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The Brief – EU rentr?e blues

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It is a bit slow around Schuman these days, isn’t it? Yet the clock on this European Commission has already started ticking.

The EU summer break also felt longer than usual this year. Walking around the EU’s centre of power in Brussels this week, the author of this Brief couldn’t help noticing the absence of the usual back-to-school buzz of previous years (minus the COVID-19 times, obviously).

For EU foreign policy wonks, the political season already started last week with the informal foreign and defence ministers’ meetings in Toledo, but even there, most scribes, EU officials and diplomats were mostly reminiscing about the relative calm under the scorching Spanish sun.

The steadily escalating sense of foreboding of a laborious and difficult year – until we see the new European Commission sworn in, more or less a year from now – might soon hit the still sleepy Brussels policy crowd like a ton of bricks.

The road there is paved with good (or bad) intentions and an uncertain geopolitical setting.

The fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine is expected to dominate the next few months as Kyiv moves ahead with its counter-offensive and slowly but steadily seems to be retaking ground.

It’s a long blue-yellow to-do-list:

From expected wrangling over the EUR20 billion war fund proposal to provide Kyiv with long-term military support, and work on another sanctions package against Russia to curb circumvention, to the delayed and much anticipated European Commission proposal on how to grab and utilise Russian frozen assets, and the ongoing, contentious dispute over tariff-free imports of Ukrainian grain.

Still, when it comes to the mother of all EU political sparring matches, expect the issue of enlargement to eclipse them all.

With its regular annual enlargement progress reports due in October, the Commission boldly announced it would come up with “substantial proposals” for the way ahead – a rhetoric we haven’t heard in years. The question of how and when to enlarge could prove to be the main battle for Europe’s soul this year.

Add to that a good chunk of twilight days for the Green Deal, anticipation of whether our energy luck will extend to this winter and a last-minute scramble to potentially cement the bloc’s first-ever collective migration management system into stone.

Plus, of course, the ‘small’ issue of how to pay for it all.

The European Commission proposed before the summer a top-up of EUR66 billion to the bloc’s seven-year-budget, including EUR17 billion in grants for Ukraine, EUR15 billion for migration management, EUR10 billion to finance strategic technologies and EUR18.9 billion for COVID-19 recovery fund debt.

The EU’s to-do list makes for quite an explosive mix before Europeans head to the polls to choose the next set of EU lawmakers next June.

Although the European political parties probably won’t kick off election campaigning before next spring, the first cracks have already appeared, with the European Commission starting to crumble and losing some of its top brass very early.

For those Commissioners who don’t expect another term, but also for those who do, this year is about the big ‘L’ – legacy.

The Roundup

The number of migrants lodging asylum applications in the EU has jumped 28% in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, official figures released Tuesday showed.

The Economic Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voiced concerns over the digital euro, including costs for banks and its use by EU citizens, during questions posed to European Central Bank Executive Fabio Panetta on Monday.

The massive development of intermittent renewable energies is set to dramatically increase the need for flexibility in the electricity grid, and market players want increased focus on demand management as a source of grid optimisation.

Energy Transition Minister Agn?s Pannier-Runacher said she was “confident” that France’s requirements under the EU electricity market reform will be met, just weeks before formal negotiations are due to resume following the collapse of talks at the end of June.

The German government appears to have dropped a much-debated idea of cutting diesel subsidies for farmers for now, but the question of what climate-friendly alternatives there are for tractors and other agricultural machinery remains.

The German agriculture ministry is considering starting talks with Brussels on partially exempting grassland farms from rules on fertiliser use, three months after the European Commission closed its nitrate pollution case against Berlin.

The registration of new cars with internal combustion engines running on e-fuels should be allowed after 2035, even if the fuels are not 100% climate neutral, German transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP/Renew Europe) said at an e-fuels conference on Monday.

The European Commission has hinted it might review the high protection status of wolves on the back of increasing tension around the predator in rural areas, but the move has been slammed by environmentalists as a political pandering ahead of upcoming elections.

Iliana Ivanova, Bulgaria’s commissioner-designate for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, successfully sailed through an almost three-hour European Parliament hearing on Tuesday, winning applause from MEPs.

US tech giant Apple, which decided to halt the development of a photo-scanning tool to detect child sexual abuse material last December, has now offered data privacy concerns as the main reason behind the decision.

Last but not least, check out this week’s Transport Brief: Will the promise of CO2-neutral e-fuels hold?

Look out for…

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni receives Nadia Calvi?o, Spain’s deputy prime minister and minister for economic affairs and digital transformation, on Wednesday.
Enlargement Commissioner Oliv?r V?rhelyi visits Turkey.
Commission Vice-President Maro? ?ef?ovi? has online meetings with CEOs of energy-intensive industries.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Benjamin Fox]



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