This Week in Europe: Council nominees, Croatian euro bid and more

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Council nominees, Croatian euro bid and more

Members of the TNF team recount big events from Europe from the past week, and point attention to news that may have passed notice. What did we miss? Comment on our Facebook page at !

Council nominates Ursula von der Leyen for Commission President

This week the European Council nominated Ursula von der Leyen, the German Defence Minister, to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission. The decision has provoked controversy, with many unhappy at the way the decision was reached and the fact that it ignored the Spitzenkandidaten who campaigned for the presidency post during the recent European Parliament elections. Having been nominated by the Council, von der Leyen will now need to be approved through a vote in the European Parliament, requiring an absolute majority to pass.Though in theory the alliance in the Parliament of the EPP, S&D and Renew Europe should easily provide enough votes, a large scale rebellion is expected among the Socialist group. To win the vote von der Leyen may therefore be reliant on support from right-wing populists in Italy and Eastern Europe, securing their votes in exchange for more powerful portfolios for those countries’ Commissioners. This strategy will likely be effective, though will raise questions over the influence that anti-EU forces will have over the next Commission. The vote in the Parliament is expected on the 16th. If von der Leyen is approved, she will become the first female Commission President.

Europe settles on other top jobs

If the nomination of the European Commission President has generated some controversy, other names have been more easily accepted. Josep Borrell, from the Spanish Socialists, will be the next High Representative for Foreign Affairs. David Sassoli, from Italy’s Democratic Party, was elected to be President of the European Parliament for the first two and a half year term. Charles Michel, a Liberal and Belgium’s former Prime Minister, was chosen by the Council to be their next President. Finally Christine Lagarde will likely be moving from her role at the head of the IMF to become President of the ECB. Though the overall list reflects a more diverse political and gender balance than has been the case in the past, many have criticised the fact that all the posts went to Western Europeans, with no attempt to reflect a geographic balance.

Croatia begins process to join the euro

On Thursday, Croatia’s Finance Ministry officially sent its letter to the European Commission and the European Central Bank in order to eventually join the Eurozone. The first step will be to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), which will place the country’s monetary and exchange rate policy under the control of the ECB. This would likely start next year and would be expected to end in 2022. Finance Ministers from the 19 Eurozone states will discuss the application on Monday, as part of the monthly Eurogroup meeting, alongside Bulgaria’s application which was already submitted last year. Incorporation of both these states would expand the number of EU countries using the euro from 19 to 21, underlining a growing convergence between EU membership and the euro currency.

Portugal considering early repayment of EU bailouts

In an interview, Portugal’s Finance Minister, Mario Centeno, said the government was looking into the idea of repaying its EU bailout loans early, starting this year, in order to save on interest costs. It could start with a repayment of around €2 billion. The country is hoping to make the most of historically low borrowing costs, with 10-year bond yields for Portugal standing at 0.4%, down from a 2012 height of 18%.

Judge orders migrant rescue boat captain to be freed

Carole Rackete, the captain of a boat patrolling the mediterranean to rescue migrants stranded at sea, has been released from prison after an Italian court concluded that she was not guilty of endangering lives. The ship, along with others performing similar rescue missions, had been banned from docking in Italian ports under the instruction of far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The charges were levelled against Rackete after her boat hit a patrol boat near the Italian coast. Rackete had been ordered by the Italian military to not attempt to land and she could still face charges for helping illegal migration. Rackete insists that hitting the police boat was an accident. The circumstances of her arrest have caused tensions between Italy and Germany as Rackete is a German citizen.

Bulgaria removes all limits on private donations to political parties

On Thursday, Bulgaria, already possessing a political system in which corruption has been shown to be rampant, had its parliament vote to remove all limits for individual and corporate donations for political parties. The change was initiated by PM Boyko Borissov’s center-right GERB party, and will come into effect over the summer. The debate regarding the previous system, in which the state subsidized the parties, started when it was revealed that the parties were receiving 13 leva (or 6.5 euros) per vote in 2019, instead of receiving a lower sum. Outrage followed, as Bulgaria is the EU’s poorest country, and political parties were forced to return over 14 million leva to the state. The GERB-dominated government, moreoever, slashed subsidies to just 1 lev per vote, and decided to lift the ban on private donations from corporations and removed the 10,000-leva ceiling on individual donations.

Centrists in EP vow to stop far-right from chairing committtees

This week, mainstream political groups in the newly-elected European Parliament revealed their intentions to POLITICO to block far-right Identity & Democracy (ID) members from chairing committees on agriculture and legal affairs. Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini’s bloc claimed the right to chair the two committees, but the EPP, the S&D group, the Greens and the liberal Renew Europe group seem to have formed an anti-ID coalition, proposing an alternative chair in both committees. In the European Parliament, the chairs of committees are divided based on each group’s weight in votes through a principle of proportionality, but the mainstream groups are seeking to override the system in this case. The conservative ECR group decided to not take part in the “cordon sanitaire”.

Amnesty International calls for an “immediate stop” for the Polish crackdown on judges

This week, Amensty International called on the Polish government to stop its crackdown on judges and prosecutors and to revert back to a system in which the judiciary enjoys true independence. In its report entitled “Poland: Free Courts, Free People”, the organization details the impact of the “reforms” implemented in the judiciary by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) in 2015, showing how judges and prosecutors are being targeted for making use of their right to freedom of expression, for their rulings and other legitimate activities linked to their job. At the same time, the EU is currently enacting its Article 7 proceedings against Poland, a process which could see the country stripped of its voting rights in the Union.

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