quinta-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2016
Brussels presses the hold button on Brexit
Brussels presses the hold button on Brexit
Ahead of referendum, EU seeks to avoid controversy.
By TARA PALMERI 2/25/16, 5:30 AM CET Updated 2/25/16, 7:35 AM CET
European Union officials aren’t just determined to keep mum during the U.K.’s referendum campaign: They are refusing to move key legislation out of fear that they might fuel support for a Brexit.
Officials and politicians said several EU initiatives have been put on ice or pushed off the agenda in an effort to avoid stirring up controversy before the June 23 referendum in Britain.
Among them are: a mid-term review of the bloc’s seven-year budget, which could result in a fight over a proposal to increase EU spending by €20 billion; the launch of the Commission’s labor mobility package, which would set out new guidelines for the freedom of movement of workers; and the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, which the U.K. government strongly opposes, claiming it would infringe on the sovereignty of the British legal system.
Even as they expressed relief this week that the U.K. and other EU countries reached a deal on reforms that British Prime Minister David Cameron said he needed in order to win the referendum vote, politicians in Brussels have resigned themselves to the fact that not much legislation will go through until after the British question is dealt with.
“These proposals can be discussed after June without creating too many difficulties” — French official.
“There’s a kind of a deflection of attention to some issues,” said Mercedes Bresso, an Italian MEP from the Socialists and Democrats group, adding that the referendum was causing a “delay in some debates,” including on the EU’s budget. “Now is not the moment to create more problems.”
A French official called the decision to hold back on some legislative measures a “reasonable” one.
“These proposals can be discussed after June without creating too many difficulties,” the official said. “In fact, it would be more problematic if we had to negotiate under the pressure of the U.K.. So, in a way, it protects the other member states as well.”
The slow lane
The Commission has until the end of 2016 to submit a review of its seven-year budget, known as the multi-annual financial framework. The European Parliament’s budgetary committee isn’t expecting to see the proposal for revisions until the autumn, to avoid a pre-referendum outcry from Euroskeptics over any proposal to give the EU more money.
“Everyone knows this is not a good time because of the problems with the U.K.,” said Pedro López de Pablo, spokesman for the center-right European People’s Party group in the Parliament. “The Commission has been very cautious on all of these things. Nowadays we’re in a public opinion environment that everyone attacks the European Union.”
“They don’t want to open the pandora’s box before the referendum” — Polish MEP Jan Olbrycht.
But some MEPs on the budgets committee say the delay will make their oversight role more difficult by not giving them enough time to consider proposed revisions submitted by the Commission. They say they need to see the proposal now — and not in September after the referendum dust has settled and the summer break is over.
“They don’t want to open the pandora’s box before the referendum,” said Polish MEP Jan Olbrycht, a member of the budgets committee. “We want the Commission to make their proposals as soon as possible. We need a serious debate about the review and the revision. There’s no time to waste.”
When it does come, that debate promises to be controversial. Siegfried Mureșan, vice chairman of the budgets committee, said MEPs are bracing for a “far reaching revision” of the remaining budget target to manage the migration crisis, which was not foreseen in 2013 when the current budget was planned.
“We’re hoping for more flexibility and money in justice and home affairs, which includes security at the borders and the migration fund,” said Mureșan.
“I’m hoping for more money in areas related to foreign policy, to improve the conditions on the ground of the origin of the refugees.”
EU budget fights can be counted on to stir up anti-Brussels sentiment in Britain. Cameron fought hard in 2013 to win a 3 percent cut in the EU budget — which he then touted back in the U.K. as a political victory against Brussels.
As part of this review, EU officials say the Commission and Parliament plan to ask for a €20 billion increase to the budget over its remaining three years, but they are not slated to make that announcement until July, after the referendum. Also in July, the budgets committee will present a report to the Commission on its needs. The Commission will then offer a counterproposal in the autumn.
Matching Cameron’s deal
A proposal for new EU guidelines on labor rules across the Union was supposed to have been introduced by Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen in December 2015, but was postponed while EU leaders debated measures on welfare benefits as part of the U.K. deal.
According to a Commission spokesperson, certain elements of the so-called labor mobility package, which includes rules on social security benefits, will still be kept on hold until after the referendum. As for other measures in the package not related to the U.K. deal, the spokesperson said the Commission “reserves its possibility to come forward with such proposals as soon as they are ready.”
But on this measure, too, EU parliamentarians are complaining about the implications of the delay, even as they acknowledge the reasoning behind it.
“I understand timing in politics is key, even though I’m eagerly waiting for the labor mobility package because there hasn’t been much legislative work,” said Danish MEP Ulla Tørnæs, from the ALDE group.
Measures in the package related to social security will have to be brought into line with the terms of the U.K. deal reached last week, which include new restrictions on payments to EU migrants and their children living abroad.
On some measures, the EU is under pressure to speed up, rather than slow down. Cameron made a focus on competitiveness one of his key renegotiation demands, and the Commission has in recent months already worked to accommodate it with proposals to cut regulatory red tape and improve rules for capital markets.
That effort is now continuing. Sources said the U.K.’s ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers, has been putting pressure on leaders to finish trade deals like the EU-Canada trade agreement and to make progress on the EU-U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership before the referendum — to show that the EU works.
“Part of their ask is that you use the trade power that you’ve been given,” said Emma McClarkin, a Conservative MEP on the international trade committee. “David Cameron is for making sure we deliver Canada as quickly as possible. It’s been a bit slow.”
Off the agenda altogether
Another topic that’s been put on the back burner is the EU’s accession to the European Convention of Human Rights, an international treaty on human rights that includes several European countries but not the EU as a whole.
The process of signing up to the Convention has been contentious in the U.K., where conservatives say its European Court of Human Rights would infringe on the sovereignty of the British legal system.
The court, which rules on complaints from individuals or countries alleging violations of the treaty, has previously held against the U.K. on such questions as banning voting rights for prisoners and the ability to deport non-EU criminals with family members living in Britain.
Cameron has pledged to make sure the U.K. is exempt from the court’s rulings, so re-examining the issue has been pushed off the EU agenda for now. A Commission spokesperson said the EU was currently in a “period of reflection” over how to proceed with the accession.
But some in the Parliament’s committee on human rights are eager to see the issue debated.
“The agreement has to be negotiated again,” said Cristian Preda, a Romanian MEP on the committee. “The accession of the EU to the Convention was seen from the very beginning as a very long process.”