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News & Insights on Europe

News and Views on Europe – 27 May 2019

posted by eucentresg

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EU Parliament Elections Results: Traditional parties take a hit; Surprise win for the Greens
According to provisional results published at 01:35am today, the two oldest political groups –centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) have won 179 seats and 152 seats respectively. While they have emerged as the two biggest groups in this election, their collective numbers fail to make up a majority in parliament and is their poorest performance since the start of direct elections in 1979. The results suggest a more fragmented European parliament in the coming term.

Populist parties such as Matteo Salvini’s League party, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party performed strongly in their respective countries; Salvini won over 30% of the vote – beating coalition partner 5 Star Movement (M5S) and the Democratic Party (PD), Farage coming in first and winning 32% of the UK vote, taking 29 seats and Le Pen finishing first with 23.5% of the vote . The European Alliance of People and Nations (EAPN), a far-right alliance led by Salvini, has doubled in size to 70 – 75 seats,. In spite of the gains made by these parties, it is unlikely that Eurosceptics and populist parties will be able to gain sufficient seats to form a third of the bloc and dominate parliament, as previously envisioned.

Some of the biggest and unexpected wins were clinched by Green parties. In Germany, the Greens won 22% of the vote, double their 2014 results and second to the Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists (CDU/CSU). Parties in France, Ireland, Netherlands and Belgium performed strongly as well. This “Green Wave” is expected to win the Greens 71 seats in parliament.

The liberal democrats also performed well in the elections. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) gained significant ground and is pegged to come in third with 105 seats, a significant jump from its current 67 seats in parliament.

An election of many firsts, this year also saw the first rise in voter turnout after decades of decline. 50.5% of EU citizens voted, the highest in 20 years.

 

May announced her resignation throwing more uncertainties on UK’s exit from the EU
May was forced to step down after a strong backlash to her latest attempt to present “new Brexit deal” with concessions to the Labour Party. These include a compromise on temporary customs for goods only, environmental and worker protection standards, and a promise to put a second referendum to vote in Parliament.

The announcement of the WAB was not received well by either the Labour Party or May’s own Conservative Party. The backlash from the Tories was more swift as around 20 MPs who voted for May’s deal in the third round have already indicated they will not support this new deal.

Jeremy Corbyn, who on Friday (17 May) said that cross party talks “have now gone as far as they can” have called May’s new deal “a repackaging of the same old bad deal” on key elements demanded by Labour.
May has warned that failing to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would continue to “polarize and paralyze our politics”.

Nevertheless, Tories remain livid. Conservative backbencher Robert Halfon tweeted that her move is a “betrayal of the 2016 referendum”. A senior Cabinet member, Andrea Leadsom announced her resignation as leader of the House of Commons, via a letter explaining that she fundamentally disagreed with the Prime Minister’s new deal.

Leadsom’s announcement was a signal that even her closest allies have turned away from her. After meeting with Graham Brady, the ruling executive of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs who has the power to trigger another no confidence vote, Theresa May announced her resignation to be on 7 June. In her speech, she cited her failure to deliver Brexit as “a matter of deep regret”.

May would stay on as a caretaker prime minister while a successor is chosen. The Conservative leadership election is due to start June 10 and will last six weeks. The leading contenders include hardline Brexiteer Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, both of whom will raise the stakes for Brexit with the EU. The Environment minister Michael Gove, another Brexiter, has also joined in the race. Others that have announced their interest in the leadership position include current foreign security, Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary Matthew Hancock, former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey, and Rory Stewart as well as Andrea Leadsom.

The domestic politics of Britain has overshadowed European election weekend (23-26 May), much to the annoyance of Jean Claude Juncker. Juncker felt that another request for extension or renegotiations of Brexit would harm “growth perspectives worldwide.” He spoke in favor of May and blamed Euroskeptics for mobilising negative forces in the UK. Amidst the turmoil, EU Council President Donald Tusk has also urged people who want to remain in EU to vote for the Change UK party in the European election.

However, as already widely expected, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party came up top in the EU elections. Farage’s Party took 32% of the vote and would have 29 seats. The pro-Remain Liberal Democrats won 20% of the vote with Labour falling behind at 14% and the Greens hitting a historical high of 12% in European Parliament. The losers of this year’s polls were the Conservatives who came in at 9% and the renegade Change UK party failed to win any seats with only 3% of the votes.

May’s departure is unlikely to break the Brexit deadlock as the next Tory leader will still face a divided party and difficulties in getting a majority on Brexit. Moreover, EURACTIV reported (17 May) that UK is practically split 50-50 on Brexit but the most people want Brexit to be resolved and feel optimistic about their country again. Even though the voter turnout was below 37%, the European elections is called as a proxy vote on Brexit. However this seems ironical as there is still no consensus on what to do after the elections.

After the results, Jeremy Corbyn called the elections a “proxy second referendum” and announced that Labour now supports another public vote on Brexit either through a general elections or a second referendum. Labour feels it lost part of their constituents to the Brexit Party and is now encouraged to listen to the rest of their voters, who want to Remain. Boris Johnson, the leading contender for Downing Street, has also said in light of the results that “we can and must deliver” Brexit, deal or no deal, to prevent a “permanent haemorrhage of Conservative support”

The final voice that matters comes from Brussels as EU leaders responded with sadness and respect for Theresa May but also reiterated their commitment to the current Withdrawal Agreement. An EU representative said that the deadline for Brexit remains October 31st and that it remains ready for “whatever the scenario is.”

 

EU stays cautious but independent on 5G technology after US bans Huawei
On Wednesday (15 May), the Trump administration signed an executive order to ban the purchase or use of any communications technology produced by entities controlled by “a foreign adversary” allegedly to protect U.S. infrastructure.

Huawei has been blacklisted by the US and this has placed a huge roadblock for the company to do business with US counterparts. Its global supply chain is currently assessing the impact but already chipmakers including Intel Corp, Qualcomm Inc, Xilinx Inc and Broadcom Inc. have declared they will cease supplying critical software and components to Huawei until further notice.

In another big blow, Google has suspended business with Huawei, limiting Chinese telecom giant’s access to its technical services, hardware, and software including proprietary apps like YouTube and Gmail. Huawei will still be able to use the publicly available Android operating system through the open source license. Existing Huawei users would be able to keep using Google Play services and apps but the future remains uncertain. However, the impact on the Chinese domestic market, where most google apps are banned, will be minimal

Huawei released a statement warning the US that it will lag behind in 5G deployment while adding that Huawei remains “committed to the EU” and open “dialogue [with] stakeholders on relevant digital issues.”

The EU has chosen to stay in their own course with regards to the US ban on Huawei and pressure from Trump to follow suit. France, UK, and Germany responded with a cautious approach but have not followed in the US’ footsteps. Emmanuel Macron rejected the idea of a ban saying blocking Huawei is “not the best way to defend national security” while Prime Minister Theresa May has also remained tight lipped on applying restrictions to Huawei or other Chinese companies.

The BDI, the federation of German industries, emphasized that “Europe needs to maintain its own course” to build the next-generation 5G network infrastructure. Germany has already taken steps to establish tighter security standards for 5G equipment.

Meanwhile, at a press conference in Berlin, Germany and Netherlands agreed that companies that meet established safety criteria can take part in building 5G networks and they will not preemptively ban any company without evidence.

The BDI also urged the German government and the European Union to agree to joint security standards. A pan-European review of risk assessment on cybersecurity threats by the Commission and EU member states which began in March is expected to be finalized by end-June. The Commission in the meantime reiterated that member states can exclude companies from their markets for national security reasons. A group of cybersecurity experts will introduce EU-wide measures by year-end.

NATO is also currently reviewing the risks associated with Huawei, but as Claire Lain, the UK ministry of defence’s representative to NATO, said, there are many other other concerns with other telecommunications firms. While Huawei is at the forefront of 5G technology, she asked, “why are we not scrutinising others to the same level?”

The US-China trade saga and backlash against Huawei also comes at a time when the EU is determined also to be firm in its relations with China. EU wants to set up a new mechanism to monitor China’s progress in implementing agreed bilateral commitments. This is part of their strategy towards China and is intended to exert peer pressure in bilateral relations to ensure the implementation of EU-China summit conclusions. Brussels wants to do the same with Japan as well.

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