Brussels Brief | Third Edition

20–26 January 2017


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

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Best wishes for the week ahead and a relaxing weekend.

The Editor

FRONT PAGE — Top News this Week

The Trump hangover… The inauguration of Donald J Trump as the 45th President of the United States finally happened, and perhaps the media hype will eventually subside but, for now, reactions have been rolling in from all over Europe with a mix of fear, incredulity and pessimism for transatlantic reflections in the years to come. In an inauguration speech that shouted “America First!”, the interchangeability of the terms civilised and freedom, and the prospect of economic protectionism had Europeans resoundingly uncomfortable with the looming presidency according to Carl Bildt. The most pressing of concerns however, turns to security and whether Europe’s past overdependence on the US might have to be replaced by increased defence spending or bilateral security measures, just as Russian aggression seems to be picking up speed. With regard to trade, the EU is doubling down on agreements such as CETA as they look to maintain an international trade system thrown into question by Trump’s withdrawal of TPP and renegotiation of NAFTA. Wouldn’t it be ironic to think that perhaps Europe is underlying it all? (The Guardian, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Carnegie Europe, PBS Newshour, Reuters, Politico Europe)

…as Europe’s populists plot. A summit held in the German city of Koblenz brought together a collection of reinvigorated European far right politicians poised to disrupt key elections in Europe this year. In a bid to ride on each others’ momentum, the main figures of the continental eurosceptic movement, and many of whom are prominent in respective national polls, came together on stage in a show of unity by celebrating Trump’s ascent, Brexit, and nationalism (video). An attack on the media using ‘expressions’ of the past was also part and parcel of the proceedings whose main protagonists are briefly profiled at the end of this piece. Meanwhile, as the Pope condemns populism and the left is too weak to confront it, questions remain on how and why this is all coming about. Luckily, the people at Grupo de Estudios Estrategicos have provided a fascinating 32-page study entitled ‘The New European Right’ in order to digest all that is happening with succinct accuracy and predict what to expect with preparedness. (The Atlantic, Euronews, Time, Deutsche Welle, BBC News, Voice of America, GEES)

European Pillar of Social Rights takes shape. Promised in early 2017, the European Pillar of Social Rights a landmark policy for the Juncker Commission saw a conference last Monday promoting the 20 areas of social policy designed in to redress the imbalances of the European Monetary Union and give Europe a ‘triple A’ standing in tackling social issues. Promising an end to “social dumping” and moves to promote a minimum wage, if not a basic one, will be a priority for a measure that is still under construction and attracting significant scrutiny such as that from Social Platform here. (European Commission, London School of Economics, New Europe, Euractiv)

IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID — Top Economic and Innovation News

Draghi takes the spotlight. It’s been a prolific week for the head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi. An announcement from the European Ombusdman that it would investigate Draghi’s involvement with the Group of 30, an elite forum of top financial figures crossing public and private sectors, for potential ethics violations was offset by his political speech. He spoke of, defending European unity, while accepting the Cavour Prize for maintaining the bank’s independence. Nevertheless, taking into account that European unity may not actually be happening, he made unprecedented remarks that any member of the Euro who wanted to leave, would have to pay to leave, thereby acknowledging that such a possibility was imminent. Meanwhile, interest rates stay low. (Bloomberg, CNBC, EurActiv, Financial Times)

Mergus interruptus. The merger between two of the world’s largest stock exchanges, the London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Börse, is being checked by the European Commission as the $12 billion deal which could cement the dominance in the capital market in Europe, effectively eliminating other competitors altogether. This Anglo-German deal is also being scrutinised by some German authorities in light of the UK leaving the EU as the headquarters would likely be in London, if the deal goes through. (Finance Magnates, Bloomberg)

Cyber stress. In light of the saliency of cyber attacks and the vulnerability of some of the most vital institutions, the EU is considering testing banks’ processes to prevent and deal with cyber threats as part of its financial stress tests. Last year’s theft of over $81 million from Bangladesh is seen a warning sign to a European industry that is purported to have very outdated IT systems, just as hackers are becoming more sophisticated. Many believe that the advent of the Blockchain, an electronic decentralized ledger system based on the virtual currency Bitcoin, represents the future of financial transactions online. As a result, the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) has released a report on how to deal with security challenges before such technologies are implemented by banks and financial institutions. (Reuters, investopedia, CoinDesk)

STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION — Brexit Stories

Rule of law: The gift that keeps on giving (and taking). After the Government appealed the High Court decision, the Supreme court affirmed the decision of last November by ruling that that the UK Parliament should be consulted on how (not if) Britain should leave the EU (video). Essentially this means that now MPs can table amendments to the bill to leave the EU, which should bode well for the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK amongst others. Said bill has been promised to be delivered today, as four versions of it had been in the making since before the Supreme Court decision. The government was not the major casualty in the decision, however, as it unanimously voted against the legal requirement that devolved administrations (see Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) be consulted at all. This has provoked a strong rebuke (video) from Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, that suggested that a second Scottish independence referendum could be held as a result. (BBC News, Open Europe, The Independent, STV News, The Scotsman)

Trade Trade Trade. Much like ‘location location location’ is the mantra of real estate, trade dominates the speculation leading up to the trigger of Article 50 and surely beyond. The WTO option seems to be on everyone’s lips lately as well as the leverage that Britain has over the EU in terms as a major importer of its goods. However, it will not be easy for Ms. May and company as there will be a price to pay and free trade with the rest of the world will hit different sectors asymmetrically, such as manufacturing and financial services in comparison to the technology sector. Acting as a ‘creative’ bridge between Europe and the USA is a wise move according to Henry Kissinger whilst any collaboration with the Swiss on alternative access to the single market has been met with skepticism. After all this one question remains…what will happen to Peppa Pig? (BBC News, South China Morning Post, The Guardian, CNBC, The Independent, Politico Europe)

Ménage à Trump. Obviously, not even the Brexit saga is saved from the influence of Trump. As Theresa may prepares to visit the President tomorrow, promising some “very frank” discussions, Chancellor Philip Hammond has let off some frank opinions of his own in Davos last week as he assured that Trump will be more of an uncertainty for the UE than Brexit, especially when it comes to dealing with Russia. (BBC News, The Independent)

BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city

#Lights4rights. At around the same time Donald Trump was being inaugurated on Friday, and in solidarity with the Woman’s Marches to be held around the word the next day (photos), almost 1000 attendees turned out in Brussels’ Place de la Monnaie (photos) to protest the advent of the new US President’s administration and the perceived threat this poses to women’s rights and civil rights worldwide. One of the distinctive elements of the marches were the presence of so called ‘Pussyhats’, and artwork from American street artist Shepherd Fairey, which you can download and print here. (The Atlantic, The Bulletin,, The Pussyhat Project, The Amplifier Foundation)

Bruxelles ma censuré. On the topic of street art, many cannot have helped but to notice the sleuth of erotic street art popping around Brussels last year. Now a new piece of street art has appeared in the cityscape depicting an interpretation Italian renaissance painter Caravaggio’s rendition of “The Sacrifice of Isaac” which features a decapitation. Belgian minister for culture has responded to calls for the removal of this piece negatively, signalling that “art is free” and should not be banned.It should make for a pleasant Sunday stroll, however. (Hyperallergic,

What the EU needs. Alcohol in politics, more specifically, free alcohol in the European Parliament. A similar initiative has been taken up in the Belgian federal parliament in order to keep MP’s in their seats since the 1990’s and this week it was reaffirmed after a failed attempt from the ethics committee to ban it. (Politico Europe)

EXTRA — From the Cutting Room Floor

House of Cards, Brussels. François Underholz? Don’t expect a Franco-German sociopath running for Commission President, but do expect enough drama and thrill running through the Berlaymont to almost snap you out of the suspension of disbelief. Brussel, a series produced and available online from the ‘Dutch Netflix’ is sure to be binged watched during the cold weekends of Etterbeek and Ixelles. The drama offers the same crime, corruption and Machiavellian intent as Netflix’s House of Cards but with a distinctively EU touch of switching between five languages. Whether the series can attract as much intrigue as its US counterpart is doubtful, but its production vindicates previous attempts (video) at creating such a drama and brings some much needed mystique to the European capital…if only the opening were this inspiring (video). (Politico Europe, Euro Bubble, Itaka Media)

An experiment in “positive Populism”. DG Comm take notice, a group of six students, 5 germans and 1 Belgian are spearheading an impromptu PR campaign to give the populists a dose of their own medicine with a catchy and humorous Twitter account producing memes appealing from the most absurd to the most succinct answers to the question #WhyEurope. (EurActiv)

1 City and 23 Neighbourhoods. At Brussels Brief, our offbeat suggestions for city breaks does not stop at safety from terrorism. If you’d like an authoritative dose of culture, try the up and coming Danish ‘second’ city of Aarhus which has been lauded with the titles of European Region of Gastronomy (it boast three Michelin-star restaurants) and European Capital of Culture 2017. If your wage or ‘stipend’ can’t cover a Michelin star, try some of the ‘coolest’ neighbourhoods in Europe. Some gems are featured such as Madrid’s Malasaña, Budapest’s 7th District and the hipster paradise of Kreuzberg in Berlin. (Conde Nast Traveler, The Independent)

OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project

The US had Roosevelt, we have Varoufakis… A New Deal for Europe is former renegade Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’ solution to Europe’s problems. With his DIEM 25 movement, established in 2015, his plans to democratise Europe are reasserted and developed to include welfare provisions to counter the combined forces of denial insurgency and fallacy plaguing the European idea. (Project Syndicate)

…and Asscher? The Dutch deputy prime minister starts his piece with the same starting point as Varoufakis, Brexit, but develops in a different line of argument. He promotes ‘progressive patriotism’ to counteract the impression of the EU as an agent for social injustice and calls for a stop of free movement of workers in order to redress the inequality perceived. (The Guardian)

PRESS PLAY — Media Corner

Podcast of the Week. What for TTIP in the new era of reduced global trade? One of the 5 questions on trade discussed by the Centre for European Reform (CER)

Video(s) of the Week. Seeing as this is the week of Trump, what better way than to cap it off with the viral Dutch video spoofing a tourism ad for the country in the hilariously indisputable style of the President of the US. (Pro Zondag Met Lubach)

Cartoon(s) of the Week: Country First & Putin Slot Machine & Reign of Tweet-ror (

GIF of the Week

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