EU news focus

EU news focus: 27.09-03.10.2013 – Italian politics, Eurozone unemployment, a European people, EU-Armenia, Google/EC

EU News Focus

Internal affairs

Italian political situation

Italian politicians offered an incredible spectacle over the past week. After PdL MPs had announced they would resign if Berlusconi loses the vote about his Senate membership on October 4th, the Italian PM, Enrico Letta, declared that he would seek a clarification in Parliament. Then, on Saturday, Mr Berlusconi accelerated the crisis by asking the PdL ministers to resign. This move may, however, have been a step to far. On Sunday, while Mr Berlusconi was calling for new elections as soon as possible, several exponents of the PdL’s moderate wing expressed doubts about the strategy indicated by their leader. By the end of the day, the discontent was clearly visible and there were talks of possible scission within the PdL, with the “dissidents” led by Angelino Alfano, vice-PM and PdL’s secretary general, and the other ministers of the PdL. Two days of tense talks and multiple meetings followed, with the impression of an ever-growing distance between the “colombe” (doves), behind Mr Alfano, and the “falchi” (hawks), who advised Mr Berlusconi to keep the tough line. Wednesday was then the day of the truth, with, in the morning, the speech of PM Letta in the Senate followed by a debate and a vote of confidence to the government. In that very same morning, the break between the pro-government and Mr Berlusconi seemed unavoidable. After Mr Letta’s speech, many PdL senators met and decided to vote against the government. But, as it became clear that the government would win the vote of confidence thanks to the “alfaniani” of the PdL, Mr Berlusconi made a U-turn and announced, shortly before the vote, the support of the PdL to the government. The end results in the Senate were 235 in favour and 70 against. The government also obtained a huge majority in the other Chamber. Wary of marking the difference and the emergence of a new “political majority” (as opposed to the large “numerical majority”), Mr Letta indicated that the government would have won the vote even without Mr Berlusconi’s backing. These events have shown for the first time in 20 years Mr Berlusconi losing control over a significant part of his party and being forced to backtrack in order to avoid being politically marginalised. Now, it may be only the first step towards that feared marginalisation, as the Giunta per le elezioni will vote on Friday on whether Mr Berlusconi will remain senator despite his condemnation for fiscal fraud.

Sources: Corriere della Sera, La Stampa, Der Spiegel.

Economy

Unemployment

In Italy, amid the political turmoil, statistics revealed that unemployment had reached 12.2% (+0.1%). Furthermore, the rate of youth unemployment crossed the threshold of 40%, a historic record and one of the highest rates in the European Union.

In Germany, the situation is very different: unemployment decreased – but less than expected – to 6.6% of the workforce.

Finally, in France, SFR, the telecom operator in charge of sending SMS to more than 600,000 people registered with Pôle emploi (the French unemployment agency) to remind them to update their (un)employment status, announced that a “serious technical failure” explained the unusual high rate of non-updated statuses. Any unemployed person who fails to update her status by the end of the month is automatically deregistered from Pôle Emploi. This technical failure explained the remarkable drop of unemployment in August which had been announced earlier.

In the whole Eurozone, unemployment is unchanged at 12%; youth unemployment is at 23.7% with the highest rate in Spain (56%) and the lowest in Germany (7.7%).

Sources: Corriere della Sera, Focus, Le Monde.

Citizenship

Let’s vote for a European people

In El Pais, Mikel Arteta, a Spanish political scientist, called for the creation of a European people (“demos”). He criticised the idea that “a linguistic community must govern itself” and suggested to tackle the challenges to a broad, trans-European public debate in a multilingual Europe. The facts that we learn foreign languages and adhere to Human Rights in different languages prove that “we think, in different languages, a common social world, as we all need to face concrete problems deriving from it”. If there are transnational problems, then the political level to tackle them also needs being transnational. Arteta’s intermediary conclusion is that “recovering popular sovereignty requires a political integration in the EU, artificially creating a new demos”. Translating this purpose in law means a stronger European Parliament and the establishing of truly European political parties. That way, we would “revive a common project” currently viewed only through the lens of “the advantages that such project can bring to ourselves and our countries”. European political parties and media which translate and spread important news in the different European languages would enable the rise of a “flourishing European civil society which would contribute to bringing individual interests together in one political framework”. Accountability and responsiveness would create solidarity ties and a feeling of common belonging. Arteta claims this would not very difficult as we already share a lot of things, such as the world wars, enlightenment, the rule of law, democracy, etc. Finally, voting for European parties would also end criticism about the bureaucratic and intergovernmental nature of an EU sometimes seen as privileging the interests of its strongest and biggest members. The EU would be seen not anymore as “an elitist project”, but as “a political project”.

Sources: El País, Presseurop.

International Relations

Armenia renounces to free-trade deal with EU

Following its decision, early September, to join a Russian-led custom union (with Kazakhstan and Belarus being the two other members), Armenia has renounced to joining the EU “Eastern Partnership”. Talking before the General Assembly of the Council of Europe (a body promoting democracy and human rights, and totally unrelated to the EU), Sergei Sarkissian, President of Armenia, declared that his European colleagues indicated an incompatibility between the two agreements and that Armenia would give preference to the custom union. However, he also expressed hope to sign an agreement related only to the political aspects of the partnership with the EU. This decision by Armenia comes in a context of tense relations between Russia and the EU, which both try to attract Eastern European countries in their sphere of influence. The EU has once more denounced Russian pressures on these countries (Ukraine is another prominent case), but Mr Sarkissian claimed that the Armenian decision had been adopted “in full independence and taking into account the concrete situation” (a third of Armenian exports go to Russia and the country’s security relies on Russian military aid).

Source: Le Monde.

Industry/Technology/Business

Google and the European Commission

Google has been for some time under investigation by the European Commission for alleged abuse of dominant position on the markets for search engines (90% of market share) and for online advertising. In particular, it was accused to put forward its own services to the expense of specialised competing search engines.

Now, following additional concessions by the American technology firm, the EU Commissioner responsible for competition, Joaquin Almunia, expressed hope to close the investigation and reach a deal with Google by next spring. A first round of concessions by Google had been deemed insufficient. The new offer includes an increased visibility for competing websites, with the possibility for them to show their logo and information about their content. The offer will now be submitted to comments by complainants and competitors of Google: if they deem it acceptable, it will eventually become legally binding; otherwise the process will continue and may end up with Google being fined up to 10% its global yearly turnover.

Sources: Le Monde, The Guardian.

Next week…

The European Parliament will hold its session in Strasbourg. The draft agenda can be found here. Some topics of interest are: the European carbon market in 2012, discussions about partnerships and trade agreements with third countries, a debate on the European Border Surveillance System, and much more!

As to the Lithuanian Council presidency, it will organise the 13th European Corporate Governance Conference on 8 and 9 October. And it will commemorate the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto 70 years ago.

Sources: EP website, Lithuanian Council presidency website.

Pierre-Antoine KLETHI

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