The Brief, powered by EFPIA – Timmermans: Uniter or divider?

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In about ten months, if everything falls into place, Frans Timmermans could be sitting on the EU throne currently occupied by his boss, Jean-Claude Juncker. If, that is, Eastern Europeans don’t get in the way.

After his only party rival Maroš Šefčovič bowed out of the Spitzenkandidaten game, nothing stands in Timmermans’ way to win the official blessing at his party’s Lisbon congress in December.

While some said that yet again the Socialists chose to strike an internal deal instead of running an open contest, the move could turn out to be in their favour – especially in view of the political contortions the rival EPP is performing.

The Dutchman, grandson of Limburg miners, might be just what the Socialists desperately need to steer their ship through troubled waters, as they plummet in polls all over Europe.

For Juncker’s right hand, an unapologetic defender of social democratic ideology, Europe is a way of thinking, somewhere between freedom, rule of law protecting democracy and social support systems.

But as much as he could reunite his own Socialist party and give it back the profile it once had, for Europe, having Timmermans as Commission chief could mean confrontation that goes beyond simple party politics.

Too much of a European cosmopolitan, too much of a rule-of-law-crusader, Timmermans is hardly likely to be a bridge-builder between the geographical fault lines that have re-emerged between East and West, around the issue of what European values are.

The lone rule-of-law paladin of the bloc’s self-proclaimed ideals has been caught in increasingly vicious spats with Poland and Hungary, which seem to have exposed the limits of Brussels’ powers.

With Eastern Europeans fearing which country may be the next in line for browbeating and possible punitive measures from the EU executive [not to mention plans to condition funding on rule of law], the outcome of next May’s elections could well be a Parliament lost in fragmentation.

“If the EU decides to sanction Hungary, and then Poland, the next one will be Bulgaria,” Bulgarian deputy PM Krassimir Karakachanov said recently.

He is the head of a nationalist party and a junior partner in Boyko Borissov’s government and usually feels free to say what other politicians of the country’s elite only think.

And in fact, it is not only Bulgaria; there are more potential Article 7 candidates.

Rumours are emerging of a possible new post-election formation in Parliament, one not necessarily based on stringent common political objectives, but on uniting Eastern Europeans geographically and ideologically, after the possible break-up of the European right.

Timmermans seems to know that the tide is not favourable for him either.

‘Glück auf!’ [good luck] is what mineworkers from his hometown of Heerlen used to tell each other before going down the shaft into deep, dark chambers of the earth, hoping their work would be fruitful and safe.

Navigating the corridors of power in Brussels can be just as challenging. Which, perhaps, is why the Dutchman borrowed this exclamation as the title of his autobiography a few years ago.


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The Roundup

It’s half-time in the Game of Trumps and today’s elections, seen as a litmus test of his presidency, will set the course for the presidential campaign in 2020.

From Ségolène Royal to Benoît Hamon and citizens’ pressure groups, the ambitions of the French left are multiplying in the run-up to the 2019 European elections, with the risk of cancelling each other out.

It is a small irony: the closer Brexit gets, the more UK citizens seem to back staying inside the EU as the most recent opinion poll reveals.

Senior EU figures indicated that the EU is preparing to offer an Irish border compromise to resolve the last major hurdle in Brexit negotiations.

Germany’s outgoing spy chief was sacked over a speech given behind closed doors condemning “naive and leftist” government policies, branding the SPD as ‘radical left’ and hinting that he was considering a foray into politics.

Drop your budget defiance, Eurozone finance ministers told Italy as they met in Brussels for the first time after the Commission recently rejected Rome’s 2019 budget.

Stark divisions remain over a raft of issues in the Commission’s digital tax plans, a meeting of EU finance minister showed as they said they could not support the plans currently on the table.

Only weeks before the December European is set to define funding for regional development across Europe beyond 2020, regions are still in the dark about what will be the final decision on the future of Cohesion Policy.

In Shanghai, the Commission told China to deliver on its promise to open up its market. Meanwhile, the EU business lobby in China has dismissed President Xi Jinping’s latest market-opening pledge as a rehash of earlier unkept promises.

Caption contest corner

Italy’s deputy PM was in China this week but what caught Luigi Di Maio’s eye while he was looking at a Formula 1 car? Tweet us your best efforts here and we’ll pick our favourite and feature it in The Brief.

 

Look out for…

The two-day EPP Congress starting in Helsinki, Finland tomorrow, where the party is set to trash out their Spitzenkandidat contender for the 2019 European elections.

Watch here our explainer on what playbook the Spitzenkandidaten process could follow this time.

Views are the author’s

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