VULCAN VIEW – KEY EVENTS THIS WEEK:
May holds on to her Brexit Deal
It took all of thirteen minutes for Theresa May to present her Plan B to the House of Commons on Monday and there was little evidence of a change of approach from her government. The PM made it very clear that she wouldn’t allow for the option of a second referendum to be held. Throughout the week there have been cross-party talks to find a consensus with members of parliament. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who described May’s speech as Groundhog Day, has not participated in the negotiations. He will only join the discussion once Theresa May has promised to rule out a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.
May is hoping to resolve the Irish border issue to get the support of the DUP and Brexiteer Conservatives. The Leader of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg has said that he would back the deal if this was resolved. However, the EU has made it clear that there will either be the PM’s deal or no deal.
While Theresa May is continuing talks about possible changes to the backstop, members of the opposition are bringing forward amendments as well. One of the most prominent is being tabled by Labour MP Yvette Cooper which would allow for legislation that mandates ministers to extend Article 50 if no agreement was reached. Her nine month proposed extension could find support from the Labour party and some Tory MPs which would make her amendment likely to pass. However, there is already criticism about the length of the extension as it goes beyond the European elections in May.
The Prime Minister now has until the 29th of January to get enough support for her deal before the House of Commons is set to vote again. Whether the EU will agree to any changes from the UK remains to be seen.
World Economic Forum in Davos
The annual World Economic Forum in Davos took place this week with some of the most powerful leaders from the political and corporate sector coming together to discuss a range of topics. Last year’s conference was dominated by President Trump, who amid the ongoing shutdown in the United States, decided not to attend. On this occasion President Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May also did not attend, as they are facing internal problems themselves.
Despite that a variety of topics were covered. The current economic stagnation that many countries across the globe are experiencing has leaders worried. One of the solutions discussed at the conference was the creation of new jobs through Artificial Intelligence. While current jobs in fields like retail, manufacturing, and driving services will be made redundant there is great potential for a different type of workforce to emerge. Among the opportunities, including renewable energy, IT and AI development, there is a need for qualified personnel which will help support these growing industries. This in turn might help contribute to an economic upturn.
Another topic on the Davos agenda was the problem of EU scepticism that is continuing to flare up in many countries across the EU. With Brexit and EU elections quickly approaching, leaders came together to discuss strategies that might engage people in the European project again. No specific outcome was reached.
Lastly the issue of climate change was discussed. While much of the media attention focused on the number of private jets flying to Davos, leaders in both the government and the corporate world recognized the dire need to ramp up efforts in order to combat the rising threat that climate change poses.
France and Germany post Brexit
In Aachen, Germany, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron signed the “Treaty of Aachen”, a 16-page deal seeking reinforced commitment in the areas of Foreign Policy, Defence, Trade, Mobility and Research. It was 56 years to the day since the historic Elysée treaty was signed.
The new Treaty seems to be more cautious than ambitious – as if this is a testing ground for future cooperation post-Brexit. Other Member States in the EU are very skeptical of a two speed union. However, talk of revving up the engine that has been at the center of the European project makes some other members of the EU nervous. They fear it could exclude them from decision-making as Berlin and Paris become ever more dominant inside the bloc after Brexit.
With the President of the European Council aware of the Member State cooperation on certain issues such as Foreign Policy, Donald Tusk said “let me put it very bluntly: Today Europe needs a clear signal from Paris and Berlin that enhanced cooperation in smaller formats is not an alternative to the cooperation of Europe as a whole.” Czech MEP Jan Zahradil summed up the fear of many “a Franco-German axis that goes around other Member States to stitch up EU business is exactly what we feared when the U.K. announced their intention to leave.”
The document says that Germany and France will “deepen their cooperation on foreign policy, defense, external and internal security and development issues, while strengthening Europe’s capacity to act independently.” However, the commitments to close coordination at European and international level are largely a reflection of what’s already common practice between Paris and Berlin. Elsewhere, France commits to lobby to get Germany a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council and the two countries agree to more regular high-level meetings of the German-French security council, and to “develop a common approach for arms export.” Besides that both countries also agreed to backing each other militarily should there be a need for it. This is something given the history of the two countries is unprecedented.
The European Union on Wednesday urged Member States to crack down on granting ‘golden visas and passports’ to wealthy investors from third countries. The European Commission warned that these people can bring corruption and money laundering in their wake.
Commissioner Jourova told a news conference in Brussels that “we speak about opening (a) golden gate to Europe for some privileged people who have the money to pay for citizenship or residence.” The Commissioner also said investor residence and citizens schemes, known as “golden visas and golden passports,” should not be a weak link in EU efforts to curb corruption and money laundering.
The Commission complained that Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta run schemes granting foreign investors citizenship without requiring them to live in those EU countries or show “genuine connections” to them. The investor citizenship schemes, known as ‘golden passports’, offer less strict requirements than those for foreigners seeking to become naturalised citizens.
The Commission also said residence permits pose serious security risks to Member States. An EU residence permit gives a third-country national the right to live in the member country and to travel freely in Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.
Several EU members have used such schemes to give passports to around 6,000 people and residency rights to around 100,000 people in the past decade, securing about 25 billion euros ($29 billion) of foreign direct investment in return.