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April 18, 2018

What Macron did not say in Strasbourg

It was grand oratory Emmanuel Macron delivered in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He advocated a Europe of ambition, sovereignty, and resolute democracy, in the face of rising authoritarianism. Not an authoritarian democracy, but the authority of democracy, is the best defence against the illiberal, he said. He was warning that there was a sort of European civil war brewing and a constantly growing fascination with the illiberal. The enemy is defined. But what about the response?

This call for a strong Europe hides more than it reveals. What does European sovereignty mean, concretely? And how can we agree on more Europe amid our disagreements? There are huge discrepancies among EU countries, and across party lines, and Macron's speech is unlikely to change this. In a way, Macron himself acknowledged it: Instead of confronting the Germans and their reluctance on the eurozone reform agenda, he raises the white flag. At least that is the reading in Handelsblatt and FAZ. In his discourse he merely noted that there was a need for urgent eurozone reforms, and that France is ready to increase its contribution to the EU budget. 

Also, this with-us-or-against-us speech has its own risks. Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP group, warned not to divide the Europeans into good and bad. All are Europeans are to be respected in all the member states. Mediapart cites a French conservative MEP and a senator complaining that the speech shied away from asking the question of what sort of Europe we want, and papered over the differences and fractures that threaten to tear the Union apart. The left MEPs, meanwhile, wondered how Macron's liberal European ambition sits with his own authoritarian management style at home.

On the sensitive subject of immigration, Macron proposed setting up an EU fund to help communities that agree to welcome refugees. Expect member states to haggle over the details if the fund were to become reality. He also renewed his push for an EU carbon tax designed to fight climate change, and proposed a new levy on the digital economy to help finance the EU budget once Britain has left the bloc. 

The ambitious Macron takes Europe on a inspirational journey to find a sense of determination and common purpose. Though, even if Jean-Claude Juncker is cheering that France is back, we have yet to see that Macron can take others along with him. We already seem to accept that Germany is reluctant on eurozone reforms. The other challenge for Macron will be forming his own group attracting MEPs from other groups in the European parliament.

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April 18, 2018

Should we worry about Selmayrgate?

We noted that Jean Quatremer, one of the most experienced journalists in Brussels, is hunting Jean-Claude Juncker in the way he hunted down another Commission president from Luxemburg in the 1990s. Jacques Santer was forced out over the way he handled a scandal surrounding his French commissioner. Could this be happening again, this time over a botched political promotion? Quatremer writes in Libération that Juncker is hanging by a thin thread. The affair concerns the promotion of Martin Selmayr, Juncker's former chief of staff, to the top job in the European Commission's civil service.

The European Parliament's budgetary control committee yesterday passed a carefully-worded resolution that criticised the two-step promotion of Selmayr in sharp tones. He was first given the job of deputy chief, before being promoted to the top job within minutes of his first appointment. This was done to circumvent legal obstacles that would have prevented Selmayr from getting the job. The committee found strong words, by acknowledging that the promotion could be construed as a putsch. And, while the committee sees no legal way to remove Selmayr, it asks Juncker to reevaluate his position. The plenary of the EP is due to vote on the resolution today.

We noted a comment by Franklin Dehousse, a former justice of the ECJ and one of the smartest legal brains in the EU. He said the appointment of Selmayr contains five legal infringements: two simultaneous appointments; no external candidates; no reasons given why this process was short-circuited; the lack of a transparent procedure; and lack of information to the other Commissioners. The following is his devastating conclusion, which we share both in terms of what it predicts and what it says about the current state of the EU:

"Most probably, Juncker and the commissioners won’t have the lucidity to correct the mistake. The Parliament will establish some irregularities, but won’t be able to draw the logical conclusions. This episode will come back recurrently during the populist campaign against the EU institutions in 2019. And later it will still be used to weaken the Commission. 2019 will sadly be far from the end of this story. With friends like these, Europe doesn’t need enemies."

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