There is a certain irony in writing the inaugural article for the new ‘The Week in Brussels’ feature at the end of a week in which the Belgian capital was hardly a hive of political activity, with MEPs and officials in Strasbourg for the European Parliament Plenary session. As usual, it was a week of intense activity, with many issues debated and voted upon in the Chamber, but some caught our attention more than others.
Guess what? The British Government’s hints at potential limits to the free movement of EU citizens have not been well received by many of our European neighbours, with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso saying on Thursday that national governments that want to limit the free movement of people are indulging in chauvinism and stereotypes. Barroso did not make any direct reference to the UK, unlike some angry Eastern European MEPs who accused David Cameron of being one of the European politicians who is “throwing oil on the fires of xenophobia and intolerance.” It looks like the publication of the Commission’s guidelines on the Habitual Residence Test for migrants workers did not achieve its aim of calming down the debate.
On Tuesday, MEPs adopted a resolution arguing that food legislation in Europe is too fragile and prone to abuse, and calling for more inspections of food production chains and tougher penalties for companies that commit food fraud. Last year’s horsemeat scandal left a bitter taste and Parliamentarians overwhelmingly showed their concern by urging the introduction of mandatory labelling and a harmonised definition of food fraud at the EU level. The Commission, however, did not agree with the recommendation, with Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik arguing that the proposed measures would not stop food fraud.
Candidates scramble for position
The European Parliamentary elections in May will be followed shortly by the appointment of a new Commission, due to take up office in November. With the Parliament’s political groups set to present their own candidates for the post of President of the Commission, this week has seen some notable movements within Angela Merkel’s European People’s Party. After former longstanding Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker threw his hat into the ring last week, the current Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier announced on Monday that he is also keen on the role. With rumours about a rather cool relationship between Merkel and Juncker, Barnier could be in the lead, but the possibility of last minute surprises should not be excluded ahead of the nomination in March.
Ahead of next week’s release of the crucial White Paper on 2030 targets for climate and energy policies, the European Commission is being lobbied ferociously by Governments and industries alike. The energy efficiency sector appears to be greatly concerned by the perspective of a binding 35%-40% greenhouse gas emissions cut and an indicative 24%-27% renewable energy goal, which the industry considers too conservative. On the other hand, some major manufacturing companies called on Thursday for a single emissions-reduction target and compensation for energy and climate-protection measures. Now that Strasbourg week has come to an end many will revert their attention to Brussels, waiting for next week’s announcement.
Consultant, The Whitehouse Consultancy
The Whitehouse Consultancy is a specialist public affairs, political communications and media relations agency.