Thursday

21st Mar 2019

Agenda

Romania takes over the EU This WEEK

  • Romania's president Klaus Iohannis (l) will receive EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (r) and other top EU officials (Photo: European Commission)

As the Brussels bubble lurches back to life after the holidays, the political year in the European Union kicks off in Bucharest, as Romania takes over the presidency of the bloc for the next, crucial, six months.

2019 is expected to bring some of the toughest challenges for the EU: in March the UK will leave the bloc, the first member state ever to do so, and May will see European elections where populists are expected to make gains, putting into question the next phase of European integration.

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Romania will thus have to manage a tough period, as legislative files pile up before the elections, while in the second half of the presidency attention will be focused on the campaign itself.

Romanian diplomats will also need to push ahead with difficult negotiations over the EU's next seven-year budget, or multi-annual financial framework.

On Thursday (10 January), the official opening ceremony of the Romanian presidency will be held in Bucharest.

On Friday (11 January), EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council president Donald Tusk will meet with Romania's president Klaus Iohannis, and prime minister Viorica Dancila.

The EU pair will also meet with Social Democratic party leader and president of the chamber of deputies, Liviu Dragnea - the perceived de facto leader of the government, who last June was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for incitement to abuse of office.

The case, pending appeal, is the second time Dragnea has been sentenced. He was convicted in 2015 for election fraud and given a suspended two-year sentence.

The EU has warned Romania over backsliding on the fight against corruption, while Dragnea has criticised the EU, accusing it of political interference.

"Romania will no longer accept being treated as a second-rate country," he told party supporters last month, echoing a broadly-shared sentiment among eastern European member states.

Campaign

With the European elections approaching, new political alliances are expected to be formed this year in Europe.

Italy's far-right interior minister, and leader of the League party, Matteo Salvini will travel to Warsaw on Wednesday (9 January).

He is expected to meet with the leader of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, to discuss a possible political alliance after the elections, according to Italian daily La Repubblica.

PiS and the League are both polling as the strongest parties in their respective countries.

Poland's prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently told the Financial Times that the EU should drop its disciplinary procedures over Warsaw's controversial judicial reforms.

He also told FT that the commission should be receptive of what is going on in member states and that the EU should be reformed after the European elections.

EU affairs ministers will meet on Tuesday (8 January) in Brussels, who have been dealing with rule of law issues in Hungary and Poland. However, ministers will not be discussing Hungary and Poland this time.

At the meeting, the Romanian presidency will present its priorities for the next six months, and plans regarding talks on the next budget.

They will have a discussion on disinformation, following calls from EU leaders last month to coordinate responses on this issue.

Back to work

The European Parliament will also get back to work. On Monday (7 January) the civil liberties committee will discuss progress on the migration legislation put forward by the commission.

The European Court of Justice will hold a hearing on Wednesday (9 January) on Finland's plans to increase hunting for wolves, to better manage the population.

In December 2015, the Finnish Wildlife Agency issued two derogation permits to kill a number of wolves between specific dates and in specifics areas, but a nature conservation association claims that the permits issued should be scrapped because they violate EU rules.

Finland's top court asked for the ECJ's advice on the matter.

Brexit delay and Orban decision This WEEK

EU leaders will discuss whether to allow London to delay its exit from the bloc, as some are worried it would mean more of the same. Meantime, the European People's Party braces itself for a showdown with Hungary's Orban.

It's the big Brexit vote This WEEK

UK lawmakers will have to take the key decisions next week on Brexit - as the two-year saga finally reaches the boil. Meanwhile, the European Parliament is busy wrapping up legislation before the May elections.

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The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

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