The Brief — Britannia engaged

The Brief — Britannia engaged |

The post-election honeymoon period, where the public suspends their judgement of a new government, is something that victorious politicians have relied upon for decades. The UK’s new premier, Liz Truss, has defied the convention, instead going straight from campaigning to crisis.

Truss has, by most standards, had a traumatic week. The financial market reaction to her government’s plans to stimulate the UK economy via £45 billion of borrowing-funded tax cuts could scarcely have been more critical and embarrassing. Around 40% of the mortgage deals available at the start of this week are no longer on the table.  

The political consequences have also been immediate. Opinion polls this week have given the opposition Labour party leads ranging from 17 points to the catastrophic (at least for the Conservative Party) 33 points. 

Under pressure already, and with her first Conservative party conference as leader in Birmingham next week, Truss could have been forgiven for not looking beyond the days ahead.

It is to her credit that she plans to attend the first summit of the so-called ‘European Political Community’ in Prague on 6 October. By all accounts, she has even offered to host a summit in London in the coming months. 

As Boris Johnson’s foreign secretary three months ago, Truss was dismissive of the idea that the UK might be interested in the new forum. But her officials have been swayed by the genuine curiosity factor about the blank canvas that is the European Political Community, the brainchild of France’s Emmanuel Macron. 

There is an obvious value to an alternative organisation to the EU dealing with trade, energy and security policy.

For the UK, it could mean engaging with European neighbours in a ‘club of nations’ without integration. For the EU’s eastern partnership countries and those who, realistically, will not join the EU within the next decade, the EPC could serve as a ‘waiting room’.   

One of the first priorities of the new structure is to ensure that it does not quickly collapse under the weight of its own contradictions because it risks being too large and unfocused.

Seventeen states received invitations to the Prague summit – in addition to the EU27.

They include Turkey and Israel, who only restored diplomatic relations in August – the meeting at last month’s UN general assembly between Yair Lapid and Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first between Israel’s prime minister and Turkey’s president in 14 years – and long-standing enemies Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Not to mention Serbia and Kosovo, who agree to disagree on everything, including Pristina’s recognition by Belgrade.

Can such a group be cohesive? It is a big ask. 

But the fact that Macron’s baby is about to be born is a success in itself. So, too, is the prospect of UK involvement. 

For all the promises of a ‘global Britain’ outside the EU made by the May and Johnson governments, the six years since the 2016 referendum have seen the UK embrace isolationism of varying degrees.

EU leaders might be suspicious about the prospect of UK leadership of the EPC, but Brittania engaged is always better than Brittania alone. 

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The Roundup

EU ministers agreed on Friday on new emergency measures to tackle the energy crisis, including a mandatory target to reduce electricity consumption by 5% at peak hours and two new revenue-creating levies to help protect consumers.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin moved on Thursday (30 September) to formally announce the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions by Moscow, in what is Europe’s biggest land grab since Hitler.

Italy’s right-wing parties appear to have toned down their Euroscepticism in recent months as they prepare for power following their landslide victory in last weekend’s general election.

Austria, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Romania have urged the European Commission to aim high in its upcoming proposal on cyber defence, setting out their recommendations on five priority areas.

Germany and France have outlined their priorities for the EU’s upcoming Critical Raw Materials Act in a position paper to boost the resilience of supply chains and decrease Europe’s dependence on foreign suppliers like China.

The French pharmaceutical sector is facing a shortage of candidates, despite maintaining its place as a global leader in medicines production.

French productivity has been slowing down considerably in the past 20 years due to a significant drop in education levels and a misguided tax incentive system, a group of experts advising the prime minister have found.

Without more dialogue between institutions, trade unions, and civil society, Europe will see chaos and the rise of the far-right, European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) president Laurent Berger told EURACTIV France in an exclusive interview.

While skyrocketing inflation threatens the European cultural sector still reeling from the pandemic, some European cities are making a bet on festivals as a way to increase their social and economic resilience.

Check out this week’s edition of the Tech Brief and the Agrifood Brief.

Look out for…

  • Commissioner Mariya Gabriel on official visit to Japan 1-3 October.
  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Sofia attends inauguration of Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector on Saturday.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]


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