Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel
MEPs are at risk of crying wolf once too often over their threats to reject a recovery deal that doesn’t meet their demands. First it was own resources and a whole shopping list of new revenue cunningly disguised as taxes. Then it was threats over any attempt to cut back the long-term budget in favour of the recovery fund, a risk also pointed out by Ursula von der Leyen in plenary. The latest nuclear option is to reject any deal that appears to go soft on making funding dependent on respect of rule-of-law principles. MEPs fear that Hungarian and Polish vetoes hanging over a budget deal will push the rule-of-law mechanism into the long grass. It was therefore no surprise that Angela Merkel devoted much of her plenary speech talking up the importance of Europe’s core values and how hard it had been for her, deprived for half her life of basic freedoms, to have to restrict citizen’s basic rights. She warned however that a pandemic should never be used as a pretext to erode democratic principles. Who on earth could that have been addressed to?
Angela Merkel is not one for gushing rhetoric or massaging egos, yet her choice of the Brussels plenary for her first trip abroad was carefully chosen. “In times like these, when the EU wants to survive this crisis strengthened, the European Parliament is needed”. Quite why it was needed was reflected in her desire to get a deal before the summer break: “this will require a great deal of compromise from all sides, including you”. Read that as a diplomatic way of saying don’t even think about rejecting a deal which has taken EU leaders months to thrash out.
Somewhat lower down Merkel’s to-do list were relations with the UK and while she hoped against hope that a good deal would emerge, she warned that they should be ready for a no deal scenario. The new intense face to face negotiations seem to have delivered as little progress as before and Barnier’s command of English is really being stretched as he tries to find a new way of saying we’re still miles/kilometres apart. Merkel also warned Members not to get too excited about the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is due to start under her tenure. She advised that it should focus on just a few key issues in order to deliver tangible results. No mention then of Treaty changes or whole new areas of competence.
The plenary returns to Strasbourg in September, no doubt to the relief of the owners of Au Crocodile and Chez Yvonne.
Stay safe and happy holidays,