Climate change and EU cheerleading, This WEEK
By Peter Teffer
The European Parliament will try this week to give the EU a good name, with votes and debates on issues where conventional wisdom says that citizens expect results.
On Tuesday (4 October), MEPs will vote on whether to support the ratification by the EU of the Paris agreement to fight climate change. And they are expected to give a large backing.
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The vote will take place after environment ministers agreed last Friday to fast-track the ratification process, bypassing national parliaments, so that the EU can be among the Paris agreement's signatories when the text enters into force next month.
EU leaders including European Council president were quick last week to present the minister's agreement as the first result of the EU leaders' summit in Bratislava in September. The ratification decision is a welcome good news story about European cooperation, and it is being used to give the impression that Europe has heard citizens' complaints, and is doing something about it.
But if the EU is searching for a way to get back in touch with its disillusioned citizens, its executive branch will have to explain the behaviour of some of its previous top officials.
Also on Tuesday, MEPs will question EU commissioners about how to avoid conflicts of interests and will probably present themselves as the ones who could bring more accountability to the EU institutions.
The past two months saw former commission president Jose Manuel Barroso join controversial investment bank Goldman Sachs, former competition commissioner Neelie Kroes outed as owning an undeclared offshore firm in the Bahamas, and former climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard taking up an advisory post at disgraced Volkswagen Group
An ad-hoc ethics committee is looking at the Barroso case, while Hedegaard told EUobserver last week the VW gig is an “unpaid position with no strings attached”.
On Kroes, who should have disclosed she had an offshore company during her term as commissioner, commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Friday: “stay tuned”.
Green MEPs last week proposed that the parliament should have the right to block candidates from conflicted portfolios or, in extreme cases, if they failed to come clean on their financial interests, from assuming office. They will push their idea again during the debate.
On another issue where the EU tries to address needs of its citizens, MEPs will on Tuesday discuss the latest commission proposal to end the roaming charges on telecommunications.
The commission has promised to end roaming charges entirely by June 2017, and it has proposed a measure to stop people abusing the system by buying a cheap service in one country and using it mainly in another country.An earlier proposal that abolished roaming for only 90 days per year had to be abandonned after an outcry, mainly from MEPs.
Meanwhile, the elephant in the European room is still there: the British referendum held last June during which UK citizens chose to Leave the bloc.
On Monday (3 october), Michel Barnier will have his first day at the office as Chief Negotiator in charge of the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the TEU (the Treaty of the European Union).
Officially, Barnier will have nothing to do yet, since the UK has not yet triggered the famous Article 50, which would start a two-year period of divorce talks.
According to Schinas, the French former commissioner will “operate with a small team” and on Monday start with “a first wave of recruitments of this team”.
The Conservative party conference, where British prime minister Theresa May announced that Article 50 would be triggerd before the end of March and suggested she would go for a so-called "hard Brexit", should give food for thought to the new team.