The Brief – Europe united

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Who says the European Union cannot be united? Or that it can no longer see eye to eye with Washington on anything?

This week we saw MEPs across the political spectrum stand united on not one but three issues.

True, one of them had nothing to do with EU policy – the superswift appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man to the Commission’s top civil servant post.

MEPs from the left, right and centre joined in a chorus of righteous indignation over the lack of transparency or fairness in the procedure that awarded Martin Selmayr the coveted post.

But the other two issues were much more serious, with longer-term implications.

The Parliament, for once, fully backed the Commission’s announcement that it would continue to press the US for an exemption from tariffs on steel but was ready to deploy its countermeasures.

While some MEPs questioned how we came from a fully-fledged trade pact to a trade war in the space of 12 months, the only real note of discord came, predictably, from Nigel Farage, who said, to widespread disbelief, that the UK could and should “negotiate its own, separate deal with the US within 48 hours”.

Then, in another show of solidarity, senior EU officials, EU capitals and MEPs told the UK this week that they fully stood by London as it reels from an attempted poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the market town of Salisbury.

“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the British people. It must be made clear that an attack against one EU & NATO country is an attack on all of us,” Guy Verhofstadt, the Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, tweeted, summing up the general sentiment.

The attack, which carried the hallmarks of the Russian secret police (remember Alexander Litvinenko in 2006?), also managed to unite the EU and Washington, despite the ticking bomb of steel tariffs.

In a joint statement, the United States, France and Germany formally backed Britain’s claims that Russia was likely to have been responsible for the attack.

But this solidarity does not mean that the issue of tougher sanctions against Moscow will make it to the agenda of next week’s European Summit. EU leaders know that Europe remains divided over how hard to push Putin.

A cautious ‘let’s establish the facts first’ approach is likely to prevail. After all, Realpolitik has always been a steady feature of doing business in Europe.

The Roundup

Imagine the delightful prospect of expecting a big juicy burger and ending up with a flat and badly made one – an anti-Brexit campaign went exactly there.

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan have now launched a new regional cooperation drive. Read our Special Report as the five Central Asian countries came together for a surprise summit.

It became clear after the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State to Belgrade that the Kosovo issue remains a thorn in Serbia’s side and the biggest obstacle to its hopes for EU accession in 2025.

‘Good for Europe’, that’s how political observers in Austria rate the re-election of Angela Merkel as the German Chancellor and have high hopes when it comes to upcoming decisions on EU level.

With the resignation of Robert Fico, Slovakia staggers toward early elections, as is amid a political crisis sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.

France hopes to reconnect Brussels and European citizens through debates organised by civil society. Jean-Claude Juncker’s participation in the first event on 17 April has yet to be confirmed.

Weather alert systems, real-time communication and debit cards for refugees – humanitarian crisis management can be made more effective with the use of new technologies, Commissioner Christos Stylianides said in an interview with Euroefe.

In bullish projections, makers of natural gas vehicles expect their car fleet in Europe to multiply tenfold to 13 million vehicles in 2030. Read the interview with Andrea Gerini, the secretary general of NGVA Europe.

Two years after the Brussels attacks, the terrorist threat remains very real. There is room to beef-up security measures without creating a “police state” and maintaining respect for individual rights and liberties, argue Demir Murat Seyrek and Amanda Paul.

Look out for…

Foreign Affairs Council on Monday: Syria, Ukraine and the poisoning in the UK.

Views are the author‘s

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