The Brief, powered by 2025AD – Fortress Europe… Revisited

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Not all is well in the best of all possible worlds. Even less so in Europe 2018, which is increasingly trying to fend off the spectre of the not-too-distant refugee crisis.

Angela Merkel has been keeping Emmanuel Macron’s reformist zeal at arm’s length and has made an art of saying yes and no at the same time.

But she has been far less successful on migration. In fact, her ‘Syrian refugees welcome’ declaration from 2015 was stonewalled by everyone else.

Back then, it was Viktor Orbán and the new Polish leaders who openly defied any attempt to welcome migrants from Africa and the Middle East in Europe. And they got away with it.

Her main challenger today is Austria’s baby-faced prime minister, Sebastian Kurz, whose country takes over the rotating EU presidency from July. In an interview with the Financial Times, Kurz clearly spelled out the new priorities:

“We need to shift our focus from the debates about redistributing refugees within the EU, and should concentrate more on external border protection,” Kurz insisted.

Unsurprisingly, he has billed himself as the bridge-builder with Eastern Europe, most notably with traditional ally Hungary.

Add to that the fact that the proposed new seven-year budget earmarks €34.9 billion to migration and border management, almost doubling the sum set aside for ‘security and citizenship’ in the current budget.

Most of it will probably be used to “control the external borders”, which is just a nicer way of saying ‘prevent migrants from reaching Europe’.

Fortress Europe indeed, though the rapidly ageing Old Continent it is probably going to experience a workforce shortage in the next decade. Oh well, there is still untapped potential in Eastern Europe.

Of course, the EU wouldn’t be what it is if it didn’t try to kill two birds with one stone, without specifying what it really wants.

In the new budget, Brussels plans to move more than €30bn in cohesion funding away from the unruly East to Greece, Italy and Spain – the southern members that suffered the most during the financial crisis and, incidentally, the migration crisis (though Spain not that much).

It’s an elegant way of foregoing the ill-starred Article 7 that was never really going anywhere and telling Warsaw and Budapest that there is a limit to how much they can get away with. Xenophobia – yes, basic rule of law – not really.

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The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Italy is probably heading for a new election. EU budget boss and notorious gaff-meister Günther Oettinger made the mistake of wading into the issue.

A bit of misquoting from the German interview added fuel to the fire and prompted Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and Matteo Salvini to issue immediate rebukes.

The Commission just published the EU’s latest justice scoreboard. Main finding: When it comes to justice systems, most countries are doing fine, but some in the club, like the newest kid on the bloc Croatia, face some troubles.

Spain’s former central banker is no fan of the ECB’s new vice-president, having clashed in the past, but is confident he’ll do a good job (under the watchful eye of his hawk-eyed peers).

In the Czech Republic the grades of this year’s school leavers are worse than ever before. It is the education system, stupid, cry critics: a bus driver earns more than a teacher.

L’Abattoir, one of the biggest urban markets in Europe built in an old slaughterhouse in Brussels, has become the symbol of circular economy in the heart of Europe.

‘Mr Energy’ himself Claude Turmes will quit the European Parliament in June in order to join the Luxembourg government, after the unexpected death of friend and mentor Camille Gira.

After Spiderman was spotted in Paris, his eight-legged friends currently seem to be the hottest stuff in the Twittersphere: some heartedly argue not to kill them, while fear of them seems not entirely only a human instinct.

Look out for…

Strasbourg Plenary week continues with votes on the mobilisation of the EU Solidarity Fund and a Future of Europe debate with Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel.

Views are the author’s

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