Trans-Europe Express: Focusing on Venezuela to forget our own problems

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

This year, the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize went to the Venezuelan opposition, after the EU recognised their fight for human rights.

In view of Nicolás Maduro’s government repression, the Parliament wanted to send a political message. But for some, this message was wrong, as Europe disregarded the violence caused by Maduro’s opponents.

Others also claimed that Europe had enough problems in its own backyard.  EU politicians have shown a lively interest in Venezuelan politics but they seem to neglect the fire in their own house.

It’s the typical European reaction, pointing the finger at others when they don’t want to talk about their family problems.   

Europe has also heavily criticised Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin. In the case of Turkey, the EU even cut pre-accession funds.

Let’s see what we’ve swept under our own carpet.

In Bulgaria, the opposition parties said that press freedom in the country is under attack, while Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party faces the same accusations of undermining media freedom.

In Hungary, the closure of newspapers and the tightening of media regulation prompted the US State Department to decide to provide almost €600,000 to boost media pluralism in rural areas.

In Italy, the heavy concentration of media ownership has been a long-standing issue. Moreover, neofascist party Forza Nuova recently attacked Italy’s La Repubblica newsroom with smoke bombs.

But we have to be careful when using the freedom of expression argument, as not every media or judiciary reform is necessarily bad.

In Greece, for instance, the Syriza-led government was accused of undermining media freedom when it tried to regulate the media landscape via a new law.

The law would force private TV channel owners to pay for the public frequencies they use. They have not done so for more than 25 years, despite a clear provision in the Greek constitution.

The government was also criticised because it only suggested four TV channels. Greece’s independent regulatory authority then proposed seven channels and TV channel owners are still trying to find reasons to block the law.  

We shouldn’t only focus on media freedoms. There is also the citizens’ voice in the EU and the European Parliament itself tried to put restrictions in place.

In April, a Parliament report drafted by Markus Pieper, an EPP lawmaker from Angela Merkel’s CDU, called on the Commission to reject funding for NGOs that oppose the “strategic commercial and security objectives”.  

A civil society group disagrees with an EU trade deal with a third country? Then it will receive no money. That was more or less the logic, which fortunately never passed.

The EU needs to do better if it wants to stay the leading champion of human rights and media freedom.

This week’s edition of Trans-Europe Express is supported by the European Parliament.

Inside Track

Democracy ebbing away. In Poland, the ruling PiS party is picking up speed in a campaign to muzzle media and put judiciary under control. Euractiv’s partner Gazeta Wyborcza reports

Media under fire I. Poland’s media regulator has fined a major news channel over alleged biased coverage of anti-government protests in December 2016, and the broadcaster TVN24 vowed on to appeal.

Media under fire II. Bulgarian opposition parties exposed what they see as an attempt to silence and close down media considered unfriendly to the government of Boyko Borissov.

Change and continuity. Poland’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attends his first European summit in Brussels, where leaders and policymakers hope he will be more cooperative than his predecessor Beata Szydło.

Refugee crisis discussed. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš insists on not accepting any refugees under the EU relocation system despite a legal case brought by the Commission. 

Call for transparency. There is widespread lack of trust among judges and prosecutors in Serbia in the process of electing judiciary officials and climbing the career ladder, with eight out of ten believing connections and nepotism are as important as by objective criteria.

French state of emergency. France’s Constitutional Council will decide in the coming months on the constitutionality of the country’s new anti-terrorism law. The text, which extends certain measures of the state of emergency, worries jurists and defenders of human rights. 

Romanian protest continues. Romanians took to streets to vent their anger with the parliament’s rush to change laws that govern the justice system, against the recommendation of both the local magistrates’ associations and foreign partners.

Same-sex marriage. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Italy for failing to recognise same-sex marriages, a ruling that will result in a token financial compensation for the plaintiffs and more negative publicity for the country.

Macron courts Merkel. French President Emmanuel Macron, concerned that a divisive discussion over eurozone reform might undermine his broader European agenda, has begun prioritizing other areas of EU cooperation.

All smoke, no roast. An objection aimed at banning phosphate from kebab meat voted in the European Parliament, has started a Europe-wide controversy, fuelled by a German conservative MEP and fake news.

Swedish Silicon-Valley. Stockholm produces more billion dollar companies than any other place outside Silicon Valley and the Commission recently proclaimed it Europe’s most innovative region. In an interview with EURACTIV Greece Mayor Karin Wanngård explained why it is such a popular breeding ground for ‘unicorns’.

Matter of life and death. Greece will speed up the relocation of migrants from its overcrowded islands to the mainland before the onset of winter after reaching a deal with Turkey.

Waiting in line. The EU opened new chapters in its membership talks with Montenegro and Serbia, countries which European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker says he expects to join the bloc by 2025.

Saakashvili vs. Poroshenko. Several thousand people marched through central Kyiv to protest against the detention of Ukrainian opposition figure Mikheil Saakashvili and call for the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko.

Corsica en Marché? Nationalists on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica cemented gains in regional elections with demands for greater autonomy from Paris.

Federation dreams shattered. German conservatives rejected the vision for a “United States of Europe” put forward by Martin Schulz and the Social Democrats (SPD), with whom they are hoping to form a governing coalition.