The Brief, powered by ifaw – Game of Thrones

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During last week’s ‘Future of Europe’ summit, the figures on the chessboard moved again and the stage has been largely set for the new edition of the EU’s own Game of Thrones.

**no spoilers ahead**

Starting on 23 May, Europe takes a democratic leap of faith and plunges into a period of uncertainty. Leaders and their entourages are hurriedly devising all possible scenarios for how to make the most of the mess that is a ballot in 28 member states.

The aim: to build a majority coalition from the shifting sands of European politics, marked by fragile alliances and a re-discovered appetite for political redesigns and defections.

With EU stalwarts the S&D and the EPP set to lose their joint majority in the European Parliament, there is an opening for a third, and even fourth, political group to join in and divide the spoils.

But the question is, how will the EU even go about distributing the top jobs?

In this Game of Thrones, loyalty gives way to pragmatism and the 28 kingdoms that make up the EU have to balance national, party and personal interests, as well as keep in mind the East-West, North-South, old-new member states and male-female divides.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been the most vocal leader in openly opposing the Spitzenkandidaten process which is supposed to yield the new Commission chief as it did in 2014 for the first time.

But the procedure has seemed doomed from the day the EPP chose Bavarian Manfred Weber as its top candidate. Voices against him are silently multiplying.

Macron has already won over eight European parties to join his ‘Renaissance’ in a centrist group of some 100 MEPs, easily the third biggest in the Parliament. Their rally in Strasbourg last weekend was attended by Italian, Spanish and Portuguese officials from the S&D. And it was no coincidence.

“The two sides have appointed their representatives, or sherpas, if you will, to talk about future relations. They are Pedro Sanchez and Antonio Costa for the S&D, and Mark Rutte and Charles Michel for ALDE,” an EU diplomat told this website.

The idea is to build a coalition that will keep populists/Eurosceptics at bay and enable the EU to have a “new start”, after Jean-Claude Juncker’s ‘last chance Commission’.

It is unlikely to have enough hands without the EPP, which means they will have the first go at proposing a new president. They may choose to spare Weber the humiliation and propose someone else. But that cannot be taken for granted.

“Just because in reality, few want Mr Weber to become Commission president, it doesn’t mean it will automatically go to someone else. There will need to be other candidates ready to step up to the plate, from the EPP or elsewhere,” the diplomat said.

Along with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, a well-respected French veteran who could please both Macron and the EPP, a new name has started doing the rounds: Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, a former Commissioner who now heads the World Bank.

Danish Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is also in the running, in case the EPP fails to get its own way. In the end, it may turn out to be someone else entirely, from across the Shimmering Sea.

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The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Two weeks before the European elections, Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche party published its election programme and is now attempting to mobilise pro-European voters.

Meanwhile, the Spitzenkandidaten are pondering ways of safeguarding the media sector’s integrity in light of persistent economic challenges and emerging threats like Russian disinformation.

The temptation to misuse data is great, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the US elections showed. In the EU, parties have also long relied on advanced data analysis, but is this still legal?

US President Trump praised Hungary’s hardline authoritarian Viktor Orbán as a leader respected throughout Europe who kept his country safe with his crackdown on immigration.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Rassemblement National (RN), arrives in Tallinn as part of a “European tour” to drum up support for the far-right in the upcoming EU elections.

Addressing the shrinking of the middle class is crucial to fight the rise of nationalism, protectionism and populism in the next European elections, Margherita Movarelli argues.

Europe urged the US not to further escalate tensions over the Iran nuclear deal, with Britain issuing a stark warning of the risk of conflict erupting “by accident” in the Gulf.

Climate change and tourism are closely interlinked. Local and regional authorities across Europe are working together to improve waste management to make tourism more sustainable in their towns.

The Netherlands has announced that it will start taxing air travel if the EU doesn’t come up with a bloc-wide solution. Read stories like this and more in our new Transport Brief.

Look out for…

The final showdown between the Spitzenkandidaten for the European elections in Brussels tomorrow night. Stay tuned on EURACTIV for all updated and analysis.

Views are the authors

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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