Warsaw/Poland : August 27 (Brussels Morning) Whenever a little dictator does not get his way in Brussels (dictators are usually men), they hold up a useful scarecrow: ASYLUM SEEKERS!!!!!
Erdogan and His Excellency the King of Morocco Muhammed VI and even Gadaffi got wind of the trick and, in his desperation, Lukashenko is giving it a go.
A group of migrants from Afghanistan has been stuck at the EU’s eastern border for the past two weeks. Belarus and Poland are both refusing to take responsibility for them. Along the borders of Lithuania and Poland walls, are being erected to keep the Afghan refugees out – Trump talked the talk but European efficiency walks the walk.
Over 50 hungry, thirsty, and sick Afghan migrants are camping out in the open in dire conditions at the gates of democratic Poland, which fought in Afghanistan and is participating in the evacuations, as it does aspire to be a NATO “frame nation,” a protagonist around which smaller states like Lithuania can find a supporting role.
Now, the border region between Belarus and Poland is forested and Poland will not admit that Afghans are on their soil, ever, lest they apply for asylum in the current context. Is that a Belarusian secret weapon that could advance Belarusian sovereign territory? And if so, is this Putin’s ploy? I am just brainstorming with editors of Polish tabloids and letting you in on our reflections.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has declared that Poland is not responsible for them, and that’s that, unless we can prove they are actually Taliban, in which case Poland would love to be responsible. After all, Polish citizen militias have a formal role in the Polish defence structure.
Last week, 22 of them, speaking in English, requested “international protection” in Poland, but the Polish border police ignored their request, Germany’s public broadcaster gleefully reports. One cannot forget how Visegrad countries usually whistle in Brussels when it comes to calls for burden sharing when it comes to asylum seekers. What would happen if the 50 became 50,000?
Afghanistan and the professionalism of doing nothing.
London/UK : August 27 (Brussels Morning) Over the course of 20 years, we went from a world in which the Taliban were the epitome of extremism to a world in which they are “centrists.” We went from a world in which Donald Rumsfeld had a wall to his right, to consider him a centrist.
We went from victory being nothing less than nation-building to “we won 20 years ago, but forgot to leave.” One should be able to laugh about these matters, but it’s hard to crack a smile: well, except from our leading philosopher, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Minister of the UK. You see, Britain is a philosophical empire at heart.
Let’s start with things that remain constant: the British Special Relationship. The UK will go where Washington commands and leave from when Washington commands, which has the magical effect of providing London with “global” radiance. It is magical and in an Anglo-Saxon antithesis, it defies empirical evidence, but that is the essence of British spirituality, along with the superiority of spirit of everyone who has studied at Eton.
That radiance is only disturbed by the likes of Theresa May, who dared to ask, in Parliament no less, “where is global Britain on the streets of Kabul?” This kind of superficial criticism undermines the age-old failing struggle of the world to understand Great Britain. Let me explain.
When you can lean on the shoulders of the British civil service and foreign office diplomats – to the uninitiated you can watch the TV series “Yes, Prime Minister” – you can afford to be a bit philosophical. That is why Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson are nothing less than different experiments in the image of Plato’s Philosopher King. Sometimes we confuse their lightness of heart and contemplative thinking with lightness of head and idiocy, but that is just our own ignorance, toxically combined with pro-Brussels sentiment and leftie propaganda.
So, as the rest of the world was counting the minutes to August 31st Raab was in Greece, having a splashing time in his £1,000 a night holiday suite, as the UK tabloid The Sun informs us. We are always informed by The Sun. But make no mistake: being in Greece in this difficult period is a necessity for the Philosopher King, whose absence was only noted by the opposition.
Nobody did miss Raab, least of all those involved in the evacuation, and they were probably happy to leave the matter in the hands of professionals rather than philosophers. Same for the omni-absent Prime Minister. The world just fails to understand that, when a politician does nothing in the UK, it is a sign of professionalism.
Dress for success.
Dodoma/ Tanzania : August 27 (Brussels Morning) The President of Tanzania is convinced that female sports are intended to arouse men. President Samia Suluhu Hassan is under fire for suggesting that women footballers would not be attractive candidates for marriage as they have “flat chests”. Don’t we love reporting on these uncivilised faux-pas?
The truth is that the European and American advertising-sponsoring complex – arguably as powerful as the military complex – are founded on the assumption that female sport is essentially all about men watching women sweat. The idea that these women are independent actors in their own right is repulsive.
This July, the Norwegian handball team was fined 1,500 euros by the European Beach Handball Championships for refusing to wear a bikini top and bottom, in contrast to men who wear a vest and long shorts.
The African President’s word were what advertisers would call “regulatory intervention.” You can criticise the President at your own peril, or defy the advertising lobby 1,500 euros at the time: feel like making yourself a present?
Skip school and go clubbing
Rome (Brussels Morning) In a world of ongoing surrealism, not even double vaccine will allow you to go nightclubbing, but you could otherwise have a night out on the town.
The Italian government has issued a decree keeping nightclubs closed until further notice. But they’re planning a Green Pass for restaurants, bars, stadiums and other venues. Nightclub owners are contesting the discrimination.
From August onwards, the Green Pass vaccine passport will be a reality in Italy. This will no longer be about travelling internationally, but about getting around anywhere. Some see this as a Big Brother dystopia, some as a door to something resembling normality.
The question is now whether it will apply in schools, for teachers and students alike. Matteo Salvini rejects the idea. Well, he is likely to go to the disco but he is not likely to go back to school, unfortunately.
Your Brexit is undone
London (Brussels Morning) Boris Johnson misses no opportunity to show how big his Brexit is.
He flashes it at the leader of the UK opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, telling him that it’s thanks to Brexit that Britain was able to vaccinate its population so quickly, those millions of little pricks impossible under continued membership of the European Medicines Agency. As he strokes his Brexit, people have learned to be understanding rather than upset. All very 70s, tying in nicely with the last time the UK was low flying without a license.
He shows business leaders his strong Brexit all the time: he famously said “f**k business,” when presented with all sorts of objections for leaving the Customs Union.
And he is well within his rights to exhibit his big fat Brexit. After all, he campaigned in 2019 with the promise to “get Brexit done”, offering assurances of a quick deal with the EU and a big, decisive, Brexit, high and proud for all of Europe to see.
But his Brexit recently is looking a bit flaccid, particularly over Northern Ireland.
In meeting Ursula von der Leyen last week, he asked her to engage with him in a conversation about his Brexit, as it’s a bit under the weather lately. Specifically, he wanted to negotiate with her how about much access he can have to Northern Ireland, without customs checks.
Ms von der Leyen made clear that unprotected trade was out of the question and asked him to zip up his Brexit and move on. After all, he signed his Northern Ireland protocol not so long ago, a commitment one needs to stand by in sickness and in health. Except Mr Johnson is not famous for either committing, or using protection.
The threat now is that Mr Johnson will undo his Brexit and activate Article 16 of the protocol, which allows parts of the deal to be unilaterally overridden. To which Ms von der Leyen replied “the EU will continue to be creative and flexible within the protocol framework. But we will not renegotiate.”
Mr Johnson is finding that his Brexit cannot penetrate Northern Ireland without considerable damage to the UK. The British government spokesperson referred to the possibility of finding “reasonable, practical solutions to the difficulties facing people and businesses in Northern Ireland.” Perhaps the idea is to revert to homeopathy or Chinese traditional medicine. Perhaps killing a rhino would help to restore the state of Johnson’s Brexit.
There is also another implicit threat: if our Brexit is not happy, we don’t pay the £35-39bn we owe. Well, that’s a threat. In which case, the UK might find the EU is less engaging and Johnson may find himself alone, with a droopy Brexit, not worth a second look.
Our virus, my recovery
Brussels (Brussels Morning) We think of the “post-pandemic period” as a barbeque. We can finally have one, with real guests instead of putting our teddy bears in a row. But in this brave new world, we cannot invite every single hungry person in the neighbourhood. A party is not really a party without some claim to exclusivity.
And parties are likely to be open-but-exclusive. Getting in will require a Green Passport, booster vaccines, all of which may be extended to anyone over 12 years old. We may even vaccinate our pets before we send some more vaccines to the developing world.
Everyone boasts about how good their barbeque will be.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that the Italian economy is set to grow faster than Germany in 2021 and 2022. The forecast is that Spain will outperform Italy and therefore Spain. France is incomparable.
But there are places that have not had their initial vaccines, all around our garden fence. No, I am not thinking of the Delta Variant. Lambda is the latest hard-hitting remix of everyone’s least favourite virus. On June 17, the World Health Organization talked about this new “variant of interest” that is thriving in Peru and spreading in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico. It is now in the US and few cases in the UK.
There is no reason to believe that existing vaccines will not work against the emerging variants, but as long as COVID-19 roams free, no one can enjoy their freedom. One of these variants could also defy vaccines at some point. No one is free unless all are free. Unlike poverty, disease is very democratic.
What are you smoking?
London (Brussels Morning) Imagine a world in which you buy a pack of smokes and you are given three chocolates. The next generation of marketing is here, as British American Tobacco is looking for new products.
Ah, the life of a drug dealer. Tobacco is not in fashion in Europe, but cannabis is altogether another question.
The UK’s largest tobacco firm is trying to move away from selling traditional cigarettes. The boss, Jack Bowles, is encouraging people to switch to healthier products such as vaping or better yet cannabidiol (CBD) vaping, which he sees as “part of the future.”
The problem with the smoking addiction is that people view it as an essential component of taking a break, a sort of assisted reflection on the state of affairs, an excuse to take someone to one side in a party.
Cannabis retains the benefits of tobacco, perhaps replacing reflection with hysterical giggling, or so I’ve heard. It is said that it can vastly improve parliamentary performance as well. And for the moment, pointing towards its health hazards is seriously uncool. It’s like selling tobacco really, but in the 1980s.
When you need a drink to remain sober
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Everyone deserves a bit of fun and on that there is political consensus. Admittedly, there is no consensus on what constitutes fun, but I digress. It’s still a positive message in a world in which bubble-reinforcing social media politics tends to thrive parasitically on hate. Yes, it DOES! And if you say it doesn’t, it just proves everything I have ever thought about people like you! Sorry, got a bit carried away there. But at least it proves my point. Or a point.
The Portuguese MEP Paulo Rangel (EPP) saw an old video of himself make its way on line, in a story that is quite common in postmodern politics. Surprisingly, he got a few kind words and a bit of solidarity too.
The video features Rangel wandering alone during the night, visibly, ahem, refreshed, across the empty streets in Brussels like the anti-hero of a desolate Brel chanson. The incriminating video, just recently made public, shows a zig-zagging male, at one point almost falling down. In a close-up, the inebriate’s face comes into focus, in an edited slo-mo that leaves no doubt as to the identity of the weaving figure, clearly the worse for wear after a night on the tiles.
“A video after an excess at a dinner with friends, years ago in Brussels, went viral. I deplore who filmed it, kept it and just released it. I regret that you have done so, violating the limits of private life,” an irate Rangel said in a rather extreme reaction on Twitter, even though he had not been conducting his drunkenness in private.
In an aside, the MEP quoted the lyrics of what appeared to be a Portuguese popular song, noting that everybody has “glories, terrors and adventures” in life. I suppose that quote could do both as an intro to a Fado and to a Hard Rock ballad. At least he steered clear of one musical reference, the pan-European tradition of bawling the words to D.I.S.C.O. while under the influence. This time-honoured dance floor stomper is sung by 93% of drunken people in Europe, according to the Pan-European Fake Statistics Bureau.
The Conservative MEP is not part of the committee on sobriety, nor is he an advocate on prohibition, and, on occasion, he drinks. People do. MEP Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL) echoed this sentiment and stood by her colleague, in what appears to be a rare point of consensus. Leaving behind toxic politics may require some intoxication. When sober MEPs extend it, that’s as good an excuse as any to buy a round of drinks.
Flying away from democracy
Tel Aviv (Brussels Morning). Who says the art of politics is a stale affair, changing in ritual rather than substance?
For instance, they say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee – much to the distress, no doubt, of the ungulates sub-group of said committee. Meanwhile, Pegasus was a horse with wings rather than humps, allowing it to fly away from responsibility rather than simply endure the slings and arrows of government critics. This would have any committee up in arms, if they hadn’t just voted to give themselves wings instead.
This particular Pegasus is actually spy software designed to enable governments around the world to keep tabs on pesky journalists, lawyers, or opposition activists, tapping into their mobile phones.
The manufacturer of the software is the Israeli cyber intelligence NSO Group, which claims to sell it only to “verified” government agencies that fight terrorism. These verified governments include Belarus and Saudi Arabia, as well as Hungary.
Is this another case where all of us making a living by making fun of politics should proclaim “je suis un terroriste”? Perhaps. Among the potential terrorists under Pegasus surveillance were Chancellor Merkel and President Macron. Neither are particularly well known from donning balaclavas and blowing up their opponents in the middle of the night. So, we are in good company. But fear not, a “special committee” in Israel will look into the matter and come up with a remedy, according to “leaks” to the press. I’ll take those wings now, please.
Walking on egg shells without breaking an egg
Berlin (Brussels Morning). For 16 years. the Christian Democrats in Germany have led campaigns on the slogan “things are going well, vote for us to keep them going that way.”
Is it not the role of a Conservative – to conserve?
The successor to Angela Merkel, Armin Laschet, has been touring the areas affected by the floods promising protection, swift damage alleviation, and everything that a ruling party can promise with credibility. That is called the “incumbents’ advantage.” What he is reluctant to promise is change.
Laschet was seen laughing on TV, obviously being happy with the “management” of the situation, unable to extend compassion or promise decisive change, dismissing what happened as “a single day’s events.” He is in favour of renewable energy, but not disturbing wind turbines; he favours solar energy, but does not want to make it obligatory for new buildings; he wants fewer emissions, but is reluctant to make flying more expensive. He wants an omelette, without breaking any eggs. This is the German version of being pro-having-a-cake and pro-eating it. Much in common with their eccentric British cousins, after all.
Walking into Merkel’s shoes and fighting the first electoral campaign after her must feel like walking on eggshells. Losing a hard-won polling lead is a never-ending fear and, when gripped by fear, affirming that “things will remain the same” is probably the “go-to” strategy for every Conservative. Amidst a catastrophic flood, there is a thirst for change; being the guarantor of “a bit of the same” might not work quite as well as it used to.
When Anarchists and Conservatives reach political consensus
Madrid (Brussels Morning). Whenever politicians speak about history, they are usually making a comment on the present.
History is a good pool of condensed pain, which is a better mobiliser than any cost-benefit analysis. So, if you are in the business of “getting out the vote,” talking about history might get you further than the latest discussion on tax breaks.
The Spanish Cabinet on Tuesday signed off on the Democratic Memory Law that will soon be sent for a vote, facing opposition from the conservative Popular Party (PP) and far right Vox. What’s at stake is the repudiation of Franco’s legacy. Spain decided to remove the idea of symmetric responsibility in the teaching of the Civil War, and, controversially, eliminate the Francisco Franco Foundation and remove Francoist symbols, including, of course, the Valley of the Fallen. The point is this: Spanish politics feeds on a diet of historical pain, which has an effect on the present and none on the past.
When the EPP and Vox vehemently oppose the condemnation of the Francoist legacy, they are really presenting themselves at best as guardians of the rule of law, in a Chinese kind of way. The quote of the debate belongs to the leader of the Spanish Popular Party, Pablo Casado, referring to the Civil War as a confrontation between those who wanted democracy without law and those who wanted law without democracy. He then presented the Constitution and himself as the guarantor of a balance between law and democracy. One has to admit that the argument is slightly more elegant than Trump’s balancing act in Charlottesville, when he said that there were “very fine people, on both sides.”
But perhaps the EPP and the Anarchists could reach a consensus. The Anarchists suggest that “if elections could make a difference, they would be forbidden.” Perhaps the Conservatives would argue that they should be forbidden and perhaps, in effect if not in principle, the Anarchists would agree.
London (Brussels Morning). Political Amnesia is not a condition, but a precondition for successful campaigning.
The UK government wants to repudiate the agreement that was signed by the UK government, selling it as an “oven-ready” deal on the back of which Boris Johnson overturned Theresa May and successfully campaigned against Jeremy Corbyn 200 years ago (Sorry, what, it was only two years ago?? Feels longer. I could’ve sworn it was tucked in between Lola Montez’s funeral and George IV’s Coronation).
The UK government said border checks on goods from Great Britain it signed up to in the 2019 were unsustainable. Lord Frost called on the EU to look on the UK’s proposals with “fresh eyes.” Apparently, Johnson’s government has a fresh look on everything he signs, every day.
He called on the EU to agree not to implement the agreement, until the UK finds a way to deal with the problems stemming from the agreement. What a shame. He was so proud of it at the time. Those long words in these agreements are sometimes tricky for people who only have First Class degrees from Oxford, apparently.
Looking forward, the UK proposes removing customs checks on goods for British businesses sending goods to Northern Ireland, getting rid of certificates for food products, removing medicines entirely from the protocol and allowing goods conforming to UK rules to circulate freely in Northern Ireland. The bottom line: the UK wants to join the Customs Union, but opt out on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and payments to the Commission. Can I have some of that cake, please? I think I once had similar cake at the Glastonbury Festival.
On another note, it is now suggested that if Boris Johnson is kicked out of the Conservative Party sometime in the near future, he could be campaigning with Sinn Fein at the next election, as an “honorary Republican”. He’s certainly done a lot for the cause, albeit unwittingly. Perhaps “unwittingly”, when it comes to matters concerning this British Prime Minister, should just be taken as read.
Johnson’s former adviser, Dominic Cummings, told the BBC that in March 2020, the PM wanted to meet the then-unvaccinated 93-year-old British monarch Queen Elizabeth, while someone in his office had tested positive for the Coronavirus. There may be some objections within the ranks of Sinn Fein as this may be too radical an approach to Republicanism, as political violence has been denounced at least since the Good Friday Agreement.
Istambul (Brussels Morning) When Turkish inflation surges, President Erodğan fires two deputy chiefs of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK). When interest rates take a hike, the President fires the Governor of the Central Bank. When the Lira devalues, he fires the Minister of the Economy. When he has a stomach ache. he first fires the cook and, if the pain persists, he fires the doctor.
But as inflation was galloping and the Turkish Lira was losing its value, the President was hiring an architect.
Şefik Birkiye is a famous architect specialising in Turkey’s new national artistic contour, namely historical surrealism. Birkiye places huge structures where they don’t belong, transcending reality as it should be, very much in tune with the President’s culture.
First, he built a Palace in Ankara, a city that was specifically built to erase the memory of Istanbul as an imperial capital. Now Ankara has an imperial palace, which it was never meant to have.
Then he built the Taksim Mosque, replacing one thing that Istanbul has little of (green spaces) with something Istanbul has in abundance (mosques).
On Monday he unveiled pictures of a 90,000 square meter “Summer Palace” for President Erdoğan on Turkey’s Aegean coast that carries a price tag of 60 million euro (the price in Turkish Lira changes by the day).
Who do you fire when you lose touch with reality? Perhaps you just break your mirror, although that comes with seven years of bad luck.
Reykjavík (Brussels Morning) Icelanders have opted for fewer hours of work for the same money.
Following a two-year experiment with 2,500 workers in Iceland (1% of the working population), 85% of the participants have opted for shorter hours for the same pay – or work less for less.
The experiment remarkably increased their well-being and work-life balance, research has found. Trial participants moved from a 40-hour week to a 35- or 36-hour working week, which allowed them to do various errands around the home.
In other news, social researchers in Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, and Romania have found that they are now experimenting with Icelandic employers and Icelandic wages; the question posed by researchers is whether importing employers is better than emigrating.
Putin’s assault on French pride
Moscow (Brussels Morning) Champagne producers cannot call their sparkling wine Champagne, in Russia. “Champagne” is a region north east of Paris and the product from here is drunk by the Russian rich, old and new money alike. The former want to be seen drinking it, the latter want to appreciate it in the confidence that someone else pays the bill. That has been the divine order of things until… Putin.
You are not supposed to call your sparkling wine Champagne unless it comes from the region North of Paris. Well, that is if your country has signed the Lisbon agreement on distinctive geographical locations. 120 countries have. Russia has not.
Adding insult to injury, President Putin forbade French importers from using the term “shampanskoye” for imported sparkling wine. Russians consume a 13% share of global exports and so the potential damage could be considerable… well, if not to sales, perhaps to French pride.
Dom Perignon, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Moët Hennessy, will now be on the same shelf as Ukrainian, Moldovan, and Crimean sparkling wine. But only the latter will be “shampanskoye.” It could be worse. If French “sparkling wine” continues to outperform shampanskoye, Russia will make the consumption of Vodka BEFORE the consumption of wine obligatory.
From hell to heaven
Washington (Brussels Morning) At the height of his career, the only thing on the right of Donald Rumsfeld was the wall. He died a centrist, with plenty of right-wing molluscs to his right. He did not change. America did.
Rumsfeld was probably the most famous Republican fixer. He fixed it, so that Washington had an excuse to invade Iraq, playing the Find the Lady trick of known-knowns, known-unknowns, and unknown-unknowns. If a journalist shook his hand, he would then have to count his fingers.
He was the son of a real estate salesman. In some ways, he followed a scaled up version of his dad’s calling. He went to Princeton via the Navy and committed himself to the kind of politics that cuts down the ladder he climbed. First Nixon, then Reagan, then Bush (the less intelligent one). Left-wing Americans could swear they smelled sulphate when he entered the room, while his laugh – notoriously loud – was also suspiciously deep and with an echo (HaHaHaHa).
But his Machiavellian smile had the normative rudder of national interest. National interest meant something to some people for quite some time, in an age before a President that would divert military planes to Ireland to have soldiers stay at a specific hotel. Notoriously, he was holding a Pentagon breakfast when the World Trade Center was targeted on the morning of 9/11 and was still inside when the building was hit. Hours later he toyed with the idea of trying to bomb Osama Bin Laden and, why not, Saddam Hussein. Who would object? WHO WOULD DARE OBJECT!!!
Rumsfeld was hawkish, but not known for being the self-absorbed infantile modern Republican. By the end of the 2020s, he looked like a centrist.
Paris fairy tales.
Paris (Brussels Morning) Just before I went to bed, I was told a story of a lavish ball with 130 princes who, by the end of the night, decided to make the world a better and fairer place by making the rich pay their fair share of tax. I should stop sleeping on my couch.
In the background, I could hear the Queen’s English accent of the BBC presenter, who gave the story the attention it merited, just about 15 seconds. After all, most people watching the news do not believe in fairy tales.
“Officials from 130 countries have agreed to overhaul the global tax system to ensure big companies ‘pay a fair share’ wherever they operate,” the man said in a steady tone. OECD negotiators agreed on a minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15%. The press officer of the Paris-based organisation confirmed that the champagne served at the gala following the agreement had been properly taxed. And then Laughed Out Loud!!
Meanwhile, the prime ministers of Hungary, Ireland, and Malta agreed they would meet in the Caribbean for further talks, as they prefer rum to champagne. One of them wondered whether to invite Biden, former Senator of Delaware.
Pinocchio reaches puberty and tells Geppetto to f..off.
Rome (Brussels Morning) Former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday that he was not prepared to head a “mere facade operation, of pure restyling.”
He was of course referring to the leadership of the Five Star Movement (M5S), a member of the ruling coalition in Italy. The party was founded by Beppe Grillo, a comedian, who promised Italians he had discovered the secret of governance (but did not promise he would share it).
Conte affirmed with determination that he refuses to be the puppet of Grillo in the leadership of the party. Of course! Who wants to be a puppet party-leader after being a puppet prime minister?!
Conte begged Grillo to let M5S grow.
Grillo is known to be professionally funny. Having a sense of humour, he did not take this to be a comment on his personal height (1,74). Italians leaders are known to be much shorter.
Taking the statement at face value, Grillo dismissed Conte as essentially untalented. Grillo said Conte “doesn’t have a political vision, or managerial skills, experience in organisations, or a talent for innovation.”
After all, that is why Grillo chose him to become a prime minister.
Romanian and Bulgarian Foreign Aid.
Sofia (Brussels Morning) Bulgaria and Romania are offering vaccines to other countries, as no one will have them in theirs and they are reaching their expiry date.
Hesitancy in the two countries stems from a long-standing distrust of authority. Locals trust age-tested raki, vodka, palinka or – if desperate – wine as opposed to newly-developed vaccines.
35,000 Astra Zeneca doses passed their expiry in Bulgaria, while raki lasts forever. The government plans to donate 150,000 doses — mostly Astra again — to neighbouring countries, but not a drop of raki. Romania will sell about 1.2 million of its Pfizer shots to Denmark. Palinka probably costs more.
Let him go home
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Last week the Conservative Health Minister Matt Hancock (I kid you not, that’s his name) apologised for ignoring social distancing guidelines.
He saw his face on the cover of an irreputable but very Conservative tabloid in a moment of passion with his assistant that would make anyone cringe. Boris Johnson, the prime minister who was once asked how many children he had and could or would not answer, said he considered the matter closed. And then went on to take his social distance from the whole matter, including the government.
But many Conservative MPs did not agree and put pressure on the government to remove him, which resulted in his resignation on Saturday.
“I read the story on Friday and we’ve got a new health secretary in post on Saturday,” he said, which sound a bit like Dorothy tapping her shoes three times and wishing “let him go home, let him go home, let him go home.”
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Everyone takes a chance for a cheap shot at Victor Orban, the man we all love to hate. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said that Hungary should not be part of the European Union because of its discriminatory new law banning LGBT content in schools. And 17 EU leaders were ready to echo Rutte’s views: Alexander De Croo (Belgium), Mette Frederiksen (Denmark), Angela Merkel (Germany), Kaja Kallas (Estonia), Micheál Martin (Ireland), Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Greece), Pedro Sánchez (Spain), Emmanuel Macron (France), Mario Draghi (Italy), Nicos Anastasiades (Cyprus), Krišjānis Kariņš (Latvia), Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg), Robert Abela (Malta), Sanna Marin (Finland) and Stefan Löfven (Sweden) and, perhaps reluctantly, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
Is this a case of schoolyard bullying? The Times of London would seem to suggest to us it is, warning us with a headline that the “Imperialist EU punishes nations it dislikes”, quoting none other than Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Just coincidence, one imagines. The signatures that were absent from this list – Bulgaria, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania – should give us pause and time for reflection. Perhaps this is a case of empathy with the mistreated, not just the populism of going after the unpopular kids in class.
After all, from the moment they leave the womb, men are indoctrinated with ideas about what their gender means via a culture of toxic masculinity and homophobia. Real men don’t cry, don’t back down from a fight, don’t like the brilliant Army Of Lovers.
Spare a thought, then, for people like Jozsef Szajer, a Member of the European Parliament for Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party who attended a gay party, apparently with an army of lovers, but not the Army Of Lovers. This was during COVID and in violation of lockdown rules, allegedly with a certain substance on his person. He attempted to plead parliamentary immunity, but as he’d been campaigning for a party that is vehemently condemning LGBTQ+ rights, consequences were inevitable. He was forced to bite the bullet instead of ride the bullet, although circumstantial evidence suggests he may have done that too. Politically speaking, Szajer was crucified, like his saviour- though not, as the song goes, for saintlike behaviour. Being gay certainly shouldn’t be a crime, but perhaps such levels of hypocrisy should.
Functionalist Paths to Nirvana.
Paris (Brussels Morning) You just have to love functionalism: the idea that once a product is legally produced in a free market, it can be sold across that free market – even in corners of that market where it’s not free to do so.
Of course, we are talking about da ‘erb, bhang, kef, ganja. Buds of the cannabis plant, regardless of their THC content, are illegal in France. But the French Court of Cassation has ruled their sale is allowed if they were legally produced in the European Union. So, produce it legally in Lisbon and you can smoke it in Paris.
To sum up: The Fox Seeds chain sold cannabis buds, which the authorities argued were illegal. But the highest court in the land ruled that if they were legally produced in the EU, the owner should have been allowed to sell them.
You might need to smoke a fat one before this makes sense. Responsibly and legally, of course. Check your location first.
Trust your parenting to Dutch Consumer Associations.
Amsterdam (Brussels Morning) You may not like the idea of your teenage son or daughter sharing all kinds of data online and potentially putting themselves in harm’s way. But try making the case to them that they should be the odd one out amongst their peers and stay away from Instagram, TikTok or WhatsApp. Good luck with that, especially if you’re hooked on an oldies’ platform like Facebook. That’s different isn’t it? Your aunt Maureen’s on that, sh*tposting about the Brexit referendum’s fifth anniversary.
But anyway, help is at hand from the Dutch Consumers Association Consumentenbond and the Take Back Your Privacy foundation. They are taking TikTok to court, asking the platform to pay damages of around €1,000 to all Dutch children who’ve used the platform. Now, bribery is not a suggested parenting method, but exchanging TikTok membership for hard cash may very well be what the doctor ordered, particularly if you are not the one handing out the cash. After all, it’s maybe a better rate than they’d get on a Russian bot farm, although that’s not saying much.
The data from Dutch children earns TikTok money when sold internationally, with no guarantees in terms of privacy or safe storage. You might have told your child as much, but were perhaps dismissed with a smirking “OK, boomer”, with your protests that you’re actually a sprightly Gen-X’er not cutting any ice.
Some 64,000 Dutch parents have registered claims that could bring a combined claim of €1.4bn. Allegations that TikTok would like to go Dutch could not be verified at the time of publication.
I love to hate you.
London (Brussels Morning) As discussed above with Mr Orban, there are some adversaries we love to hate and some friends we love to tease. Which we love the most isn’t always obvious.
It’s interesting that France and Germany are calling for the restoration of regular and institutionalised communication with Russia only a day after Russian forces claimed to have fired warning shots at a British destroyer in Black Sea. The United Kingdom suggests nothing of the sort happened, with London’s official account being that HMS Defender was simply found at the wrong place at the wrong time. In sum, a Su-24M attack plane and a coastal patrol ship fired shots while a British destroyer was passing by and the Russians are now turning bad luck into bravado.
The question is whether Chancellor Merkel and President Macron would have entered a room with Estonians, Dutch, Poles and… Brits five years ago calling for a meeting with President Putin, in the name of “stability in Europe.”
President Macron clarified that such a meeting would not require Europe “giving up on any of its values,” but maybe this is where the Groucho Marx dictum applies: “These are my values… if you don’t like them, I have others!”
Perhaps this is an exaggeration. Chancellor Merkel referred to the need for the EU to meet up with President Putin, as “it is not enough for the American president to talk to the Russian president,” underscoring that just because Washington has rediscovered its sanity, Europe shouldn’t forget that America has the institutional ability to go bananas. Indeed, there are probably hefty, ruddy-faced American men demonstrating somewhere right now that it’s their carrrnstuh-toosh-uh-nal right to do so.
In any event, President Putin endorsed the idea.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) Estonia’s Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, took less kindly to it, while Dutch Prime Minister Rutte recalled tragic memories of Flight MH17. Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have had a comment or another, but no one was offering a microphone. After all, he prefers Cornish Pasties to thinly-sliced pomme frites avec mayo.
From London, Johnson was telling the press that “we don’t recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea,” but while “we” could in principle include many states, it did not. Britain was painfully lonely on Wednesday. More than that, Merkel and Macron were making the point that Russia would be a useful counterpart in discussions on Syria, Libya, and Iran. One wonders how the “leaving the EU without leaving Europe” idea is working out.
London Calling, but roaming charges apply.
London (Brussels Morning) One of the annoying things about capitals calling to give their deuce point during Eurovision is the insatiable appetite of presenters – with eye-stinging “looks” that have somehow escaped Europol’s fashion branch – to try to be funny with a captive European audience.
Why not throw in a good joke, eh? No? A few bad ones, then?
But we may be one nuisance short next year.
The British Telecom-owned mobile operator EE will liberate its UK customers from free roaming now that the country has, er, taken back control of its regulatory policy. New EE customers or those upgrading after mid-July will have to pay £2 a day when they use their phones in 47 European countries.
Mobile networks in EU countries have been banned from charging customers extra since 2017; that is, one year after the UK voted to leave the EU. The few British tourists that will manage to go to the Continent for holidays may find a big, fat bill waiting for them. But it is their sovereign right to be charged more. Or something.
Plus, we may have at least one less presenter trying to be funny. The clock, after all, is ticking and roaming charges apply.
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.