The Brief, powered by Eni: The hypocrisy of liberalism

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The Commission is clearly on an investment drive. But several member states have expressed concerns about so-called “hostile takeovers” by non-EU companies and want legislation to protect critical national infrastructure.

That’s a fair point considering the mounting pressure by new players in the international markets. But what is critical infrastructure? From telecoms networks to power grids, it could cover pretty much anything. What about paint?

Dutch paints and coatings maker AkzoNobel, with the political support of the country’s liberal government, rejected a takeover bid from US rival PPG Industries. The Dutch multinational hinted that such a takeover would deal a severe blow to the country’s national interest. Fair enough, you might say.

But coming from one of the champions of EU liberalism, isn’t this a bit hypocritical?

The bloc’s leaders are always quick to criticise the protectionist agenda of US President Donald Trump but their own record is hardly squeaky clean.

How can a paint maker in one part of the EU be defended as critical infrastructure, when Greece has been forced to sell off almost all of its critical public assets to pay back creditors and meet the requirements of the bailout programme?

Watery Amsterdam has around 1,500 bridges, all of which must need painting every now and then. But is paint really more important to Amsterdam than the port of Piraeus is to Athens? And what about Greece’s electricity infrastructure?

This sort of pick-and-choose protectionism should work Europe’s liberals up into a frenzy. But their penchant for double standards is well documented.

In a bid for glory ahead of the European Parliament’s leadership election, the staunchly federalist leader of the liberal ALDE group Guy Verhofstadt sought to make a grubby deal the anti-federalist 5 Star Movement.

On the morning of the election he signed a pro-federalist document with the right-wing EPP group and in the afternoon, voted for a president who had signed another document with the Eurosceptic ECR group stating that the head of the Parliament should not set the political agenda.

At a time when European citizens are questioning the Union’s relevance and its ability to play a leading role in the global arena, a bit of coherence would not go amiss.

Trump-bashing is all too easy. But as Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout said in Strasbourg this week, “Simply being better than Trump should not be the limit of our ambition.”

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The IMF finally got off the fence and offered to help Greece meet its debt obligations, as eurozone finance ministers threw Athens a €8.5bn credit lifeline yesterday.

One year on from the fateful referendum, Britain appears to have accepted the EU’s Brexit negotiating schedule. Talks will kick off on Monday with the divorce bill, citizens’ rights and the Irish border top of the agenda.

In the 12 months since the UK vote, support for the EU has surged by ten points on average, and by 18 points in France and Germany. Professor Guy Standing told EURACTIV that every country could afford the universal basic income if it chose to.

The prospect of a landslide for Emmanuel Macron in France’s legislative election on Sunday has raised the question of electoral reform. France and the UK are the only EU countries not to use proportional representation.

Trade experts say the key to inclusive globalisation is ensuring that SMEs are not hampered by differing standards and over-regulation. The EU plans to regulate the use of low-flying drones by 2019.

Donald Trump plans to roll back much of President Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. The US Senate is pushing for new sanctions on Russia in response to allegations it interfered in Trump’s election.

Kurdish separatists in Iraq will hold a referendum on independence, which the EU is expected to reject over fears for the country’s stability.

Deeply conservative Serbia has named an openly gay woman as its next prime minister. Critics fear this is liberal window-dressing by the country’s authoritarian President Aleksandar Vucic.

And here’s today’s Tweets of the Week, bringing you the Twittershere’s best bits on roaming, Erasmus and the Strasbourg plenary.


France goes to the polls (again) on Sunday. President Emmanuel Macron’s new En Marche party is expected to give the traditional parties a good hiding in the run-off legislative elections.

Views are the author’s.

Samuel White contributed to this Brief.

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