Tuesday

14th Jul 2020

Agenda

New EU parliament term begins This WEEK

  • The European Parliament will have its first session of its new five-year term following the May elections. But before it can start any business, it needs to elect a president (Photo: European Parliament)

Hot and sunny days are expected for Brussels and Strasbourg next week, but it is too soon for people working in the EU bubble to adopt a relaxed summer vibe.

On Sunday (30 June) all eyes will be on an extraordinary summit in Brussels, during which heads of state and government of the EU countries will try to decide on how to fill top job openings.

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  • Journalists crowding around for a background briefing at the most recent EU summit of 20 June, when leaders were unable to find consensus on who to give five top jobs (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Anything can still happen in the balancing exercise, which will have to lead to a decision on who should be the next president of the European Commission, European Council, European Parliament, European Central Bank, and the EU's foreign policy chief.

Leaders will try to find a package of candidates that tick as much boxes as possible: regional coverage, political colours, gender, and of course quality.

Before the summit, the leaders of the political groups in the EU parliament will meet with Donald Tusk, the current president of the council.

They will argue that for the post of commission president, the leaders should choose someone who went into the campaign for EU parliament elections as a lead candidate.

The candidates for the European People's Party, the Socialist & Democrats, and the newly-renamed liberal group Renew Europe, are respectively Manfred Weber, Frans Timmermans and Margrethe Vestager.

However, none of them so far has been able to achieve a majority of support in the EU parliament.

This won't happen until one of the three decides to drop out.

Meanwhile though, the three groups together with the Greens have continued work on a common platform in a kind of 'coalition talks' - hoping that even if they cannot determine the name of the commission president, they may at least be able to tell him or her what to do.

Leaders will have their discussions at a working dinner due to start at 6.30PM. A long-night summit is a real possibility, with the council website announcing that "if necessary, the meeting may continue with a breakfast on 1 July 2019".

There is no guarantee that the leaders will reach a consensus on Sunday, or even the morning after.

If they don't, it will be interesting to see how the EU parliament reacts.

On Monday (1 July) the MEPs who have not been re-elected in the May elections will be awarded with a medal in a farewell ceremony.

The next day, the ninth term of the European Parliament will officially commence.

The first order of business will have to be to elect a president - even if leaders fail to agree on who that should be.

"Parliament can conduct no business as long as there is no chair, a new president of the parliament," explained EU parliament spokeswoman Marjory van den Broeke at a press conference on Friday.

Originally, the election of the president was scheduled for Tuesday, but parliament has said it was willing to move that to Wednesday, to facilitate the summit.

While the post of parliament president is part of the 'package' of names to be discussed at the summit, formally it is the MEPs that elect their president.

Any MEP can be a candidate if they are nominated by a political group or by 38 fellow MEPs.

For example, the sixth-largest group, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), have nominated their Czech leader, Jan Zahradil, to be president.

"I think it probably benefits all of us to have an open competition for the parliament president given that it follows democratic elections," said ECR spokesman Gareth Goldsmith on Friday.

What will happen in the 'no package deal' scenario, was source of speculation among MEPs and staff this week in Brussels.

Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt is for example rumoured to be eyeing the post of parliament president.

If he runs as a candidate and wins, that will then have an effect on the package puzzle. It is highly unlikely that if the liberals get the parliament post, that their candidate for commission president still has a chance.

In other words, Verhofstadt could inadvertently scupper the chances of his colleague Vestager.

Brexit MEPs

Some will look at the first plenary week with mixed feelings.

The United Kingdom is sending 73 MEPs, despite planning to leave the EU at the end of October.

If all goes as is currently planned, those British MEPs will only be around for four months.

Some elected Brits who were on the Remain side however have embraced the working assumption that they are there for the full five years.

If the UK does leave the EU on 31 October, some of the seats left by British MEPs will be redistributed.

On Wednesday (26 June), one MEP was walking in the corridors of the European Parliament, followed by his trolley suitcase.

He had a "Brexit mandate" - meaning he'll have to wait until (or if) the Brits have left before he can take up his seat.

It also took a toll on his personal life: he had to give up his apartment in Brussels and now will have to wait for four months to see what will happen.

Empty Catalan seats

A smaller group of MEPs in limbo are three Catalan separatists, who were elected to the EU parliament.

Oriol Junqueras is currently in a Spanish jail cell, while former regional president Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comin are in self-imposed exile.

Spanish law requires elected MEPs to carry out some paperwork in Spain before they can take up their seat.

Junqueras was due to join the Greens/EFA, the group's spokeswoman Ruth Reichstein said Friday.

"We still don't know what is going to happen because he is now not officially MEP," she said, adding that for now the group will have "an empty seat".

Reichstein said a pro-Catalan protest was planned for Tuesday in support of the three.

Finland presidency

Also this week, the Finns take over.

From 1 July, the Nordic nation will become the president of the Council of the EU, taking over the baton from Romania.

The council presidency rotates between EU member states every six months, and involves taking care of planning ministerial meetings and negotiations on legislative files with the EU parliament and commission.

But it also allows a country to promote some of its pet peeves and put them on the public agenda.

Finland plans to prioritise climate action, rule of law, and hybrid threats.

It will host commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and his team on Thursday and Friday.

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