What’s up Europe?
Your daily feed about European affairs.
The governments of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have agreed on a compromise to resolve their decades-long dispute over the latter’s official name. Upon its independence, FYROM had attempted to gain international recognition under the name “Republic of Macedonia”. Successive Greek governments were concerned that this name implied a claim to the whole of the geographical region of Macedonia, a significant part of which lies in Greece. Also, the Greek side suspected that the newly founded FYROM was attempting to lay claim to the cultural heritage of Alexander the Great, the ruler of the ancient Hellenistic kingdom of Macedon. The latest round of negotiations under UN supervision, which lasted for 6 months, finally led to a compromise: both parties agreed that FYROM should adopt the name “Republic of Northern Macedonia” both domestically and externally. Furthermore, the parties agreed that FYROM would amend certain controversial sections out of its constitution and state that its language and nation are both Slavic and unrelated to ancient Macedon. In exchange, Greek President Alexis Tsipras promised to lift his country’s veto on EU and NATO accession of its northern neighbour.
Read more on Ekathimerini and The Guardian.
Macedonia? A diplomatic breakthrough on the Balkans
Did you know? As a citizen of our European Union, one of your fundamental rights is the ability to petition the European Parliament individually or jointly with fellow citizens. How? You simply need to launch an “e-petition” and collect signatures from EU citizens on the website of the European Parliament. So how does it work? Granted as a right through Article 226 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), petitions enable you to present an individual complaint, observation or request related to the application of EU law, or to appeal to our European Parliament to adopt a position on a specific matter. Thus, through an e-petition, you are able to provide civic input into the deliberative political process of our directly elected European representative assembly. Furthermore, if you are part of an association, company or organisation, you may also exercise this right of petition collectively as a legal entity.
To sign or launch a European Parliament e-petition, click here!
Petition your representatives in our European Parliament!
Starting from the beginning of this month the state of Bavaria introduced the requirement for every public building to have a cross in the foyers. The law, introduced in the most catholic state in Germany spurred a heated debate in the country between those who support public religious identification and their opponents who push for a more secular concept of a state. The decision is a result of an executive decree by Markus Söder, Bavaria’s conservative minister president from the Christian Social Union (CSU), who argues that the cross is not only a religious but also a cultural symbol. Some accuse him of political maneuvering and attempts to politicise religion in an attempt to draw voters from the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD). One of the harshest critics is Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who warned Söder that “if the cross is viewed only as a cultural symbol, then it has not been understood.”
Bavarian religious upheaval
At the beginning of last week, Italy looked bound to experience a constitutional crisis, with the 5 Star Movement calling for the impeachment of President Sergio Mattarella after he had refused to appoint the Movement’s preferred candidate for finance minister (Paolo Savona). This development had unsettled the markets, and the prospect of new elections in fall made the price of Italian government bonds plummet. The immediate response from the markets as well as the political uncertainty may have contributed to the sudden compromise between the coalition (Five Star Movement, League) and President Mattarella. Having agreed on a new and less Eurosceptic candidate for finance minister, the two sides shifted Paolo Savona, the nomination of whom had sparked the crisis to a newly created ministry for European affairs. This compromise paved the way for the new government’s swearing in on Friday. Within a week, the uncompromising enmity had mellowed and Italy’s bonds swiftly rebounded. The question now is: will the governing coalition continue to provoke constitutional crises, or will it become more considerate of the concerns of its European partners?
A coalition in uncharted territory
Ireland has been at the centre of political hot-button issues this year, with Brexit border issues on one hand and an abortion referendum on the other. Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country, has one of Europe’s strictest legal regimes on abortion (alongside Poland). Now, voters will decide whether they want to repeal the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution, which has been acknowledging an unborn foetus equal right to life as a pregnant woman, which in practice meant imposing a ban on abortion. If the voters decide to repeal the current law, the government has pledged to permit unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Under the Italian Constitution, the coalescing parties when forming a government require the President’s approval of each candidate for ministerial posts and of the candidate for Prime Minister. Sergio Mattarella, the current President of the Italian Republic had made it clear that he would use his constitutional powers to reject the appointment of candidates that could endanger Italy’s membership in the EU or the Eurozone, because such a move would threaten the constitutional protection of private savings (Art.47). President Mattarella accepted Giuseppe Conte, an independent jurist with no prior experience in party politics, as the candidate for PM the Lega and the 5 Star Movement had agreed on, despite initial concerns that Conte, lacking a personal power base, could turn out to be a pawn of the two parties. After the two parties nominated Paolo Savona for finance minister, President Mattarella refused to give his approval, and Conte, the PM in waiting resigned. Savona is an academic and former minister of industry who is well known for considering the Euro a German scheme to dominate the continent. This development plunged Italy into chaos, with the 5 Star Movement threatening to start the process for impeachment of the President, and the President himself preparing an interim technocratic government. Since any such government would need the support of either Lega or 5 Star Movement to get a majority in the legislature, most actors expect a call for new elections to be held in early fall.
Italy: An early end for the government of change ?
Following rising Russian and Turkish influence in the Balkans, the EU is turning its eyes onto its south-eastern neighbours. Having featured this topic on Talos before, it has now become relevant again as the EU leaders met in Sofia to demonstrate their commitment to the accession of the Western Balkan countries. However, despite the fact that the final declaration showed “”unequivocal support for a European perspective of the Western Balkans”, a clear path to membership remains elusive. Furthermore, the summit was boycotted by Spain, which does not recognise Kosovo (together with 4 other Member States). This shows that the EU is far from unity on this topic.
Many companies and private Internet users may see the impact of the General Data Protection Regulation introduced by the European Commission this year. Following years of scandals involving data protection, the EU managed to make companies fully responsible for potential violations of privacy rights. Companies now need the explicit and informed consent of users to gather and process private data. On the other hand, this may cement the status of the current digital giants as new companies may find it difficult to get the required consent from a sufficient number of users.
GDPR and its consequences
The elections of March 2018 wreaked havoc on the Italian party system. The Italian voters punished the traditional centre-right (Forza Italia) and centre-left (Partito Democratico) parties and a majority voted for the populist party Lega and the populist 5 Star Movement. While the Lega had allied itself with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia before the election, Berlusconi opened the path to a coalition of Lega and 5 Star Movement after weeks of political deadlock caused by his presence. The two parties soon negotiated a government programme , in which they pledged among other things to introduce a basic income of 780€ per person to the country’s poor, crack down on illegal immigration and review the EU’s budget and spending rules. The last pledge in particular lead to immediate rebukes from other European capitals.
What next in Italy: Renaissance or dark ages?
After American President Donald J. Trump announced last week that his country will pull out of the Iran deal (the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” or JPCOA), the world waited for the reactions of the other seven signatories. The Iranian government soon responded in by maintaining its commitment to the deal, but making that commitment conditional on receiving sufficient guarantees from the other parties, in particular, the Europeans. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to resume the unlimited enrichment of Uranium, should the US withdrawal result in a loss of the economic benefits Iran had hoped to acquire under the deal. The European Commission has announced to reactivate the 1996 Blocking Statute, that would penalize companies for complying with the US sanctions. The Commission also pledged to facilitate investment in Iran through the European Investment Bank. Whether these concessions are sufficient to persuade Iran remains to be seen.
The EU’s reaction to the USA’s withdrawal from the Iran deal
After the US Congress hearing of Mark Zuckerberg (the Chairman and CEO of Facebook), the European public has been expecting a similar meeting in the European Parliament (EP). After all, the number of Facebook users in the European Union exceeds the amount of US users. However, EP President Antonio Tanjani has suggested that parliamentary group leaders meet Zuckerberg behind closed doors. The motion was approved by the EPP, ECR, and EFDD groups of the EP. European Commissioner for Justice, Věra Jourová, Greens/EFA presidents Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts, and Guy Verhofstadt, president of the ALDE group have already raised their criticism by adorating an open hearing. In addition, Verhofstadt has announced his intention not to attend the meeting. EP President Tajani responded quite surprisingly to the criticism, by tweeting “It is not your job to control and criticize the @Europarl_EN (EP)”.
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to come before the European Parliament (but not as you might have thought he would)
Did you know? You have the right, as an EU citizen, to invite our European Commission to propose legislative acts in any policy-field where it has the power to legislate. How? You need to launch a “European Citizens’ Initiative”. Granted as a right in the 2007 Lisbon treaty, an ECI is a tool of participatory democracy, through which EU citizens can directly participate in the policy-making processes of our European Union. In order for a proposal to be considered, three conditions must be met. First, 1.000.000 statements of support must be collected from EU citizens who are of voting age (16 in Austria and Malta, 18 in all other Member States). Secondly, a certain signature threshold must be met in 7 EU Member states (in Cyprus it is 4,500, while in Germany 72,000). Thirdly, all of this must be done with one year of the date of registration.
Find out more about the European Citizen’s Initiative system here.
European Citizens’ Initiatives: your right and ability as an EU citizen to drive change
Nord Stream 2 is the name of a planned gas pipeline linking the Russian Baltic sea coast with Germany. The project is financed by European energy companies and Gazprom, latter being the sole shareholder of the project’s developer Nord Stream 2 AG. Nord Stream 2 is massively controversial because it appears to undermine the EU’s Energy Security Strategy, which is to diversify its gas supplies in the face of Russia’s dominant position in the European energy markets. Furthermore, the Ukrainian government is concerned that Nord Stream 2 would make the old Nord Stream pipeline running through Ukraine obsolete, thus allowing Russia a freer hand. While Denmark still has to decide whether it will allow construction in its exclusive economic zone, a common EU stance has proved elusive, with some member states like Poland strongly opposing the project and others like Germany having a more ambivalent stance.
Nord Stream 2: Energy as a Security Issue
Despite two meetings between D. Trump and EU’s leaders and ostensible friendship between the US President and his French counterpart, the US is officially withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). While the fate of the agreement is unsure and a lot will depend on the reaction of Iran’s government, High Representative of the EU F. Mogherini has already announced that the deal can survive without the United States. The diplomats of France, Germany, UK, Russia, China and Iran are about to meet next week to discuss further actions. This will test the strength of the international community but may also be a chance for the EU to demonstrate the ability to act more independently. The deal has been signed by 7 countries, which worked on it for 12 years.
Read more on Politico.
Iran deal - EU’s perspective
Many EU officials, including Budget and HR Commissioner Goettinger, have been critical of net-beneficiaries of the EU budget who are accused of continuously breaking foundational values of the European Union (Article 2). According to European Commissioner of Justice, Věra Jourová, the Commission’s new proposal would freeze EU money to countries who curb the rule of law or/and misuse allocated funds. Interestingly, while the adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework (budget) requires unanimity in the Council, the former proposal requires only a simple majority, making its approval fairly easy. Moreover, after the adoption of the proposal, countries accused of violation can lose prospective financial assets by a simple majority in the Council.
EU budget – The European Commission seeks a new tool to enforce member state compliance to fundamental principles
Dear Talos Community,
Welcome to our “What’s up Europe” section! It has been almost 20 weeks since we launched our website and in the past few weeks, we have listened very closely to your suggestions for improvement and your ideas for Talos. Instead of focussing on a specific topic each weak, we have decided to present you the news in a blog-style feed. Our aim is not to update you on everything that is happening in Europe, but rather to connect these events and put them in an understandable context with background information and opinions. You will still have the possibility to continue reading on a diverse range of news sources across Europe if you want to know more on a specific topic. On the bottom of the page, you will further have the possibility to discuss what’s going on in Europe in our Speaker’s Corner. And who knows, maybe “What’s up Europe” will be a part of your daily morning-news-dose in the near future. Thank you for your support as we are continuously improving our website!
PS: We are currently working on additional possibilities for you to become engaged in Europe – we want to give you a place where you can bring forward your causes and push them to reach the decision-makers in Europe. Stay tuned!