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

The EU centre and the crisis

In June, the European Commission put out a tender for an online newsroom dedicated to European affairs, but later cancelled the call due to budget cuts. Décrypter la communication européenne looks at the need for an EU public information service in the same way that national broadcasters operate, to inform Europeans of issues of relevance. Lost in EUrope looks at what appears to be German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s varying commitment to reform of the EU’s data protection regulations, especially as she recently fought the European Commission’s demands to suspend trade negotiations with the US in the wake of revelations about US spying. On Friday, Open Europe revisits the idea of a ‘double majority’, where a majority of both eurozone and non-eurozone members in the EU’s Council of Ministers would be required for a proposal to be passed.

Credit: David_Reverchon (Creative Commons BY NC SA)

Credit: David_Reverchon (Creative Commons BY NC SA)

Croatia recently joined the EU, but what does that actually mean, concretely? Kiels prat in Europe has the answers. Meanwhile, Debating Europe wonders When will Serbia join the EU? A Fistful of Euros looks at the impact of ‘being small’ in Europe; there is little concern over Cyprus’ continuing capital controls at the same time as there has been an uproar over France’s banning of Daimler’s cars which do not conform to new greenhouse gas regulations.

On Wednesday several hundred Brussels-based interns went on a short march to protest their working conditions, according to Key to Europe, at Blogactiv.eu. The interns are demanding better pay (or to be paid at all), more opportunities for learning and mentoring, and are frustrated at the positions often not leading to paid work.

According to Revolting Europe, the Troika (EU, IMF, and the European Central Bank) may have helped to destroy 500,000 jobs in Portugal since its assistance began in 2011. On Thursday, the Greek parliament approved a new round of austerity measures. Lost in EUrope observes that the timing of the vote is interesting, given that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is due to visit the country on Friday. Revolting Europe looks at the common charge that Greece’s public sector is oversized and inefficient, saying that, in fact, the country has one of the lowest rates of public sector employment in the EU.

The FT’s Brussels blog looks into the European Commission’s biofuels policy, saying that while member states agreed to binding targets five years ago, the policy is now a mess, as rising demand for biofuels has also pushed up world food prices, as well as causing headaches for Europe’s oleochemicals industry. Public Affairs 2.0 looks at the worrying problem of the EU’s high energy prices, which may be driving investment away from Europe. Meanwhile, Open Europe looks at the EU’s structural funds policies, saying that in wealthier member states, these funds are the wrong tools for boosting regional development, and that they are often spent simply because there happens to be a pot of money available.

Across Europe

Jon Worth looks at pro-EU campaigns in the UK. He argues that there should not and cannot be only one pro-EU campaign in the UK, and that a diversity of movements is necessary if pro-Europeans want to win any coming EU referendum. Meanwhile, European Movement UK, at Blogactiv.eu, examines euroscepticism in Northern Ireland. On Monday, the UK parliament voted to opt out of 130 EU crime and policing measures, and then seek to opt back into 35 measures that are felt to be in the national interest. Open Europe wonders, as these 35 measures will be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, whether a future Conservative government will seek to renegotiate this jurisdiction. This week also sees the first visit of Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, to the UK. Open Europe says that his comments on the need for EU treaty change will be music to UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s ears.

Recent months have seen protests in Bulgaria over the alleged corruption of the country’s new government. The European Student Think Tank argues that it is a good thing that the EU has little or no power to intervene in Bulgarian affairs – at least until the government begins to breach EU laws and regulations. They say that the situation can (and should) only be resolved by focused internal efforts.

The Verfassungsblog has an interesting comparison of the political difficulties in Hungary and Egypt. While the circumstances of both countries are very different (Hungary is in trouble with the EU over its new constitutional arrangements, while in Egypt, the army has removed the country’s first democratically elected President), they say both cases raise the question of how much outside help is needed to avoid constitutional backsliding, and how this affects the sovereignty of the constitution-makers.

Croatia, the war, and the future looks at a recent series of arrests of Croatian Serbs accused of atrocities during Croatia’s 1991 war of independence. They say that Croatian Serb communities have protested at the arrests, calling them intimidating towards Serbs.

Sunday saw Bastille Day celebrations in France. President Francois Hollande used the opportunity to declare that “the recovery is here”. Lost in EUrope says that while French industrial production has risen, one swallow does not make a summer. On Wednesday, the OFCE blog looks at France’s Livret A savings accounts system, whose funds are primarily used for financing social housing. The US ratings agency, Standard & Poors has recently said that these accounts may penalize French banks and distort the banking market.

Nada es Gratis looks at unemployment in Spain (now over 25 per cent), and recent measures from the European Commission to address the problem. They say that the Commission’s current proposals, focusing on youth unemployment, would be better suited to the type of temporary youth unemployment patterns currently being experienced by the Nordic countries. On Monday, the scandal over Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ‘slush fund’ reignited, according to Open Europe, with fresh evidence coming to light of illegal payments to senior members of the Partido Popular from the party’s treasurer. Revolting Europe calls for Rajoy to resign immediately over the scandal, and for elections to be held.

EU Foreign policy and the European neighbourhood

This week sees US/EU free trade negotiations continue. Lost in EUrope says that while the EU and US negotiators reported that they have had a “very productive week” discussing the big, important issues, the US’ internet surveillance revelations and France’s audiovisual and cinema industries have been left out of the discussions from the outset. Meanwhile, One Europe lists four potential obstacles to success in the talks: the spying spat, the EU’s concerns over US ‘Frankenstein food’, an ongoing dispute over aircraft subsidies, and France’s cultural exception.

Looking at the state of EU-US relations, the European Council on Foreign Relations argues that the US’ use of drones to kill terrorist suspects is of far greater concern to the EU, than the recent allegations about spying.

Ideas

Euronomist looks at the history and popularity of pyramid and Ponzi schemes, while Charlemagne looks at the link between the decline in spanking children in Germany and falling violent crime. The GMF blog looks at how the US and Europe can learn from each other in combating the brain drain of talent from their cities. One Europe looks at the pros and cons of state and private ownership of public services. Anticipating the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014, Debating Europe asks, Will there ever be another war in Europe?

And finally…

What has President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy been up to this week? This week he met with the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and attended an EU-South Africa summit in Pretoria.

One Europe looks at the eurozone’s new star, Latvia, which will be joining the euro in January, 2014.

German Joys looks at the German equivalent of the US ‘stand your ground’ law, which has proved so controversial in the wake of the US’ George Zimmerman trial.

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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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