The Western Europe Section of IR Insider publishes breaking news reports and analysis from the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and other Western European nations. Topics covered by the Western Europe Section may range from Brexit to negotiations within the European Union and beyond. Our writers Era Gjonbalaj, Selin Avcilar, and Shana Pareemamun produce weekly. Our section editor is Leigh Anderson.
A conservative-led protest against Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez was held on Sunday in Madrid’s Plaza de Colon. A group of 45,000 demonstrators shouting “Spain” and “We want to vote” united in favor of early elections ahead of the July 2020 date. The protest, organized by leaders of the newly-formed far-right party Vox, the center-right party Ciudadanos (citizens), and the conservative Popular Party (PP), criticized Sanchez for submitting to mounting pressure from Catalan separatist groups.
France on Thursday recalled its ambassador from Italy, as tensions between the two countries reached new heights.
In response to Irish farmers’ concerns about the economic ramifications of a “no-deal” Brexit, the European Commission has agreed to provide financial aid in the case of a hard exit. The details of this agreement were reportedly set in a meeting between Irish Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan on Jan. 28.
For the third time in ten years, Italy has fallen into economic recession. According to data published by the Italian National Institute of Statistics on Jan. 31, Italy’s GDP decreased by 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018. The Italian economy, the third largest in the eurozone, also saw a decline in growth of 0.1 percent in the third quarter of 2018. Two consecutive quarters of contraction indicate a recession.
During its 2018 budget negotiations, the Spanish government conceded to raise public pensions and to decrease the public deficit. To fund this additional cost, the Spanish Minister of Finance proposed a new digital services tax. On Jan. 25, the Spanish government finalized and published the tax bill, which is set for an upcoming parliamentary vote.
On Monday, Denmark began erecting a 42-mile fence along its border with Germany in an attempt to protect its pig farms from African swine fever (ASF). Though the disease has not been spotted in Denmark or Germany to date, Danish lawmakers and Denmark’s national environmental agency approved the project last summer following an outbreak in Belgium.
A 28-year dispute between Greece and Macedonia came to end on Friday when Greece’s parliament, in a 153-to-146 vote, approved Macedonia’s name change to North Macedonia. The name change will allow North Macedonia to join NATO and eventually the European Union which is expected to bring more stability to the Balkans.
When Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn in for his second term on Wednesday, his governing coalition announced plans to offer free public transportation for all starting in early 2020.
A dispute with state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn led German rail union EVG to initiate a workers’ strike on Monday. The strike lasted four hours and caused chaos among millions of German commuters, with delays continuing throughout the day even after the strike ended at 8 a.m. GMT. Long-distance rail traffic, commuter, and freight trains were disrupted after EVG talks with Deutsche Bahn fell apart Saturday.
Spain’s far-right party, Vox, won 12 parliamentary seats in the Andalusian regional elections on Dec. 2. The results of the election have come as a surprise, since the far-right party, led by Santiago Abascal, was only expected to win five seats. There are 109 seats in the Andalusian regional parliament, and with this win, Vox could form a right-wing governing coalition with the conservative People’s Party (PP) and Citizens party.
As a part of President Macron’s five-year plan to restrain climate change, France has recently released plans to triple its onshore wind power capacity by 2030 and increase its solar power generation by five times. These recent actions have been in support of the nation’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
On Saturday, Nov. 17, more than a quarter-million people took to the streets all over France to protest planned increases in gas taxes. The majority of the 2,000 demonstrations were concentrated in the suburbs and rural regions of France where there is a heavy reliance on motor vehicles for day-to-day activities. Demonstrators blocked highway access roads, roundabouts, intersections, and even border crossings.
All 27 members of the European Union met in Brussels on Sunday to discuss British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. After twenty months of negotiations, EU leaders approved the deal in less than an hour of discussion. The meeting was mostly symbolic, as approval was expected despite concerns from Spain about the British territory of Gibraltar.
Since President Trump’s announcement in May of reimposing harsh economic sanctions on Iran, European countries have struggled to implement an alternative paying mechanism to continue their purchasing of oil and other Iranian goods. Although the U.S. pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal, Iran and the other countries within the deal have remained.
Leaders from around the world gathered in France this weekend to commemorate the centennial of the end of World War I. The war, which lasted four years from 1914 until 1914, cost the lives of some 9.7 million soldiers and 10 million civilians. French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a solemn Armistice Day ceremony and a three-day peace summit — the Paris Peace Forum — in the French capital.
The foremost Jewish organization in Germany has called for special classes against anti-Semitism for Muslim immigrants. Its vice president, Abraham Lehrer, said that immigrants are arriving from countries where “anti-Semitism is part of the rationale of the state” and integration classes should be “tailored” to the respective country of each immigrant.
In an effort to lure in investment funds leaving Britain after Brexit, numerous countries have taken action to attract firms.
Thousands protested the horrid degradation of the Italian capital in Rome’s ancient forum on Saturday. The organizers’ message, “Roma dice basta,” or “Rome says enough,” is now trending online. Outside city hall, citizens condemned Mayor Virginia Raggi for not addressing large quantities of garbage and potholes in the roads, among other concerns.
On Wednesday, Oct. 17, the 27 leaders of the European Union convened in the European Council in Brussels, Belgium to discuss Brexit. In June 2016, Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent in favor of leaving the EU. More than two years later, negotiations are still underway to find a Brexit deal that both the British government and EU leaders can agree on.
A 15-year-old male student in France was charged with aggravated violence for threatening his teacher with a fake gun. The student made the threats on Thursday at his high school in Creteil, a southeastern suburb of Paris. The student, whose name remains confidential, appeared before a youth judge on Sunday.
The results of the election in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria on Sunday, October 14 could mean trouble for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition. More than 600,000 first-time voters participated at polling stations, contributing to a total voter turnout of 72.5 percent.
The general elections in Sweden this year have been marked by the rise of far-right populism. One group in particular, the Sweden Democrats, has attracted a lot of attention for its “anti-establishment and anti-immigrant” stance. They can be compared to other populist, anti-immigrant, and Eurosceptic political parties in Europe such as the Five Star Movement in Italy or the Alternative für Deutschland party in Germany.
Because of the continuous failure by Britain and the European Union to reach an agreement, various voices are now calling for a second referendum regarding Brexit. The demands reveal the deep divide in British society regarding the economic and political future of the country.
However, even after the Pope’s statements at a press conference covering his four-day trip to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, there seems to be little, if any, increase in transparency. In addressing the abuses, he referred to the molestations as an event of another time in which “these things were covered up.”
May’s “Chequers” plan that she presented at a summit in Austria on Thursday caused significant indignation amongst EU leaders. Skeptics are now wondering whether the Brexit negotiations hit an impasse.
A new study that was commissioned by the Catholic Church itself revealed that more than 3,600 children in Germany were assaulted by Roman Catholic priests between 1946 and 2014. The report was planned to be published at the end of September but leaked earlier, forcing German clergyman to react fast to the new allegations.
The firm became widely known for its questionable contributions to the latest US elections.