This Week in Europe: Comedians, Prosecutors and more

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

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

This Week in Europe: Comedians, Prosecutors 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 !

EPP members turn against Orban

Parties belonging to the EPP have grouped together to formally call for fellow EPP member Fidesz to be expelled. EPP rules required seven parties to sign up to the measure for action to be triggered, a threshold that was reached on Friday. The parties that have turned on Orban are: the Moderates (Sweden), the Christian Democrats (Sweden), Kokoomus (Finland), the Christian Democrats (Belgium), the Humanist Democratic Centre (Belgium), the CDS-People’s Party (Portugal) and Christian Social People’s Party (Luxembourg).

The Christian Democrats (Netherlands) also said they supported a discussion on the matter, even if they stopped short of calling for the expulsion of Fidesz. Tensions within the EPP have been rising for some time over the increasingly authoritarian, anti-EU and xenophobic turn of Fidesz but matters came to a head when Orban’s party ran a campaign explicitly attacking Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President and a member of the EPP, with invented claims about EU plans to promote migration. The attack on one of their own was one step too far for at least some of the liberal EPP parties. The letters will lead to calls for the question of expelling Fidesz to be debated at the EPP’s next political assembly on 20 March.

Gilets Jaunes numbers drop

This weekend saw the 16th consecutive week of Gilets Jaunes protests in France, with numbers sharply down on last week. According to France’s Interior Ministry, around 5600 people marched over the weekend, roughly half the number who turned out for the 15th week. As the protests have continued public opinion has steadily shifted away from the protesters and towards President Macron. It is currently unclear how the Gilets Jaunes intend to actually achieve their objectives after so many weeks of protests, likely contributing to a fall in numbers. There are plans for a Gilets Jaunes list to run in the European Elections though polling suggests it will only win a few seats, if any.

Luxembourg PM makes stand for LGBT rights

Xavier Bettel, the openly-gay Prime Minister of Luxembourg, shocked some attendants at the EU-Arab League summit when he said that his same-sex marriage would make a criminal in some of the countries that are members of the Arab League. LGBT rights are weak in many Arab states and LGBT people often have to suffer persecution as a result of their sexuality. Though representatives of these states will have undoubtedly been unhappy to be lectured on their human rights record, Bettel said that he had no choice and that he could not have stayed silent. Bettel received notable support from European users on Twitter, praising his courage and directness.

Italy endorses Turkey’s candidacy to EU, then votes against it

On Thursday, an official government document from Italy which endorsed Turkey’s status as a candidate for EU membership was rejected by members of the Italian government. The report set out Italy’s approach to 2019 and revealed that the country still considered Turkey a candidate country, a position that was at odds with the view of half of the governing coalition, namely the far-right League. Back in 2013, Matteo Salvini, the League’s leader and now interior minister and deputy PM, had said that “Turkey is not, and will never be, Europe” - a position that was confirmed by League officials even after the document was leaked. The one considered responsible for the report, outgoing EU Affairs Minister Paola Savona, refused to comment on the controversy.

Comedian becomes frontrunner in Ukrainian elections

In Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy is part of a TV series called “Servant of the People”, in which he plays an honest president who outwits cooks and businessmen. The TV show is loved by the Ukrainian people, who now have their chance to turn fantasy into reality in the presidential elections of March 31st. The comedian is currently ranked as the frontrunner, ahead of incumbent president Petro Poroshenko and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

In total, there are 44 candidates for president. Criticized for his lack of experience in politics, Zelenskyi pointed to his face and said “this. This is a new face. I have never been in politics. I have not deceived people They identify with me because I am open, I get hurt, I get angry, I get upset.[...] If I’m inexperienced in something, I’m inexperienced, I honestly admit it.” He has been likened to Donald Trump - two outsiders that entered the realm of politics.

Labour backs second referendum on Brexit

This week, the British Labour Party confirmed it will back a second referendum on Brexit in order to avoid Theresa May’s deal and a no-deal exit from the EU. The shift, led by party leader Jeremy Corbyn, is a major one for the Labour MPs - but it is all to prevent “a damaging Tory Brexit” being forced on the country.

While members of the Labour party had previously been in favor of a second referendum, the leadership had thus far remained silent on the issue, fearing they would turn away the party’s traditional working-class, northern voters who backed Brexit. Corbyn’s reluctance to back a second referendum also served as the reason for recent defections from the Labour Party by several MPs. Now, Labour leaders confirmed that they would rather campaign to Remain rather than follow the “Tory Brexit.”

EP back Romania’s Kovesi bid for first EU public prosecutor

This week, two committees from the EP, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the Budgetary Control Committee, picked Laura Codruta Kovesi as their top candidate for the position of chief prosecutor of the EPPO, which is charged with prosecuting crimes linked to the EU budget such as fraud, corruption, and money-laundering. In an earlier vote, however, EU governments in the Council of the EU had backed French candidate Jean-Francois Bohnert for the same position, after the Romanian government campaigned against the Romanian candidate.

Back home, Kovesi is a hero to the people, after having prosecuted high-profile politicians until the Social-Democrat government took its revenge last year and fired her. Fighting back against the information disseminated by the Romanian government regarding her, Kovesi said that prosecutors need a strong moral compass and argued that she had experience in working under pressure. Responding to the campaign of the Romanian officials against Kovesi, Guy Verhofstadt and Sophie in ‘t Veld from ALDE expressed dismayal.

Polish opposition forms coalition for European elections

Last Sunday, 5 Polish opposition parties - the Civic Platform (PO), the Polish Peasants Party (PSL), the liberal Nowoczesna party, the Social Democrats (SLD) and the Greens - formed a coalition against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) and its conservative policies, accusing the government that it plans to take the country out of the EU. At odds with the EU since taking power, the PiS government finally bowed to a ruling by the EU’s top court and suspended a law lowering the retirement age of its Supreme Court Judges, a move seen as meant to take control of the court.

Recent polls suggest that PiS and the coalition remain equal at around 40% each, with another 10% going to the progressive and anti-establishment Spring party. Also last week, the Polish government, in an attempt to win favor with voters, said that it would increase public spending by almost 10 billion euros annually.

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