Brussels Brief | 9th Edition

10–16 March 2017

Welcome to the ninth edition 9⃣ of Brussels Brief, the EU’s weekly digest delivered to the comfort of your inbox. Brussels Brief is an executive summary so that Eurocrats, policy wonks, trainees, and students alike can stay in the loop with the ins and outs of the international media regarding the EU. 🇪🇺

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The Editor ✉️

🔝 FRONT PAGE — Top News this Week

Netherlands is Neverland for Wilders. You know times have changed when an upset results in the far right candidate not winning (spoof) an election. This was the case of the Netherlands last night where incumbent conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte reacted to the election result with an all encompassing “Whoa!” to go on to a third term as head of a coalition government. The vote, that was at times tipped to go in favour of the far right Freedom party of Geert Wilders (of which he is the only official member) ended up in losses for the Prime Minister and gains for Wilders in terms of seats. However, the shift was not enough as the Dutch scattered their votes amongst 28 parties, 13 of which will get seats in Parliament. This means that even though Freedom party came second, there is little to no chance that Wilders will get a cabinet position in the new government. Whether it was the robust Dutch democratic system, the lack of fake news or a counter-Trump effect, Europe has survived its first populist threat this year. (Newsthump, BBC News, New York Times, EU Observer, The Daily Beast)

Turkish de-light. Regardless of who won the Dutch election, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan they are all ‘Nazis’ in his eyes. The rift between Turkey and Holland (and the rest of Europe this week) stems from a constitutional referendum being held in Turkey next month where approximately 4.6 million Turkish expatriates in Europe will be able to vote. Turkish officials have been blocked from campaigning in several EU countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, where there are concerns about the referendum being used by the Turkish President as a power grab since the failed coup d’etat last year. The whole spat, is putting into question Turkey’s fraught relationship with the EU, most notably its candidacy to become a member of the Union. Turkey’s resolve has no sign of subsiding however as they plan to take the Netherlands to the European Court of Human Rights over the matter. (CNN International, New York Times, Euronews, Washington Post)

‘Dress neutrally’. In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice has decided that it is legal for employers to ban employees from headscarves or “any political, philosophical or religious sign” in the workplace. The ruling comes as a result of decade old case of Samira Achbita who took her employer to court in 2006 when she was fired for starting to wear her headscarf (or hijab) to work. Naturally, the ECJ ruling comes at a time where the politically sensitive topic of Muslims and their integration reaches a fever pitch in elections all over Europe. Concerns have risen from human rights groups that the ban will disproportionately affect Muslims and their employment. For a recap on the difference between hijabs, niqabs and burkas, click here. (BBC News, New York Times, Euronews, ABC News Australia)

💸 IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID — Top Economic, Trade & Innovation News

Vestager warms up to Russian Gas. European Commissioner for Competition Vestager reached a settlement with Russian gas giant Gazprom after years of legal battles. The deal sees the Russian Gas monolith make several key concessions and for the first time recognize EU competition law. Should the Russians break the agreement the Commission can slap a 10% fine on its worldwide revenue, around €6,8 billion with no warning. The case had Eastern countries, especially the Baltics, in focus as their gas dependency on Moscow is almost at 100%. However, critics feel that Vestager has been too amicable and now have 7 weeks to submit any complaints on the decision before it enters into force. (New York Times, Politico Europe)

We want our money back! Not just a rallying cry amongst eurosceptics any longer but now also heard from Members of the European Parliament who want clearing of financial transactions in Euros taking place in the EU after Brexit. The European Central Bank has wanted to get trading in Euros back into the eurozone for a while and ironically the European Court of Justice, much disliked by ardent Brexiteers, ruled in favour of the UK in a case just two years ago, despite not being a member of the Eurozone. That protection, however, disappears with Brexit. But given London’s financial expertise and size on world financial markets a special deal might be necessary for both parties. Need to brush up (like your Brussels Brief Editor) on what clearing houses do and how they work? Investopedia has a quick video to get you up to speed. (Bloomberg, Financial Times, Investopedia)

A Call for optimism. As reported last week by Brussels Brief the ECB is seeing better times ahead and the Euro has been rising against the dollar. Still there is a lot of uncertainty amongst investors. However, looking at the underlying economy and not focusing on a snap shot is better economic advice to follow. This is good news for those worried about electoral uncertainty in 2017. (Marketwatch, CNBC)

BONUS: What is secular stagnation? In economic circles the past years lack of growth and high employment and low inflation has gotten the moniker “Secular Stagnation”. Feeling Wonkish? Check out this article for an explanation of the phenomenon that has had economists baffled for some time. (The Economist)

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

IndyRef2. It’s not just an insecure password, it’s the Scottish government’s last gasp at avoiding a hard, soft or any sort of Brexit. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced in a sensational conference on Monday that she would be seeking clearance for second referendum on independence from the UK in 2018. The last referendum held only in 2014 was before the Brexit vote that saw Scotland vote 62% to remain in the EU. The announcement was received with regret in Downing street, where PM Theresa May accused Sturgeon of acting with “tunnel vision.” A result of independence is indeed no guarantee of EU membership and the ‘Barroso doctrine’ would apply. However, former First Minister Alex Salmond alluded to using the EFTA route to membership citing having many “friends in Europe”. Whatever happens, many scots have received the news well, some even with GIFs. Suffice to say the Sturgeon isn’t the only one from the SNP giving the Prime Minister a headache (video) (BBC News, Euronews, The Independent, Bloomberg, Vocativ)

Not so Trigger happy. This week was meant to be the one, where Theresa May pulled the first draw of the gun and pulled the trigger of Article 50 to get proverbial duel of Brexit underway. Instead, everything has happened but the pull of the trigger (yet). On Tuesday, the British parliament backed the Brexit bill as its stands, thereby rejecting the painstaking amendments made by the House of Lords, largely in favour of protecting EU citizens rights in the UK. The debate over EU citizens has remained alive and the reaction of EU citizens is understandably anxious as others speculate that not allowing the amendments means an opportunity cost for the current government to secure diplomatic goodwill ahead of negotiations. For an idea of how those negotiations will play out click here or here (video). (CNN, The Independent, New Statesman, Buzzed News, Financial Times)

… as Oxford University gets political. Previous speculation that Oxford University was looking for European campuses may have been dismissed, but that does not mean the university of universities is not backing down in defending the interests of some of its most prominent academics, many of which are from the EU. According to the university many of these academics will flee and Oxford and other academic will suffer ‘enormous damage’ as a result. At the centre of the effect on academia is of course the issue of EU funding for research and collaborations that make up 53% of of the share of UK international research partnerships. (Business Insider, Reuters, Science Magazine)

BONUS If it were done when ’tis done then ‘twere well it were done quickly. As if a bit of Macbeth weren’t enough to intrigue you, Friends of Europe have put together a 28-page guide for all policy makers to follow to a tee making the ‘art of the possible’ all the more achievable. (Friends of Europe)

🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city

Beating blue and yellow hearts. A citizen’s initiative called #Pulseofeurope took to the streets of Brussels, Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam and several other European cities last Sunday (video), in an effort to bring pro-EU people together every week. Even though Europe dodged a bullet with the Dutch elections yesterday, the elections in France and Germany are up next. If you think euro-scepticism is so last decade and populism is so 2016, head over to Place de la Monnaie this Sunday for some good EU-loving (or tolerating) protest. (Pulse of Europe, Deutsche Welle)

Belgium gets a tech takeover. Too lazy to head out to the supermarket? Amazon’s latest service, Amazon Pantry allows for cut-price groceries to be delivered right to your doorstep in Belgium. The US and the UK have already played their role as successful sample regions, placing supermarkets in deep…stress and price competition. Meanwhile, if you think cash is trash, Apple has arrived to give a helping hand, after Google. One day after going live in Belgium with its Android Pay service, one that allows you to pay for goods and services with your smartphone or smartwatch, Google’s launch was upended by Apple swooping in to announce its launch date for a similar service to be released in Belgium later this spring. (Flanders Today, The Bulletin)

Listen up! For some, Brussels may be a drab but its cultural scene is buzzing and Klarafestival is no exception. It is an international music festival that aims to build bridges amongst people, through revisited classical music. This year, there’s a twist: its theme ‘Home Sweet Home’ places an emphasis on migration and the flow of people coming into Europe. From 9 to 24 March, Klarafestival will be taking over venues across Belgium with a variety of artists, some of whom had to flee themselves, including the Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra (SEPO). (Klarafestival, The Bulletin)

✂️ EXTRA — From the Cutting Room Floor

40/751. According to Michel Foucault, ‘power is everywhere’, diffused and embodied in discourse, knowledge and ‘regimes of truth’. According to Politico, (a lot of) the power in the European Parliament is wielded by just 40 MEPs. In a list devoid of British MEPs (except for one), and a majority of women, there are a mix of rising stars such as Jan Philip Albrecht and Ska Keller and alongside staples such as Guy Verhofstadt and Manfred Weber. Much like the EU they represent, the list reflects, German and EPP domination. Much less expected however, is the presence of two Maltese MEPs and 6 Greens in the mix. (Politico Europe)

How to spend €292.9 Billion. A collaboration between Open Knowledge International and Open International Germany has resulted in a populist’s worst nightmare, or biggest gift (if they bother to analyse the data); how the EU spends its structural funds (44% of its budget) in different EU countries. SubsidyStories.eu is a comprehensive database tracing EU structural fund spending on member states, regional and local levels. There is also information as to which specific projects and organisations are receiving funds and to what extent. Boring data might be the saving grace of the EU after all. (Open International Blog, Subsidystories.eu)

EU@SXSW. South By Southwest has for the last the quintessential intersection between exciting new trends, cutting-edge tech startup showcasing and artist hipster chic. I bet you didn’t expect the EU in the mix. In a jam packed schedule the EUxSXSW team organised a vast array of events, including a showcase of some of Europe’s hottest startups as the EU ventured into its first official presence at the influential and consequential festival. (EUxSXSW, Adweek, PRNewswire)

💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project

There’s no school like the new school? As the ‘Global North’ faces a mid-life political and historical crisis, Europe must shift its role of global teacher to global student as innovation and opportunities emerge from the ‘Global South’. By critiquing Europe’s own colonial narratives of superiority, Boaventura de Sousa Santos of the University of Coimbra, explores different historical conceptions of the ‘global south’ and that the euro-centric reductionist conception of it is a disservice to the wider world without and to itself within. (Criticallegalthinking.com)

The ‘Home of Hygge’ is about to get less cosy. The most unlikely of EU countries is also succumbing to anti-immigrant sentiment. According to Andreas Reventlow of the Dangerous Speech Project underlines the increasing political backlash in Denmark by highlighting the emergence of the “Danish Marine Le Pen” Pernille Vermund, the leader of the Danish far-right party ‘The New Conservatives’. The two year old party’s increasing popularity comes as the current Danish government came under international criticism for controversial legislation that confiscated the possessions of refugees. Although the likelihood of her eventual success is limited, Reventlow argues that Vermund’s rhetoric could have a significant impact and appeal to wealthy university-educated individuals. (EU Observer)

BOOK REVIEW. The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, by Jamie Kirchick. In a surprisingly Euro-Sympathetic book, American journalist Kirchik offers the ‘compared to what?’ argument against those criticising the EU’s performance yet goes on to criticise the execution of the project from its original intentions. According to Brian Stewart, the author offers a sanguine yet optimistic view of the many afflictions affecting the EU. In essence Europe is to survive the unprecedented only if a “civic patriotism” emerges amidst the “galloping nationalism” sweeping the Western world. (National Review)

🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner

🔊 Podcast of the Week. Esharp speaks to former US Ambassador to the EU. The outspoken Anthony Gardner discusses Trump, trade and the future of the Transatlantic compact. (Esharp!)

🎥 Video(s) of the Week. Biggie Smalls tribute. The US House of Representatives has no shortage of ups and downs in the era of Trump. Yet amidst the chaos, they still have the time to pay homage to slain rappers. Watch Rep. Hakeem Jeffries quote and give a shout out to former constituent and hip hop icon Notorious BIG. (C-Span)

✏️ Cartoon(s) of the Week: European Gear Stick, Mexican Stand Off, and Recep Tayipp Alibaba (Cagle.com)

📺 GIF of the Week