The Brief – Another Groundhog Day

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Another day, another Groundhog Day debate on Brexit.

Next week’s European Council summit had long been intended to dot the ‘i’s’ and cross the ‘t’s’ on a 21 month transition period and open long-awaited talks on a future trade agreement.

Yet to anyone unfortunate enough to watch Tuesday morning’s turgid debate in the European Parliament on its pre-summit resolution on future EU-UK relations, any such progress seemed a distant speck on the horizon. Instead we got another unwanted reminder of how little has been achieved since Theresa May’s Article 50 letter was put in Donald Tusk’s hands last March.

Such set-pieces have never been the Parliament’s forté. Speaking time ranging between 90 seconds and 5 minutes is perfect for a YouTube clip but not, it’s fair to say, to advancing the sum of human knowledge. Nor to debate.

Listening to Ukip’s erstwhile leader Nigel Farage claim (with a straight face) that the UK “could do our own (trade) deal with the US in 48 hours” is to enter a parallel universe where the earth is flat, Brexit saves £350 million each week, and Donald Trump shits solid gold.

But Messrs Juncker and Barnier were scarcely any better, trotting out the usual lines. The beleaguered Commission chief was greeted with cackles of laughter when he told Eurosceptics that “you will regret your decision”.

“If you decide to jettison, leave behind, the common agreements and rules, then you have to accept that things cannot remain as they are,” warned Juncker.

Fair enough, but we’ve heard these lines many times before – as many times, in fact, as May et al recite their ‘red lines’ on the ECJ and single market rules, and say that they cannot accept the rights of Canada and obligations of Norway.

Labour’s Richard Corbett warned that we faced “deadlock in these negotiations”. Given the current dearth of creative thinking on either side, he might well be right.

At some point, somebody is going to have to try to break the log-jam.

In this world of deadlock, Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt was one of few voices of constructive bridge-building, advocating an ‘association agreement’ between Brussels and London.

“Our proposal is to start negotiations on an association agreement based on four pillars: trade, internal security, thematic cooperation, and external security/defence. This resolution presents a concept, a vision, architecture of the future, that is what is lacking at the moment,” he said.

Few in Westminster, let alone the rest of the UK, will have followed the debate in Strasbourg. The UK Treasury’s Spring Economic Statement dominated the Westminster news-cycle on Wednesday.

But the Brexit iceberg always lurks close to the surface. Buried in the background papers that accompanied the Spring Statement, the UK’s Office of Budgetary Responsibility quietly admitted that the government expects to pay €41.4 billion as part of its EU divorce settlement– a reminder that leaving the EU is going to be expensive, as well as time-consuming.

The Roundup

Next act in the #Selmayrgate drama: After MEPs in Strasbourg slammed the “fast-track promotion” Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s top aide, Parliament’s budgetary control committee will look into what critics call a “grave error” fueling Euroscepticism.

A landmark convention on protecting women from violence, which several member states have yet to ratify, is causing some trouble as some of them see the document as a Trojan horse aimed at introducing a “third sex” and same-sex marriage.

‘Global Britain’ has been one of the most popular slogans used by UK ministers since the June 2016 Brexit referendum. But what it actually means in practice is far from clear. Read a possible explanation here.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are forming a united front against any attempt to impose EU sanctions on Poland for alleged breaches to the rule of law.

In response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s ideas on the future of Europe, the Czech Republic is going to start a series of public discussions on what shape the EU should take in the future.

The strong performance of Eurosceptic parties in Italy’s 4 March election stands out in a country that has traditionally been pro-European in the past.

Let’s hold all national parliamentary elections on the same day as voting for the European Parliament, suggests Giles Merritt – to limit the disruptive effects of national elections on EU unity.

One day before an International Solar Alliance summit in Delhi, the EIB has signed an agreement to provide €800 million for clean energy projects in India.

The alcohol industry has presented their self-regulatory proposal on labelling, focusing on “flexibility” for wine, beer, spirits and cider. The number of calories contained in alcoholic beverages, however, will not be displayed.

Despite becoming a common sight on playgrounds around the world and even in the workplace, fidget spinners have been blacklisted by the EU and put on a list of dangerous products.

Look out for…

Strasbourg week and the European Parliament Plenary debate on the future of Europe with Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa.

Views are the author‘s

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