Brussels Brief | 29th Edition
20–26 October 2017
It’s the 29th Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with an edition that brings to light power dynamics of gender, the effectiveness of populism and the obfuscation of symbolism.
There is an epidemic in the modern world. The recent focus on the #MeToo campaign about sexual harassment indicates that although it may not be a public health crisis (although public health effects do exist), it represents a waking up to a spectre that has plagued relations of power, especially gender relations in all cultures from the beginning of time. However, the fact that claims of rampant sexual harassment are emerging in our own backyard of the Brussels bubble is worrying to say the least. In a town where political power is concentrated in institutions and individuals that are supposed to be standard bearers of human rights and human dignity, the allegations are all the more egregious. The fact that it took a wayward Hollywood producer’s misdeeds to bring this issue to prominence in the EU is embarrassing. It is up to the EU to act upon this issue and lead on it in the political realm if we want to avoid having political leaders that openly sexually harass, as well as those who do it behind closed doors, with no consequences. When #IHave no longer becomes a boast, there may be some progress.
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S přátelským pozdravem, (as our Czech friends would say)
The Brussels Brief Team 👨👩👦 ✌️ 🇪🇺
*Collated and Curated over ‘Soulection Radio Show #318 (Live from Brussels, Belgium)’ on Soundcloud and coffee ☕ in Brussels Brief HQ.
“No position, no title, no power should ever protect anyone from facing consequences for sexually harassing!”
- Terry Reintke
Green MEP and millennial powerhouse, on the power dynamics behind sexual harassment.
🔝 FRONT PAGE — Top News This Week
#WeToo. The sex scandal embroiling the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has shone light on the issue of sexual harassment on women across the globe. Such media attention has provoked the start of a social media campaign with the hashtag #MeToo, where women recall experiences of sexual assault or harassment anywhere from their workplace to their Saturday night out. It didn’t take too long for reports to come in the context of the EU. So far, more than 120 women have written to Politico to claim their sexual harassment experience after the paper issued an open anonymous call. Allegations include assistants being asked to reserve prostitutes for their MEP and women being offered a contractual position within the institutions in return for sexual favours. The issue seemed to get enough traction to be discussed at this week’s European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg. In addition, a group of MEPs are now demanding an investigation into the revelation of a potential case of male MEPs harassing numerous female aides. What the EU will do about the issue is yet to be seen but the topic has spurred enough conversation to create a comfortable online platform not only for women, but also for the men who wish to respond acknowledging the need to hold to account those at fault. [Politico Europe, EUobserver, The Guardian]
Czech it out. Last Saturday, the Czech Republic saw its second richest businessman, Andrej Babis, win the parliamentary elections and potentially become its new Prime Minister. However, Babis will have difficulties in forming a cabinet as potential coalition partners are reluctant to join a leader who is facing fraud criminal charges. Babis’ party, ANO, pushed forward a strong anti-European integration and anti-migration rhetoric, straight out of the populist playbook. This brought it to win 29.6% of the ballots, pushing the Social Democrats into fifth place with 7.3%, and advancing the Freedom and Direct Democracy party, the one who pledged to fight off the Czech’s obligation to join the euro. Babis’ precise agenda is unknown although he has spoken against a two-speed Europe, claiming more reflection was necessary on the UK’s decision to leave. Still, he is viewed as a threat to democracy, given his authoritative leadership led by a business-orientated mind. Sound familiar? [Bloomberg, Eurotopics, Reuters, Euractiv]
Referenditis: the domino effect. Three weeks after Catalonia held a controversial independence referendum, Rajoy has put forward plans for regional elections while dismissing the entire Catalan Cabinet and assuming all the powers of the regional executive. Carme Forcadell, the speaker of the Catalan Parliament, has defined it a “coup d’etat” as Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is showing no signs of capitulating to Spain’s demands. As the Spanish hold their breath to watch its tale of secessionism fate unfold, Italy has had two of its wealthiest regions, Lombardy and Veneto, held non-binding referendums last Sunday. While independence is not in the pipeline, the two Northern regions would like more autonomy and active participation in the distribution of taxes; a move that has been interpreted by many as a way to push forward the far-right Northern League party prior to elections next year. Although the concerned Italo-Spanish regions are not inherently requesting the same rights, nor are they stemming from the same political history, both are making a strong case for greater, regional voice and the power shift it could lead to. [BBC News, Politico Europe, EUobserver, The Guardian]
💸 ITS THE ECONOMY, STUPID — Top Economic, Trade and Innovation News
Mail order workers. French President Emmanuel Macron has achieved at least a symbolic victory by getting through a reform of the rules for posted-workers under the slogan “More protection, less fraud”. Posted workers are EU citizens working in another EU country but under their home country rules. These workers have become a major source of discontent, especially in France where ‘Piotr the Polish plumber’ has become the symbol of undercutting national labour markets. The current rules date back to before the enlargement (video) of the EU to the East. Poland, who has the most workers posted in other EU countries, is against the new rules. Several sectors remain outside the new reform including truck drivers and posted workers who might be symbolically important. Notwithstanding posted workers make up less than 1% of EU workers. More than just symbolic victories are needed to put Europe back to work. [Euractiv, ABC News, European Parliament, Financial Times]
Ratting on the rat race. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager ordered her army of grey bureaucrats to storm BMW headquarters in an investigation of possible collusion between German car manufacturers including Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi, BMW and Daimler, after Daimler ratted on its former partners-in-crime. The raid is the latest round of crackdowns on illegal shenanigans going all the way back to the Dieselgate scandal in 2015 and reports this summer of thousands of meetings between carmakers (duly noted with elaborate minutes describing the illegal activities) to control the market and reduce competition (video). Naturally, Vestager, who seems likely to run for Commission President in 2019, doesn’t let an opportunity pass by to clamp down on bad corporate behaviour. [Bloomberg, Spiegel, Deutsche Welle]
🇬🇧 STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION — Brexit Stories
Britain’s got bureaucracy. The UK government is in the midst of planning to register the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK during a transition period after it leaves the EU, an enormous task which will require another 1200 new British bureaucrats on the payroll. Suffice to say, the move has drawn heavy criticism from MEPs from several EU countries, including the UK. The MEPs believe that requiring EU citizens to register is illegal under EU rules since only EU nationals are registered and that if the UK wants any transition period it will have to abide by all EU rules, including non-discrimination. The European Parliament will have to approve any final settlement and can therefore veto any Brexit deal. [Reuters, The Guardian]
Leakistan. News of the (lack of) progress took only only 90 seconds to spill after a meeting by EU leaders on Friday. The 27 EU heads of state retain the opinion that any progress in Brexit talks remain up to the UK to resolve and that the slow progress about a future trade deal is a result of May’s lack of backing at home. Awkward reports emerging after the meeting about May begging Jean Claude Juncker for help were firmly denied by all parties, but suggests a less than stellar working relationship with allegations of leaks going around in spite of a positive spin put out by some. [EUobserver, Bloomberg, The Independent, Reuters]
- The percentage of women in Europe that have suffered some form of harrassment according to the European Agency for Fundamental Rights.
🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city
Capital of Europe, home of the world. 183 nationalities make up the population of Brussels’ inhabitants and while we may be quick to praise the EU, this phenomenon has been a long time coming. Since 1830 Brussels has seen waves of immigration that, over time, have rendered the Belgian capital a cosmopolitan, diverse city. Why Brussels? A new exhibition at the Jewish Museum ‘A Safe Haven?’ — is looking to answer this question with a historical, contemporary view, and a twist of artsy. Displayed material will include vintage films and photography, as well as testimonies depicting the lives of many, from Poland and China to Brazil and Rwanda. The exhibition is expected to last until March 2018. [The Bulletin]
Say cheese. If you didn’t think cheese was magical enough, here comes La Fruitiere: somewhere between a restaurant and a cheese shop. A cheese bar? Located in the heart of Brussels, this gem is managed by Veronique Socie and her son, Leo. Having attended dairy school, Veronique has learned the full and complete technical process to ensure delicious and whole cheese production. She claims children who eat non-pasteurised cheese are less prone to allergies, plus it tastes better. Go try for yourself and buy us a round of cheese. [The Bulletin]
Si tu veux, tu peux. An idea turned reality for Dominque Fostier who imagined a virtual art gallery that could help remove the limitations of physical art gallery dynamics (aka the judgment). Allegrarte is an online platform for contemporary art that enables art buyers to access quality artworks at affordable prices. It came to life courtesy of a crowdfunding website, KisskissBankbank, rounding up a total of $15,000. For those who feel like the elitist art scene holds them back from entering these sort of places, Allegrarte breaks this restriction. To launch the innovative website, a physical exhibition will be held here in Brussels from Oct. 27 — Dec. 3 featuring 20 artists. [The Bulletin]
✂️ EXTRA — From The Cutting Room Floor
Facebook face-off. The role of social media in exposing people to targeted content is becoming a hot button topic in Europe. The increase of fake, unregulated and disappearing content has prompted governments to push for stricter rules in what has otherwise been a pandemonium of online advertisement. The latest example stems from the German elections in September where political ads, websites and contact information disappeared after the Green party had filed complaints that wrongful information was being spread. But in the age of the Internet anything can appear and disappear instantly. Facebook is now responding with increased monitoring and checks on its advertisement buyers, but it would be fair to suggest that the new battlefield is far from safe yet. [Pacific Standard]
Stars are the new black. Time to take back being cool. A group of fashion-minded eurocentric people have decided that draping yourself in a flag isn’t solely the domain of patriotic Americans, Brits or French. Now the EU has an startup poised to throw yellow stars on anything with a blue background from denim jeans or skirts to blue belts or just a polo shirt. Fashion goes in and out of style each season, but our guess is that these entrepreneurs hope for something longer lasting. Check out the initiative on Indiegogo and be sure to find something for that special (europhile) someone. [EU Flag Fashion]
Bonus: You suck! Europe is great and all, but everyone stinks at something. Thrilllist has made a comprehensive travel guide listing of all the things each EU country is the worst at (we guess that the UK will soon be infamous for it’s inability to be an EU member). From highest VAT or fewest cinemas to other more disturbing facts like the existence of slavery, this list surely shakes up a few bad thoughts. [Thrilllist]
💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project
Fancy a second round? Drawing on lessons and reflections from the Brexit experience, Jill Rutter believes that if Spain were to offer an actual, legal referendum to the Catalans this could potentially decrease the possibility of worsening tensions and a Brexit-type ordeal. Of course the referendum would come with a series of terms and conditions. First, this would include an extension of the electorate to include anyone who has lived in Catalonia in the past 10 years, who has been educated in the region or even grew up there. Secondly, exit terms must be negotiated in advance. Among other elements, Rotter also suggests that the conduct of the referendum be handed over to an independent commission in order to ensure fair play. [The Guardian]
Going Dutch. While France and Germany have a cooperative and common vision for the European Union, Christel Arlette Zunneberg claims Germany needs other friends, too. Not only that, the EU is facing a different reality today than it did in in the 1950s. Zunneberg draws on the recent Dutch-German cooperation to make her point. There was the appointment of a Jeroen Dijsselbloem as president of the Eurogroup in 2013 (approved by the Germans) and also the management of the Greek government debt crisis, where the Dutch persuaded Berlin to accept the involvement of the IMF. It could be that the reputation of the Dutch could help Germany soften its image of the overbearing leader, and give room to new, unlikely but effective partnerships. [Euractiv]
Call it like it is. At the 25th anniversary of ‘The Muslim News ‘one of the topics on the agenda was the negative portrayal of Islam in the mainstream media. Given the last decade of geopolitics though, this phenomenon is perhaps unsurprising? Will Gore claims that counter-arguing the negative spotlight on Islam would not actually help. He points out that this effort could actually taint what he believes to be the sole responsibility of the media; to report on ‘bad’ events. What is preferable would be to not over-simply information, which excludes an element of contextualisation that could actually help readers get a more accurate, full picture. [The Independent]
🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner
🔊 Podcast of the Week. Politico’s EU Confidential podcast this week interviews European Commissioner, Vĕra Jourová and who in her remit deals with gender equality describes her own experience of sexual violence in a wide ranging interview. [Politico Europe]
🎥 Video(s) of the Week. Eurobubble. All of us have heard the term, some of us have live it and those who have will roll on the floor laughing (rofl) at the accuracy of the Euro Bubble YouTube series that is a must watch for anyone previously, currently or will be living the Brussels life. [YouTube]
✏️ Cartoon(s) of the Week. Babis in Prague, Harassment & Brexit Reality [Cagle.com]
📺 GIF of the Week
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