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Europe — Elections

When 27 nations go to the polls at the same time it’s a fool’s errand to try to make any sweeping predictions. This is especially true of elections for the EU, where member states have hugely divergent histories, economies and political concerns.

But there is one dominant narrative emerging as citizens of the EU prepare to elect 705 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in May: the continued rise of populists and Eurosceptic forces. Parties such as League in Italy and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France are expected to significantly increase their representation, possibly securing enough seats to form a blocking minority and disrupt the workings of the EU from within.

And some politicians are very happy to play into this black-and-white narrative of Europe on the brink. Step forward prime minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, who has done his utmost to frame the May elections as a referendum on the “invasion” of Europe by migrants.

There is little doubt that many in the EU are still concerned about the impact of the refugee crisis. A recent poll by Eurobarometer showed that immigration remained the highest concern in every EU country except Portugal and Sweden.

But even within the migration debate there is nuance. “It is not just concern about numbers of people coming in –there are also strong concerns in some member states about emigration,” says Susi Dennison, a director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a pro-EU think-tank. “There is also a concern about integration.”

Then there is the strong progressive voice emerging: Green parties in Germany and the Netherlands are expected to make large gains, reflecting a growing awareness of environmental issues. The Eurobarometer poll showed that climate change is now one of the top three concerns in 10 countries. What is certain is that Europe has undergone a seismic shift since the last parliamentary elections in 2014: the UK has voted to leave the EU, a nationalist coalition has taken over a founding member (Italy) and a refugee crisis has shaken the bloc’s core values.

While the final make-up of the parliament remains to be seen, there is little doubt that there are huge challenges ahead. Just don’t place any bets on how those will play out at the ballot box.

Smog of war

Balkans — Environment

Five environmental NGOs, including CEE Bankwatch, have urged EU policymakers to take a tougher stance on coal-powered plants in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and Serbia. According to a report published by the NGOs, the 16 Communist-era plants use lignite – the most environmentally damaging of coals – as their primary source of energy. The loudest objections have come from residents of Pristina and Skopje, which have high levels of pollution. So far they seem to be falling on deaf ears.

New balance

Peru — Politics

Peruvian cabinet reshuffles don’t tend to make waves but the latest changes in president Martín Vizcarra’s inner circle have attracted some attention. Not only was his choice of prime minister a surprise – actor Salvador del Solar, who starred in Netflix series Narcos – but so was the equal split between men and women in his new cabinet. Latin America is paving the way for gender representation in politics: Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua have more female ministers than male ones.


Per Bolund

Minister for housing & financial markets

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is keen to attract foreign talent as its technology industry booms. But businesses say that employees are struggling to find places to live due to the city’s housing shortage. We find out how the government is trying to help.

What are your plans to help mitigate the housing crisis?
Construction is at a level that we haven’t seen for four decades. In the January agreement [between the government and two other parties] we introduced a free rental market for new builds. So when you produce new housing you are free to set the rent based on the market rather than at state-regulated prices.

Couldn’t this create problems for those on lower incomes?
Of course, this is not the only solution to the housing market. We have to work much more broadly so that there is an opportunity to find apartments with low rents as well.

The government is planning a language test for foreigners who want to become Swedish citizens. Wouldn’t that put foreign talent off?
It’s only relevant when you want to change your citizenship. People can come for a one-year contract and enjoy the working culture without taking a test.

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