This Week in Europe: Spain calls snap election, Finland renounces universal basic income, and more

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

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

This Week in Europe: Spain calls snap election, Finland renounces universal basic income, 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 !

Franco-Italian detente

After relations rapidly soured between two of Europe’s biggest states, France and Italy, attempts are being made to repair the relationship. A phone call to Italy’s President was followed up by the return of the French ambassador to Italy, where he presented the Italian President with an invitation for an official state visit to France in the coming months. This does not mean tensions are gone. The President, Sergio Mattarella, is not himself part of the populist government in Italy as he was elected in 2015 and comes from a centre-left political background. Nonetheless, Luigi Di Maio, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), welcomed the return of the French ambassador and stated his desire to meet the French representative.

The battle for multilateralism in Munich

This week, the Munich Security Conference took place, bringing together the three main world powers - the US, Europe and China - to discuss security and diplomacy. Though Donald Trump did not attend, US Vice-President Mike Pence did, and his comforting words on the President’s commitment to NATO were met with scepticism. Merkel meanwhile attacked the political philosophy of Trump (even if she did not name him), giving an unusually impassioned speech for the event on the necessity of multilateralism to solve the world’s problems, resulting in a standing ovation from some parts of the audience. Finally China sent Yang Jiechi, director of the country’s Foreign Affairs Commission, who also advocated in favour of multilateral solutions.

Spanish Prime Minister calls snap election

Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has called for a snap general election after his budget was voted down in the Spanish Parliament. The election is set to take place on 28 April. Ever since the centre-left PSOE took over the government in Spain, they have been reliant on the votes of MPs belonging to separatist parties from Catalonia and the Basque region in order to pass legislation. That alliance broke down this week amid rising tensions between Spanish unionists and Catalan separatists as key figures from Catalonia’s failed independence referendum have been put on trial. PSOE currently leads in most polls but still by too small a margin to win a majority. The Spanish centre-left will therefore be relying on an effective campaign in order to boost their seat share and make a coalition with left-wing Podemos possible. Otherwise, the hardline unionists positions of Ciudadanos and PP could see the right return to power.

Italian populists to set up new EP group

On Friday, Luigi Di Maio, leader of the 5 Star Movement of Italy, announced the creation of a new group within the European Parliament. Together with Croatia’s Zivi Zid (Human Shield), Finland’s Liike Nyt and Greece’s AKKEL (Agricultural Livestock Party) and Poland’s far-right Kukiz’15, the Five-Star Movement seeks to reunite parties that are outside the traditional sphere of EU politics. Di Maio said that he has been in talks with France’s Yellow Jackets. To create the new group, the 5Star Movement will have to exit the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD). With their exit, along with the depart of UKIP due to Brexit, the EFDD will cease to exist. However, the new still needs new members - which Di Maio promised in due time. “The EPP and the S&D won’t have enough votes to govern alone,” said Di Maio.

Study: Anti-EU parties to win one-third of seats

This week, the European Council of Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank, published a study showing that anti-European parties will be some of the winners of the European elections this May, taking up as much as one-third of the seats in the European Parliament. Moreover, the study finds that they could “undermine and cause irreparable damage” in trade, security, and defense. At the moment, 23% of seats are controlled by either far-left or far-right Eurosceptics. After the elections, the study shows that the figure may jump to at least 33%. Divided in other domains, the Eurosceptics may work together to limit the powers of the European Union, turning the elections in a referendum on migration and thus damaging European values such as freedom of expression, rule of law or civil rights.

Finland renounces universal basic income

Finland, the first country to do a nation-wide experiment on universal basic income, is now seeing its results - and renouncing the policy completely. In an interview given to EURACTIV, Finnish finance minister Petteri Orpo said that the monthly €560 income did not raise employment and that now all major parties in the country oppose the universal basic income, opting for conditionality for social security systems. “We have to make our systems simpler, and have incentives to take jobs,” said Orpo, and “the conditionality means that you have to do something by yourself: either to study or look for a job.”

EU revamps copyright rules

This Wednesday, EU officials and representatives of member states agreed to bring copyright rules, previously unreformed for 20 years, up to date. The new rules will force online platforms to remove copyright-protected content in order to protect the revenues of rights-holders. As a result, YouTube, Twitter or Google News will have to take down user-generated content that breaches intellectual property. The decision comes after two years of debates between tech giants and creative industries. The online platforms will also be forced to sign licensing agreements with musicians and performers in order to use their work online. Meanwhile, opponents of the deal argue that it could lead to censorship and it will hurt independent creators. Upload filters could lead to the blocking of legitimate uploads and put smaller platforms that can’t afford filtering software out of business. The same deal, however, allows the free sharing of memes and GIFs, as long as there is no commercial purpose.

EP creates the European Labour Authority (ELA)

This week, the European Parliament and member states agreed to set up the European Labour Authority (ELA). The aim of the new institution will be to protect workers’ rights through cross-border investigations of potential abuses and to aid national authorities in fighting fraud. Moreover, the ELA will make mobility easier for citizens. Despite progress through the posted workers directive, EP rapporteur Jeroen Lenaers highlighted the need for further implementation and enforcement of laws. Up to 17 million workers living or working abroad are exposed to possible violations of their rights due to disinformation or lack of coordination between states. According to the agreement, member states will take part in ELA’s activities only on a voluntary basis - but countries who reject ELA inspections will have to provide a reason and plans to address complaints in every specific case.

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