From the Notre-Dame Fire to Italy’s ‘Bone-Breaking’ Scam: EU’s Top Stories from April 15, 2019, Ranked
16 EU news and developments from April 15, 2019 that matter the most.
Following are the top news stories from April 15, 2019, concerning the European Union and its member states, with ranking and commentary by European Views journalist Ivan Dikov.
#1. Notre-Dame Cathedral Fire
The Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the most emblematic landmarks of Paris, France, and Europe, was badly damaged in a fire that started Monday night.
The fire even led to the collapse of the 93-meter-tall spire of the 850-year-old Notre-Dame Cathedral.
At bunch of other EU developments from April 15, 2019, have more far-reaching consequences but the Notre-Dame fire is ranked as No. 1 because of the shocking images from the emblematic French historical monument. Hopefully, the Notre-Dame bodes nothing apocalyptic.
#2. EU Member States Seal Approval of Contentious Copyright Reform
The EU member states have sealed the approval of the new EU Copyright Directive, a very controversial law met with fierce protests, which updates the Union’s 20-year-old copyright legislation. The approval went through on the sidelines of a meeting of EU agricultural ministers in Luxembourg, with 19 member states in favor, six against, and three abstaining.
The new EU copyright law, which critics say will hurt Internet freedom, requires social media companies to monitor user content for copyright violations and obliges them to pay fees to musicians, performers and authors, while exempting non-profits and companies with annual turnover of under EUR 10 million.
It is safe to assume that the actual ramifications of the new EU copyright legislation are far from clear, whether it’ll be the critics’ fears materializing or something else completely unforeseen.
#3. EU Moves to Open Trade Talks with US
EU ministers have voted to open trade talks with the United States, after months of disputes. France was against at an EU Council meeting but its vote was overwhelmed in qualified majority voting, and Belgium abstained. French leader Macron had insisted that the USA returns to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Stage seems set for a new round of Trans-Atlantic haggling with Trump.
#4. TTIP Now “Obsolete” at France’s Insistence
The EU – US free trade agreement, the infamous TTIP which never materialized, has been mentioned as “obsolete” at France’s insistence during the EU talks for reopening trade negotiations with the US (see #2 above). Also, at France’s insistence, agricultural products will be left out of the talks.
The rebirth of anything as comprehensive and secretive as the TTIP in the renewed EU – US appears rather unlikely.
#5. Lame-Duck EU Parliament’s Potential ‘Extraordinary’ Session on Brexit
There’ve been so many unfortunate things about Brexit already (and it hasn’t even happened yet!) that the coinciding of the end of the 2-year pre-Brexit period with the 2019 EU Elections doesn’t even top the list.
Yet, in just one more of the oddities the Brexit process has begotten, the outgoing European Parliament, whose last parliamentary session is this week, might have to come back together for an extraordinary sitting in case the UK happens to approve the existing Brexit deal before July 2, which is when the new European Parliament is set to convene, a possibility confirmed by parliament spokesman Jaume Duch.
Of course, that will be a minor price to pay for an at least somewhat orderly Brexit but it’s important to remember that the day-to-day fun little Brexit events won’t be over any time soon.
#6. Finland’s Left and Far Right Splitting Election Victory Evenly, Tough Talks Ahead
Hard coalition talks are in effect underway in Finland after Sunday’s general election there was barely won by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) over the far-right Finns Party.
The SPD got 17.7% of the votes vs. 17.5% for the far-right formation, while the outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Center Party collapsed to third place with 13.8%. The SPD will have 40 seats in the 200-member parliament, while the Finns Party will have 39.
The election results in Finland are seen as underscoring the growing appeal of the far right and populists in general ahead of the May 2019 European Parliament elections. Finland’s party politics seem more fragmented than ever in the last decades – for the first time in over a century no party won more than 20% of the votes.
#7. Poland – Denmark Pipeline, Counterweight to Russia – Germany’s Nord Stream 2, Gets Massive EU Funding
The European Commission, the EU executive, has approved a large-scale grant of EUR 215 million (USD 243 million) to support the building of a natural gas pipeline between Denmark and Poland.
The new pipeline will link the North Sea and the Baltic Sea allowing Poland to be supplied with natural gas from Norway. The new pipeline is widely seen as a counterweight to the Russian-sponsored Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany via the Baltic.
The European Commission has made big concessions to Germany regarding the building of Nord Stream II so the generous grant could be a way of both placating Poland and Denmark – both of which have had very serious misgivings about Nord Stream 2, and of just ensuring there is a counterbalancing project.
#8. UK’s Largest Money Manager’s Warning of Climate Change Catastrophe
The UK remains EU soil for the time being, and even if / when it’s no longer so, it will still be prominently around. So a warning by the British Legal & General Investment Management, the largest money manager in the country with GBP 1 trillion of pension fund investments, is worth pointing out.
Despite all alarming developments, big business warning about the disastrous effects of climate change is still a bewilderingly rare occurrence. So, according to Legal & General Investment Management, public companies from around the world must urgently address the climate catastrophe, or risk seeing their shareholders refusing to back them anymore.
Hardly enough to turn the tide on climate change denial & action, but commendable!
#9. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Last Session as Member of the European Parliament
For those of you who were unaware of this perplexing fact, the highly controversial French far-right leader, long-time EU hater Jean-Marie Le Pen, now aged 90, has been a member of the European Parliament for 35 years now, and this week’s session will be his last.
(Why denialists of the EU are even entitled to becoming members of its legislature has always been perplexing to me, and so has been the reason why they themselves want to be MEPs if they hate the EU so much. It’s the great pay and all the perks, right? That’s real principled! Hate the EU? Just go campaign for leaving it in your own country, don’t mess up the legislation of the entire Union that wants to stay together! But that’s a whole other topic…)
In any case, far-right dinosaur Jean-Marie Le Pen has been noticeable enough to deserve a mention, plus he actually seems more honest than his successor / dethroner daughter, Marine Le Pen, who seems to stand for the same nasty “things” as her father, but in a “nicer” package…
#10. Yugoslav Dictator Milosevic’s Wife Dies in Exile in Russia
Mirjana (Mira) Markovic, the wife of late Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic (1941-2006), has passed away in Russia, where she has had political asylum since 2003, at the age of 77.
Her husband, Slobodan Milosevic, a major figure in international trouble in the 1990s who made sure the world had wars to worry about despite the then recent collapse of the Soviet Union, himself died at the Hague Tribunal while standing trial for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, for the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Markovic’s passing comes shortly after the 20th year since the start of the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) over the war in Kosovo.
Markovic fled Serbia, the main successor state of the former Yugoslavia, after she was sentenced to a year in prison. A month ago, an appeal court in Serbia voided her one-year jail sentence and ordered a retrial. A former aide of Slobodan Milosevic, Aleksandar Vucic, has been in power in EU candidate Serbia as President since 2017.
It is safe to assume that Milosevic’s heritage will be around for a long time in what is now referred to as the Western Balkans, and while the former Yugoslav dictator might not have generated the long-standing issues there whose origin goes back to at least the 19th century, he certainly took care to turn them into a way bigger mess.
#11. Baltic States Advised to Resist Potential Russian Invasion though ‘Unconventional Cells’
A report by the Rand Corporation commission by the Pentagon has urged the three Baltic states, EU and NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, to create “unconventional resistance cells” to counteract a potential Russian invasion – to complement their “conventional” forces, that is.
The security of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – the three former Russian Empire / Soviet Union countries – which can more or less be seen as Eastern European success stories since they escaped Soviet communism’s grasp – remains a head-scratcher for the leaders of the West.
While various plans such as resistance cells, may or may not contribute to resolving the issue, it’s worth being mindful of the fact that the ramification of a potential “Russian invasion” of the widely exposed Baltic states would go well beyond the need to rescue some NATO / EU territory, all the way back into the M.A.D. Cold War days. The West – Russia relations just should never be allowed to reach that point.
#12. Julian Assange’s Ecuador Ordeal on UK / EU Soil
Now that Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno has allowed the UK authorities to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, after his predecessor had been granting the whistleblower refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy for years, Assange’s name is bound to keep making headlines far more than before.
Moreno has now accused Assange of “spying” from inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Meanwhile, two members of the German parliament, and a Spanish member of the European Parliament have urged their respective countries to grant the WikiLeaks founder political asylum.
Whether Assange now gets extradited to Sweden or the United States, or is tried in the UK, and regardless of any misconduct he stands accused of, the role of WikiLeaks in exposing top-level government corruption is undeniable, and therefore invaluable. Take its revelations about my native Bulgaria, for example. I once wrote an article thanking Ecuador for granting asylum to the WikiLeaks founder, and I’ve actually had some of my emails leaked on the platform.
#13. Italy’s Police Arrest Bone-Breaking Scammers
Italian police have arrested 34 people in Palermo, Sicily, suspected of involvement in a medical insurance scam involving large-scale “bone-breaking”. Eleven other arrests were already made in August 2018.
The scam involved breaking people’s limbs and staging road accidents to claim insurance compensations, and was exposed after one person died as a result of a beating.
The “bone-breaking” scam is clearly disgusting but it is surprising how large-scale it seems to be.
#14. This Date’s ‘German Mix’
As a Dartmouth college student shrewdly remarked in a 20th Century European History class back in 2006, “too much Germany”. That remains true of Europe and the EU, there is just no way around it for self-explanatory reasons, so the German mix sub-rubric within this rubric will account for developments in Germany that might not seem that prominent but still have matter substantially within the EU.
In Hanover, the German police arrested a 29-year-old man with an arsenal of 51 firearms in his residence alongside Nazi paraphernalia, another case seemingly involving Nazi admiration.
Germany’s statistical office meanwhile revealed the number of non-EU nationals working in Germany grew by 20% last year, for the third year a row. The trend appears stable even though the total number of non-EU citizens in Germany is estimated at nearly 270,000, a small portion from the total of 10.9 million foreigners in the country. Most of the non-EU newcomers in Germany are males from India, China, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the United States.
In another development, the German Constitutional Court on Monday ruled that more than 80,000 intellectually and mentally disabled German adults are entitled to vote if they have a court-ordered guardian. They will be able to cast their votes for the first time in the 2019 EU elections.
(Banner image: Video grab from France24)