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The Brief, powered by Eurogas – Christmas dinner politics – EURACTIV

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We’ve all been there, looking forward to the ‘perfect’ Christmas with faultless food (and too much of it), flowing conversation, and gifts that are going to be spot on.

Just imagine: the fire crackles in the fireplace and you peacefully rest, recover and relax, pontificating that, in fact, the year was better than expected.

But beware the harmony.

While our American friends have to balance an already thin line between Democrats and Republicans, we, Europeans, face a more complicated situation as the ups and downs of Europe’s institutional mess, combined with national politics, create a potential minefield around the dinner table.

Needless to say, plentiful alcohol and overindulgence combined with end of year fatigue is a potentially dangerous mix – we are just one glass of mulled wine away from disaster.

Here’s a guide for how to survive the political hell more commonly known as Christmas dinner.

Because between European party squabbles, climate, populism and Brexit – it has been quite a year for European politics, so expect that to be on the Christmas menu as well, beside bites of Turkey and Macedonia.

And don’t let dreams of a “White Christmas” provoke a bitter row over climate change.

If your relatives decide to badger you with questions about whether global warming is really caused by humans or they bring up the subject of Brexit or BoJo – just keep calm and have another slice of mince pie, fill your glass with something restorative, and change the subject.

There are several approaches to yuletide political talk: you can fight fire with fire and engage in passionate verbal duels (a tactic that never ends well), opt for passivity, or go for evasion.

And let’s be frank, evasion is the best for mental well-being and family harmony.

A stock generic reply that will satisfy honour while moving the conversation on to happier subjects, like Euro 2020, the delicacy that is a roasted parsnip or how socks get lost in the washing machine.

Politics is for life, not for Christmas.

And whether your beloved party won, lost or didn’t compete, don’t be a Scrooge – there’s too much to be grateful for.

Happy holidays. EURACTIV over and out.


A message from Eurogas: Decarbonising Europe’s home heating. #EurogasPoll: 60% of Europeans accept personal responsibility for climate change. They are willing to take a broad range of actions to tackle it. Two-thirds would recycle more (59%), while one in five would change a heating system (21%). More options here.


The Roundup

It’s official: “Freedom gas” is the Worst Phrase of the Year, according to the Plain English Foundation. But where does the expression come from? EURACTIV did not have to look far to get the answer…

Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission, after hours-long talks, agreed in principle on a new gas deal starting after 1 January 2020, European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič told a briefing.

France’s current discrepancy with Germany does not call into question their relationship, said France’s European affairs minister Amélie de Montchalin, who also stressed that own resources are key for the European budget, while the member states are reluctant to increase their contributions and will have to compromise.

The Greek government plans to take advantage of Poland staying away from the new Green Deal to push forward its own priorities since the very start of the talks about the Just Transition Fund, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said.

The European Commission is considering reviewing its state aid rules to support cutting-edge projects financed by several member states, as requested by national capitals in order to strengthen Europe’s industrial might

For those that have not have enough of Brexit yet: Here are the main points from Queen Elizabeth II’s speech in parliament setting out the British government’s legislative programme.

But politics and policy aside. Have a peak at EURACTIV’s Tweets of the Year, where we look back at what was happening throughout 2019.

Look out for…

It’s been a very busy European election year and most of us are heading for a well-deserved Christmas break. But if you do fire up your browser over the holidays, here are our 30 most-read stories that made a splash in 2019.

The Brief and our Capitals newsletter are back on 6 January 2020 with fresh news and views from around Europe and the Brussels bubble.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang

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The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.

“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.

Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.

In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”

While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.

“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”

The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.

British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”

She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.

“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.

Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.

“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)

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Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings

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Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.

In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The charity later walked away from the contract.

Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.

Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.

Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.

No fines or penalties were levied.

Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.

Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.

In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.

In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”

The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.

($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)

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EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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