This Week in Europe : Italian government turmoil, Luxembourg to legalise cannabis and more

, par Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe : Italian government turmoil, Luxembourg to legalise cannabis and more
Image by Samuel Mork Bednarz.

Germany considers new fiscal path

Germany, which for many years now has frustrated partners by insisting on not increasing its spending, even as the economy slows, could be on the verge of a turning point. Faced with record-low borrowing costs, Chancellor Angela Merkel is reportedly looking into new spending to help with the transition out of coal and into renewable energies. The money would be particularly targeted as a cushion for those areas of Germany that will be most impacted by the closure of the coal plants, with an expected funding level of around €40 billion.

Members of the left wing of the SPD, the junior coalition partner of the German government, have been particularly pushing for these kinds of new measures. However, while there is a suggestion that the mood is turning within the Chancellory too, there is still reticence from some Conservatives in the government who fear that once the door is opened, there will be a rush of new spending plans. As a result the issue is far from settled, though a path of fiscal stimulus would be greeted with relief in most of the European economy.

Italian government on verge of collapse

This week, Matteo Salvini, the leader of one of the parties in Italy’s governing coalition, effectively ended the agreement and called for new elections. A clash between Salvini’s Lega and their partners M5S over a planned high speed-rail link between Italy and France has served as the pretext for Salvini’s decision, although in practice Lega got its way on the decision and it is only one of many points of difference between the two parties.

More likely, the dispute served as a good excuse for Salvini to try and engineer new elections at a time when his party is riding high in the polls. The decision will not entirely be in his gift, however, as only the President can dissolve the Parliament and it is known that President Mattarella would much rather MPs focussed on passing an effective budget in the autumn that get involved with elections. He will therefore likely use what tools he has to try and delay elections until the new year, including the appointment of a technocratic government.

Portugal to ration fuel ahead of strike

The Portuguese government is setting up a rationing system for fuel to ensure that the country can cope with a planned strike by fuel tanker drivers. Special measures are also being put in place to ensure that critical infrastructure like hospitals, fire stations, military bases and airports remain adequately supplied. The preparations are a sign that negotiations are not expected to succeed and that a strike will go ahead on Monday.

Under the rationing plan, drivers will be limited to 15 litres of petrol, lasting until the 21st August. Fuel tanker drivers are demanding higher wages and better working conditions. Though the government will not welcome the strike, as it comes just before scheduled elections in October, the event is unlikely to significantly impact the government’s popularity, with Portugal having already weathered a similar strike in April.

Luxembourg plans to legalise cannabis

In an interview this week, Luxembourg’s Health Minister, Etienne Schneider, confirmed that the country plans to legalise the production and consumption of cannabis for personal use. If this proposal becomes law, Luxembourg would be the first EU state to legalise the drug, going further than even the famously drug-friendly Netherlands. The new policy is being pushed as an alternative to the anti-drug laws that have formed the consensus of the last few decades in the West, which some now deem to have been a failure.

UK to stay on Interrail after talks

This week, railway operators in Britain struck a deal to remain inside the pan-European Interrail and Eurail ticketing scheme. A day before, disputes and failed talks had the same operators announcing the country will leave - a statemenet that was later retracted. It was later releaved that the British companied wanted to “secure a competitive position for their BritRail Pass” but failed. The new British Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, had to intervene and to urge the British rail operators to reverse their decision. Interrail offers tickets for 31 European countries and has been running since the 1970s, currently managed by the Dutch-based Eurail Group.

PiS speaker quits after 100 flights on government jet to hometown

On Thursday, Poland’s speaker of the parliament, Marek Kuchcinski, a senior Law and Justice (PiS) member, was forced to quit after the opposition accused him of taking more than 100 flights on a government jet. The flights were mainly to his home town of Rzeszow, together with family members or friends. “I didn’t break the law,” Kuchinski maintained after resigning as speaker of Poland’s lower chamber of parliament. Reports have it that the final decision was made by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS leader who holds no official office but rules the party nonetheless.

Blackface at Africa-themed Belgian party sparks outcry

This week, Belgium’s Africa Museum threw an Africa-themed party on its grounds. Pictures taken at the party, however, showed a man in blackface and party-goers in colonial-themed costumes. A wave of criticism followed, prompting the organisers to defend themselves publicly. The Royal Museum for Central Africa apologized for allowing the party and pointed to the fact that it was independently organised. The anger, however, is deeper than that. The Africa Museum was built by King Leopold II using money made in the exploitative rubber plantations of the Congo Free State, and has been making strides to distance itself from its past.

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