The Capitals brings you the latest news from across Europe, through on-the-ground reporting by EURACTIV’s media network. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at Vlagyiszlav Makszimov‘s story Hungarian media deny claims that Eurovision 2020 is “too gay” as well as Zuzana Gabrizova‘s article “Slovakia opposes EU accession to Convention preventing violence against women“.
In this Special Edition of the Capitals, EURACTIV’s network is reporting on the main priorities of EU member states in the new European Commission.
Trade deal with the US quickly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the new EU Commission to deal with trade talks with the US quickly. Merkel said Germany wanted such a trade agreement with Washington. “Unfortunately, this is not quite as easy as we imagined it to be,” she admitted. The mandate of the European Union is very limited, she said, because some EU member states, unlike the US, do not want to negotiate agricultural matters. France, in particular, prevented this in the past. “We would do well to promote this path,” Merkel said.
Export is Germany’s economic driving-force, the country being the second largest export country in the world after China. The US is Germany’s top export destination, followed by France and China.
In the second half of 2020, Germany will hold the rotating EU Council Presidency, which will be crucial for Ursula von der Leyen’s new European Commission to have its ambitious agenda implemented. This is because Berlin will have to use its political weight to have the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) adopted, all the other agenda items depend on it, first and foremost, the planned Green Deal.
To achieve this, Berlin will need to take the lead in Europe. It appears to be a real challenge, however, as Brussels and the EU do not presently seem at the top of the priorities of the ruling grand coalition (CDU/CSU and SPD), which can explain why Germany is currently consistently challenged by France. (Claire Stam | EURACTIV.de)
A long list. France has insisted on several topics for the new Commission and is expecting a lot from Ursula von der Leyen. A new DG dedicated to defence and security matters has been created after the French exerted pressure, but this is far from enough. Beyond building a new defence fund and an industrial strategy regarding space and defence, France also wants to revamp the EU’s competition rules, enhance the EU’s climate vision, soften the stance on budget and ensure more general investments are made.
Besides von der Leyen being close to Macron, France has inherited a huge post for Thierry Breton, and still has Barnier negotiating Brexit and Lagarde dealing with monetary policy. It will not be a surprise if other countries end up being a bit upset with Macron. (EURACTIV.fr)
A green and social agenda. Belgium’s expectations and course are strongly tied to the yet-to-be found future federal government, as the country has been in caretaker mode for 187 days. Climate and social justice in Europe are recurring themes among most Belgian parties’ expectations when looking at their European priorities. Former Belgian European Commissioner Marianne Thyssen already introduced measures to ensure (some) social rights at a European level.
But if in fact, Socialist Paul Magnette (PS) will take the steer of a future Belgian government, he is likely to put forward a progressive federal programme on climate and social policies at the national level, which will translate to Belgium’s expectation at the European level. With the participation of Flemish nationalists (N-VA) in the coalition, the areas of security, justice and migration are likely to find more attention with expectations to protect external borders and regulate migration flows. With Didier Reynders in charge of the justice and rule of law portfolio, there is expected to be a push for the further roll-out of GDPR, the European directive for the protection of personal data. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
Growth, migration and…Gentiloni. The new Commission should pave the way towards investments, the promotion of circular economy and a new migration management model based on a redistribution scheme and returns, Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte recently said.
A special interest will be directed to the economic dossiers entrusted to the Italian Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, such as the completion of the banking union, eurozone budget and reform of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Solidarity on migration and surpluses. The Greek government is more or less happy with the new Commission since Margaritis Schinas obtained a good portfolio and von der Leyen remains an ally of the EPP. Greece will focus its efforts on migration, requesting more solidarity from EU members and the Commission, with a view to reforming the Dublin treaty on asylum procedures. Athens also wants to convince others, with the help of Commission, that the 3.5% budget primary surpluses are not viable in the long run and should be reduced.
Moreover, the Greek government will fight for the new CAP, hoping to win some points in the details. (Theodore Karaoulanis | EURACTIV.gr)
Reunification talks, gas drillings. Nicosia will focus on the Cyprus reunification talks, recently re-launched in Berlin. Cyprus also expects the new EU executive to remain firm toward Turkey regarding its illegal gas drilling off Cyprus and continues to back the tiny island’s sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
Poland will primarily focus on agriculture. The new Commissioner for agriculture will be Janusz Wojciechowski, and Warsaw expects that in the next five years, direct payments for Polish farmers will be levelled up to the point when they will be equal with the payments for farmers in other western countries. This would be a rather unlikely outcome, but it is the government’s goal and one of the electoral promises.
Poland is also focused on the climate issue. Poland strives for the establishment of the Just Transition Fund to help in the transition from a coal-based economy to renewables. The draft of the JFT was already approved by the EU Parliament earlier and the amount allocated stands at €5 billion. Poland wants it to be higher, and there is an ongoing discussion that Poland may sign up to neutrality by 2050 in exchange for more funds within the JFT framework.
In this way, it could fit into the “green Commission” priorities and present it as a force for positive change at home. In general, as Konrad Szymański told EURACTIV Poland, Warsaw wants Brussels to acknowledge that every member state starts from a different level and every the needs of each state need to be taken into account. That’s why Warsaw is opting for what it calls “just transition” and will be attempting to cling on to this narrative for the foreseeable future.
Poland also counts that with Frans Timmermans no longer in charge of the rule of law portfolio, and the Commission will go smoothly. This has always been a pipe dream, now confirmed by Vera Jourava who took over from Timmermans. She said she would continue procedures against the countries that undermine the rule of law, which has been perceived as “bad news” by the pro-government media. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
Preventing violence against women could be a thorny issue between Brussels and Bratislava. The Slovak parliament has asked the EU not to accede to the CoЕ´s Istanbul Convention, which is a priority for the new Commission, without member states unanimously deciding to agree to accession.
The EU signed the Convention in June 2017, and von der Leyen made it clear that the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention is a priority for the new Commission. Besides, the mission letter to Helena Dalli acknowledged that this might be blocked in the Council. In that case, other measures envisaged in the Treaties should be explored, the mission letter reads. Among them, a proposal to add violence against women to the list of EU crimes.
Bratislava is also expected to have a similar line with other V4 countries on migration.
Away from foolish migration policies. The group of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance MEPs on Wednesday called for opening a “new chapter” in the functioning of the EU and a fundamental U-turn in its economic and migration policies. The EU lawmakers said there was a greater chance to achieve these goals under the new European Commission, compared to before. Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the EU could “move away from its earlier foolish migration policy”, noting that “a far more sensible” policy was starting to take shape.
“Correcting the migration mistake is simple: the Commission must withdraw from the question of migration,” the government’s press office told EURACTIV, referring to Viktor Orbán’s speech last summer. “It must create a council of interior ministers from the Schengen Area Member States, just as there is already a council of finance ministers from the eurozone countries. And all powers and responsibilities related to migration must be redirected to this council of interior ministers.”
Following a meeting with Croatian PM Andrej Plenković, Orbán said in Fidesz they will “decide their own fate” and that they must see whether the newly elected EPP leadership (Donald Tusk) will continue to approach the left or not. “If they go any closer to the left, this is not our way. If they are ready to rethink what the EPP is currently doing and go back to more Christian-national roots, we can continue to operate within the EPP. We need some time to evaluate and make a decision, at least two to three months”, Orbán said. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr, Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
Don’t forget the internal market. The long-term interest of the export-oriented Czech Republic is deepening the EU internal market or at least preserving its current state.
EU Parliament vice-president Dita Charanzová (RE) from the ruling ANO party said on Wednesday the new Commission should not forget about the internal market policy and put it among its priorities. It is the backbone of the European economy, she added. (Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)
The end of CVM and support for ERM II. Sofia basically expects from the new European Commission to reaffirm the political support for the termination of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, which has supervised Bulgaria and Romania since they joined the EU in 2007.
The other immediate goals are to be accepted into the so-called Eurozone ERM II waiting room and to get a stronger commitment that the country will become part of the Schengen area. These expectations were stated by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans before the election of Ursula von der Layen. Despite the great expectations, there was no official reaction from the authorities to the vote for the Commission. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
“Romania’s government, strongly attached to European values, supports the goals of Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission and reiterates its full availability to cooperate with the Commissioners and all EU institutions,” Prime minister Ludovic Orban said in a congratulatory message after the European Parliament vote.
The new Commission should have as its first priority the EU budget, said Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan, who is also the Vice-President of the EPP. The EU needs to decide in which sectors it wants to invest, and it needs to decide quickly, he said.
Romania is a long-standing advocate of keeping at least the same allocations for the CAP and cohesion policy and is in favour of increasing the member states’ contributions to the EU budget. One of the country’s priorities is obtaining as many funds as possible to develop its infrastructure and increase the payments for farmers, but also to become part of the Schengen area and exiting the CVM.
On the other hand, Dacian Ciolos, the head of the Renew Europe group in the EU Parliament, said he voted for this Commission in support of the expansion of the CVM to the entire EU and a quick putting in place of the new EU Prosecutor’s Office, which will be led by Laura Codruta Kovesi, the former chief of Romania’s anti-graft prosecution directorate.
EC should not work along the party lines. Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said the new European Commission should act following the rule of law, not along party lines, with a clear hint to Slovenia’s view that the previous Jean-Claude Juncker Commission favoured Croatia in disputes between Zagreb and Ljubljana. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
EU presidency and cohesion policy. The Croatian government is preparing for the first EU presidency and is counting on the help of the new Commission. Negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) is the main Croatian interest because Zagreb is a strong advocate for maintaining the current model of cohesion and CAP. Croatia also hopes that the new Commission will keep enlargement policy regarding Western Balkans alive. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
BELGRADE | SARAJEVO
Open doors. The only thing Belgrade expects from the new European Commission is to keep the EU door open to the Western Balkans.
“We expect an additional incentive on the region’s path to the EU and for the candidate countries to be included in all future debates on the future of Europe and changes to the enlargement process”, Nataša Dragojlović, the coordinator of the National Convention on the EU in Serbia, told EURACTIV Serbia. “I think that the Western Balkan countries deserve the same level of support as all the Eastern European countries that joined the EU earlier,” she added. (EURACTIV.rs)
The only status of a candidate can keep the enlargement process active. Željka Cvijanović, president of Republika Srpska, one of the entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that only a candidate status could keep the EU integration process active. This is also the position of other actors on BiH political scene. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]