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April 05, 2019

Salvini's attempt to unite the European right

Matteo Salvini is to hold a meeting with the AfD to prepare a formal invitation to the PiS, the government party of Poland, and Viktor Orban's Fidesz to join their ranks in the European Parliament. Politico reports that the event will take place at a hotel in Milan on Monday. A meeting between Salvini and Marine Le Pen of the French Rassemblement National is scheduled for the following day. The RN and the Lega are currently the leading members of the Europe of Nations and Freedom group in the European Parliament, along with Austria's FPÖ. PiS is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists - together with the Tories. Fidesz is part of the EPP, but currently suspended.

Politico has calculated that the Lega could win 28 seats, the National Rally 21 and the AfD 13 seats at the May elections. The size of the ENF would double from the current 37 even with no changes to its current composition. It could grow into a much larger group with the projected 27 PiS seats, and 14 seats from Fidesz. The are no signs that the latter two are ready to switch. The article reports that Salvini has held two meetings with senior Fidesz politicians in the last ten days. But the party will not take part in the Milan meeting. Salvini and Jörg Meuthen, the AfD leader in the European Parliament and one of the last remaining economic professors in the party, are to hold a joint press conference on Monday. Salvini will then meet with Marine Le Pen on Tuesday. The goal is to create a unified group of nationalists - which could become one of the largest  in the EP. Until now, PiS and other right-wing parties have consistently resisted entering an alliance with Marine Le Pen.

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April 05, 2019

Scandal engulfs Romania's EU presidency

The nomination of the EU’s first public prosecutor is turning into an awkward multi-dimensional political mess. In Brussels, the EU’s council and parliament failed once again to set aside their differences and agree on a joint nominee. The Council continued to push its candidate, the French prosecutor Jean-François Bohnert, while tjhe Parliament insisted the job should go to the Romanian Laura Codruta Kovesi. In Bucharest, meanwhile, the Romanian authorities stepped up their judicial campaign to bloc Kovesi from being able to pursue her EU candidacy. There is now a real prospect of Kovesi being prosecuted for abuse of office in her time as Romania's chief corruption fighter. All this is happening against a background where the US, Canada and ten EU member states have jointly warned Romania not to enact an emergency ordinance to amend the criminal code to the effect of clearing politicians of past convictions for fraud and corruption. What makes the situation more delicate is that Romania is the current holder of the EU presidency. The EU has lived through difficult presidencies in the past, with the personal shenanigans of Silvio Berlusconi as EU council president providing years of anecdotes. But the political scandal surrounding the Romanian presidency is reaching unprecedented proportions.

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April 05, 2019

Chinese ambitions meet Greek bureaucracies

Over the past years China has been investing heavily under the Belt and Road programme to make the country into a hub for its exports. In 2016 the Chinese company Cosco secured a majority stake the port of Piraeus, Greece’s largest, with the aim to turn it into a key location for their exports in Europe. But progress is slow, very slow. 

This week the archaeological council authority (KAS) declared almost half of the Piraeus port a site of archaeological interest. It had never been of archaeological interest before. With this decision the council seeks to suspend the permits state authorities gave for the shipyards until 2052. Cosco is effectively a hostage to the culture ministry since it appoints KAS members, with a clear impact on the time of investment implementation, writes Kathimerini.

Piraeus is a port since antiquity, and today it is the second-largest port in the Mediterranean after Valencia. Cosco had €600m investment plans in Piraeus, including a new logistics centre, an additional cruise-ship terminal, four hotels and a shopping mall. But local business and politicians had expressed concerns about the impact on existing retailers and shipping companies. 

KAS has now rejected the creation of a mall, and sought changes to the hotel structure on the Piraeus port. It also rejected the creation of ship repair zones at Kynosoura and Ambelakia on the nearby island of Salamina, and the removal of OLP’s floating dock from Psytalia. It will add at least another 9 months to the 2.5 years' delays, and put the relation between the Chinese company and Greek authorities to another test.

KAS is one of the most powerful bureaucracies in the country. Cosco will now have to turn to the archaeological authority for every minor change it wants to make to its existing facilities. Welcome to Greece! 

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