This Week in Europe: EC proposes new budget

, by Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: EC proposes new budget

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 !

Basque ETA militants disband

This week, the Basque separatist militant group ETA - Basque Country and Freedom - published a letter in which they vowed to “definitively end the cycle of the conflict.” The group killed more than 800 people during their activity, but has now dissolved all its structures and terminated every political initiative. While maintaining that the origin of the conflict still persists, the group also apologized to the victims of its terror attacks, something which was not received well by their victims, who saw the statement as an attempt to shy away from responsibility.

Germany to build Nord Stream 2

On Thursday, the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has been started in Lubmin, on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast. Gazprom, the Russian petrol giant, is behind the project, and the construction of the pipeline has proved to be divisive among EU states, as it is to run from Russia through maritime zones in Finland, Sweden and Denmark. Critics - Poland, the European Commission, the U.S. and the Nordic States - have pointed out that the NS2 project bypasses the Ukraine, allowing Russia to cut gas supplies to the country without affecting its Western markets. It could lead to higher prices for gas in Eastern Europe and make the sanctions imposed on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine redundant.

M5S: New elections & euro referendum

The 5Star Movement part, the largest party in Italy after the last elections, has been pushing two different ideas this week. One was voiced by the comedian and party founder Beppe Grillo. He brought back one of the party’s old ideas - that the Euro is bad for Italy. Maybe. For that reason, Grillo wants to hold a referendum regarding Italy’s membership to the single currency. However, calling a referendum on the single currency would be forbidden by the Italian constitution, which doesn’t allow votes on international treaties.

On the other side, the young and ideologically softer leader of the party, Luigi de Maio, has called for new elections to be held in June in order to break the deadlock regarding the formation of a new government. His comments are seen as putting more pressure on the center-left Democratic Party (PD), which has been in talks to form a new coalition with M5S. Matteo Renzi — the former PM who continues to exert a strong influence over the PD despite stepping down as its leader in March — has ruled out an alliance with the populists and the party is internally divided over the best course of action.

Free rail tickets for European teens

On Thursday, the EU youth commissioner, Tibor Navracsics and MEP Manfred Weber revealed plans to offer 15,000 18-year old Europeans free Interrail tickets. The move is part of the DiscoverEU program, funded by a total of €12m, and has been initiated by the European parliament. The free tickets allows teens to travel up to 30 days to four destinations. Each of the recipients will have to file an application and wait for the jury to select him or her.

EU funds to be linked to rule of law

On Wednesday, the European Commission unveiled an EU budget of €1.135bn for the period of 2021-2027. The budget also proposed that the new multi-year budget of the Union would include cutting EU funds for countries that do not respect the rule of law. Naturally, Brussels would not need the approval of governments that are to be targeted by the measure. The Commission’s approach seeks to get around a veto by Hungary or Poland, countries which have been at odds with Brussels exactly for this reason. While the long-term budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), requires unanimous support of EU countries, the funding oversight mechanism only needs a qualified majority to be adopted into law. On thursday, officials in Budapest and Warsaw condemned connecting funding to rule of law, deeming it “blackmail.” Bulgaria, holding the EU Presidency, also rejected the proposal.

EU to strengthen border guard corps

On Wednesday, the European commission also included the idea of a 10,000-strong border guard unit in its budget overhaul for 2021-2027. Meant to deal with situations such as those in Greece, where thousands of migrants have been crossing into Greece, some at the cost of their lives. Frontex, the EU border agency based in Warsaw, has dispatched its agents in order to control the flow of migrants into the small Greek islands, and has reported that crossings from Turkey to Greece dropped by 80% in 2018. However, Frontex only has around 1,500 guards on loan from EU states. Under the new plans, it is set to increase to 10,000 by 2027.

Commission pledges €20 billion to defence

Last December, in the light of the Crimea annexation, EU member-states signed a defence cooperation agreement. This week, the European Commission launched plans to give defence €19.5 billion out of the €1.279 trillion budget for 2021-2027. The sum includes €6.5 billion for “military mobility”, giving military units the capacity to travel across the continent easily. The rest of the €13 billion will go to the European Defence Fund. The Fund will research new equipment, such as robotics and drones, and will help EU countries to cooperate and produce tanks and helicopters. Brussels has been at pains to insist first that greater defence cooperation will not lead to an “EU army” and second that the project will complement NATO, rather than competing with it.

Orbán: No EU cent should go to migrants

On Friday, Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán said that Hungary would block the new EU budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework, if it is not satisfied with its contents. “As long as the Hungarians don’t say that it can go, then there is no budget” said the PM, who has been at odds with Brussels on key topics such as migration and rule of law. Orbán also said that no money should be given to migrants and that others should pay for migration-related costs out of their national budgets. Moreover, according to Orbán, countries that “let in migrants” should not receive regional development and research funds. “The largest faction in the European Parliament is not that of the EPP, but that of George Soros,” he said, referring - for some reason - to the Hungarian-American financier.

France sees May Day riots

On the 1st of May, hundreds of masked anarchists hijacked a rally that was organized in Paris by labour unions. The unions were protesting president Macron’s economic measures, but the anarchists smashed shop windows, torched cars and clashed with police using Molotov cocktails. More than 200 demonstrators were arrested, while 4 people - including a police officer - were injured. President Macron, on his visit to Australia, condemned the violence and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Police said that the black-clad protesters belonged to far-left anarchists groups known as Black Blocs, while a French government spokesman called them “enemies of democracy.”

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