Friday

1st Mar 2024

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.

More farmers, Ukraine aid, Yulia Navalnaya in focus This WEEK

EU agriculture ministers meet in Brussels amid new farmers' protests. MEPs will hear from Alexei Navalny's widow and give the final green light to the €50bn Ukraine facility, while the CBAM proposal faces a formal challenge at a WTO meeting.

New Red Sea mission and more Russia sanctions This WEEK

EU foreign affairs ministers launch the bloc's new Red Sea naval mission, plus hold talks on new sanctions against Russia — amid Hungarian objections — on Monday. Plus a home for the EU's new anti-money laundering authority will be picked.

Nato, defence summit, and UNRWA in focus This WEEK

Nato defence ministers will meet this week ahead of the Munich Security Conference. ECB chief Christine Lagarde will address MEPs in the committee on economic affairs and MEPs will hold a debate about the defunding of the UNRWA agency.

Belgium braces for Flemish far-right gains, deadlock looms

Recent polling puts the Flemish nationalist parties, the right-wing N-VA and far-right Vlaams Belang at a combined majority in the Flemish parliament, leading to fears about a far-right government take-over — even sparking worries about the future of Belgium itself.

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