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The week that was: times they are a-changin’ | View

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Welcome to our weekly round-up where we take a look at the hot topics that have had you talking this week. With discussions around the Brexit negotiations to the erosion of our human rights, we aim to give you a flavour of the opinions here on View that have driven debate across Europe and beyond over the last seven days.

British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. The fortunes of a politician or a government can alter dramatically over the course of a few days – and change is definitely in the air in Europe and beyond. Without the benefit of hindsight, we never quite know whether potential change will be for the good or whether an ill wind will soon blow.

In Germany, with mainstream politicians ever fearful of the rise of the Far Right, the election of a new leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - the country’s senior party of government – was always going to be a closely watched affair. The arrival of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (who has been dubbed “Mini Merkel”) on the national stage could spell mixed fortunes for Germany and reform in the European Union, write Sophia Besch and Leonard Schuette in a joint article.

One change that is inescapable is Brexit. It is currently dominating the political agenda in Europe. And, as contributor James Ball argues, it is increasingly becoming a chaotic mess. For anyone watching events in the UK as a parliamentary vote on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was pulled because it faced defeat - not to mention a challenge to her leadership - a political week in the UK felt a lot like a year. But as Ball contends: “The closer you get [to leaving the EU], the messier it looks. It’s chaos all the way down.”

Of course, 2018 has not just been about the farcical Brexit process. As Stefan Simanowitz from Amnesty International writes, this year was another year where the rights of citizens across Europe were eroded by a populist wave. The number of countries falling under the spell of authoritarians is swelling. “Across Europe, emboldened groups advocate hate and discrimination, levering themselves into mainstream politics,” he says. “Meanwhile, established political parties are absorbing their ideas and parroting their hateful rhetoric.”

Spain, which recently celebrated the fortieth anniversary of its constitution, knows a lot about the devastating effects of authoritarian regimes. While the terror of General Franco’s reign ended with his death in 1975, his influence is still being felt in the democratic nation that arose out of the ruins of his regime. But while the Spanish Constitution has secured stability, the people of Catalonia have found it to be a cage. Catalonian MEP Josep-Maria Terricabras told Euronews that the document is built on “authoritarian and undemocratic concepts” which frustrate his people’s aspirations for freedom.

Independence is an abstract concept for leaders in the highest echelons of European politics; the independence of the EU from its larger ally the United States, to be precise. French president Emmanuel Macron recently raised eyebrows when he called for the formation of an EU army. Others have called for the euro to assert more dominance in financial markets in a direct challenge to the dollar. But is all this too much, too soon? Harvard scholar Alina Bârgăoanu gave her insight on the matter this week in her View op-ed.

The United States’ standing on the world stage is now looking increasingly precarious. As the country that has historically always been at the forefront of global diplomacy, the world takes note when the US changes its representative at the world’s most important diplomatic organisation, the UN. However, according to contributor Daniel B. Shapiro, the Trump administration’s latest choice for the top job of UN Ambassador is a deliberate show of disdain for it.

How history will define the Trump administration is still unclear. What is clear, however, is that the ugly tenor of political debate in the United States is not a new phenomenon. Looking back through US history with historian Joanne Freeman, Chris Hayes finds that the political arena of the early American republic has helped shape the politics we see today.

Also of interest this week was Lasse Gustavsson’s piece calling out the EU on its murky dealings with large-scale fishermen who, thanks to high fishing quotas, are allowed to flout the law and overfish at will, to our detriment and the detriment of our waning natural resources.

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