Brussels Brief | 24th Edition
8–14 September 2017
Bursting the EU Bubble. Welcome to the 24th edition* of Brussels Brief.
It’s the back to school edition after two long months of scorching summer fun galavanting with European leaders. Mountaineering with Auntie Theresa (May) and Mutti Angie (Merkel) and fishing with Zio Tony (Tajani) whilst Cousin Manu (Macron) was grounded having to pick up the credit card tab after his election campaign popularity rating splurge.
The summer was also a chance for us to reflect and in the lead up to #SOTEU 2017 with our own glorious GIF-laden recap of the year so far 📝. We hope that your journey with us has been as worthwhile as your Erasmus exchange and we hope to delight you with an array of new content and surprises as we embark on our Sisyphean task to Make the EU Great Again (#MEUGA).
The Brussels Brief Team ✌️
*Collated and Curated over The Sunshine Makers OST by The Heliocentrics on Bandcamp and Frappe Nescafe (Greek Style) ☕ in Brussels Brief HQ.
Reading Time: 7min ️️
- President Juncker’s Chief of Staff and Berlaymont Svengalissimo, Martin Selmayr
🔝 FRONT PAGE — Top News this Week
SOTEU TTYL. The force is strong with POTEC (President of the European Commission) President Jean Claude Juncker (JCJ) on the back of a comeback year for the EU. Despite the hype and the bingo playing surrounding the speech, Juncker gave his annual State of the European Union address (watch the replay video) with a bland fervour that vindicates all Eurocrat stereotypes: unsexy but full of gold when it comes to content. Calling for a ‘More United, Stronger and More Democratic Union’, he waxed lyrical on the future of a Europe that will make Britain regret leaving while mentioning that “Brexit isn’t everything”. An array of economic measures were unveiled, alongside a criticisms of Turkey’s treatment of its journalists and warning that cyber attacks on Europe from other undesirable governments or non-state actors “can be as bad as tanks and guns”. But perhaps the biggest ‘WTF’ moment of the whole thing was the fact that, if it were up to him, he would make Donald Tusk (or his successor) unemployed by usurping the European Council presidency into the Commission’s…all this without changing the treaties. Is that what he meant though? [Politico Europe, SOTEU.eu, European Youth Forum, European Commission, The Independent, Bloomberg, Euronews]
EP eye for the federal guy. The European Parliament aka the ‘self hating’ parliament is about to hate itself a bit less, approximately 73 seats less. Aside from further maiming the already maimed eurosceptics in the Parliament, the UK’s exit from the EU will leave a gaping hole in the chamber and now the rest of the MEPs are being asked to do something they’re not necessarily used to: get creative. One solution, suggested by JCJ himself, is to move to smaller premises (spoof) or to cut the size of the Parliament altogether. However, the risk of power redistribution has spooked some political groups and some have gone as loco as to suggest redistributing 22 British seats around and having the remaining 51 as pan-european or joint constituency seats effectively putting the EU in EU politics. This prospect has left some MEPs jittering, and some pan-European movements, such as Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement, salivating in the mouth for those seats. Until that happens, if you want to know who is top dog in the Parliament at this very moment, check out this newly released study into MEP power by Votewatch Europe. [Politico Europe, The Guardian, Euobserver, Votewatch Europe]
💸 IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID — Top Economic, Trade & Innovation News
Where’s the beef? As laid out in his State of the Union Speech, JCJ wants to fast track new trade deals and champion free trade around the globe. First in line is Mercosur (the South American trade bloc), where Brazil is putting up a beef over agricultural products. Soon to follow could be Australia and New Zealand and by October long stalled EU-India negotiations might resume. Meanwhile the CETA deal with Canada is facing court challenges as a reminder that being a global leader on trade deals won’t come scotfree with increasing political resistance from voters and civil society actors around Europe. Free trade indeed, but no free lunch. [Euractiv, Luxemburger Wort, The Indian Express, Politico Europe]
Clash of the (Tech) Titans. Fresh after the Mayweather-McGregor fight, the battle between Brussels and the Tech Titans is back in full brawl. Round 1 goes to Intel after the EU Court of Justice ruled that a case against Intel (concerning a €1 Billion fine) should be reopened. Round 2 went to Google who’s taking the Commission to court over its own fine (the €2.4 Billion spanking it received before the summer). Round 3, however, goes to the EU and member states who have proposed taxing the Tech Titans on the basis of revenue passing through the EU (and not just profits), hoping to fill state coffers with extra currency. Meanwhile EU finance ministers will meet to discuss ways to attract fintech companies and improve the investment climate, finally proving you can fight two battle fronts at the same time. [TechCrunch, V3, Punch Newspapers, Reuters]
🇬🇧 STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION — Brexit Stories
Votus interruptus. If Theresa May was intending on a smooth uncontroversial passage of a law (much like most laws) on her Great Repeal Bill EU Withdrawal Bill (explainer) she had another thing coming. Thousands of protesters (up to 50,000), some wearing ‘Remoaner till I Die’ t-shirts (buy here), flooded the area outside the UK Parliament in fierce opposition to the Brexit Bill that was being debated inside during the weekend. EU flags even made a prominent appearance in the prestigious Last Night at The Proms concert on Saturday hurting the sentiments of Brexit-Troll-in-Chief Nigel Farage. Nevertheless to his joy no doubt, and despite some last minute jitters from David Davis, the vote was approved by a majority of 36 in the House of Commons. But this is not the end of the legislative train for the Bill that, as it stands, faces stark opposition, even from within May’s own Conservative Party. [Business Insider, Sky News, The Guardian, BBC News, Reuters]
Brexit summer video roundup. Whilst the Brussels Brief team, whisked off to all corners of Europe for vacation, the negotiating teams on either side of the Brexit bout were intending to get some work done at the expense of not having a holiday. Much of the pre-summer chatter was on how the Brexit process was going to go about, six distinct possibilities were explored and some stellar advice from the ‘architect’ of the EU-Canada Trade deal was imparted…to seemingly no avail. Rather, what the summer produced was a humongous leak from a British Home Office, that exposed the first draft of a draconian plan to curtail EU migration into Britain post-Brexit (explainer). Perhaps this is a sign that the consequences of Brexit are not immediate crises as predicted, but a drip by drip fall into decline for the UK’s fortunes. Perhaps, Jonathan Pie called it better than anyone. [RTE, Financial Times, The Economist, The Guardian, BBC Newsnight, Jonathan Pie]
BONUS: Is Brexit still a good idea? Take the test and see where you stand on the Brexiteer scale. [The Daily Mash]
🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city
Organised chaos. A book from the 1990s entitled ‘Africa works: Disorder as Political Instrument’, written by Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, argues that the divisive chaos that governs much of Africa is not coincidental, rather a precise scheme to ensure absolute power by a small number of prevailing individuals. Similarly, Belgium pleads the same case. It is a state overseen by 6 parliaments and governments, aimed at responding to the three main communities: the Flemish, the French and the German. Brussels is perhaps the truest reflection of this complex political structure: it has a government, a parliament, 19 autonomous borough assemblies, 6 police zones and a total of 33 public housing companies. This political disorder was a contentious point of criticism for many media outlets who claimed it was at the root of Belgium’s failed prevention and reaction to the March 2016 terror attack. [The Washington Post]
Refined eatery. Often overshadowed by other European capitals like Paris, Rome or London, Brussels does not always seem to fit in. Still, not all hope is lost for the Capital of Europe. There is an increasing concentration of innovative and refined chefs taking the spotlight in Belgian’s culinary culture. If you want to start your day in a bourgeois way, head to Boulangerie Charli for eggs and pain au chocolat. Its cosy, warm environment won’t disappoint. Bon-Bon and La Villa Lorraine offer luxurious, high-end meals in grand, stylish settings. And so it continues, for bars, renowned dishes and tips on reaching these locations, keep on reading here. [Bloomberg]
✂ EXTRA — From the Cutting Room Floor
American European pie? Unifying the peoples of Europe in a European Union might almost seem like a logical solution today, but a few other tasteful suggestions have been put forward. Among the most innovative was the idea to slice Europe into 24 pieces of peaceful pie. The fanciful idea advocated by P. A. Maas envisioned Vienna (now renamed Union Capital St. Stephen) as the heart of this new Union, with 24 new cantons emanating from the centre, creating a whole new European experience purposefully ignoring historical, cultural and linguistic borders. Whether the author was baked when cooking up this idea is unknown. [Big Think]
European Islam. A recent study conducted by Bertelsmann Stiftung in Germany claims that Muslim integration in Europe is growing at a steady pace. The research included 1000 Muslims (immigrants and children of immigrants included) in Germany and 500 from across Austria, France, Switzerland, and the UK. Of the Muslims born in Germany three quarters claimed German to be their first language, with 46 percent of foreign-board Muslims claiming the same. Hit you with another stat? Only 10 percent of Muslims in France claim to have left school before the age of 17. Perhaps, this should serve as a kind reminder that recent headlines speak only for some, in fact a minority, of the Muslim community currently settled in Europe. [Bloomberg]
💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project
When colonialism becomes local. The last few years have seen a hefty debate on refugees being dispersed throughout the EU, a policy that has been especially fraught with Poland and Hungary who have accused EU policies of being reminiscent of colonialism. However, if one is to believe Leonid Bershidsky, they already are colonies, owned by Western European countries. Eastern European countries have been exceptionally good at attracting foreign investments who know control large parts of their economies. But this also means that any attempts to alienate other EU countries will only lead to self-inflicted economic wounds. Leaders like Orban and Kaczynski might threaten with nationalist rhetoric, but reality has already overtaken them. They better advocate more economic integration than risk being permanent outskirts of a wealthy core. [Bloomberg View]
2 speeds, 1 car. Jagoda Marinic recognizes that it is difficult to have the Union progress homogeneously when “northern Europeans spend their money faster than Southerners are able to earn it.” Currently, we have new EU member states push through with premature legislation sold to the public as the ultimate way of reaching ‘the European standard’. Emerging, trendy cities like Split sell high-end luxury dishes for 30 euro but then have no air conditioning in the pulmonology department of their largest hospital. Perhaps, if the EU wants to move forward unanimously and in the same direction, it must ensure equal and just living standards. Otherwise, it does not seem so unlikely that populist nationalist parties sweep in the votes of all those left behind. [Deutsche Welle]
🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner
🔊 Podcast of the Week. Lobbying for Change. Co-founder of Brussels darling ‘The Good Lobby’ talks to ESharp about citizens’ lobbying and the pitfalls of being the good guys. [ESharp!]
🎥 Video(s) of the Week. Does the EU have a blessing in an orange disguise? A review of the last year according to those terrified souls across the pond. [CNBC]
📺 GIF of the Week
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