2nd Jun 2023


This WEEK in the European Union

  • The EU parliament will be busy with kitchen-sink affairs this week (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The EU circus will travel from Brussels to Strasbourg for the first plenary session of 2012 next week - a meeting to be dominated by the mid-term reshuffle of top jobs.

German left-winger Martin Schulz - known for his angry rhetoric - is a shoe-in to take over as parliament president from mild mannered centre right Pole Jerzy Buzek.

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The other top posts - the chairs of high-visibility committees like foreign affairs and of power committees, which make laws, like industry, environment and internal market - are up for grabs.

The distribution is governed by the so-called 'd'Hondt' system. It awards choice of best job to the largest national delegation in the biggest political group. The second best job goes to the largest national delegation in the second biggest group and so on, down to junior posts in obscure committees.

D'Hondt punishes small groups, like the ECR, home of the British Conservative Party, and independent MEPs. It also leads to complex deals, because any swap-round of jobs between groups or delegations affects other appointments in the chain.

The shake-up will not leave much time for other business.

But MEPs on the economic and monetary affairs committee will on Monday (16 January) in a meeting with European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi vent ideas on where the EU is going on the crisis.

Member states' negotiators have agreed the outline of a new treaty on fiscal discipline. But MEPs observing the talks say the draft text is too weak.

Meanwhile, EU leaders will continue to hold top-level meetings ahead of their final decision on the fiscal pact at the end of the month.

France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel - who previously steered affairs on their own - have invited Italy's Mario Monti to join them, with three-way talks due in Rome on Friday.

For its part, the European Commission will lock horns with Hungarian leader Viktor Orban.

The commission will on Tuesday decide whether to launch legal action against Hungary over Orban's constitutional reforms, said to threaten the independence of judges and the central bank.

Brussels last year threatened Budapest on new media-gag laws. But it backed down after Budapest made a few small changes.

Hungary's finance minister will also meet EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn in the EU capital on Friday - his country has been downgraded to junk and is struggling to get International Monetary Fund aid as its political credibility drains away.

Behind the scenes, EU diplomats in Brussels will work out details of an oil embargo on Iran.

Foreign ministers are to agree the ban the following week. It might be phased-in with a six-month delay, however. Iran is also trying to stave off action with an agreement - announced on Friday - to hold international talks on its nuclear programme and to let in UN inspectors.

EU countries preparing oil ban on Iran

A Greek official has indicated that Athens would back an oil embargo on Iran, setting the stage for a positive decision by EU countries at the end of the month.

Softer draft of fiscal treaty opens door for UK

Less stringent constitutional demands, a weaker role for the EU commission and a provision allowing the UK to join at a later stage are among the most recent changes to the draft treaty on fiscal discipline.

Russia sanctions and EU elections on top This WEEK

The parliament's constitutional affairs committee is set to vote on a draft proposal on the number of seats in the European Parliament, and their distribution among EU countries, ahead of the 2024 elections.

Keeping China at arm's length is in focus This WEEK

The G7 aims to send a signal to China by announcing a joint effort to counter "economic coercion," with the EU hoping to avoid becoming a "vassal" in a US-China clash, as French president Emmanuel Macron said recently.

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