The parliamentary elections in Czech Republic last weekend produced an unsettling but not unexpected result. The moderate populist ANO party won nearly 30% of the vote, but fell far short of a majority in the parliament. Other anti-establishment parties – the Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) and the Pirates Party – have significantly strengthened their positions. Support for the traditional parties, including Social Democrats who led the previous government for four years, dropped to single digits. Only Eurosceptic Civic Democratic Party (ODS) managed to regain some of its centre-right ground lost in the previous elections.
While in Australia at the start of this month, one question that came up repeatedly was how Australia should approach its trade relationship with Europe.
Brexit was conspicuous by its absence in the German election campaign. Migration, Islam and relations with Turkey dominated the only TV debate in early September. Relations with the second largest European economy were not even mentioned once. The EU itself also hardly figured in the campaign, beyond the usual vague commitments to the union, and having more of it. That changed after the election, when German debate about the big ideas being floated by Emmanuel Macron gathered steam. Whether or not Germany should be openly debating its future relationship with the UK, its debate over the future of the EU is likely to have important implications for that relationship.
Prime Minister Theresa May restarted the UK energy bills debate last week, announcing a draft Energy Bill which would allow Ofgem – the UK national energy regulator – to cap household energy bills in the form of the time-limited introduction of a ‘safeguard tariff’. While the GC energy practice watched from afar in Rome, some unexpected lessons from the Italian market emerged in discussions we were having with Italian policymakers and market participants.
News this week that the EU and the UK have agreed on a methodology for dividing current farm trade quotas between them was expected at some point. These ‘TRQs’ are in effect a piece of EU property that the two sides needed to agree how to divide. The problem is, of course, that they are used by other WTO members to trade with the EU and the UK, and these members will inevitably have a view on how they should be divided. This week we got the first sight of that view. What did it tell us?
The European Commission has manoeuvred carefully to avoid being drawn into the dramatic events unfolding in Spain over the last few days. A related plenary debate between European Parliament group leaders in Strasbourg this week was a heated one, with the Commission coming under fire for both passivity and preferential treatment for Madrid. While mainstream leaders focused on solidarity and dialogue, Eurosceptic MEPs charged that the Commission’s relatively hands-off approach to Catalonia contrasted with the more aggressive approach in Hungary and Poland. This tone of “we told you so” painted Brussels as a tightknit club, standing by national leaders not only supportive of its pro-EU objectives, but in a position to advance them. How justified is the charge?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the EU and the US legislated for an online ‘liability exemption’ under which websites and online platforms are broadly not held liable for the content or products that their customers and users upload to their sites. This approach was replicated globally and has been key in allowing user-generated and user-uploaded platforms such as YouTube, eBay and Twitter to grow, flourish and consolidate. It has also been criticised by more traditional media that do not enjoy the same immunity.
Yesterday, the European Council’s Trade Policy Committee gathered for an informal meeting in Tallinn to discuss how to approach the European Commission’s new trade package. The package essentially fleshed out some of the policy details of Commission President Jean Claude Junker’s vision for a more balanced and progressive EU trade policy, set out in his ‘state of the union’ address. In practice, the new policy package also outlined what will be the EU priorities in future FTA negotiations, and can be read as an attempt by the Commission to get its house in order ahead of politically contentious negotiations on a future trading relationship with the UK.
Reforms to the EU’s financial supervisory system proposed this week can be boiled down to two principles: more supervision at the European rather than the national level, and more powers for the EU to keep a closer eye on developments in other jurisdictions.
The Irish border is one of the few Brexit issues for which the positions of the parties to the negotiation are precise and clear. They are also irreconcilable, as things stand.