Seven Days in Europe

The European Commission has announced that it is considering how to set up an EU criminal policy, with clear definitions on ‘EU crime’ and minimum punishments to be applied across all member states. It wants to put an end to criminals seeking out member states with the most lenient punishments for pan-European crimes such as human trafficking, money laundering, counterfeit and corruption. The Lisbon Treaty explicitly allows the EU to adopt minimum rules on criminal law.

Brazil, Russia, India and China have revealed that they are in preliminary discussions to put together a ‘rescue package’ for Europe, and the US treasury secretary made a surprise appearance at a meeting of European finance ministers in Poland last week, another indication of the international concern surrounding Europe’s growing financial fragility. Meanwhile, disagreements between the Greek government and the international inspectorate tasked with monitoring Greek financial measures continue. In order to receive the sixth tranche of bail-out cash (some €8 billion) Greece must adhere to austerity measures. However, the measures – which include public sector cuts – are not popular, and according to a report in conservative Greek daily Kathimerini, Prime Minister George Papandreou is considering holding a referendum on whether to continue with austerity or to exit the euro. The BBC has a helpful analysis of the changing credit ratings of EU countries, and this pictorial guide to the eurozone crisis (and the varying perceptions of it)  is also highly recommended.

EU borders, both internal and external, are proving problematic this week. The EU Commission is pressing ahead with a controversial draft bill on ‘europeanising’ the way border checks are introduced. “Since the free movement of persons within the area without internal borders is a key Union achievement, the benefits of which are enjoyed by all the persons living in this area, it should as a general rule require a decision to be taken at the Union level, rather than for such decision to be taken unilaterally at the national level,” the draft reads. Romanian authorities blocked flower imports from the Netherlands over the weekend, citing health concerns, just one day after the Dutch government announced it would veto the country’s entry to the border-free Schengen area at an upcoming home affairs ministers’ meeting. As the EU squabbles over how to deal with internal migration, Amnesty International condemned the EU response to refugees fleeing Libya, who are now stranded on the Egyptian and Tunisian borders.

“Ooh arrgh me hearties”; no it is not international speak like a pirate day, but news that a band of internet freedom activists (the Pirate Party) are to enter Berlin’s state parliament. The Pirates won 8.5% of the vote and ousted the Free Democrats, Angela Merkel’s junior partner in the unpopular national government. The loss of seats by the FD was another blow to Merkel’s ruling coalition, as it is feared that the FD’s declining popularity will lead them to adopt a more populist line on the eurozone crisis, undermining the coalition’s united front.

A row has erupted over the pension rights of politicians in Italy, after it emerged that an Italian MP who served for one term will receive a €39,000 pension. The MP in question, Ilona Staller, is better known as Cicciolina – the star of almost 40 pornographic films. Pensions have come under resentful scrutiny at a time when politicians are seeking painful sacrifices from the rest of Italian society in order to prevent a debt crisis. Last week, parliament gave final approval to an austerity package that includes an increase in VAT and provision for big cuts in income tax allowances.

France’s ‘Burka Ban’ continues to court controversy. On Thursday a local judge in Meaux, east of Paris, will decide whether to hand out the first fines under the law banning face coverings in public, brought into force in April. The two women being prosecuted were stopped outside Meaux town hall wearing niqabs and carrying an almond cake to celebrate the birthday of the local mayor Jean-François Copé, an architect of the ban. Lawyers representing the women are planning to argue that the niqab law contravenes European human rights legislation on personal liberties and freedom of religion.

Finally, surely one of the most powerful tools for European integration is a mutual appreciation of Member States’ national culinary traditions. After years of British cooking being dismissed by continental counterparts, its humble virtues are finally being appreciated, as a new craze for traditional British cuisine is sweeping Berlin with bacon butties and cream teas experiencing a surge in popularity.

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