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 section editor is Leigh Anderson.
G7 (Group of Seven) foreign ministers met in Dinard and Saint Malo in northwestern France on Friday and Saturday to set the agenda for the upcoming Biarritz Summit of G7 leaders, which will be held in late August in southern France. The G7, which comprises a group of seven industrialized democracies, aims to combat global inequality, decrease the threats of terrorism and trafficking, and support the spread of democracy.
March 29 marked Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union, but the date passed with no approved Brexit deal, as the country remains in a political deadlock. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan was defeated for the third time by Parliament, and the UK now has only until April 12 to decide on a departure agreement or risk a no-deal Brexit.
The 13th international conference of the World Congress of Families (WCF) — a US-led, far-right, Christian coalition — commenced on Friday at Gran Guardia Palace in Verona, Italy. Northern Italy’s “city of love” funded the three-day conference, which was backed by Italy’s far-right League party.
Saturday marked the 19th weekend of the Yellow Vest protests in France, which began in November as an angry public reaction to an increase in fuel taxes. Since then, the protests have become a movement against President Emmanuel Macron’s elitist policies, chiefly his abolition of the wealth tax in France. Macron has criticized workers who lost their jobs, calling them “illiterate” and “lazy,” and differentiated people “who are successful” from those “who are nothing.”
On March 6, France unveiled a 3 percent digital tax on large technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. The move comes after finance minister Bruno Le Maire announced plans in December to tax the revenue of internet giants.
Italy, one of the leading olive oil producers in the world, saw its olive harvest fall by more than half, to 185,000 tons, this past year. Olive trees in Italy have been weakened by extreme weather such as summer droughts, fall floods, early winters, heavy rainfall and spring ice waves in the past year and a half.
Under the banner “People First,” about 200,000 protestors rallied against racism in Italy’s northern city of Milan on Saturday. The protest took place in the region of Lombardy, a bastion of the right-wing, populist League party.
In a closing speech after mass at the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis gave his final remarks at a four-day sex abuse meeting in a speech marked by its strong language. In condemnation of child sex abusers in the Roman Catholic Church, Francis compared sex abuse crimes to “sacrificing human beings — frequently children — in pagan rites.”
The International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest court, on Monday ruled that the UK’s rule over the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean is unlawful. This ruling comes as a victory for the displaced islanders who were forced out of their native land almost five decades ago.
At the annual Munich Security Conference on Feb. 16, US Vice President Mike Pence, while addressing the crowd of world leaders, advanced the America First agenda. He reiterated demands from the Trump Administration that European allies pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and contribute more to NATO.
In a press conference on Monday, seven members of the UK parliament (MPs) announced their departure from the opposition Labour Party. In a protest of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to take a firm stance against Brexit and the mounting accusations of anti-Semitism against the party, the MPs have formed the Independent Group. Though this separation bears a resemblance to the 1981 formation of the Social Democratic Party by MPs who broke from the Labour Party and eventually joined the Liberal Party, the group does not plan to follow suit and is not launching a new political party.
The European Union Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, announced on Wednesday, February 13th, that Brussels would block the merger of France’s rail company Alstom with Germany’s Siemens. The intention of the merger was to create one large European train company that would be competitive with Chinese rail company CRRC.
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.