From Ukraine’s ‘Servant of the People’ to Merkel’s EU Future: EU’s Top Stories on April 20-21, 2019, Ranked

From Ukraine’s ‘Servant of the People’ to Merkel’s EU Future: EU’s Top Stories on April 20-21, 2019, Ranked

The 10 EU news and developments from April 20 – 21, 2019, ranked in order of importance.

Following are the top news stories from April 20 – 21, 2019, (Saturday & Sunday) concerning the European Union and its member states, with ranking and commentary by European Views journalist Ivan Dikov.


1. Comedian Zelensky’s Landslide Victory against Poroshenko in Ukraine’s Presidential Elections

Volodymyr Zelensky, an actor with no political experience, has become the new President of Ukraine, the second most populous former Soviet republic, which is ridden with corruption, and has been in an open conflict with its powerful neighbor Russia since 2014. A couple of years ago, Zelensky starred as the lead of his own TV series called “Servant of the People” in which a history teacher surprisingly becomes President, so his victory over incumbent Petro Poroshenko feels like a déjà vu.

Zelensky seems to have waged a parody of a campaign, hardly addressing concrete solutions to Ukraine’s many issues. And he stands accused of being a “puppet” for one of the country’s major oligarchs, Igor (Ihor) Kolomoisky. So his election means one thing for certain: despite steps towards the West, the administration of Petro Poroshenko has failed miserably at cracking down on high-level corruption and tackling poverty. Ukrainians are also understandably disappointed with the insufficient help from the West since the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution. The road to becoming a full-fledged Western country is extremely painful (ask the “new” EU member states in Eastern Europe), and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has already been through a lot, so these sentiments are understandable.

It remains unclear if the actor-turned-President of Ukraine plans to return the second most important ex-Soviet republic in Moscow’s orbit. What’s indisputable is that Ukraine is hyper-important for the European Union, and not least because in 2013-2014 it became the first place in the world where people fought and died with the EU flag in their hands.

News story here

2. Multiple Terrorist Attacks in Sri Lanka Killing Hundreds, Including EU Citizens

A total of eight explosions at hotels and Christian churches killed some 300 people in Sri Lanka on Sunday, including dozens of citizens of the European Union.

The murdered EU nationals include eight Brits, three Danes, one Portuguese man, an unspecified number of Dutch citizens, among the others: citizens of Sri Lanka, India, China, USA, and Turkey.

Not that the world needed another reminder that terrorism against some is terrorism against all. The butterfly effect of terrorist attacks anywhere across the globe can hardly be overestimated.

News story here

3. Very Close Race for the President of North Macedonia

One of the most brittle former Yugoslav republics, North Macedonia, which recently formally changed its name under an agreement with Greece because of its bids to join NATO and the EU, saw a tight race in the first round of its presidential elections on Sunday.

North Macedonia is also a highly important EU neighbor, unfortunately, largely because of its potential to see 1990s-style ethnic and religious conflict, and the need to evade such developments at all costs.

The presidency is disputed between Stevo Pendarovski from the leftist Social Democratic that championed changing the country’s name to seek EU accession, and Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, from the nationalist VMRO-DMPNE, that’s been obstinately opposed to the name deal with Greece. A win for the former would mean the name deal is secure for the time being, while a win for the latter would open it to attack.

News story here

4. Arrests for Murder of Journalist Lyra McKee in Northern Ireland

Two young men aged 18 and 19 were arrested by the UK police on Saturday for the murder of investigative journalist Lyra McKee committed during rioting on Friday in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

The British police official classified McKee’s murder as a “terrorist act”, and said a dissident group called the New IRA was most likely responsible for it. Against the backdrop of the doldrums of the Brexit process and the related uncertainties over the “Irish – Irish” border, McKee’s murder is a chilling flashback to the violence Northern Ireland experienced for decades prior to 1998. Hopes are it will remain an isolated incident.

News story here

5. Germany’s Military Chief Calls for New Medium-Range Missile Treaty in Europe

Germany’s top military officer, the inspector-general of the Bundeswehr, Eberhard Zorn, urged on Saturday the start of negotiations to establish a new treaty on medium-range missiles – as both major powers in the Cold War Era INF (1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), the United States and Russia (as successor of the former Soviet Union) have withdrawn from it. Zorn’s call might refer not just to Europe but to a wider missile treaty as he mentioned that not just the USA and Russia but also China should be involved in such talks.

The German military commander also said Russia remained a “big threat” to peace in Europe, enumerating Moscow’s bold moves since the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

While today’s Europeans hardly worry about medium-range missiles on a daily basis, they might have to, as, despite calls such as Zorn’s, the successful negotiating of a new regime regulating their use doesn’t seem to be in sight.

News story here

6. Likely Next European Commission Chief Manfred Weber Calls for Global Ban on Single-Use Plastic

German MEP Manfred Weber from the rightist European People’s Party, who is most likely to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as the next President of the European Commission, the EU executive, called on Sunday for a world-wide ban on single-use plastic products.

Weber recently met with Swedish climate change activist, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, and what he is proposing is certainly long overdue. Time for decisive action against climate change is running one, and not just because the Pacific Garbage Patch is growing huger by the second. So Weber’s call is beyond commendable, it remains to be seen how he can go about achieve a global single-use plastic ban if he makes it to the top job at the EC.

News story here

7. Leaked Document Stirs Turmoil in France over Arms Sold to Saudi Arabia and Yemeni Civil War

Political turmoil in France has intensified over the week after an independent site has leaked a report of the French military intelligence admitting that French weapons sold to Saudi Arabia end up being used by the Saudi forces in the ongoing civil war in Yemen, indicating a potential implication in war crimes.

Despite the dubious denials of France’s Defense Minister Florence Parly that French-made weapons could be in use in the Yemeni Civil War, it’s probably best for the French government to quickly reconsider the situation based on its own intelligence information given that Yemen is presently deemed by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The adamant backing for arms exports by the world’s third largest exporter has had other implications as well: France got in a spat with Germany which decided to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia after the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.

News story here

8. France’s Far Right Joins Forces with EU-Wide Bloc Engineered by Italy’s Salvini

The oxymoronic slogan of “Nationalists from all countries, unite!” got elevated to new heights on Saturday as the French far-right National Rally led by Marine Le Penn formally became part of an alliance of far-right formations put together by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini ahead of the 2019 EU elections.

The bloc called the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN) already includes Alternative for Germany (AfD), Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ), the Danish People’s Party, Finland’s Finns Party, the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), plus Salvini’s League Party.

The rise of the far right on the EU-wide level is clearly fueled by the chaotic and largely failed immigration policy paradigms throughout the Union. And while they might be the product of at least some legitimate concerns by the EU constituents, the populist nature and uncertain credentials of the far-right formations makes their further growth a scary prospect. The fact they seem to have transitioned from wanting to destroy the EU from wanting to take it over and rule it doesn’t provide much consolation.

News story here

9. Unyielding Extinction Rebellion Protests in London

By Saturday, the UK capital London had seen a week of adamant climate change protests in an effort that appears inspiring despite the disturbances its rallies might have caused. Given the passivity of establishment politicians over the most pressing issue on Earth, climate change, radical actions in top global capitals might soon remain the only way to attract attention to issue.

News story here

10. Juncker Slates Merkel for EU Job

Outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker “imagined” on Saturday that four-term German Chancellor Angela Merkel might take on a top job at the EU after her term ends in 2021.

Transitions between the leadership of EU nations and the EU institutions have seen both success stories and failures. Merkel’s potential transition to Brussels, however, seems hardly poised for the former.

While the Germans have clearly been fond of her despite some highly criticized policy decisions she made, Merkel seems far more divisive on the EU level so a potential attempt on her part to swap Berlin for Brussels might end up being nearly as unproductive as Greece’s recent move to seek World War II reparations from Germany.

News story here


Bonus stories: Those are again from important countries in the EU’s neighborhood which are indicative enough of the potential for greater turmoil: Morocco might be joining the Arab Spring 2.0 (which is already playing out in Algeria and Sudan, not to mention the lingering Arab Spring 1.0 civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Yemen) with mass rallies demanding the release of jailed civil society activists. News story here

In Turkey, the leader of the main opposition party CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu was assaulted public during a soldier’s funeral in Ankara. The CHP recently beat Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s ruling AKP party in a number of mayoral elections, including in Ankara and Istanbul. News story here      

Ivan Dikov

(Banner image: TV grab from Zelensky’s Servant of the People show)

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