Seven Days in Europe

The UK government has announced that it will prepare a wide-ranging study of the EU so that any future statements about ‘meddlesome’ Brussels may be backed up by hard evidence. “Such a comprehensive piece of work has never been undertaken before, but is long overdue,” foreign secretary William Hague said. “This review will be a valuable exercise for deepening understanding in Britain of the nature of our relationship with the European Union and how it has evolved over time.”

Spain has announced a drastic series of spending cuts and tax increases in the face of an ultimatum by the EU, as the country struggles to reduce its deficit while negotiating a bailout for its banks. “These are not pleasant measures but they are necessary,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told parliament. The sweeping cuts and tax total €65bn (£51bn) in austerity measures. Rajoy raised sales tax by three percentage points, contradicting his government’s insistence that this would damage consumer spending, strangle growth and punish the poor. He also cut unemployment payments, pledged to bring forward a move to retirement at 68 years old and reduced civil service pay.

The anti-counterfeit treaty, Acta, has collapsed after MEPs in the European Parliament vetoed it by an overwhelming majority. After comfortably rejecting a request by the centre-right EPP group to postpone the vote, MEPs voted to scrap the treaty by 478 to 39, with EPP members dominating the 165 abstentions. The decisive rejection of the agreement followed last-ditch attempts by centre-right MEPs and the European Commission to delay the decision until the European Court of Justice had delivered its legal opinion on Acta’s compatibility with existing EU law.

Plans to re-write EU rules on music copyright have received a cool reception by artists and collecting societies, with groups criticising the narrow focus of the proposal and insisting that it will leave most existing copyright practices untouched. Pink Floyd and Radiohead were among the biggest music names to criticise the European Commission’s proposal, co-signing a letter released by artists’ lobby group Younison. They accused the EU executive of choosing to “defend the interests of a minority of managers and stakeholders”, adding that the proposal would merely “encourage the management of collecting societies to keep the fruits of our creativity.”

The EU commission has warned the Romanian government not to undermine rule of law amid political infighting in Bucharest. “The commission is concerned about current developments in Romania, especially regarding actions that appear to reduce the effective powers of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court,” EU commission spokesman Olivier Bailly told press. He said the situation puts “at risk all the progress made over the past five years in having more respect for the rule of law and democratic checks and balances and independence of the judiciary in this country.”

Bavaria’s conservative leader Horst Seehofer has threatened to withdraw support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition if more concessions are made to ailing euro-countries.  Seehofer, who chairs the Christian Social Union in Bavaria said that Germany’s contribution to bailouts was already “borderline”. The German government is already on tenterhooks as the Constitutional Court court opened a hearing challenging the constitutionality of the EU’s permanent bailout scheme which could wreck the entire plan to save the euro. Should the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe decide for the 12,000 citizens who have brought the case under the collective banner “More Democracy”, it could have the drastic effect of preventing Germany from joining the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

Cyprus has taken over the EU presidency, becoming the first euro state to hold it since the end of 2010. Cyprus has almost tripled the number of staff to over 200 in its Brussels office and is spending around €61m on the presidency. The country recently admitted it would seek a full-blown bailout from the Eurozone, after its banks were left heavily exposed to Greek losses.

Russia’s EU ambassador has said ties would suffer if member states follow the US in putting sanctions on suspected Russian killers and fraudsters.  The Congress’ international committee in June approved the so-called Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. If it becomes law, the US will impose visa bans and asset freezes on 60-or-so Russian officials suspected of conspiracy to murder Sergei Magnitsky – an auditor who exposed tax fraud in the Kremlin and who was found beaten to death in prison in 2009. EU foreign ministries do not want to confront Moscow, but the case is attracting ever more political attention. German Green MPs last week joined MEPs and MPs from Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK in calling for sanctions. The Russian parliament has unanimously adopted a controversial bill that boosts government control over the internet, despite a campaign warning that it will lead to widespread censorship. The bill calls for the creation of a federal website “no” list that would force site owners and internet operators to shut down any site put on it. The bill’s supporters say it is designed to crack down on child pornography, as well as sites that promote drug use and teen suicide.

At least one of the coal plants for which Poland is requesting €7 billion of free carbon allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS)‘s little-known ’10c derogation’ does not exist, a EurActiv investigation has found. Poland has applied for €33-million worth of free allowances for the Łęczna coal plant, near the Ukrainian border, but there is no visible evidence that any construction work has begun at the greenfield site.

Two young Britons and an American have been gored during the famous Pamplona Bull Run as foreigners once more became the favoured target of the festival’s fighting bulls. Spanish police have arrested four people for trying to sell a forged Pablo Picasso oil painting for nearly £1m. The canvas, a counterfeit version of a 1964 work called Buste de Jeune Garçon, was accompanied by false authenticity documents bearing the signatures of Paloma, one of the Spanish painter’s daughters, and a renowned French art expert. A team of historians claim to have stumbled on 100 previously undiscovered early sketches by Caravaggio hidden in a castle in Milan, a cache they have valued at £560m. The sketches were found among 1,378 works in the archive of painter Simone Peterzano, who employed the teenage Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, as an apprentice in his Lombardy studio between 1584 and 1588, before the young painter headed south to Rome.

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