There’s a well deserved Parliamentary recess this week so it’s a quiet start domestically, but over in Brussels a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday is attended by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN/Arab League special envoy to Syria. Brahimi is set to update the Council on his efforts to broker a peace agreement and opposition leader Moaz al Khatib’s offer to the Syrian government to engage in talks, an offer which has so far gone unanswered.
The EU meeting coincides with a press briefing in Geneva by the Syria Commission of Inquiry as it presents its latest findings on the conflict to the UN Human Rights Council. The Commission’s last report, released in December last year, painted a picture of ‘unrelenting violence’ and continuing human rights and humanitarian law violations.
There’s a potential spanner in the works for EU thwarter David Cameron on Monday when MEPs begin a debate in the European Parliament on this month’s long-term budget agreement, which saw the first ever successfully proposed reduction in the European Union’s multi-annual budget. A failure by MEPs to agree to the Prime Minister’s much-vaunted €908bn budget limit for the seven-year period to 2020 would see the 2013 budget rolled over into next year and likely cause consternation in already skittish financial markets. European Council and Commission presidents Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso participate in the debate.
This week also sees David Cameron follow in the footsteps of Boris Johnson in making a long-threatened trade visit to India, where even the Mayor of London’s PR mastery couldn’t prevent a case of mistaken identity or two. Ahead of the trip last week, the Prime Minister spoke of the potential for Britain and India to develop ‘one of the great partnerships of the 21st Century’ and (don’t tell the Americans) forge a ‘special relationship’.
A decision on the futures of four North West London emergency departments is due to be made by Tuesday and, days before last week’s protest against the proposed closures, it was revealed that the A&E unit at Charing Cross hospital was set to be ‘downgraded’, in the fashion of Lewisham hospital, rather than closed. Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s declaration that the hospital had been saved was met with incredulity by the Save Our Hospitals group, who warned that the decision put the future of the other three hospitals at greater risk.
A first legitimate opportunity for British media speculation as to the presence of a Royal bump comes on Tuesday with a visit by the Duchess of Cambridge to a treatment centre in London run by the Action on Addiction charity, of which she is a patron. The visit marks the first public appearance by the Duchess since the publication by Italian magazine Chi (and This Morning )of photographs taken during a Middleton family holiday to Mustique.
Wednesday sees the release of the latest info on unemployment in Britain, when the Labour Market Statistics are published at 9:30am. While the most recent release saw a 12,100 fall in the Jobseekers’ claimant count, wages remain stuck and part-time employment continues to take the place of many more stable jobs. Still, newly branded ‘skivers’ can look forward to Sony’s expected PlayStation 4 announcement on Wednesday, which will no doubt help with those deliberate days spent with the blinds down.
Public Sector Finance figures for January follow on Thursday, covering the UK’s surplus on current budget, net debt, net borrowing and the net cash requirement. The release is the first since the Prime Minister was given a rap on the knuckles from the UK Statistics Authority for a claim that the Government was ‘paying down Britain’s debts’.
Away from the glamorous world of national statistics, the UN Security Council meets in New York on Thursday to discuss sanctions on North Korea. The totalitarian state was roundly condemned for a recent nuclear test, which some analysts believe could finally push long term patron China into taking a tougher stance on its eastern neighbour.
The BBC Trust convenes on Thursday for a regular meeting at which it’s expected that the broadcaster’s governing body will discuss publication of transcripts from the Pollard Review evidence sessions. The scathing review looked at Auntie’s handling of the Newsnight investigation into abuse carried out by Jimmy Savile, and there’s some expectation that the transcripts, when released, will suffer from a case of thick-black-marker-itis.
The Green Party meets on Friday as the aperitif to a banquet of piping hot spring conference action. The Party, which finally elected an MP at the 2010 election, celebrates its 40th year anniversary with a gala dinner on Saturday.
Sun defence editor Virginia Wheeler is due at the Old Bailey on Friday, charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. Wheeler appears alongside former police officer Paul Flattley, ahead of a trial later this year. Their charges stem from the Met Police’s controversial Operation Elveden looking at alleged inappropriate payments to officials.
England and Wales are back in action in the 6 Nations on Saturday and both are riding high after victories in their previous fixtures, with Wales’s win over France in Paris particularly impressive. Further wins for both sides this weekend, against France and Italy respectively, could pave the way to a final weekend title clash at the Millennium Stadium on March 16.
Sunday brings the first day of voting in Italian parliamentary elections, where Mario Monti is competing with centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani and Teflon-coated media mogul Silvio Berlusconi for the chance to continue his premiership, this time with the backing of some real voting Italians. Berlusconi’s hopes of securing a fourth term in office have been boosted by the investigation into possible fraudulent activities at the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank and the postponement of his trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor, though Bersani’s Democratic Party still leads the way in polling.
And awards season comes to a champagne and sequin-drenched climax with the Oscars, where the all-powerful Adele is set to perform her Bond ballad Skyfall live for the first time.