|Sánchez’s election gamble and Orbán’s rule-of-law defiance cast a shadow over the EU’s policy cycle |
By Euronews Brussels bureau
It’s a ritual well known in Brussels.
Every six months, one of the 27 member states of the European Union takes over the rotating presidency of the EU Council, one of the bloc’s co-legislators. As such, the country is tasked with chairing meetings, setting the agenda, steering negotiations and drafting compromise texts. The duties are intense and exhausting but also highly rewarding: the selected country enjoys a first-person role in shaping political agreements.
This time, though, the transfer of power has come under question.
In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called a snap general election after his socialist party performed poorly at last week’s local and regional polls. Snap elections are nothing unusual in Europe, but this one comes with a special twist: it has been scheduled for 23 July, just three weeks after Spain replaces Sweden at the very top of the EU Council.
The coincidence of a high-stakes election and the start of a rotating presidency spells bad news for what was – until Monday – expected to be Spain’s big moment on the European stage. Eager to seize the opportunity, Sánchez has spent the last months travelling around the continent, meeting his counterparts and laying the groundwork for a successful, deal-maker presidency.
The high expectations didn’t stem solely from Sánchez’s promotional tour but from the sheer reality on the ground. Before the end of the year, the EU institutions are meant to wrap up a series of consequential pieces of legislation that have been piling up on the to-do list.
Chief among them, a post-crisis overhaul of the electricity market, a world-first attempt to regulate artificial intelligence, an unprecedented scheme to confiscate frozen Russian assets, a €500-million plan to ramp up ammunition production for Ukraine, and the long-awaited reform of the EU’s fiscal rules.
Given their weight, these files will require a strong, consistent impetus to move forward and achieve consensus among the 27 capitals, a hard task that a country immersed in a polarised election might struggle to fulfil. An abrupt shift from Sánchez’s socialists to the conservative opposition party – perhaps with the support of the far-right – could inject an extra dose of chaos into the policy cycle.
Making matters more urgent, the next presidency, to be held by Belgium, will inevitably be humstrung by the election to the European Parliament, an occasion that will bring Brussels to a standstill as the entire bloc gets in campaign mode.
Next in the line will be Hungary, whose turn at the rotating presidency has been scheduled for the second half of 2024. This, too, has been put in doubt.
In a non-binding resolution voted on Thursday, the European Parliament raised questions on how Hungary might be able to “credibly fulfil” the tasks associated with the presidency and respect the principle of “sincere cooperation,” given the country’s democratic backsliding and long track of rule-of-law breaches.
The resolution calls on the Council to find a “proper solution as soon as possible,” which MEPs did not specify. “Parliament could take appropriate measures if such a solution is not found,” they add.
Despite the criticism levelled at Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's government, the text falls short of calling for an outright cancellation of Hungary’s scheduled presidency.
Such a move has no precedent in European history and legal experts are highly sceptical on how, or even if, the Parliament could interfere with a prerogative that rests exclusively in the hands of member states.
Still, the debate is poised to continue, as many in Brussels wonder: How high should the bar be?
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON?
THE FRONTLINE Russian forces began June with a fresh aerial bombardment of Kyiv, killing at least three people, local authorities said. The barrage adds to a string of targeted attacks against Ukraine’s civilian population, which experts described as “terror bombing.” Also this week, German-Russo relations took a new turn for the worse. Meanwhile, in Bratislava, Ursula von der Leyen rejected calls for a ceasefire, arguing it would lead to a “frozen conflict.” And in South Africa, the government granted diplomatic immunity to Vladimir Putin so he can attend a BRICS summit in August.
GET TOGETHER Nearly 50 European leaders, including President Volodymr Zelenskyy, flew this week to Moldova to attend the second summit of the European Political Community. In an interview with Euronews, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas urged NATO allies to come up with “clear wording” to provide security guarantees to Ukraine. “This is important to give Ukrainians hope and show Russia that we are behind Ukraine and that Ukraine’s place is in NATO,” Kallas said.
BEYOND THE WEST As part of its sweeping sanctions, the EU decided to ban all seabone imports of Russian crude oil. The move was designed to deprive the Kremlin’s budget of its greatest source of revenues. So far, the results have been a mixed bag. By bringing down prices, Russia has indeed lost money – but also found new clients outside the Western sphere.
THE LONG WAIT Sweden applied to join NATO more than a year ago under the conviction that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had permanently altered Europe’s security structure. And yet, the Swedish bid is still pending. Knarik Papoyan explains the reasons behind the hold-up.
LEGAL TROUBLE Poland is once again under scrutiny. Both the European Commission and the US Department of State have expressed very serious concerns about a new law to establish a special committee to investigate cases of “Russian influence” inside the country. Brussels and Washington worry the panel will be used to target opposition politicians and punish them without a fair trial.
EXPLAINED Why the nature restoration law has suddenly become the most controversial piece of legislation in Brussels.
UNDER THREAT Everybody in Spain is talking about Doñana. The national park, which has long suffered from intensive farming, risks being further damaged by a proposed expanstion of irrigation areas for berry production. In the latest episode of Euronews Witness, Hans von der Brelie travels to Doñana to examine the threats faced by the natural reserve.
TOUGH TIMES Spain is not alone in its fight against extreme weather. Euronews Green looks into the European countries that are most vulnerable to drought.
FAIR PAY Hollywood is currently paralysed by a strike called by the Writers Guild of America (WGA), whose 11,500 members are demanding a pay rise, better working conditions and safeguards around the use of artificial intelligence. Does Europe have an equivalent to the WGA that can defend the rights of European screenwriters?
UNIQUE Here's a mini guide to Europe’s bizarre museums that you shall not miss.
|IT'S IN THE NUMBERS |
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan secured a historic third term as Turkey’s president after defeating opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the second round of voting. The incumbent won over 27.8 million votes, compared to the 25.5 million amassed by his rival. The turnout stood at an impressive 84.5%, reflecting a strong interest from Turkish citizens. The OSCE said the elections were free but not fair.
|EDITOR'S CHOICE |
Norway offers a preview of Europe’s electric car revolution
|In Norway, roads have turned silent. The Nordic country has fully embraced the electric vehicle, with nine out 10 new cars sold being either electric or hybrid. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in two years, a decade ahead of the EU’s deadline. “We are the first country to kill the combustion car,” says Øyvind Solberg Thorsen, CEO of the Norwegian Road Federation. What explains the transformation? Industrial subsidies, a robust charging infrastructure, climate-change awareness and, of course, one of the world’s highest GDP per capita are some of the factors at play. But there’s more to the story. Camille Bello goes deeper into Norway’s electric car revolution. |
|NO COMMENT |
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