This Week in Europe: Spitzenkandidaten, little ethnic shops and more

, by Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Spitzenkandidaten, little ethnic shops and more
Image by Samuel Mork Bednarz.

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 !

Juncker: Orban has no place in EPP

According to interview published on Friday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stated that Hungarian PM and FIDESZ party leader Viktor Orban “no longer has a place” in the European People’s Party, currently the largest group in the European Parliament, “[...] unless he will guarantees to us that he respects the fundamental values and electoral program of the EPP.” Last month, the EP initiated the Article 7 proceedings against Hungary over concerns about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom and rights of minorities.

Portugal on top at RegioStars awards

RegioStars 2018, a project that seeks to promote innovation, cohesion and culture across the European Union, took place this week in Brussel.s It is in effect a celebration of socio-economic cohesion meant to show how European money leads to regional growth and development. On Tuesday, during the European Week of Regions and Cities, the winners of this years’ edition were announced. One of the winners was the Portuguese town of Fundao, who won the “smart industrial transition” category with its projects aimed at helping start-ups. Portugal’s Vista Alegre Heritage Museum in Ilhavo, which promotes historical roots of porcelain production in the region, also won the public choice award. Spain’s Murcia region, on the other hand, won the award for labor and social inclusion of refugees. Other winners came from Finland, the Czech Republic and Wales.

Macron and Rutte form alliance

This week, a plan was drawn up between French President Emmanuel Macron, Dutch PM Mark Rutte and other liberal forces in Europe, such as Spain’s Ciudadanos, in order to join forces for next years’ European elections. According to POLITICO, En Marche would merge with ALDE, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, in a new progressive coalition that would challenge the dominant conservatives as the second-largest group in the European Parliament. In this way, the Liberals would obtain power in negotiations toward a new Commission. The Rutte-Macron pact, made between young, pro-European leaders is also seen as a challenge to long-time leader of ALDE in the EP, Guy Verhofstadt. The 65-year old leader of ALDE has been a major stop to Macron’s entry into the Liberal family and has seen several blunders in the past years, such as a failed alliance with the Italian populist 5Star Movement in order to win the Presidency of the EP.

#MeToo blog at the European Parliament

On Tuesday, staff at the EP launched a blog meant to host stories of sexual harassment within the institution in order to break the silence and secrecy in Brussels. No MEPs were involved in the process of creating the blog, which will start by publishing 5 anonymous testimonies of sexual misconduct that occurred at the institution. The group responsible for the initiative, which includes parliamentary assistants, wants to change the sexual harassment policy of the EP, as its owns investigations have proved lacking ever since several MEPs spoke at a plenary session about their own experiences. Jeanne Ponte, one of the blog’s initiators, stated that the initiative is not a witch hunt, but a tool to arrive at better rules.

Bulgarian journalist raped and murdered

On Saturday, 30-year-old Victoria Marinova, reporter and producer at Bulgarian broadcaster TVN, was investigating alleged corruption involving EU funds when she was raped and murdered in the city of Ruse. While Bulgarian police stated that no evidence was found connecting Marinova’s work with her murder, members of the European Parliament have called for a more extensive investigation. This is the third murder of a journalist in the EU within a year, after maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and Slovak reporter Jan Kuciak.

Later this week, however, a Bulgarian man of Turkish origin named Severin Krasimirov was arrested in Germany in relation to Marinova’s murder. According to German police, Krasimirov was “extremely drunk” at the time of the murder and that there is evidence connecting him to the murder. After the case’s resolution, the EPP praised the Bulgarian authorities for handling the journalist’s murder. The praises came to ease tensions between Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov and EPP group leader Manfred Weber, especially since Weber needs Borisov’s support in order to win the position of frontrunner for the Commission presidency from the part of the EPP.

Romania’s anti-gay referendum fails

Last Sunday, a referendum seeking to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman failed to meet the necessary voter turnout for it to be valid. Only 20.41% of Romanians - about 3.8 million people - went to vote in the two days of the referendum, coming short of the 30% mark required (after it was lowered by the government from 50% earlier). Among those who voted, 91% were in favor of the modification. The result is seen as a defeat for the much-contested Social Democratic Party (PSD), and a win for the NGOs and the one opposition party that supported boycotting the referendum - Union Save Romania, or USR. Romania’s Civil Code already bans marriage between same-sex couples, but the referendum in question, supported by the Orthodox Church, sought to modify the Constitution toward the same purpose. According to outside observers, PSD and its leader, Liviu Dragnea, tried to use hyper-nationalistic discourse to get people to vote, while ads saying that homosexuals want to take people’s children away spawned across the cities of Romania.

Frans Timmermans launches Commission Presidency bid

Frans Timmermans, the current First Vice-President of the European Commission, has announced this week that his desire to run for the position of Commission President in the upcoming European Elections. The Dutch politician wants to stand as the Spitzenkandidat for the Party of European Socialists after having won the backing of the German Social Democrats and other centre-left parties across Europe. Some still have reservations about the strength of his candidacy, however, as his own party in the Netherlands is not in power and lost ground in the last elections. The Slovak Maroš Šefčovič is also in the running. Socialist parties will have until October to put forward other candidates and the final decision will be made in December.

Pro-Russian party comes first in Latvian elections

Harmony, a party with connections to Russia, came first in Latvia’s recent general election. The party won 19.9% of the vote, allowing it to beat out the other parties into first place, even if this score was down from the 23.1% it won in the 2014 election. Harmony has a strong base of support from Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, estimated to make up around a quarter of the country’s total population. This is not the first time that Harmony has done well in Latvia but it has traditionally been kept out of power by the refusal of other parties to cooperate. Any government will require a multi-party coalition that could prove tough to negotiate as, looking beyond Harmony, other important parties included populist KPV LV (14.1%), the New Conservative Party (13.6%) and the pro-European For Development party (12%)..

Salvini launches racist attack on “little ethnic shops”

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the far-right Lega, Matteo Salvini has announced that he wants to impose earlier closing times on late-night grocery stores run by foreigners. Salvini ranted that such shops had become meeting places for drug deals and that they should close by 9pm in order to reduce crime. Andrea Murricci of the centre-left Democratic Party attacked the curfew proposal as being characteristic of a “regime”. Salvini has already pushed for money to be taken away from migrant integration programmes and reused to hire thousands more police officers.

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