Seven Days in Europe

Greece’s two main parties are set for heavy losses in Sunday’s elections, with anti-bail-out groups on the extreme left and right to enter parliament for the first time. Public anger at austerity measures could translate into a new Parliament unable to form a ruling coalition. expect the ruling centre-right New Democracy and the centre-left Pasok parties to come in first and second, but it is unclear whether they will hold enough seats to govern alone. Some eight smaller, anti-bail-out parties ranging from neo-Nazi Golden Dawn to Marxist-Leninist Laos, are to make it into the Parliament for the first time since democracy was restored in the 1970s.

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi has urged eurozone leaders to come up with a 10-year target for the common currency, saying they should accept more transfer of powers if they truly want a fiscal union. At the monthly meeting of eurozone’s central bank governing council on Thursday Draghi explained what he meant last week when he said a “growth compact” is needed along with the deficit-cutting measures taken by most governments. There was more grim news for the eurozone on Wednesday as new figures showed that the unemployment rate reached 10.9 percent in March. The highest jobless rate was recorded in Spain – currently battling for a sharp reduction in its budget deficit – at 24.1 percent, followed by Greece (21.7 percent in January) and Portugal (15.3%). The figures are likely to fuel the current debate about whether policies to date have exacerbated the crisis by focussing too much on debt reduction through austerity measures.

EU austerity measures are helping to feed racism and intolerance, according to a report by the Council of Europe. In its annual survey out on Thursday the council’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said welfare cuts and shrinking job opportunities are factors behind the recent rise in intolerance and violence directed at immigrants and other vulnerable minorities. It adds that talk by mainstream politicians of reintroducing border controls in the passport-free Schengen area is beginning to give xenophobia and far-right extremism a respectable face.

Italy’s recession is likely to be longer and deeper than expected after its services sector shrank for the 11th month running in April and at its sharpest rate for almost three years. Dozens of Italian women widowed when their husbands killed themselves because of the recession will march today to bring attention to their plight. The grieving wives and family members of more than 25 businessmen who have committed suicide because of financial woes linked to Italy’s economic crisis – dubbed the “white widows” by the Italian media – will be led by Tiziana Marrone, the unemployed wife of a craftsman who set fire to himself outside the tax office in Bologna last month, dying nine days later. The widows say there is too little dialogue and not enough state support for families that have fallen into despair over unemployment, bankruptcies and loan defaults.

The European Commission has defended its decision not to hold a press conference after Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang’s meeting with commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels this week. “The EU institutions allow Russian and Chinese authorities to dictate who may and who may not be allowed to attend press conferences or whether a press conference will be held at all,” Ann Cahill, the vice-president of the International Press Association in Brussels, said at the commission’s regular press briefing on Thursday.

The Socialist François Hollande has emerged with the upper hand from a TV debate with the president Nicolas Sarkozy, as the two held their last rallies in the final 24 hours of campaigning before Sunday’s presidential vote. The first opinion poll showed French viewers of the live TV debate found Hollande to be the more serious candidate and also the nicest, most sincere and closest to their daily concerns. Sarkozy was seen to have been more dynamic and competent. Hollande was most convincing on the issues that worry voters the most: jobs, making ends meet as well as education, while Sarkozy was seen to be better on Europe, immigration and reducing France’s debt.

Russian police have arrested 17 gay rights activists at a May Day rally in St Petersburg. Members of the group were detained while trying to unfurl rainbow flags at a rally organised by opposition groups, activists said. Police said they were to be charged with failing to co-operate with officers. In March, St Petersburg became the fourth city in Russia to adopt a vaguely phrased law banning “homosexual propaganda” among minors. Activists believe it is a means of cracking down on gay rights. Last week, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s third largest city, adopted a similar law. Politicians have proposed passing it at a federal level.

Several European leaders have cancelled visits to Ukraine amid growing concern over alleged mistreatment of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Both EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding will boycott the Euro 2012 tournament in Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel may do so too. A spokesman said any such visit would depend on Ms Tymoshenko’s fate. Five European presidents are avoiding a summit next month in Yalta, Ukraine.

A German artist’s plan to strangle two puppies to death on stage at a Berlin theatre has been scrapped after legal intervention. Titled Death and Metamorphosis, the performance was to take place this week at a small theatre in Spandau. The performance, reportedly based on traditional Thai performance art, was intended, the artist said, as a protest against the killing of sled dogs in Alaska and hunting dogs in Spain after they are deemed unfit to work. According to the Local, the Berlin administrative court intervened to stop the show: the harming of animals during live performance is illegal.

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