This Week’s Hotspots
The European Parliament has granted visa-free travel to Georgian citizens. The agreement will come into effect in March. However, it is subject to a 9-month suspension if the country’s citizens start applying for asylum in the EU.
European Parliament leaders asked the EU to reject the appointment of Ted Malloch, the potential US ambassador to the EU. The choice for Malloch reflects Trump’s Euroscepticism. European officials are outraged over the following statement Malloch made in an interview: “I had in a previous career a diplomatic post where I helped bring down the Soviet Union. So maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming.”
A terror attack occurred in Paris on Friday at the Carroussel du Louvre, a touristic underground shopping mall in Paris close to the Louvre. French soldiers shot down an individual who attacked one of them with a knife. In reaction, President Francois Hollande reassured his country’s determination to combat terrorism amidst continuous assaults.
Under a £30m British aid package, refugees coming to Europe will be urged to settle in Asia and Latin America instead. Theresa May announced the plan of the British government at the EU summit in Malta. Britain said it will also pay towards improving infrastructures in non-European countries willing to take in refugees, as well as provide aid to asylum seekers facing dire conditions in Eastern Europe and Greece.
Also at the EU Malta summit, Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ got a lot of attention as the EU came together in common opposition of Trump’s action. The EU also announced it plans to release its Brexit plan in three weeks after which it will hold a meeting with heads of government to discuss next steps.
Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni announced a deal reached with Libya to counter migrant trafficking in the Mediterranean. Italy will give assistance to Libya to improve the country’s ability to reduce illegal migration. EU President Donald Tusk said that the deal is “the only way to gain control over migration in Europe. The goal is within our reach. Europe should and will stand by Italy in sharing responsibility.”
The Greek Supreme Court ruled out handing over eight Turkish military officers allegedly involved in the failed coup of July 2016. In reaction, Turkey, as it has done many times before in relation to other topics, threatened to abandon its “readmission agreement” with the EU, which has alleviated the migrant crisis as Turkey took in migrants illegally landing in Greece.
In Romania, citizens took to the streets to protest a decree that decriminalised corruption if the amount involved less than $47,500 (44,238 euros). On Sunday, in a victory for the Romanian public the government announced its withdrawal of the executive order. Yet, the protestors continue to demand that the prime minister step down, as he stated he was still planning to get the measure through without the use of an executive order.
The French Prime Minister and the president of the European Commission have stated that a Brexit deal should not be superior to EU membership. In a dual press conference, Jean-Claude Juncker explained, “We have to consider that the treatment offered to the UK shouldn’t be as favourable as the treatment that is offered to member states.”
Monday, February 7, 2017, marked the 25-year anniversary since the signature of the Maastricht Treaty which marked the creation of the EU. Nevertheless, critical challenges face the Union today, such as low economic growth and record high unemployment in countries that suffered most from the financial crisis.
Macron for President?
The French pollster Opinionway released a poll predicting a victory for presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron in the second round of elections against Marine Le Pen. After the loss of the Socialist candidate Manuel Valls and after the scandal around center-right candidate François Fillon, the independent candidate Macron seems to have an advantage over his rivalries. However, it is still early in the race, and the polls may be misleading. Macron faces significant challenges, such as allegations that he used public funds to finance his campaign. Furthermore, WikiLeaks and Russian media outlets have reported a financial connection with Hilary Clinton and US banks. Former French presidents have however faced personal scandals, and it is not yet clear whether the allegations against Macron will affect his campaign.
A Resilient Romania
Romanian demonstrators are a proof of the country’s determination to fulfil their struggle towards democratic consolidation. This is interesting at a time when the system of checks and balances is being challenged in some of the country’s neighbours. Ever since Romania joined the EU, its civil society has strengthened. The wave of protests against corruption serves as proof of the society’s willingness to enforce good governance. The protests have been viewed as a counterexample to what is being proclaimed about the state of the EU today.