VULCAN VIEW-KEY EVENTS THIS WEEK:
Theresa May pushes for consensus on current Brexit deal as negotiations continue
This week, Theresa May’s government has largely focused on stepping up preparations for a Brexit deal, which they claim is “95% completed,” as cabinet ministers were allowed for the first time to inspect the draft withdrawal treaty. The intention was undoubtedly to inspire consensus on the deal as it stands, which is still notably missing any workable solution for Northern Ireland. Their strategy to grow support may have been undermined by the leaking of the government’s supposed public relations plan to sell Brexit through a narrative of “measured success.” Downing Street denied that the document reflects the government’s approach.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Downing Street is looking to garner support for the current deal, which should allow remaining cabinet discussions to focus exclusively on the issue of the Irish backstop. The Prime Minister is hopeful that a breakthrough on securing no harder border in Ireland is imminent, as a final drive in negotiations is expected over the weekend and ministers from the EU 27 and the UK will appraise the full withdrawal text early next week.
If such a breakthrough is made, the EU will likely hold a special Brexit summit for leaders to approve the treaty in late November, which would allow Mrs May to potentially have the treaty agreed by the UK parliament before Christmas. However, Eurosceptic UK ministers are looking for a “unilateral” escape clause for the temporary customs union, which the EU has said would negate the intentions of the backstop. Both the UK and EU have recognised that more work needs to be done. Failure to reach a breakthrough this weekend, despite Theresa May’s best efforts at optimism, would be a significant blow to the process.
EPP nominates Manfred Weber to be Commission President
At its congress in Helsinki on Thursday, the European People’s Party nominated its European Parliament leader Manfred Weber to be their Spitzenkandidat, or lead candidate, for the European Commission Presidency, which will be decided following the European Parliament elections next May. The centre-right party will be hoping to maintain its position as the parliament’s biggest party, and therefore its top job, which is currently held by Jean-Claude Juncker.
Mr Weber was supported by all 9 of the EPP’s heads of state and government, including fellow German Angela Merkel. He comfortably defeated the former Finish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, receiving 80% of the vote. In his acceptance speech, the German politician called for “a mandate to change Europe” and a return to Christian values. Mr Weber will now face the commission’s First Vice President, Frans Timmermans, who, earlier this week, won the nomination of the Party of European Socialists, the EU’s second biggest party.
While the European Council, the European Union body made up by EU heads of state and government, is expected to nominate the lead candidate of the winning party, leaders have said they are not legally bound by the process. The liberal party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has been particularly critical of the system, claiming it unfairly benefits the EPP, and refused to nominate a candidate. The ALDE may form an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron, who hopes to expand his En Marche party across the rest of Europe.
US Midterm Election
The US midterm elections took place this Tuesday and, as predicted, the Republican Party lost their majority in the House of Representatives, while cementing their control of the Senate. The midterms, though applying only to the legislative branch, were largely seen as a referendum on the current President, Donald Trump. They saw unprecedented levels of voters going to the polls, as turnout reached 49%, exceeding 100 million votes for the first time in history.
Democratic control of the house has been heralded as a win for “checks and balances,” as Democrats will now be able to block some measures and open investigations into the President’s finances and links with Russia. They will also have more power to steer the US towards more progressive policies, such as climate change action, on which they are more closely aligned with the EU than their Republican counterparts.
However, it is likely that the remainder of the term will be marked by acrimony between the branches of government and the increasingly polarised parties, therefore stagnation an in-fighting are the more likely consequences of this week’s election. While Democrats may have won back some crucial influence, the results are by no means the resounding indictment of the controversial President that many were hoping for, and therefore do not encourage Republicans to turn away from Mr Trump as he begins to seek a second term.
Macron criticises the EU as support for his envisaged reforms wanes
This week Emmanuel Macron gave a rare interview where he denounced “ultra-liberals” in the European Union, who he says have failed the middle class by ignoring their legitimate concerns. The French President blamed this ultra-liberalism for the rise in right-wing populists across Europe who are threatening the cohesion of the bloc.
Macron, who was elected on the back of his centralist, pro-European campaign, is in no danger of moving away from Europe. However, the Frenchman has so far been unable to gain the support he needs for the reforms he is fighting to implement. The French President wants a more “protective” EU, including tighter security cooperation and greater European integration. His efforts have been stymied by resistance from countries such as the Netherlands and the Nordic nations, and in some instances the increasingly conservative Germany, whose priorities on free-trade have seen French proposals such as the Digital tax on technology companies stall.
Macron’s criticism comes as he seeks to establish his EN Marche party as a force in European politics ahead of the EU Parliament elections next May. It remains to be seen whether his alliance with People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be enough invigorate the bloc, as its members continue to deal with unstable political dynamics at home.