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The White Smoke Edition

4 June 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?

A triumph of technocracy, a Franco-German stitch-up, a level headed compromise. To those that have a longer memory, this is a familiar story when it comes to the horsetrading behind the EU top jobs. To others hoping for a stark shift in the EU’s direction, it was cold awakening. It all started on a plane trip from a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan on Sunday evening and ended up with the EU Council 28 ‘’announcing’’ the EU top jobs on Tuesday evening. What happened in between was a rollercoaster of emotion only paralleled by the mystique of the election of a Pope, meticulously speculated upon but smoke not included. The resulting package for the next five years: the new President of the Commission would be Ursula von der Leyen(EPP), current German defence Minister, accompanied by new President of the European Council, current (acting) Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel (ALDE). Occupying the European Central Bank Presidency in Frankfurt would be Christine Lagarde (Neutral), current French boss of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and current (also acting) Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell (S&D) would complete the slate as HRVP for Foreign Affairs. In a broad stroke of cynical tactics, the package was rumoured to include the European Parliament President (on which the EU leaders have no say) which was voted upon in the chamber of the same institution on Wednesday afternoon, going to Italian MEP David Sassoli(S&D).

Why it matters

The nomination of a relative unknown (one with a questionable background) politician to the EU’s most important job (around which all other jobs were decided) is none other than a technocratic spit in the face of the at least visibly democratic spitzenkandidat process. The campaigns which much of the EU was subjected to and whose candidates, although flawed, their programmes were available for scrutiny. The fact that none of these candidates got any top position is humiliating, to say the least. But like other things EU, an ugly principle is deodorised by other sweet details. For example, there is the fact that the 4-person slate is gender-balanced and provides the first woman Commission president in history. Also, the split of the jobs between the top 4 almost equally share the goodies between all top EU level parties. Furthermore, the fact that this package was accepted by the illiberal enfant terribles of the Visegrad Four, who were proving to be united in their difficulty during negotiations, is not a detail that should be underestimated. With all its major flaws and small virtues, von der Leyen will now have to put on a charm offensive on the European Parliament that needs to approve this leadership structure (other than Charles Michel who does not need to be approved by the EP) and there are already signals of discontent from various members of the institution.

The takeaway

There is a bitter taste in the mouth of European-minded democrats this week as the old intergovernmental (see anti-democratic) phantoms of the EU are being kept alive. The stinky cronyism on show in the current slate is a clear result of the fusion of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (von der Leyen) and French President Macron who managed to get a French presence at the helm of the Eurozone (Lagarde) as well as his close friend Charles Michel running the Council. The fact also that none of the leaders come from anywhere ‘east of Hanover’ shows that the EU is fixated on Western Europe and founding members (France, Germany, Benelux, Italy). But perhaps the most insidious element to those of us that have been advocating for female leadership at the top of the EU is the blatant genderwashing of otherwise unsavoury picks. There is something called the glass cliff where women are given top jobs only in impossible circumstances when no man is either willing or able to handle it. Their likely failure at this impossible task then justifies the future lack of women in top jobs. Time will tell whether this is one of those situations. The crude reality is that however disappointing, this deal really probably is the best of all possible worlds which says more about the EU than anything else. The fact that the EU28 took this long to get a consensus on such a disappointing package exposed to the world the inherent weaknesses in the Union (once thought overcome by unity in the face of Brexit). What’s more despairing is that this injury to the image of the EU is a reflection of the idea of a liberal West being handicapped by compromise with illiberal forces. This is a wakeup call to all within the EU to reform or die an unspectacular death. Grow some teeth or risk being gobbled up by illiberal forces running amok from outside and within.

2. Tweets of the Week

As far as burns go…fourth degree…

Brits have an aversion for Ludwig Van since Clockwork Orange…

3. Numbers of the Week


The number of European Parliament Vice Presidents. After the election of the European Parliament President, David Sassoli (S&D-Italy), the EP went on to vote on who will take the numerous number 2 positions. First Vice President went to Mairead McGuiness (EPP-Ireland) one of four vice-presidencies won by her party for the next 2.5 years. There will also be three S&D vice presidents followed by two Green/EFA and two from Renew Europe. GUE/NGL got one vice president whilst non-attached David Castaldo got his own amongst the big parties.


The list of dumb things that new MEPs can do in the new term according to Marton Kovacs, the author of “How to Run the European Parliament”. As MEPs new and old scurry into their Brussels and Strasbourg seats, they risk losing perspective and falling into common traps such as not paying attention to lobbyists, wasting money, and, being boring or bored or both. Perhaps the most prescient of warnings is to beware the risk of relentless armies of yes (wo)men that MEPs are surrounded with meaning that they do not see their own shortcomings, leaving it to European and national press to show them some cold hard truths about their mandate.


The percentage of female MEPs in the new European Parliament legislature. The official opening of the 5-year term took place in Strasbourg this week with usual pomp, circumstance, and selfies. Perhaps not so usual is the elevated presence of females who have been gaining in the polls as issues concerning women are gaining prominence. The contrast, however, between this younger female presence, as evidenced by 21-year-old Kira Hansen is contrasted by the older male presence of MEPs perfectly embodied by Silvio Berlusconi, who aside from his problematic issues on gender relations, is 82 years old. For information on gender issues in the EP check out MeToo EP for their good work and for more on gender equality more generally around the Brussels bubble, check out Brussels Binderwhose mission is to achieve gender-equal debate panels in all areas.

A Message From Our Partners

The EFF — European Future Forum held its first general assembly at the European Parliament in Brussels, bringing together a large variety of NGOs and civil society organisations to share their projects with each other, workshop new initiatives and improve their communication skills and methodologies.

The EFF is the first European communication and project development network. It is open to any organisation and individual. For more information, visit their website.

4. Quotes of the Week

“Sleep-deprived leaders can accept anything”

The alleged words of a sherpa in the European Council (sleep-deprived themselves) in the early hours of Monday morning. His or her words seem to have been prescient for the package agreed upon by the EU 28 which was accepted by everyone but pleases very few. The EU leaders spent all night negotiating until calling a recess until 11 am on Wednesday morning when they went for another marathon session until the announcement of the nominations which makes it the longest European Council summit ever.

“Solving the climate crisis could be Europe’s next heroic act”

The words of Finnish Prime Minister Antii Rinne as his country embarks to take over the rotating Council Presidency. In a blog post on the Finnish Presidency’s website, the PM set out tackling climate change as the main priority of his country’ presidency which started on 1 July and will end on 31 December 2019. He is firmly on the ‘Greta train’ by referring to the demands made by young people in the Climate School strike in this regard as the absolute priority. Expect a utopian Lord of the Flies running the Council until the end of the year and perhaps a renewed push for the climate neutrality by 2050 which was recently rejected by some EU Member States.

“Inhumane, unacceptable and probably against every single constitution [European governments] claim to represent”

The rebuke from German boat captain Carola Rackete on how migrants rescued in the Mediterranean are treated. She has been on the receiving end of harsh treatment herself after she was arrested for docking her ship Sea Watch 3 with a total of 40 migrants she had rescued at the port of Lampedusa, Italy disobeying orders not to do so. After being held in custody by Italian authorities, she was released after an Italian court cleared her of any wrongdoing but she could still be pursued on other charges, not least the political ire she has sparked in Italy’s anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

5. Video of the Week

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