This Week in Europe: Yellow Vests, New CDU Leader and More

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Yellow Vests, New CDU Leader 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 http://facebook.com/thenewfederalist.eu !

CDU elects successor to Merkel

This week, the German Christian Democrats now in government have elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as their new leader, with 517 votes to Friedrich Merz’s 482. A moderate and close ally of Angela Merkel, her election signals a continuation of Merkel’s legacy as Chancellor, a position for which Kramp-Karrenbauer becomes a favorite. Despite heavy electoral losses in recent years, the center-right CDU and their Bavarian allies, CSU, remain the dominant political force in Germany. The result is seen as calming to European leaders, as the election of Merz, an old Merkel rival who was set to move the party to the right would have represented a reshuffling of the German political system. While older men seemed to favor Merz, the polls of the general population clearly favored the centrist Kramp-Karrenbauer, who immediately went on to reunite the party after the elections.

Poland & Hungary block LGBTIQ protections

A joint statement by EU employment and social affairs ministers aiming to promote gender equality was blocked this week by Poland and Hungary. The reasons - they objected to a reference to LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and questioning individuals). Austria, serving as president in the Council, decided to adopt the text without unanimity and thus without legal weight, leaving both sides unhappy. Facing Article 7 proceedings against them, Hungary and Poland have been at odds with the EU on an ideological, value-based level as well, with both countries holding a much more conservative ideal than the rest. Malta and the Netherlands showed anger at Austria’s willingness to negotiate with Poland and Hungary on what they hold as core EU values, and, joined by 19 other countries, issued a call to the Commission to protect the fundamental rights of sexual minorities.

Farage leaves UKIP

On Tuesday, after disagreements with the current party leadership, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has left the party. “There is a huge space for a Brexit party in British politics, but it won’t be filled by UKIP”, said Farage. He went on criticizing Gerard Batten, the current UKIP leader, and his “obsession” with Islam and far-right activism. On Monday, Batten had survived a no-confidence vote in the UKIP leadership, after he appointed a former convict as his adviser on rape, gangs and prison reform.

Georgians protest & demand snap elections

Last Sunday, 25,000 Georgians protested in the capital of Tbilisi against the election of Salome Zurabishvili, former French diplomat backed by the ruling party, as the country’s first woman president. They demanded snap parliamentary elections, holding EU and Georgian flags, and condemned irregularities in voting. Former president and leader of the 2003 “Rose Revolution” Mikheil Saakashvili addressed the crowd by video link from Amsterdam, where he lives in self-imposed exile. He vowed to never stop fighting, after seeing a candidate supported by his party defeated by Zurabishvili.

Luxembourg makes all public transportation free

This week, Luxembourg’s re-elected coalition government led by Xavier Bettel initiated a process that would have the country become the first in the world to make all public transport free. Sworn in on Wednesday, Bettel’s government plans to prioritize the environment through the move and is even considering legalizing cannabis and introducing two new public holidays.

Freedom of expression takes a dive worldwide

A report published on Wednesday has revealed that freedom of expression and information is at its lowest point in a decade worldwide. In Europe, countries like Poland, Croatia, Romania, Russia and Hungary are some of the named offenders. The report highlights that 78 journalists and 312 rights defenders were killed around the world in 2017, with 326 more jailed. In Poland, journalists face intimidation and media was placed under government control. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, top politicians such as Slovak PM Robert Fico and Czech President Milos Zeman routinely attack journalists. In Hungary, allies of PM Viktor Orban have bought up all regional media. To top it off, the report notes a sharp rise in fake news.

Yellow Jacket protests lead to violence and arrests

A new wave of the so-called Yellow Jacket (Gilets Jaunes) protests resulted in hundreds of arrests after protesters got involved in conflicts with security forces and attacked private property. Saturday saw saw protests across the country, with the most visible and intense in Paris. It is estimated that some 8000 people were involved in the protests in the capital and while most were more peaceful, other smaller groups provoked riots. French police were forced to try and protect nearby shops from being damaged and looted. At least 20 people arrested by police were known to belong to far-left or far-right extremist groups. While the protests started in opposition to a now abandoned tax increase on fuel, the protests have become a very diverse and fractured group with a wide variety of sometimes conflicting demands. The French government’s position is that while they are ready to engage in constructive dialogue, they will not respond to violence.

Difficult elections for Spanish government in Andalusia region

Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist Party took a hit in regional elections in Andalusia which saw the entry of the far-right Vox party. Andalusia has been governed by the Socialists for nearly 36 years but will likely lose their position if other parties decide to team up with the far-right to construct an alternative governing coalition. While Sanchez’s PSOE and the centre-right PP both lost seats, the liberals Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox both gained, in a repeat of an election pattern seen across Europe. Though the other parties all seem to want to oust PSOE from the regional government, they seem to be having difficulty agreeing on whose candidate should take the top post. Ciudadanos has drawn ire from fellow liberals in Europe for seeming to entertain working with the far-right Vox but for now, the party is insisting that they want other parties to support their candidate.

Commission tells social media to crack down on Russian trolls

The European Commission has stated that major social media groups like Facebook, Twitter and Google must do more to deal with influxes of Russian trolls ahead of the European Elections. The British Commissioner Julian King told reports that more needs to be done to detect and call out disinformation online. Though the Commission has unveiled an Action Plan on Disinformation, experts are sceptical that it will do much to help stop the spread of fake news.

The aim of the EU’s measures would not be to mark stories as true or false but to show where they are coming from. While social media companies say they are struggling to adapt to a number of different electoral laws in different companies, researchers say that the companies are too closed and won’t release information that could allow third parties to fact-check more effectively. The rise of populists within the national governments of the EU, many of which have themselves relied on spreading information of dubious quality in their campaigns and among their supporters, has also hindered progress in this area.

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