an informed decision on the product they are buying. Unsurprisingly, this was not met with jubilee by the Israeli government which sees the labelling as a form of boycott. Meanwhile, NGO Oxfam welcomed the courts judgement which it believes will strengthen the rights of Palestineans.

5. Video of the Week

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