Written by Giacomo Migliore

What are the EU institutions working on? How is EU responding to the most pressing international issues? How are political parties preparing for the 2019 elections? This column provides readers with a monthly briefing on the main events that shape the European political arena and the future of our Union.

Brussels Briefing – Introductory issue

Today’s topic:

  • Brussels Briefing: a presentation
  • The coming year: Brexit, migration, 2019 election, MFF and much more…
  • Perhaps not everyone knows this!


Brussels Briefing: a presentation

The European Union is one of the most impressive experiments in history and is an ever-developing project. Jean Monnet, the French diplomat and father of the EU, once said: “Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises”. 2018 and 2019 will certainly mark the future of the European project. The  months ahead presents challenges that demand effective solutions and crucial institutional appointments.

Understanding European politics is not easy and often people struggle to grasp it. Traditional news sources do not always succeed in lending a helping hand; their articles tend to describe in detail the latest news but seldom provide the necessary information to understand the whole context in which they take place. Understanding European Union politics means understanding two main political environments. Firstly, there is the debate about the issues of concern for the EU which is held by the heads of the governments. They convene four times a year during the meetings of the European Council, the institution which includes all heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, the European Council President and the European Commission President. The European Council sets the policy agenda by adopting conclusions at the end of these meetings. Secondly, there are the concrete policies that are put into practice mainly in the form of Regulations and Directives (think at the GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation – that protects users’ data or the abolition of roaming tariffs within the EU). They are proposed by the European Commission, the executive body, and approved by the European Parliament and by the Council of the European Union, respectively the directly elected representatives of the European citizens and the national ministers of the member states. On top of this, national governments and the national parties contribute remarkably in determining the direction of EU politics, especially in respect to the most pressing issues.

The goal of this column is to describe the main events that affect EU politics by providing the necessary context. Since this column is addressed to students from all field of studies and from all around Europe, it tries to explain the trickiest misconceptions that are often taken for granted. At the end of each column, there will be a short interesting fact about the EU, that you perhaps don’t know yet! As this is the first Brussels Briefing column, I do not start yet by describing the main political events of the last fortnight, I will rather outline two topical political issues at stake – Brexit and the migration crisis – as well as the 2019 institutional appointments – the European elections plus the negotiations around the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – that are currently in the heads of decision-makers in Brussels. These topics will be at the centre of the attention in the months to come.

The coming year: Brexit, migration, 2019 election, MFF and much more…

Brexit is the name of the process that will end with the exiting of the United Kingdom from the European Union. On 23 June 2016, 51.9% of British people made this decision through a referendum. On June 2018 Queen Elizabeth signed into law the EU withdrawal bill, passed at both houses of the UK parliament. On the 29th of March 2019 the UK is set to officially end its membership to the EU. At the moment tough negotiations are going on, with the aim of finding a deal between the UK and the EU to regulate the most diverse questions. Even though such a deal is not necessary to accomplish the exit and there are still some aspects to be decided on, it is strongly desired by almost all parties involved. After being defined, the final deal must be approved by the UK, EU Parliaments and the Council to enter into effect.
A primary challenge for the continent is migration, which causes much debate in both national and European politics. There are substantially different views on the topic. Potential answers have been discussed by the heads of EU governments in two European Council meetings, a formal one in June and an informal one from, 19 to 20 September in Salzburg. Migration is a particularly pressing challenge because there is no clue that it will end anytime soon and will probably play a major role in the European election political debate.
These are some of the hot political issues this autumn: the Polish and the Hungarian governments have adopted political measures that are not in line with the core European values according to the European Commission, and since a few years anti-establishment political parties have been gaining momentum in many EU countries and are now preparing for the European elections. To what extent will they contribute to shape the European Union political arena?

Two institutional appointments are going to transform 2018’s state of politics. These are the European elections that will take place at the end of May 2019 and the negotiations about the Multiannual Financial Framework.
The election will allow each European citizen to cast a vote for his/her representative in the European Parliament. The European Commission president role (the top job in the Brussels jargon) will be renewed too. In 2014 it was elected for the first time through a process unofficially named Spitzenkandidat (the German word for lead candidate). This means that the European Commission president will be one of the candidates presented by the European Parliament. To put it in simple terms, the candidate who will manage to find a majority in the parliament will fill the post. However, this process is not strictly formalized by the treaties. In fact, the treaties require the president to be nominated by the European Council by “taking account of the results of the European Parliament election”. What means to fairly take account of the election is currently disputed, since a majority of the European Council has voiced against the Spitzenkandidat process. Nevertheless, some politicians have already officialised their willingness to run for the top job.
The MFF (Multiannual Financial Framework) might not appear that often on the headlines of newspapers; nonetheless, it is of paramount importance to determine the policies of the coming years. This document determines how the financial resources will be allotted to each of the European policies and consequently member states. In other words, how much money each different policy and member state will get from the European Commission in the 7 years from the MFF adoption (2021 – 2027). A proposal of the MFF for the following seven-year period has been advanced by the commission on May 2 2018, and its objective is to end the negotiations before the European elections. There are however doubts about the feasibility of this strict schedule.

From the next issue of Brussel Briefing on we will have a closer look at the two or three topical events taking place in the 30 days previous to the newsletter publication. To receive it into your inbox together with the other news of the think tank, you can subscribe to the European Student Think Tank newsletter. For any suggestion, opinions or questions, feel free to write an email at editorinchief@esthinktank.com .

Perhaps not everyone knows this!

The United Kingdom is not the first country to leave the European Union: It was Greenland. Both islands joined what at the time was the EEC, the European Economic Community, in 1973. A referendum took place in 1982, and 52% of the Greenland population (that totally counts 56.000 people) decided to leave. In 1985 the exit process was completed and Greenland became an OCT country (overseas country and territory) to the EU, islands that are not EU member states but has a special partnership with the bloc.

Giacomo is a Master student of Business Studies in a joint degree programme at Università diTrento, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, Universität Kassel e Universidad de León. He graduated with honours in Modern Languages at the Università di Trento, studying English and German as main foreign languages. He spent a semester abroad working in a small consultancy in Brussels with a focus on economics, digitalization and related social themes, as for example the participation of women in decision-making processes. He enjoys cultural diversity and likes travelling and learning languages. Among the experiences abroad, he worked with NGO in Brazil and Cameroon and spent six months in Argentina.

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