Editorial of December 2018

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 by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

Multiannual financial framework, budgets and elections: is there room for convergence?

Current status of EU politics barely hides that convergence seems more and more dramatic, as the elections next May are rapidly approaching amidst uncertainty, Brexit and national populisms. Despite the signal Emmanuel Macron attempted to send recently by addressing the German Bundestag – the first French president to do so in 18 years – in favour of unity against chaos, there is little doubt that the moment is of euro-tension, somewhat of pre-storm. Italy is (literally) stepping on the European Commission’s budgetary recommendations; Brexit withdrawal agreement conclusion is an incognita on the British side (there is also the preliminary reference on its revocability under appreciation in CJEU); Steve Bannon is trying to fund extremist right-wing candidates for the European Parliament election; Poland is disguising its real commitment to implement CJEU interim measures; new migration rules are not settled, etc.

On top of that, there is an ongoing negotiation for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) and in parallel proposals for a Eurozone specific budget as of 2021 – which was the underlying pretext for Macron’s speech at the Bundestag. The original idea of the French president was to equip the Eurozone with a separate budget to assist Member States experiencing instabilities in their economies. In other words, it would serve as a sort of debt mutualisation guarantee in critical times. This was only insidiously mentioned in the Meseberg Declaration, but it was mentioned nevertheless. The motivation for this tool was to provide an enhancement of the general balance between European economies so that the different levels of development in the EMU could be compensated for the benefit of Euro (stabilisation, prices) and trade flow in the internal market.
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Editorial of March 2018

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 by Tiago Cabral, member of CEDU

Homeopathic Democracy: The European Power Struggle over the Spitzenkandidaten

1. According to article 17(7), TEU “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members”. There are several issues in this article, some of them we even had the opportunity to discuss before.

2. In fact, when talking about the President of the European Commission (EC) it is quite a stretch to state that there is an “election” by the European Parliament (EP). Politically inspired wording notwithstanding, the truth is that the European Council (ECON) holds most of the cards in the selection of EC’s President and the balance of power tends to favour this institution. There are also some notorious similarities between the position of the EP in relation to the ECON in the selection of the President of the EC and the position of the EP in relation to the Council in the consent legislative procedure. While it is possible to argue that there is an “indirectly-indirect election”[i], we believe that it would be more accurate to state that the Parliament approves and has veto power over the ECON’s choice.

3. However, the 2014 elections to the EP brought with them a rather interesting innovation: the Spitzenkandidaten (leading candidate). This procedure aims to give “direct” or at least “quasi-direct” democratic legitimacy to the President of the EC by tying the nomination to the EP’s elections. First the political parties choose their leading candidate, then the people vote, then the ECON and EP obey their will by confirming candidate chosen by the citizens[ii]. There is some debate on who should be nominated by the ECON and approved by the EP, the candidate from the party who won the most seats in the elections or the candidate from the coalition best placed to guarantee a passing majority. Under the current Spitzenkandidaten rules the second choice seems to make the most sense. Nevertheless, it seems likely that in the current European political climate the candidate from the biggest party will also be the best positioned to achieve a solid majority.
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Past a “Great Perhaps”, the transnational lists for the European Parliament Election become a great doubt

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by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

Considering the “Great Perhaps” – as Rabelais stated in his very last words when passing away to the final destination – surrounding Brexit, one great doubt has just emerged. Yesterday, the European Parliament voted and approved in plenary (431 x 182. There were 61 abstentions) the report on the new seats distribution of MEPs for the period after the UK withdrawal. Yet, the inclusion of a joint constituency comprising the entire territory of the Union, the well-known transnational lists topic, was rejected. Previously and long evaluated, the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) had approved (17 x 8) the future structure in Jan., 24th. That would mean that in the next elections, besides the usual ballot, there’d be one separate “section” in which the European citizens and residents would vote for representatives not on a Member State-by-Member State basis, but on a general basis instead. Such “section” would have 27 seats (ideally with preannounced runners) to be fulfilled by the most voted candidates in the ballots across the whole Union without national divisions. The Council still would have to unanimously agree on the issue before the new system entered into force (and the Parliament would need to vote again confirming) but the proposal is in this part (for) now off the table.

The general seat change has happened because the composition of the EP needed to go through modifications given the MEPs from the United Kingdom end their terms in 2019 and will not be candidates again following Brexit.
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State of the Union 2017 scenario: with full breath ahead

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by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

On September, 13th President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the annual speech of the State of the Union (here). Against the background of the White Paper on the Future of Europe and in solid dialogue with the European Parliament, President Juncker presented some new ideas as well as highlighted previous proposals. More importantly, the European Commission demonstrates that it is effectively holding the position of initiative with which the Treaties empower it – in close democratic discussion with the Parliament.

Here we intend to comment the first impressions about key aspects of some of the topics the Juncker Commission brought to life and debate.

1. After valuing the European institutions role on “helping the wind change” for growth, job creation and control of public deficits, he expressed the will to strengthen the European trade agenda by negotiating international agreements. It seems that after the cases of the Paris agreement (on environmental issues) and the uncertainty around TTIP, there are two messages underlying this point. The first is to make the EU the main business platform worldwide (Canada, Japan, Mexico, South America and the proposal to open negotiations with Australia and New Zealand). Reliable and stable, Europe wants to be the ideal partner and the first in line in global economy. With many interrogations amounting over the US, this also seems to be an external policy strategy (“we are not naïve free traders”, he said). Alongside investment, the idea is to make the industry stronger and more competitive as well as being the leader in fighting climate change. More and more signals of the projection of the leadership of the Union in the world.

2. As far as migration, external borders and the Schengen area are concerned, migration will remain a priority. So will the support to Italian authorities who are “saving Europe’s honour in the Mediterranean”. In parallel, the Commission wants to work on legal pathways to end illegal activities like trafficking at the same time it calls for solidarity in welcoming refugees. This is a novelty. After Germany’s policy of opening doors, now the EC looks like the new leading actor in this matter. Contrary to the position of his political family, which never clearly came out, President Juncker took on a stand closer to the approach of S&D. It will be interesting to follow the next parliamentary debates and what the EPP’s reaction will be, even though its following remarks were in a more agreeable way to these terms. Finally, suggesting that Romania, Bulgaria and soon Croatia should become members of the Schengen area is a political movement on a critical region where Russia has been growingly active. The idea seems to be to overpower its influence there – the direct reference of the 100th anniversary of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania proves just that.

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