Back to School, EU Reporter’s look at the week ahead

Back to School, EU Reporter’s look at the week ahead
Date: Sunday, 29 August 2021 11:37

Much legislation has started its legislative journey through the EU’s complex decision-making machine, with lots of very meaty proposals on their way to being sliced, diced and spiced, and finally thrown into the conciliation committee frying pan to be presented at five am by a bleary-eyed politician as a hard-won Presidency triumph. Among the biggies are the Digital and the ‘Fit for 55’ climate proposals. The climate proposals promise to be particularly bruising given that the ‘Climate Law’ fixing carbon commitments has already been agreed; finding a final balance between the proposals is going to require horse-trading of a hitherto unknown scale.

The Brussels beltway was quite dormant in August until the catastrophic events in Afghanistan brought 20 years of Western intervention to a less than triumphant panic-filled and inglorious exit. The ‘West’ lies in a tattered mess, with trust at an all-time low. The von der Leyen Commission presented itself as a “geopolitical” one, Biden’s administration declared ‘America’s back!’ — and yet here we are. One thing I have learned is that things are never so bad that they can’t become any worse. The triumph of the Taliban and the brutal reminder that ISIS haven’t gone away will give succour to those who support their ideals elsewhere. It’s not a pretty picture, but Europe and the wider ‘West’ need to have the courage of its better self that defends rights, democracy, the rule of law and prosperity both at home and abroad.

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Next week Foreign and Defence ministers will gather for informal councils to discuss the aftermath of recent events. The grave instability closer to home in North Africa, Lebanon and Belarus — among others — and, of course, Afghanistan and the EU-Central Asian co-operation that has been slowly built, led by the EU’s relations with Kazakhstan. Appropriately, the defence ministers will be meeting to discuss the EU’s so-called Strategic Compass, the aim is to have a complete document by November; recent events have shown that the EU needs to take further concerted action to unify its response in security and defence.

On Tuesday (31 September) there will be an extraordinary meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers who will gather to discuss how they will deal with the inevitable movement of people from Afghanistan, resettlement at home, and also supporting those neighbouring countries who have already taken in millions of refugees who will need more financial support.

Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič will present the second annual strategic foresight report on Wednesday (8 September). The report comes a week ahead of the annual ‘State of the EU’ address by the Commission president. The initiative is part of an effort to ensure that the EU is resilient in the face of challenges, but also able to prepare itself by embedding foresight into all aspects of policy making. The document is unlikely to contain anything remarkable, it’s more of a hammering home that Europe has to take its strategic role seriously.

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Rule of law

It’s hard to be a beacon for the rule of law abroad, if your own constituent parts are happily tearing up norms, which brings me to Poland and Hungary where the state of stasis has remained during the summer.

Von der Leyen rebuffed MEPs and legal experts in a five-page letter that listed how Hungary had breached six of eight rule-of-law principles linked to the spending of the EU budget and should therefore trigger the recently minted ‘rule of law conditionality’ mechanism to prevent the misuse of funds. Von der Leyen wrote that MEPs had not provided enough evidence of the breaches and that the Commission “has not been properly called upon to act".

Poland’s day of reckoning on 16 August was a non-event, with further prevarication from Commission HQ. One can’t help but think there is someone in the Commission legal service who has the Douglas Adams quote framed on their wall: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

The Commission kicked the can down the road as they “read and analyse” Poland’s response. Vice President Jourova will visit Poland on Monday (6 September). The noises coming from Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro are not encouraging, recently tweeting that the EU is engaged in a “hybrid war” against the EU.

In the meantime, Slovenia continues to stall on nominating prosecutors to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, with Slovenian Prime Minister Jansa blocking nominations.

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