Welcome to Better Europe’s weekly update on EU Affairs.
MUSICAL CHAIRS FOR EUROPE’S TOP JOBS ACCELERATE DUE TO LIBERAL RESHUFFLE
Winds of change are blowing over Europe’s highest political offices. European Council President Charles Michel announced last Sunday that he would soon leave his position to run as a candidate for the European Parliament elections in June. He is expected to head the list of the French-speaking Reformist Movement in Belgium, part of the Renew group in the Parliament, creating controversy around his ability to combine his campaign and his remaining responsibilities in the Council. Michel’s move also accelerates a Belgian game of musical chairs, as having him head a gender-alternated list projected at two seats means current Belgian Commissioner Didier Reynders could only land the third spot to become an MEP, while also his chances of another Commission mandate are low. As a result, the Belgian government announced its support to Reynders’ candidacy to be the next secretary-general of the Council of Europe (the non-EU related human rights institution in Strasbourg). To add to this, Renew group leader Stéphane Séjourné stepped down on Thursday from his position as MEP to become France’s new Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs – sparking a succession war within the liberal group in Parliament as well.
BELGIAN PRESIDENCY STARTS WITH HEAVY WORKLOAD AHEAD OF JUNE EP ELECTIONS
Belgians are known for road cycling and compromise building, and the six-month Belgian Presidency (programme) was kicked off with the usual stereotypes. Compromises will in fact be urgently needed to wrap up the majority of the 140 outstanding files, as the first deadline for trilogue agreements is already on 9 February. The second deadline is on 15 March – anything adopted by then can still be endorsed by the current Parliament in its final session in April, with a corrigendum vote by the next Parliament for the usual legal-linguistic cleaning up. If need be, there is a third and final hard deadline to find agreements by early April, although any text agreed would have to be endorsed by the new Parliament in an “early second reading”, a Brussels specificity that nowadays only appears once every five years, as trilogue decision-making has become the norm. The Belgian Minister that chairs the Council meetings depends on whether the discussion at hand is a federal, regional or linguistic competence (full overview). If we’ve lost you and you prefer a taste of Belgian musical all-stars, here is a Spotify multilingual playlist instead.
EURO CELEBRATES ITS 25TH BIRTHDAY AND GETS READY FOR DIGITAL
The euro turns 25 this year, although for most people it will be 22 years as euro banknotes and coins were not used until 2002. Throughout its 25 years of formal existence, the euro survived a major financial crisis as well as the economic uncertainty of the past years. Starting in twelve EU Member States, it has since welcomed many new members, with Croatia being the latest to join the party in 2023. Yet, 2024 marks not only a special birthday for the euro but also a potential new stage in its existence as the European Parliament and the Council continue to work on the legislative proposal on the establishment of the digital euro. In the European Central Bank’s words: the digital euro would offer an additional payment option for everyone in the euro area, and it would be issued by the Central Bank, making it the first Central Bank Digital Currency in Europe.