What a frustrating time this must be for Sweden’s EU presidency! Stockholm’s ambitious plans to demonstrate its dynamic management of the Union are becalmed. Two days after confirming the Council’s candidacy of Barroso, prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt was obliged to announce that the European Parliament had postponed until mid-September its vote on renewing the Commission president’s mandate. Urgent decisions relating to climate change and the economic crisis could well be delayed. No institutional navel-gazing was the Swedish promise, but it’s not turning out like that.
To make matters more complicated, all institutional matters must await the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty, now scheduled for October 2. “There is no plan B” commented Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt on the possibility of an Irish “no” vote.
All this delay must be especially galling for Bildt, a quintessential man of action who relishes the international stage – and one of the candidates for Lisbon’s new job as Council president.
Still, a pattern is beginning to emerge. On Bastille Day former Polish prime minister Jerzy Buzek is expected to be elected president of the Parliament for the next 2 ½ years on the understanding that the Socialist group will take over for the second half of the five year mandate in the person of Martin Schulz. ALDE’s Graham Watson has withdrawn his candidacy in return for an enquiry into the financial services crisis to be chaired by German liberal Wolf Klinz.
It now seems likely that this package will ensure EPP, Socialist, ALDE and Conservative support for Barroso in September, although the greens and others will seek a further postponement.
The MEPs are keeping up the pressure on Barroso: he must set out his own policy objectives to the Parliament in advance of the EP vote.
However, I see that Barroso is planning to use his spare time between now and mid-September to campaign for a “yes” vote in Ireland. Jerzy Buzek is also planning to go there. This is surely in marked contrast to the previous referendum, when foreign politicians were asked to stay away. The point will no doubt be made that without approval of the Lisbon Treaty, the Nice rules will apply, depriving Ireland of a commissioner, maybe for five years in every 15.
Back in the Parliament, chairs of the committees are being allocated. The Conservatives – that’s to say European Conservatives and Reformists – will be pleased that Malcolm Harbour is slotted to take over as chair of the Internal Market Committee. Harbour is much respected by the Commission, in particular because of the role he played in piloting the services directive through Parliament.
I reckon Harbour is someone in touch with the real world. Having just got a new mobile phone and yet another charger to add to my collection I’m glad to see his involvement in a voluntary scheme for setting a standard for these devices so you don’t get a new charger every time you have a new phone. Practical measures like that are especially welcome in the midst of all this institutional power play, or navel-gazing as they call it.
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July 13, 2023