23rd Mar 2018


This WEEK in the European Union

Business will tick over as usual in Brussels but much of the discrete political focus will be on two important elections at the end of the week - in France and in Greece.

Next Sunday (6 May), French voters will head to the polls for the second round of presidential elections. They will decide if they want to entrust the running of the country for the next five years once more to Nicolas Sarkozy or elevate Francois Hollande, the socialist contender, to the post.

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  • Greece will have its first election since the financial crisis began to shake the country (Photo: John D. Carnessiotis, Athens, Greece)

Hollande won the first round and polls suggest he will win the second round too. The economy has been the main topic of the political campaigning. Sarkozy has also indicated he wants to reform the EU's borderless system schengen and make Europe more protectionist. Hollande's main European theme has been renegotiation of the German-pushed fiscal discipline treaty to include more growth-related clauses.

To date the term 'renegotiation' has remained largely open to interpretation, with Hollande suggesting he is willing to compromise. For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself facing an important regional election in the country's most populous state later in May, said the budget-balancing treaty is not up for negotiation.

Greek voters will head to the polls on the same day. The debt-ridden country has been run by a technocratic government led ex-European-Central-Bank official Lucas Papademos for the past five months following the resignation of George Papandreou.

It will be the first election in Greece since the start of the crisis, which has seen the country undergo harsh austerity measures in return for two EU-International-Monetary-Fund loans. With unemployment at almost 20 percent and more spending cuts to come, the European Commission has sought assurances from political parties that they will stick to the austerity programme no matter who gets into office.

The conservative New Democracy party and the socialist Pasok party - currently in an uneasy coalition - have dominated the political landscape in Greece for decades. New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, is leading in the polls but with a population weary of all the spending cuts and tax raises, fringe parties on the left and the right may do better than in the past. The far-right neo-facist New Dawn party, running on an anti-foreigner and anti-austerity ticket, could break the three percent threshold to make it into parliament.

EU finance ministers will meet in Brussels next week, with Spain's economic situation likely to dominate informal talks.

The country's borrowing costs are reaching bailout territory but the eurozone is unable - politically or economically - to deal with a Spain that goes the same way as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung suggested Thursday that some EU officials are considering letting Spanish banks borrow directly from eurozone aid funds without going through the government first.

However, the idea - stemming from concern that due to recession Spain's banks may be in worse trouble than had been thought - is likely to be strongly opposed by paymaster Germany.

Chinese Vice-Prime-Minister Li Keqiang will be in Brussels on Thursday. He is due to formally kick off a series of high level talks on energy between the EU and China at a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. The meeting follows Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit to Europe in the last week of April, which culminated in a pledge of a 10 billion US dollar credit line of credit to help support projects with central and eastern Europe.

This WEEK in the European Union

Spain's deficit troubles are likely to dominate the Brussels debate this week, as the statistics office is to publish the 2008-2011 figures for all 27 member states on Monday.

This WEEK in the European Union

Wednesday marks the 62nd anniversary since French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman called for a European federation that has led to today’s currently troubled European Union.

Brexit and trade will top This WEEK

A crucial EU summit will decide whether to give a green light to the Brexit transition period, while the EU is also fighting to get exemptions from the new US steel and aluminium tariffs.

'Selmayrgate' moves to the EU Parliament This WEEK

As a global trade war looms over the new US steel tariffs, the EU's attention will shift to Strasbourg - where MEPs are expected to debate the Martin Selmayr appointment, trade, Brexit, journalism and the budget.

Italy and migration will top This WEEK

Italy will have voted for a government, Germany's social democrats will have voted to confirm a government (or not): the dynamics in European politics may change, while Brussels will focus on Brexit again.

Election fever picks up This WEEK

Italian general elections, a German coalition in the balance, and the European parliament fighting to get a voice in nominating an EU commission president. This and much more in a week packed with intrigue.

Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing

An Austrian police unit headed by a far-right town councilor and tasked to tackle street crime was sent to raid the offices and homes of people working for Austria's domestic intelligence agency - prompting German counterparts to review cooperation.

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