1. Story of the Week
This week the remaining cast members of the von der Leyen Commission were approved and the College of Commissioners was settled. Well almost. The Romanian candidate for Transportation Adina Valean sailed through her hearing in the European Parliament Transport Committee whilst Frenchman Thierry Breton (the EU's very own Rod Stewart) convinced MEPs for his portfolio of Internal Market and Defence. Hungarian Oliver Varhelyi, however, found an extra stumbling block in his Neighbourhood and Enlargement portfolio, no doubt driven by the fact that he is Viktor Orban's pick. Varhelyi was made to answer further questions after the hearing - in written form - an exam he seems to have aced having been approved shortly after. The only member state left without a Commissioner ready to start is the UK, who was taken to court for not nominating a Commissioner after being asked expressly to do so (for those that haven't been following, the UK is still a member state). The excuse? As the UK holds its general elections, its 'Purdah rules' pre-election sensitivity prevents them to do so.
Why it matters
The Commission can get going in December. Not quite. Even if the Commission takes office on 1 December, it will not be fully operational until spring. The delay has already hit Commission President von Der Leyen hard and the fact that she has kept a low profile since her nomination has more to do with her the unpopular way she was nominated than anything else. Despite that, she has already faced one major outcry due to the wording migration portfolio, a controversy that was quietly corrected this week. The elusive nature of VDL, the staggered and bumpy commissioner hearings process and now the UK legal challenge has pundits and think tanks speculating all over the place on what her Commission will focus on in the first 100 days and beyond. There is a serious risk at this point that others will define her Commission for her.
The fact that a Commission is needed to get things going at an EU level is a problem. In democratic systems around the world, it is the legislative that can start to legislate even if the executive can't get their act together in forming a government (Belgium has previously lived without a government for 589 days straight). The EU in this regard is grossly deficient. The European Parliament elected late May has active since the week after that, but, because there is no Commission, cannot get to the work of legislating because it is one of the few, if not only parliament in the world that does not have the right to initiate legislation. As mentioned in previous editions of Brussels Brief, the EU faces perhaps its most challenging and existential threat during the next five years. As such, the fact a democratic mandate from a tired people is being put to waste because member states could not get their act together poses one of the more pressing threats to the EU right now.
2. Tweets of the Week
3. Numbers of the Week
The number of bodies visitors and staff found playing dead on the floor of the European Parliament yesterday. The bodies were, in fact, protestors who demonstrated for urgent climate action as a human activity a Sixth Mass Extinction. The activists were met by Frans Timmermans who will be in charge of the European Green Deal and wanted to assure the concerned citizens that EU lawmakers are taking the threat seriously. However, the time is ripe for the EU to declare a climate emergency which would make it on of only five other countries to do so. A good first, albeit small, step was the announcement by the European Investment Bank that it will phase out fossil fuels investments from 2021.
The EU’s budget in billions of euros for 2020 which was agreed by the negotiators from the Parliament and Council this week. Lawmakers had called for increases in spending to fight youth unemployment and climate change which saw an increase of 500 million for climate action while the Youth Employment Initiative received 23.8€ million in extra funds. Some 64% of the EU’s budget goes back to the Member States, mainly in the form of agricultural subsidies and regional development projects. Budget negotiations, regardless of time and place, are always fraught and no less so in the EU where MEPs typically argue for higher spending while Member States (who have to foot the bill) are more reluctant. However, with a recession looming the time for bolder budgets is now. In this round of negotiations though, only one Commission DG managed to double its budget allocation and thereby gain absolutely nothing at the same time.
A quarter of a century which is how old the Eurostar train turned last week. The millennial train link has managed to serve over 200 million people in its modest life span but enters adulthood with Brexit on the horizon which could cause significant disruptions to the high rail which links London, Paris and Brussels. While Euros are still legal tender for purchasing tickets, save your collectors Brexit coins for now.
4. Quotes of the Week
“The EU will continue to use the multilateral trading system to enforce the rules when others violate them"
The fighting words of outgoing EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström against Colombia. The offence? Colombia had imposed anti-dumping on frozen fries, yes that type of fries, imported from Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. The EU has taken such offence that they have brought the dispute before the WTO to reduce the artery-clogging 8% tariff applied by the South American country on the delicious European savoury treat. Anyone up for a protest outside Maison Antoine?
‘Welcome to Europe. Now Go Home.
The title of The Atlantic journalist Rachel Donadio's expose of the Moria Refugee camp in Greece. The Camp on the Greek island of Lesbos houses over 13,000 people, despite it being built to house only 3,000, and most of these do not have access to running water and electricity. The conditions in the camp are also described in detail with accounts of hopeless children, despondent women, and idle men. The camp, according to the author, represents a banalisation of the refugee crisis which was at its apex in 2015 and has now become a routine of inhuman conditions and political gridlock.
"We must only use antibiotics when necessary
The practical advice from Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. As far as global threats go, one of the most dangerous and least explored is that of Anti-Microbial Resistance or AMR which could result in 10 million deaths per year and 100 trillion euro loss to the global economy by 2050. By then, the worst of the climate crisis might have hit us and a couple of nuclear wars may have diminished humanity, but if they don't, AMR could get to the rest of us if we do not use antibiotics responsibly.
5. Video of the Week