February 11, 2018
From the Initiative: On the 15th and 16th of February our annual conference “A New Contract: Reconnecting the EU and its Citizens” takes place in London. Make sure to register now for our public events, bringing together MEPs, academics and experts, among others former Vice President of the European Commission Joaquin Almunia, with young Europeans to discuss our future. Register here!
This week we discuss the finalisation of the ‘Groko’ in Germany, the rejection of transnational lists by the European Parliament and the renewed struggle over the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ procedure.
Reforms and Conservatism: From Spitzenkandidaten to Transnational Lists
Finally … A ‘Groko’? After months of negotiations it seems Merkel managed to create a new government. On Wednesday, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Martin Schulz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) announced they have reached a coalition agreement. The deal, however, will only stand if a majority of the Social Democrat’s party members backs the deal in a vote that will likely take until March to complete. Besides this caveat, reactions in Germany were generally mixed: nobody is jubilant and scepticism prevails.
Although it is very good news for Europe that Germany has a government, the new coalition thus faces a lot of pressure from the start. The Christian democrats paid a high price for the participation of the Social Democrats, who managed to secure the extremely important Finance ministry, as well as the high profile Foreign Affairs ministry. Merkel was quickly accused form within her own party for giving the SPD the better deal. The Social Democrats had their own issues: Martin Schulz planned to become Foreign Minister, but this idea collapsed quickly. Sigmar Gabriel, the current SPD foreign Minister, lashed out against the party leadership, which led Schulz no other choice than to abandon his ambitions. He is in dire need to contain criticism from within his own ranks, especially since the SPD’s Youth Party called the renewed cooperation with Merkel a ‘Suicide pact’ and has vowed to oppose it.
No transnational lists… for now: This week the European Parliament agreed how to reshuffle its seats after the British have left the European Union. Underrepresented states will see their seat number increased; with in total 27 seats to distribute. Moreover, the total number of seats will be brought down from 751 to 705. Perhaps surprisingly, the European Parliament voted down a proposal that aimed, rather than reducing the number of seats, to create ‘transnational lists’. Many argued this initiative would strengthen European Democracy – the plan was also at the top of Macron’s European reform list. Ultimately, however, the plan was opposed on the grounds that it would lead to a further distancing between MEP’s and their constituents and it would favour bigger states at the expense of smaller ones. For now the argument seems settled, but Macron has vowed to continue the struggle for transnational lists.
And… Struggle over ‘Spitzenkandidaten’: Ironically enough, the very same Macron strongly opposes the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ procedure that was introduced during the last general elections of the European Parliament. The Parliament robbed the European Council of the initiative to put forward a president of the Commission, by insisting it would only appoint the leader of the winning party. Many member states have expressed their discontent, because their leaders want to decide who will lead the commission. A clash between the European Council and the European Parliament seems imminent. Nevertheless, in the end both sides have a say in the appointment of the new president of the Commission, so a compromise of some sorts will have to be made.
Europe’s Week in Links
- European Youth: Whereas issues such as immigration and common defence policies dominate the European debate, the newly released Youth Eurobarometer shows that young people thinkg the EU shoud take action in areas such as education, employment, health and environment. Perhaps it’s time for a new European narrative?
- Brexit: The UK government is finally confronting the real choices that have to be made. Amidst warnings of Barnier that Irish border checks will become “unavoidable” if the UK leaves the single market, May has gathered her War cabinet to set out a common position on Brexit. For now, however, UK leadership remains decisively divided over the issue.
- Exit summertime? The European parliament has voted to abolish the ‘Daylight Savings Time’ arrangement, a measure introduced in 1976 to save energy, but is nowadays considered to have a negative impact on human health.