Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

Agenda

EU votes on future leaders This WEEK

  • Turnout has been falling steadily in the European Parliament elections in the past 40 years, hitting an all time low of less than 20 percent in Slovakia in 2014 (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

The political spotlight switches from Brussels to national capitals and regions this week as Europe gears up for the start of European Parliament (EP) elections on Thursday (23 May).

The corridors of the EP buildings in Brussels will be all-but empty as MEPs go on the campaign trail on their home turf.

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The high-stakes vote comes amid a surge in popularity by far-right parties fuelled by five years' worth of anti-EU propaganda by Russia, as well as US far-right, and native European fake news.

Italian far-right leader and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini promised on Friday to put forward "shock" proposals on the future of the EU at an international congress of eurosceptic parties in Milan on Saturday.

A strong win for his League party could spell the demise of the Italian ruling coalition with the more EU-friendly 5 Star Movement party.

Strong results by the far-right National Rally in France and the AfD party in Germany could hamper the French president's ambitions for deeper eurozone integration and could hasten the German chancellor's departure from politics.

Nationalist-populist ruling parties are expected to entrench their position in Hungary and Poland, while a surge in popularity for the anti-EU Brexit Party in the UK could lead to even nastier negotiations on Britain's EU exit in the months to come.

But further afield, Danish, Irish, Portuguese, and Spanish voters are polling to return more pro-EU and left-wing MEPs than in the past, pointing to the limits of the populist surge.

The campaigns will decide not just who makes EU law in the EP over the next five years, but also who gets to propose laws and sign off on spending in the European Commission and who sets the agenda of member states' meetings in the EU Council.

The elections come amid Russian and other malign ads and tricks on social media, the European Commission warned on Friday.

"More needs to be done to strengthen the integrity of their services, including advertising services," EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova and security commissioner Julian King, referring to self-policing by social media firms Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

In the only event of note in the EU capital next week, EU affairs ministers will meet on Tuesday to discuss spending on foreign relations in the next budget, from 2021 to 2027.

They will also debate a commission proposal on how to beef-up rule-of-law monitoring in unruly member states in future, amid concern on backsliding in Hungary, Malta, Poland, and Romania.

Culture ministers will, on Wednesday discuss how to boost teaching of foreign languages to young in Europe and how to better promote the European film industry.

For her part, EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini will spend most of the week touring the war-torn Horn of Africa region.

Environment ministers will also hold informal talks in Bucharest on Monday under the auspices of the Romanian EU presidency, as member states contemplate how to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030 without losing their competitive edge.

Analysis

As candidates debate, more names surface for EU top jobs

Candidates from EU political families clash at the closely-watched debate in the European Parliament - but the elections themselves, plus lukewarm support from heads of government, could upend previous calculations.

Orban edges closer to Salvini's anti-migrant alliance

Hungary's Orban has hinted at leaving the EPP for Italy's far-right Salvini, saying it will be difficult to remain in the centre-right political family if it allied with leftist parties after the European Parliament elections.

Vaccine delay and Russia sanctions debates This WEEK

The director of the European Medicine Agency, Emer Cooke will be quizzed by MEPs in the parliament on vaccine authorisation on Tuesday. EMA is expected to give the green light to the third vaccine at the end of the week.

EU leaders seek to speed up vaccinations This WEEK

EU leaders talk vaccines, while the Portugues EU presidency introduces itself to MEPs. Joe Biden will be inaugurated as president of the United States, and the EU hopes this will mark a new beginning for EU-US relations.

Vaccines in focus in the EU This WEEK

The European Parliament's environment committee will hear from the person who negotiated the vaccine contracts, commission director-general of health and food safety, Sandra Gallina.

Gruelling Brexit and budget talks continue This WEEK

After almost a week of arm-wrestling and ten days before the UK severs all of its EU ties, negotiators are back working hard on a deal on the future EU-UK relations. Budget and rule of law talks will also continue.

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