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Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor

Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

This is where you will find my view of the big arguments over Europe, its politics and its personalities

EU tackles crises in Iraq and Ukraine

15 August 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, 14 Aug 14
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have prevented IS militants from reaching Irbil

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have broadly welcomed moves by some European countries to provide military material to the Kurds.

The agreement only recognised reality. The French are already supplying weapons.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that France was one of the first countries to act by providing humanitarian assistance and arms. "And the reason why I asked for this meeting is so that all of Europe mobilises in this effort."

The meeting was a response to those who said the EU had been on the sidelines of the crisis. It also gave the French some political cover, and agreement by the foreign ministers was intended to let the Kurds feel the Europeans were in their corner.

The UK said it would "consider favourably" any request to send arms to the Kurds. The Czech government said it would be in a position to start deliveries of munitions by the end of the month.

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Eurozone crisis: The grim economic reality

14 August 2014
Barbed wire hung over the ECB logo in Frankfurt as part of an installation (7 August 2014)
The European Central Bank can expect more pressure as clouds continue to gather over the EU economy

Over recent weeks, the French government has been saying it would "tell the French the truth" about the economy. A new reality is dawning.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin has spoken of Europe's "economic malaise". After another quarter of zero growth in France, he has admitted that the government's previous forecast of 1% growth this year is impossible to reach.

It is not just France where uncomfortable truths have been unveiled. In the second quarter of the year, Germany suffered a 0.2% decline in GDP.

An important survey earlier this week concluded that economic growth will be weaker in 2014 than expected.

Italy is back in recession and the French economy stagnant. Other countries are hinting they will cut their growth forecasts.

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Ukraine conflict: EU squeezes Russia

Russian oil tanker - file pic
Russia's vast oil industry is likely to be affected by the new sanctions

EU ambassadors are likely today to adopt economic sanctions against Russia.

Up until now they have targeted individuals and companies for travel bans and a freeze of assets. The list has grown to 87 people and 18 entities. New names from President Vladimir Putin's inner circle are being added.

Now Washington and Europe's capitals have agreed that new, tougher economic measures have to be imposed. But the squeeze on Russia is some way off full-blown economic sanctions.

Firstly, although there is expected to be an arms embargo it will only apply to new contracts. It will not affect, for instance, the sale of the French Mistral helicopter carriers.

Secondly, there will be restrictions on high-technology energy exports, but equipment related to the gas sector is excluded. (The Europeans are wary of targeting a sector they are so dependent on.)

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Anti-Semitism comes back to haunt Europe

Pro-Israel activists in Berlin hold banner saying "Against anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel"
Pro-Israel activists in Berlin hold a banner saying "Against anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel"

It has been in the background at some of the demonstrations against Israeli actions in Gaza.

Recently, during a protest in Paris, a synagogue was attacked and there were chants of "Jews to the gas chambers". In Sarcelles they used the slogan "death to the Jews" and a kosher market was looted.

Jewish groups have tracked an increase in the use of the words "dirty Jew" on Twitter.

In Berlin, too, similar language has been used at protest marches. An imam at a Berlin mosque apparently called for the murder of Zionist Jews. It led the Israeli Ambassador to Berlin, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, to say "they pursue the Jews in the streets of Berlin as if it were in 1938".

The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), in coalition with Chancellor Angel Merkel, described the incidents as "completely unbearable and unacceptable".

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Europe's troubles exposed by MH17 crash

Wreckage from Flight MH17 in a field in east Ukraine, 23 July
Wreckage from Flight MH17 in a field in east Ukraine

Ukraine exposes Europe. Its agony and tragedy casts an unrelenting gaze on Europe's leaders. When it comes to sending a convincing message to Russia there have been months of indecision, weakness and self-interest.

Even after the reported shooting down of the Malaysian airliner, Europe's foreign ministers struggled to convince. They described their decisions as "forceful" but it remains unclear how many names will be added to the list of those facing travel bans and a freeze of their assets. It is said they will include some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's cronies. We shall see.

The ministers opened up the possibility of imposing broader economic sanctions on the arms, energy and financial services sectors, but the EU was actually given a mandate to do this in March. To go further would require another European summit and unanimity would be hard to find.

The vacuum of decision-making is filled with finger-pointing. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said it would have been "unthinkable" for the British to have gone ahead with the sale of two warships to Russia as the French are doing.

Here in Paris the French papers are crying "hypocrites" and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was at his most withering when he said: "I say to my dear British friends, let's speak of finance. I'm led to believe there are quite a few oligarchs in London."

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MH17 plane crash: EU moment of decision

Debris at crash site, 20 Jul 14
The airliner disaster in Ukraine has fuelled Western fury over Russian support for the rebels

For months the EU has displayed extreme reluctance over tightening sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. It has preferred to take small steps - travel bans and asset freezes against individuals - rather than to go after the "inner circle"' around President Vladimir Putin.

And Europe's leaders have repeatedly shied away from what they call Level Three sanctions - going after sectors in the Russian economy.

The reality is that, so far, the EU has struggled to find unity over how to respond to Russia. Sanctions require unanimity and they have had to settle for the lowest common denominator.

Germany and Italy - to take just two countries - have been wary of unsettling relations with Moscow. Italy with its fragile economy, which continues to hover close to recession, is very dependent on Russian energy.

Germany has 6,000 firms which do business in Russia. Some of its leading industrialists have been vocal in opposing sanctions.

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The real Jean-Claude Juncker

Jean-Claude Juncker at a news conference in the European Parliament, Strasbourg, 15 July

In the end Jean-Claude Juncker's anointment as Europe's most powerful official came with moments of theatre.

When Mr Juncker made an impassioned defence of the euro - "the single currency didn't split Europe... it defends Europe" - there were howls of derision from the UKIP benches. Nigel Farage weighed in saying that "nobody knew him" and that his name had "appeared on no ballot paper".

Shortly afterwards Marine Le Pen was telling the former Luxembourg prime minister, "You weren't elected by the people… we'll fight you and your institutions."

But this was political knockabout. Mr Juncker knew he had the votes. The Liberals ensured he got 422 votes, 46 more than he needed.

Today - perhaps - we saw the real Jean-Claude Juncker, not the emollient vote-seeker doing the rounds of the parliamentary groupings last week.


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About Gavin

Gavin was special correspondent for BBC News before becoming Europe editor in 2009.

He covered the Obama campaign in 2008 and was embedded with US forces for the invasion of Iraq.

He has written two books including A Soul On Ice.

He has won an RTS, a BAFTA and a Broadcast award.

He has covered conflicts in Georgia, Lebanon and Zimbabwe and reported from New York after 9/11. He was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and was in Berlin the night the wall fell.

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