Strasbourg blog # 5: Europe’s getting its act together?

As always, last week was a busy week in Strasbourg. While MEPs and the European Commission celebrated the end of roaming charges (but forgot to mention the many exceptions), discussions on the future of Europe and its place in the world continued in the plenary.

Among the many topics raised, discussions on the euro, global warming and online platforms reflected a new-found confidence European lawmakers and regulators have in the European project.

The future of the Euro

As part of the ongoing soul-searching on where the EU should head in a post-Brexit world, the Commission’s Euro coordinator in chief Vladi Dombrosvkis and Euro Commissioner Pierre Moscovici presented the Commission’s reflection paper on the economic and monetary union to the plenary. They saw a clear need for policy interventions to create a deeper banking union and closer policy coordination among Member States. Equally, they wanted to improve the governance, offering a direct dialogue to the European Parliament – a message well received by MEPs.

French MEP Françoise Grossetête, speaking on behalf of Europe’s conservatives, said that confidence, responsibility and solidarity will be key to change the current state of affairs. She called for a European monetary fund, which wouldn’t amount to a transfer union, but equally stressed the importance of Member States reforming their economies.

German MEP Udo Bullmann spoke for Europe’s socialists and social-democrats. He argued for greater power at EU level, among others a common EU budget and making the European semester, where the European Commission reviews Member States’ policies, binding. Herr Bullmann also called for a greater role for the European Parliament in debating the euro with Member States and the European Commission.

After Emmanuel Macron’s resounding victory in the French parliamentary elections, it seems that the stars are aligning for more European integration in economic and monetary policy. This is likely to also give the European Parliament a bigger role to play.

Trump & climate change

US President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement gave Europeans the opportunity to stake their claim to global leadership on climate change. For those who can’t remember: the 2015 Paris Agreement is the first international treaty on global warming where 197 countries agreed to keep global temperature rise to below two degrees for this century.

The EU took it in turns to lay into Donald Trump.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, made it very clear: “The European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Agreement.”  For him, Trump’s decisions was a lamentable set-back, but one that ultimately served to strengthen the resolve of everyone else on the planet to fight climate change.

German MEP Manfred Weber, who leads the conservatives in the Parliament, accused Trump of ignoring facts and pursuing a course of national egoism. To Trump’s rallying cry “American First”, he said Europe should pursue a policy of “Europe first”, based on partnership, rather than isolation.

Another German MEP, Ska Geller, however, challenged the harmony between Commission and Parliament’s biggest political party. The leader of the European Greens said limiting global warming at two degrees would not be enough; rather it should be at 1.5. Instead of being complacent, Europe needs to be even more ambitious to avert the more destructive elements of climate change.

Online platforms and collaborative economy

MEPs discussed and adopted non-binding reports on how they think the European Union should legislate tech giants such as online platforms and the collaborative economy (people “sharing” property they own with others for money).

While MEPs disagreed passionately on how best to approach online platforms and the collaborative economy, almost everyone agreed that this is an area where the EU should take a stronger role. Given the global nature of the online economy, European rules were perceived as being more effective than national ones.

Andreas Schwab MEP, a German conservative, captured best the re-found belief in Europe when he complained that it was sometimes not easy for European platforms to fulfil their potential and called for the EU to create more favourable conditions for them to grow.

Elsewhere in the corridors: new rules for apps and cookies discussed and discovered

As visitors in the public gallery looked on as MEPs debated the future of Europe, their staff and the remaining MEPs were occupied by more mundane matters: real-life regulation. Some tried to get closer to an agreement on digital content; whether to regulate data as a currency proved a real sticking point; while others, in looking to understand what the European Commission’s ePrivacy Regulation actually means for Europe’s citizens and business, struggled to find a balance between protecting consumers and allowing business to innovate.

We will see what the MEPs will have come up with by autumn by when they are scheduled to vote on their positions on each of these policies.

Jan Hueckmann is Senior Consultant at FTI Consulting in Brussels.

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