The Brief: 1-0 to the Europhiles


Politics is bigger than football in the Brussels Bubble. Even on a weekend that boasted Roma vs Lazio and Real Madrid vs Barcelona.

Super Sunday saw two big matches; Austria’s presidential election and Italy’s referendum on Matteo Renzi.

The Europhiles struck first in the early kick-off in Austria. The far right, Eurosceptic candidate Norbert Hofer was sent off sooner than expected.

With half the votes counted, it was clear that Alexander Van der Bellen was taking home the match ball before the final whistle.

Van der Bellen had nailed his colours to the mast as the pro-EU candidate. Hofer’s FPÖ had pushed for a referendum on EU membership until Brexit spooked the electorate.

Van der Bellen ruthlessly punished them for the U-turn, making the EU central to his campaign, with his fans waving banners against “Öxit” (Austria’s Brexit).

But over in Serie A – sorry Italy – it looked like the Eurosceptics had equalised in the last minute. Matteo Renzi was given a straight red by the Italian electorate.

EU supporters fell silent. Their heads in their hands. It was all going wrong again. A draw snatched from the jaws of victory. Europhiles are basically the England of EU politics.

But should the goal stand? I am ruling it offside.

The EU was peripheral to the Italian referendum, an 89th minute substitute, rather than the midfield enforcer it was in Austria.

Renzi was hailed as the EU’s special one when he came to power. But he’d also indulged in increasing amounts of Brussels-bashing in recent months in a desperate bid to shore up his popularity.

This vote was about Renzi and his catastrophic tactical decision to promise to resign if he lost. No one likes politicians – they are like referees.

The constitutional reforms Renzi wanted would have actually made it easier for Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement to win the upcoming elections. Campaigning for No was a massive own goal.

Renzi’s defeat is a ghost goal for the Eurosceptics.

Their most rabid supporters can howl about “the global elite” all they like but the referendum doesn’t make an Italian Brexit – Quitaly – more likely in the short to medium term. The Austrian presidential elections puts Öxit to bed until autumn 2018.

1-0 to the EU. But there are potential title-deciders to come in France, the Netherlands and Germany.


Super Sunday brought some other highlights, such as this piece by Alberto Alemanno. Here is the Commission on whether the Italian and Austrian votes were about Europe. It was inevitable that someone would get Austria and Australia mixed up.

Here is Nigel Farage being blamed for swinging the election away from the FPÖ with a TV interview he gave to Fox News. His spokesman told us Nigel had “nothing to say” about the blunder.

The UK Supreme Court started its deliberations on an appeal brought by Theresa May’s government today. May wants to be able to trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval, something the High Court said was not allowed back in October. A decision is only due early next year, which perhaps explains the meek turnout at a rally planned outside the courthouse today. Farage had promised 100,000 people…

Russia’s manoeuvring in Ukraine has pushed the EU’s eastern and Baltic members to increase their defence spending, which will be music to the ears of Airbus, whose CEO wants Germany to increase its military budget.

The Commission is still struggling against a hostile gun lobby on revising legislation that was brought back to the drawing board after the Paris attacks.

Europol is due to get more power over counter-terrorism next year, but it will have to plug some holes in its set-up after it admitted numerous documents on terrorist investigations were leaked online.

Climate-sceptic Donald Trump may be against free trade deals in general, but one activist told us that the soon-to-be US president will press on with the “insidious” Trade in Services Agreement anyway. Some of the main criticism levelled at TiSA is to do with data protection and the Commission has already warned some US tech giants to act quicker against hate speech.

Today, the Commission kicks off its first European Vocational Skills Week, which aims to prepare people better for today’s labour market. Maybe Messrs Hofer and Renzi will be there looking for advice…

This picture is just six months old. And look how terrified this horse was when French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen came to visit.


The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will give his first press conference at 11.30AM tomorrow in Brussels. There were reports claiming Barnier was pushing for Brexit negotiations to be held in French. When we asked whether the presser would be in French or English, the Commission wisely answered, “both!”

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