VULCAN VIEW – KEY EVENTS THIS WEEK:
May trying to renegotiate Backstop with Brussels
On Tuesday the House of Commons narrowly voted in favour of an amendment tabled by Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady to provide “alternative arrangements” for the Irish backstop. Prime Minister May hailed this outcome as ‘a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this house for leaving the EU, with a deal.’ MP Yvette Cooper’s amendment to extend Article 50 if no agreement was reached, was defeated.
Now Theresa May is preparing to go back to Brussels to once again seek legal changes to the backstop. A day after the vote, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Junker told the European Parliament “the withdrawal agreement remains the only and best deal possible. The debates yesterday in the House of Commons do not change that.” However, the EU has left open the potential to change to the political declaration on the future relationship should the UK change its red lines.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn met with the Prime Minister on Wednesday to discuss his proposal of a permanent customs union. After the meeting there were contradicting statements on how both parties viewed May’s engagement with Corbyn’s proposal. With another meeting to be scheduled between the two, both parties seems quite a long way from building a consensus.
In less than 60 days the UK is set to leave the EU with or without a deal. The House of Commons is set to vote on any new changes to the deal, on or before the 14th of February. Even if the Prime Minister were able to agree with the EU on changes to the backstop, it is not guaranteed that these changes would be enough to get her deal passed in the House of Commons. The Parliament remains utterly divided without any clear path forward.
Big Tech urged to ramp up efforts in fight against misinformation
On Tuesday 29 January the European Commission published the first reports submitted by signatories of the Code of Practice against disinformation, signed in October 2018. While the European Commission welcomed progress made, it also called on signatories to intensify their efforts in the run up to the 2019 EU elections.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla and trade associations representing the advertising sector had submitted their first reports on the measures they are taking to comply with the Code of Practice on Disinformation. The European Commission believes that while there has been some progress made, notably in the removal of fake accounts and in limiting the visibility of sites that promote disinformation, additional action is needed to ensure full transparency of political advertisements by the start of the campaign for the European elections in all EU Member States.
Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union said: “Given the proximity of the European elections, any progress made in the fight against disinformation is welcome. But we need to go further and faster before May. We don’t want to wake up the day after the elections and realise we should have done more.”
More transparency in dealings with lobbyists
On Thursday 31 January the European Parliament voted in favour of more transparency in dealing with lobbyists.
These new rules will require rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs to publicly list all meetings with registered lobbyists in a measure aimed to highlight the influence of lobbies on legislation.The proposal was initially pushed by the Greens and was included in a resolution adopted in 2017 on transparency, accountability and integrity in EU institutions. One of the main drivers of the vote was Green party parliamentarian Sven Giegold, who said the reform would be “a big step toward more transparency regarding lobbying.”
Although the Social Democrats, Greens, the Left party and Euroskeptics all called for stricter rules, the changes were resisted by the EPP and Liberals with the EPP opting for a secret ballot. Currently, the transparency register contains around 11,000 lobbies. European Commissioners and senior officials at the Commission are required to meet only those lobbies included in the register and to give public notification of any meetings.