Climate ambitions of Flanders and the European Green Deal
On 21 June, in an interview on Flemish news television VRT, First Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, called on Flanders to be more ambitious in the fight against climate neutrality. However, he also said, he was optimistic that Flanders would do its part being a wealthy region, which already has industrial pioneers on board for the European objectives. But what exactly are the Flemish climate objectives, and how are they aligned with the EU plans?
Greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 35%
The Flemish climate policy plan sets out the guidelines for the climate policy for the period 2021-2030. In line with the objective imposed by the EU for Belgium, the plan puts forward the objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Flanders by 35% by 2030 compared to 2005. However, the EU is setting this goal at a reduction level of 50-55% by 2030. The required effort is identified per sector and, where necessary, the greenhouse gas reduction target is converted into sub-targets. In addition, the plan also contains the main measures required to achieve this objective and puts Flanders on the path towards a low-carbon future.
Another priority for Flanders is to increase energy efficiency for all sectors. The three largest energy consumption sectors in Flanders are industry, residential and transport sectors. In addition to improving energy efficiency, simultaneous efforts must be made to achieve the strong development of renewable energy. Energy services and technologies will be digitally controlled and intelligently linked. However, this is a huge challenge for Flanders. In the period 2005-2018, emissions decreased by only 5%. The Flemish Government, therefore, intends to focus more on increasing innovation, the persistence of circular economy, parallel federal policies and additional EU instruments (legislative and financial).
Transforming buildings will also play an important role in increasing the energy efficiency in densely populated Flanders. The climate policy plan encourages the renovation of residential buildings, rebuilding after demolition and making the heating installation more sustainable. This is in line with the EU’s ‘Renovation Wave’ initiative, part of the European Green Deal, with the goal to double the annual renovation rate of the existing building stock. The European Commission will publish communication on this in September 2020.
How can Dr2 Consultants advise you
The EU’s ambition is to lead the way towards a more sustainable future. Contrary to the fear that the COVID-19 pandemic would jeopardize the green agenda for the coming years, the Commission has shown its commitment to accelerate the green transition during the recovery phase. This green transition will pose challenges but will also provide opportunities to businesses, like front runners who can introduce their new and innovative approaches in Flanders. With the Dr2 Consultants’ European Green Deal Impact Scan, we will provide you with a comprehensive analysis of how the European Green Deal will affect your business, identifying the opportunities and challenges and highlighting moments to positively influence the policies and legislation. In addition, we are able to provide you with high-end intelligence on the developments in Flanders that allows for a comprehensive overview of relevant files for your business.
While the COVID-19 crisis has seen unprecedented challenges for the European transport sector, it also demonstrated the crucial role transport plays to ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods and services across Europe. Although the recovery of the sector is of vital importance of Europe’s economy, the recovery from the crisis also provides a momentum for the industry to act on the ambition of decarbonization and reaching climate neutrality by 2050. As put forward in the Commission’s EU Recovery Plan, the COVID-19 recovery phase should be used to pave the way towards not only a resilient and reliable transport sector, but also a sustainable one that is at the heart of the European Green Deal.
Following the publication of the Commission’s plan for recovery – dubbed as ‘Next Generation EU’ – as well as its updated Work Program for 2020, we have a clearer picture how the greening of the sector will unfold in the coming years. Dr2 Consultants’ transport team presents four take-aways for sustainable transport that will dominate the EU’s policy agenda in the years to come.
1. Alternative fuels, sustainable vehicles
Alternative fuels are a key priority for the Commission to cut emissions and create jobs. The EU’s executive arm aims to accelerate the production of low-emission fuels and the deployment of sustainable vehicles and vessels. In order to finance this, public investment should come with a commitment from the industry to invest in cleaner and more sustainable mobility.
The roadmaps for the further deployment of different fuel types are expected to be part of the highly-anticipated FuelEU proposals – to be published later this year – that will aim at increasing the use of alternative fuels in the maritime and aviation sector. Furthermore, in early 2021, the Commission will put forward the revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, which will ensure the development of the necessary infrastructure across Member States to stimulate the uptake of sustainable fuels for all transport modes.
2. The convergence of the energy and mobility systems
In order to decarbonize the transport sector, no stone is currently left unturned. Although electrification seems to be the most viable option on the short term, hydrogen is dubbed as the energy source for the future. The Commission’s flagship instrument for research and innovation, Horizon Europe, will be instrumental to kick-start the clean hydrogen revolution. The Commission has increased its budget in the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) with €13.5 billion, bringing Horizon Europe’s new budget to a total of €94.4 billion.
Later this month, the Commission will launch the Clean Hydrogen Alliance to stimulate the upscaling of clean hydrogen production in Europe. Also, the work of the European Battery Alliance will be accelerated. On 24 June, the Hydrogen Strategy is expected to be published.
3. Cities at the heart of sustainable mobility
With over 70% of EU citizens currently living in urban areas, achieving sustainability in cities across Europe is one of the main challenges of the recovery period. As a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis, noise pollution and air quality figures have dropped to an unprecedented level. Moreover, cities reinvented the way citizens move around, e.g. by giving priorities to pedestrians, introducing speed limits for vehicles and implementing new cycling lanes. The shift towards smart and more livable cities, therefore, places a big responsibility on the transport sector.
The Commission aims to increase the support for zero and low-emission mobility in cities by investing significantly in clean urban mobility. Funding calls in the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and InvestEU programs will focus on clean fleet renewals by cities, the deployment of charging points and mobility-as-a-service solutions.
4. Taxation, anyone?
In the Next Generation EU, the Commission proposes to generate additional own resources by new taxes. Although the Commission still must draw up the specifics, it floated the option of extending the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to the maritime sector, thereby raising up to €10 billion annually that will feed into the EU’s budget. In addition, the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism is likely to be introduced, putting a carbon levy on non-EU imports.
Raising these kinds of ‘European’ taxes is unprecedented. As Member States have diverging views on this matter, it remains to be seen whether we can expect a breakthrough on these new own resources any time soon.
The Commission aims to have the new MFF and recovery fund operational by 1 January 2021. EU leaders are expected to start the negotiations on the budget proposal during the European Council Summit on 19 June and will have multiple rounds of very difficult talks until a compromise is made. This ultimately means that the budget as proposed now for transport-related funding instruments can still change. The budget negotiations are expected to accelerate when Germany takes over the rotating six-months Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July 2020.
Next Generation EU will raise money by temporarily lifting the European Commission’s own resources ceiling to 2.00% of EU Gross National Income, allowing the Commission to use its strong credit rating to borrow €750 billion on the financial markets. To help do this in a fair and shared way, the Commission proposes a number of new own resources among which extension of the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) to include maritime and aviation sectors, a carbon border adjustment mechanism, a digital tax and a tax on large enterprises.
Finally, the Commission has published an update of its 2020 Work Program, which will prioritize the actions needed to propel Europe’s recovery and resilience.
The future is digital
The outbreak of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digitization across all areas of the economy and society. New technologies have helped businesses and public services to keep functioning and have made sure that international trade could continue. It is expected that, in the long run, the pandemic will have triggered permanent social and economic changes: more remote working, e-learning, e-commerce, e-government. It has, therefore, become imperative for businesses and governments to invest in digitalization.
The twin transitions to a green and digital Europe remain the defining challenges of this generation. This is reflected throughout the Commission’s proposals, which stress that investing in digital infrastructure and skills will help boost competitiveness and technological sovereignty.
Implications for the digital sector
A new instrument, the Solvency Support instrument would be primarily aimed at countries hit hardest by the crisis and unable to provide state aid to their most vulnerable sectors. The distribution of this ‘immediate and temporary’ tool will also aim to prioritize green investment according to the Commission. While welcomed by poorer countries the instrument might not have the desired effect unless agreed upon and deployed quickly by the Member States.
The Strategic Investment Facility will be used to promote the green and digital transitions by investing in 5G, artificial intelligence, the industrial internet of things, low CO2 emission industry and cybersecurity. Since such investments might become significantly riskier in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Commission stands behind a common European approach to provide the crucial long-term investments for companies implementing projects of strategic importance. The Strategic Investment Facility will take a more forward-looking approach by focusing on ‘projects relevant for achieving strategic autonomy in key value chains in the single market.
The Digital Europe Programme will be used for the development of EU-wide electronic identities and for the building of strategic data capabilities, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, secured communication, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, supercomputers, quantum and blockchain. The Commission has managed to withstand the significant pressure from Member States to reduce the funding of the Programme and the digital transition remains one of its key priorities.
In terms of financial inputs, the digital sector would be affected by two of the newly proposed taxes, aimed at funding the Commission’s so called ‘own resources’ used to repay the recovery package. The new digital tax would come into play at EU level if no global solution could be reached at OECD level. If the tax is applied to companies with an annual turnover higher than €750 million, it could generate up to €1.3 billion per year for the EU budget. The other relevant provision is the new corporate revenue tax, which if applied according to the same principle as the digital tax at a rate of 0.1 percent could generate up to €10 billion annually.
The Commission tried to introduce a European digital tax last year but its proposal was blocked by several Member States. The chance of such a proposal being accepted at this date appear slim as unanimity is required and Ireland, amongst others, has been adamantly against it. However, with the departure of the UK who had previously provided strong backing for Ireland’s opposition, some form of digital taxation being accepted remains a possibility. The new corporate tax was also previously unsuccessfully introduced by the Commission in 2016 and would be aimed at ‘companies that draw huge benefits from the EU single market and will survive the crisis.’ The chances of the proposal being accepted are also relatively low with countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands strongly opposing it. The proposal might also provoke a ‘race to the bottom’ phenomenon where companies relocate to countries willing to provide them with the most favorable business conditions. While both taxes are facing strong opposition from some Member States, the alternative of increased national contributions might convince leaders that accepting a form of these levies would be the more politically savvy option.
In conclusion, the new EU budget proposal creates new opportunities and challenges for the digital sector with the potential application of new pan-European taxes but also with additional funding devoted to digitalization, increased connectivity and sustainable value chains. The Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the increasing importance of digitalisation for the daily functioning of the economy and the Commission’s proposal reflects that through a series of digital political priorities. Increased connectivity, investment in strategic digital capacities (artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, blockchain and more) building a real data economy and legislative efforts on data sharing (a EU-wide Data Act), as well as a thorough reform of the single market for digital services (Digital Services Act expected in late 2020). The combination of budgetary provisions and policy priorities makes the moment beneficial for a transition to online business models, a trend which has appeared during the pandemic but is expected to remain for the next few years.
More than ever, it is important to have a focused and effective European Affairs Strategy and structure in place to effectively contribute to the (re)shaping of the European economy for the next decades. Now is the time for organizations to see EU affairs no longer in isolation but as an integral part of their Corporate Affairs Strategy.
Soon after the start of the new European Commission at the end of 2019, we could already see the outline of the agenda of Commissioner President von der Leyen. The Commission’s Green Deal – published on 13 December – presents an overarching growth strategy to achieve a green transformation and climate neutrality of the economy.
Before the realization of tangible proposals for the green and digital transformations of the EU economy, COVID-19 turned the Commission into full crisis mode. Priorities shifted and the Commission and Council of the EU dedicated their work on drafting a comprehensive recovery plan from the health and economic crisis. It will not come as a surprise that a green recovery and the digital transformation will continue to be prioritized and play a central role in relaunching and modernizing the EU economy. According to the Commission, the trillions of euros for the recovery should be spent in a clean, competitive, resilient, and inclusive economy for the 21st century, into a new economy.
As the Commission is formulating its economic and green recovery plan, there is an enormous momentum for organizations to engage with EU institutions in Brussels and to play a role in the shaping of the new economy which will have a huge impact on all businesses.
Looking at the transport sector, it is clear that the demand for mobility and individual transport is changing due to the COVID-19 crisis. The European transport sector faces the great challenge of regaining consumer confidence while stimulating economic growth. According to the Commission, green and digital transitions are at the center of the recovery to create new jobs, remain internationally competitive and bring the sector in line with European climate goals. The Commission aims to better coordinate modes of transport and to encourage the use of sustainable fuels.
In addition, the European energy market will be heavily impacted by the EU’s climate ambitions. The European solar and wind energy market is expected to shrink by about 30% because of disruptions in the logistics chain, delays in projects and stricter financing conditions. As a result, the realization of the EU’s climate targets for 2030 are in jeopardy. This means that acceleration must take place to achieve the EU’s green ambition. The Commission is expected to make additional funding available for sustainable industrial projects and technologies (e.g. carbon capture and storage, relaxation of state aid rules, and alignment of energy taxation with climate ambitions with the aim of getting innovative projects off the ground and scaled up.
As an effect of the COVID-19 crisis, the digital transformation of more “traditional” businesses has definitely accelerated, like brick-and-mortar shops, some of which probably had no online presence whatsoever, maybe not even a Facebook or Google page, before the outbreak. In order to continue operating in a full lockdown situation, these businesses have had to quickly “go online”, either individually or in cooperation with other similar businesses or by relying on the services of online platforms such as e-commerce marketplaces.
As the Commission, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and Member States are actively reaching out for industry input, it is important for these businesses to get involved and make their voices heard at EU level, so that they can contribute to the shaping of EU policies that can actually benefit them.
Even though advocacy in these challenging times may not seem top priority and will take more time, the EU institutions are calling for input and involvement from industry which is a prerequisite for future-proof legislation.
Dr2 Consultants has a proven track record in supporting organizations to become more effective in their European Affairs by providing support in:
Identifying the role of European Affairs within the current structure and develop the ideal proposition for your organization;
Defining a targeted European Affairs strategy with key objectives;
Providing tools and know-how on how to execute the strategy successfully;
Creating effective internal structures.
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Bold sustainability ambitions in the European Union
Already in July, Ursula von der Leyen made clear that the new European Commission has bold ambitions to tackle climate change: The European Union must become an example of how to live sustainably. In this regard, energy efficiency and circular economy are central to the European way of life.
Frans Timmermans and the European Green Deal
The European Green Deal will be the guide for this ambitious transition, targeting among other things, an emission reduction of 50% to 55% by 2030. This target is about 10-15% higher than the current 2030 climate and energy framework. The Commissioner in charge of the Green Deal will be the Dutchman, Frans Timmermans, who also holds the position of first Executive Vice-President of the next European Commission. In his hearing in the European Parliament on 8 October, he urged the European Parliament to be ambitious and lead by example in the world. To make a real difference with regards to global warming, the EU needs to focus on talks with its global partners, according to Timmermans. He feels like he has got a strong mandate, since according to statistics, 9 out of 10 European citizens want the EU to act decisively on climate change.
Concretely, Timmermans will propose a draft Climate Law within the first 100 days of his mandate. This law will put into legislation the EU’s climate ambitions, but most importantly determine the in between steps to be taken to reach these goals. Timmermans is strongly considering using infringement procedures against Member States not complying with the EU’s upcoming climate laws and its ambitions. Furthermore, the Climate Pact will engage citizens with the EU’s climate policy which would make legislation seem less ‘top-down’.
Virginijus Sinkevičius and the European Circular Economy
Three years after its adoption, the Circular Economy Action Plan can be considered fully completed. Its 54 actions have now been delivered or are being implemented. Together with Timmermans, Lithuanian Virginijus Sinkevičius will however increase the ambitions in the field of the circular economy. Sinkevičius stated during his hearing in the European Parliament on 3 October that if the EU ensured the complete circular use of just four materials (steel, aluminum, cement and plastic) – which goes further than the existing Circular Economy Action Plan – EU’s industrial emissions would be cut in half.
Sinkevičius believes that a new action plan can involve three major areas:
First, by examining the ways in which the EU produces and consumes. He mentioned particular further action on eco-design and more focus on reuse and repair. This strand could also integrate circularity in other sectors such as textiles, construction, food and ICT.
Second, by helping consumers make informed choices.
Third, by moving beyond recycling. Waste should not only be minimized, but prevented completely in areas such as textiles and construction.
Not only the European Commission wants to increase the European ambitions regarding climate change and sustainability, but also the Council realizes their importance. On 4 October, Environment Ministers held a debate on the EU’s strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy and adopted conclusions on climate change, which set out the EU’s position for the UN climate change meetings (COP25) in Chile in December 2019. The Council called for action to promote circularity systemically across the value chain, including from the consumer perspective, in key sectors including textiles, transport, food as well as construction and demolition. The Council also stressed the need for more measures on batteries and plastics.
That a no deal Brexit will damage the British and European economy was already clear. The Catholic University of Leuven even calculated that a no deal Brexit would cost the European Union 1.54% of GDP and 1.2 million jobs. The effect for the UK: a 4.4% reduction in GDP and 525,000 job losses, this only in the short term. In terms of sectors, a hard Brexit would have especially a severe effect on the European Food and Beverages sector. A hard Brexit would also have a big impact on the European textile industry and in addition, services sectors would be heavily affected.
Due to the severe economic consequences of a no deal, Members of Parliament (MPs) from both the Conservative Party as the Labour Party tabled an amendment on the parliamentary estimates bill that would deny funding to four government departments in the event of a no-deal Brexit without explicit parliamentary approval. The amendment concerned the departments for International Development, Work and Pensions, Education, and Housing, Communities and Local Government. However, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said on 1 July that he had not selected this amendment. Grieve and Beckett have, therefore, re-submitted their amendment on 2 July, but 10 Downing Street has strongly condemned this amendment to shut down the government as very irresponsible.
Not only the MPs are concerned, but also Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, asked last week to accelerate the preparations for a no deal Brexit. Barclay said: “Time is of the essence and we can’t be complacent. I do not want to be in a situation when we get to November and there were things we could have been doing at this time and we didn’t do them.”
Key players in a possible no deal Brexit are of course Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the remaining contenders in the Conservative Party leadership race. In his bet to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt presented his ten-point plan for delivering Brexit in case he wins. Hunt proposes to speed up the no deal preparations, the establishment of a No Deal Cabinet Task Force and the appointment of a new negotiating team. A Government under his leadership would prepare for a No Deal Brexit Budget, and the Treasury would prepare a No Deal Relief Programme including a £6 billion fund for the fishing and farming sectors.
Boris Johnson, on the other hand, has said that he believes there is only a “very, very small possibility” that the UK will have to leave the EU without a deal. However, he also said that when he is elected as new Prime Minister, every member of his Cabinet should have to live with the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal. This is also in line with the fact that Johnson is preparing an emergency budget for such a scenario. More concretely, this budget will consist of a tax cut and a revision of stamp duties to safeguard the economy after a hard Brexit.
Conservative Party members will receive their postal ballots between 6-8 July. The final deadline to return the ballots is Sunday 21 July. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt participate in hustings until 17 July. It is widely believed, however, that a majority of voters will immediately cast their vote when they receive their ballot. The next few days will, therefore, be key for Hunt to get his message across and for Johnson to avoid any gaffes. In the week of 22 July, Britain’s new Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister will be announced.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining candidates in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the position of Prime Minister of the UK, are campaigning throughout the country to win the votes of 160,000 Conservative Party members. Johnson is more likely to win, not only because he had a big lead over Hunt in the last voting round (170 to 77 votes), but also because a recent poll shows that more than three quarters of the party members believe Johnson would be a good leader.
The strength of Johnson is that he is clear in his mission. He wants to leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal. In a no-deal scenario he even proposed this week not to impose tariffs on goods entering the UK. Yet, Johnson stressed that it is not only a decision made by the UK, but also by the EU. Despite criticism of others like the Governor of the Bank of England and the International Trade Secretary that this would not be possible Johnson did not change his strategy. Therefore, his rival, Jeremy Hunt, is blaming Johnson that his no-deal Brexit plans are remaining too vague and unrealistic. Hunt distinguishes himself from Johnson by pursuing a better deal rather than a no-deal Brexit. Hunt stated that a new deal with the EU would be difficult but said that he would keep negotiating if parliament were to veto the no-deal option, even with the option of an extension after 31 October.
One of the main issues, also in this campaign, is still the Irish backstop. To solve this problem three domestic advisory groups have been established. The Technical Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group is the first, the second is comprised ofbusinesses and trade unions and gathered for the first time this week, and the third will be made up of parliamentarians. Boris Johnson’s main goal is to replace the Northern Ireland backstop in May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with “alternative arrangements” to take effect at the end of the transition period. Jeremy Hunt’s main goal, too, is to renegotiate the WA and get rid of the Northern Ireland backstop as it is currently stated. However, as stated before, Hunt would continue negotiations to find a deal beyond 31 October.
The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar reacted this week again that he could not accept alternative arrangements as an alternative for the backstop before he knew how it would work in practice. In addition, he said that it would never be possible to have these alternatives ready before the UK leaves the EU. Therefore, he still supports the backstop as the only solution for the time being.
Conservative Party members will receive their postal ballots between 6-8 July. The final deadline to return the ballots is Sunday 21 July and consequently, the winner will be announced in the week of 22 July. Johnson and Hunt participate in hustings until 17 July.
Circular economy has been a priority for the European Commission, and it will continue to be high on the agenda of all the European Institutions and Member States for the coming mandate as well.
The Circular Economy Action Plan adopted in 2015 was a flagship project of the current European Commission. While taking stock of its achievements, the European Commission recently laid down its vision for the future of sustainability and circular economy in the EU. The Commission’s recent communications will heavily contribute to the European agenda for the next five years.
It is very clear that further to the need to deliver on the adopted legislation such as the Circular Economy Package, the European Commission will mainstream its activities on sustainability and circularity.
In its reflection paper on Sustainable Europe by 2030, the European Commission identifies the move from “linear to circular economy” as one of the policy foundations for a sustainable future. The European Commission believes that this requires thinking about circularity from the product design – to ensure possibility for repair and reuse – to collection and waste management. In its paper, the European Commission also highlights the need to integrate sustainable thinking in finance, pricing, taxation and competition to address social and environmental issues and trigger behavioral change throughout the economy.
Questions of circularity and sustainability are also likely to spill over into other sectors, with the European Commission trying to adopt a holistic approach to climate change, mainstreaming circularity in various tools and policies. This would potentially translate into organizational changes within the new European Commission.
Member States have also expressed their common interest in pursuing the work on circular economy. While national governments are now implementing certain key EU legislation, such as the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, the Council of the EU recently adopted its conclusions on an “EU industrial policy strategy: A vision for 2030“.
In these conclusions, the Council highlights that there are important challenges that need to be addressed in order to speed up Europe’s transition towards circularity. It also stresses the potential of new technologies to improve the economy’s circularity by promoting sustainable models of production based on primary and secondary raw materials and resource efficiency, in which products and materials are designed to be reused, re-manufactured and recycled, in order to be maintained in the economy for as long as possible.
It also underlines the importance of a fully-fledged, well-functioning and harmonized Single Market for secondary raw materials and circular products, cutting red-tape and legislative hurdles.
The resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May last week could not save the Conservative Party in the European elections. It was quite clear that the Brexit Party of Nigel Farage is the winning party, gaining 29 seats. The Liberal Democrats took 16 seats, the Labour Party 10, the Green Party 7, the Conservative Party 4, the Scottish National Party 3 and Plaid Cymru 1.
As the election results were devastating for the traditional parties, Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, indicated that the Brexit stance of Labour costed Labour a lot of votes. In particular, the unclear position of Labour towards a second referendum. In addition, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, one of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s closest political allies, told the BBC another referendum may be the only way to break the Brexit deadlock in Parliament.
But Brexit did not only had a huge effect on the elections in the UK, but actually in the whole European Union, at least that is what President of the European Council Donald Tusk claimed at yesterday’s informal European Council summit. Tusk argued that Brexit acted as a “vaccine” against Euroscepticism and, therefore, helped to limit the profit of anti-EU parties. Tusk also added that he is not optimistic about the future of Brexit, because “we are all aware of the state of things in London.” A no-deal scenario or the UK revoking Article 50 remains likely. Influential Tories, Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, are for example still willing to leave the EU without a deal.
In the meantime, the European Union is preparing itself for Brexit, with or without a deal. When Theresa May offered her resignation last week, EU leaders already warned that nothing had changed in Brussels. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, is one official who said the EU would never reopen negotiations on the Brexit divorce deal, whoever succeeded May. Furthermore, a spokeswoman for the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that “Brussels’s position on the withdrawal agreement has been set out, there is no change to that.” In addition, Sabine Weyand, Deputy Chief Negotiator and right hand of Michel Barnier within the European Commission’s Article 50 Taskforce, has been appointed today as the new Director-General of Directorate-General Trade. This indicates that the European Union is preparing itself for the next step in the Brexit process as Weynand will lead the EU’s negotiations with the UK on its future trade relationship in the post Brexit phase.
It is still unclear if there will be a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill next week as Theresa May announced earlier. For the time being the focus is more on the possible successor of May. Tory MPs have until 10 June to put their name forward, and the party hopes a new leader will be in place by the end of July. In addition, a possible general election seems unlikely. Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, already said that the Conservative Party would commit “political suicide” if a general election was held.
After weeks of talks between the Conservatives and Labour to find a compromise Brexit deal to pass in the House of Commons, the dialogue collapsed without agreement. However, this came as no surprise as it was already clear that the two main parties are deeply divided over Brexit. In addition, the cross-party cooperation was not supported by backbenchers of either parties.
The failure of the cross-party dialogue, exacerbated by Theresa May’s own unstable position and increasing pressure from her colleagues to leave, incentivized May to announce that she will set a timetable for her departure. Before departing, May will still try to avoid British MEPs actually having to take up their seats in the European Parliament after the elections held today (Thursday, 23 May). She will also push for the new Withdrawal Agreement Bill to be voted on in June. As a compromise in the negotiations with Labour, the new Brexit deal would include a provision that states the UK Parliament has the final say on the backstop. Additionally, the bill would also grant Westminster the power to weigh on the future relationship between the EU and UK.
As May feels pressurized, she even announced a concession on a second Brexit referendum during a keynote speech in London. Concretely, a vote for a second referendum would be possible if her new Withdrawal Agreement Bill passes onto the next stage of the legislative process. In that case, May wants to give anti-Brexit MPs the chance to add the option of a second referendum to the new bill once it has gone through its second reading, a stage where MPs can attach amendments.
It seems that May is able to survive the latest storm, but for how long? After a lot of rumours, it was not the Prime Minister, but leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom who announced she quits the government over Brexit and May’s handling of the process. Her resignation is the 36th by a minister under May and the 21st minister to quit over Brexit. Political pundits believe May’s resignation could be announced in a matter of just a few days.
The Conservatives are expected to perform badly in the European elections. Perhaps a departure of Prime Minister Theresa May after the elections could be a way to end a disastrous chapter in Tory/UK history and open up a new, more hopeful one. More ministerial resignations could still follow too, but not today. Today is voting time.