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Standoff over Hungary as Europe prepares to put its money where its mouth is

orban
Source: DPA

Stand up MEPs and defend European values! The EU is expected to back a resolution censuring Hungary, and every vote counts. Viktor Orban’s Hungary should be condemned for the erosion of judicial independence, anti-NGO laws, smear campaigns targeting critics, and restricting the diversity of the media. And let’s not forget the anti-migration policies that extend to denying food to asylum seekers held in detention. These breach EU laws and values; the country would never be accepted into the community if it applied today. The vote is unlikely to lead to Hungary being stripped of its voting rights, but still.

That vote put Manfred Weber in a bind – his conservative parliamentary group includes Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party – but he chose right, saying he will back the motion. The vote won’t help him in his bid to become head of the European Commission – there are better candidates – but at least he’s supporting the institution. Today’s motion will probably drive the Fidesz party into the right-wing faction, alongside UKIP, the AfD and the Lega Nord. Back home, Mr. Weber’s Christian Social Party hasn’t taken such a clear stance, cozying up to Mr. Orban and veering ever-further right in an attempt to win voters from the AfD, a party of the populist far-right in elections next month. Bavarians are fine with Europe when it comes to the cash for agriculture, but they also need to stand up for its ideals, not just take the money and yodel.

What Europe is good for was spelled out in Strasbourg this morning by Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the union speech. Spanning trade, migration, Brexit and conflict, he called for respect for an institution that brought peace to the continent. And he spelled out his agenda for the year ahead: more Europe, and an EU that flexes its global muscle.

Let’s see if it does that today at a key vote on copyright law. Framed variously as the worst thing ever and critical to protecting intellectual property, there are some unlikely alliances afoot. Tech giants and internet activists say upload filters (read: algorithms) would put the brakes on what can be shared. Others argue it’s critical to protecting copyright. It’s a complex debate, with artists on both sides of it. The German media is complaining that the issue is just being framed as the tech-tastic digital world against slowpokes who just don’t get it.

Hmm. Berlin meanwhile is playing catchup in online bureaucracy, struggling to meet even its own modest goals. Anyone who has spent any time in Germany will give you a bonus eye roll and a list of tales about faxes, files, and endless forms. Yes, it’s worse than you think. Thankfully this week, a Berlin university hosted a festival of creative bureaucracy. Sound like a metaphor? No, it’s a thing. Local authorities, civic groups and international organizations attended while Denmark, Australia, Austria and the US shared what they know. I’m drawing a little thumbs-up on a yellow Post-it as we speak.

Will they, won’t they? Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, Germany’s two biggest financial institutions, are considering a tie-up, giving their stock a much-needed fillip yesterday. They toyed with the idea in summer of 2016 but decided to clean house instead. They still lack credible plans to overhaul operations and regain profitability, but analysts say the sooner the better. Put the pedal to the metal.

That’s certainly happening in far-Eastern Russia. The former Soviet heavyweight and China have launched the Vostok-2018 war games, flaunting 300,000 Russian soldiers, 36,000 vehicles, 80 ships and 1,000 aircraft. Plus 3,500 Chinese troops, though the Beijing-Moscow friendship is built upon sand – or rather the eastern reaches where Chinese investment is welcome but will eventually reduce these regions’ dependence on Moscow. NATO condemned the circus but we’re not expecting to hear much from ordinary Russians. They’re likely more concerned about Moscow’s pension reforms.

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