Chris Gilson takes a look at the week in Brussels blogging. 

The EU centre and the crisis 

Ahead of elections to the European Parliament in May 2014, Jon Worth previews potential candidates for the post of EU Commission President from the Party of European Socialists. Meanwhile, Grahnlaw reflects on recent pro-federalism comments by the current EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, saying that he is no democrat, given his call for a ‘political Europe’ within the member states. Meanwhile, Reuniting Europe at Blogactiv.eu looks at recent attempts to discredit the European Commission in the Bulgarian press, which he says is an attempt by the ruling GERB party to distract attention away from a wiretapping scandal. 

Recent Eurobarometer statistics have shown a dramatic decline in trust for the EU and its institutions across Europe. Romanian MEP, Corina Cretu reflects on this, saying that austerity has fueled this lack of trust, as well as meaning increasing support for extremist parties across the continent. Nada es Gratis says that one of the major impacts of the crisis has been institutional deterioration, whereby institutional reforms were delayed or avoided during the boom time, leading to many of the current problems facing the Eurozone’s periphery. 

European Central Bank Credit: Jim Woodward (Creative Commons BY)

European Central Bank Credit: Jim Woodward (Creative Commons BY)

Given the current focus on unemployment and the economy, Debating Europe asks if we need an EU-wide directive against domestic violence. Meanwhile, the GMF blog looks at the European Parliament’s rejection of further reforms to the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme earlier this month, saying that this shows that the EU still faces a difficult task in reforming its carbon markets.

This week also sees the release of figures showing a rise in unemployment in many European countries. Dimitris Rapidis at Blogactiv.eu takes a close look at unemployment in Switzerland, which has a relatively low rat of unemployment (3.4%), and has moved to restrict EU citizens from working there for the next 12 months. He says that it is a sign that the country is fighting to have a prosperous market. Wednesday this week was also International Worker’s Day. Lost in EUrope says that Europe faced a very dreary May Day this year given widespread unemployment on the continent, and also looks at Germany’s ‘poaching’ of workers from the eurozone’s crisis countries. 

On Thursday, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced it would cut interest rates to 0.5 per cent, from 0.75 per cent. Before the cut is announced, Open Europe writes that any drop in the rate would have little impact on Europe’s periphery (where it is needed the most), as rates will not fall due to the inherent risks posed by weak banks. It’s not that simple has an interpretation of the announcement, saying that it is essentially more of the same from the ECB. 

Across Europe

French Politics looks at a fresh debate this week between the French left and right over Germany’s continued push for austerity policies. Meanwhile, Lost in EUrope says that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now treating France and its President Francois Hollande as if it no longer existed, instead pursuing closer ties with the UK and Poland. Open Europe echoes this, saying that the German response to the French socialists’ attack on Merkel has been one of indifference. Au Cafe de l’Europe says that the affair shows the cracks developing within the French Parti socialiste. 

On Tuesday, Craig Willy has an extensive guide to France’s far-right Front National. A Fistful of Euros uses its 10,000th post to look at the current scandals in French politics, including that of the budget minister Jérome Cahuzac and the former President Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the potential for a US-style tea party in France given the reaction of the right to the recent law enabling gay marriage. Later in the week, French Politics discusses a new scandal involving Claude Guéant (a minister in the Sarkozy government) and the sale of some unusually expensive paintings. 

As Spain faces unemployment of over 6.2 million, Nada es Gratis proposes that the country harness its geographic advantages to become ‘the Florida of Europe’ and attract older retirees from across the continent, which would in turn stimulate growth. 

The weekend saw elections in Iceland, with a return to power for the Progressive and Independence Parties. Grahnlaw says that Iceland has rejected the EU and austerity. 

Croatia, the war and future, is critical of Croatia’s electoral law which states that votes are only valid if 50%+1 of all eligible voters participate, saying that many votes in the country do not adequately reflect the will of the people. 

Tuesday saw new Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta announce new policies in a speech that was strong on anti-austerity rhetoric, according to Open Europe. The GMF blog has a look at some of the challenges that face the new Italian government, not least overcoming the internal differences between the grand coalition of the right and left. On Wednesday Letta paid his first visit to Germany, writes Open Europe, which says that the joint press conference that followed was amicable and conciliatory. 

On Thursday, the UK held local council elections, and a by-election. On a day that sees gains for the eurosceptic UKIP party, Open Europe looks at comments from Prime Minister David Cameron that may indicate that he is willing to legislate for a UK referendum on the EU sooner that had been expected. 

EU Foreign policy and the European neighbourhood 

The  European Council on Foreign Relations has an interesting overview of what they term, the ‘European Decline’, finding that things may not actually be as bad as they seem. 

Spotlight on Geopolitics at Blogactiv.eu looks at two candidates for EU membership – Serbia and Turkey – that are hedging their bets by seeking associations and agreements with other neighbouring countries. 

Ideas 

Craig Willy looks at whether or not democracy is still possible in our individualistic society, saying that “much of our history can be understood according to this democratic oscillation, back and forth, between the popular and oligarchic poles of liberal democracy.” 

New Eastern Europe looks at the evolution of the concept of Central Europe. 

And finally… 

What has President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy been up to this week? This week he visited Portugal, and met the new Prime Minister of Italy, Enrico Letta, in Brussels. 

Jon Worth worries that private railways and reservation fees might be killing the allure of Interrail. 

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes says that chat apps have now taken over SMS (text messaging) globally, while Real Time Brussels looks at the social media presence of some of the EU’s bigwigs. 

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Note:  This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics. 

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