EU Friday – 16 February 2024

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EU Friday

Welcome to Better Europe’s weekly update on EU Affairs.


As the countdown to the Parliament elections goes on, EU institutions face an institutional crisis on their main method of decision-making in trilogues: provisional deals agreed in trilogue are increasingly blocked last-minute by national governments, driven by their own national electoral concerns and populism. In December, a last-minute opposition led by France blocked the adoption of the Platform Workers Directive, on which a provisional agreement was already agreed between the Parliament and the Spanish Presidency. Now, it is the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive which is at great risk, after Germany, Italy and several countries indicated to the Belgian Presidency that they would either abstain on or oppose the provisional agreement reached by EU negotiators a few weeks ago. The fact that the German liberal FDP, polling at 4% of German votes for the EP elections is planning to block up to 14 legislative files by the end of the mandate, is a prime illustration of how EU policymaking and democratic credibility are seriously hindered by short-term political gains and opportunistic behaviour.


One of the key lobby battles on the future digital euro is how much money citizens will be able to hold on their digital euro account – is it meant to be a payment instrument with an average balance below a monthly salary, or can large sums of money be stored for a long time? In other words, will it be the equivalent of the cash in your wallet, or can it also be the cash stored under the matrass? To ensure the digital euro is not too successful, banks are actively lobbying for a “holding limit” which would stop citizens moving their money from bank accounts to central bank money. In the European Parliament, rapporteur Stefan Berger (EPP, Germany) proposes not to define such holding limits at EU level, leaving it to the individual Payment Service Providers (PSPs) to decide. But most of the digital euro distribution will be done through the apps of … banks. Negotiations inside the Parliament will take place in the coming weeks, with a vote already due on 4 March. Because of the upcoming elections, the trilogue negotiations with Member States and any final decision will be left to the new Parliament.


In the last weeks, three candidates for the job of European Commission President have been formally announced. The European Greens announced a duo: Bas Eickhout (Netherlands) and Terry Reintke (Germany). In the Brussels bubble, everyone already knows that Ursula von der Leyen is running for a second mandate, to be officially confirmed during her party congress in Berlin next week. This would put her in competition with her current colleague Nicolas Schmit from Luxembourg, who is currently Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights and recently nominated as the European Socialists’ candidate. For now, the European elections process has focused predominantly on Brussels, and not on Europe and European voters. A Eurobarometer survey from last year showed a limited interest in this year’s EU elections, which is not an improvement since the last elections in 2019 where slightly over 50% of voters participated. And perhaps this is a blessing in disguise for many current and potential MEPs: a higher turnout will strengthen democratic legitimacy but could also lead to more fringe parties appearing in the EU Parliament.