Writes: Aleksandar Krzhallovski
Although last week there were other interesting events to comment, from the government’s reconstruction approved by the Parliament, through the beginning of the discovery of the true characters in the corruption series “Koki, Kiki etc.”, the local elections in Albania, until the Saturday – Pride parade and march, still my greatest attention was on the still unfinished procedure for selecting leading positions in European institutions.
Namely, what was supposed to be a relatively routine (although extraordinary) summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Sunday night, where, after two unsuccessful attempts in June, and subsequently in the May elections for the European Parliament, the new candidates for five top positions were to be appointed (EU Commission Presidents (now Jean-Claude Juncker), Parliament (Antonio Tajani) and the Council (Donald Tusk), as well as the High Representative for Foreign Policy (now Federica Mogherini) and the President of the European Central Bank (Mario Draghi)), and it turned into a 20-hour drama (started with a three-hour delay at 9 pm Sunday, lasting all night) and ended something after noon yesterday), and has so far failed to lead to an agreement.
The sequel is scheduled for today (Tuesday) at 11 o’clock, and while you are reading this there may already be an agreement and a decision on a full set of positions or some of them, or they may not succeed in doing so. But the process so far is fascinating and worth sharing and learning something from it – according to some, demonstration of a functional democracy in its entire luster, and, according to others, an overview of the level of problems the EU is in today. In any case, all this has and will have an impact on Macedonia’s EU membership prospects and the winning date in October, and it is therefore important to understand what is happening “on the EU front”.
Let’s start with the EU elections that took place from 23 to 26 May and I wrote about them in the column “Euro-elections”. The most significant outcome was the collapse of the leading two groups – the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social Democrats (S&D), who lost 40-45 MPs from the previous squad, which prevented them from ruling as before (together they had the majority in the European Parliament, and are now the two largest groups but do not have a majority any more), so at least a third group must be included (the liberals, joined by the French President Macron with his newly formed party/movement), and the reality has shown that there will be a fourth one (the Green that liberals quickly reached a basic agreement on a joint presentation to the “big EPP and S&D”).
The first consequence of this is that there will be more candidates for the leadership position – president of the European Commission. Each of these groups came out with its own candidate – EPP with Manfred Weber (from Germany), S&D with Frans Timmermans (the Netherlands), and the liberals with Margrethe Vestager (Denmark). And each of them and their groupings have their own mathematics which clashed on Sunday and yesterday in Brussels.
The EPP considers that regardless of the fall in the number of MPs, they are still winners and Weber should be the EU Commissioner. Even though S&D fell in the number of MPs, their candidate Timmermans (unexpectedly) won in the Netherlands and thus they consider him a more credible candidate for EU Commissioner than Weber. Finally, when they must already be involved to achieve a majority in Parliament for the election of these functions, the liberals consider that instead of the two “big ones” to fight, the EU Commissioner should be the third one, i.e. their candidate Vestager.
In the previous rounds of consultations with the leaders of the 28 member states (immediately after the elections and then at the regular EU summit of 20-21, no agreement was reached, but it was felt that there would be no support for the leading candidate Manfred Weber (the liberals and the Greens clearly stated that they would not vote for him). Also, the EPP, although still the largest group, cannot count (as before) on all of the leading functions, but it will have to be happy with probably one of them.
Maneuvering in such a situation, the most experienced (and the most important, the most powerful) of them – Angela Merkel, proposed a plan to support the second candidate – the “opposition” social democrat Timmermans for the Euro-Commissioner, and at the expense of that – Weber to become president of the European Parliament. In that package, the Liberals are likely to receive the presidency of the European Council. She consulted this proposal with both Weber himself and EPP President Joseph Daul, and within the G20 meeting in Japan a few days ago and with several of the European leaders present there (the French Macron, the Dutch Rutte, the Spanish Sanchez, and the current president of the EU Council Tusk).
But the surprise and the “rebellion” came from an unexpected side, from more or less all the leaders of the smaller EU members that are part of the Merkel’s EPP Group (the four Visegrad Group countries: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, but also the Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov, as well as the Croatian Plenkovic). Namely, in spite of the dissatisfaction that they had not been consulted, they are “firm” that the EPP still won and must get the place of EU Commissioner. This also reflects the mentality differences of the “west” and “east”, which is, incidentally, in our country – that “the winner takes it all” i.e. they should get all the functions in the state and not at all interested in the fact that the “other” party actually received also great support from the voters and the division of power should be the result of a compromise that would reflect the citizens’ votes/attitudes.
This came to President Macron as a “bingo” to declare that he will firmly remain in the position of no further enlargement until the EU is reformed – because this meeting demonstrates how difficult it is to negotiate anything in a group of 28 countries, let alone more. This statement may be a “nail in the coffin” of the enlargement date for Macedonia, but let’s hope it is just a burst of emotion from the frustrating meeting and that after the night’s sleep everyone will be able to reach an agreement, and consequently to soften this position of Macron.
The result of the process so far, that is, the lack of a result, has already been interpreted as Merkel’s major defeat, especially since the “sabotage” of her plan was precisely from “her” political partners in the EPP. One of the possible conclusions from this is “Merkel is no longer what she was” (when blocked by prime ministers like Borisov and Orban), which is bad news for our “date”. The failure to consult smaller countries in the bloc on time (or to be informed only), no matter if it is her fault or of EPP President Daul, has proved fatal to the current process, and possibly also for the two leading candidates Weber and Timmermans. Merkel understood this and although by the end of the long consultations the necessary numbers (support from at least 21 of the 28 countries and over 65% of the EU voting body) were reached, she pointed out that – it was not enough! It is clear that without the widest possible support (consensus also desirable), EU problems will only expand and deepen in this 5-year mandate, which includes major internal reforms of the Union. And this shows differences with our understanding of the policies, that the struggle for the Prespa Agreement is reduced to reaching the figure of 80 MPs who will raise their hand “for”, rather than aiming at broader and genuine support, including the opposition.
I believe that today and the period further, if no agreement is reached today, will demonstrate the proper functioning of democracy, the EU’s ability to reach compromises and agreements, and Merkel’s leadership. Whether the compromises achieved will be in our favor – it is difficult to expect…yet the forces against enlargement are quite strong … but, let’s see!
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