Contains selective news articles I select

Archive for the ‘Decline of the European Union’ Category

Next EU chief defends NATO after Macron criticism

November 08, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — The president-elect of the European Union’s executive Commission is defending NATO after French President Macron claimed that a lack of U.S. leadership is causing the military alliance’s “brain death.”

Ursula von der Leyen didn’t explicitly address Macron’s criticism in a speech Friday but said that, even though there has been “bumpiness” recently, “NATO has proven itself superbly as a protective shield of freedom.”

Macron said the European members of NATO “should reassess the reality” of what the alliance is in light of the U.S. commitment. Von der Leyen, who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker in one of the EU’s top jobs in the coming weeks, said that “NATO was and is always what its member states make of it — it is up to 29 countries to participate and change something.”

Deals made at secretive EU summit deliver top job nominees

July 03, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — In the end, the European Union’s top jobs jamboree had a familiar old-time ring to it. Instead of embracing a transparent future, leaders of the 28 EU nations repeated the past as they retreated behind closed doors to divvy up a half-dozen jobs for politicians who will be the public faces of the world’s biggest trade bloc.

The process was completed on Wednesday, when little-known Italian socialist David Sassoli was picked as president of the European Parliament. Two of the three biggest groups in the EU legislature did not field candidates as part of the political compromise sealed by leaders at their secretive three-day summit.

Sassoli’s election left a picture of presidents and prime ministers making backdoor deals, of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron throwing their weight around but also of smaller nations ganging up to exert influence. It left European legislators with little more than a cameo appearance.

“We cannot accept that the presidency of this house is being treated as a negotiating chip in old-school backroom Council negotiations,” Greens leader Ska Keller said before she lost her bid for the Parliaments presidency to Sassoli, a legislator few had heard off outside of Italy before Wednesday.

Macron himself acknowledged the deficiencies as the whole selection process ground to a halt Monday after 28 leaders negotiated through the night in small huddles to push their interests. “When we have too many hidden agendas, we can’t do it,” Macron said.

It was not supposed to be like that this. Not after the European Parliament elections in May showed a marked increase in voter turnout and a new interest in EU politics. Parties promised closer relations with citizens and a listening ear for their complaints and aspirations.

A key element of the campaign had been that the lead candidates of the political groups also would be core candidates to head the EU’s executive Commission, perhaps the most important job needing a new occupant by late fall.

Yet none of the lead candidates had gotten the big job they craved as of Wednesday, snubbed by animosities between leaders and geopolitics. German Manfred Weber, the lead candidate of the European People’s Party, stood empty handed Wednesday even though his Christian Democrat party is the biggest in the EU Parliament. Weber clutched nothing more than a promise that he might become Parliament president in 2½ years.

Dutch politician Frans Timmermans, the lead candidate of the Socialists & Democrats, is set to remain a first vice president in the European Commission instead of advancing to the helm. The candidates for the four top posts are from Germany, France, Belgium and Italy, four of the EU’s six original member states. The fifth is held by Spain.

The outcome nevertheless was a victory for the Visigrad 4 countries of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, some of whom Timmermans had accused of veering off the democratic path. For months, the V4 targeted Weber and Timmermans as being too critical of their national governments. The countries developed enough critical mass among the EU leaders to make clear that picking either man would not be worth the hassles it would cause.

“An important victory has been achieved, but new debates keep coming up in international politics,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said. “At least now, we have the strength to stand up for ourselves,” Orban added.

Missing out on having an eastern European politician get one of the top posts seemed a small price to pay. Instead, the Visigrad 4 rallied behind the European Commission candidacy of German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a late hour stand in for Timmermans.

Now it is up to the European Parliament to confirm von der Leyen in mid-July. On Wednesday, she was already at parliament to hobnob and muster support for her bid, shown around by no one less than the spurned Weber.

New president Sassoli insisted he would not automatically play by the rules that the Council of summit leaders had set out. “I want to make it clear that I am not the Council’s man, I am the parliament’s man,” Sassoli said.

Karel Janicek contributed from Prague and Mike Corder from The Hague.

EU leaders break deadlock, nominate candidates for top posts

July 02, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — After three days of arduous negotiations, European Union leaders broke a deadlock Tuesday and nominated German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to become the new president of the bloc’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission, one of two women named to top EU posts for the first time.

In a series of tweets, European Council President Donald Tusk said that Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel would take over from him in the fall. Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde was proposed as president of the European Central Bank, while Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell was nominated to become EU foreign policy chief, meaning he would be charged with supervising the Iran nuclear deal, among other duties.

Only Michel can take up his post without other formalities. The others, notably von der Leyen — who will take over from Jean-Claude Juncker for the next five years — must be endorsed by the European Parliament. The assembly sits in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday to elect its own new president, and early signs suggest that lawmakers could contest the nominations.

“It is important that we were able to decide with great unity today, and that is important because it’s about our future ability to work.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the nominations — decided away from the cameras and media in a long series of meetings — were made public.

Several lawmakers have already objected to the leaders’ package of nominations, and it remains to be seen whether the parliament will flex new found muscles following the massive turnout for EU-wide elections in May. Party leaders have said the vote has brought the assembly — the EU’s only elected institution — even more democratic legitimacy.

“This backroom stich-up after days of talks is grotesque,” said Greens group leader Ska Keller, describing the nomination process as “party power games.” “After such a high turnout in the European elections and a real mandate for change, this is not what European citizens deserve,” said Keller, who is in the running to become parliament president on Wednesday.

Juncker, who steps down on Oct. 31 as head of the commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws, conceded that “it won’t be easy in parliament.” Tusk said “it was worth waiting for such an outcome” and that he would do his best to explain to what could well be a tetchy parliament on Thursday how the nominations were made and what thought processes went into the move.

“It’s always a huge question mark. This is why we have parliaments,” Tusk said, with a wry smile. Von der Leyen would be the first woman in the commission job, and Merkel said this is “a good sign.” So would Lagarde — currently chair of the International Monetary Fund — and she would serve for up to eight years if her nomination is endorsed.

“That’s a very important statement that Europe leads on gender equality,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said. “It might have taken three days, but it’s a good outcome overall,” he told reporters. The nominations came after one of the longest summits in recent years, outstripping even all-night negotiations during the Greek debt crisis.

Already plagued by crises like Brexit and deep divisions among nations over how best to manage migration, the leaders had been keen to show that they could take quick decisions and that the European project remains important to its citizens.

But they struggled to establish a delicate balance between population size and geography — an even mix of countries from the north and south, east and west, and ensure that at least two women were nominated. Tusk he said he hoped that someone from a central or eastern European member state would be voted in as president of the European Parliament.

Despite deep tensions, some tantrums by leaders behind the scenes and even public criticism of his handling of the summit, Tusk said: “Five years ago we needed three months to decide, and still some leaders were against. This year it was three days and nobody was against.”

The Belgian prime minister said that he understands the challenges that lie ahead. “The next five years will be very important for the future of the European project and I am convinced that it will be very important to protect and to promote our unity, our diversity and especially also our solidarity,” Michel told reporters, after one of the most acrimonious summits in recent memory.

AP writers Mike Corder in Brussels, and Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin, contributed to this report.

Macron says 3 candidates for top EU job have been ruled out

June 21, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron declared Friday that three top candidates to become head of the European Union’s powerful executive arm, the European Commission, have been ruled out of the race by the bloc’s leaders, but other leaders weren’t so sure.

Speaking after a summit with his EU counterparts in Brussels, Macron told reporters that “the point was made that it is impossible for these three candidates to be retained.” Center-right lead candidate Manfred Weber from Germany, center-left pick Dutchman Frans Timmermans and liberal choice Margrethe Vestager of Demark were considered most likely to be named to run the commission, the job currently led by Jean-Claude Juncker.

The three were backed by the European Parliament, but Macron opposes the system that made them favorites and wants someone else at the commission, which proposes EU laws and enforces them, for the next five years. Macron said talks have been launched “so that other names emerge.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, however, said the three should still be up for consideration. “I think it would be strange to assume that among 500 million Europeans who can become commission president, there would be three who cannot get that job. That is crazy,” Rutte said.

EU leaders failed overnight to narrow down candidates for the EU’s top jobs and will hold a new summit in Brussels on June 30 to finalize the nominations.

The race is on: Candidates vie for top EU jobs

June 20, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — EU leaders on Thursday are seeking to fill up to five key jobs supervising the 28-nation bloc’s policies that will be vacated in coming months. They include the post of Council President, held by Donald Tusk; president of the powerful executive Commission, now led by Jean-Claude Juncker; president of the European Parliament; chairman of the European Central Bank and the EU foreign policy chief.

Here are some of the leading candidates for the jobs in alphabetical order. Candidates may be considered for more than one job.

Michel Barnier, France Barnier, a 68-year-old Frenchman, has used a lifetime of diplomatic acumen to keep 27 EU nations together as they faced off with Britain over the Brexit divorce negotiations. From the Savoie area, Barnier was responsible for organizing the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympic Games before plunging fulltime into politics. He was France’s European affairs, farm, fisheries and foreign ministers before becoming commission vice president. Yet because of the timing of the Brexit talks, he has not publicly campaigned for a new EU job.

Josep Borrell, Spain Borrell, the minister for foreign affairs, is being touted as a possible EU foreign policy chief or a commission vice president. The 72-year-old socialist was minister of finance and the economy and held other senior Spanish posts during the 1980s. Elected to the European Parliament in 2004, he was its president for five years.

Ska Keller, Germany Franziska Maria “Ska” Keller is president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament and a candidate for the parliament presidency. The 37-year-old was born in what was then communist East Germany and has been a member of European Parliament since 2009. She is known for her commitment to fighting corruption and she also backs fair trade policies, welcoming refugees and ensuring legal migration is possible.

Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania

The 63-year-old former EU budget commissioner has served two consecutive terms as Lithuania’s president — the first woman to do so. A political independent, Grybauskaite took office in 2009 when public anger over the economic downturn spilled into the streets with violent riots. Nicknamed Steel Magnolia for her tough stance on corruption and Russia, she has lobbied hard to free Lithuania from dependency on Gazprom energy supplies. Grybauskaite has been one of loudest advocates for NATO to prepare defense plans for the Baltic states.

Stefan Lofven, Sweden

Lofven has been Sweden’s prime minister since 2014, two years after becoming the Social Democratic leader. In January, the 61-year-old skilled negotiator presented a two-party, center-left minority government. Lofven was at the helm when Sweden took in a record number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in 2015 on top of the hundreds of thousands admitted before. He tightened immigration laws in a country that prides itself on welcoming migrants and refugees.

Angela Merkel, Germany Merkel, Germany’s chancellor since 2005, is said to be a candidate for Council president. Germany’s first female leader has said she does not plan to run again after her term ends in 2020. She was a central figure in European efforts to tame the Greek debt crisis, and won widespread praise — plus much criticism — for welcoming refugees in 2015. Merkel, who turns 65 next month, is a trained scientist but has been in politics with the Christian Democratic Union for decades.

Mark Rutte, Netherlands

Rutte is a three-term Dutch prime minister known for his bridge-building skills developed over years of forging coalitions in the Netherlands. A former human resources executive at Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever, Rutte is a member of the pro-business Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy who has steered the party to the right. He is pro-EU but wants the bloc reformed so it can focus on tackling major cross-border issues such as climate change and migration. Rutte has said previously he is not interested in a top EU job, but that has not dampened speculation.

Frans Timmermans, Netherlands

Timmermans is a former Dutch foreign minister who speaks several languages and has been the first vicepresident of the commission since 2014. He has wide experience in Europe, having been a Dutch minister for European affairs. The Labor Party politician earned respect at home in the aftermath of the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine in July 2014 when he made a angry speech at the United Nations, saying the loss of nearly 200 Dutch citizens “left a hole in the heart of the Dutch nation.”

Margrethe Vestager, Denmark

Vestager, the EU’s competition chief since 2014, is being touted as a possible commission president. A former Danish deputy prime minister and economy minister, Vestager, 51, is best known for making headlines by repeatedly slapping heavy fines on big tech companies. She was elected to Denmark’s Parliament in 2001 and became in 2007 the political leader of Denmark’s Social Liberal Party for seven years.

Manfred Weber, Germany

The 46-year-old Bavarian is a member of the conservative Christian Social Union party in Germany, the partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. He’s the European People’s Party candidate for commission president. Weber has been endorsed by Merkel but has struggled in campaigning, weakened by EPP losses in last month’s EU elections. Weber has warned populists that they have no place in the European Parliament’s largest political group unless they share its vision of an “integrated and more ambitious Europe.”

Europe wakes up to climate concerns after green wave in vote

May 27, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — Green parties in Germany, France, Britain and elsewhere celebrated big gains in elections for the 751-seat European Parliament amid growing voter concerns over climate change, expressed in large-scale student protests over recent months.

Provisional results Monday showed the left-leaning Greens’ bloc coming fourth in the election with 69 seats, an increase of 17 compared with 2014. If confirmed, the results could put the Greens in a position to tip the scales when it comes to choosing the next head of the European Commission.

The rise of the Greens, with their distinctly pro-European Union stance, marks a counterpoint to that of the far-right, anti-migrant parties that have been growing in popularity across Europe in recent years.

“Whoever wants legitimacy from us and the legitimacy of the many who went onto the streets will need to deliver now,” said Sven Giegold, a leading candidate for the German Green party that scooped up more than 20% of the vote nationwide, an increase of almost 10% compared with 2014.

The drift from the traditional heavyweight parties to the Greens in Germany was particularly pronounced in large cities such as Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, and among young voters, where the party beat its bigger rivals among all voters under 60, according to the Infratest dimap research institute.

Armin Laschet, the governor of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Union bloc, called the outcome “a wake-up call for politics.”

In neighboring France, 25% of voters aged 18-25 voted for the Greens, compared with 15% for the far-right National Rally and 12% for President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move, according to the Ifop polling organization. Overall, the French green party EELV received almost 13.5% of the vote, coming third.

Yannick Jadot, lead candidate of EELV, welcomed the “great green wave” in Europe. “The French sent us a very clear message: they want environment to be at the heart of our lives, at the heart of the political game and that message has been spread across Europe,” he said.

“The very good score of the greens in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France sends a signal that the center of gravity of the European politics is shifting, that in addition to the populists and the pro-business (parties), there are the Greens,” Jadot said.

Green parties also polled strongly in Austria, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands. In Britain, the Greens — a largely insignificant force nationally — took 11 seats in the European Parliament vote.

“This was kind of a vote for all europhile and pro-integration positions the Greens have championed,” Martin Florack, a political scientist at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told German public broadcaster ARD.

The enmity was reflected in comments by Alexander Gauland, the co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, who declared the Greens “our main enemy” on Monday. “The Greens will destroy this country and our job must and will be to fight the Greens,” said Gauland, whose party has claimed climate change isn’t a man-made phenomenon but instead caused by factors such as solar activity, a theory most scientists dismiss.

A senior member of the anti-immigration and euroskeptic Danish People’s Party, Kenneth Kristensen Berth, said the issues of the climate and the environment were “a bit hysterical” during the election, but insisted that Denmark’s second-largest political group “is not a climate-denial party.”

Among those celebrating the Greens’ rise was Biggi Tran, a 26-year-old in Berlin. She attributed the result to young people’s fears about global warming. “The climate issue is super important at the moment,” Tran said.

Manuel Rivera, a Green party member in the Germany capital, said the European Parliament was the right place to tackle climate change. “I think people realize that there are issues you can’t solve at the national level,” he said.

Giegold, the German Greens’ lead candidate, said voters expect the party to deliver on its environmental pledges, not secure powerful posts in the executive European Commission. “Across Europe this was a vote to protect the climate,” he said. “People didn’t take to the streets to elect or kick out a party, but for these problems to be solved.”

Green lawmakers in the European Parliament plan to scrutinize the bloc’s 200 billion euro ($223.7 billion) agriculture budget, which environmentalists say places too much emphasis on large-scale farming and not enough on eco-friendly agriculture, he said.

The Greens also want every law passed at the EU-level to undergo a climate check. The party has strongly backed scientists’ calls for the bloc to end all greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. Achieving this goal would require a drastic shift in Europe’s economy, away from fossil fuels to clean energy and low-carbon lifestyles. Some measures proposed for cutting emissions have already faced strong headwind, including Macron’s plan for a fuel tax hike in France that triggered protests from workers even as environmentalists accused the president of not doing enough for the climate.

Sylvie Corbet in Paris, and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, contributed to this report.

EU elections: Gutted center, high turnout, rising right

May 27, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union prides itself on being a brilliant mosaic of nations, but its parliamentary elections produced a hodgepodge of sometimes contradictory results that complicates the future of both the 28-country EU and the domestic politics of several members.

While issues like climate change, immigration and global trade dominated the campaign, voters’ motivations were plainly parochial. And the domestic effect of the continent-wide elections was there for all to see, including at least one government coming apart at the seams.

VOTE EU, THINK LOCAL

No name is bigger than that of Germany’s Angela Merkel, and her recipe for conservative, stable government suffered a blow when both her Christian Democrats CDU/CSU and her Socialist coalition partner lost big in the elections. Climate has been a big theme in Germany, and despite windmills dotting the landscape, industry continues to rely heavily on coal and other polluting energy sources. A government plan to close coal mines by 2038 only put it among the climate laggards. Disregard the issue at your peril in these days of climate marches and student protests, the surging Greens showed. The Christian Democrats and Socialists sank to historic lows amid talk their coalition could be in peril.

In Greece, the shock was even bigger, and climate change was not to blame. In Athens, voters lashed out against the hangover from the austerity imposed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to avoid bankruptcy and a perilous exit from the euro currency four years ago. That was compounded by another national flashpoint: Tsipras lost appeal in northern Greece over his willingness to recognize the name of neighboring North Macedonia. His losses forced him to call for early elections.

Yet nowhere is a domestic issue bigger than in the United Kingdom, where an inability to deliver on Brexit, the 2016 referendum to leave the EU, caused the Conservatives of Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour to sink to historic lows.

YOU VOTE, THE EU LOVES YOU

Even if you voted for an anti-EU party, the EU still loves you because you took part in the election.

Every five years, the EU feared that fewer voters would show up. And every time, since the first direct elections in 1979, turnout was worse, dropping from 61.8% in 1979 to 42.6% five years ago. It went to their core business: How could the EU prove it was relevant if fewer people showed up to vote every time?

So even if the euroskeptic vote rose to unprecedented heights this year, there was still a certain giddiness around EU institutions as turnout figures kept on rising through the night. They finally reached 50.9%, the highest in two decades.

Socialist chief candidate Frans Timmermans gave “a big shout-out to the millions and millions of Europeans who took the trouble in the last couple of days to go out and vote,” even though his group suffered major losses.

By comparison, turnout in the U.S. midterms last November stood at 53%, a four-decade high.

THE CENTER GUTTED

Western Europe’s postwar system of free-market economies backed by strong social protections has largely been built by the Christian Democrat and Socialist families.

And together they have controlled the European Parliament, combining for a majority in the legislature since the first elections in 1979. Now, in line with increasing fragmentation and polarization on the continent, those days are over.

Together they are slated to have only 325 seats in the 751-seat legislature: 180 for the EPP Christian Democrats and 145 for the S&D Socialists, well short of the majority they have grown used to.

It will be a sea change that will complicate the already complicated decision-making in the EU. First up will be the appointment of top jobs.

Currently the EPP has the top three jobs, with Donald Tusk heading summit meetings, Jean-Claude Juncker the executive Commission and Antonio Tajani the Parliament.

There is no way they will be this lucky twice. The ALDE and Green groups already consider themselves kingmakers, ready to get in on the act. “The monopoly of power is broken,” said Margrethe Vestager, an ALDE candidate for a top job.

FAR RIGHT RISING

It was not the big breakthrough they were hoping for, but the roots of the far-right and populist groups are extending deeper into Europe’s democratic soil.

Italy’s Matteo Salvini is already seeking to bring the many disparate parties under his umbrella with the goal of breaking the EU from within.

“Not only is the League the first party in Italy, but also Marine Le Pen is the first party in France, Nigel Farage is the first party in the UK,” Salvini said, looking at the bright spots in the results. “It is the sign of a Europe that is changing.”

Don’t count on a smooth ride. The far-right and populist members of Parliament have proved abrasive and divided among themselves.

Tag Cloud