The Brief: Happy birthday to EU


Kirk Douglas is 100 years old today. He is exactly four times older than the Maastricht Treaty and, some might say, is in far better shape than the European Union.

It’s not really a fair comparison. Kirk Douglas has Catherine Zeta Jones as a daughter-in-law. The European Union is mired in the messy divorce of Brexit and the ugliness of the refugee crisis.

Spartacus, the Stanley Kubrick-directed 1960 classic, tells the story of enslaved masses rising up in a rebellion against a foreign ruling elite.

Before our pals at UKIP and the Front National draw the obvious conclusion, they should remember what happened to Spartacus and his slave army. Spoiler alert! They were all very, very badly crucified.

Kirk and the Maastricht Treaty aren’t the only birthday boys. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker turns 62 today as well.

He was in Maastricht to give a characteristically upbeat speech about the future of the EU.

“We won’t exist as single nations without the European Union,” he said.  “We won’t exist as a single country… In 20 years from now not one single member state will be member of the G7. Any questions?”

Juncker sketched out his vision of a two-speed Europe, split between those countries who want less or more integration.

“We have to invent a different orbit for those of our European countries who do not want to be part of all the domains where we are trying to work together. This would not be a tragedy, this would not be a crisis,” he said.

Brussels has traditionally used every crisis to argue for more Europe. Juncker says the answer is more or less Europe.  It seems a sensible approach.

Alongside Brexit, migration has been Juncker’s biggest challenge. He was rightly scathing in Maastricht about countries such as Hungary and Slovakia ignoring EU refugee relocation rules.

“For the first time in post-war European history, not all the member states are applying the agreed rules,” Juncker said. The EU was no longer a rule-based system, he added.

Juncker, for all his faults, has often been right on asylum policy, especially on the creation of legal routes of migration. He seems to recognise what immigrants can bring to a society.

Take Kirk Douglas, one of the last survivors of Hollywood’s Golden Age – 100 years ago, he was born Issur Danielovitch, the son of an impoverished Russian Jewish immigrant in New York.


Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders was convicted of inciting discrimination today. The Party for Freedom leader was found guilty of leading anti-Moroccan chants at a rally in 2014, but escaped a further charge of hate speech or any actual punishment. Wilders called the ruling “mad” and the judges “biased”.

Wilder’s French counterpart Marine Le Pen might be facing off against another prospective candidate: Vincent Peillon, the republic’s former education minister, is set to announce a run at the Elysée this weekend.

This year’s Nobel economics prize winner has said the “euro was a mistake” and warned that the EU needs to return power to the capitals if it is to survive, but Germany and France look to be going the other way and pushing for the long-gestating central European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The EU is looking into clothing outlet Zara for alleged aggressive tax planning and its trade officials, along with their US counterparts, are lobbying hard against a draft Chinese law that could disrupt billions of dollars in food imports to the world’s second biggest economy. The Commission is also racing against the clock to revise its aviation pollution law.

One solution to the financial crisis and the rest of the EU’s woes could be to move towards a cooperative model of banking, farming and energy supply. Somebody should tell Bulgaria, who are looking to China to resurrect a nuclear project shelved years ago.

Austria announced its word of the year and it’s a mouthful: “Bundespräsidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung”, which means “postponement of the repeat of the runoff of the presidential election”.

Wow. James Crisp will be happy to buy a beer for anyone who comes up to him this weekend and pronounces it correctly. American dictionary Merriam-Webster has made an impassioned plea to help pick its own word of the year too. Does ‘fascism’ really sum up 2016?


It’s EU summit time next week, with migration, security and external relations set to feature prominently. We’ll be there to give you all the latest developments.

Views are the author’s and not our sponsor’s.

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