Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel
Last plenary session Group leaders patted themselves on the back for mustering a two-thirds majority behind a resolution calling for an ambitious recovery plan that even had the backing of the nationalist ECR group. This week they opted in favour of a letter addressed directly to EU leaders, meeting remotely once again, to hammer home the point that if elected MEPs from all their governing parties could agree, then so could they. The leaders of the big four groups -EPP, Socialist, Renew and Greens – plus the far-left GUE this time, warned that they would only give their consent to the next MFF if a basket of new own resources was agreed. And they left no doubt who was footing the bill: “ The money must be found in the pockets of big tech, big polluters, and tax dodgers.” The Socialists didn’t stop there and listed a whopping nine new sources of income, including a Single Market levy, a corporate income tax based on CCCTB and a tax on the most wealthy. Europe will certainly become an expensive place to do business!
The letter to EU leaders warns that MEPs won’t be fobbed off with promise of future proposals or High-level working groups. They expect the first new taxes to be up and running in 2021 and a commitment to binding legal provisions and timeline for the others in the course of the next MFF. And just in case the message that tax really matters hadn’t got through, a new permanent tax sub-committee was set up to make sure tax dodgers don’t sleep well at night.
The threat of a parliamentary veto is always a blunt instrument to wield and it wasn’t just the MFF that was in the firing line. MEPs have played a side role throughout the whole Brexit saga, reduced to giving unwavering support to Michel Barnier, and demanding no surrender to British cherry-picking. This week’s resolution was no different and MEPs warned that their consent to a future trade deal would be withheld if the EU’s standards or single market were weakened. The new point man is David McAllister, a German Scot and confidante of Angela Merkel. A more contrasting character to Guy Verhofstadt you could not find. The “Hof” is still waiting patiently in the wings for his next gig, which was to be chair of the Conference on the Future of Europe. In a debate this week Parliament again urged the Member States to get on with it and agree on a structure and there is some optimism that the whole show may get on the road eventually in the autumn under the German presidency. Whether Verhofstadt will chair it is another matter, with his opponents claiming that the conclusions might as well already be written if this ardent federalist is at the helm. Treaty revision or just a tidying up exercise will be one of the key issues to resolve.
Signs of what issues will pre-occupy MEPs over the coming months were apparent in the host of new special committees set up this week. The EPP finally got the Cancer committee they have been campaigning for well before the elections and other committees will look into AI, disinformation and animal transport. The top jobs will be shared out between the political groups and there’s nothing like a Chairman’s title to pacify restless MEPs, who like the rest of us have maybe had one Zoom meeting too many.