Tuesday

26th May 2020

Agenda

Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK

  • Theresa May wants to find enough compromise with Brussels to push the Brexit deal through the UK parliament (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The UK's Brexit negotiator Steve Barclay will return to Brussels to meet with the EU's chief negator Michel Barnier on Monday (18 February) after British prime minister Theresa May suffered another defeat in the London parliament on her Brexit strategy.

May is pushing on with efforts to revise the Brexit deal, despite the defeat, and will return to Brussels "within days", the leader of the House of Commons said on Friday (15 February).

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British lawmakers voted against a motion endorsing the government's strategy by 303 to 258, with 66 of May's own Tory MPs abstaining.

May is seeking to rewrite the withdrawal agreement on the backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland - despite the EU repeatedly reaffirming that it cannot reopen the Brexit deal.

The EU has offered to give assurances on the backstop through other means, such as an annex to the withdrawal agreement, or a joint commitment exploring technological alternatives, Bloomberg reported.

With only a little over a month remaining until Brexit day on 29 March, the possibility of the UK leaving the bloc without a deal is on the increase.

Winter sun

At the end of the week on 24 and 25 February, EU and Arab leaders will gather Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt for the first time.

On the EU-League of Arab States summit migration will top the agenda. EU council president Donald Tusk will co-chair the meeting with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

On Monday (18 February) EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels. Their agenda will be dominated by Syria and Ukraine, focusing on the upcoming elections, the reform process, and the security situation in the eastern European country.

They will also discuss the situation in Venezuela, where opposition leader Juan Guaido has been spearheading efforts to unseat president Nicolas Maduro.

Also on Monday, the prime ministers of the Visegrad Four, a group of member states comprising the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, will meet in Jerusalem with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The V4 has been a staunch opponent of redistribution of migrants who arrive in Europe to seek asylum. Populist governments in Poland and Hungary have also been under scrutiny by the EU for concerns about dismantling the rule of law in their countries.

Netanyahu has been cultivating Israel's relationship with the central European countries to weaken EU consensus on issues relating to the Palestinian territories and Iran.

The V4 leaders previously held a summit with Netanyahu in Budapest in July 2017.

On Tuesday (19 February) EU affairs ministers will gather in Brussels to review talks on the EU's long-term budget.

They will also continue to look into rule of law issues in Poland and Hungary, but the process has been bogged down due to lack of political willingness by member states to move the procedure forward.

Institutional jealousy between the European Parliament and the council of member states also complicates the issue in the case of Hungary, as in the case of prime minister Viktor Orban's government it was a parliament report that triggered the so-called Article 7 procedure.

Back to Dieselgate

Members of the European Parliament's environment committee will question EU commissioner for industry, Elzbieta Bienkowska, on Wednesday (20 February) on the Dieselgate scandal.

The debate will be a follow-up to parliament's inquiry committee into the widespread diesel-emissions cheating uncovered since September 2015.

The inquiry committee, which investigated in 2016-2017 the legal situation in which the cheating was allowed to take place undetected, concluded there had been five accounts of maladministration by member states, and three cases of maladministration by the European Commission.

MEPs are expected to ask the commission what has been improved since their damning report.

They may also ask whether the commission will decide to appeal a Court of Justice ruling, delivered last December. The Luxembourg-based court ruled that an EU decisionthat gave carmakers additional flexibility on emissions limits, was in fact illegal.

Saudi shadows and US star power

On Tuesday, the European Parliament's subcommittee on human rights will hear from the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's, Hatice Cengiz.

Saudi Arabia initially denied involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance at Saudi Arabia Istanbul consulate, but following international pressure, the country admitted that the killing took place on the consulate's premises.

An American political star will also be in Brussels next week as EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will meet with Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives on Monday.

Pelosi is steering a Democratic-majority House and has emerged politically victorious from the US history's longest government shutdown after a dispute with president Donald Trump over the border wall with Mexico.

Investigation

Saudis paying College of Europe to lobby MEPs

The Bruges-based College of Europe is setting up private meetings with the EU institutions for seven ambassadors plus seven high-level officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

MEPs call on EU countries to deal with Hungary

MEPs who launched a procedure examining the democratic situation in Hungary last year now want member states to step up efforts. The government in Budapest meanwhile accuses MEPs of attacking Hungary over migration.

Barnier: UK has to move on Brexit

No breakthrough emerged from the meeting between the top EU and UK negotiators on Monday evening in Brussels. Michel Barnier urged the UK to move on its red lines to help clinch a deal, with 45 days left until Brexit.

Recovery plans unveiled This WEEK

Tough negotiations start this week on both the EU's recovery fund and its revised long-term budget, which are likely to determine the entire future of the bloc.

Commission's corona summer tips come This WEEK

MEPs will debate the new EU budget and recovery efforts, Hungary's emergency measures, borders and mobility on coronatimes. Meanwhile EU-UK talks will continue, but with little progress in sight.

News in Brief

  1. Johnson: Shops in UK will reopen on 15 June
  2. German doctors: Summer holidays could cause second wave
  3. EU forced to choose between China and US: Borrell
  4. Spain to lift two-week arrival quarantine from July
  5. Germany gives Lufthansa €9bn bailout for equity stake
  6. Volkswagen ordered to pay in landmark 'dieselgate' case
  7. 40 million health workers urge more G20 investment
  8. Jourova: Budget rule-of-law link 'more needed than ever'

Column

That German court ruling hurts EU rule-of-law fightback

The short-term damage to financial markets may be smaller than feared. The damage to democracy is considerable because it weakened the ECJ - the most effective institution to stop attacks against democracy and rule of law in EU member states.

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