The second week of January saw Brussels shake off its Christmas stupor and get down to business, with the first Parliament committee meetings of 2016 and all Commissioners back in town following their trip to Amsterdam last week for the start of the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The war of words between the EU and Poland continued this week, with Wednesday seeing the announcement that the Commission has decided to open an inquiry into whether Poland’s controversial new media and judiciary laws conflict with EU rules on democracy and rule of law. The unprecedented move by the EU comes after growing concerns that the new laws will curb freedom of expression and undermine the constitutional court. The inquiry could result in Poland losing its voting rights in the Council of the EU. Addressing the Polish parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo denied that her government had violated democratic norms.
The UK’s renegotiation of its relationship with the EU and the forthcoming British referendum on EU membership came under the microscope in the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee this week, where MEPs heard from Commission Brexit taskforce chief Jonathan Faull.
During the meeting, Mr Faull was confident that a deal could be reached between the UK and the other 27 Member States of the EU by the February meeting of the European Council, but stressed that the timetable thereafter was up to the British government. MEPs, on the other hand, seemed just as concerned by the potential demands from other Member States following the results of the UK referendum.
China trade status
An issue that has been gaining increasing amounts of coverage in the Brussels press in recent weeks has been the question of whether to grant China market economy status (MES). The term relates to certain provisions in China’s Protocol of Accession to the WTO, and affects things like the calculation of anti-dumping remedies in a way that could have major implications for a number of European industries – particularly those involved in the production of base metals.
The Commission was keen to stress that the debate was “not about whether the country is a market economy or not”, but instead a technical discussion on anti-dumping rates. Many commentators feel that the Commission has left it too late to take a position and prevent the automatic granting of MES to China after the December 2016 deadline passes, with the required impact assessment and stakeholder consultation – processes that can take months – not even started.
EU-wide rules on cybersecurity took a step closer to being adopted this week, with the EP Internal Market Committee on Thursday backing an informal deal reached between the Parliament and the Council. The new rules will now go forwards for approved by the Council, and once finalised will apply to sectors including transport and online shopping.
The Parliament will return to digital issues in its plenary session in Strasbourg next week, with MEPs discussing the Parliament report on the Digital Single Market. The situation in Poland is also on the agenda.
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