17th Jan 2018


Juncker's first EU anniversary This WEEK

The asylum and refugee crisis continues to dominate this four-day WEEK as the European Commission marks its one-year anniversary under Jean-Claude Juncker.

The former Luxembourg prime minister took the helm of the Brussels executive 12 months ago on Sunday (1 November) amid media revelations that the Grand Duchy had facilitated corporate tax evasion on a massive scale.

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Juncker may have weathered the storm but it follows him around. MEPs in a special tax committee have maintained pressure in their efforts to weed out and further expose the so-called sweetheart deals to the public.

But the Commission chief has more pressing priorities than a past coming back to haunt him and an anniversary to celebrate.

“Given the challenges Europe is currently facing and in particular the continuing drama of the refugee crisis, we do not intend to mark this day by words or by festivities”, Juncker’s main spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels on Friday (30 October).

Over 720,000 people have crossed the sea over the past year to seek asylum and better lives in the European Union. Some 3,400 are reported dead or missing in the attempt.

Another 22 people, including children, will be added to that death toll after they drowned trying to reach a Greek island from Turkey on Friday.

The influx of migrants and the panicked responses from some national governments have long since overshadowed the Greek debt crisis that had previously dominated headlines.

Nevertheless, EU finance commissioner Pierre Moscovici is heading to Athens on Tuesday and Wednesday to assess the progress of Greek structural reforms. And on Wednesday, EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly is meeting with Juncker.

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis is creating tensions among major coalitions in Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel fighting the biggest challenge to her leadership since she took office.

A common European asylum system, which took years to negotiate, is also in tatters.

At its heart is the now failed Dublin regulation, which requires point-of-entry member states to register and process asylum applications on behalf of everyone else.

Moves are being made to shore up the EU's external borders, send unwanted migrants packing, and step up the surveillance of travelling EU citizens. But even that doesn’t seem to be working out quite as planned.

Instead, Schinas rattled off a list of Juncker priority policies before being grilled by journalists on the latest developments on the asylum front.

Schinas announced that Austria, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia have pledged the first 12,000 places for refugees from the additional 50,000 places, which must be created by the end of the year along the Western Balkans route.

The hope is that others will follow through soon.

But the Commission, which has tabled a number of other proposals to better coordinate a Europe-wide response, has been met with resistance and unfulfilled commitments from member states.

The crisis is turning into a fight for the survival of the European Union, with fears mounting that internal borders may once again appear in the near future.

Talks of building fences, with others now replicating similar moves by Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban, is upping the pressure.

The EU is now looking for answers in Turkey and elsewhere.

Under the increasingly autocratic leadership of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is making fresh demands for more EU money and a visa-free regime as Syrian and Iraqi refugees make their way to Greece and then up to mainland EU.

The Commission says it won't capitulate on human rights abuses carried out by Erdogan as he cracks down on media freedoms in the lead-up to elections on Sunday.

But a critical Commission progress report on Turkey has been delayed, amid speculation that it would upset a deal with Istanbul to stem the flow of refugees.

Bulgaria takes over, Germany's SPD votes This WEEK

While Bulgaria and Ireland present themselves at next week's plenary at the European Parliament, Germany's Social Democrats will decide if the preliminary coalition deal with Merkel is good enough.

Netanyahu, Panama Papers, and Brexit This WEEK

The run-up to the Christmas break sees a packed schedule, including the EU summit on Brexit, migration and other issues, a rare visit by Israeli PM Netanyahu, and issues such as fishing quotas and the Panama Papers.

May-Juncker meeting sets the tone This WEEK

As Brexit negotiations approach the (possibly) grand finale of their first phase, the EU's attention this week is turning to the eurozone - who is the new boss and how to deepen and expand it.

Africa and EU summit This WEEK

Billed as a new partnership, the EU and Africa summit in Abidjan will focus on youth and jobs. The gathering takes place against the backdrop of migratory flows towards Europe and reports of open slave auctions in Libya.

Commission and council dig in on GMO opt-outs

The European Commission and the EU's national governments pass each other the buck on who should move first on a heavily-criticised proposal on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

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