The Brief, powered by Metal Packaging Europe – Brussels’ other election

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

The year 2019 is all about elections in Brussels, but not necessarily the European polls in May.

The spiritual home of the Congolese diaspora in Europe, the Matongé district, a short walk from the EU institutions and home to many a Congolese oppositionist, hardly cares about the European elections.

Presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo finally took place on the 30 December – albeit two years after President Joseph Kabila unsuccessfully sought to change the constitution to extend his mandate – and few were confident that the poll would be either free or fair.

When the results were finally announced on Thursday morning (10 January) they contained several surprises.

The first is that Kabila’s chosen successor Emmanuel Shadary has not been declared the victor. The second was that Felix Tshishekedi has been named president-elect by the Congolese electoral commission with 38.5% of the vote.

That confounded expectations. The Catholic church, which organised a team of close to 40,000 election monitors to scrutinise the poll and conduct its own vote calculations, had put oil tycoon Martin Fayulu a healthy 20 points ahead of both Shadary and Tshishekedi.

The official results put Fayulu second with 6.4 million votes, comfortably ahead of Shadary’s 4.4 million.

African Union officials, also part of an election observer mission, believe that Fayulu won, according to Africa Confidential.

Shadary has accepted the result. Fayulu and his supporters have denounced it as an ‘electoral coup’.

“We must have clarity on these results, which are the opposite to what we expected,” said French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian.

For the moment, the EU, which did not send an election observation mission, has wisely stayed silent. But the international community will not be able to maintain a vow of silence for long.

The EU and, indeed, the wider international community will welcome the departure of Kabila. The bloc’s ambassador in Kinshasa, Bart Ouvry, was expelled two weeks ago in retaliation to a travel ban and asset freeze imposed by Brussels on Shadary and a group of other government officials.

But what they will be concerned about is that Tshishekedi junior, the son of veteran oppositionist Etienne Tshisekedi who died in Brussels in 2017, is far too cosy with the Kabila regime. There are already fears that Tshishekedi has struck a deal with Kabila. That could explain the poll irregularities and large discrepancies between the assessment of election observers and the official result.

DRC has not had a peaceful transition of power since its first post-independence polls in 1960 elected Patrice Lumumba as its first prime minister. Lumumba was forced out via a CIA-sponsored coup within four months and assassinated with the connivance of the CIA and the Belgian state in January 1961.

While the malign colonial influences have gone, the prospect of a peaceful transition looks far from likely.

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The Roundup

by Alexandra Brzozowski

During a rare Athens visit (first since five years!), German Chancellor Angela Merkel will urge Greece to press on with tough economic reforms and maintain strict fiscal discipline. The stir over the Macedonian name deal, however, is dominating the Greek agenda.

Romania’s EU presidency kicks off in earnest, with the entire Commission swooping on Bucharest for the traditional opening ceremony. Time to have a look at who the movers and shakers behind the presidency are.

The ‘grand coalition’ of the centre-right and left groups in the European Parliament is set to end after May’s European elections, according to the latest projection.

France and Germany have pledged to strengthen their alliance sign an Élysée 2.0 treaty later this month in a bid to show that the EU’s main axis remains strong.

Meanwhile, Italy’s deputy PM Salvini calls for an ‘Italian-Polish axis’ to replace the Franco-German tandem.

Socialists and liberals are natural allies for the centre-right European People’s Party in the next European Parliament, according to Manfred Weber. He also said that President Trump is ‘not America,’ after US downgrades EU diplomatic status.

If you thought leadership cannot get worse: With a “bye, bye” comment, Trump has walked out of a meeting with Democratic leaders as negotiations broke down on the 19th day of a partial US government shutdown.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro begins a new term that critics dismiss as illegitimate, with the economy in free fall and the country more isolated than ever.

The right to be forgotten should be limited to the EU, the bloc’s top court says in the  recent Google case.

Look out for…

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker together with the College of Commissioners meets President of Romania, Klaus Ioannis, in Bucharest.

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