This Week in Europe: Slovak journalist assassinated, Steve Bannon and trade wars

, by Radu Dumitrescu, Samuel Mork Bednarz

This Week in Europe: Slovak journalist assassinated, Steve Bannon and trade wars

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 !

Pollution triggers free public transportation

On Friday, Brussels’ regional government approved the use of free public transportation during periods of high air pollution. The city’s STIB services and its bike-sharing Villo scheme will feature no charge when the average concentration of pollutants reaches an average between 51 to 70 milligrammes per cubic meter over a 24-hour period. The decision comes at a time when nine EU states are on the verge of being acted against legally by the European Commission after failing to implement EU air quality directives. Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the others were given an ultimatum to fix the problem by EU environment chief Karmenu Vella. Last week, Germany announced that it will run a program of free public transportation in several major cities in order to tackle the issue.

Slovak investigative journalist murdered

Last Sunday, journalist Ján Kuciak and his partner Martina Kušnírova were found dead in their family home. Working on tax fraud allegedly committed by businessmen with connections to politicians, Kuciak’s death is thought to be linked with his “current research.” On Wednesday the same week, the Slovakian Culture Minister, the chief state adviser and the chair of Slovakia’s security council, all named in the reporter’s final draft, which was later published collectively by several outlets, resigned following the murder.

U.S. and EU on the verge of trade war

On Thursday, U.S. president Donald Trump imposed heavy tariffs on his country’s imports of steel (25%) and aluminium (10%). Europe, the world’s biggest trade bloc and the second biggest steel producer after China, is seeking to hit back. The weapon of choice is a set of countermeasures against €2.8 billion-worth of U.S. exports including Levi’s jeans, Harley-Davidson motorbikes and bourbon whiskeys, additionally considering imposing 25% tariffs on U.S. products from agriculture, steel and other industries. Aware of the move from president Trump for months, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed the countermeasures, saying that the focus is to be placed on goods from Republican-run states.

950 Islamophobic attacks recorded in Germany

Last year, at least 950 Islamophobic incidents occured in Germany, including the vandalization of mosques, online abuse and physical attacks on women wearing the veil, with 33 people injured by far-right extremists. The figures were published by the interior ministry at the request of the far-left Die Linke party.

Defeat for Fidesz, new hope for opposition

On Sunday, the party of Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, Fidesz, was defeated in the mayoral election held in the city of Hódmezővásárhely, a stronghold of the party for more than two decades. Opposition parties allied around independent candidate Péter Márki-Zay, resulting in his victory with 57% to 41%. The victory was a breath of air for opponents of the champion of the illiberal democracy, Viktor Orban, who clashed with Brussels on rule of law, academic freedom and refugee rights. Moreover, the defeat came amid allegations of corruption, regarding favored allocation of public contracts to the friends of Orban. On April 8th, Hungary will have a general election, and Fidesz is looking for a two-thirds majority, which would allow it to make constitutional changes.

Former Vatican bank head charged with embezzlement

Angelo Caloia, president of the Institute for Works of Religion - Vatican’s bank - from 1999 to 2009, was indicted on Friday along with his lawyer Gabriele Liuzzo. Caloia is the highest-ranking financial official of the Vatican to be indicted. Charges connect him to losses of $61 million euro from real estate sales between 2001 and 2008. In December 2014, the Vatican’s top prosecutor froze millions of dollars in accounts held by Caloia and other two men due to suspicions of embezzlement and money laundering.

Bannon travels to Italy to support Northern League

Donald Trump’s former chief strategist and head of far-right news outlet Breitbart News travelled to Rome on Thursday for the Italian elections. Hinting at a support for Matteo Salvini and his far-right Northern League, Bannon reportedly believes that the elections in the peninsula will represent a revival of populist movements after the defeats of last year. Salvini’s Northern League is part of a coalition that includes Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and which is predicted to be the largest political force in the Italian parliament after Sunday’s election.

German Socialists in favor of Merkel-led government

As the week neared its end, Germany’s Social Democrats concluded months of negotiations that swallowed the presidency of the now former party leader, Martin Schulz. The party, after having suffered its worst postwar results in the last general election in September, voted in favor of another grand coalition with CDU-CSU, Angela Merkel’s center-right alliance. With 66% of SPD members in favor of the new coalition government, the new government will form by mid-March, putting a stop to uncertainty and German weakness regarding EU reform.

Exiled Puigdemont picks jailed Sanchez as successor

On Thursday, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who cannot enter Spain for fear of an arrest, announced that Jordi Sanchez, head of the pro-independence Catalan National Assembly - and currently in jail - is his pick for president of the region. In pre-trial detention since October for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, Sanchez will have to ask for a judge’s permission to attend the parliamentary session at which he would be named regional president. Moreover, the pick upset Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), a far-left party which announced that its lawmakers would abstain from voting if Jordi Sanchez was presented as candidate to lead Catalonia. Despite having only 4 lawmakers out of 135 in the Catalan Parliament, CUP is essential for the separatist coalition to keep its thin majority of 72 seats. CUP’s abstention was declared to be a way of criticizing other separatist parties for focusing on who should lead the pro-independence movement instead of agreeing on policies and a plan “to materialize the republic” of Catalonia.

Tajani agrees to become Italy’s PM if center-right successful

On Thursday, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said that he would stand as a candidate for the position of PM of Italy for Forza Italia, the party led by Silvio Berlusconi, who cannot serve a 5th term due to a 2013 court ruling regarding tax fraud. The former Italian PM announced earlier this week that his pick for PM would be Tajani, a Forza Italia co-founder in 1994. “I know it’s a shame to take Antonio Tajani away from Europe, but it’s in the best interest of Italy,” Berlusconi said.

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