News from the Capitals #3
Europe is a colourful continent in terms of policies and outcomes. It is essential to stay updated on how these policies may impact your work to build better regulatory frameworks, enhance your message and enhance communication with stakeholders.
Here you can find a summary of the major European political updates of this week.
On 17 February, a key advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned after it was revealed that he had made several controversial statements on race, inequality and eugenics. The government defended his opinions and criticised the extensive media coverage, which led to a wider backlash amongst the Tory party. Kwasi Kwarteng, a Conservative business minister has criticised the advisor’s hiring after 10 Downing Street advertised for ‘misfits and weirdos’ to attract new talent.
Regarding Brexit, the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier has rejected the push for a ‘Canada style’ British trade deal to remove tariffs on key imports. The UK’s Chief Negotiator had called for a UK trade deal that would be similar to that between the EU and Canada. This would remove tariffs from most imports but retain tariffs on products such as poultry, meat and eggs. The British government are frustrated at this barrier and it signals the complexity of the future negotiations. The Canadian style agreement would mean that there are continued border checks on goods, ensuring continued copyright and certification of imports. Negotiations on the trade relationship formally begin on 3 March 2020.
The political crisis in the federal state of Thuringia continues. Former minister Bodo Ramelow calls for new elections and has suggested to appoint former Christian Democrat minister Christine Lieberknecht as the head of an interim government. However, the Christian Democrats reject this proposal. The party demands a fully constituted government under Mrs. Lieberknecht and the adoption of the state budget for 2021. Consequently, and as the dispute appears stuck, Mrs. Lieberknecht explained, that she would not be available for the lead of an interim government as suggested by Mr. Ramelow.
The political dispute has created a stir-up at the federal political level. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer explained that she would step down as party leader of the Christian Democrats. This ultimately resulted in a heated debate of who would become the new party leader given the fact that there is the tradition that the Christian Democratic party leader will automatically be the chancellor candidate. Whereas Health Minister Jens Spahn, Friedrich Merz, and current Prime Minister of North-Rhine Westphalia Armin Laschet were listed as potential candidates, Norbert Röttgen, head of the committee on external relations and former federal minister of environment, stepped forward and announced his candidacy. This step was surprising given the fact that it seemed that the Christian Democrats leadership tried to find a decision behind closed doors.
France was shaken last Thursday night by a political scandal which sparked unexpected changes in the Government. Municipal elections are approaching - the first round is to be held on 15 March- and the presidential party candidate for Paris, Benjamin Griveaux, was exposed in a leaked sex tape. He withdrew his candidacy on the next day, 14 February, pushing the La République en Marche party to name a new candidate as quickly as possible. Discussions were held over the weekend, and Agnès Buzyn, the French Minister for Health, was chosen to take Griveaux's place. As a result, a new Minister for Health was needed, and Olivier Véran, former general rapporteur for the Social Affairs Committee, was designated as Buzyn's successor.
Buzyn left her office amidst a tense political context for the Ministry of Health. This includes pressure of several high-profile issues such as the fact that debates on the controversial Pensions Reform started on 17 February at the National Assembly, public hospital staff are still on strike protesting the Government's "Emergency Plan for Public Hospital”, the Coronavirus issue needs to be kept under control, the bill on age and autonomy is still being prepared, and the 2020 Cancer Plan is also underway. Véran said he is ready to face these challenges.
With the National Assembly starting to examine the Pensions Reform Bill for which the Special Commission was unable to go through all 22,000 amendments, the road ahead of the new French Minister for Health might be bumpy.
In mid-January, Robert Abela (Labour Party) became the Prime Minister of Malta. Robert Abela had previously stated that the priority of his government is to implement the needed institutional changes, such as in the area of the rule of law. Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt had a meeting on 14 February with Prime Minister Abela and government ministers. In this meeting he commented that Malta had taken too long to start implementing necessary rule of law reforms. In line with this priority, the government will announce a plan on the methods of appointment and removal of the judiciary in the coming weeks. On 16 February, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lews (Labour Party) stated that changes would be “surprising” and would be based in the Venice Commission’s recommendation as much as possible. The Venice Commission is an advisory body of the Council of Europe in the field of constitutional law and have published in 2018 an opinion on amendments of relevant files in Malta. Prime Minister Robert Abela has also united the remits of justice, equality and governance under one ministry, further indicating the commitment to the Venice Commission’s recommendations.
You can find more information on European news in our EU national elections heatmap, where we provide an overarching perspective with key political insight for individual countries. Make sure to check it here.