This Week in Europe: Syria strikes, Hungarian elections and more

, by Radu Dumitrescu, Samuel Mork Bednarz

This Week in Europe: Syria strikes, Hungarian elections 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 !

Orbán wins by landslide

Last Sunday, the Hungarian Fidesz party won the general elections by a landslide, all under the leadership and nationalistic vision of Viktor Orbán. Receiving his third term as PM, Orbán, a long-time critic of Brussels and the “trouble-child” of Europe, can continue to attack NGOs and resist greater EU integration. Most famous for resisting the Commission’s plan for distributing migrants around member states and for building a fence on the southern border, Orbán is the new poster-boy for the European populists. With 133 seats out of 199 in the Parliament, Fidesz, which nonetheless is part of the European People’s Party, can set to change the constitution.

24 EU countries set to lead the AI push

On Tuesday, 24 EU member states signed a declaration which stipulates that they will invest into AI research. However, the statement does not include a specific amount dedicated for investment. All EU member states except for Cyprus, Romania, Croatia and Greece vowed to “modernise national policies” as part of an effort to develop large-scale AI research, and even the countries that did not sign were not opposed, but only required further approval. Lagging behind the US and China, the EU is looking to ramp up its performance in the field of artificial intelligence.

Finland to ban coal in 2029

On Tuesday, the Finnish environment minister stated that his country will ban the use of coal in 2029. Coupled with a subsidy scheme that will reward firms for renouncing fossil fuel ahead of time, Finland’s push against coal can also be seen as a move against the dependence of Russian imports. 66% of Finland’s coal comes from Russia. Moreover, with its coal usage of 10% out of the total, Finland actually lags behind its Scandinavian counterparts.

Volkswagen gets new CEO

Herbert Diess will replace Matthias Müller as CEO of Volkswagen after the latter held the position for less than three years. A former BMW executive and engineer by formation, Diess is meant to renew the company’s image as the emission cheating scandal is finally starting to pass away and sales start to rise. As part of the reorganization, current Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler will be responsible for sales from the group and Porsche CEO Oliver Blume for production. Diess will be responsible for research and development in addition to his role as CEO.

Michel Barnier seen as likely Commission president

According to a survey of more than 1,000 EU policy experts, Michel Barnier is seen as the candidate most likely to win the European Commission presidency after next May’s European elections. 37% of respondents see Barnier as the next Commission president, followed by Margrethe Vestager, the EU Competition chief, with 14% and Christine Lagarde, IMF chief, with 13%. However, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are believed to favour Vestager and Lagarde over Barnier, who nonetheless retains the favours of the Brussels bureaucracy.

Similarly, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite are believed to be the frontrunners to claim Donald Tusk’s job as president of the European Council, with 25% and 20% of respondents, respectively. In the EP, respondents feel that the “Grand Coalition” between the EPP and the S&D will likely end, with both parties falling short of the 50% necessary.

Brussels wants to interview Zuckerberg

In an event on Friday, EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová told a crowd that Facebook CEO Martin Zuckerberg should come to Brussels in order to “hear it directly from him.” The statement comes after revelations that 2.7 million Europeans were caught in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Zuckerberg faced a grilling from U.S. congressmen over the handling of data earlier this week. Companies worldwide are preparing for the entry into force of the European privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, which Facebook suggested that it would keep as a standard for users across the globe.

Giscard d’Estaing: “We stopped halfway”

One of the architects of the EU, former French president Giscard d’Estaing is now 92, but still active. “We created the European Economic Area under [former European Commission President] Jacques Delors, and the single currency under [former German Chancellor] Helmut Schmidt and myself,” he told POLITICO Europe. “We should have continued, but we stopped,” he said. “We stopped halfway.” Giscard says that the world has changed, but Europe has not, lingering in confusion because “traditional methods are out of order and no longer produce satisfying and innovative results.” Against the idea of a multispeed Europe, the former president is now launching a new advocacy group called “Re-imagined Europa”, meant to strengthen “the nucleus” of the EU countries.

France, U.K. and U.S. launch airstrikes in Syria

On Friday night, France, U.K. and U.S. launched a joint operation targeting Syrian chemical research facilities and other military targets. The attack came at the initiative of U.S. President Donald Trump, who sought to punish Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack that killed more than 40 people. French airplanes played a major part in the operation, with President Macron supporting the strikes wholeheartedly. In the aftermath of the bombing, criticism from across the globe took shape, mainly from longtime Syrian allies Russia and Iran. Moreover, Chief Pentagon spokeperson Dana White stated that after the strike, “US saw a 2,000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24-hours”.

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