The Weekly Vulcan View | Analysis of Latest EU Developments May 13 – 17

Key Events This Week

Polls predict decimation of Tories in European elections
Latest polling puts Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party ahead of the pack in the race for the European elections. Polls suggest that the Brexit Party commands between 30% and 34% of the prospective vote for the upcoming European elections, taking place on 23 May. Polls show the Labour party holding 21% of the prospective vote and the Conservatives languishing on just 12%.

This would mean the Conservatives would fall to their lowest vote share in a national election since they were formed in 1834. The Liberal Democrats, Greens and Change UK, which are all supporters of a second referendum on Brexit, collectively have the support of about 28% of the public.

The decimation of the Conservative vote to a meagre 12% is largely being attributed to their handling of the Brexit process and the leadership of Theresa May. With the likelihood of a weak performance in the upcoming European elections and the extremely poor performance in the local elections weeks ago, Theresa May has announced that she will establish a timeline to give up the leadership of the Conservative party. Boris Johnson has already stated that he will contest for the leadership of the party.

It appears likely that the Conservatives will be punished for the manner in which they have dealt with the Brexit process. Labour have lost some of their voters who were in the ‘Remain’ camp to the Liberal Democrats as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has stated that the Labour party is committed to leaving the European Union. The Brexit Party and UKIP have gained a substantial amount of voters because of the view that the ‘Leave’ vote is being betrayed by the Conservative leadership, in their attempts to strike a deal for a softer version of Brexit that Labour would agree to.

These attempts at striking a deal for a softer version of Brexit is causing ‘Leave’ voters to shift away from the Conservatives towards the Brexit party and UKIP in the fear of Brexit not going ahead, and not going ahead in the manner in which they would like.

 

Growing support for a left coalition to break EPP dominance
On Wednesday evening a final debate between Spitzenkandidaten took place in the European Parliament in Brussels.

Six candidates took part, five of whom strongly opposed Manfred Weber, the candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP), the political group that will likely come out as the (much diminished) winner in the EU elections later this month. Frans Timmermans, the Socialist candidate, used the debate to make his final pitch for a left-wing alliance that could break the center right’s monopoly control of the EU leadership. On key issues such as climate change, populism, economic policy, Timmermans reiterated the Socialists’ close alignment with the Greens and the far left, leaving Weber isolated.

In a move that is sure to worry low tax member states, Timmermans called for a minimum 18% corporation tax rate across the EU. This would of course have serious implications for Ireland, where the corporation tax rate is currently 12.5%.

Not one to shy away from heated exchanges, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) candidate, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, stood out only for her toned down, even anaemic, responses, but perked up at the mention if her €15 billion fine on Apple for accepting illegal tax benefits from the Irish state. According to her, tax havens were places “where everyone pays tax”.

Current member state polling suggest that a coalition of the Socialists, Greens and the far left would yield a base of about 250 seats in the new parliament — not enough for a majority but more than the 219 seats projected for the EPP and its conservative allies. And that would potentially give Timmermans justification to claim the Socialists should get the first shot at leading a majority coalition. With just one week to go before the European elections the next leader of the European Commission is far from clear. The choice for both the centre-left and centre-right will be whether to form a pro-European, moderate grand coalition, or whether they split and try to coalesce with the more radical extremes of the left and right. Timmermans has indicated this is a real option on the left, but in reality many mainstream centre-left MEPs will balk at this approach.

It therefore remains our prediction that the EPP, S&D, ALDE and Greens will form a grand coalition, with the top jobs – Presidents of the Commission, Council, Parliament and ECB (for the first time) – carved up among them. The incentive will be to keep hard left and hard right parties in the European Parliament away from the levers of policy making and legislative power.

 

Leaders gather in Paris to tackle extremist violence online
French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met in Paris this week to launch the ‘Christchurch Call,’ an inter-governmental appeal to put an end to terrorist acts stemming from online radicalisation. The call comes in response to the deadly terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques in New Zealand on March 15, which was live-streamed on Facebook.

Macron and Ardern met ministers from G7 nations and leaders of tech giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter. Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, did not attend. The initiative calls on signatory nations to bring in laws that ban offensive material and to set guidelines on how the traditional media report acts of terrorism. However, as a voluntary initiative it is for individual countries and companies to decide how to honour this pledge. Previous voluntary measures have failed to achieve any significant change in how tech platforms handle extremist and terrorist content.

Seventeen countries (including Ireland), the European Commission, and eight major tech companies have signed up to the pledge. The US has refused to sign up because of concerns about freedom of speech.

The tech giants also signed on to a nine-point plan of action that includes a commitment to update their companies’ terms of use, create more mechanisms for user reporting of violent content, invest in technology for monitoring, better vetting of livestream content, and publishing of annual transparency reports. They also committed to share data and work with governments and civil society on their efforts to combat hate and bigotry.

Facebook announced it would tighten access to its livestreaming feature to tackle the spread of extremism online. Facebook said it’s tightening up the rules for its livestreaming service with a “one strike” policy applied to a broader range of offences. Any activity on Facebook that violates the social network’s most serious policies, such as sharing a terrorist group’s statement without providing context, will result in the user immediately being blocked from Facebook Live for as long as 30 days.

Facebook Vice President for Integrity Guy Rosen has said “someone who shares a link to a statement from a terrorist group with no context will now be immediately blocked from using Live for a set period of time,” adding that the rules would be extended “to other areas in coming weeks, beginning with preventing those same people from creating ads on Facebook.”

The meeting in Paris ran in parallel to an initiative launched by Macron called “Tech for Good” which will bring together 80 tech chiefs to discuss how to harness technologies for the common good over the coming weeks.

 

DATES AHEAD
Monday 20 May – Informal meeting of Environment Ministers (Brussels)
Tuesday 21 May – General Affairs Council (Brussels)
Wednesday 22 May – Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council (Brussels)
Thursday 23 – Sunday 26 May – European elections

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting, a member of the EACCNY