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State of the Union: Strasbourg attack, Brexit and Yule lads

State of the Union: Strasbourg attack, Brexit and Yule lads
Copyright John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
Copyright John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
By Stefan Grobe
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State of the Union: Strasbourg attack, Brexit and Yule lads

Strasbourg Attack


A man with 27 criminal convictions and jail time in French, German and Swiss prisons puts an end to a festive Christmas atmosphere in Strasbourg.

At least three people are killed and several injured when a gunman opens fire at passers-by.

The suspect himself is shot dead by security forces after a massive international police operation two days later.

In Strasbourg and much of France, already in a dispirited mood after the recent riots, Christmas this year will be celebrated in a somber mood.


For a night and a day, the Strasbourg attack pushed Brexit to the second headline this week.

But that was it – thanks to the political chaos in London, Brexit returned to the top spot right away.

First Theresa May schedules a vote on the divorce deal with the EU she struck last month.

Then she cancels it, because the vote would have ended up in a crushing defeat of hers.

Next, May's enemies in the Conservative Party stage a dramatic challenge to her leadership only to lose in a spectacular fashion.

May may not be unseated, but her authority hasn't become any bigger.

She is still lacking the support she needs of her fellow Tories to bring the Brexit agreement over the line, as she said.

Yet, EU leaders keep telling her over and over again that there will be no renegotiation of the deal.

As you can imagine, Brexit is not only a fault line between Britain and the rest of the EU, it is still a controversial issue in the United Kingdom itself.

And perhaps now even more than ever before since the referendum.

The reason is clear: the British political class cannot muster a majority for any credible Brexit plan, nor for a no-deal Brexit.


No wonder that for the first time, anti-Brexiteers are “scenting the morning air”, to put it with Shakespeare.

A no-Brexit scenario hidden in a second referendum has suddenly become a possibility, even a remote one.

On the other hand, many people in continental Europe have had it with Brexit.

There is some sort of Brexit fatigue, and many think Britain made a monumental mistake.


Look Ahead

And here's a look at what's ahead in week 51:

On Monday, the 12th EU-Israel High Level Seminar on Combatting Racism, Xenophobia and Antisemitism takes place in Brussels.

Opening remarks will be given by EU-Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans.

Also on Monday, the World Trade Organization conducts a review of U.S. trade policies and practices.


To be assessed is whether high tariffs imposed by Washington on several products infringe global trade norms.

On Tuesday, the Austrian EU presidency hosts an EU-Africa conference on economic development and migration policy.

The meeting is snubbed by the entire south and most of the west of the EU, ostensibly because their leaders have “other commitments”, but more likely because Austria torpedoed the UN Migration Compact this week.

Season's Greetings

This week's dramatic events have almost made us forget that we are living in special times.


And exceptionally, I don't mean that politically.

We should be busy preparing for the holidays!

The people of Iceland have had their Christmas travel plans disrupted with a record high snowfall this December.

But the main worry for children is how this might affect the arrival of the 13 “Yule Lads”, distant relatives of Santa Claus.


Every year, these trolls come down the mountains and out of the woods to help get presents to kids and answer their letters – provided the kids have not been naughty during the year.

If they were, the mischievous “Yule Lads” frightened children for hundreds of years.

Tradition had it that tales and stories of the trolls were told to torment children.

Not any longer, I was told. In our times, the “Yule Lads” have become messengers of joy and happiness.


After Christmas, the 13 “Yule Lads” leave, one by one, for 13 days.

Come January 6th, many Icelandic towns host a farewell parade for them.

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