The Future of the EU
In light of the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and of course the Brexit negotiations, issues around the future of the European Union have become very topical again. Earlier this week (14 Feb) the European Commission called for an amendment of the Comitology Regulation, which would mean more transparency and accountability in implementing EU law. Comitology refers to an obscure procedure, in which experts from national capitals and the Commission determine policy on technical subjects such as genetically-modified crops. However, the fact that member states can abstain from voting, has led to Brussels being scapegoated for the final decision on such matters. Such decisions taken are also often perceived as a symbol of democratic deficit.
The Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker vented his frustration regarding this closed-door procedure: “It is not right that when EU countries cannot decide among themselves … the Commission is forced by Parliament and Council to take a decision. So we will change those rules – because that is not democracy.” It has to be seen what the chances of a reform are since the proposal needs approval by the national capitals and the Parliament. Some diplomats agree with the demand for ministers shouldering more responsibility. But the proposal to change the voting rules are expected to be strongly contested by member states. Others questioned the timing of the reform, with several national elections and Brexit negotiations coming up.
The future of the EU was also the subject of a debate in the European Parliament on Tuesday (14 Feb). The different political groups and lawmakers clashed when they discussed a vision of the EU 27 after Brexit. The Socialist and Democrats (S&D) and the European People’s Party (EPP) want to maintain a united and integrated union, whereas the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) supports a two-speed EU led by the eurozone.
Germany, France, Italy seek stronger right of veto on state-backed takeovers
Germany, France and Italy – the euro zone’s three largest economies – sent a joint letter to the European Commission, urging the EU to re-examine the rules to allow them to veto, or impose strict conditions on, state-backed acquisitions and “buying up of important technologies” for strategic objectives of their home country.
The letter was written following a series of politically charged deals involving state-owned Chinese buyers that fuelled concerns in Germany. Such worries peaked last year with the €4.5 billion acquisition of robot-maker Kuka by Chinese appliance maker Midea. In another high-profile case last year, a Chinese takeover bid for German chipmaker Aixtron collapsed after the US and Germany blocked the deal on national security grounds.
Chancellor Angela Merkel once complained about a lack of reciprocity, saying German companies wanting to invest in China were faced with a number of hurdles, such as a requirement to form joint ventures with Chinese partners. In light of the slow progress made on negotiating a China-EU bilateral investment to address the issue, the three countries sought alternative ways to protect their companies through the EU.
“Ideas like the ones set out in the letter by Germany, France and Italy are worth discussing,” Commission spokesman Daniel Rosario told a daily briefing on Wednesday (15 Feb). He said the Commission “fully shares” the concerns raised as regards to the “limited access” EU countries have to “certain third countries”. But Rosario also stressed that any proposal should be agreed at the EU level and should respect the EU treaties and EU’s international agreements.
Unpaid internships in the EU
On Monday (20 Feb), the UN day for social justice, EU interns are planning to gather in order to protest against unpaid internships in Brussels. Despite the local law- it is illegal to offer graduates unpaid work in Belgium – the European Commission has 200 unpaid interns at any one time and the European External Action Service (EEAS) has more than 400 interns yearly. This raises questions regarding the credibility of the EU institutions or as David Leo Hyde of the Global Intern Coalition (an umbrella organisation for interns’ rights groups) put it: “How can we have any faith in EU institutions when they won’t even follow their own rules or local laws, instead choosing to extract hundreds of thousands of hours of unpaid labour from young people each year.” However, proponents argue that the internships offer benefits such as the gain of practical skills, experience and the insight in the daily work of the EU. But the crux of the problem is that unpaid internships will be only accepted by people who can afford an unpaid position. German MEP Terry Reintke stated that “Many young people in the EU go from internship to internship without getting proper work experience. The EU institutions and the parliament in particular should set an example.” Others criticise that the surge in unpaid internships is dragging down the number of entry-level positions.
The world calls for China-EU-US co-leadership, says China Daily
The deputy chief of China Daily’s European Bureau, Fu Jing, wrote an op-ed on Tuesday (14 Feb), rebutting the idea that China should replace the US to assume world leadership.
The author argued that some debates overly focusing on China’s rising role and how the vacuum created by the US withdrawal from global engagement can be filled by Beijing are misleading because such rhetoric is based on “zero-sum game” mentality. Despite its growing outbound investment and economic boom, China still lags behind in terms of GDP per capita and overseas investment stock. More importantly, today’s multi-polar world, the author asserted, calls for collective and inclusive leadership involving all countries in the world.
To put in place “a fairer and inclusive global leadership and governance structure”, the author suggested that “trilateral dialogues [between] Beijing, Brussels and Washington should be organized”. Such trilateral mechanism would allow Beijing and Brussels to “put more pressure on the Trump administration to abandon its protectionist and isolationist policies” which “would only harm global trade and governance”.
Fu echoed some arguments advanced in an earlier article in The Economist which called on countries, especially America’s allies, to “preserve multilateral institutions for the day after Mr Trump”. “[P]lan for a world without American leadership,” it said, because neither China nor Europe alone can take on the mantle. China is not ready yet and “Europe will no longer have the luxury of underfunding NATO and undercutting the EU’s foreign service.”
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