This Week in Europe: Arctic Council fails, Macron rallies centrists and more

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

This Week in Europe: Arctic Council fails, Macron rallies centrists and more
Image by Samuel Mork Bednarz.

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 !

EU states split on climate action

A new ambitious target to bring carbon emissions down to net zero by 2050 has divided EU Member States. The initiative, led by France, is supported by governments from the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg. A failure to reach current targets, the series of environmentalist protests and the recent UN report on the damage being down to the environment have all encouraged some politicians to call for greater and faster action to avert disaster. But other countries have refused to sign up to the declaration, including Germany, Poland and Italy.

UK Conservatives collapse amid Brexit crisis

Polling for both the European Parliament elections and for the next national election in the UK have shown the Conservative Party, the historically dominant party of the right, losing considerable support and reaching record lows. Having committed to Brexit and promised that there would be only upsides to the decision, the failure to deliver the UK’s exit from the European Union and the multiple extensions pushing back the theoretical exit date many months have led to a massive shift in support from the Conservatives to the Brexit Party, the new party created by long-term Brexit campaigner and politician Nigel Farage.

Though for the upcoming European Parliament elections this will result in roughly the same number of Farage-led MEPs as in 2014, in a UK General Election the country’s particular voting system would actually most likely lead to a Labour victory, as the split in the right-wing vote delivered more seats (if not more votes) to the left. As the UK’s oldest continuous party, there is a real risk that Brexit becomes existential for the Conservatives.

Portugal pulls back from government collapse over teacher pay

This week, the Portuguese Parliament decided to vote against pay rises for teachers in the country. The main right-wing parties had joined with the far-left in order to vote in favour of the idea in parliamentary committees, prompting a major dispute as the governing Socialist Party said it would not go through with the idea and would resign if forced to do so. Portugal has stood out as a model in phasing out austerity measures while sustaining economic growth and keeping the budget deficit low but its success has been premised on only spending where appropriate and where the economy could take it. The Prime Minister argued that the country was not yet ready to go ahead with pay increases for teachers and in the end the parties on the right relented, choosing to prioritise political stability ahead of new elections later this year.

US intransigence blocks common position at Arctic Council

This year’s Arctic Council, held in Finland, failed to produce a joint statement because of US objections to the language used on climate change. In a strange speech, US Secretary of State seemed to actually welcome the increased melting of the arctic ice, stating that it would open new passageways and cut the time necessary for shipping to travel between different parts of the world. Most scientists are in agreement that the melting of glacial ice is contributing to rising sea levels, threatening various species and posing a serious threat to coastal settlements around the world. This meeting marks the first time that the Arctic Council, which started in 1996 and meets every two years, has failed to produce a common position. The other countries involved (Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland) stated that they did not believe they could weaken the sections given over to climate change.

Italian anti-corruption champion sentenced to jail for corruption

On Friday, Antonello Montante, the former national spokesman on legal issues for Italy’s employers’ organization, Confindustria, was sentenced to 14 years in jail for several offenses, including corruption. The prosecution had asked for 10 years, but Montante could have received up to 21 years, despite denying his charges. The investigation, launched in 2015, revealed that the former spokesman was far from being an anti-corruption champion - in fact, he was in bed with the same Sicilian mob bosses he was denouncing. Moreover, Montante had a web of informants - politicians, prosecutors - that helped him defend himself against prosecution. Montante’s lawyers say he has been set up by the mafia.

Macron rallies the European centrists

This Saturday, French president Emmanuel Macron’s party En Marche hosted a meeting with other centrist European parties in view of forming a group in the Parliament after the European elections. Invited were Spain’s Ciudadanos, the Dutch VVD and D66, Hungary’s Momentum, Austria’s New Austria and Liberal Forum, Germany’s Free Democrats, Belgium’s Open VLD and Mouvement Reformateur and others.

The liberal centrist movement is seen as essential to securing a new majority in the Parliament after the traditional two biggest parties — the European People’s Party and the Socialists — will almost certainly not win enough seats to form a coalition. The meeting also featured former Italian PM Matteo Renzi and current Portuguese PM Antonio Costa, members of the Socialist bloc. Verhofstadt was absent due to health issues but sent a video message.

Orban pulls support for Manfred Weber

During a meeting with the Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban attacked Weber’s position of not accepting the position of Commission president if his success depended on the support of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party. The lead candidate from the center-right European People’s Party, which suspended Orban’s own Fidesz over concerns regarding the rule of law, thus definitively broke with Orban.

Initially supportive of Weber’s candidacy, the Hungarian leader now stated that he can no longer back the German candidate, seeing as he “insulted his country.” Furthermore, Orban argued that the European Parliament should follow the Austrian model - an alliance between the far-right and the center-right. However, Weber has already rejected such a possibility. Present in the meeting, Strache invoked the Great Replacement theory, a far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that Europeans are becoming a minority in Europe.

Turkey annuls election lost by Erdoğan’s party

On Monday, Turkish authorities annulled the Istanbul municipal vote a month after an opposition candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, was elected as the city’s mayor. The election will take place again on June 23rd, in what the main opposition force, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), calls “plain dictatorship.” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been repeatedly calling for the Istanbul elections to be cancelled due to “irregularities”. İmamoğlu had scored a narrow victory, beating his rival Binali Yıldırım, a former prime minister, by about 13,000 votes in a city of 10 million eligible voters - too small a margin for Erdogan. Back in 2015, Erdogan used a similar strategy, calling a snap vote shortly after a general election in which the AKP lost its majority - but only after the breakdown of coalition negotiations. The Turkish lira fell by more than 2.5 percent after the announcement.

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