This Week in Europe: Brexit, Hong Kong and More

, by Radu Dumitrescu

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

This Week in Europe: Brexit, Hong Kong 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 !

AfD surges ahead in regional elections

This week, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) scored its best-ever results in two state elections in eastern Germany, laying pressure on the centrist coalition in power in Berlin. In Saxony, on the border with the Czech Republic and Poland, the AfD tripled its results from 5 years ago, reaching to around 27.5%, second to the CDU’s 32%. In rural Brandenburg, near Berlin, the far-right party finished second as well, this time behind the Social Democrats. Winning 23.5% of votes, the AfD thus jumped 12.2% from its last election in the region, while the SPD won 26.2%, compared to 31.9% in 2014. Despite the gains, the AfD has little chance of joining either of state governments, as they will be isolated by all other parties. The German Greens also scored higher than in the last election in the two states, while the far-left Linke fell.

Merkel supports Hong Kong during trip to China

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited China this week. Ahead of the trip, however, a group of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists published an open letter in the German tabloid Bild calling on Merkel to express concern over the situation in Hong Kong. They also wanted the Chancellor’s support for their demand to withdraw the extradition bill that prompted months of massive and violent protests - a request that was later fulfilled by the Hong Kong government. Finally, however, the activists also warned that “Germany should also be on its guard doing business with China, as China does not respect international law and has repeatedly broken its promises.” Starting her trip on Friday, Merkel indeed called on both the protestors, the Chinese and the Hong Kong government to have a meaningful dialogue meant to resolve the political crisis, adding that the citizens of Hong Kong must have their rights and freedoms protected.

EU makes emergency funds available for no-deal Brexit

With the ever-confusing Brexit process unfolding, EU officials at the European Commission decided to treat the entire affair as a potential disaster scenario, with emergency funds authorized to help businesses and workers in the EU27 in the event of a no-deal departure. On Wednesday, therefore, the Commission unveiled its new proposal that would “extend the scope of the European Solidarity Fund to cover serious financial burden inflicted on Member States directly imputable to a withdrawal without an agreement and that could not be avoided by preparing in advance.” The money is meant to preserve existing employment, ensure the functioning of border and customs controls and help workers made redundant by the withdrawal. The Commission also outlined a checklist for businesses ahead of Brexit and allowed for changes in road and air connectivity. Other measures regard fisheries, investments, agriculture and other domains.

U.K. Parliament backs extension on Brexit after Tory rebellion

On the same topic, it has been a busy week in the British parliament. The week concluded with an agreement reached by opposition MPs and 21 Tory defectors that Boris Johnson, the acting PM, must bring into force a Brexit extension. The PM had wanted to bring about a general election to secure a new majority, but Parliament decided to block it until such extension is achieved. The Labour party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru thus want to avoid a no-deal Brexit by all means. All parties insist that they want a new election - even the Conservatives - but disagree on the timing.

Also this week, on Wednesday, the UK government announced that people from EU countries will have at least until 2021 before they are required to prove their residency rights in the country. The announcement, in effect, means that the government admits its failure to introduce a new immigration system after Brexit, therefore the need for providing this intermediary period.

Polish opposition rallies behind their candidate for PM

This week, Poland’s opposition party the Civic Platform chose Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, an MP currently serving as deputy speaker of parliament, as its candidate for PM. The move was surprising, seeing as Grzegorz Schetyna, the head of the Civic Platform, was foreseen as the next PM in the event of a win for his party. The leader of the opposition party is, however, deeply unpopular in Poland. A recent survey showed that the opposition group the Civic Coalition, built around the Civic Platform, is still trailing by 15% behind the conservative and ruling PiS party. PiS hasn’t said whether current Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will continue in that role if the party wins the parliamentary election.

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