This Week in Europe: Fort Trump, Salzburg summit and more

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Fort Trump, Salzburg summit and more

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 http://facebook.com/thenewfederalist.eu !

Brussels holds car-free day

On Sunday, the streets of Brussels were empty. As part of a plan to reduce pollution and to encourage people to use alternatives to cars, an annual car-free day was introduced. Numerous vehicles still populated the roads, however, with buses, taxis and emergency services still running, totaling at around 17,000 registered waivers. Earlier this month, the Belgian capital and home of numerous EU institutions experienced some of the worst air pollution levels in all of the continent. During the car-free day, however, pollution was recorded at 30% lower than normal. Paris, another European capital faced with air pollution, joined Brussels in the the call for a pan-European car-free day, with the mayors of both cities issuing a joint statement. Also earlier this month, the European Court of Auditors criticized the European Commission for not doing enough to counter air pollution, and of going easy on member-states whenever they break the rules.

Bulgaria sides with Orban against Article 7

On Wednesday, Bulgarian Deputy PM Krassimir Karakachanov of the ‘United Patriot’ coalition now governing together with PM Boyko Borissov’s GERB party announced that Bulgaria does not support the European Parliament’s triggering of Article 7 against Hungary. Dependent on their alliance with the United Patriots, the EPP-affiliated GERB party’s MEPs voted against the motion on the 12th of September, along with two MEPs registered in the ECR and the socialist Momchil Nekov, totaling 8 Bulgarian MEPs voting against the motion, 5 in favour, one abstention and 3 MEPs missing. The United Patriots, who wanted Bulgaria to take a stance in support of Hungary, explained that Article 7 was equal to infringing on the sovereignty of a member state, and warned that a similar decision could be taken against Bulgaria. After the announcement, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which has many Orban fans within its ranks as well, stated that they are also against triggering Article 7 against Hungary.

Court orders Marine Le Pen to psychiatric evaluation

On Thursday, it was revealed that French far-right leader has been ordered by a court to be subjected to a psychiatric evaluation after she posted images of executions carried out by the Islamic State. Scandalized, Le Pen herself posted on Twitter that “for having denounced the horrors of #Daesh in tweets, the ‘justice’ department is submitting me to a psychiatric evaluation!” Back in 2015, the far-right leader had posted the pictures in response to a comparison by a journalist between ISIS and the French far-right. Earlier this year, Le Pen was charged with the “circulation of violent messages that incite terrorism” and was placed under investigation in March. Now, the judges want to know if she suffers from any mental illness that could have impaired her understanding of what she was doing when she posted the images to social media. The images included the beheading of American journalist James Foley, but also the burning alive of another man and the moment in which a third man was driven over by a tank.

EPP: Orban’s party will not be expelled

On Wednesday, Joseph Daul, president of the center-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, said that Fidesz, the party of Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, accused of trampling on democratic freedoms and whose country is facing Article 7 proceedings, will not be expelled from the EPP. Daul argued that it was better to wait for the Article 7 process to reach its conclusion before acting and that other countries - such as Malta and Slovakia, ruled by social democratic governments - also present problems regarding the rule of law. Orban, the self-styled champion of Christian Europe and of illiberalism, denied the charges brought against him and argues that “we are the EPP’s most successful party.” However, some members of the center-right political family have called for Orban and Fidesz to be expelled, despite the opposition of the leadership.

Poland suspended from European Network of Councils for the Judiciary

On Monday, Poland was suspended from the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary, the organization which unites the judicial systems of EU countries. The country was stripped of its voting rights and excluded from participation because its judges are no longer seen as independent of political control. In its statement, the ENCJ said that while member states have the right to organize their judicial systems in their own way, there are minimum standards required for membership. Since taking power in 2015, the governing Law and Justice party has removed numerous judges by forcing them to retire. More recently, the Polish Supreme Court was subjected to a lower retirement age which forced numerous judges to retire as well, including its president. Meanwhile, the PiS government maintains that its “reforms” are needed in order to rid the system of judges connected to the communist regime.

Poland wants “Fort Trump”

On Tuesday, U.S. president Donald Trump said that his country has received a request from Poland’s president Andrzej Duda asking for a permanent American military presence in the country and offering for the base to be called “Fort Trump”. Trump also stated that he shares Poland’s concern regarding the Russian threat and appreciated Duda’s promise for a $2 billion investment into the base. In response, Russia cautioned that NATO’s expansion toward its own borders can only undermine the stability of Europe. At the moment, the U.S. has temporary troops stationed in Poland, but Defense Secretary James Mattis argued that having them there permanently would be costly.

Salzburg fireworks at European summit

Tensions in Brexit negotiations ramped up this week after an acrimonious meeting of European leaders in Salzburg. It is believed that EU governments were frustrated by UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s hardline opening position at the start of the meeting, leading to a more forceful put down of her proposal than many analysts had expected. May then fired back the following day with a televised address attacking the EU for not showing Britain enough respect. Though a consensus has been reached on most areas of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, both sides remain deeply divided on a few key points, notably the question of how to manage the border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The firm rejection by both sides of the other’s proposal has pushed up the risk of a No Deal exit of the UK from the EU.

Italian MEP and assistant attacked by far-right group

Eleonora Forenza and her assistant, Antonio Perillo, were attacked by members of the far-right group CasaPound. The communist politician was part of a group of people targeted by the fascist group, who attacked protesters at an anti-racism demonstration. It is believed the CasaPound members were armed with bats and both Forenza and her assistant had to be hospitalised after the attack. CasaPound is a deeply anti-semitic and xenophobic group, named after the American fascist Ezra Pound.

German head of security transferred

Following immense political pressure Germany’s head of domestic security, Hans-Georg Maaßen, has been forced to leave his post but with little negative consequence. Instead of being forced out completely, Maaßen has been moved to become Deputy Minister of the Interior under under the current Minister, Seehofer. This move has been criticised as being effectively a promotion and was likely the result of a compromise between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Seehofer, who claimed he would have had to resign if Maaßen was dismissed outright. With elections upcoming in Bavaria, Seehofer wants to be seen to protect the more right-wing elements of his party, who otherwise might be tempted to switch to the far-right AfD.

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