24th Mar 2018


German vote and Brexit speech This Week

  • Merkel leads Schulz by 17 points (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

The walk-up to Angela Merkel's likely re-election and Theresa May's Brexit speech dominate European affairs this week.

Chancellor Merkel will be seeking a fourth term in office when Germans vote on Sunday (24 September).

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She is looking likelier to win with each day that passes, amid a 17-point lead on her main contender, former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, in the latest polls.

Merkel is the author of the EU's conservative economic and open migration policies, with her victory auguring more of the same.

The centre-left Schulz has campaigned on social justice issues, but this fell on deaf ears in prosperous times in Germany.

Meanwhile, Germany's spy chief had warned that Russia might try to hijack the election by leaking hacked files, the way it did in France and the US.

That has not happened, but Russian media and social media have tried to stir trouble with anti-migrant hate news.

The Russian propaganda is designed to help the far-right AfD party, which looks set to enter the Bundestag for the first time.

May in Florence

Two days before the election, on Friday, UK prime minister Theresa May will give a speech on Brexit in Florence, a city chosen for its symbolism as Europe's first trade and banking centre.

She is expected to say enough progress has been made in EU talks on priority issues - citizens' rights, the Irish border, and the Brexit bill - for negotiations to move to the next phase, on trade, in October.

But her EU counterparts might beg to differ, with the European Parliament's Brexit man, MEP Guy Verhoftsadt, travelling to Ireland on Tuesday to size up the gravity of the border problem.

May is also fighting what looks like a leadership challenge from her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, at home.

Johnson published his own Brexit manifesto in the Daily Telegraph newspaper at the weekend, repeating the debunked claim that leaving the EU would free up £350 million a week to invest in healthcare.

EU at the UN

Meanwhile, European Council president Donald Tusk and five EU commissioners, led by deputy chief Frans Timmermans, will travel to the UN's yearly general assembly, which is taking place in New York this week.

US president Donald Trump will take the spotlight in his first-ever speech to the world congress on Tuesday.

But the EU delegation will also have other issues on its mind, with Vera Joureva, the EU's justice commissioner, to meet with US officials on Monday and Tuesday to discuss implementation of Privacy Shield - a US data pact designed to protect EU citizens' rights.

"My expectation is that we will find Privacy Shield functioning, we might find some space or room for improvement," she told the Reuters news agency ahead of her trip.

Visit to Hungary

MEPs in the EU parliament's budgetary control committee will go on a three-day fact finding mission to Hungary on the same day.

The routine trip has stirred controversy after Hungarian authorities tried to block MEPs' access to an EU-funded vanity project - a miniature railway - in the home constituency of Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, ahead of upcoming elections.

Energy and transport ministers will also meet in EU presidency country Estonia on Tuesday.

The informal talks are to cover the creation of a cleaner electricity market and take stock of EU infrastructure investments in the current budget period, which ends in 2020.

UK parliament passes Brexit bill

The EU Withdrawal Bill passed by 326 votes to 290 in the House of Commons, but Conservative MPs warned that controversial plans for the government to overturn EU laws by executive order would have to be scrapped.

Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK

The EU will maintain pressure on the US to resolve a tariff dispute. On Monday, European Commission president Juncker, along council president Tusk, will discuss relations with Turkey's president Erdogan. Additional national measures against Russia are also expected.

Brexit and trade will top This WEEK

A crucial EU summit will decide whether to give a green light to the Brexit transition period, while the EU is also fighting to get exemptions from the new US steel and aluminium tariffs.

'Selmayrgate' moves to the EU Parliament This WEEK

As a global trade war looms over the new US steel tariffs, the EU's attention will shift to Strasbourg - where MEPs are expected to debate the Martin Selmayr appointment, trade, Brexit, journalism and the budget.

EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'

EU leaders demanded a permanent exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminium - and ruled out any bilateral trade talks within the 1 May deadline set by Donald Trump.

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