VULCAN VIEW – KEY EVENTS THIS WEEK:
Brexit – Turmoil before Christmas break
It has been another tumultuous couple of days in Westminster. The week began with the decision of Theresa May to pull the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement from parliament. This came after the European Court of Justice ruled on Monday that Great Britain had the option of revoking the Article 50 process unilaterally. Knowing that she didn’t have enough votes in Parliament, the Prime Minister decided to cancel the vote to prevent her deal from falling apart. In her statement, Mrs. May said that “there is deep spread concern over the backstop issue” and even though there was an agreement on certain points of the deal she had realized that she would not achieve enough votes to have the deal ratified by Parliament.
Just a day later it was announced that the Prime Minister would be facing a vote of no confidence. Before the internal vote, which took place mid-week, Theresa May promised her party that she would not stand during the next election. In the end this last-minute pledge contributed to her remaining Prime Minister. Yet, with one third of MPs voting against her, it is quite clear that her authority is once again diminished. In her statement after the vote Mrs May said that she is on a “renewed mission” of getting the Brexit deal through and getting Britain back on track for solving its other issues as well. A vote on the deal has been postponed until January.
During this week’s EU summit Theresa May faced her next challenge. Having survived the vote of no confidence back home the British leader travelled to Brussels in the hope of convincing EU leaders to agree to revisit specific elements of the deal. However, the EU and many European leaders predictably adopted a firm position that the Agreement could not be reopened. Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has been considered a close ally of May’s, said that “we will not open or reopen the withdrawal agreement.” This was echoed by German chancellor Angela Merkel and EU President Jean-Claude Junker. This means the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is more pressing than ever, as Prime Minister May is set to travel back to Great Britain empty handed, facing a Christmas of discontent in parliament.
France – Is President Macron’s government in trouble?
Even after President Macron’s decision to back down and delay the proposed fuel tax, protests have not died down in Europe’s second largest economy. What initially began as a as a protest about one specific issue has turned into a mass movement which has expanded over the borders of France into other parts of Europe as well, most prominently into Belgium. Known as the “Gilets jaunes”, the yellow vests movement is now protesting against the high cost of living, and the tax system which is failing lower and middle class people. They have also called for the resignation of Emmanuel Macron as leader of France. Despite giving in to the protests and calling for an increase in minimum wage, and giving the elderly a tax break, the French parliament decided to hold a vote of no confidence. However, the vote was easily dealt with as only 70 of the 577 members of parliament voted against Macron. This didn’t really comes as a surprise as President Macron’s party La République en Marche holds the absolute majority in the lower house of parliament which is where the vote took place. Yet, President Macron still faces an uphill battle as he is trying to deal with the protests and the turmoil which shows no sign of dissipating in France.
Terror Attack in Strasbourg
This week’s terrorist attack in Strasbourg, which claimed the lives of two people and saw several more injured, once again highlighted the importance of EU wide regulations for taking down extremist content online. One of the ways that people who carry out terrorist attacks become radicalized is through the internet. Extremist groups have started using social networks as one of their tools to recruiting people.
To combat that the European Parliament, Council and Commission are currently drafting a Regulation to restrict online Terrorist Content. The three institutions are working on bringing about change. The European Commission is calling for the takedown of online terror content within one hour. The European Parliament created a special committee on terrorism after attacks in Europe. This committee reviewed the legislation and coincidentally made its final recommendations on the day after the attack in Strasbourg.
The legislation which not only would take down extremist content more quickly, but would also include anti-radicalization measures such as programmes for prisons, education and campaigns, demand for legal procedures to probe the praise of acts of terrorism and monitor to ensure harmonized security and judicial prosecution of identified ‘returning fighters’ to Europe to name a few points.
The Commission and Council are trying to ensure that the proposal is fast tracked through the legislative process in the European Parliament to be completed before the European Elections in May. This is an extremely ambitious timeframe.
Priorities of the Romanian Presidency
The upcoming Romanian Presidency has released its priorities for this term. The Romanians will hold the Presidency for the first time since joining the EU. Speaking to the President of the European Parliament in November, President Iohannis said that “we should use the remaining period, leading up to the Sibiu Summit and the European elections, in order to implement decisions and measures demonstrating the Union’s ability to deliver on its promises made to its citizens, as well as to offer a clear perspective for the Union”. Lengthy negotiations are foreseen on the EU Long Term Budget (the Multiannual Financial Framework) for 2021-2027. The Presidency will also ensure the transition at EU institutional level and of course Brexit.
The Romanian Presidency has set out four main areas which they want to advance in their term at the head of the Council. Europe of convergence, a safer Europe, Europe as a stronger global actor and a Europe of Common Values are the key areas of concern. Digital transformation will be a highlight of Romania’s Presidency. Romania’s leap forward in technology is not very well known. For example, the country has the fastest broadband internet in the whole of the EU. Start-ups flourish, supported by government and local authorities, as well as benefiting from EU funds. Cybersecurity, innovation and skills, women in tech, and artificial intelligence will be just some of Romania’s digital priorities. Romania will host next year the Startup Europe Summit.
With its high rates of economic growth (6.7 percent in 2017), and a new generation passionate in the latest technologies, some see Romania as the new Silicon Valley. In just over six months time we will be able to look back and see if the internal problems of Romania are a thing of the past and the country was able to unite to provide leadership for Europe at a critical juncture.
Compliments of Vulcan Consulting, a member of the EACCNY