Member News

The Weekly Vulcan View | Analysis of Latest EU Developments May 27 – 31

Key Events This Week

Race on for the European Commission Presidency
The race for the top jobs in the European Institutions has begun. The special summit of the European Council was held in Brussels on Tuesday – the first meeting where leaders tried to push their preferences for the top job in the executive branch of the European Union. Manfred Weber, supported by Angela Merkel, is the Spitzenkandidat for the Conservative European People’s Party (EPP). The self-confessed ‘man of parliament’ does not have enough experience to lead the most powerful institution of the EU according to some national leaders. Weber’s lack of executive experience is perhaps most noticeable in contrast to the man he hopes to succeed: Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who served on the European Council for 19 years as Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

French President Emmanuel Macron thinks the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier should be under consideration for the European Commission top job. “Undeniably, Michel Barnier is a man who has great qualities and he demonstrated this once again in the way he handled negotiations with the British,” Macron told Belgian newspaper Le Soir. Macron shared what he thinks should be “important criteria” for the next Commission President, among them “experience at the highest governmental level or European Commission level.” This would no doubt rule out Manfred Weber. The European Union’s deputy chief Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, who has served under Michel Barnier was named the bloc’s top civil servant for trade policy in a move that represents a small piece in the puzzle over new appointments to EU leadership posts. This may signal a move away from the Article 50 Task Force dealing with UK matters and thus freeing up Barnier to lead the European Commission.

Frans Timmermans, a former Dutch Foreign Minister and current first Vice President of the European Commission, has increased his chances of getting the top job after Social Democrats across Europe exceeded expectations in last week’s elections, especially in his native Netherlands. Timmermans, who speaks six languages, is best known for his defence of the rule of law against Eurosceptic governments in Poland, Hungary and Romania. The leading figure behind the ‘Plastics Strategy’ has been outspoken in the area of climate change, including taking a shot at Donald Trump “and his idiocy on climate change”. He is also seen as a plausible candidate to be EU Foreign Affairs chief.

One of the most powerful women in the European commission is Danish Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager. Best known for taking on Apple, Amazon and Google, she wants to be the first woman to lead the EU Commission. Vestager was the Danish Economy Minister and, as a Liberal, she was long thought to be a favourite of Macron. But the French President has cooled on her since she ruled against a merger of France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens, a tie-up both governments deemed necessary in the face of Chinese competition. In the past few days, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has given a strong signal that Copenhagen would push for Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to take the EU’s top job. Rasmussen, who has previously been quiet on his old political sparring partner Vestager, described her as “the best candidate” to succeed Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, ahead of an informal summit of EU leaders Tuesday.

The Commission President is the top job in the European Union but Member States will be eyeing other positions within the bundle of jobs on offer. European Council President, European Parliament President, European Central Bank President and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission are all up for grabs. For more information on the timeline for these top jobs please click HERE


Conservative Party Leadership Race
Under Conservative party rules Tory MPs select two candidates to go through to a run-off where over 120,000 members of the party get to vote for their first preference. As many as 15 potential candidates are said to be eyeing their chances of taking over from current Prime Minister Theresa May in what is likely to be the most crowded field for a Tory leadership election in decades.

Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary begins this race as the clear favourite to take over from Mrs. May. His strong commitment to a hard Brexit is critical to his support among Tory activists. However, Mr Johnson has made several blunders that may hamper his chances of becoming Prime Minister. More recently, Johnson has been ordered to appear in court over claims he lied by saying the UK gave the EU £350m a week. He has been accused of misconduct in public office after making the claim during the 2016 EU referendum campaign. Johnson was a popular Mayor of London but his ruthless obsession with becoming Prime Minister has turned him into a liked and disliked figure in equal measure around Westminster. Several Tory MPs have said they will leave the party if he is elected leader. His appointment as PM would probably harden the stance of some European leaders against offering the UK another extension of the Article 50 divorce process beyond October 31.

Michael Gove as Education Secretary implemented sweeping reforms of standards and structures that were disliked by many teachers and parents. Gove has portrayed himself as firm on Brexit but he has more potential to unite the Conservative party than Boris Johnson. In his current job as Environment Secretary, he appears to have become convinced that the UK must avoid a no-deal Brexit. However Gove has developed a reputation for betraying his allies after destabilising both David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Other high-profile contenders for the position at the top of the Conservative party include Andrea Leadsom, the former leader of the House of Commons who resigned last week; Home Secretary Sajid Javid; Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt; Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab; and Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

The deadline for nominations is the week starting June 10. Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis said he hoped the process to determine the final choice to put to members would be concluded by the end of June. There will then be a series of hustings around the UK, followed by a postal ballot of Conservative Party members. The result is announced before Parliament rises for the summer.


Irish privacy watchdog head Helen Dixon reappointed for 5-year term
Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon has been reappointed to a second five-year term. Since her appointment in 2014, Data Protection Commissioner Dixon has roughly quadrupled the staff and budget of the regulator.

Ms. Dixon, who started in the role in 2014, is in charge of overseeing the European operations of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other Silicon Valley companies. Her office is carrying out more than a dozen investigations into potential privacy failings, including several targeting Facebook and one into Google. It is the lead regulator in the European Union, enforcing the General Data Protection Regulation. Ms Dixon said she welcomed the Government’s decision to reappoint her as Commissioner for a second term. “At this early but critical juncture of GDPR implementation and enforcement, continuity is important to drive clarity for organisations around the standards they must meet in order to effectively safeguard the data protection rights of service users, consumers and citizens,” Ms Dixon said. “It is a privilege to serve in this role and to work with the dedicated staff of the Data Protection Commission.

“Our fellow EU data protection authorities count on us to effectively supervise the large internet platforms headquartered in Ireland and we are committed to this task.”

Dixon told a U.S. Senate hearing earlier this year that she had reason to believe American companies had violated the General Data Protection Regulation. She has told Irish media that she expected to submit the first conclusions from these investigations to the European Data Protection Board in July.

Monday 03-04 June 2019- Informal meeting of Agriculture Ministers (Bucharest)
Wednesday 05 June 2019- Financial Services Committee meeting (Brussels)
Thursday 06-07 June 2019- Justice and Home Affairs Council (Luxembourg)
Friday 07 June 2019- Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (Luxembourg)

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting, a member of the EACCNY