Seven Days in Europe

Germany and France are next week expected to table proposals to tighten economic governance rules that would involve overhauling part of the EU treaty. Under particular discussion will be the role the European Central Bank, which some diplomats have suggested could play a role as a lender of last resort. However, Germany remains firmly against such proposals and Mario Draghi, president of the ECB has told the European Parliament that temporary measures by the ECB, such as buying up government debt, would be limited. Mr Draghi said a “fundamental restatement” of the region’s fiscal rules was key to restoring confidence.

Unions in Greece are holding their first general strike in protest at austerity plans since technocrat Lucas Papademos took over as prime minister. Public services shut down along with rail and ferry services but airports stayed open, as did the Athens metro and the city’s stock exchange. Earlier this week, Mr Papademos secured the latest 8bn-euro tranche of the loans package.

Belgian politicians have finally reached agreement over the formation of a new government. Officially, it is not sure yet who will be prime minister, but there is little doubt that it will be Elio Di Rupo, leader of the Francophone Socialist Party, who will represent Belgium at the summit of European leaders next week.

Atheist associations have complained that the EU is privileging the views of religious leaders over those of secular organisations. At the second annual ‘summit’ in Brussels between the three presidents of the European Union and representatives of atheist groups and freemasons, the secularists demanded to be put on an equal footing with faith communities. Under pressure from church groups, and in particular from the Vatican, efforts to involve religious leaders in the crafting of legislation were surprisingly successful with the passage of the Lisbon Treaty, which, under its Article 17, requires a regular dialogue with religious associations, and also with “philosophical and non-confessional organisations”. But non-religious organisation feel that they are being marginalised during consultations.

Europe is taking a tough stand on global warming at this week’s UN climate talks in Durban.  The bloc is planning to depart from decades of “dovish” practice by insisting stiff conditions must be met by China and other developing countries if a global climate treaty is to be arranged. The hardline stance has already caused consternation among developing countries at the talks, and the discord threatens the future of the Kyoto protocol. But the bloc is determined not to back down, as officials are angry that the EU’s goodwill on climate change has been taken for granted.

Germany is threatening to stop Serbia being made a formal candidate for membership of the European Union at next week’s European Council.  The leaders of the 27 member states were scheduled to approve Serbia’s candidacy on 9 December. But Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s defence minister, has said that “Serbia is moving away from a positive decision with every day.”  Serbs have been continuing a violent campaign in north Kosovo, and when NATO attempted to remove a Serb roadblock there on Monday, two German soldiers, who suffered gunshot wounds, were among the 30 peacekeepers injured.  Merkel wants Belgrade to rein in Serb crowds in Kosovo that have repeatedly attacked NATO peacekeepers.

Finally, Oscar Wilde’s restored tomb has been unveiled in Paris, complete with a glass barrier to make it “kiss-proof”. Work was carried out on the gravestone because it was covered in lipstick marks left by tourists, which was gradually destroying it. In a stunt worthy of James Bond, Swiss stuntman Yves Rossy raced two Albatross jets over the Swiss Alps while wearing a jetpack. His custom-built jet suit weighs 54kg and can travel at speeds in excess of 125mph. Rossy used to fly fighter jets for the Swiss air force and in 2006 became the first and only man in the history of aviation to fly with a jet-propelled wing.

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