Biweekly roundup of the CESI Secretary General

3 May 2019

Biweekly roundup of the CESI Secretary General

On April 24, a CESI/CGFP delegation led by CESI and CGFP President Romain Wolff met with Jean Asselborn, Luxemburg’s Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, to discuss current challenges of the EU and the upcoming European elections. Asselborn, already a prominent politician for many years, became even more famous last year following his clash with Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini during a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on EU joint migration management (“Merde alors!”). Not least against this background, the CESI/CGFP delegation expressed concerns about the apparent decrease of willingness from a growing number of national governments to come to agreements and compromises at EU level.

A discussion about potential EU treaty revisions revealed common scepticism. All participants agreed that the EU must stop ‘navel-gazing’ and tackle the big challenges. A paralysed and self-centred EU does not help – and the current EU treaties provide enough possibilities to bring forward relevant dossiers. The delegation also presented CESI’s EU elections manifesto, a particularity of which lies in point 2, where CESI’s Presidium highlights that “dogmatic and simplistic discourses on ’more or less Europe’ are not goal-oriented and split societies rather than call citizens to consider the substance of specific topics and themes.” In this sense, in a full page commentary for the “Luxemburger Wort” to be published on May 4, I underlined that an increasing focus on the content of European policies is more helpful than polarised “for” and “against” integration discourses (see also my editorial from February 22 2019).

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However, with the European elections taking place in just three weeks from now, they might be overshadowed by the lack of certainty of whether or not the UK will participate (in the case that it does not manage to ratify its withdrawal agreement by the time of the elections on May 23). At its meeting on April 10 the European Council granted the UK an extension for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, but it was made clear that this should not last longer than 31 October 2019. In view of the EU elections, this poses a major problem, since “if the UK is still a Member of the EU on 23-26 May 2019 and if it has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement by 22 May 2019, it must hold the elections to the European Parliament in accordance with Union law.” With the clear perspective that the UK should leave after five months –as other scenarios remain, to my mind, unlikely and undesirable (see my editorial of September 28 2018)– the European elections would degenerate to a bogus exercise in the eyes of UK citizens (and politicians) and also provide the Brexiteers with additional anti-EU ammunition. Yet the even bigger danger would lie in the overall loss of credibility of these elections in the other EU-27 countries. A potential trend we must try to counter at any price in the coming weeks. Remember #ThisTimeImVoting!

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Finally, this week’s highlight for me was my participation at Confsal’s Labour Day manifestation on the Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples. To have the opportunity to address several thousands of participants on one of the most famous and prestigious squares of Italy was a powerful moment – and a particular honour. In my address, I called upon the public not to forget also the benefits of European integration – not least for social and labour rights.

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Picture: Klaus Heeger © CESI 2019