Macron wins presidential election in France

Emmanuel Macron, a 39 year-old former investment banker, won France’s presidential election on Sunday, defeating Marine Le Pen after voters repudiated her far-right message. Macron achieved the 66% of the total votes, compared with 34% for Le Pen, according to the Interior Ministry’s official count.

Macron will be the youngest president in the 59-year history of France’s Fifth Republic after leading a difficult campaign aimed at promoting the loosening of labour rules, the creation of a global and competitive market for France globally and the intensification of ties with the European Union.

However, the results show that a great part of the French population was skeptic about both projects, since nearly 34% of voters did not cast a ballot or cast a blank one. Indeed, the abstention rate was the highest since the year 1969.

This lack of support forecasts a laborious path for the following five years and Macron now tries to build a legislative majority. He has no party in the Parliament and French parliamentary elections will be held next month.

Theresa May aims to start Brexit on March 29

The British government has made public its intention to formally notify the European Union of its purpose to leave the community on March 29. Next Wednesday the United Kingdom and the European Union will start a two-year negotiation exit, under the authority of Article 50 of the European Union’s Treaty.

According to the Article 50, any member state may conclude to leave the European Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. The United Kingdom is expected to withdraw from the European Union by early 2019.

Theresa May’s government hopes that the other 27 EU members will then meet to acknowledge their guidelines for the negotiations and the European Commission’s negotiating rules. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, considers Brexit process as “the most important negotiation for this country in a generation”.

Banning headscarves at work is legal in the European Union

The European Union’s highest court ruled last Tuesday that private companies are authorized to prohibit female employees from wearing headscarves at job. It stated that banning “the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign” cannot be found as direct discrimination.

The ruling of the European Court of Justice dictated that enterprises were legitimized to forbid these symbols so as to project a neutral image to the public. However, customers will not be authorized to request female workers to remove headscarves if the company has no regulations disallowing religious symbols.

Countries such as France, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands have already passed laws to ban full face-covering veils in public and government spaces or are considering doing so. Precisely, the ruling on this politically explosive issue appears when the European Union faces a critical election season, with races in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

With anti-immigrant and anti-Islam populism increasing in many European countries, the ruling of the European Court of Justice will be binding for the 28 member states of the Union.

Relations between Turkey and Europe deteriorate after disputes with the Netherlands

Turkey’s relationship with Europe has weakened during the weekend after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president, blamed the Dutch government of being Nazi and Turkish politicians were banned from a political event in the Netherlands.

While this month German officials have been criticized for forbidding Turkish campaigns to vote yes to the referendum which would expand Erdogan’s powers, the Dutch government impeded the landing of the Turkish foreign minister and escorted the Turkish family minister out of the country.

The government of Netherlands, which has generally considered an open approach to face different attitudes, is in the middle of an assertive election campaign that has immigration as the primary issue.

Elsewhere in Europe, countries such as Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland or Austria have backed the decision taken by the Dutch government and made it clear that Erdogan’s campaign is unwelcome there.

Only Malta and Finland have met refugee relocation obligations in the European Union

European countries have accepted up to 10% of the total 160,000 refugees that were estimated to be moved from unhygienic and overcrowded camps in Italy and Greece, being Malta and Finland the only ones meeting refugee relocation obligations.

This means that countries have only accomplished 8% of pledged refugee resettlements. More precisely, 13,546 relocations have been carried out so far, 3,936 coming from Italy and 9,610 from Greece. The European Commission warns that it will admit “no more excuses”.

While countries such as Hungary, Austria and Poland refused to participate in the European resettlement plan, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and many other are carrying it out on a “very limited basis”.

Meanwhile, the European Commission insisted that the treaty between the European Union and Turkey is working fine a year after its ratification. Crossings from Turkey to Greece have decreased from 10,000 people in a single day to 43 per day currently, with overall entrances going down by 98%.

Greece’s debt crisis may resurface in the following weeks

Greek debt crisis may reappear with revived force unless the government, headed by its Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, achieves an agreement with EU creditors in the next three weeks.

While the ruling two-party coalition celebrates two years in office, the prime minister faces the dilemma of implementing further austerity mechanisms or calling new elections in the country, since the application of severe cuts on social spending has dramatically decreased government’s support.

Moreover, further uncertainty has spread in Greece as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that national debt load could emerge as “explosive” by the year 2030. The IMF has concluded that additional pension cuts and tax increases will be fundamentally needed to achieve a primary budget surplus.

All in all, the country’s economic future appears to be tragic. It definitely seems that even if reforms are truly implemented and followed, Greek debt load will pose a serious problem for the following decades.

A historic effort to put an end to the division of Cyprus

During the following weeks Greek and Turkish community leaders will carry on negotiations on reunification talks with the object of arranging the first multilateral conference since the partition of Cyprus 43 years ago. These talks are seen as a determining event in the laborious process of resolving such a diplomatic puzzle.

Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı will try to outline the essential features for a possible peace deal after more than 18 months of intense negotiations to settle inter-ethnic divisions. So far, issues of governance, political power-sharing, the economy and the European Union have also been discussed. Nevertheless, security will be the last point to be argued.

The commitment to a settlement from both leaders has helped to increase hopes. At a time where uncertainty is ruling in Europe, there is a belief that a peace agreement would bring stability to the region. Additionally, Antónito Guterres, the new United Nations Secretary General, called it a “historic opportunity”.

Italy plunged into political chaos

After the referendum celebrated last Sunday with the aim of changing the Italian constitution Matteo Renzi is resigning as prime minister. The defeat of the “no” vote has been marked by a victory for anti-establishment and rightwing parties and has thrown the third largest economy of the European Union into a sharp political uncertainty.

The defeat was not unexpected but it was nevertheless more significant than estimated, with 59.1% of Italians voting against the proposed reforms, which would have made extensive changes to Italy’s constitution and parliamentary system.

The 20-point margin has signified a major victory for the populist Five Star Movement, which led the Italian opposition to the reform, and the Northern League. These parties are not precisely traditional allies but joined to oppose Renzi with the aim of driving him out of office.

The victory for “no” could have serious consequences for Italy and could disconcert European and global markets due to worries about the country’s economic future and support of populist and Eurosceptic parties.

The new government’s immediate task will be to pass a change in the electoral law that will make it more laborious for either the Five Star Movement or the Northern League to win strong majorities in the parliament in the following elections.

Brexit o no Brexit

Según testimonios del Tesoro británico “El Reino Unido sería permanente más pobre si dejara la UE” tras las votaciones del próximo junio, de hecho habría algunas firmas que estarían sufriendo ya por ello. El documento publicado por el Tesoro contempla tres diferentes alternativas para Reino Unido en caso de que salga de la UE:

  • Incorporarse al Área Económica Europea (EEA)
  • Negociación de un acuerdo bilateral (como Suiza)
  • Relacionarse con la Unión Europea a través de la OMC

Aun así el análisis llevado acabo constata que sea cual sea la alternativa elegida la economía del Reino Unido se reduciría, bajaría tanto el comercio como la inversión.

The UK challenge to the EU

Earlier this week Prime Minister David Cameron outlined his four goals for reforming the UK’s membership of the EU. He said both the in and out situation was a “huge decision” but he was confident he could get what he wanted from these reform talks. Furthermore, he affirmed that it is what is best for the UK and the European Union. Prime Minister Cameron set out his demands in a formal letter addressed to the President of the EU Council Donald Tusk. The objectives are the following:

  • Protection of the single market for Britain and other non-euro countries
  • Boosting competitiveness by setting a target for the reduction of the “burden” of red tape
  • Exempting Britain from “ever-closer union” and bolstering national parliaments
  • Restricting EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits such as tax credits

The reaction from other governments and the EU has been fast. A spokesman for the European Commission said that the proposals were “highly problematic”, that they affected “Fundamental freedoms” and that they involve “direct discrimination between EU citizens.”

Furthermore, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they would work towards finding a solution that suits everyone, and that she is confident they would be able to reach one.  Another huge challenge to the EU!