This Week in Europe: Brexit deal rejected, Berlusconi runs in EP elections and more

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

This Week in Europe: Brexit deal rejected, Berlusconi runs in EP elections and more

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 !

UK MPs overwhelmingly vote down Brexit deal

After being delayed at the end of 2018, UK MPs finally got their chance to vote on Prime Minister May’s Brexit deal this week. The result was a massive defeat of 432-202 - the worst defeat of any government in the UK’s history. Both pro- and anti-EU MPs united to oppose the deal, highlighting the difficulty of the government in trying to find a workable alternative. Though a majority for a softer Brexit likely exists, taking that path would divide May’s own party, perhaps fatally. For now the government seems mostly unwilling to consider alternatives, raising the likelihood of a No Deal Brexit.

Economic warning for Italy

Italy’s central bank has cut its projected growth for 2019 to just 0.6%, down from 1%. The central bank explained that worse than expected economic data for the second half of 2018 led to their decision. Firms cutting investment and the global slowdown in growth were also given as reasons. This is more bad news for the populist government that promised to turn Italy around after years of economic hardship, particularly amid suggestions that Italy may be in a technical recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth).

French government launches ‘Great Debate’

France is now starting its ‘Great Debate’, an initiative bringing together all parts of France where citizens will have the opportunity to air their grievances and suggest how they want things to change. In principle the government is saying that it is open to all suggestions though it has clarified that it will not go back on policies it has already implemented - to the general frustration of many who wanted to restore the wealth tax. Others implemented by previous governments, like gay marriage, will also be off the table. President Macron’s letter to French citizens has presented a number of questions (and suggested no answers) that will likely inform the debates. Though it holds potential as a tool of democratic engagement and a renewal of Macron’s presidency, critics are concerned that the end results will fail to be translated into government policy.

Sweden forms new government

After the elections four months ago produced a largely inconclusive result, Sweden has struggled to put together a new coalition government. In particular the desire not to collaborate with far-right Sweden Democrats has complicated the traditional parliamentary arithmetic. In the end, Stefan Löfven, the leader of the Social Democrats, will get a second term as Sweden’s Prime Minister. By convincing the Centre and Liberal parties to move away from their usual centre-right bloc, he was able to form a broad centre to left coalition. Though the approval vote for the new government did not win a majority (as the new partners abstained), Swedish law only requires that MPs do not vote in a majority against.

Commission Vice President looks to Slovak presidency

The current Commission vice president for the energy union, Maroš Šefčovič, has announced that he will run as a candidate in Slovakia’s presidential election. The election will take place in March and Šefčovič will be on unpaid leave until then. Though he is not officially the candidate for Smer (Slovakia’s governing party), he is running with their support.

Tsipras survives no-confidence vote over Macedonia deal

On Wednesday, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras and his government won a vote of confidence in parliament. The vote had been called over his handling of the Macedonian name change dispute, after Tsipras’ junior coalition partners, the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL), quit the coalition in disagreement with the name deal. With 151 votes in the favor, the left-wing Syriza government narrowly survived, having 145 seats of its own in the parliament. Back in June, Greece and Macedonia had reached a deal stipulating that the latter will be renamed the Republic of North Macedonia, so as to distinguish itself from Greece’s northern region of Macedonia.

EP to link European funds to rule of law

On Thursday, the European Parliament decided to back the Commission’s proposal to cut funds to EU members that do not uphold the rule of law. The vote, 397 in favor and 158 against, highlighted geographic divisions on the matter within the Union, as the Commission’s plan had been seen as an added pressure on Poland, Hungary and perhaps even Romania. The EPP and the S&D both formally backed the proposal, saying that the regulation would treat all states equally. MEPs from Hungary, Poland and Romania, irrespective of party, generally voted against the measure. In the EPP, 139 MEPs voted in favor, with 24 against, 15 abstaining and 40 not voting. For the social democrats, 18 members voted against, 10 of them Romanian, the rest Slovaks or Bulgarian. In ALDE, only two members voted against - a Romanian and an Estonian. Naturally, Euroskeptic MEPs voted against.

Berlusconi to run in European elections

This week, Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian PM, announced that he is running for a seat in the European Parliament, “where there is a lack of deep thinking about the world.” Berlusconi touted his age, experience and ability to convince and make decisions as key factors favoring his bid for the job of an MEP. EP president Antonio Tajani, a member of Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia, welcomed the announcement, who also used the opportunity to criticize the far-left 5Star government.

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