The Parliament Magazine's week that was - Green week edition

PMHQ's take on what really mattered this week in Brussels and beyond.


20 Feb 2015

Most 'on message' EU leader of the week

European council president Donald Tusk's dream of presenting a united front when negotiating energy deals with Russia has been dealt a severe blow by Hungarian prime minister and perennial fly in the EU ointment Viktor Orbán.

With commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's stated desire to "unite our negotiating power vis-à-vis third countries" as part of the drive for energy union, Hungary's hard man said he had a "major problem" with the requirement for scrutiny of member state energy deals by the EU executive.

Orbán, who has just struck a new gas deal with Russia and voted in favour of energy union in council just three years ago, is now on a collision course with the new commission as he deliberately works at cross purposes with the rest of Europe against the backdrop of one of the most volatile foreign affairs situations of the past 30 years. Commission vice-president for energy union Maroš Šefčovič was suitably livid, telling the WSJ that, "Ideally the commission should be part of the negotiating team".

Keep your eyes peeled then for the next round of hilarious Orbántics / Orbánter, as Viktor decides to switch the EU's anthem from 'Ode to Joy' to Will Smith's 'Wild Wild West' and rewrites the bloc's guiding motto of 'United in Diversity', opting instead for the more realpolitik offering of 'Don't Hate the Player Hate the Game'.


Triumph for optimism of the week



European trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström, the EU's lead on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) negotiations, is doing her best to remain positive about the ordeal - sorry, we meant talks - even writing in the Guardian, "TTIP would bring new prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic and give us the chance to forge high standards for global trade - it is an opportunity not to be missed".  

Don't worry Cecilia, just ignore those nearly 1.5 million people who have added their name to an anti-TTIP petition.

Those hundreds of people who turned up outside the commission with an eight metre tall Trojan horse? They were just stopping by to say hello!

And former Syriza MEP turned Greek deputy minister for administrative reform Georgios Katrougkalos was only joking when he said his country "will never ratify the deal".

Sure, 97 per cent of respondents to an official EU survey said they were against TTIP, but don't worry Cecilia - the negotiations are going swimmingly and everything will be just fine.

And if you're really feeling down in the dumps, why not treat yourself to an official Latvian EU council presidency commemorative coin?


Reputational turnaround of the week

After Europe's 'last dictator' Alexander Lukashenko - who is still under an EU travel ban that was renewed only three months ago - played host to the Ukraine peace talks, rumours from an EU source have started circulating that "Belarus is opening up to Europe" and that member states are discussing an "unfreezing of relations".

The EUsual suspects.

A former USSR member on the borders of the EU and Russia pushing for deepening relations with the west - what could possibly go wrong? However, with Lukashenko a fully signed up member of Putin's Eurasian Union, and with the aforementioned travel ban preventing him from attending the upcoming eastern partnership summit in Riga, it could be some time before the strains of Ode to Joy ring out over Minsk.

Lukashenko, however, has at least been critical of Moscow's actions, telling that, "According to the faulty logic of Russia's bogus claims to annex Crimea from Ukraine, then almost all the territory of Russia must be returned to Mongolia". Ulan Bator has remained silent on the issue, but keep on the lookout for the potential annexation of Irkutsk.

One of Lukashenko's former high points: Belarus expels Sweden's ambassador in 2011 following a pro-democracy stunt where a plane chartered by a Swedish public relations firm dropped hundreds of teddy bears carrying messages urging the country to respect human rights. Also for the chop were Lukashenko's air defence chief and his head of the border guards. An unnamed EU source probably didn't say of Lukashenko at the time, "He's just a big teddy bear, really".


World day of social justice

February 20 is the United Nations world day of social justice. In his message for the day, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said, "The world day of social justice is observed to highlight the power of global solidarity to advance opportunity for all."

He noted, "The gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. This situation is not only between countries but within them, including many of the most prosperous."

The European Union prides itself on 'solidarity' between member states, so social justice day provides a good opportunity to take stock.

The social inclusion monitor Europe (SIM) reports that, "the concept of social justice is realised to very different extents within the borders of the EU".

SIM's report has six indicators: poverty prevention, equitable education, access to the labour market, social cohesion and non-discrimination, health and intergenerational justice.

In its social justice rankings of the EU28, with the exception of Slovakia, Ireland and Latvia, the bottom one third of the table demonstrates a clear north-south divide.

Unsurprisingly, Greece is at the bottom of the table "with a youth unemployment rate of nearly 60 percent, a rapid increase in the risk of poverty, particularly among children and youth, a health care system badly undermined by austerity measures, discrimination against minorities as a result of strengthened radical political forces, and an enormous mountain of debt that represents a mortgage on the future of coming generations".

The report concludes that, "rigid austerity policies pursued during the crisis and the structural reforms aimed at economic and budgetary stabilisation have had, in most countries, negative effects with regard to social justice".

Perhaps something for the eurogroup of finance ministers to keep in mind as they gather in Brussels for their emergency summit?


Most in need of a 'green week'


EUphoric reaction of the week



Jean-Claude Juncker's reaction when a spokesperson for the German finance ministry announced that Berlin had rejected Greece's request for a six-month extension of its eurozone loan programme, mere minutes after a European commission spokesperson had called the request "positive". Awkward…

Germany said Tsipras' appeal was "not a substantial proposal for a solution".

Eurogroup finance ministers have convened in Brussels to come to a financial decision regarding Athens' debt. Maybe Jean-Claude can win them over with some love and affection?


Read the most recent articles written by PMHQ - The Parliament Magazine's week that was - pre-Easter edition

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