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The Populist Dump Edition

9 May 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has withdrawn support for European People’s Party lead candidate, Manfred Weber in the campaign for European Commission President. The Hungarian strongman, whose Fidesz party belongs to the EPP family, made the statement this week after Weber said in an interview that he did not want his candidacy “to be elected by the far-right” in reference to Orban. A representative from the German member of the EPP, the CDU/CSU, labeled Orban’s action a “mistake” and went further to say “you should never stop a traveler from leaving” in reference to Orban’s threat of finding another suitable candidate for his support.

Why it matters

The comments from Orban can be seen as a final break in a long saga between Fidesz and the EPP. The EPP has been long under pressure to take action on Orban as he flouted centrist ideas in advancing his own nationalist agenda in Hungary. This all came to a fore when the EPP suspended Fidesz in March pending further action. Despite this, Orban continued to pledge his support to the EPP candidate, until now. This could serve to both rejuvenate or dampen an already damp campaign for Weber. The loss of Orban’s support could mean that he could regain his centrist tack and remove the main source of criticism towards him by other candidates. On the other hand, in the game of numbers, Orban’s support could be the swing for an EPP that is bleeding votes to more hardline right-wing coalitions in Europe. It is no coincidence that Orban made these comments in the company of the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party who happens to be in coalition with Italy’s Matteo Salvini who Orban also met last week.

The takeaway

As the election campaign enters game time, Weber and the EPP deserve what they get for waltzing with Orban in the first place. Instead of taking a principled approach when Orban’s government were hit with Article 7 proceedings, the EPP kept him within the ranks for that precious parliamentary majority. Now, by acting in a tardy and piecemeal approach by suspending Orban, the Hungarian strongman has made the move himself to take control of the narrative and place himself as a possible kingmaker in the next European Parliament. Orban will now use his leverage over the centre-right and the extreme right with Salvini to terrorise an already weakened EU political establishment further. Play with fire you get burnt as the adage goes and, in an already candescent European political landscape, you can feel the burn.

3. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

4
 

The number of capitals that have applied to host the seat of the future European Labour Authority (ELA). The ELA which was established earlier this year will be focused on helping member states with implementing legislation for cross-border workers. The four cities in the running are Nicosia (Cyprus), Sofia (Bulgaria), Riga (Latvia), Bratislava (Slovakia). Notably, these are all significantly further east than the usual spots for EU agencies and authorities marking this a gesture towards the more recent additions to the EU family. The winner will be announced by the Council on the 13 June.

 
30
 

The percentage that Spotify is accusing Apple of applying as a ‘tax’ on its competitors to its music streaming service. The European Commission have launched a formal investigation against the giant after the complaints garnered attention after the surcharge on Spotify indicates that Apple is favouring its own apps on the Apple App Store. One to watch for those who will take over from renowned big tech slayer, Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager.

 
69
 

Beyond the dirty-minded, it is the number of Latvian officials in Brussels, the smallest representation among member states. According to a survey by the Danish think tank Europa, Latvia, Slovenia, and Cyprus have the smallest presence in Brussels, whilst France and Germany have the largest with 190 and 200 staff respectively.

A Message From Our Partners

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

“If this is reality, we deny reality’ — the view that it shouldn’t be like this, and if it is like this, it is wrong.”

The assessment on Brexit from Uffe Ostergaard of Copenhagen Business School. The professor likens the shape the Brexit process has taken so far to when Denmark in 1864 rode on nationalist fervour and an imperial hangover to a war in which they ultimately lost a third of its territory. Although no territory has been lost so far in Brexit, the threat of a second Scottish independence vote and talk of a united Ireland are stronger than ever.

“We have to end the EU Parliament’s wandering circus”
 

The reproach from Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz on the European Parliament’s monthly plenary session in Strasbourg. The millennial PM highlighted the process of moving the whole European Parliament every month from Brussels to Strasbourg as a sign of the waste of the EU in a wide-ranging interview with Austrian newspaper Die Presse, where he called for a ‘generational change’ at the top of EU leadership, which ironically included an endorsement of Manfred Weber for Commission President and a swipe at Emmanuel Macron.

“Nobody understands England, but everybody understands English.”

The words of Jean Claude Juncker in a news conference this week. The outgoing Commission President cited not ‘intervening and interfering’ with the UK Brexit referendum campaign to counter disinformation as one of his main regrets during his five-year term.

5. Video of the Week

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