Vulcan View – Monday 22nd to Friday 26th of October
KEY EVENTS THIS WEEK:
Theresa May once again wards off Tory rebels on Brexit
Theresa May addressed her conservative party backbenchers at the weekly meeting of the 1922 Committee on Wednesday, where she made an impassioned speech that appears to have placated some of her critics, at least for now. Mrs May asked to speak at the meeting following rumours that backbench MPs would trigger a vote of no confidence, largely due to Mrs May’s announcement last week that she would consider extending the Brexit transition period beyond 2020.
The Prime minister gave assurances to Brexiteers that she would not agree to a Brexit deal that would sign Britain up to a customs union “limbo,” nor any scenario that would allow Northern Ireland to be split from the rest of the UK, a proposal which Mrs May had previously considered in order to break the current deadlock in negotiations. Nevertheless, Brexiteers seized on the opportunity to air their grievances, amongst them attorney-general Geoffrey Cox, who has consequently set himself up as a central figure in the process, as Eurosceptics will now look for his legal assessment on any deal to be agreed.
Despite the dissent, Theresa May has been bolstered by the EU’s new willingness to consider a UK-wide backstop. Mrs May suggested that this could allow for a legally binding commitment to a “temporary UK-EU joint customs territory” to form the basis of the withdrawal agreement, however Brussels has responded that this would be impossible to agree within the time constraints.
Though Theresa May appears to have survived her umpteenth Tory rebellion, threats to the Prime Minister’s leadership have once again made clear the extent to which she is constrained by the deep divisions in her government, and her walking-back of solutions Brexiteers deem unacceptable brings the UK no closer to a deal with the EU, with mere weeks of negotiations remaining.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION/ ITALY
European Commission rejects Italian budget
In a strong rebuke to the populist government in Rome, the European Commission refused to endorse Italy’s draft budget. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, himself an Italian, says that their plans for drastically increased spending are not justified as they will not promote job growth. It is the first time Brussels has refused to approve a member state’s draft budget. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker admitted last week that he was under pressure not to allow Italy to subvert the bloc’s rules, after years of leniency.
The Commission’s vice-president for the euro, Valdis Dombrovskis, said that Brussels had no choice but to demand further changes, as Rome had been warned that their 2.4% fiscal deficit target violates EU fiscal rules, as well as commitments made by the previous government to reduce the deficit in light of the extensive government debt, which is second only to that of Greece. Rome has three weeks to submit a new draft.
Mr Dombrovskis urged Italy to begin immediate negotiations, emphasising that the EU’s “door is open.” However, deputy Prime Ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio have condemned the decision as an attack on Italy and its people and stated that they would not give up on their plans. Non-compliance could result in fines, and a lengthy standoff could lead to further market instability. The Italian government appears to be assuming that the EU cannot afford to allow Italy, the third largest economy in the eurozone, to fall into real crisis. However, the unprecedented budget rejection suggests that EU officials are serious about no longer allowing Italy to skirt the rules.
ECJ orders the suspension of Poland’s judicial overhaul
The Polish judges who had been ousted by the country’s controversial judicial overhaul returned to work this week. The European Court of Justice, following a request from the Commission last month, ordered the changes to be suspended and judges to be reinstated until it can rule whether they are contrary to EU rule of law. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has implemented a number of measures to allow politicians greater control over the courts, including forcing approximately a third of the Supreme Court’s judges into early retirement, unless they are granted an extension by the Polish president.
The decision comes after two years of disputes between Warsaw and Brussels over the Polish government’s increasingly illiberal policies. The Law and Justice party has argued the measures are a necessary reform to a system that has not been fully overhauled since the end of communist area. However, the EU considers the changes a threat to judicial independence and fears that Poland, alongside Hungary, is moving away from the bloc’s fundamental democratic principles.
The ruling is a significant step by the EU to enforce its norms, at a time when far-right politics are undoubtedly on the rise. Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, has said that the government will abide by the ruling. However, Mr Ziobro also requested Poland’s constitutional courts to rule on whether European law supersedes national law. This move was criticised by the opposition as an attempt to move Poland towards potentially leaving the EU, an accusation which the justice minister has dismissed.
European Parliament passes a resolution calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia
On Thursday the European Parliament voted in favour, by 325-1, of a non-binding resolution that condemns the killing of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as an affront to European values. The Saudi Foreign Ministry has admitted the murder was premeditated, in a striking reversal of previous explanations. The murder comes as part of a larger crackdown, led by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, against human rights activists and journalists, some of whom may face the death penalty.
The resolution encourages EU nations to suspend the sale of arms to the nation, which is the world’s biggest arms importer, as well as a ban on the technology being used to identity individuals deemed to oppose the regime. It also advocates sanctions such as travel bans and the freezing of European assets to be imposed by members on the suspected perpetrators.
The resolution came after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Sunday that Germany would be enforcing an arms embargo, telling reporters that “arms exports can’t take place in the current circumstances.” However, other member states, notably the UK and France, Saudi Arabia’s main weapons suppliers after the United States, have not yet followed suit. European leaders, including Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron, spoke to King Salman, calling on the leader to provide a full investigation and ensure those responsible are held to account. Mr Macron and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt have indicated that they will implement sanctions and appropriate measures.