This is not the first time I write the Brussels column right after the Eurovision song contest (coincidence?) and it always gives me an excellent cue to European politics. Does the UK’s “Never give up on you” not sum up well the foundation of the UK-EU Brexit negotiations? And the lyrics “you’re not defeated, you’re in repair” can surely be seen as a veiled message of hope from the UK to the remaining bloc? And could Portugal’s win in an otherwise somewhat tacky contest not be likened to French President Macron’s break with populist movements across the continent?
More seriously, this week’s European Parliament plenary session included a Brexit debate on Wednesday. Speaking to MEPs both Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk made it clear - again - that there can be no negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK until there is progress on the withdrawal.
Another Brexit question arose this week with the publication of a European Court of Justice Opinion on the EU trade deal with Singapore, and its potential impact on the future UK-EU agreement ratification process. The Opinion states that certain aspects of a deal (two to be specific: provisions concerning non-direct foreign investment and dispute settlement between investors and States) need to have the consent of EU national and regional parliaments. However, the Court also confirms the Commission’s mandate to conclude the bulk of free trade agreements, including access to the EU market. This means that the effects on a future UK-EU deal procedure - if such a deal excludes the components cited above - are minimal.
MEPs also made an important political statement on Tuesday when they adopted a report on food waste. The report calls on the Commission to review current legislation and consider further action to reduce the 88 million tonnes of food that goes to waste in the EU each year. This is not only an environmental and ethical issue, MEPs recalled, but also one which has economic repercussions. Recommendations include lifting restrictions on food donations and clarifying confusing “best before” and “use by” labels.
Finally, MEPs have also voted on new rules for watching online films and TV while abroad. They overwhelmingly supported a Regulation on the cross-border portability of online content services which will give EU citizens access to their domestic subscription for online film, series, music or sport events when travelling temporarily to another EU country.
Technological change was also on the agenda of the G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors who met in Italy earlier this week. They discussed the digital economy, inclusive growth and the fight against inequality. Participants concluded that, although poverty levels worldwide have dropped off over the last thirty years, there has been an alarming increase in inequalities within the advanced economies. The G7 recommends addressing this through policies on education, technological innovation and integration.
As the weekend and the month of June approach we are gearing up for the UK election and also the all-important (at least to Francophiles) French legislative elections (11 and 18 June). A bit like in the Eurovision, there are two rounds of voting: only first-round candidates who have achieved a certain level of support from voters are permitted to contest in the second round. But before all of this, we will be welcoming US President Donald Trump in Brussels on 25 May. And another fitting strophe from the British Eurovision contribution springs to mind: “Together we’ll dance through this storm”.