The week in Brussels by Elaine Cruikshanks: Summer Dreamin'


Europe uses its annual break to ponder its future

Brussels has been strangely quiet for the last few weeks. Those still around have been tying up loose ends and getting ready for the “rentrée” in September when institutional business re-starts.

The biggest talking point has of course been Brexit. The phony war continues as Brussels awaits PM Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50. The PM pronounced no triggering before 2017 and that controls on immigration is key following a cabinet meeting on 31 August.

Meanwhile, Michel Barnier has been appointed as the Commission’s Chief Negotiator. This has been received well in Brussels, but badly in the UK due to Barnier’s history with London’s finance sector. The Council has appointed Didier Seeuws, a former Belgian diplomat and counsellor to Herman Van Rompuy, as their main representative for Brexit. It remains to be seen which of the two will lead on negotiations.

European leaders have also begun to plan ahead for what a post-Brexit EU might look like. Meeting with Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande in Ventotene, Italy, the Italian PM Matteo Renzi struck an optimistic note: “many thought the EU was finished after Brexit, but that is not how it is.” The leaders stressed that Europe would look to become more united, combatting any further fragmentation or division. This was followed by Ms Merkel touring other European capitals to garner views.

Elsewhere, Portugal and Spain have been let off the hook for recent breaches of the EU’s fiscal rules. The Commission recognised that a “punitive approach would not be the right one at a time when people doubt in Europe.” Perhaps this shows a sign of Brussels moving away from an austerity-driven approach?

A long-running saga on the pesticide glyphosate (Round-Up) saw restrictions on usage coming into force across the EU on 22 August. This will not only displease manufacturers but also many farmers. The precautionary principle continues to reign!

Looking ahead, Jean-Claude Juncker will give his State of the Union speech on 14 September and heads of states and governments excluding the UK will meet to discuss the post-Brexit future of the EU in Bratislava on 16 September.  As ever, summer is for dreamin’ while autumn is “back to school.” Will the EU do better? 


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