This Week in Europe: Copyright rules, Morawiecki and baby Trump balloon

, by Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Copyright rules, Morawiecki and baby Trump balloon

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 !

EP votes down spending accountability

This Monday, MEPs in the European Parliament’s governing Bureau rejected a series of proposals that sought to introduce stricter accountability in the additional spendings an MEP can use for his or her office. This sum amounts to around 4,500 euro per month, in addition to the salary of 8,600 euros. At present, MEPs are not required to show how they spent the money. The 15 members of the Bureau who rejected the addition of the General Expenditure Allowance, or GEA, to the rules by which elected representatives have to act also included President Antonio Tajani.

In response, the Green party criticized the center-right EPP for its opposition to the GEA. In the last few months, pressure for increased transparency in spending has been stepped up by a number of MEPs after an investigation by journalists into the issue uncovered widespread abuses such as transfers to the MEPs personal accounts. The Bureau of the Parliament did accept one reform - that the money be transferred to an account separate from the one in which the salary is transferred.

Polish PM: EU must stop lecturing Poland

On Wednesday, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki demanded that the EU stop “lecturing” his country with regard to the rule of law. In the Strasbourg plenary, Morawiecki refused to back down from the reforms that his government made to the judiciary and asked for a “union of nations 2.0”. The comments come after the EU criticized a move made by Polish President Andrzej Duda, who forced the top judge on the Polish Supreme Court into early retirement.

Just a day before, Commission VP Frans Timmermans announced that he would open infringement procedures against Poland for lowering the retirement age of the Supreme Court to 65. In December, the Commission triggered Article 7 on Poland after countless warnings, arguing that the country was undermining the independence of its judiciary.

MEPs reject reform of copyright rules

On Thursday, the European Parliament voted down an overhaul of copyright rules governing the Union’s online environment. After two years of debates, the rejected bill will be sent back for further discussion and will be submitted to new amendments. The new regulations would have forced platforms such as Google and Facebook to counter copyright infringements more severely. The rejection, therefore, marks a defeat for copyright holders, which hoped to see increased incomes from published content.

Wedged between media platforms and copyright holders, the European Union has been gripping for the creation of new rules. The vote was met with cheers online, where proponents of the anti-copyright camp popularized the issue by claiming that the new regulations would ban memes, a scenario denied by copyright holders. In the Parliament, the votes of German Conservatives and the initiative of Green MEP Julia Reda were decisive in rejecting the proposed bill. The vote was close, with 278 in favor, 318 against and 31 abstentions.

EU freezes aid to Moldova after overturned mayoral race

Last month, a court decision voided the results of the mayoral election for the capital of Moldova, Chisinau. The elections had been won by Andrei Nastase, a pro-Western candidate, former prosecutor and vocal critic of the ruling pro-Russian party. After the court’s ruling, thousands of people took to the streets in protest, but the Moldovan Supreme Court only re-confirmed the initial decision to overturn the results. This Wednesday, the EU released a statement saying that it had frozen a 100-million euro aid package to Moldova since the country’s democratic credentials have been undermined and that the rule of law has been damaged.

Nastase claims that the court acted at the orders of the leader of the ruling Democratic Party, Vlad Plahotniuc, whose influence over police, media and the cabinet is strong. Prime Minister Pavel Filip denies interfering with the judiciary, while Plahotniuc said it would be “dangerous and unfair” for the government to try to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.

Baby Trump balloon to fly over London during Trump visit

In a lighter note, this Thursday the London Authority approved a request for an orange inflatable balloon featuring U.S. President Donald Trump as an angry baby to be flown over the city during the president’s trip to the U.K. Equipped with a diaper and a smartphone, the balloon was initially denied permission, but then a spokesman for the London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that permission had been granted, on the condition that the balloon be grounded at all times and flown for only two hours. The display will coincide with a protest march, and organizers hope to take baby Trump on world tour.

U.K. Electoral Commission: Vote Leave broke spending rules

Also this week, the Electoral Commission of the United Kingdom released a report which reveals the fact that the official Brexit campaign group Vote Leave broke spending rules. The report followed up on a series of whistleblowers who claimed that £625,000 were transferred by Vote Leave to pro-Brexit youth campaign BeLeave, thus working around campaign spending rules. The money then went to a data analytics firm, AggregateIQ, as if sent by Vote Leave itself. While former Leave leaders deny the findings and equate them to “fantasies”, the Leave camp may be faced with a heavy fine.

Croatia becomes a high-income country

This week, the World Bank reported that its new income classifications, which lowered the thresholds, ranked Croatia as a high-income country. With $12,055 GNI per capita, a rising GDP of $51 billion and a decreasing level of CO2 emissions, the country’s problem remains its steady decrease in population. Only two EU member states - Romania and Bulgaria - and not registered as high-income countries by the World Bank. However, they both rank in the second best class, with GNIs per capita between $3,896 and $12,055.

Slovakia fined €1 million for EU waste management breach

This week, the European Court of Justice ruled that Slovakia is to pay €1 million and penalties of €5,000 for every day of delay after failing to impose EU rules on landfills near the northwest border with the Czech Republic. The case was first brought to the ECJ in 2013. Since then, Slovakia has missed deadlines in 2014 and has still not resolved the issue, leading to contaminated groundwater. After the country’s environmental inspectorate found that restoring the landfills would cost €900,000, no action followed from the part of the Slovakian government.

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