Trans-Europe Express – Nothing quiet on the Western front

Trans-Europe Express is EURACTIV's weekly roundup from across the continent

It was another exciting week in Strasbourg. Not only did MEPs from across the political spectrum race to show righteous anger at Donald Trump, the president of new protectionism, but they saw the fall (and rise) of two EU governments in the space of a few days.

While Parliament focused on the next long-term budget and its impact on regional policy (meaning money to less developed regions), Italy and Spain – two countries that are supposed to get more funding from Cohesion in the years to come – saw their political fortunes take a rollercoaster ride.

In an unexpected twist, Italy’s election winners, Five Star and Lega, went back to the drawing board after President Sergio Matarella dismissed their first attempt and reached a deal to form a  coalition government, led by political novice Giuseppe Conte.

MEPs interviewed by EURACTIV before the news was announced said Europe should not be afraid of a Lega-M5S coalition in office.

“It is not a secret that we are very critical towards Europe,” M5S MEP Tiziana Beghin said.

However, she insisted, “we have worked for four years here in Parliament and everybody knows how proactive and how constructive we can be, with the aim to improve Europe and to improve the response of this institutions to the needs of the citizens”.

One of the main concerns in Brussels is whether the new government might lead Italy out of the Eurozone. But Beghin insisted it was not their intention.

However, Roberto Gualtieri, MEP from the outgoing Democratic Party, is indeed concerned about the impact the new government might have on Italy’s position in Europe.

“We said since the beginning that an outcome of the elections making those parties stronger and weakening our party, our government, would make Italy weaker in all the negotiation tables,” and this, Gualtieri argues, is bad for Italy and for the EU.

Nevertheless, the social-democrat MEP warned that the government might not last long.

“If this government will pursue a programme of social injustice, like the flat tax, unsustainable finances and adventures like double currency, the people will send them home,” Gualtieri said.  “We will not leave the euro because Italians do not want that.” 

In Spain, a history of sorts was also made, after five deputies of Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) said they would support a motion of no confidence on conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, weakened by corruption scandals in his own party.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez is thus set to become the first politician to oust a prime minister through a no-motion vote, which is scheduled for today (1 June).

With a concise “C’est fini” (it is over), socialist MEP Javi López reacted to PNV’s announcement.

“Today we avoid the first obstacle on a path towards change in our country,” tweeted Podemos MEP Tania González. “I am excited with the possibility of a new horizon.”

In opposition to the left-wing parties’ excitement, Estebal González Pons, chair of the PP delegation in the European Parliament, attacked Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez for the support he got for the vote, including the Basque and Catalan deputies.

“If Puigdemont is happy for Sánchez to become President, it is because it can’t be good for Spain,” González said.  Carles Puigdemont, the deposed Catalan leader now in exile in Germany, has been Rajoy’s arch-enemy and was indicted for his role in Catalonia’s independence referendum in October.

This edition of Trans-Europe Express is co-financed by the European Parliament.

The Inside Track

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Eurosceptics take Rome. Anti-establishment and nationalist parties in Italy reached a new coalition deal reviving their plans to take power, narrowly avoiding snap elections and setting in motion an anti-austerity government in the eurozone’s third largest economy.

European Angst. South Tyrol looks anxiously towards Rome, speaking of the biggest crisis in Italy, worrying about the regions fate and warning of political experiments.

Digital midfielder. As the European Commission pushes forward with digitalisation policies, its DESI-index shows, that Germany is only in the mid-range of digitalization.

Fortifying Europe? Austria’s Upcoming EU Presidency revealed its iconoclastic plans to beef up the EU’s external borders protection. While it also wants to tie minimum income to German language skills.

Historic memory. While Poland. and the ruling PiS party in particular, attaches great importance to history, it continues purging history books to the beat of the PiS drum.

Overstepping authority? The Netherlands, a country as green as it gets, launched a bid to overturn a landmark climate ruling, arguing that judges in The Hague “sidelined democracy” when they ordered a 25% cut in carbon emissions by 2020.

How to referendum. Amid crumbling church influence, Ireland overturned its abortion ban in a landslide vote that Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said had finally lifted decades of stigma and shame.

Decarbonization laggard. Greece faces criticism for lacking a modern energy plan to ditch coal while a growing number of voices are now calling for an up-to-date energy transition roadmap.

NGO crackdown. When it comes to PM Victor Orbán, under new legislation, it could become a crime to distribute informational leaflets about migration and helpers be liable to jail.

Bad recognition. Georgia is about to cut diplomatic relations with Syria after Damascus recognised its breakaway regions as independent states.

Views are the author’s

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