This Week in Europe: Protests, Bombs and More

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Protests, Bombs 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 http://facebook.com/thenewfederalist.eu !

Belgian PM resigns amid protests against U.N. migration pact in Brussels

Last Sunday, some 5,000 people participated in a rally organized by the Flemish right-wing parties against the migration pact signed by 150 countries at a United Nations conference in Morocco. As Belgium was one of the signatory states, the pact caused a rupture within its government, leading to the Flemish nationalist N-VA party leaving the coalition government. About 90 people were detained during the protests, while water cannons and tear gas were used against the protesters, which responded by throwing rocks and smashing windows of a European Commission building. A smaller counter-protest was also organized to show the opposition of the people to the xenophobic right-wing march.

Two days later, Belgium’s PM Charles Michel offered his resignation to King Philippe, who accepted it on Friday, appointing the former PM as head of a caretaker government until the next elections. Leading a minority government since the coalition partners N-VA left, Michel will still be PM until the 26th of May, when regional, federal and European elections will take place.

Serbia rocked by anti-government protests

Last Saturday, Serbia’s capital of Belgrade also saw protests against the government of president Aleksandar Vučić. Critics say that the government is in the middle of a crackdown on opposition parties and the media, after a leader of the opposition Alliance for Serbia (SZS) was beaten, allegedly by supporters of Vučić’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), ahead of a political gathering last month. Armed with whistles and horns, the symbol of the 1990s mass opposition parties against the late strongman Slobodan Milošević, protesters decried the policies of what they call an autocratic ruler.

Bomb goes off near Greek TV station

Early Monday morning, a powerful bomb exploded outside the Greek TV station Skai, near Athens. Although it caused extensive damages, no one was injured, as the bomb went off around 2:30 a.m. outside the headquarters of Skai. Another TV station promptly evacuated its buildings. There was no claim of responsibility, but Public Order MInister Olga Gerovasili cited the bomb as “a strike against democracy. This incident should give pause to those who leave a path open to terrorism and fascism.” Greece has a history of armed attacks in the recent decades, most carried out by radical leftists.

French Communists recruit Yellow Jackets

On Monday, the French Communist Party unveiled plans to feature union representatives, but also members of the leaderless, anti-fuel tax Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Jackets) movement on its list of candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections. “We cannot go into the European election without taking into account what has happened in the last few weeks,” said a representative of the party. Marie-Hélène Bourlard, who has protested against the relocation of her textile company, will be one of the protesters-turned-candidates. A member of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament, with its two MEPs, the French Communist Party is counting on a poll which shows that 13% of the French would vote for a hypothetical Yellow Jackets list.

Germany closes its last black coal mine

On the 21st of December, Germany closed its last black coal mine, marking the end of a 200-year-old industry that fueled the country’s economic growth and created the riches of the Ruhr basin. For the last time, the 1,500 workers of the Prosper-Haniel mine in Bottrop descended into the pit, wishing each other the traditional miner salute of “Good luck, buddy” before coming back up with a last chunk of black coal and handing it to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker. The closing ceremony featured a mining choir, services by local churches and the sealing of the 150-year-old galleys. Despite the government’s push against dirty fossil fuel, it was the cheaper imports from abroad that mortally wounded the German mine. Bundesliga football clubs in the area, such as Schalke and Borussia Dortmund, paid their respects to the mine and its service to the community of fans.

Thousands marched in Vienna against the government

Tens of thousands marched through Austria’s capital to protest against the government, a coalition of conservatives and the far-right. Though the weather was harsh, police estimated 17,000 people turned out while organisers put the figure at 50,000. Protesters were angry with the anti-immigrant measures the government has been pushing through and believe the conservatives have normalised their far-right coalition partners. A strong economy, popular Chancellor and the relative restraint from the far-right leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, has helped the government parties maintain a good position in the polls though splits could still emerge as the government continues.

EU looks to update antitrust rules

19 EU governments have so far expressed support for the idea of renewing the EU’s antitrust rules in the face of powerful new competition from China and the US. Proposals are expected to be made to the next European Commission after the European Elections in 2019. One notable change could be a more favourable approach towards cross-border mergers within the EU. France and Germany have defended these moves in order to allow the emergence of European ‘champions’ but the Commission has normally been wary of the effect this could have on competition within the Single Market. A recent example concerns the possible merge of Germany’s Siemens and France’s Alstom. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has expressed concerns but the French government is pushing for the merger to go ahead. The call for an EU industrial strategy was backed by France, Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

Hungarian ‘slave law’ protests continue

Hungary’s government continues to face a backlash over its decision to bring in new measures aimed at increasing the amount of time people spend working, attacked by opponents as a ‘slave law’. Hungary has a low unemployment rate and faces serious labour shortages in a variety of sectors. Total opposition to immigration has meant that the government has had to change rules on overtime to get people to work longer hours. Potential overtime for employees has been increased by 150 hours and payment for this overtime will be able to be delayed for up to three years. Hungary’s authoritarian government enjoys control over much of the media and so these kinds of sustained demonstrations are unusual.

Gender gap will take 200 years to close

A report from the World Economic Forum on the Gender Gap suggests that while there has been an improvement in 2018, progress continues to be slow. At the current rate, it is estimated that it would take a further 202 years to reach economic equality between men and women. At the highest levels of society in particular, women are still underrepresented. Only 17 countries have a woman has their head of state with women making up 18% of ministers and 24% of parliamentarians on average. The report noted that countries who wished to remain competitive would have to make gender equality a priority.

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