Seven Days in Europe

Irish voters are headed to the polls today to decide on the fiscal discipline treaty, amid a stark warning by Prime Minister Enda Kenny that to reject the document would see the country’s borrowing costs soar. The Yes camp, including the government, point out that a rejection would mean that Ireland will not have access to the permanent eurozone bail-out fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). The No side argue that this is scare-mongering and the country could, if necessary resort to funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Their main argument is that the treaty will condemn Ireland to continued austerity.

The European Commission has published its annual economic reports. Brussels predicts economic activity in the UK will stay “subdued with growth of 0.5% this year before regaining momentum in 2013”. Its 1.7% growth forecast is weaker than the 2% projected by the UK’s own independent Office for Budget Responsibility. French journalists are furious about the reports being released initially only in English. Jean Quatremer, the Brussels correspondent for the Paris-based paper, Liberation, fired off an angry email to the European Commission, saying (in French): “Once again, all the documents published today are available only in English. This is unacceptable.”

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said he is going to push for an “early” plan for further integration in the eurozone, claiming political momentum is on his side. “The commission will advocate an ambitious and structured response for a longer term perspective on the future of economic and monetary union,” he said on Wednesday.  European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi says that eurozone leaders must decide what they want the bloc to look like in the future, because the current set-up is “unsustainable”. He said that the ECB could not “fill the vacuum” left by governments on creating growth or structural reforms.

Brussels is involved in last-ditch attempts to prevent Spain from becoming the latest EU country to need a financial bailout after markets tumbled on mounting fears of a banking collapse in the eurozone’s fourth biggest economy. The European Commission has given Spain an extra year to carry out one of the harshest deficit cuts seen in Europe and has offered the country a European rescue of its ailing banks. But the initiatives failed to prevent a sharp fall in the euro against the dollar, big losses on Europe’s stock markets, and a stampede by investors into the safe haven of German, US and UK bonds.

French leader Francois Hollande has said military action in Syria is possible if the UN agrees, as EU countries expelled ambassadors.  He spoke on national TV on Tuesday following UN confirmation that Syrian artillery and militia killed 108 people, including 49 children, in the village of Houla, in western Syria, on Friday. Russia has made clear that it will block UN support for foreign military intervention in Syria. The incoming Cypriot EU presidency is worried that Syrian refugees could arrive en masse in the island-nation and in the EU more broadly if the conflict gets worse. Cyprus, located around 170 km west of Syria, is drawing up plans in case Syrian boat refugees arrive on its coast. Syrian refugees have so far made their way across land borders to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.

Julian Assange is back in the spotlight after he was granted permission to submit fresh arguments to the UK Supreme Court. Despite losing by a majority of five to two, his lawyers have been given 14 days to consider whether to challenge a central point of the judgment on the correct interpretation of international treaties. The highly unusual legal development came after the Supreme Court justices decided that a public prosecutor was a “judicial authority” and that therefore Assange’s arrest warrant had been lawfully issued.

A new earthquake has struck northern Italy, killing at least 16 people and injuring 200 others, officials say.  The magnitude 5.8 quake hit the Emilia Romagna region, damaging buildings and causing panic among residents living in tents after the earthquake on 20 May. That quake killed seven people and caused significant damage to the region’s cultural heritage. The number of people made homeless has now gone up from 6,000 to 14,000, the Italian government says.

Three key EU committees have voted against the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta). The treaty, which aims to curb piracy, was rejected by committees tasked with assessing its legality and impact on civil liberties and industry. To date 22 member states, including the UK, have signed the treaty – but it is yet to be formally ratified. The European Parliament will make its final decision on Acta in July.

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