Friday

13th Dec 2019

Agenda

Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK

  • US steel and aluminium tariff threats has rattled the EU. Here workers in 2016 protest outside the Berlaymont HQ against Chinese steel dumping - which many believe is behind the global price drop. (Photo: James Crisp)

A trade spat between EU and the United States will likely dominate the political agenda as the spectre of tariffs remain unresolved.

EU leaders had this week at a summit in Brussels presented a united front against US threats to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium.

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Although exempted until 1 May, the issue continues to brew with EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem keeping her options open "in terms of preserving our rights in the WTO for further action."

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker made similar statements, noting that a US imposed 1 May deadline on the temporary exemption was unrealistic.

He said the United States "is recognising that the EU is an entity, that it cannot be divided up into 28 parts."

The debacle comes amid a separate but likely intense talks on Monday (26 March) as the EU's top brass, including Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk, meet Turkey's president Erdogan in the Bulgarian city, Varna.

Juncker told reporters he had "mixed feelings" about the meeting, billed to improve rocky relations amid broader questions over what the EU just recently described as Ankara's "illegal actions" in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.

An increasingly assertive Turkey has sent warships to block and Italian drill ship from exploring gas off the coast of Cyprus. It had also earlier this month arrested Greek soldiers for entering a military zone.

The tensions, along with Turkey's mass jailing of journalists and military forays into northern Syria, will likely underscore the so-called relation building exercise in Varna.

Some 75 members of the European parliament have also demanded Tusk and Juncker, in a letter addressed to both, to press Ankara to release scores of journalists.

Many are held in pre-trial detention on terrorism-related charges and face life sentences following broader questions over the shaky independence of Turkey's judiciary.

Tensions are also likely to increase with Russia over the Salisbury attacks as a number of member states are expected to impose extra pressure on Monday, according to Tusk who told reporters that "additional steps are expected at the national level".

MEPs, Martin Selmayr, media, and the murder of a Slovakian reporter

Meanwhile, MEPs in Brussels have lined up a number of committee meetings.

Among the more contentious will see EU budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger spar with MEPs over the hasty, behind-the-scenes promotion of Martin Selmayr as secretary general of the European Commission.

The debate, set to take place on Tuesday in the budgetary control committee, follows Oettinger's appearance in the Strasbourg plenary earlier this month where he infuriated MEPs in his defence of Selmayr.

Oettinger had described the media reports surrounding the promotion as "fake news", echoing attacks often used by US president Donald Trump.

The media will also come into focus on Monday with the civil liberties committee set to present findings into the murder of the Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend. The same committee will then on Tuesday discuss the broader issues affecting media pluralism and media freedom throughout the EU.

The head of the European border and coast guard, Fabrice Leggeri, will on Tuesday provide an overview of its new naval operation Themis, launched earlier this year. Leggeri will discuss the operation in the civil liberties committee.

EU parliament united against Selmayr promotion

MEPs rallied against the stellar promotion of the new EU commission's secretary general, amid broader fears that the institution's integrity was in tatters, further weakening its credibility when tackling rule of law issues.

Trump keeps EU leaders waiting on tariffs

European leaders postponed their reaction to US announcement that the EU would be exempted from tariffs on steel and aluminium. "The devil is often in the details", said the Belgian PM.

UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK

EU leaders will try to agree on the 2050 emission-free target - but they will deeply disagree on EU spending over the next seven years. Meanwhile the UK will elect its new political leadership.

New commission and Malta in focus This Week

Ursula von der Leyen and her new team of commissioners will have their first meeting on Wednesday. In the meantime, Malta descends into political turmoil over the death of an investigative journalist.

EU Parliament to vote on the Commission This WEEK

MEPs will decide on Wednesday whether to support the new EU commission as a whole during the plenary session. If approved, Ursula von der Leyen's team will finally take office on 1 December.

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