Vulcan Insight Analysis of the latest EU Developments: 1 – 5 April 2019

Key Events This Week

Brexit rumbles on
Late Wednesday evening the House of Commons voted in favour of legislation which forces the UK government to request another extension to the Brexit process. The bill, tabled by Labour MP Yvette Copper, passed by the narrowest of majorities – one vote.

This means that Prime Minister Theresa May is now required to ask the EU for another extension to the Article 50 process in the case that her withdrawal deal does not secure backing. Britain is currently due to depart on April 12, but many observers doubt that May will be able to get her deal through the House of Commons before that. After already being defeated three times, it looks increasingly likely.

This morning, Prime Minister May wrote to EU Council President Donald Tusk requesting a short extension to the Article 50 process – until June 30th.

The EU has said it would be open to an extension. But it would likely have to be a long delay, requiring the UK to take part in elections to the European Parliament on May 23, a move that May has bitterly opposed.

A long extension to Brexit drew vehement criticism from Guy Verhofstadt, head of the European Parliament Brexit Steering Group. He decried the idea, saying that the architects of the Brexit mess, naming Boris Johnson and Michael Gove “would have the keys in their hands on the future of the European Union.”

Earlier in the week May held talks with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn in an effort to find a way out of the Brexit impasse. Labour want to achieve a customs union with the EU, access to the single market and dynamic regulatory alignment, that is “a guarantee of European regulations as a minimum on the environment, consumer and workers’ rights”. Many Conservatives MPs argue that a Customs Union would destroy part of the rationale for Brexit by making it much harder to conclude trade deals with third countries.

In the meantime Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar held meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both Merkel and Varadkar are among the EU leaders who most want to avoid the UK crashing out without a deal. Macron however has been more hardline stating that “A long extension, implying the UK takes part in European elections and European institutions, has nothing easy or automatic about it. I say that again very strongly. Our priority must be the good functioning of the EU and the single market. The EU can’t be held hostage long-term by the resolution of a political crisis in the UK.”

What happens now? Talks between government negotiators and Labour are set to continue after May and Corbyn agreed a ‘programme of work’. May wants to agree a policy with the Labour leader for MPs to vote on before next Wednesday, 10 April – when the EU will hold an emergency summit on Brexit in Brussels.

Erdoğan loses power in Turkish elections
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has lost control of the two largest cities in Turkey – Ankara and Istanbul in Sunday’s municipal elections. However, an AKP official announced the party would contest the Istanbul count. Defeat in Istanbul would hit Erdoğan particularly hard. The president began his rise as mayor of Turkey’s largest city in the 1990s and has said that “whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.”

Sunday’s vote, which was seen as a massive test of the president’s popularity and he acknowledged that his party has lost support. “We, as the AKP, have lost some of the municipalities,” Erdoğan said in a speech late Sunday. “We will accept that we have won the hearts of our people in the places where we won, and we were not successful enough in the places where we lost, and we will decide on our action plan accordingly.”

For years, Erdoğan successfully cast himself as the guarantor of prosperity and growth, but as living costs soared with inflation at around 20% and food-price increases hitting above 30% discontent grew widespread, even among the AKP’s conservative voter base. The president himself described the elections as an existential test for his country, calling the vote “a matter of survival.”

Erdoğan has been criticised for showing some of the New Zealand mosque gunman’s video to bolster support at election rallies. Mr Erdogan said part of gun suspect Brenton Tarrant’s manifesto was to keep Turks from Europe. New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters told Turkish officials showing the video was “unfair” and endangered his country’s citizens abroad.

As part of a sweeping crackdown following a coup attempt in 2016, Erdoğan’s government has removed dozens of mayors and hundreds of local officials with alleged links to terrorists, replacing them with government-appointed trustees. It remains to be seen how and if Erdoğan will acknowledge the results of the vote. We have seen already that Erdoğan has hinted he will not respect some election results, vowing to remove some 300 city councillor candidates with alleged links to Kurdish militants.

Facebook: lawmakers must regulate platforms
In recent years, social media platforms have been ridiculed for an increase in ‘fake news’ and the growth of terrorist content online. In the US, the Cambridge Analytica scandal undermined the reputation of Facebook both politically and amongst the wider public.

Nick Clegg has said that national politicians should take a greater responsibility for setting the rules over how illegal content should be tackled. National governments have already decided to act. France and Germany have passed laws to force platforms to remove illegal content. Clegg however, complains that companies are being forced to be responsible for everything on their platform.

Despite the positive rhetoric from Nick Clegg, the European Commission’s ‘dissemination of terrorist content online’ file has faced a strong and well resourced tech lobby attempting to weaken the regulation.

Ironically, Mark Zuckerberg recently penned an op-ed in the Washington Post urging lawmakers to do more. “I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators.” On Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg came to Ireland and met with deputies Hildegarde Naughton, James Lawless and Eamon Ryan, the three Irish members of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News. The three deputies are also members of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications. They raised a number of concerns, including the regulation of social media, transparency in political advertising and the safety of young people and vulnerable adults.

EU pressure tames the Romanian Presidency
As mentioned in a previous edition of the Vulcan View, the European Parliament recently nominated Laura Codruta Kovesi, to become the European Union’s first Chief Prosecutor. Since her nomination by the European Parliament, she was charged with bribery, abuse of office and false testimony in her home country Romania.

The indictment barred Kovesi from leaving Romania or speaking to the media about the case. On Wednesday, the ban was lifted on Kovesi. If the ban stayed in place, she may have been unable to take part in further application steps for the EU chief prosecutor post.

President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani voiced concerns over the charges against Kovesi; “Ms. Kovesi remains our candidate and continues to enjoy our respect and support.”

During Kovesi’s term as the Chief Prosecutor of the National Anti-corruption Directorate in Romania, hundreds of elected officials were convicted of corruption offenses. While her work drew praise from the EU, many members of Romania’s political class accused her of overstepping her mandate. The ruling Social Democrats ousted her from office last year and have since opposed her candidacy for EU chief prosecutor.

Romania currently holds the Presidency of the European Council was warned on Wednesday against reversing anti-corruption reforms Kovesi introduced and said it would take swift action if it found that Bucharest was undermining the rule of law. “In particular, I want to warn over any governmental actions that would disrupt the Romanian judicial system by creating a systemic de facto impunity for high office holders who were sentenced for corruption,” First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said. “Such a move would compel the commission to act swiftly.”

Key upcoming dates

  • 8 April – Foreign Affairs Council, Luxembourg
  • 9 April – EU – China Summit, Brussels 
  • 10 April – Special European Council (Article 50), Brussels
  • 15 April – Informal meeting of Health Ministers, Bucharest
  • 15 -18 April – European Parliament Plenary, Strasbourg

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting, a member of the EACCNY