Harsh austerity measures imposed by the government in Westminster have led to a dramatic increase in the number of children in the UK living in poverty. Whilst corporation tax has fallen significantly in the past three years, 71,428 people were forced to use charity food banks in Scotland between April 2013- March 2014 to feed their families. The fact that poverty is rising whilst unemployment is falling demonstrates the growth of the phenomenon of the ‘working poor’- a severe injustice and one that highlights a fundamental problem with my own country’s continued loyalty to a neoliberal economic ideology.
It is with this injustice in mind that I have been following with particular interest the row over pensions and welfare reform that has dominated political discourse in Belgium since the formation of the new government. Fuelled by curiosity and a general sense of solidarity with struggling public servants and the working class internationally, I joined the march on Wednesday from Gare du Nord to Midi.
There were several remarkable things about the poster advertising the visit of Conchita Wurst, 2014 winner of the Eurovision song contest, to the European Parliament on 8th October. The photo of the bearded woman was the most obvious. Keener observers, however, would also have noted that the Parliament's logo was absent; instead, those of five party groups were lined along the bottom. What stopped these being consolidated into the single hemicycle graphic of the institution as a whole (and, indeed, a lot of ink being saved in the process) was the absence of the two remaining groups: the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD).
After arriving in Brussels to begin a traineeship at one of the EU institutions, interns are bombarded with information and advice during the many welcome conferences designed to make the transition into the Brussels bubble as smooth as possible. For this autumn's intake, the speakers were keen to stress that we had arrived at an exciting moment.
The appointment of the new commission - which happens only once every five years - is currently underway. One of the advantages of a traineeship at the European Parliament, whose MEPs vet potential commissioners' suitability for their post through a series of hearings, is the opportunity to witness these proceedings first hand.
Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, is home to a rich and very diverse wildlife. Nearly one-fifth of the country are protected national parks or nature reserves. However, plans of a new large scale canal project to connect the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, risks destroying the country’s unique ecosystems and wild life. Determined to lift Nicaragua out of poverty and unemployment, the government have made plans to create a new shipping route through Nicaragua. This would offer an alternative to the existing Panama Canal, which has been a key conduit for international maritime trade crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean for one hundred years.
As a Ukrainian living in Belgium, it seems like nowadays everyone is an expert on Ukrainian politics. At least many people are eager to say so. Yet when I ask people who have been there from the beginning and have witnessed the situation first-hand, they are hesitant to come to any quick or easy conclusions. I recently asked a friend of mine who is a journalist in Ukraine to recommend a good source of information; he said that “since the Russians shut down www.kommersant.ua –a previous source of high quality information- I have almost given up on reading internet sources covering Ukraine. The materials now are too focused on persuasion rather than information.”