This Week in Europe: Assassins, Swine Fever and Anti-Semitism

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Assassins, Swine Fever and Anti-Semitism
Image Credits to Samuel Mork Bednarz

Members of the TNF team recount big events from Europe from the past week, and point attention to news that may have passed notice. What did we miss? Comment on our Facebook page at !

Bulgarian police raids EU presidency hotel

On Friday, Bulgarian police in Plovdiv found the cash equivalent of €5 million from hotels owned by Vetko Arabadjiev, the head of a touristic empire known as the Victoria Group, all part of tax-evasion scheme. The first building searched by prosecutors, who uncovered boxes and suitcases filled with cash, was the Marinela, the main hotel during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Investigators sent for counting machines from the Central Bank because a manual count “would take days.”

Italian PM applies for new job

In Italy, still-novel PM Giuseppe Conte’s name has been in the run for a prestigious university position, in spite of legislation saying that high officials cannot be considered for such posts. POLITICO revealed this week that the PM, who applied for the job before occupying his position as head of the government, has to sit an exam in legal English on Monday and to compete against other candidates, although, according to current laws, he should not have been even considered for the job. A few days before the revelation, the education undersecretary, Lorenzo Fioramonti, promised to counter corruption in high-level appointments in education, especially through rigged exams. Moreover, the professorship in question was previously held by Conte’s mentor, Guido Alpa. The affair attracted the attention of the media and raised comments from the academic environment.

Britain charges Skripal assassins

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom charged two Russians in absentia with the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. According to reports, the two suspects, who spent a weekend in Britain in March, were military intelligence officers and were acting on orders from within the Russian state. The Skripal case caused the biggest series of diplomatic expulsions since the Cold War. PM Theresa May named the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, as the true author of the attempt, which was definitely “not a rogue operation.” Skripal, himself a former GRU officer, had betrayed dozens of Russian agents to the MI6, and was found unconscious together with his daughter on March 4th.

France bans phones in classrooms

This week, a piece of legislation which prohibits the use of mobile phones in classrooms has been passed, in an attempt to combat distractions from learning that occur in the classroom, as well as counter online bullying. The law applies to primary and middle schoolers, while schools themselves will decide whether or not to apply the same treatment to high schoolers. Data shows that more than 90% of French 12 to 17-year-olds own mobile phones.

British pound takes a dive

In a continued trend over the recent period, the British pound has fallen against the euro. One of the reasons can definitely be identified in the stalled Brexit talks and the uncertainty that this situation causes. Last week, the markets showed signs of hope after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was reportedly close to reaching a trade agreement between the EU and its soon-to-be former member. During the weekend, however, conflicts between PM Theresa May and her critics, such as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, brought the pound back down. The perspective of a no-deal Brexit looms larger on the British economy, with the pound sinking against the dollar as well.

Europe fears African swine fever

Eastern Europe is gripped by African swine fever, the disease which causes internal bleeding in pigs and which can travel over long distances, particularly carried by wild boars, and cause immense damages for commercial farms and pig breeders. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania present the worst cases, with outbreaks in Moldova, Ukraine and Russia. In fear of the potential spreading of the diseases, Germany, the EU’s largest pork producer, has been considering building border walls to keep boars out. In the meantime, Romania is seeing 800 recorded cases of outbreaks, resulting in the sacrificing of 140,000 pigs so far. On Friday, Bulgaria announced its first African swine fever outbreak in a farm on the border with Romania. As farmers fear not being compensated for their animals, many are reluctant to hand them over. Health experts and veterinarians say African swine fever is most easily spread by humans throwing away contaminated food, which can then be eaten and spread by wild boars, and in Eastern Europe, this has been coupled with poor handling of diseased pigs.

Manfred Weber runs for Commission president

On Wednesday, after much speculation regarding Angela Merkel’s wishes, Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP, officially threw his hat in for the position of Commission president in next year’s European election. He is thus to become the official candidate of the European People’s Party, the so-called Spitzenkandidat. According to EU heads of government, however, the Spitzenkandidat system gives no legal certainty that Weber will be president even if the EPP wins the elections. “We are being attacked from outside and from within,” Weber tweeted, “there can be no more ‘business as usual’.” He continued, “Europe is not institutions of bureaucrats and elites. I will help bring Europe back to the people.” With no experience of high public office, the German engineer by training and vice-chairman of the CSU party said he is up to the challenges of the job.

Labour adopts definition of anti-Semitism

On Tuesday, the British Labour Party adopted an internationally-recognized definition of anti-Semitism, after months of accusations and fiery debate. U.K.-based newspapers recounted how all summer, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, countered the push toward accepting the definition of anti-Semitism given by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Corbyn insisted that the definition muted all criticism toward the state of Israel, but finally gave in due to immense pressures. While supporters of the definition stated that Corbyn is defending examples a current of anti-semitism within the Labour party, the opponents argue that the definition curtails free speech, particularly when concerning the rights of Palestinians.

League hopes to dodge massive fraud bill

The far-right governing party, Lega, in Italy has been threatened with the seizure of €49 million following a court order. A fraud conspiracy conducted by the party was uncovered covering electoral reimbursements from 2008 to 2010. Judges found that these funds were misused and were instead diverted towards the personal gain of party officials. The party faces bankruptcy and to avoid the costs League’s leader Salvini is reportedly considering changing the party name and legally ending League as an organisation.

Five migrants drown off the coast of Spain

Six rafts trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Spain sunk near the Spanish coast on Thursday. Spain continues to carry out rescue efforts in the area and 193 people were rescued, though five drowned. The refusal of Italy’s populist government to provide assistance to those trying to make the perilous journey has seen more people try to reach Spain instead, though numbers remain well below their peak a few years ago.

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