Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

Agenda

Brexit vote at heart of EU affairs This WEEK

  • British MPs vote on in London on Tuesday, as Jean-Claude Juncker speaks to MEPs in Brussels (Photo: Leo Hidalgo)

Britain and the EU will find out this week if they are heading for an orderly split or further turbulence.

If British MPs endorse the Brexit withdrawal agreement in their vote in Westminster on Tuesday (15 January), the UK will exit the EU under certain provisions on 29 March.

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But if MPs vote against it, they will open the door to a pandemonium of scenarios, including snap elections, a second referendum, or a no-deal exit, causing a potential Irish border crisis and costing billions in lost trade.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, is in talks with British prime minister Theresa May on 11th-hour "clarifications" the EU could still publish to help British MPs swallow the deal.

The commission chief will speak to MEPs in plenary in Strasbourg on Tuesday as the British parliament convenes in London.

He will do it together with Romanian prime minister Viorica Dancila, whose country just took over the EU presidency for the next six months.

Juncker might warn Dancila, again, to halt dodgy judicial reforms in Romania. MEPs might grill her on corruption.

But EU presidency issues will be far from MEPs' minds when they meet on Wednesday morning to debate "the state of play of the UK's withdrawal from the EU ... after the UK House of Commons' meaningful vote".

Brexit is also likely to top the agenda when Juncker and the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, meet MEPs in plenary to discuss "the future of Europe" later the same day.

The Brexit drama does not mean that countries such as Romania, or Hungary and Poland, which are also under EU scrutiny on rule of law, will get off the hook, however.

Institutions should in future "freeze EU payments to member states which interfere with courts or which do not tackle fraud and corruption" in a way that "threaten[s] the management of EU funds", according to an EU commission proposal to be voted on in Strasbourg on Thursday.

EU funding for civil society groups who promote "rule of law and fundamental rights across the European Union" should also be tripled to €1.9bn in the next budget, according to another proposal to be voted the same day.

MEPs will, on Wednesday, also vote on greater transparency in the way the EU approves pesticides for use in the single market.

Meanwhile, back in Brussels, EU diplomacy slowly wakes to the new year.

There are no high-level talks in the EU Council, but EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini is to meet the speaker of the US house, Nancy Pelosi, on Friday.

Her visit comes amid a clash between Pelosi's Democratic Party and US president Donald Trump over his plan to build a Mexico border wall.

The Mogherini meeting is a diplomatic nicety, but gives an EU platform for one of Trump's most entertaining critics.

The EU migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, might have less fun when he meets Italian deputy leader Matteo Salvini in Rome on Monday, however.

Matteo, for his part, is building an anti-EU wall of far-right parties centred around anti-migrant xenophobia.

He has blocked boats from disembarking at Italian ports with women and children who were rescued at sea and sees himself as an anti-Juncker EU alternative.

Ireland may seek aid, as border issue stalls Brexit deal

With the Brexit deal awaiting a vote in the British parliament, Theresa May is seeking further assurances from EU leaders - and Irish minister talks of emergency aid for Dublin to deal with a no-deal scenario.

EU warns Romania over corruption amnesty

Juncker warned Romania's government not to move ahead with plans to grant amnesty for corruption, as more than 200 EU laws await decisions during Bucharest's presidency.

US allies in dismay at Trump's Syria pull-out

EU allies have voiced dismay on Trump's sudden idea to pull out of Syria, amid fears of a resurgence in Islamist terrorism, Kurdish massacres, and fresh surges of refugees.

Salvini invokes God and Russia on Poland trip

Orthodox values, opposition to EU institutions, and friendship with Russia should form the backbone of a new Italian-Polish league, Italy's Matteo Salvini has said.

Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK

Germany and France are set to reinforce their alliance as the engine-house of European integration, while Britain continues to struggle to leave the EU.

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