This Week in Europe: Teachers’ strike, polls and Russians

, by Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Teachers' strike, polls and Russians

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 !

Czech MP assaulted in race attack

This week, Czech lawmaker Dominik Feri was hospitalized after being assaulted by two in an attack that is apparently racially motivated. Feri is 22 and Czech Republic’s first black member of Parliament. He was at a wine-tasting event on Sunday in the eastern region of Moravia when he was attacked. The MP posted on Twitter in the aftermath of the attack, showing a rip in his shirt and a cut in his back. With Ethiopian origins, Feri is from the center-right opposition party TOP 09. The attack is currently investigated by the police.

Manfred Weber wants global treaty banning plastics

Manfred Weber, the candidate for the position of president of the European Commission from the European People’s Party, and arguably the one with the most chances of winning, issued a statement this week in support of a global treaty banning disposable plastics. It is not enough for the EU to ban single-use plastics, according to Weber. In a bid to attract the environmentally-aware youth, the center-right candidate also wants to ensure that EU trade agreements lead to the end of child labor worldwide. Weber also promised 5 million new jobs across Europe while in Athens and a new approach meant to tackle youth unemployment, aside from a streghtened European Border and Coast Guard and the abolishing of redundant bureaucracy. However, critics say that specific plans are still lacking.

UK’s unexpected European elections campaign gets underway

Though in theory the UK could still approve the Brexit deal in the next few weeks and avoid participating the European elections, few now consider this to be remotely likely. All the parties have now announced their candidate lists and Brexit talks between Labour and the Conservatives are effectively frozen due to a lack of progress. Importantly Labour knows that local elections at the start of May and European elections at the end are likely to be very bad for the Conservatives, meaning they have little incentive to help their rivals. The Conservatives are set to experience historic lows as they lose support to two new parties - the pro-EU Change UK, formed from disaffected Labour and Conservative MPs, and Nigel Farage’s The Brexit Party.

While some Conservative moderates are moving to Change UK, their campaign launch was widely seen as a disaster, meaning their impact so far has been small. Indeed, pro-EU parties (including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens) have struggled to effectively organise for these elections and there is little in the way of cross-party cooperation. The UK’s use of an electoral system with relatively small regional constituencies (often as few as 3 or 4 seats) means that the split among pro-EU parties will likely lead to wasted votes and fewer seats than the total vote share would suggest. The battle for first place will be between Labour and The Brexit Party with a big question mark still remaining over whether Labour will commit to a second referendum.

Scottish First Minister calls for new independence referendum by 2021

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that the country should hold another referendum on the issue of independence by 2021 if Brexit goes ahead. The context of Brexit, a decision that a large majority of voters in Scotland opposed, has been argued by Scottish nationalists to have drastically changed the context compared to 2014, when British unionists won the last referendum by 55% to 45%. Polling this weekend showed support for independence had risen to a new high of 49% though opposition to the idea has mostly held the lead after the last two years. The Scottish government will look to pass legislation through the Scottish Parliament setting out a timetable for a referendum. This will pass thanks to a pro-independence majority of the Scottish National Party and Scottish Greens. However no referendum can go ahead legally without approval from the UK government in Westminster, something that is very unlikely to happen under the current administration.

Polish teachers’ strike is suspended

A nationwide teachers’ strike in Poland has now been suspended, in a move that will likely be seen for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. While teachers had been campaigning for a pay increase of 30%, the government was only willing to offer a small raise spread over four years and with an increase in the number of hours worked. Most of the power of the strike, its potential to disrupt upcoming exams, is being undermined as the government fast-tracks new education legislation that would remove the need for teachers in much of the exam process. The strikes did not have much of an impact on polling ahead of the European Parliament elections but the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) will no doubt be hoping that their actions take a toll on the government when the strike restarts in September, at the start of the new school term and just ahead of Polish parliamentary elections.

48% of Europeans believe antivaxxers; only a third know about the EU elections

Polls published this week revealed that almost half of Europeans erroneously believe that vaccines often cause serious side effects and that only 5% of the people of Europe are aware of the European elections taking place on the 26th of May. With regard to the first poll, an Eurobarometer survey found that while 88% of people know that vaccines are important means of protecting oneself, a relative majority of them also think that serious reactions can be caused by vaccines. In 16 countries that figure was at least 50 percent, including in France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Romania. A third of respondents also thought that vaccines can cause the disease against which they protect, which is also false, since some vaccines only resemble such viruses, with mild symptoms. The Commission warned in October that Europe is the region with the lowest level of vaccine confidence in the world.

Another poll revealed that only 5 percent of Europeans said they know the European Parliament election is set to take place from May 23-26. The Eurobarometer survey was conducted with a sample of 28,000 people and found that one third of people were aware of the election, but only 5% could recall the dates. There were only four EU countries where more than half of respondents said that they would certainly vote in the election: Denmark (65 percent), the Netherlands (62 percent), Sweden (61 percent) and Belgium (58 percent). At the same time, however, approval of the EU has reached 61% in the EU27 group, a record since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the adoption of the Treaty on EU in 1992.

Russia fast-tracks citizenship for Eastern Ukrainians

This week, the EU responded to Russia’s decision to fast-track the process of giving Russian citizenship to people living in parts of Eastern Ukraine. The simplified procedure is “another attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia”, according to a spokesperson for the EU’s External Action Service. Occurring immediately after the presidential elections in Ukraine, “which demonstrated Ukraine’s strong attachment to democracy and the rule of law, shows Russia’s intention to further destabilise Ukraine and to exacerbate the conflict,” added the EU’s representative. Russia was advised to follow the Minsk agreements, which halted the war in eastern Ukraine, and to allow Ukraine’s government control over the eastern parts of the country. A similar condemnation was issued by the United States. In response, Russia argued that it is protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms and adhering to international law.

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