Thursday

15th Nov 2018

EUobserved

'Better than Belgium', or the long goodbye

  • Here it comes- the Juncker commission

Bye bye. Bye. Bye then. Oh you’re still here? Just one more speech. Oh alright. Just one though.

The outgoing EU commission seemed like it was permanently stuck in the “going, going” stage of a public auction. We’d been saying goodbye for far longer than convention would deem strictly necessary. With varying degrees of audience attendance, participation and enthusiasm.

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But now it’s actually done. There’s a picture to prove it. Jose Manuel Barroso is – since Thursday – officially hanging with the others in the gallery of former commissioners.

And is, since last week, in possession of two parting gifts (A plate. And a picture) signed by the same group of people. “Mon cher ami Jean-Claude" (Juncker) is wielding the baton – (though Barroso wrested it back briefly after the picture ceremony to put his face to the Ukraine-Russia deal late Thursday evening).

The lengthy goodbye phase has seen omissions (the EU’s ‘unemployment issue’ was glossed over in all those wrap-up speeches ); shameless plugs (download my thoughts here, they’re free); and glorious half apologies (it’s sad that the EU is more unloved under my watch but it wasn’t my fault) and perhaps the most bathetic comparison ever to grace an EU press conference.

(Why should we not fret about the EU’s lengthy decision-making process? “Because it takes less time than forming a Belgian government” - Belgium, you’ll remember, once set the world-record in government-forming faffery. The list of things faster than this process is broad and deep.)

Memorable one liners were few but if there was to be a winner, it would surely go to the outgoing head of the spokesperson’s service Koen Doens, who described life as a spokesperson using a twisted version of the Miranda rights: “you cannot remain silent and anything you say will be used against you later.”

There was a smattering of parting shots – Barroso at ‘old member states’ who are, on the whole, bolshier than new ones; Joaquin Almunia, erstwhile competition chief, who is fighting to be remembered for anything other than the google saga; and Karel De Gucht who is fretting across several media outlets about the fate of an EU-US free-trade deal.

Herman Van Rompuy, still knocking around for another month, remained true to form, noting matter of factly that he was not irreplaceable. “There was a European Council before me. There will be a European Council without me".

But move on we must.

The "last chance" commission takes office on Saturday. New faces await us Monday. But the same problems remain.

They include the thoroughly divisive investor state dispute clause of the trade pact that De Gucht is so fond of. As it looks like a deal-breaker for both side, Juncker has done the only sensible thing possible – and lobbed it into Frans Timmermans’ (man responsible for everything and left over bits of everything) lap.

There is also the small matter of the €300 billion investment plan. It’s a lovely sum. It sounds so good when it's said out aloud. But no-one knows where it’s going to come from. There are plenty of ideas about where it shouldn’t come from though.

And then there is the I-won’t-pay-my-surcharge UK. The deadline is looming. A political solution could possibly be found but David Cameron, having worked himself into a meteoric rage about the €2.1bn, can’t be seen to be doing any compromising. At least not before that key by-election. And if he loses to UKip, probably not afterwards either.

And any further worries about not having things to do should be dispelled by Guenter Oettinger. He of online-every-day-fame and not yet digital economy commissioner has been running free with his thoughts.

Google should possibly pay a special internet tax, he mused. And, anyway, (while he’s at it) the company shouldn’t be “making cars or televisons”. So there.

You wanted a more political commission Mr Juncker ... you might just be getting it.

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