The Brief – Not so soft power

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Abuse of power is as old as humanity itself: denying the others’ rights helped Homo Sapiens push aside the Neanderthals.

Strength and violence might have been adequate sources of power during the prehistoric world or even the Middle Ages, when rights were scarce anyway. But the French revolution is supposed to have changed that. Right?

Well. Women are still silenced by violence, as Eurostat figures show.

If you go by the official numbers, the rate of sexual assaults in Europe is higher in little Sweden than many other places, with 167 aggressions per 100,000 people. But those numbers are wrong. Sweden has a higher official rate because their women speak up a bit more.

The real rate is much more worrying, with one third of women having been the target of a sexual assault in France, as Nathalie Loiseau, France’s European minister, points out.

Women are not the only targets of power abuse. Men who are not go-getters and do not play the game of crushing others to climb up the ladder also tend to be losers in the rat race. If they are lucky, they will just not get the job they’re after. If they are unlucky, they can end up being bullied.

Does that mean that EU institutions, at the centre of European power, are full of bullies? Perhaps not, but the secrecy around them makes it hard to tell. A bit more transparency could help dissipate the perception that old white men still choose their heirs in a private club while smoking cigars.

The sheer fact that Jean-Claude Juncker’s Chief of Staff was able to suddenly become the European Commission’s Secretary General two weeks ago, when nobody knew the post was even open, is not encouraging.  And to make this Women’s Day really fun, the Eurogroup is finalizing the process of adding another man to the European Central Bank’s nearly all-male club.

So the fight is far from over.

But there is another way. Gaining power by thinking and working –a lot. By convincing people slowly with calm and skill. By turning around treaties to get to your point. By grabbing topics that were not yours in the first place.

Nobody thought that tax evasion issues in Ireland were a competition issue. Or that tackling climate change by investigating coal power-plants in Spain could be a competition issue. Or that competition rules could also protect European industries. While there may be plenty of unhealthy bromances in the hierarchy of the EU institutions, in the end, Margrethe Vestager is the one wielding the real power.

The Roundup

In honour of International Women’s Day, Sylvie Goulard talks about women and their place in Europe. Meanwhile, a survey analysing panels at Europe’s top conferences, including Davos and the Munich Security Conference, found that female speakers are outnumbered by men by three to one – with 74% of speakers being male.

After the EU unveiled its new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans, the first meeting between Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian leaders in six years is seen as an attempt to settle bilateral disputes before accession.

After another week of more proposals but no more signs of agreement on EU-UK relations, the Centre for European Reform’s Trade expert Sam Lowe tells Benjamin Fox that Jersey could offer the solution to the Brexit trade puzzle.

With a looming trade war between Washington and the rest of the world, Commission President Donald Tusk indicated EU leaders will hold emergency talks during the upcoming March summit – and started a battle of words himself.

The Commission unveiled its highly expected action plan on sustainable finance. It sets out a package of initiatives and actions to green financial markets, including the creation of EU labels for ‘green’ financial products.

Meanwhile, the chair of the Parliament’s ECON Committee has written a courteous letter to the president of the Eurogroup following the recent appointment of Luis de Guindos as its Vice-President.

Europe is never going to see a return to historical levels of production in oil fields such as the North Sea, but there is plenty of interest in tapping remaining reserves.

As the EU has rubber-stamped updated waste management rules and focusses on tackling plastic waste, the idea of a circular economy and internal market for recycling is gathering momentum.

When the first post-Brexit EU budget sees the light of day, it is time for the EU to show leadership and unity to drive climate action and make a net-zero carbon economy the new normal, writes Eliot Whittington.

Clocks for radio alarms, ovens and heating system currently show a delay of close to six minutes in European countries, including Belgium. Here is why.

Look out for…

High Representative Federica Mogherini receiving the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili.

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