The Brief: Austerity, masochism and other things you can’t say in Europe anymore

The Brief is's evening newsletter.

The European Commission is fudging its own rules on how to treat rule-breaking member states.

Spain and Portugal were let off the hook today—even after the Commission reprimanded the two countries for failing to fix their deficits.

“You’d have to be a masochist,” Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s economic affairs chief, said today when asked why the Commission backed down.

This summer, the executive raised threats to punish the misbehaving countries. EU deficit rules require the Commission to cut a member state’s structural funds when they step out of line.

But Spain has taken steps to improve and was stuck in limbo for ten months with a flimsy caretaker government, so the Commission decided to go easy.

“We’ve decided not to beat down this country and that’s a good thing,” Moscovici told surprised reporters.

What good are rules you never use?

Jean-Claude Juncker insisted last month that “it should no longer be said that this Commission continues the austerity measures applied in the past”. That was one day before the US presidential election.

Was the Commission president taking a shot at populists who have won over crisis-hit voters?

Barack Obama is riding the anti-austerity wave too. He’s in Europe this week to calm everyone down about President-elect Trump, but managed to get in some jabs at penny-pinching European countries. “We cannot simply look to austerity as a strategy,” the lame duck president said yesterday in Athens.

The Commission hasn’t only eased up on countries that break the rules. Brussels also wants rich EU countries to spend more money and boost growth around the bloc. Hear that, Germany?

Does this mean austerity is over? It does seem like the tide has turned.


France’s upcoming elections could get a whole lot more interesting as Emmanuel Macron today confirmed his presidential ambitions. The man he is gunning to replace, French President François Hollande, told the US President-elect Donald Trump what he thinks of his posturing on the Paris Agreement. The director of the International Labour Organisation told us that “Trump is the result of our own failures”.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama is still on his European tour, offering solidarity with Greece on its debt crisis and insisting that the EU and NATO will remain “cornerstones of US policy”.

We all know about the refugee and Syria crises, but Matt Tempest has the story on the unknown emergencies in Africa that desperately need attention. It isn’t just Europe that is struggling with migration, there are problems in the US too.

Legal visitors to the EU could soon have to complete and pay for an online security check before travelling. Frans Timmermans said the new system will be “cheap, easy and effective”—visitors over the age of 18 will have to pay €5 for a pass that’s valid for five years. UK citizens will have to pay up too, once Britain leaves the EU.

European reliance on Turkey to help with the refugee crisis means relations with Ankara remain tense. The Turkish foreign minister called the EU “two-faced” about its criticism of human rights.

The EU’s top judges have been busy recently, ruling that the Basque police can discriminate against potential recruits over 35, as well as coming to the aid of forgotten books and their authors.


Barack Obama continues his final European tour as president. He meets tomorrow with Angela Merkel in Berlin. The European Commission makes its monthly announcement of new infringement cases.

Subscribe to our newsletters