This Week in Europe: Nobel, Cows and Immigration

, by Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Nobel, Cows and Immigration

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 !

Migrant ship stirs conflicts between EU states

Last Sunday, Italy’s new far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, decided to close off the ports to a ship carrying more than 600 migrants rescued from the sea. Instead, Salvini invited the island of Malta to take in the ship and the migrants, but the Maltese government refused, citing the obligation of Italy to do so under international law. This week, the mayors of Naples, Palermo, Taranto and other southern cities stated that they would welcome the vessel “without funds, to save human lives.” In the heated exchange of statements that followed, the migrants were left without a port.

Earlier this week, Italy sent statements regarding the ship to France and Spain, arguing that one of the two countries should take responsibility for the lives of the migrants. On Monday, Spanish authorities announced that the ship will be allowed to dock in Valencia, at the instructions of new PM Pedro Sanchez. Both the EU and the United Nations argued for a quick solution to the conflict stirred by the ship among Italy, France and Spain. The Basque government in northern Spain had also shown willingness to take in the migrants.

Bulgaria spares border-crossing cow

The saga of Penka the cow started with her illegal crossing from Bulgaria into Serbia earlier last month. Leaving her village of Mazarachevo, the cow was left without the proper paperwork, and was identified and returned after a few weeks. According to EU regulations, however, animals must have documents certifying their health before crossing the border. Bulgaria was thus forced to put Penka down. The cow soon became famous, with online petitions gathering 30,000 signatures, including Paul McCartney and British MEPs. After the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency reviewed Penka’s case, her life was however spared.

Norwegians nominate Trump for Nobel

After his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, U.S. president Donald Trump has been nominated as a candidate for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a member of Norway’s right-wing Progress Party, was one of those who put forth the nomination. He sees Trump’s agreement with the Korean leader regarding denuclearization as “a huge step in the direction of disarmament, peace and reconciliation.” Other voices that tied Trump to the Nobel could be heard in the U.S. Congress. Even British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson uttered a similar opinion - provided Trump was able to “fix” North Korea.

Tsipras survives no-confidence vote

This Saturday, leftwing Greek PM Alexis Tsipras managed to fend off a no-confidence vote in the Greek parliament after he secured the support of Independent Greeks, the main coalition ally. The final vote placed 154 MPs out of the total 300 in support of the Tsipras government. The motion had been forwarded by the opposition party New Democracy in light of a deal struck between Tsipras and the Macedonian PM ending the feud over the name of Greece’s northern neighbor. The agreement renames the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia, thus facilitating the country’s bid for EU and NATO membership. On the Macedonian side, president Gjorge Ivanov said on Wednesday that he will not be signing the deal as it gives too many concessions to Greece. The agreement is due to be signed by foreign ministers from the two countries this weekend, followed by a vote in the Macedonian parliament. If approved, Ivanov’s signature would be required.

EU calls on Iran to release human rights activist

On Thursday, EU politicians called on Iran to release Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights lawyer and winner of EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She was arrested and taken to prison in Tehran after being convicted in absentia to 5 years in jail for a reason unknown even to her husband. EP president Antonio Tajani led to call for her release, along with Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala and Pier Antonio Panzeri, chair of the subcommittee on human rights. Sotoudeh was given the Sakharov Prize for human rights in 2012 after she defendend dissenters arrested in the protests following the 2009 presidential elections. More recently, Sotoudeh defended women protesting the country’s obligatory Islamic headscarf.

EPP: EU army and drone border guards by 2030

According to a draft policy document obtained by POLITICO, the European People’s Party will propose the creation of a self-standing EU army by 2030. Moreover, the group will include drones in the surveillance capabilities of the EU border guard agency and will block EU membership for Turkey. Currently the largest group in the European parliament, the center-right EPP’s tougher stance on immigration and security is seen as meant to keep its voters from swinging to anti-migration parties to its right. However, not all EPP members agree with the aims set forth by the document, with some arguing that it is just a draft meant to “stir up an internal debate.”

EP: Stop using Kaspersky Antivirus

On Wednesday, lawmakers in the European Parliament voted a resolution defining the European approach to cyber defence. Although not legally binding, the resolution represents a firm move against foreign technology companies, most of all the Russian antivirus developer Kaspersky Lab. Essentially, the MEPs want EU institutions and bodies to ban software that includes malicious components, “such as Kaspersky Lab.” Some member-states had already enforced a similar policy regarding the company. The U.K. cybersecurity agency, for example, warned country officials about using Kaspersky products, arguing that the company might be used by the Russian government. Lithuania and the Netherlands have done the same. Kaspersky Lab has denied allegations that the Russian government can manipulate its software.

CDU vs. CSU prompts tougher German stance on migration

This week, Germany was the arena in which two long-standing allies clashed on the topic of immigration. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU faced down its Bavarian ally, the CSU, in a fight that threatened both the stability of the grand coalition with the Social Democrats and the relationship between the two actors, whose alliance is so strong that they are almost considered as one party outside of Germany.

The spark was Merkel’s refusal to endorse a plan by Bavarian interior minister Horst Seehofer to turn away refugees that had applied for asylum in other EU countries. After narrowly securing the support of her own CDU in the aftermath of a fierce debate, the debate with CSU is set to end with more concessions given to Bavaria, the point of entry of most immigrants. In the past, Merkel conceded an upper limit of 200,000 migrants in order to secure CSU’s backing of the grand coalition. Although immigration numbers are down this year, CSU is looking toward a tougher stance regarding migrants, as the party which has governed Bavaria since the war is being threatened at home by ardent anti-immigration parties.

In a connected story, this week Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz met with German interior minister Horst Seehofer. A staunch defender of strong borders and an opponent of Angela Merkel’s migration policy, Seehofer was co-opted by Kurz into his “axis of the willing” - an alliance between the interior ministers of Italy, Austria and Germany to combat illegal migration. After recently closing “politicized” and “militant” mosques, Austria’s young chancellor is set to fulfill the promises of his campaign, strengthening borders and keeping immigrants in check.

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