8th May 2021


Unblocking Brexit and budget in focus This WEEK

  • EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier travelled to London for more talks, after he emerged from quarantine last Friday (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Tensions are mounting on the two most important EU negotiating tracks: Brexit, and the approval of the bloc's budget and Covid-19 recovery package.

After the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier emerged from quarantine last Friday - after a staff member was infected with Covid-19 - he travelled to London for further talks with the UK on future relations.

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With only five weeks to go before the UK severs all ties with the EU, Barnier warned that the "same significant divergences persist" between the two sides.

Those are fair competition, fishing quotas and how to resolve future disputes. Both sides are calling on the other to compromise.

The European Parliament also needs to approve any trade agreement reached between the EU and the UK, before the UK leaves in January, leaving a very short time to negotiate.

Veto power

Negotiations will continue, meanwhile, among EU member states on Hungary and Poland's blockade of the €1.8 trillion EU budget and coronavirus recovery package, in their dispute over linking EU funds to the respect for the rule of law.

On Monday (30 November), MEPs from the civil liberties committee, the German EU presidency, justice commissioner Didier Reynders, and representatives of the Polish and Hungarian governments, will debate the ongoing Article 7 sanctions procedures regarding rule-of-law concerns in Hungary and Poland.

The procedure has been ongoing for several years without a clear end in sight.

On Monday, the budget control committee will discuss with the commission the conflict of interest of Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, who is a beneficial owner in the Agrofert company, which has received public grants and subsidies, including EU funds.

The EU Commission will unveil its "Democracy Action Plan" on Wednesday (2 December) concerning electoral integrity, media freedom, media pluralism and disinformation.

On Wednesday, EU justice ministers will hold a videoconference and discuss the commission's recent report on the state of rule of law in the bloc.

They will also discuss the legal aspects of counter-terrorism, following the recent attacks in France, Germany and Austria.

EU affairs ministers will meet online and informally on Tuesday with a keynote address delivered by political scientist Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia.

Ministers will discuss the preparations for the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Right to disconnect

On Tuesday, MEPs on the foreign affairs committee will debate international efforts to investigate human rights abuses by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus.

On Tuesday, MEPs in the civil liberties committee will quiz Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri, over allegations that the agency's staff were involved in pushbacks of asylum-seekers by Greek border guards.

The committee will also discuss of the EU's current rules on asylum, and how they could be improved, especially on the external borders.

Also on the same day, MEPs on the employment committee will put forward proposals on employees' rights to disconnect digitally from work outside of working hours and during holidays. The issue has come to the forefront during Covid-19 pandemic with many working from home.

European Parliament president David Sassoli and political group leaders will meet on Wednesday with Portugal's prime minister, Antonio Costa, to discuss the priorities of the Portuguese EU Council presidency, starting on 1 January 2021.

EU health ministers will hold a discussion on Wednesday on the commission's proposals on pharmaceutical strategy.

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EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel will give their versions of events that took place at their visit to Ankara earlier this month, in a plenary debate at the European Parliament.

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On Thursday, MEPs in the Democracy, Rule of Law, and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group meeting will hear from Polish judges, prosecutors, and government representatives on the situation of the judiciary in Poland.

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