This Week in Europe: Poisonings, Feminist Marches and More

, by Radu Dumitrescu, Samuel Mork Bednarz

This Week in Europe: Poisonings, Feminist Marches 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 !

US punishes Poland for Holocaust law

On Tuesday, Polish media and POLITICO Europe reported that a memo from Washington stipulates that Poland’s leaders will not be allowed to meet with the U.S. President or the Vice-President until the country repeals its new Holocaust law. The controversial law makes it illegal to suggest that Poland - either its people or the state - were involved in Nazi crimes. Moreover, State Secretary Rex Tillerson formulated three sanctions that are to be brought to Poland: no high-level bilateral contacts, the blocking of financing for military projects and “dramatic” consequences if an American were to be charged for breaching the new law. The U.S. memo was received fours days after the Polish lower house of parliament backed the law.

EU military cooperation charges ahead

In a meeting on Tuesday, a group of defence ministers from EU countries signed off on 17 collaborative projects - financed with both national and EU money - in a move that will create the Permanent Structured Cooperation pact. While missing the U.K., Denmark and Malta, the initial approved projects include maritime surveillance, a European medical command, armoured infantry fighting vehicles, among others. Closer military cooperation, an idea championed by France, Germany, Italy and Spain, the top economies in the EU, with the help of the Commission, which will finance industrial research, aims to speed-up EU crisis interventions in conflict areas around the world.

Polish PiS closer to controlling the judiciary

Still on Tuesday, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) elected its own candidates into the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a body which oversees judicial impartiality in the country. Last year, PiS changed the legislation pertaining to the Council so that parliament could choose its 15 members directly, instead of allowing fellow judges to do it, as it had been before. According to the PiS Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the “reform” was necessary in order to combat corruption and “communist era elites” that had “sentenced Polish patriots to death” during the Stalinist trials of the 1950s. The minister also mentioned plans regarding a disciplinary arm of the KRS that would “get rid of insubordinate judges.” The opposition refused to take part in the naming of new members while national lawyer associations called on their members to refrain from applying.

“Feminist marches” across Spain

On March 8th, the international women’s day, millions of women went on strike across several cities and 200 other locations. Supported by 10 unions and top women politicians, the strike was joined by 5.3 million women, with hundreds of thousands on the streets alone. Police were called to stop the blocking of main roads, public transport was reduced, while organisers urged women to stop working, buying or doing housework. The strike was meant to show how important women are in society. Some opposed the strike. The ruling centre-right party, the Partido Popular (PP), said the action was “for feminist elites and not real women with everyday problems”, while 2 of the 5 female ministers said they would work longer hours to show the capacity of women.

Resignations follow results of Italian elections

Gianni Pittella, leader of the Social-Democrats in the European Parliament since 2014, has resigned from his position on Wednesday after winning a seat in the Italian Senate during the elections of last week. Now representing the Democratic Party in Italy, Pittella vowed to continue working toward “the future of the whole of Europe” and to overcome the “worrying setbacks” represented by the results of the election, which he blamed on the austerity policies and the lack of solidarity from Europe in managing the migration crisis.

On Monday, former PM and leader of the same Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi, resigned from his position as party president, following the “clear defeat” suffered by the center-left. He added that three things distinguish the PD from the anti-establishment 5Star Movement and far-right League: “Their anti-Europeanism, their anti-politics and the verbal hatred they have directed” at Democratic Party members.”

Former Russian spy poisoned

Last Sunday, former colonel in Russia’s military intelligence service Sergei Skripal and his daughter became severely ill while in Salisbury, England. They lost consciousness and remain in critical condition ever since. The responders and emergency workers first on the scene also became ill, with one police officer being hospitalized. By Wednesday, the British police settled that they were poisoned by a nerve agent. The resources and expertise involved in producing and using a nerve agent suggest the involvement of a military or intelligence agency. In 2006, a Russian court convicted Mr. Skripal of selling secrets to the British. In 2010, he was released from prison and sent to Britain as part of an exchange of imprisoned spies. British authorities are confronted with the possibility that an attack was carried out by the Russian government on British soil. In 2006, Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former Russian agent who did not refrain from criticizing the Russian president, was fatally poisoned in the same country.

Leader of Romanian Social Democrats investigated in Brazil

Liviu Dragnea, the controversial president of the Romanian Social-Democratic Party (PSD), who was given a suspended jail sentence in 2016 in his home-country, is being investigated by Brazilian authorities for money laundering. In an interview, Brazilian federal prosecutor Carlos Wagner Barbosa Guimaraes said Dragnea was part of a scheme to buy beach-front properties in Brazil through third parties. Building onto investigations made by a Romanian research platform, Rise Project, Brazilian authorities plan to continue looking into Dragnea’s dealings in Brazil.

EU claims money back from the National Front

On Wednesday, an EU court ruled that Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of eurosceptic French party Front National, should pay back more than €320,000 in funds to the European Parliament for wages “unduly” paid to an assistant. The court also ruled that National Front MEP Bruno Gollnisch should pay back nearly €276,000 for similar reasons. The party has been accused several times of hiring party staff on Parliament money, but without them doing any work. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, was also ordered to pay back €339,000 over accusations that she broke the Parliament’s rules by having two assistants carry out non-parliamentary work while being paid by the EU institution.

Huawei leads patent submissions in EU

For the first time in the history of the European Patent Office, a Chinese company made its way to the top of patent applications. In 2017, 165.590 submissions, a record for the EPO, were forwarded in order to protect intellectual property. Most of the demands came from the US (26%), followed by Germany (15%), Japan (13%), France (6%) and China (5%). With 2,398 submissions, Huawei, a Chinese company, led the ranking of patent submissions.

Northern states against euro reforms

In a joint paper published on Monday, finance ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Sweden said that the EU should abstain from “far-reaching transfers of competence to the European level” and that “decision-making should remain firmly in the hands of member states.” In effect, the ministers rejected a plan sponsored by France and accepted by Germany to create a bailout fund to handle future financial meltdowns. Last year, French president Emmanuel Macron called for more power to be given to EU institutions over the single currency, a join eurozone budget at the hands of the EP and a common finance ministry in the EU Council. Just coming out of coalition talks, Germany did formulate a clear position yet.

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