29th Jan 2020


Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

  • Jean-Claude Juncker and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will take part in a parliamentary debate on Brexit (Photo: European Parliament)

As the Brexit deadline looms on 31 October, Monday (16 September) will see the first face-to-face meeting with EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and UK prime minister Boris Johnson - in Luxembourg, and for a working lunch.

Juncker will be on his way to the European parliament for its plenary meeting from his country, Luxembourg, hence the meeting will not take place in Brussels.

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"By common accord, they agreed to meet in Luxembourg on Monday," a commission spokesperson said Friday (13 September).

"It is taking place at a neutral location, which I will not divulge. It is a working lunch so you can imagine it is somewhere serving food," she added.

The UK is expected to come up with detailed alternative solutions to replace the backstop - the issue that was at the heart of the British parliament's rejection of the negotiated withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK.

It is not expected that Johnson will provide a workable alternative to Juncker, although the UK parliament has passed a law making it illegal for Johnson to go for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, and thus to ask for an extension from the EU if there is no deal by 19 October.

While a breakthrough is unlikely on Monday, the meeting is an important political moment before the EU summit in mid-October, where leaders could decide on an extension of Johnson will indeed ask for a delay.

Juncker will on Wednesday (18 September) participate in a parliamentary debate in Strasbourg over Brexit, after having held a discussion Tuesday with European Parliament president David Sassoli.

The parliament is also expected to adopt a resolution on Wednesday on Brexit that says another extension is possible but only in new circumstances.

"We are open to this but only provided that is for an overriding reason such as an election," Sassoli said Thursday, adding that, "this whole process has been terribly painful".

The resolution was worked out by the Brexit steering group led by former Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt. The socialist member of the group, MEP Roberto Gualtieri, left for Italy to take the ministry of economy and was replaced by Portuguese MEP Pedro Silva Pereira in the steering group.

Way of life

As parliamentary groups gear up to question the commission-designates from 30 September onwards, they have been so far reluctant to fire the first shots at some of the controversial commission candidates.

But groups have not shied away from criticising commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen's choice of name for an executive vice president portfolio "protecting the European way of life" incorporating migration.

The greens wanted to hold a debate on the issue with von der Leyen in the parliament, but other groups did not support the initiative.

However, the socialists and the liberals are pushing for von der Leyen dropping the name, which echoes the far-right's language.

Getting ready for the hearings, on Thursday evening the committee on legal affairs will discuss the "potential or actual" conflict of interests of the commission-designates" behind closed doors.

The parliament's leadership will hold a discussion with von der Leyen and approve the detailed schedule for the hearings of commissioners-designate on Thursday - which political groups on the left have criticised because it takes place behind closed doors.

Article 7

On Monday EU affairs ministers will hold their first official hearing on Hungary under the Article 7 sanctions procedure on concerns over judicial independence and democratic backsliding.

The parliament triggered the process a year ago, but the Austrian and Romanian presidencies managed to put off the official beginning of the hearings.

However, Finnish presidency of the EU put rule of law at the centre of its programme, which worked out a detailed format for the event , giving Hungary one hour to respond to the concerns, and open the floor or questions from other member states.

The parliament's position will be presented by the Finnish presidency.

The original rapporteur for the parliament's report did not run at the European elections, and the file has been taken over by French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield.

EU affair ministers will also discuss possible reforms to the bloc's toolbox on making sure rule of law is respected in all member states.

For the first time, that discussion will be held in public.

Ministers will also discuss the next EU budget over lunch, where respecting rule of law is also likely to play a role in unlocking EU funding.

The commission will also update ministers on the latest judicial developments in Poland, which is also under an Article 7 probe.

Parliamentary affairs

On Monday evening in Strasbourg, MEPs all hear from current migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on the latest on the politically-toxic topic of migration.

On Tuesday (17 September) Christine Lagarde is expected to get the recommendation from the parliament to become the next president of the European Central Bank.

MEPs will hold a debate on the role of the ECB before the vote.

On Wednesday MEPs will discuss the foreign electoral interference and disinformation in national and European elections and democratic processes, and on Thursday, the plenary will adopt a realisation on the issue.

On Tuesday, MEPs will also debate the ongoing fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. But the Greens have failed in their push for a resolution on the topic, as the centre-right EPP, the Socialists and the liberal Renew Europe did not support the move.

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