The Brief: What’s the EU leverage in Czech Republic, Austria, Spain?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Only a day after the EU27 leaders agreed on the ‘Leaders agenda’, a roadmap for two years packed with high-level meetings, new creases are appearing on the EU’s fabric.

The Czechs have elected Andrej Babiš, a billionaire who is more Eurosceptic and anti-immigration than Brussels would have wanted. Read between the lines the courteous congratulatory letters from Brussels leaders and you’ll see they’re not happy.

The question now is: if Babiš opts for coalition partners who share his worldview, rather than the Social Democrats, will they seek to boost the rogue status of the Visegrad group? Or will they be more pragmatic and focus on the economic benefits of good relations with Brussels (and possibly with Moscow?). Is Brussels going to give advice? This remains to be seen.

Just across the border in Austria, young Sebastian Kurz aims to form a coalition government before Christmas. He has campaigned partly on an anti-immigration platform, which makes the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) his natural ally — again something the EU does not want to see.

(Hint: just remember how it reacted with outrage when Jörg Heider-led FPÖ joined the government in 2000).

But he could also choose the right partner and form a grand coalition with the SPÖ, as again, the EU would wish.

Last but not least, in Spain, things are heading for a climactic showdown. We will know in a matter of days if the Catalonia affair is spiralling out of control and rushing into la vida loca — an option no one considered seriously a few years ago.

The independence-minded Catalan leaders and the central government in Madrid have taken a short breather before what could well be the irrevocable move in their high-stakes poker.

Puigdemont may declare independence and try to lead his new country into the unknown. And he may end up in jail, replaced by hand-picked caretakers from Madrid, which has even fewer options on the table if it wants to avoid the country’s breakup.

Arresting an entire regional government, even if there is a constitutional basis for it, might cause massive popular protests and set Catalonia in harm’s way for some time to come.

That, and only that, might force EU leaders to rethink their support for Mariano Rajoy and the Spanish constitution. So far, they have carefully sidestepped the issue of what, if any, role the EU could play in the Spanish crisis, even though they confirmed their concern.

Will the EU play its cards?

The Roundup

Czechs elected their own tycoon, who is now on the lookout for allies on his anti-immigration agenda. First Germany, then Austria, now this. Who’s next?

Italy holds regional referendums seeking greater autonomy from Rome, as far-right party seeks a mandate in the 2018 elections.

Nobel for economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz believes in an independent Catalonia. He shared his thoughts in this interview.

Slovenian president and former model Pahor will run against small-town mayor and former comedian Šarec in the second round of elections on 12 November. Good looks vs high spirits?

Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU asks to stop politicising the education law and speak about “the facts”- but its neighbours aren’t taking it that well.

More than 1.3 million demand an EU Glyphosate ban, as states prepare to vote on renewing its licence.

Italy still opposes glyphosate but opts for a 5-year phase-out period.

It may smell bad, but it won’t kill you. China lifts a ban on soft moulded cheese. In flow the Camembert, the Brie and the Roquefort!

As MEPs vote tonight on a reviewed renewable energy proposal, FERN’s Linde Zuidema says Europe must stop burning trees – or we will all bear the cost.

British farmers are growing impatient at both sides of the negotiating table, for the “British-grown food” idea seems outlandish. Try growing a tomato in Scotland.

Europe hopelessly grapples with the “refugee crisis”, but real migratory waves are yet to come, as Africa’s infrastructure will collapse under climate change, Tara Shirvani from the World Bank warns.

German papers reported Juncker’s unwitty comments on May’s “despondent” appearance, but Commission spokesperson Schinas said “we have no time for gossip.”

Environmentalist-turned-consultant for the UK’s largest coal-fired power plant, Tony Juniper says there are real dangers in burning woodmass – but carefully managed forests can help towards climate objectives.

The EU’s cybersecurity chief spoke to us about the Commission’s big plans for a cyber security overhaul” Now it’s the time to discuss liability.”

Look out for…

President Juncker will address MEPs in a plenary session in Strasbourg tomorrow.

Views are the author’s

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