VULCAN VIEW – KEY EVENTS THIS WEEK:
Race for top job kicks off as frontrunners announce their candidacy
The end of summer and arrival of September has marked the unofficial start of the race to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker and become the next President of the European Commission. The beginning of the holiday period that has just passed saw the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb – who are both senior members of the powerful European People’s Party (EPP) – as the likely favourites.
However, as the nomination period for the EPP group officially opened this week, it was the party’s leader in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber of Germany, who announced his candidacy and immediately assumed pole position. This jump in the race was brought about after the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Hungarian Prime Minister Vicktor Orban both throwing their weight of support behind Mr. Weber.
While Mr. Barnier had been seen as a prime candidate before the summer break, his ambition to become the next Commission president is severely hampered due to the fact that the Brexit negotiations which he is overseeing are badly behind schedule. With the EPP group choosing their candidate on November 8th and deadline for nominations October 17th, it is doubtful whether a deal on Brexit will be agreed and complete before either date.
Although this dilemma has left Mr. Weber in pole position, the German does face challenges. If the former Finnish Prime Minister Mr. Stubb does declare his candidacy, he will draw a large level of support. Moreover, Mr. Weber has no experience of executive government experience and is not widely known outside of Germany. With European elections not until May of next year, there is plenty of time for upsets to occur.
Juncker set for final State of the Union address as Commission president
With Jean-Claude Juncker’s tenure as president of the European Commission ending next year, next week will see him deliver his final State of the Union speech and set the tone for how he wishes to sign off his time in the Berlaymont. During his time in office, the EU has gone through several periods of turmoil such as the continuing migration crisis. For Mr. Juncker unfortunately, he is at risk of going down in history books as the man who lost the UK.
The Commission president will hope to end on a good note and at a dinner for Coreper I Ambassadors on Wednesday night, he outlined some of the proposals that will feature in next week’s speech. Sources from that night revealed that his State of the Union address will focus heavily on the issue of migration, with plans to strengthen Europe’s border and coast guard service, the EU’s asylum agency, and efforts to accelerate rejected asylum seeker returns.
Further issues which Mr. Juncker will hope to address in his final few months will include plans to counter online terrorist content and a proposal to build up the bloc’s cybersecurity agency, as well as measures that will help upcoming elections taking place across the continent – both national and European – be protected from hacking.
His tenure at the helm of the Commission has been marked by more low-points than high ones but his speech next week will be a chance for him to lay down the groundwork for being remembered as the Commission president who navigated the EU through difficult times rather than as the one who lost of its key members.
Support rises for Populist Party as nation heads to the polls for key election
Swede’s will head to polls this Sunday to vote in a defining election that has been dominated by discussions around the country’s recent immigration policy. The county of 10 million took in 163,000 people three years ago – proportionately more than even Germany – and despite a consistently strong economy and low level of unemployment, the recent months and weeks have seen a surging rise in support for the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) who have been campaigning on an anti-immigration platform.
This Sunday’s election is seen as one of the most open Sweden has faced in decades as the traditional parties of the sitting Social Democrats and the opposition centre-right Moderate party have been overwhelmed by the SDs who have succeeded in setting the election tone on immigration and law and order. Although the traditional parties have vowed to deliver a tougher stance on immigration and extra spending on the police and armed forces, the Social Democrats are expected to suffer one of their worse electoral results in a century, while the Moderates are set to lose votes and seats in comparison to the 2014 election.
While there is a large amount of uncertainty around the outcome of the vote as over one millions Swedes are still undecided and different pollsters showing widely different results, it is inevitable that the anti-immigration SDs will make major gains. The only consolation for Swedes that don’t want to see the SD in power is that the country’s other political leaders have promised not to co-operate with the far-right power. Whether such promises are maintained when the outcome is known and the bidding for power begins is yet to be seen.
EU BALKANS ENGLARGEMENT
Concern mounts over potential Kosovo-Serbia land swap
Leaders from Serbia and Kosovo will meet today to discuss a possible radical land-swap proposal in order to bring about some kind of breakthrough that would finally see Belgrade recognize Kosovo’s independence status which would advance accession talks of both countries to join the EU. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his Kosovar counterpart Hashim Thaci are set to meet today in EU-brokered talks on how to deliver an agreed relationship.
Although the negotiations could bring about a historic deal, there are fears that any kind of border change would destabilise the entire Balkans region and resurface old wounds between the countries. Senior EU and US officials who were involved in the negotiations in the early 1990s to bring about an end to the devastating Yugoslavian war think the idea could re-ignite ethnic war that engulfed the region for years.
It is not just outside observers who are critics of the possible land-swap, while Serbia President Mr. Vucic has all but subdued any kind of debate in his country, the Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj is opposed to the deal and has been in a public dispute with his president Mr. Thaci. Despite such opposition within Kosovo, today’s meeting will proceed with the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini brought in to host these latest negotiations in a bid to bring about an end to the bitter impasse.