Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,
Hot tip of the week – buy shares in Manitobah Mukluks quick! What, you’ve never heard of them? That’s because the EU has been slapping a whopping 17% tariff on these indigenously-sourced Canadian winter boots.

Now thanks to CETA – and a personal endorsement from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – these boots are about to hit the European market. This was just one example that Trudeau used to stress that CETA needed to work for everyone if it was going to become the blueprint for future trade deals. Fail and it could be the last.  Given the placard-waving demonstrations the day before, when Parliament gave its consent by a comfortable majority, you might have thought he was in for a rough ride. But this is Justin Trudeau we’re talking about, and although Federica Mogherini and Cecilia Malmström, who had bagged front row seats, were not quite as doey-eyed as Ivanka Trump in his presence, his charm and warmth worked their magic. Imagine his southernmost neighbour coming to Strasbourg and saying that an effective European voice on the global stage “isn’t just preferable-it’s essential”. In a world where the EU feels its very existence is under threat, these are very comforting words. Not everyone was star-struck of course but Green co-president Phillippe Lamberts ended up sounding rather petty in complaining that he had rejected the idea of a debate with group leaders after the address: “So Mr Nice Guy doesn’t accept to speak to MEPs who may choose to disagree or contradict him”. His whinge might have carried more conviction if his co-president, Ska Keller, hadn’t been one of the gaggle of MEPs desperate to get a photo. He may also have been piqued at the fact the visit rather over-shadowed the address by the new, Green Austrian President, Alexander Van der Bellen. In an impassioned speech on Tuesday, he pointed out that it was possible to win elections while still being in favour of the EU.

Delivering CETA was heralded as proof that the newly formed platform between the EPP and Liberals was working and delivering pro-European majorities. Manfred Weber and Guy Verhofstadt opted to hold a joint press conference to make the point, stressing that they were more interested in delivering results than playing silly ideological games like the Socialists. Weber predicted the left would soon come to its senses when it needed a majority for its pet projects. Both leaders welcomed the series of initiatives being voted through this week to influence the vision for the future of Europe that the EU27 will set out at the Rome celebrations at the end of March. National leaders may not be so bold as to recommend turning the Council into a second legislative chamber, reducing the number of Commissioners, setting up a permanent Council of Defence Ministers or creating a budget for the euro-area. Verhofstadt though is not one to be put off easily and he advocated the model used by Mario Monti in his report on EU own-resources. This involved three representatives from each of the three EU institutions working towards adopting a single document. This positive agenda, he argued, would parallel the more sombre process of disentangling the UK from its European commitments. And to demonstrate just how cosy this new EPP/ALDE relationship is becoming, Verhofstadt said he would not be chairing the Liberal group meeting that evening as he would be a guest of the EPP to hear their views on the Brexit resolution to be adopted in March or April.

One recommendation that the heads of state are likely to ignore once again is the call for any future Treaty revision to adopt a single seat for the Parliament. However the French may have scored a spectacular own goal on this one by the decision to take the parliament to court for signing the 2017 budget in Brussels rather than Strasbourg, as stipulated in the Treaties. With this they managed to alienate even their most ardent supporters, with Jean Arthuis, the French chair of the Budget Committee calling the move “pathetic and derisory”.

Amitiés,
 
Richard

Author

Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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