This Week in Europe

, par Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe

Members of the TNF team recount big events from Europe from the past week, and point attention to news that may have passed notice. What did we miss ? Comment on our Facebook page at !

Ukrainian separatist leader killed by blast

This week, Alexander Zakharchenko, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic and leader of the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine was killed in an explosion while at a cafe in Donetsk. The separatists called the event a terrorist attack and Russia’s foreign ministry said it suspected Ukraine of organizing it, while the Ukrainian government denied involvement and pointed to infighting among rebels or attempts from Russia itself at eliminating the separatist leaders it could not control. The same blast that killed Zakharchenko wounded “finance minister” Alexander Timofeyev. A number of Ukrainians believed responsible for the explosion were arrested. Since 2014, Ukrainian rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk, backed by Russia, established their own government and refused to recognize the authority of Kiev.

French environment minister quits

On Tuesday, Nicolas Hulot, environment minister in the government of Emmanuel Macron, and a popular figure himself, quit. He stated that he was disappointed with the way in which the current government tackled environmental and climate issues. The resignation is thought to be a major blow to president Macron, whose popularity is already falling, because Hulot was well liked by young French voters, many of which grew up watching a nature TV program that he presented in the 1990s. I don’t want to create the illusion that my presence in the government means that we are on top of these issues and therefore I take the decision to quit this government,” Hulot said. He also revealed that he had not told either Macron or PM Edouard Philippe of his intention beforehand.

George W. Bush made honorary citizen of Vilnius

In recognition of a 2002 speech pledging American support for Lithuania, the small Baltic state decided to make former U.S. president George W. Bush an honorary citizen of its capital, Vilnius. “Changes that took place after we joined the EU and NATO were essential,” Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius stated, “and George W. Bush was the U.S. president whose position was key.” Back in 2002, Bush said “Anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America”, a declaration that is directly at odds with the position taken by current U.S. president Donald Trump, who threatened to pull out of NATO.

Germany sees clashes between left and far-right

On Monday, the eastern German city of Chemnitz was the stage for major clashes between far-right demonstrators and leftist protesters after an Iraqi and a Syrian were arrested over a fatally stabbing a 35-year-old German citizen.. Thousands of people took to the streets and attacked police and the other side with fireworks, while local officials pleaded for calm. Since the start of the refugee crisis, Germany has taken in around one million asylum seekers, a decision of the German government that the far-right bitterly opposes. Leftist protesters, on the other hand, demanded that attacks on foreigners be stopped. After the clashes, several people were detained and four demonstrators were charged.

Rudy Giuliani lobbies Romania in support of government

Since February 2017, Romania has seen massive protests against its government and the ruling party, the Social Democratic Party. This week, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani sent a letter to the top officials of Romania, including the president, expressing his concern over the way that justice has been carried in the country. The letter laid special focus on the activity of internationally praised National Anti-Corruption Directorate and its lead prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, who, Giuliani says, overstepped its bounds, intimidating lawyers, judges and witnesses. Later in the week, Giuliani admitted that he was paid by a global consulting firm for the letter - with sources saying that the sum amounted to $5 million - and that he spoke directly only with a Romanian official. The U.S. State Department, however, noted that the letter was the opinion of a private individual with no position within the administration. Indeed, the views expressed by Giuliani directly contradicted the official position of the U.S. government.

EU proposes 0% tariffs, Trump rejects

This week also marked another development in the trade war initiated by U.S. president Donald Trump in his search for a “fair deal” when it comes to trading with the European Union. The EU had proposed a 0% tariff on all industrial products, including cars, between the U.S. and the old continent, but president Trump refused, saying that Europeans “buy their cars, not our cars.” He also said that the EU also treats China unfairly. Instead, the American president threatened to exit the World Trade Organization “if they don’t shape up.”

Poland may ignore unfavourable ECJ ruling

Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Jarosław Gowin, has stated that if the European Court Justice rules in favour of the Polish Supreme Court’s decision to suspend a law forcing the early retirement of top judges then the Polish government may simply ignore the ruling. The provocative statement forms another step in a long-running dispute between Poland and EU institutions over the state of the rule of law in the country. The proposed law would force around 40% of the Polish Supreme Court’s judges to retire by imposing a compulsory retirement age in what is seen as another attempt by the government to gain political control over the country’s judiciary. If Poland’s government did ignore the ECJ ruling, it would considerably ramp up tensions in the rule of law dispute, something which they have previously tried to avoid.

Orban and Salvini place Macron in their sights

Viktor Orban and Matteo Salvini came together on a joint platform on Tuesday to attack the politics of Emmanuel Macron ahead of the European Parliament elections. Though they played down the idea that they might come together in a new European Parliament grouping, they presented a common policy vision aiming at massively reducing external immigration into the EU and attacked Macron for supposedly leading the group that supports such migration. Macron meanwhile responded to these attacks with a certain enthusiasm, declaring that Orban and Salvini were right to consider him an opponent. Since his presidential campaign in 2017, Macron has repeatedly returned to the idea of a conflict between nationalists and progressives in European politics, an idea he is seemingly looking to revive and build upon in the European Elections.

EU Foreign Policy head defends Kosovo-Serbia land swap

On Friday, Frederica Mogherini defended the discussions currently occurring between Kosovo and Serbia around the idea of a land swap between the two states. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy tried to allay concerns by stating that while a bilateral solution between the two states was the best way forward, the EU would only support an agreement that conformed to EU and international law and that the EU was against any objective of ethnically pure states. Nonetheless, foreign ministers in EU states have expressed great reservations, fearing that any change to the peace accords could lead to demands for further border changes. The region is still recovering from the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia and many believe that any redrawing of the borders could easily spiral into violence.

EU considers abolishing Daylight Savings Time

A massive online survey involving 4.6 million respondents has found a large majority of Europeans (80%) in favour of abolishing Daylight Savings Time (DST). The practice of moving the clocks forward during summer months was originally introduced to maximise the daylight that people can enjoy in the evening during the summer and so in theory should lower energy costs. Opponents though have long criticised DST for disrupting natural sleep patterns and have questioned whether it actually produces any benefits at all. The proposal is not concrete yet and will need to be approved by the European Parliament but there is a high likelihood that DST will be abolished. Finland, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden are already understood to be pushing for the EU to end DST. Although the DST system is common in Europe and North America, it is not used in the rest of the world.

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