An estimated 10,000 people, organized by an umbrella opposition group called “the Alliance for Serbia,” protested in Belgrade on Saturday night against the government of President Aleksandar Vučić. These rallies are organized by Vučić’s political opponents and so their ultimate goal is to oust him and his Serbian Progressive Party from power. But for now their focus is on press freedom as a prerequisite for free and fair elections. Vučić isn’t terribly big on the whole free press thing.
Germany and France will conclude a new bilateral treaty on Tuesday to prepare for a post-Brexit, mid-Donald Trump Europe:
In the draft, seen by the BBC, France and Germany agree to establish common positions and issue joint statements on major EU issues – formalising their existing co-operation. They also plan to act as a joint force at the United Nations.
From foreign policy to internal and external security, the two nations commit to coming up with common positions while seeking to bolster “Europe’s capacity to act autonomously”.
The two countries commit to:
- Deepening economic integration with a Franco-German “economic zone”
- Developing Europe’s military capabilities, investing together to “fill gaps in capacity, thereby reinforcing” the EU and Nato
- Fostering in both armed forces a “common culture” and joint deployments as well as a Franco-German defence and security council
For young people, there is agreement to focus on cultural exchanges and increase learning of each other’s languages, with the aim of a Franco-German university.
There are also plans for closer cross-border links and greater “bilingualism” on both sides of the borders.
The measure is likely to anger euroskeptic governments in Italy, Hungary, Poland, etc., seeing as how one of their big complaints about the European Union is that France and Germany are already too aligned and together hold too much power in the bloc.
A crowd that may have hit 600,000 in size protested in Athens on Sunday against the arrangement that Athens and Skopje worked out last year over changing the former Yugoslav republic’s name to “Republic of North Macedonia.” The deal seems to be quite unpopular in Greece because it still permits Skopje to use the name “Macedonia,” which plenty of Greeks believe belongs exclusively to Greece. The Greek parliament will vote on the deal this week (the Macedonians have already approved it), and the measure is expected to pass though it may be tight.
Speaking of protests:
Clashes broke out throughout France on Saturday, as an estimated 84,000 “yellow vest” demonstrators took to the streets in a 10th consecutive weekend of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s government.
The demonstrations passed off relatively peacefully in Paris where 7,000 turned up, although Reuters Television reporters saw scuffles briefly break out between police and demonstrators, some wearing masks, in the capital’s Invalides district.
Protesters threw firecrackers, bottles and stones at police, who responded with water canon and tear gas to push them back.
“Macron, resign!” some protesters shouted.
The “national conversation” Macron is trying to launch as a way to blunt the protests seems not to be going anywhere.
Nobody was hurt and four people have now been arrested in a car bombing in Londonderry on Saturday night. Police received a warning and were able to evacuate the area prior to the explosion. A dissident group called the “New Irish Republican Army” is believed to have been responsible.
While it would be ridiculous to say that Saturday’s bombing was in any way related to Brexit, a return to the Troubles is exactly the worst case scenario if a hard border has to be reimposed between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is what will happen if the UK and EU can’t negotiate some kind of free trade agreement. But they’ve been working for two years now and can’t even agree on a fallback plan to avoid a hard border in the event they don’t reach a free trade agreement. Fresh off having her Brexit plan, and her Irish fallback option, thoroughly crushed in parliament, Theresa May is reportedly trying to cut a deal on the border with the Irish government directly, rather than negotiating with the entire EU. The only problem is, there’s no indication the Irish government has any interest in going along.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is reportedly set to back a parliamentary measure that would forestall the possibility of a “no-deal” Brexit by forcing May to ask for an extension of Britain’s EU membership if May can’t get an agreement passed by the end of March. Corbyn wants to focus on avoiding a worse case, no deal scenario in part because it’s something upon which his party can all agree. Labour is split between those who want to see a second Brexit referendum and those who support a “soft” Brexit whereby the UK would assume a status like Norway–still linked to the EU in a free trade agreement and subject to most EU rules, but not a full member. More Labour members seem to support a second vote, but a number of members of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet–and maybe Corbyn himself though he’s been coy about this–do not. Some have even suggested they’ll resign if Corbyn comes out in favor of a new referendum.
The Cuban and Colombian governments are at odds over Bogotá’s demand that Havana arrest ten ELN negotiators and extradite them back to Colombia. Colombian President Iván Duque announced that he was reinstating arrest orders for all ELN members on Friday, a day after the group apparently bombed a police academy in Bogotá and killed at least 21 people. The negotiators are in Cuba for talks with the Colombian government on a peace agreement similar to the one it reached with FARC in 2016. The Cuban government has said it will honor the terms under which the negotiators arrived in the first place, which appear to guarantee some degree of safe passage to and from Cuba for the ELN representatives. Duque’s contention is that the attack on Thursday should be treated as a separate issue apart from the negotiations.
The death toll in Friday’s gasoline pipeline explosion in central Mexico’s Hidalgo state has reached a whopping 85. Family members of the victims are beginning to point fingers at Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his anti-corruption campaign. AMLO’s efforts to stamp out gasoline bootlegging have contributed to fuel shortages across Mexico, and when the pipeline sprang a leak (presumably bootleggers caused the leak to steal gas) hundreds of people reportedly gathered to collect desperately needed fuel. Mexican authorities didn’t turn the crowds away and Mexico’s state-owned PEMEX oil company apparently didn’t shut down the pipeline, leading to the explosion and the high number of deaths.