Geneva (Brussels Morning) Biden is exchanging being right with being useful, in a somewhat embarrassing transition from politics and diplomacy.
The US President went from calling Putin “a killer” a few weeks ago in Washington, to “a bright…tough” and “worthy adversary,” in Brussels, en route to their meeting in Geneva.
He sounded more like someone sizing up an opponent ahead of a World Wrestling Federation bout. But fortunately, there were no spangly shorts or waxed torsos on display; given Joe’s advancing age, a match versus a different Russian Vadimir, the waxed torso of Lenin, 97 years dead, might have been a fairer match for him.
I can’t have been the only one who thought the body language on display reminiscent of 1990s UK comedy sketch History Today, where two passive aggressive professors face off by gently insulting each other.
I am not sure whether there is scope for a “reset” in American-Russian relations, a la Clinton.
Russians would call Biden’s idea of normality a “relapse” to bad habits of interference in their affairs, while Biden is probably looking forward to the days in which NATO was about “America being in, Russia being out, and Germany being down,” which one might call reminiscing.
The Russians are also reminiscing, in their own nostalgic way.
Let me explain: the US President is offering Putin “predictability and stability,” but one might genuinely ask whether Putin needs Biden for that, since the KGB appears ready to offer both on demand, as the SolarWinds affairs indicates. The former Russian diplomat, Vladimir Frolov, told Reuters that Putin just wants a Soviet kind of respect, promising in exchange “to cut back on some of the loony stuff,” such as poisonings, interference with elections, etc. Respect, or else.
So, it is “re-something” we are all after. We are half way to a compromise, with no smackdown.
5 Star confusion
Rome (Brussels Morning) There are renewed rumours that the 5 Star Movement might be seeking to consolidate itself on the left of the political spectrum, after a period of adolescent posturing and confusion, by joining the Socialist and Democrats grouping within the European Parliament. The party are still leaderless, after apparently not managing to secure former PM Giuseppe Conte to front them.
Readers of a certain age and location should not confuse this political grouping with the British 80s brothers and sisters soul pop group, Five Star, despite certain similarities; singer Denise Pearson, having effectively fired her four siblings, has continued as Five Star on her own in recent years. It seems neither 5 Star can decide who the leader is.
By the Grace of God.
London (Brussels Morning) The UK will unilaterally extend a “grace period” to itself, suspending the introduction of tariffs for goods from Ireland granted by the EU, despite opposition by the Irish government.
In short, Boris Johnson will be giving himself some extra time to digest the cake he promised not to eat in the “feast” he would not be deterred from ordering.
The reason for this table-for-one move is that it would upset unionists if there was a border on the island, as specified by the Withdrawal Agreement that was signed by the British government. This particular cake was is something that was frequently pointed out to him at the time was indigestible, but he went ahead and ordered it anyway.
Seeing as the Democratic Unionist Party managed to serve his predecessor up with a parliamentary majority following the 2017 UK election debacle, Johnson might have remembered it’s best not to insult the kitchen staff in case you end up with something unpalatable mixed into in your order. Time will tell.
In related news, your correspondent will extend serving hours in his local bar, his last refuge when trying to understand British government policy. I am not ready for Last Orders just yet.
Not “hopeless,” just an idiot.
London (Brussels Morning) If one were to believe one’s eyes in this post-factual world, one might be forgiven for thinking that the aforementioned British Prime Minister considers his own Health Secretary to be hopeless.
The former senior adviser to Johnson, Dominic Cummings, published a series of WhatsApp messages in which the Prime Minister describes his health secretary, Matt Hancock, just so: “hopeless.” Boris also calls Hancock “hopeless” for failing to secure Personal Protective Equipment on time. So, he was “hopeless-hopeless,” but still on the job, which makes his boss what? Maybe he should send himself a rude WhatsApp message and publish it, cutting out Cummings as the middleman.
Mr Hancock is accused of allowing hospital patients to be discharged to care homes without COVID testing at the start of the pandemic, leading to massive casualties. He denies any responsibility for that. In a 7,000-word blog post, Mr Cummings is trying to set the record “straight,” although the early period of governance for the Johnson cabinet is likely to have failed every test of metaphorical sobriety, including walking in a straight line.
The blog post includes screenshots of WhatsApp messages.
“Idiot” may be more accurate a term than “hopeless”. What many people do not realise is that the etymology of the word idiot stems from the word “idiotikos,” or “private”, in the sense of not having an interest in public affairs. So perhaps some people can be idiots, without necessarily being stupid, although it might make them terminally unsuited for a job in government, especially health-rated, particularly in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
Ego te absolvo.
Paris (Brussels Morning) IKEA, has been fined for accessing the data of its own customers and its own employees. France will have big problems with both Chinese and American capitalism, as it fails to comply with the principle “if you can get it, then it’s yours.”
IKEA was fined approximately 1 million Euro for “spying” on its customers and employees. Prosecutors say the French subsidiary hired a private security company to get personal data. Ikea France’s chief executive, Jean-Louis Baillot, was found guilty and given a two-year suspended prison sentence and will pay a €50,000 fine for storing personal data.
In France, the notion that your own data is your own is taken seriously, breaching a bond of trust with foreign investors.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) The Asylum Conundrum. Can you imagine granting political asylum to Egyptians. Can you imagine not doing so?
The European Parliament, the Senate, the Italian left, Amnesty International, and Scholars at Risk are calling on Italy to extend citizenship to a human rights activist, Patrick Zaki.
Zaki is a 29-year old Coptic Christian of Egyptian heritage who just turned 30. He has been imprisoned in Egypt for human rights activity in Italy, that is, campaigning on individual rights in his native Egypt.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Benedetto Della Vedova told Rainews24 recently that the government will shortly start to “verify the conditions for the granting of Italian citizenship” to Zaki.
One wonders whether citizenship will be extended to all deserving human rights activists in Italy. We should ask either Mr Salvini or Mr Renzi. They both started their careers on a TV show, resolving conundrums of sorts.
Lahti (Brussels Morning) Asylum seekers have mental health problems but the City of Lahti in Finland is plain crazy.
The unit’s purpose is to support asylum seekers undergoing mental health issues in order to prevent them from being placed in a care institution for mental health. Most stay there for 3-6 months.
The city will evict the only reception centre for asylum seekers with mental health problems in Finland. The Intensive Support Unit operated by the Finnish Red Cross operates from the site of a former old people’s home and, according to city officials, does not comply with the building’s permitted use.
The Finnish Red Cross and the building’s owner dispute that interpretation. This story started a year ago following a letter from 37 residents of an adjoining building that do not wish to be identified. After consulting with experts, city officials sided with the residents who complained. The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) has found the property in Lahti suitable for the purpose for which it is being used.
A Chinese car manufacturer is setting the golden standard on European car production.
Beijing (Brussels Morning) The Chinese car manufacturer, Volvo, announced that it will now manufacture cars with fossil-free steel from the Swedish company SSAB, a company that uses hydrogen instead of coal to make steel.
Rome (Brussels Morning) The meeting should have taken place in Brussels, since both Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi were elected MEPs in 2019. Or maybe The Ahoy in Rotterdam, scene of Italy’s recent Eurovision triumph with the song “Zitti e Buoni”, which translates as “Shut Up And Behave” (no chance with these two, we’re afraid).
But the meeting between the pair was probably not to trade musical tips (although Berlusconi’s excruciating 2008 election campaign song “Thank Goodness For Silvio” could easily be repurposed by substituting Silvio for Salvini in the title). Much higher on the agenda was the rebirth of the Italian Right, with Salvini bizarrely recast as a pro-European and the 85-year-old Berlusconi apparently now reincarnated as a centrist.
The two Brahmans of the Italian political cast are entering well-tested territory; Salvini’s Lega developed its brand of regional separatism to nationwide Euroscepticism and xenophobia. But recently, the party has repositioned itself as merely xenophobic, which by current European standards is now the status quo.
After all, accusations of opportunism do not prominently feature in Italian politics. Parties understand they are part of a natural energy continuum and that all is one. The Lega-Forza Italia alliance has been tested locally, regionally, nationally, and in Europe for decades. It dies only to be reborn.
As for the Berlusconi/Salvini partnership, who at this stage could discount a duet Eurovision entry next year when the competition takes place in Rome, in an attempt to prolong the nation’s song contest glory? Oh, shut up and behave.
A $6bn American offer Athens can refuse
Athens (Brussels Morning) The US has offered to sell four frigates to the Greek Navy for $6bn, an offer Athens kindly declined.
The offer would have seen American frigates being manufactured by Fincantieri, in Italy, which begs the question why Greece can’t buy directly from the Italians. Instead, Greece will now buy second-hand frigates from the Netherlands and Belgium while attempting to negotiate a better deal.
Athens is now speaking to France and the Netherlands about new vessels in a multi-billion Euro programme designed to give Greece naval superiority, just as Turkish relations with NATO are deteriorating.
Embroiled in an arms race with its neighbour, Athens often confuses buying protection and buying defence systems. Over the last two years, Paris has stepped up as a security provider far more than Washington.
Supersonic losses & Supersonic Dream
London (Brussels Morning) In a drop louder than the average supersonic boom, Delta airlines reported net losses of $1.4 billion in the first quarter of 2021, which is no surprise considering its viability is based on travel and tourism, concepts older viewers may remember from before our lives were turned into an improbable dystopian sci fi nightmare. The revenue drop was by 66% compared to the first-quarter of 2019, a period in time when the aforementioned transport and tourism were still a thing.
Meanwhile, the company is planning to reanimate supersonic travel between London and New York by 2029, ordering 35 Overture Airliners from a company called Boom. Leaving aside that calling your supersonic aircraft company Boom is like calling a takeaway chicken shop Greasy And Unhealthy, the makers do promise that the aircraft will run on “sustainable fuel”, though the idea of horse manure being piled into them on the Heathrow runways can be discounted for now.
It will then take four hours to traverse the Atlantic, but probably the same length of time to get through security checks and health tests. With a bit of luck, the Overture airliner will be the iPhone 12 to Concorde’s 1996 Nokia 1610. Let’s hope it still has that ‘Snake’ game to pass the travel time.
One more Trump
Jerusalem (Brussels Morning) The former Israeli Prime Minister is joining an elite club of leaders that do not lose but are cheated of their victory. Echoing President Trump and Bolsonaro, Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Israel was witnessing “the greatest election fraud in the history of the country.” That is actually a tempered reaction, as Trump would probably have said “in the history of the world.”
As ever, the political landscape is neatly divided between patriots and traitors with nothing in the middle.
Conservatives for Foreign Aid
London (Brussels Morning) Boris Johnson’s global Britain is the only G7 country cutting international aid amid a pandemic.
More than 30 rebel Tory MPs were looking to work with the opposition to restore a commitment to spending 0.7% of national income on international development which, incidentally, was also in the Conservatives’ election manifesto in 2019; admittedly an eternity for someone with Johnson’s gnat-like concentration span. The UK government proposes to make cuts to the tune of 0.2% – or £4bn. The cut will be temporary apparently, much like membership of the EU, decolonisation, and public ownership of the National Health Service.
The aid reduction means millions of pounds less is being spent on supporting girls’ education, reproductive health, clean water, HIV/AIDS, and the humanitarian crises in Yemen and Syria. But it may mean an increase in spending on PPE made by people the current UK cabinet went to school with, once the UK’s coronavirus third wave really gets into its stride.
Channel (Brussels Morning) Entente not-so-cordiale
Talk about using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, it appears UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was true to the spirit and statesmanship emanating from tabloid newspapers like the Daily Mail this week.
“Boris sends gunboats into Jersey”, read the Mail’s headline, which was clearly against Johnson’s intended spirit.
It all started with a flotilla of 50 French trawlers who blocked Saint Helier harbour, blocking Jersey island fishermen from landing their catch in France, to process and sell.
Keeping it cool, Johnson sent the British Royal Navy to meet French coastal patrol boats monitoring the situation. The fact that Britons were about to go to the polls on Thursday, in local elections, had nothing to do with that decision, we are told.
After all, Johnson spoke to Jersey Chief Minister John Le Fondre on Wednesday and they agreed there was an “urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions”. Nothing says de-escalation than a couple of destroyers. At no point was there a threat of nuclear escalation.
However, on Tuesday, French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin did warn that France could cut off electricity supplies to the island. The fact that this is an electoral year for France and Marine Le Pen is doing better on the polls is completely unrelated to the calm and sober tone exhibited by the French government at the moment.
Berlin (Brussels Morning) Catholic ‘revolution’
The last time there was a revolution in the Catholic Church, they called it Protestantism. Starting in Germany, it could happen again.
More than 100 priests in Germany have blessed same sex couples, which is less than a marriage but does make a contractual relationship a bit more meaningful. The Vatican is not thrilled. Catholic teachings refuse to recognise homosexual love, declaring it “contrary to the natural law”, articulated with authority over everything natural.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome has issued a responsum (response or reply) forbidding blessings for same-sex partnerships. The responsum, the authors claim, was “endorsed” by Pope Francis, who has in the past said that his role is not to judge same-sex love. Silent tolerance and actual consent are often blurred in the Christian institution.
Bernd Mönkebüscher, a priest from North Rhine-Westphalia, called for a national day of action on 10 May under the banner and the hashtag “Love wins” (Liebe gewinnt). Romantic, sensitive, but one could say quite heretical, except history is written by those who win.
The problem with Catholicism is that it is of course universal. One needs the same ground rules in Brazil, America, and Germany. And who would want to be unnaturally tolerant in Brazil and America.
Rome (Brussels Morning) I did not say, what I actually said
The best way to confirm a fact is to deny it. Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office denied a media report on Tuesday that Italy was proposing that the EU should pay Libya to stop migrants leaving its shores for Europe.
We are talking strictly about “assistance”, which is by no means payment. Turkey is also offered “assistance”, which is by no means payment. After all, if you assist you cannot be held to ransom.
La Repubblica reported that Draghi intended to propose at the European Summit in May a deal for Libya similar to one reached with Ankara in 2016. It is money for holding on to migrants.
Some 13,000 migrants have landed on Italy’s coast this year, mostly coming from sub-Saharan Africa via Libya. Meanwhile, the 2019 plan to redistribute migrants across the EU, after they arrive in Italy, appears to be working as well as the plan adopted in 2015 for the redistribution of migrants arriving in Greece. In sum it does not. The European Commission has no offers from member states to accept migrants, except Hungary (not).
On Tuesday, Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese called on the EU for a long-term structural solution on how to manage asylum seekers after thousands arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa in recent days. “It is necessary to carry out structural interventions in the system of managing the phenomenon inside the European Union with the activation of concrete, solid solidarity mechanisms”, said Lamorgese.
This is an election year in France and Germany and a normal year across Central Eastern Europe. The Commission’s phone is not likely to ring anytime soon.
Brussels 6 May (Brussels Morning) Social networking
The lived experience of people with disabilities is underreported and under-considered, including in the tech world. That’s why we want to shed light on a new exciting project from Five Star MEP Chiara Gemma. With the help and inspiration of Cristiano Rossi, better known as Cris Brave, a young Italian influencer with spastic tetraplegia and a brilliant mind overflowing with ideas and resources, Gemma is proposing a new social media platform design for people who have difficulty accessing technology.
It will help people with disabilities connect with others to form formal and interpersonal relationships whether it’s to find a professional assistant or a more intuitive way of booking appointments with consultants – the user can create a network around them according to their needs. There is currently nothing like it in Brussels and if approved will be a game changer for the community.
Dublin 6 May (Brussels Morning) Irish Government makes case for unionism
The Government of Ireland will set a minimum price for alcohol from January 2022, providing a political boost for the suffering unionist movement.
Irish Minister of Health Frank Feighan advertised the policy as a “targeted public health measure”, which no doubt it is but that won’t get anyone to buy him a drink at the local pub.
Be that as it may, cheaper alcohol in the North could prove a welcome boost to the Northern Irish economy, in a world in which it is hard to see the advantage of unionism and polling suggests surging support for Irish unity.
Under the Irish plan, the minimum price for alcohol will be 10% per gram, making the cheapest bottle of wine cost 7.75 euro and a supermarket gin or vodka a minimum of 20 euro. Last orders in cheap alcohol may come as early as September and almost everyone will be stocking up their cabinets, for medicinal purposes no doubt.
Brussels 6 May (Brussels Morning) Farmer moves Belgian border
Napoleon had to make a big fuss about it. But a farmer in Belgium just moved the border deep into French territory without anyone getting wind of the event. Well, almost no one.
A history enthusiast was walking in the forest when he noticed a milestone marking the Franco-Belgian boundary moved by 2.29m. It had been moved by a farmer who found the stone was in his tractor’s path and, as all decisive leaders, he moved it aside, making Belgium bigger. Local Belgian authorities plan to contact the farmer to ask him to return the stone to its original location, which he may or may not do.
London 6 May (Brussels Morning) Space, the final frontier
If you are the kind of person that would pay 1,000 euro for a bottle of wine, you might as well pay 830,000 euro.
In a world of “alternative assets” this week, Christi’s auctioned a bottle of wine (Pétrus 2000) that spent 14 months in orbit for 720,000 pounds. The wine has spent 400 days in space in zero gravity. That’s my kind of scientific research.
Now, a “usual” Pétrus sells for only 6,000 euros. It is the kind of wine investors like, as it can age for 60 or 70 years. But if you can keep a wine bottled up for 70 years, chances are you don’t really want to drink it. And if you do wait for 70 years and find you paid 6,000 euros 70 years ago for something really, really bad, you are not going to admit it, are you? But if you have paid 830,000 euros, well you just sell it on. That is truly a stratospheric disappointment that no one can take.
For me, I will just have a down-to-earth Barollo, which you can still get for less than 20 euro. But if you do want to explore the “final frontier”, I am sure the Russians will soon sell Vodka that has orbited earth for just 500 dollars. That’s the sort of thing they do. Gentlemen go to Christi’s.
Asterix 6 May (Brussels Morning) May the 4th be with you
The only thing I am afraid of is that the sky will fall on my head tomorrow, says Chief Vitalstatistix, the leader of the Gaulish village in Asterix.
Well, there is good reason for that fear as part of a huge Chinese rocket is falling back to Earth and could make an uncontrolled re-entry at an unknown landing point. The 30-metre high core of the Long March 5B rocket entered a temporary orbit, setting the stage for one of the largest ever uncontrolled re-entries, which could be over an inhabited area. The last time China launched a similar rocket it ended up damaging buildings in the Ivory Coast.
London 6 May (Brussels Morning) Johnson sails away from reality
Captains sink with their ships, politicians with their policies.
Johnson is looking down to an Abyss, as his former newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, triumphantly announced on Monday that the recently departed Prince Philip will be honoured with the construction of a brand-new Royal Yacht.
The price tag of the new boat is 200 million pounds.
This comes the very week the UK announced it would cut foreign aid from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%. For instance, the UK’s contribution to a UN commitment to family planning program (UNFA) will be cut by 85%, that is, from 154 million pounds to 23 pounds. Johnson notoriously finds family planning a superfluous exercise. Asked during a TV interview, he famously refused to answer how many kids he has fathered.
Johnson’s policy was not quite well received in Scotland. During Tuesday’s Scottish debate, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon dismissed the “investment” in the new vessel as “ludicrous”; the Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie labelled the plan an “absurdity”; Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said he “could think of probably 500 other things I would rather spend that money on than a royal yacht”. Sinking with Johnson’s ship, the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said he understood the vessel was to be built by private investors.
Private investors are very generous in the UK. They recently undertook the refurbishing of No.10 Downing Street. But that’s another shipwreck.
Budapest 6 May (Brussels Morning) Hungary. Virus-Free Zone
In anticipation of the European Commission’s plans for a COVID-19 passport (ehm, “certificate”), Slovenia and Hungary are pressing on with their own bilateral plan of mutual recognition.
The Slovenian foreign ministry announced last weekend that a vaccination certificate issued in one country will have the same legal effect in the other, without need for quarantine or proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
The EU certificate (and not passport) is also likely to be “green”,” a colour not in fashion in the political circles of Budapest. The Hungarian political fashion strain is said to be contagious and has reached both Slovenia and Croatia.
Lithuania has warned that it will not recognise travel certificates of persons vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine Hungary has been using.
Our sources suggest there may be other issues. It is unclear whether Italy will be able to introduce a single certification process, North-to-South. In France, Paris may require its own special certificate. In Germany, there will be one federal certificate only, except Bavaria. In Belgium there will either be a European certificate or at least three.
Warsaw 29.04.2021 (Brussels Morning) Driving to the moon
MEP Richard Henry Czarnecki is the son-in-law of the only Polish cosmonaut, Mirosław Hermaszewski. For some time, he claimed he travelled by car from Warsaw to Brussels every week, which could mean he broke his father-in-law mileage record. He might as well have driven to the moon, given stratospheric expenses, but perhaps it was all about Green politics and avoiding planes (not). The taxpayer reimbursed him 100,000 euro in expenses. Only he took cheap flights, like everyone else. Caught red-handed, he will have to pay the money back. We all make mistakes.
Now, the ruling Justice and Development Party MEP was recently appointed chair of the European Parliament Uzbekistan cooperation committee. From Brussels to Tashkent the distance is about 5900 kilometers. Are you thinking what he’s thinking?
Anakara 29.04.2021 (Brussels Morning) A woman alone in Europe, nevermind Turkey
Addressing the European Parliament, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen noted that sexism is to blame for her not being seated next to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara. “It happened because I am a woman”, she said, going on to reflect that perhaps she would have been seated closer to President Erdogan had she worn “a suit and a tie?”
Spare a thought for the Turkish premier, who is not more or less conservative that the average Mid-West American. The Turkish President is a married man. Would the former American Vice President Mike Pence be seen seating so close to a woman? “I don’t work with women. If they’re attractive, I’m too tempted”, Vice President Pence famously said.
Secondly, the President of the European Commission did indeed miss the opportunity to wear a tie and, come next time, she should consider it. Had she worn a tie, that would be the last picture she ever made. The European press would feature nothing else, ever again. But she did not. Pitty.
Last but not least, there is the issue of Michel, who stood idly watching, which is arguably more important than the incident with Erdogan. “I felt hurt and I felt alone, as a woman and as a European,” the President of the Commission said. Well, that’s when we stop laughing, right?
Brussels 29.04.2021 (Brussels Morning) EU direct democracy
The EU has launched an online Conference on the Future of Europe platform that is supposed to facilitate a connection with everyday citizens.
Perhaps, the irreverent spirit of this column is to blame for us finding the iconographics used to adorn this exercise hilarious. But we would be open to your own thoughts and reflections. Oh, please let us have your thoughts on the following iconographic at the very least. It looks like something went seriously wrong with migration… well, something seriously wrong with something anyway.
Sorry, back to the initiative. The exercise of collecting people’s ideas on the future of Europe will kick off on 9 May, but citizens can start without the EU on this well-designed (????) platform. Thank God Boris Johnson is not covering the exercise for the Daily Telegraph these days.
Well, the platform is in 24 languages and does offer automatic translation features. I am wondering whether we will live to regret that. Of course, participants will need to sign up to a charter, unlike most social media platforms, and commit to not sharing “illegal, hateful or deliberately false or misleading” content. Facebook is said to be observing the experiment in awe. The technology supporting the venture is surely Artificial Intelligence, “Artificial” being the operative word.
Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt described the exercise as “unique” and “unprecedented”. We hope that the use of the word “unprecedented” is not a word we live to regret. EU institutions will finance the conference separately, depending on who is the organiser. The campaign to engage people in this revolutionary process… will not be televised?
Berlin 29.04.2021 (Brussels Morning) The right man to replace the right woman?
Angela Merkel, a woman, and an East German, was admittedly the right person for the Chancellors’ job, or so the Germans thought, for a very-very long time. Filling ‘Mutti’s’ shoes would be hard for any woman, let alone a man. It’s a transitional period.
Armin Laschet is that potential replacement, the German Conservatives think. In theory, he knows everything about transition. He is after all the son of a coal miner and former editor of a small Catholic newspaper. Coal mines, newspapers, and Catholicism are all in a transitional phase. His CV should have him overqualified at once. But his appeal to the public seems limited, polls would have you believe. He may actually embody a transition, in the sense that he can lead towards the transition from Conservative rule in Germany to something else.
Copenhagen 29.04.2021 (Brussels Morning) Show me the way to the next testing bar…
For 20 euro in the Warpigs Brewpub in Copenhagen, you can get Covid-tested and wait for the results while drinking a beer, outside. Half-an-hour later, you can have the beer inside, for less. That is now the most famous pub in Europe and bookings exceed a 200-year waiting list.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Go to bed, Michelle.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, slept through last week’s visit to Turkey, when he failed to react to a rather misogynist diplomatic protocol. He has not slept well since.
The footage of the meeting last week shows Michel sitting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Layen, is relegated to a sofa in the back of a room.
In an interview with the German daily Handelsblatt on Wednesday, Michel admits the incident keeps him up at night. In substance, he claims, he wanted to focus on the agenda rather than the protocol. Sleeping through the interview may have served him better than his explanation.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Ecocide as in genocide
The EU is advocating to turn ecocide into a crime prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, giving it equivalence to genocide and crimes against humanity in the European Parliament. A report released earlier this week saw contributions by the Committees for Legal Affairs, Development, Environment and Civil Liberties.
France (Brussels Morning) Life is a Bitche for Facebook users
The town of Bitche, on the French side of the Franco-German border, went off the Facebook grid for hours this week.
An algorithm confused the word Bitche with the word… well, if you’re reading this out loud you know where this is going. Consequently, it cut off every account linked to the town.
Poland (Brussels Morning) Ombudsman vetoes plans for expanding state media control
The Polish Ombudsman has blocked a plan by the partially state-owned refinery PKN-Orlen to buy out the local media publisher Polska Press. The acquisition would have handed the ruling party control over powerful local media in a 40-million country in which regional platforms are bigger than many national media platforms across Europe. Control over public broadcasters has become more intrusive, according to annual reports by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
Hungary (Brussels Morning) No news, bad news
Hungarian journalists accused the government on Wednesday of obstructing coverage of the world’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak. In a letter published by opposition news outlets, reporters denounced the government for barring access to hospitals and prohibiting doctors from speaking to the media. Hungary reported 302 deaths on Tuesday, its highest toll to date and hospitals are said to be inundated with patients. Hungary’s nationalist government claims the situation is under control.
London (Brussels Morning) Prince Phillip, gone but certainly not forgotten
As sad news hit the UK’s royals-loving public that Prince Philip — the Queen’s spouse for seven decades — had passed away at the age of 99, coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s legacy dominated the airwaves, particularly by state broadcaster BBC. It was perhaps to make up for the absence of a state funeral (a request by the prince himself) and as public gatherings were deterred in light of the continuing, although decreasing, COVID-19 cases in the capital.
The generous airtime that meant canceling other shows did not please everyone, however, as it generated the largest number of complaints to hit the network — at least 110,994, according to reports, topping the previous record of 63,000 for broadcasting Jerry Springer: The Opera. As other European monarchs and leaders sent in their condolences and appreciation for Philip’s sense of duty and public service, this is probably not quite the legacy anyone had in mind for the late Windsor.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Follow the money…
Czech MEP Jan Zahradil (ODS) is facing a formal investigation for failing to disclose financial support from the Chinese Mission to the EU, according to the Dutch magazine Follow the Money. Incidentally, Zahradril chaired the EU-China Friendship Group. Investigations are currently ongoing and confidential.
Ankara (Brussels Morning) Male protocol
It is unclear whether the “Roman chairs” game on who sits next to President Erdogan of Turkey was a matter of stupidity or intent. Regardless, it conveyed a message as the EU’s most senior dignitary who happened to be a female was left without a chair when Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Counsel president Charles Michel visited Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. As von der Leyen was left aside to sit on the sofa with an audible “erm” the two men sit side by side at the front of the room seemingly unaware.
The footage was shot ahead of a meeting in which the von der Leyen was to raise the issue of Turkey’s withdrawal from a convention on gender-based violence. Turkish officials have since argued that the meeting between the EU and Turkish protocol teams had made all the seating arrangements. Perhaps the heads of protocol were male.
Paris (Brussels Morning) Age of consent…
France moved to set the age of consent to 15 this week, which is still high compared to Italy’s threshold of 14 but lower than the UK’s rule of 16 year’ old and in Poland where the age of consent is 17 years of age. Until now, French law prohibited sex between an adult and a minor under the age of 15 but it was not automatically considered rape without “violence, coercion or threats”.
Retrospectively applied, Macron and wife Brigitte’s relationship would probably stand up to scrutiny, he a 15-year-old student when he met the 40-year-old schoolteacher in Amiens in 1993.
Berlin (Brussels Morning) Masking Corruption
The COVID-19 pandemic has been followed by a corruption crisis, with allegations of muddy contracting all around Europe. In Germany, the scandal coincides with elections, which is never a good thing.
Germans go to the polls in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in closely watched state elections with federal legislative elections looming in September 2021. Overhanging corruption allegations could hurt CDU in the polls. Two Bundestag members – Nikolas Löbel (CDU) and Georg Nüsslein (CSU) – since resigned, are accused of receiving six-figure kickbacks to recommend specific mask manufacturers.
Dublin (Brussels Morning) God does not guarantee health and safety
Unlike Easter 2020, Christians were able to pray at their chosen house of worship in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But that was not the case in the Republic of Ireland, where church doors remained closed under threat of criminal prosecution. With limited exceptions for funerals and weddings, public faith events have been flatly banned in Ireland.
Madrid (Brussels Morning) Six years investigation, 20 years of corruption, five prosecuted
Spain’s biggest corruption scandal since the transition to democracy in 1974 is an ongoing saga with
the Spanish Popular Party’s former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, continuing to cooperate with prosecutors. Without documentation, however, the investigation is six years and counting with only five high-ranking EPP officials being charged in what amounts to a kickbacks-for-contracts scheme that run from the 1980s to the 2000s.
The former conservative treasurer is pointing the finger to former PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, suggesting he personally received cash. Apparently, money was also used for renovation work at the PP’s headquarters in Madrid.
Luxembourg City (Brussels Morning) Out of this world
While the rest of Europe is waking up to the scare of a third pandemic, a group of people is petitioning the government of Luxembourg to release files of unexplained aircraft sightings that may evidence life on another planet. The proposal was one of 15 petitions that were approved for circulation on Friday, 19 March. Should any of the petitions pass the 4,500 signature-threshold they must be debated in parliament. In December, the US Congress forced the CIA to release the so-called UFO sighting files, which it did in January 2021. One can see a sequel to the X Files brewing — Millennial Files perhaps?
Rome (Brussels Moring) Slipping up
A court acquitted Matteo Salvini on Monday 22 March for a 2016 remark about the judiciary, which he called “a cancer to be rooted out” and “garbage”. Ignoring the prosecutors’ request for a 3,000 euro fine, the judge said this was a “slight matter”. It is unclear whether this was a self-reflective reference on the judiciary or a recognition that Salvini has made more serious assaults on rule of law in the past.
Budapest (Brussels Morning) Old boys club
Judging is a specialised job best kept among old friends. The country’s top EU Court nominee is Zoltán Csehi, chosen by Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga. Csehi had been a lawyer in the law firm of Varga’s predecessor. Of course, for such a responsible job one must come highly recommended.
Berlin (Brussels Morning) All gravy, baby
German corruption is the equivalent to “man bites dog” as European stereotypes go. Well, perhaps not. Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been ruling for 16 years and signs of “institutionalism” are beginning to show. The urgency of securing masks has been a “gravy train” for the distribution of money without too many questions asked, or so people thought.
In late February, authorities informed the Bundestag that MP Georg Nüßlein, deputy leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, was under investigation for possible corruption. He was linked to a suspicious 660,000 euro transaction, thought to be a commission by a manufacturer for a lucrative surgical masks contract. Nikolas Löbel, Mannheim MP, acknowledged he received 250,000 euros for helping to arrange a government contract for masks for a company in his home state. Then comes an investigation against Alfred Sauter, a former Bavarian justice minister, in connection with – yes, you guessed it – a deal for masks. Last, but not least, Health Minister Jens Spahn is invited to explain why there were mask transactions with the magazine publisher where his husband works as a lobbyist.
The scandals are costing the CDU, six months before Germans go to the polls. Support for the conservatives has fallen from 36% in February to 29% in March.
Paris (Brussels Morning) Sarkozy in hot water, again
French elections have certain recurring storylines that come back in fashion every five years. In the next episode of “who is going to save the Republic from Le Pen” there is yet another scandal. Le Canard Enchainé reported this week that Sarkozy paid his wife as a parliamentary assistant in 2002, echoing the “Penelope Gate” scandal of 2017. As scandals go, this is the least of Sarkozy’s problems who was also in hot water for receiving donations from Libyan leader Muamar Qadhafi before championing the intervention to Libya in 2012.
Las Palmas (Brussels Morning) Health tourists
Come to Spain and we’ll pay your hospital bills. In a desperate attempt to resuscitate the clinically dead tourist industry, the Canary Islands are promising free health insurance for visiting tourists. That may be quite relevant to post-Brexit British tourists. However, the health insurance subsidy paid by the local government only covers tourists staying in licenced hotels or regulated accommodation, not second homes, family or friends.
Bratislava (Brussels Morning) Gender what?
Politics for women often goes on without women in Slovakia, which refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence, despite the best efforts of President Zuzana Caputova. On 25 February, the Slovak parliament rejected ratification of the treaty.
Four days later, Slovaks went to the polls to elect a parliament in which less than one in five MPs are women; the newly formed government has 15 ministers of which only three are women. Only Hungary and Greece fare worse in terms of female participation in politics.
Amsterdam (Brussels Morning) The more things change, they stay the same
Dutch dads are all about burden-sharing but not for the long run. According to a study by three universities – Utrecht, Amsterdam, Radboud – Dutch dads are taking on fewer domestic chores and care duties as lockdown continues. Meanwhile, women are more likely to take frontline jobs outside the home, such as in health and education. It appears that when the stress kicks in, parents working from home revert to traditional role patterns.
Malta City (Brussels Morning) Migrant rights
A Council of Europe report notes Malta illegally detains the great majority of migrants in the country, who are held in severely overcrowded facilities under extremely poor conditions, with restricted contact with the outside world. Young children and unaccompanied/separated minors are detained together with adult men against all agreed health and safety protocols.
Edinburgh (Brussels Morning) High drama
This would have been an explosive week in Edinburgh even without the arrest of a suspicious man with a bomb at Holyroodhouse, the Queens’ residence in the city. The police diffused the device and arrested a 39-year-old man in connection with the incident.
Few hours earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon diffused a political bomb, as Scottish Conservatives clogged a motion for her resignation, following a parliamentary committee report that stated she had misled the Scottish Parliament over when she had first known about the allegations of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond. The motion was defeated by 65 votes to 31. The affair comes in an inopportune time as Scotland heads to the polls in May.
“Given that I have been cleared by that independent report of any breach, then my message to all those, especially to the Conservatives who refuse to accept Mr Hamilton’s conclusions, is this – if you think you can bully me out of office you are mistaken and misjudge me. If you want to remove me as First Minister, do it in an election”, said Sturgeon.
Dodoma (Brussels Morning) Where is my president?
Tanzanians are looking to Kenyan gossip social media platforms to find their leader. President John Magufuli (aka the Bulldozer) has not been seen in public since 27 February and, according to the Kenyan press, he was admitted to a private Nairobi Hospital. Nothing of the sort has been published in Tanzania.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Using walls for opportunity, not division
Refuge for homeless migrant women Sister’s House in Brussels is looking to brighten up its premises in these quite frankly dismal times while empowering its residents. The centre, which opened in November 2018, is doing all it can on a shoestring to help provide for marginalised communities when we all need to stay safe and in shelter.
Brussels residents might remember Sister’s House had to relocate when its lease ran out last year. Volunteers are looking to harness the creativity of those at the new location through a participatory project using the walls as a canvas to visualise their identity.
Participants have already created illustrations of their desires and feeling, which organisers say boosts residents’ talents and self-confidence. Those designs need to now be transferred onto the walls of Sister’s House. The centre, which is completing the project with The City is Our Playground, needs 1,000 euros for materials to finish up. Dig deep bubblers, you can donate here.
Paris (Brussels Morning) Marine Le Pen is ‘soft’ on Islam?
Marine Le Pen is “soft” on Islam — so says Gérald Darmanin, French President Emmanuel Macron’s interior minister, in a TV debate on Thursday 11 February. The opponents sparred as France battles what it deems a ‘radical Islamism’ problem after a spate of attacks in the secular republic, triggering a controversial new bill and debate over secularism in the country. The accusation took Le Pen aback, as it would many others — the National Rally leader only recently invited a national hijab ban in public places and has been charged for inciting hate speech on social media.
Still, Darmanin is no snowflake, but the question is who won the intense back and forth? Observers say no-one did as both exhibited poor performance. Rightfully so.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Stolen pleasures are the sweetest
Someone over at the UK Information Commissioner’s Office got a bit overzealous on festive treats, according to Insider. The outlet found more than 6,000 pounds was spent on luxury chocolate — Hotel Chocolat chocolates to be precise — using the corporate credit card.
The extravagant payment was bound to raise questions, it being the single largest payment made on the card in the last 10 months, setting itself apart by not being the usual expenditure of adverts, recruitment outlay and website costs.
The ICO is in the middle of investigating the massive sweet tooth in the team.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) EU institutions set up their own vaccination centres
First thing’s first. Brussel bubblers there will be vaccines on offer soon. The Commission has set in motion plans for EU office staff to get access to the inoculations via its own vaccination centre. All being well, it will be up and running by 22 February.
”We have staff in many countries”, explained Balazs Ujvari, a spokesperson, with the
Commission’s employees amounting to 33,000 between Brussels and Luxembourg. ”Here in Brussels we have 20,000, so in Belgium, we can make use of the Commission’s medical service to set up a vaccination campaign”.
The Commission still follows Belgian health authorities’ approach on vaccine strategy, even though it has doctors and healthcare professionals on staff for strategic advice through the pandemic.
”We have to bring the vaccination strategy in line with the authorities in Belgium”, affirmed Ujvari in the Commission press briefing on Thursday.
Some might say the EU is jumping the queue as inoculation has only just begun for care homes and not yet offered to key professional groups in the country.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Notes from Brussels
“I didn’t realise I was making a life-long choice when I came to work here. I didn’t realise when I left him that I would not find any other man that I would be in love with that much that I wanted to have children with. That is probably something about getting to learn yourself and the experiences you make in life”.
Can you relate? If so, you’re not the only one as it’s a quote that inspired filmmaker and fellow Brussels bubbler to embark on the documentary Notes from Brussels. Nadine Van Loon narrates and directs the film following three women working behind the scenes of European politics: a young French political assistant in the European Parliament, a Polish trade journalist and a German top EU official who all moved to Brussels in their early careers passionate about contributing to the bloc. They all learned doing so did not come without its sacrifices. Do you feel them? If so, you can check out Loon’s crowd funder to help finish the project.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Tension mount over Belgian lockdown
Spontaneous protests have erupted two Sundays in a row in Brussels, fuelled by discontent over lockdown measures prohibiting most small businesses from operating. Calls on social media channels have urged protesters to gather in the capital but police are cracking down on demonstrators who had not sought the necessary permission to protest in public.
“We are against the loss of autonomy”, said one anonymous source, holding up a sign in a Brussels street last Sunday.
Others complained the rules have killed off personal freedoms. Hairdressers and gyms have closed and masks must be worn outside with fines for those who fail to follow the new guidelines. A 10.00 pm curfew has also been set.
Some have accused police of bullying, with reports police have detained passers-by at the railway station two weekends ago.
“This time there were mostly orderly people protesting”, a source within the police said anonymously to Brussels Morning.” Mostly business owners who cannot work. But there were some young troublemakers, too”.
Brussels police turned up in riot gear to counter the few hundreds protesting while accused of using undue force. According to police, some 50, mostly young people, were detained to pre-empt potential violence and vandalism. The government has signalled that businesses could begin to open mid-February, but bars and restaurants would remain closed until at least early March.
Nicosia (Brussels Eye) The archbishop’s latest blunder beggar’s belief
Archbishop Chrysostomos made an impression — perhaps not the right one —when testifying in an inquiry into the citizenship by investment programme.
Recounting a conversation with the president, Chrysostomos relayed the following words as spoken in a conversation with the leader:
“President, you must understand there is no solution to the Cyprus issue. Turks want everything. Will you give it? … Any solution will collapse the next day. So, there is no solution, and you need to tell them clearly. President, you need to look at the economy, but we must all stop stealing, and I include myself. We must take care of our country’s economic issue”.
Social media and other folk took that as confirmation of the extent of corruption in the country. But that is of course not what the ordained minister meant — that he and the president were thieves — he later expressed on national television. He simply meant they should encourage people to stop stealing. We believe you cardinal.
London (Brussels Eye) EU nationals in Britain — couldn’t pay them to leave
The UK government is doing everything it can to get EU nationals living in Britain settled since it departed the bloc. So it says. A report on Tuesday 26 January in the Guardian contradicts that claim, inconveniently for Westminster, reporting that EU citizens have been added to a voluntary returns scheme with financial support of 2,000 pounds and flights.
While 2,000 pounds is of course enough to uproot your life and restart somewhere new, said no one, ever, it comes just months before the deadline of applying for settled status of 30 June and the whole debacle impacts the most vulnerable. So this is the serious part.
The EU homeless rights project at the Public Interest Law Centre said it was the institutional barriers to application and delays to decision-making within the government department responsible for settlement, namely the Home Office. Ah yes, that place where non-citizens go to get their sole ripped out.
Prague (Brussels Eye) Pirates for transparency — new campaign targeting multinatioanls
Big business better watch their silver. European Pirate Party chairman Mikuláš Peksa has launched a campaign for the Czech government and EU member states to support public country-by-country-reporting by voting for a transparent and effective instrument in the European Competitiveness Council (COMPET). The idea is multinational corporations be open to greater public oversight and the proposal will be one of the priorities for the new Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU. Fifteen out of the 27 EU countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population would need to vote in favour to pass.
For the Czech Republic, it could add around 380 million euros in taxes to the economy, according to Peksa’s calculations. No small booty, if true. The petition is geared to help persuade the Czech government to get behind this proposal, which is currently taking a neutral position.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Belgian EU Commissioner asks Belgian government to justify its travel embargo
The saga surrounding Belgium’s border closures — announced for Wednesday, when exit and entry will be restricted to essential travel — took another turn Monday when the country’s EU Commissioner Didier Reynders asked Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to justify his decision.
De Croo has insisted on the ban to curb the spread of COVID-19 variants, despite the three-month lockdown, bar stores being allowed to open. As Commissioner in charge of justice, Didier Reynders demanded the Belgian government explain its breaches to EU’s border-free travel and freedom of movement.
For Belgium, an international hub with an expat population comprising 1.5 million foreigners as residents, the sudden ban on travel across borders will prove impractical.
As newly appointed Prime Minister, De Croo, has been keen on a hardline approach to crowd control, having introduced a 10.00 pm curfew. The travel ban will require official authorisation from employers of educational establishments to prove the necessity of cross-border movement.
London (Brussels Eye) Government says no to petition to ban Brexit festival
Brits and UK government ministers keen to celebrate fresh beginnings outside the EU have already seen resistance from taxpayers taking issue with the 2022 planned Festival of Brexit, estimated to cost 120 million pounds. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone launched a petition in December saying no taxpayer or charitable donations should fund the festival.
Stone and other proponents of the petition point out that the arts had suffered dearly as a result of the current pandemic as have other areas of the economy and people’s livelihoods, suggesting the money should be “redirected to a Covid-19 recovery fund”.
Fair point. Unfortunately, the government says it’s a really good use of taxpayer money and a chance to celebrate all that is British. Like queuing. I’ll patiently go and wait in line for the food bank now.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Belgian PM urges EU-wide travel restrictions
Brussels may be the heart of European policy making but Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo is keen to keep much of the continent at bay, by proposing an EU-wide ban on non-essential travel yesterday.
Croo wants a “European solution” to the issues of travel and is particularly worried about the spring break in February when schools take leave and bored bloc-member compatriots start eyeing pastures cross-border.
The Belgian leader has already touched base with European Council president Charles Michel to sound out the idea.
“I want to be very clear about what we advocating: we are not asking to close borders”, said De Croo said. “Trade must be able to take place, border workers who work in another country must be able to do so, and we must ensure that the Schengen area continues to function”.
Travel restrictions are being discussed.
Looks like the EU will have to remain all work, no play for a while longer.
London(Brussels Morning) UK minister accidentally makes case for the EU
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis MP was the butt of a hashtag Friday after BBC political show Question Time showed him making an excellent case against Brexit.
Explaining why the Northern Ireland protocol benefits gives it access to the UK and EU he said the country had a “unique competitive advantage in the world” because it can trade with the single market.
If memory isn’t failing the honourable gentleman he should remember the UK had that exact advantage before Brexit. Ho hum.
The pile up on Twitter was most entertaining.
Berlin (Brussels Morning) Alexei Navalny re-introduces the public to Putin’s Palace
The opposition leader of the Russian Federation and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) shared a report on Putin’s Palace, estimated to be worth around 1.4 billion dollars. The report and an almost two-hour-long documentary film promise a unique tour into the property — a sprawling complex near the resort town of Gelendzhik.
During his recovery in Germany, opponent Alexei Navalny has been proactive in revealing home truths about his homeland’s current regime, not least about what he called “the most expensive palace in the world”, and “a new Versailles, new Winter Palace”.
Following the steps of the great emperors and tsars of the past, Putin’s Palace has a 2,500 square metre greenhouse, a theatre, 11 master rooms, a church, guardhouse, casino, hookah bar and an underground ice hockey complex.
For security reasons the Palace is surrounded by a forest and security while there are rumours of an underground tunnel leading out to the Black Sea.
The Palace has Renaissance elements and is characterised architecturally by Neoclassicism, Baroque and Rococo styles you should know. There is a 56,000-dollar table, 850 -dollar toilet brush, 1,250-dollar toilet roll holder, and 27,000-dollar sofa.
No doubt, Putin’s Palace is an excellent choice for retirement. Whenever that is, Putin decides to exit the political scene.
Istanbul (Brussels Eye) Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be glad to hear that two more palaces will be added to the presidency’s real estate portfolio.
One will be built at the popular resort of Marmaris on the Aegean with the other in Ahlat, a lakeside town in eastern Turkey. Erdogan and those close to the president will be able to “withdraw” from public attention during Summer or Winter, to continue important work without interruption.
There are currently three palaces pegged as assets for the Turkish Presidency Istanbul all former Ottoman abodes. Two more are located in Ankara — a relatively new palace and Cankaya Mansion, used by all previous Presidents of the Republic. The two new palaces are intended as Summer and Winter residences.
Despite the ongoing economic and health crises in the country, the additional real estate will cost the Turkish taxpayer more than 90 million euros. Together with maintenance costs for all the other properties, the 2021 bill will total in excess of 100 million euros.
The opposition has openly criticised the decisison as at least provocative.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Pompeo’s trip to Belgium cancelled
As part of its transition arrangements for the incoming US presidential administration, the US State Department has cancelled all traveling this week, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Belgium, which was due to go ahead on 13-14 January with visits to NATO and a bilateral meeting with the Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes. Remarkably, as mentioned on 12 January, no meetings with the EU’s High Representative Borrell or other Commissioners were planned.
Debauchery, snubs and a Finnish kerfuffle — all in a week’s work
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Disgraced MEP faces investigation
The disgraced Hungarian MEP caught at a lockdown party involving group sex and drugs in November is still under investigation. Jozsef Szajer, a close confident of President Victor Orban, resigned from the European Parliament last month, found climbing down a drainpipe half-naked to evade the police raid in downtown Brussels.
Twenty-five partygoers from the city’s illustrious gay party scene will now have to answer to the court. Belgium is still in lockdown with an evening curfew and ban on assemblies since the start of November. Belgian tabloid La Dernière Heure reported the party as” debauchery”, involving an orgy, drugs and alcohol. Quite in contrary to the sanitary standards required during the pandemic.
A formal investigation for drug consumption and breach of lockdown rules is underway. Szajer, who professes to socially conservative values of the Hungarian right-wing Fidesz party, denies taking drugs, despite being in possession of an ecstasy pill when police caught up with him. Szajer admitted breaching the ban on assembly, which has kept Belgians far from party celebrations for the majority of the last year.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Pompeo snubs EU on Brussels visit tomorrow US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will pay an unexpected visit to Belgium on Wednesday and Thursday to visit NATO. His schedule is, however, still fairly free, having not scheduled meetings with any EU institution, and no contact between the US administration and EU High Representative Josep Borrell. There are also no press conferences on the cards.
Pompeo will sit down with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès to discuss the transatlantic partnership and champion NATO’s ongoing success safeguarding the transatlantic community and adapting to new security challenges. Pompeo’s visit also serves to reaffirm the bilateral relationship between the US and Belgium, according to a US State Department communiqué.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Finnish PM defensive for stepping out of EU summit due to COVID Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin is being questioned over leaving a European Council meeting with other heads of state and government in October. At the mid-October meeting in Brussels, Marin received a message on the government’s coronavirus app, warning her of close contact with an infected person.
She left the Brussels meeting early to return to Finland and asked Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén to stand in for her. The incident caused a stir as, while not unconstitutional, some view this as Marin evading her prime ministerial responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Marin’s predecessor Juha Sipilä was manhandled last week after stepping out of his Parliamentary office. Finnish tabloid Iltalehti reports Sipilä did not sustain injuries.
European Parliament, Offending Behaviour
Brussels (Brussels Morning) It’s been a week since Swedish MEP Fredrick Federley (ALDE) quit the European Parliament, supposedly leaving politics for good. The pressure finally caught up with Federley after housing his friend, a convicted child sex offender, in his country home — where he has children of his own — just after being freed from prison. The man was said to be doing the liberal party politician’s social media.
The debacle got particularly sour when it was reported he was in a meeting with the convicted child sex offender’s probation officer. Swedish daily Aftonbladet said the 42-year-old politician got very upset on learning he had to warn those in contact with the man of his past crimes, fearing it would hurt his own reputation. He faced rebuke from his party’s leadership for allegedly trying to influence the probation service’s obligations for disclosure.
Greece, Spy Games
What is a diplomatic dispute without a touch of espionage? As tensions between Greece and Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean rise, the sager resulted in the arrest of two Greek men on the island of Rhodes last Saturday, on suspicion of espionage for Turkey. One of the men, 55, worked as a cook on a ferryboat serving Rhodes and Kastellorizo. The other worked at the Turkish Consulate and had been under Greece’s surveillance for two years.
In questioning, the cook admitted to taking pictures of military bases, frigates, and ports. He would then give them to the consulate employee, who, in turn, passed them to the Turkish Intelligence Agency. Data recovered from the two men’s seized laptops, USB sticks and cameras suggests they exchanged more than 2,500 files of such content.