The week begins with a plenary sitting on Monday of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast. First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last week requested the session be brought forward to discuss the protests and other disturbances related to Belfast City Council’s decision to restrict the number of days on which the Union flag is displayed at City Hall. The unrest has seen injuries to several police officers and the discovery of two explosive devices, all of which overshadowed a visit to Belfast by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday.
The Nobel Institute’s timely decision to award this year’s peace price to the European Union is celebrated in Oslo on Monday with the presentation of the £755,000 prize to popular eurocrats Jose Manuel Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy and Martin Schultz, accompanied by ‘four young Europeans’ and Nick Clegg. Former Laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, recently criticised the decision to award the prize to the EU, claiming it fails to ‘realise Nobel’s demilitarised global peace order’.
Applications to take part in next year’s 4G mobile spectrum auction open on Tuesday and, after being accused by Ed Balls of employing creative accounting during last week’s Autumn Statement response, Chancellor George Osborne will be hoping for sufficient take-up to ensure the £3.5bn windfall materialises. The Government had previously touted a figure closer to £4bn, though its own reserve price for the auction, from which the money is already being spent, is a mere £1.3bn.
Tuesday’s also a bumper day for select committee enthusiasts, with a Treasury Committee session on the Autumn Statement with forecast-slashing Office for Budget Responsibility chair Robert Chote coming ahead of a Culture, Media and Sport session on regulation of the press with PCC chair Lord Hunt and, finally, the Liaison Committee’s regular grilling of the Prime Minister, where the focus is on policing and criminal justice and the burning ‘Green Government’ issue.
The news week moves into top gear on Wednesday, when unemployment statistics precede the second court appearance in two weeks for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, where they join Neville Thurlbeck and others on charges relating to alleged phone hacking at the News of the World.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court issues a judgement in a challenge by tobacco companies to the Scottish Government’s attempts to ban cigarette vending machines, before the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers publishes the independent review into the murder of Patrick Finucane, the Catholic lawyer whose clients included Bobby Sands.
Overseas, the Friends of Syria grouping meets in Marrakech with Hillary Clinton in attendance, while the newly digital savvy Pontiff issues his first tweet as @Pontifex to mark the feast of the Madonna of Guadalupe.
Thursday sees the start of the latest meeting of EU leaders, with the European Council set to discuss the prospect of banking union and closer fiscal integration, against a backdrop of continued turmoil on the continent. A report ahead of the meeting floated the idea of a fund dispensing ‘financial incentives’ to member states meeting economic targets, and called for ‘a more resilient and integrated economic and monetary union [to] buffer euro area countries against external economic shocks.’ Meanwhile, a decision on the €43.7bn loan to beleaguered Greece, pledged at a November 26 meeting of Eurozone finance ministers and the IMF, will be made by Thursday.
Long-running news weekly TIME names its person of the year on Friday. Among this year’s nominees for the magazine’s highest honour are tyrant Bashar al Assad, Obama-hugging New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, mommy-porn scribe E.L. James and the irrepressible Olympian Mo Farah. More esoteric nominees include the Higgs Boson and the Mars Rover, although your personal triumph in 2006 (and possibly 2011) looks unlikely to be repeated.
Should Morsi scoop the award, it probably won’t do much to bolster his domestic standing. The embattled president is promising to go ahead on Saturday with a referendum on a controversial new draft constitution which opposition groups say ‘undermines basic freedoms’ and fails to bring in oversight of the country’s powerful military. Tahrir Square, the site of historic scenes in 2011, has once again been packed with protestors since the constitution was approved in the constituent assembly at the end of last month.
In Japan on Saturday, the nation’s government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) jointly host the Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety, where it’s expected new measures will be drawn up to bolster the country’s nuclear safety in the wake of last year’s crisis at the Fukushima plant. The plant went into meltdown following an earthquake and subsequent tsunami, and prompted a major re-think on nuclear power by the German government.
The following day, Japan also holds parliamentary elections in which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) are expected to cede control to Shinzo Abe’s right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The DPJ roundly defeated the LDP in the 2009 polls, inflicting the worst electoral defeat in modern Japanese history, but if the Democrats are ousted it will mark the end to another very brief spell of non-LDP rule.
Sunday sees the announcement of the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. Among the nominees, Mo Farah is very much in the running, although Sir Chris Hoy might also be on the right track. Likewise, the ball’s definitely been in Andy Murray’s court this year, while Nicola Adams had a knock-out Olympics and Rory McIllroy will surely be teed off if he doesn’t get a look in (you’re starting-pistol fired – Ed). National treasures Gary Lineker, Claire Balding and Sue Barker host the do, which gets underway at 7:30pm.