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The Silly Season Edition

25 July 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?

It’s July 2019. Boris Johnson is Prime Minister of the UK, the top executive jobs of the EU were chosen in a shady backroom deal and some of the highest temperatures on record are being suffered all over Europe. Spain and Austria still have only transitional governments, and Italy’s might collapse soon, a result of possible collusion between members of one of it’s parties and Russia (sound familiar?). 683 people have died so far in the Meditteranean trying to get across whilst EU governments can’t even get a serious pact together (only 14 states) in order to stop the loss of life. That is just in Europe. Around the world there is an ebola outbreak in a failed state, tensions in the Middle East are at its highest since the invasion of Iraq and the leader of the free world is telling his own elected representatives to go back to where they came from. Protests continue in Hong Kong fighting to keep democracy and the people of Puerto Rico take the streets to fight against corruption, whilst the US is still keeping children in detention camps. Just 4.5% of the world live in a full democracy. Then there’s the climate. Not only is Europe frying, but there is also a water crisis in India,record cold temperatures in Australia and the Antarctic ice sheets are melting possibly at a faster rate than the famous Arctic ones. It is indeed July 2019 and things are on fire.

Why it matters

According to Wikipedia, ‘silly season’ is the period lasting for a few summer months typified by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media. It is easy to dismiss the ‘world is burning’ narrative as frivolity in itself, but Boris Johson, the new UK Prime minister typifies this frivolity when he compares the EU to Napoleon and the Nazis, for example. But, in reality behind his series of frivolous and sometimes humourous musings, lies an ugly world view from the perspective of privilege, misogyny, and racism. He is not the only one. Donald Trump popularised the ‘funny bigot’ schtick on a world scale and Silvio Berlusconi predates him for almost twenty years (still haunting the European Parliament according to rumours). And, not to put him in the same boat as the rest, but our very own Jean Claude Juncker has embodied his own brand of the laughing, ‘dictator slapping’ ‘n’importe quoi’ attitude that has produced as many divisive opinions about him as there are about the aforementioned individuals. Point is whatever side you’re on, this brand of populist buffoonery is the kerosine, rather than the extinguisher of the fires that are burning the world at this very moment.

The takeaway

It seems that silly season has never been so serious. The EU cannot take the blame for the world’s ills but it can sure put out the fires at home. The first fire and perhaps the most important to put out is the climate emergency. Recent declarations from governments of a climate emergency are mere signalling if not backed up with radical proposals to reduce carbon emissions, (single-use plastics need not apply). As VDL tours Europe and gets her college of Commissioners together she considers and seriously debates anything from reducing the working week to calling for environmental damage to be included as a war crime. Then there is the broken process that got her to that position in the first place and ensuring there is a democratic process for her successor, whoever she may be. The question is, in order to solve the aforementioned problems and dampen the aforementioned personalities, is the answer, more EU, less EU or no EU at all? If the answer is less EU, then it’s hard to imagine a situation where the values and principles of the EU are needed more than today. If the answer is no EU then let’s watch the fire burn and embrace the chaos, but if the answer is more EU, the project of 28 member states needs to project a better version of itself to the world by leading by example and by operating closer to its values of human rights, rule of law and democratic accountability.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

2019

The year that a law against smoking in enclosed public places is being implemented in Greece. The law has been in the pipeline since 2008 but has never been implemented making Greece one of the last EU member states without a similar law. Greece is the country that smokes most in the EU second only to Bulgaria. The Council of the EU urged all member states in a recommendation from 2009 to implement the ban on the lung darts responsible for most preventable deaths in Europe.

35

The number in billions of euros in the EU’s arsenal of retaliatory tariffsagainst the US. The cold trade war between the US and the EU is heating up after a threat by Donald Trump to place tariffs on European automobiles was delayed by six months in May 2019. With the window closing in mid-November, outgoing Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom is showing no fear in revealing her battle plans should the trade war go ahead.

The number of recipes in a new cookbook by the European Union delegation to the African Union. Every student of diplomacy from Thucydides to Henry Kissinger knew that the way of good diplomacy is through the taste buds and into the stomach. That is why the best way to bring the European and African Unions together is through a handy cookbook with submissions from a plethora of the two continents’ officials and leaders.

A Message From Our Partners

Human blood is irreplaceable, as no medicine can substitute human blood or its components. Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients need a blood transfusion to survive and recover.

For these reasons, as well as with regard to the summer season, during which blood centres run short on all blood types, RPP Group is organising together with the Belgian Red Cross a Blood Donation Drive on 30 August at their office in Brussels (rue Guimard 10).

Please click here to register.

4. Quotes of the Week

“I was automatically assumed to be an intern or an assistant”

The words of former MEP Marietje Schaake on being a young woman MEP. Speaking on the culture of sexism in the European Parliament, she recites experiences during her ten years as an MEP including derogatory comments, abuse of power as well as “inappropriate gifts.” Her time in the Parliament has seen progress towards women’s’ role in the institution with over 40% of the chamber made up of women, many of them young. However, the culture of reverence to many MEPs means that old ways are very hard to shake off even among new members.

“I can’t say I’m overjoyed”

The reaction of S&S spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans on the EU council’s snub of his candidacy. After snubbing the candidacy of Manfred Weber EU leaders flirted with the idea and even reportedly proposed Frans Timmermans as the nominee for Commission president but he was smacked down by a mix of Macron and the Visegrads in the Council. He will now share the consolation ‘executive’ Vice President title with another spitzen fans’ favorite Margarethe Vestager in the new Commission headed up by ultimate champion Ursula von der Leyen.

“In Parliament, there is a very good move for parity, but I am sorry to say not in the Commission”

The benign warning of Helena Dalli, until yesterday Malta’s Minister for EU Affairs and Equality and now that country’s prospective Commissioner. Dalli is now the 7th woman to be nominated, compared to 13 countries who have nominated men with only 8 countries yet to decide. Unsurprisingly, but disappointing nonetheless, no Member State but Malta has put forward two candidates as Ursula von der Leyen demanded in her speech to the European Parliament just last week. It appears VDL’s first fight with the Member States is already in the making…

5. Video of the Week

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Boris Johnson

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