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The Sacrificial Lamb Edition

10 October 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?

Over the last 10 days or so, Brussels Bubble nerds and political geeks have had an Oktoberfest in the form of marathon hearings of hopeful Commissioners. The quinquennial event is (to the few interested) like watching the personal drama of the Oscars fused with the ruthless rules of the World Cup, all mixed with a bit of political theatrics. And the final episode has yet to be aired. Following the pre-season rejection of the Hungarian and Romanian candidates, their replacement cast has yet to appear and today the Goulard drama has been unfolding. Giving MEPs an additional 58 pages of questions and appearing for a second time in front of MEPs was not enough to save the French candidate who was rejected by a crushing 89-29 votes over concerns of her personal conduct and professional ambitions as commissioner.

Why it matters.

Initially, MEPs seemed to have settled their thirst for political offerings meaning that other candidates with questionable backgrounds, notably Polish Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR), Spain’s Joseph Borrell (S&D) and Belgian Didier Reynders (Renew), passed their exams. But with Goulard’s rejection, it appears the detente that had seized the Parliament could break and reignite the political powder keg. That brings both good and bad news: real accountability is still weak. However, delaying the process also brings risks as the tasks lying ahead are monumental: an economic recession is luring, a belligerent Turkey on the move, President Trump (no need to elaborate), Russian political interference continues and the Climate Crisis accelerating. Add to that fun list the fact that a no-deal Brexit could be the first thing on the new Commission’s desk, literally on day one. Delays, even justified ones, will be costly.

The takeaway

It is hard to blame MEPs or VDL for the messy state of things. Each Member State has the right to nominate a Commissioner meaning that there will inevitably be not only too many cooks but also a few sub-par ones in the mix. All have to be accepted or rejected as a team. A treaty change is needed to fix this, until then the bad student leeches on the good. The Commission President and MEPs must, therefore, balance the scales and decide if the pros outweigh the cons. It is the ugly face of compromise but one that has kept the EU intact hitherto. But, notably in this overstuffed Commission, the trio of VDL’s most powerful lieutenants, Timmermans, Vestager and Dombrovskis, sailed through their hearings on Tuesday and it would be foolish to underestimate their power in the coming five years: All three come out of the current Commission, know each other, understand the Brussels machine and will be able, and capable, in getting Member States to play along. One can only hope that the new Commission gets to work right away. The challenges are here and there are plenty of them.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

99

The percentage of articles on EP Today, a news site, copied directly from other sources with almost half (48%) copy-pasted directly from RT.com (formerly Russia Today), a publication with a strong Putin-esque tint in its coverage of world news. The revelation is particularly worrying as the website pretended to be a forum for MEPs to post articles on important topics of the day, but in reality, only 0.14% of articles had that origin. The site has 145.000 followers on Facebook according to EUvsDisinformation, the European External Action Service’s task force which tries to counter disinformation, particularly that stemming from Russia. Propaganda is as old as politics and citizens must be ever more vigilant with the news sources they trust these days.

1

The amount of in trillions of euros that should be put in the Commission’s proposed Sustainable Europe Investment Plan over the coming 10 years. An unknown part of these sums will be directed to the Just Transition Fund, set to be led by Frans Timmermans as part of the European Green Deal. The money should support those regions heavily affected in order to help them replace old jobs (like coal mining) with new (and hopefully better) jobs in the renewable energy sector for example. According to Timmermans, the funds may also help to refurbish homes, schools and other buildings so that citizens, companies and state coffers can lower their energy bills and move towards a cleaner future.

4

The number of countries participating in the new Migration Pact launched last month. The humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean has been ongoing for years. Despite the death count of thousands of people trying to cross the dangerous waters, no concerted European response has been mustered yet. Hopefully, the 4 front-running countries, France, Germany, Italy, and Malta will bring the beginning of a systematic effort to save lives first and foremost, but also a sustainable solution to mass migration which will only accelerate in the coming years as droves of climate migrants are expected to emerge.

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4. Quotes of the Week

“No, we have not resolved everything, we have not resolved anything at all”

Words of exasperation from the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli (S&D) after his visit to No. 10 Downing Street over the futility European lawmakers feel at the proposals presented by the UK government. Few on the EU side seem to take the UK approach seriously and Sasoli’s claim is supported, not only by all leading European leaders but also British newspaper The Guardian which got access to a thumping point-by-point rebuke of the UK’s proposal. After his talk with the Prime Minister, Sassoli, reportedly said he felt he was “in a TV talk show”, a thing the former TV journalist should know a thing or two about.

"My pledge is not to make Europe like China or like America. My pledge is to make Europe more like itself."

The powerful pitch presented by Competition Queen Margarethe Vestager on Tuesday as she made her case to MEPs for her confirmation as Executive Vice President in charge of digital policy. Competition lawyers had raised at least one eyebrow at the double hatted role Ms. Vestager is about to take on, given that she will now enforce competition policy while designing it too. That might have been a bit too legalistic for most MEPs who didn’t seem to mind the extra powers accorded to Vestager who smoothly aced her hearing.

“Che vergogna"

The sharp rebuttal from Frans Timmermans to an Italian Far-Right MEP attacking Greta Thunberg to which he rightly asked: “How weak do your arguments have to be if you have to resort to attacking a 16-year-old girl,?” Not only did Timmermans stand up for Greta in flawless Italian, but he added the mandatory ‘ma che vuoi’ hand gesture to show his sign of dismay while picking apart his political opponents' arguments to spontaneous applause from the packed room. Much to Swedish MEPs disappointment, however, Timmermans had not mastered their language by the end of the hearing. Who knows, maybe in five years' time.

5. Video of the Week

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