Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

Agenda

EU elections and Italy's finances are in focus This WEEK

  • Manfred Weber (c) and Guy Verhofstadt (r) will play a major role in shaping European elections next year (Photo: European Parliament)

In preparation for next year's European Parliament elections, two major parties, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and ALDE, the liberals, are holding their congresses next week.

EPP politicians will gather in Helsinki, where Manfred Weber, the group's leader in the parliament, will face off against Alex Stubb, former Finnish prime minister, for the 'Spitzenkandidat' (lead candidate) position of the party in the May elections.

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The concept of lead candidates from each party is supposed to galvanise voters on election day, and the successful candidate could become the next commission president, if they manage to build a coalition in the next parliament - where populists are expected to surge.

Weber and Stubb will hold a debate on Wednesday (7 November), before delegates will chose between them on Thursday (8 November).

EPP leaders are expected to speak on Thursday, including German chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungary's premier Viktor Orban. EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who decided not to run now for the commission's top job whilst he focuses on the UK's departure, is also expected to address the delegates.

Liberals are holding their own congress in Madrid almost simultaneously.

Margrethe Vestager, Danish commissioner for competition, and the co-founder of French president Emmanuel Macron's En Marche! movement, Astrid Panosyan, are expected to speak on Friday (9 November), along with Guy Verhofstadt, the group's leader in the parliament.

ALDE originally rejected the Spitzenkandidat process in the parliament ahead of the elections, but now it seems they might be putting candidates forwards and decide on their figure early next year.

On Monday (5 November), the parliament's budget committee will vote on the parliament's position on the EU's long-term budget. The plenary vote is expected on 14 November in Strasbourg.

This is an important step in the EP's preparation for negotiating with member states over the 'multi-annual financial framework', which is unlikely to make much headway before the European elections next May.

Shoes

Eurozone finance ministers will gather in Brussels on Monday, where they will discuss Italy - whose budget plan the commission rejected for breaking EU rules.

"Everyone will keep their shoes on," quipped a senior EU official about the expected discussion, referring to the MEP for Italy's far-right governing League party, who used his shoe to crush the commission's assessment on Italy's planned budget.

"It will be a civilised discussion - but there will be a discussion," the official added.

Italy has pledged not to change its budget plans, and prime minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to meet eurogroup president Mario Conteno on Tuesday.

On Friday, EU foreign and trade ministers will gather to discuss the ongoing work towards modernisation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and to take a look at the the latest developments in ongoing bilateral trade negotiations, in particular with Mercosur, Indonesia, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, China and Tunisia.

Ministers will also discuss legislation on foreign direct investment screening, an initiative to check at EU level if strategic assets are being taken over by hostile powers in Europe.

Hungary vote exposes EU rift on populism

MEPs will vote next week on whether to urge member states to investigate Hungary on EU values. Budapest calls it "liberal fundamentalism", with the EPP in a difficult position.

EU commission rejects Italy's budget plans

The EU executive has asked Italy to resubmit its budget in an unprecedented rebuke, while warning Rome that public debt was the "enemy of the people".

Italy defiant on budget on eve of EU deadline

Italy would be committing economic "suicide" if it fell in line with EU rules, its deputy leader has said, in a sign that Rome has little intention of bowing to pressure ahead of Tuesday's budget deadline.

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