Politics in Brussels: How the coming months will affect UK farming

Flags of European Union in front of European Commission in Brussels

The NFU's team in Brussels provides an insight into the political events due to take place in the European Union this year.

With or without Brexit, 2019 was always going to be an important year for the European Union. Elections, votes and decisions taking place over the coming months will lay the foundations for the next five years of the EU’s direction and policy.

Whatever the final outcome of Brexit, EU regulations will make a difference to how UK farmers operate. This will either be directly, through a need for the UK to continue to follow or mirror rules, or indirectly, through the need to have market access for our agri-food products. And of course, until the UK ceases to be a member, all rules and decisions – on pesticides, water quality, food safety standards or countless other areas – apply in full.

Knowing when the key milestones are and why they matter for UK farming – both through the lens of Brexit and outside of it – is useful for us to understand as we continue to lobby for the best outcomes in all areas of decision making, as well as understanding the changing make up of the EU that the UK will continue to negotiate with.

The timeline below highlights a number of important events, but it should be borne in mind that dates can slip if processes become difficult, so when things actually happen could yet change.

May

What's happening?

European elections take place 23-26 May across the EU to elect new Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). If it takes part, the UK will elect 73 MEPs to a Parliament with a total of 751 members. If the UK does not take part, the total number of MEPs will be reduced to 705 (some countries will be allocated extra MEPs).

Why does it matter?

MEPs will sit for five years with decision making power on EU legislation, including the yet to be negotiated future EU-UK relationship deal. Furthermore, members can block certain decisions by the European Commission related to trade for example and can take a variety of non-legislative actions to pressure the Commission into acting.

June

What's happening?

MEPs from different national political parties will form political groups in the Parliament – many are already established. The groups will form coalitions and discuss which positions MEPs are seeking on committees and other influential positions. Candidates for the President of the Parliament will be declared if not already.

Why does it matter?

Members of political groups vote together on legislation, and coalitions extend this cooperation. Hundreds of MEPs pledging to vote together has significant implications for the direction of EU policy. The participation of UK MEPs, whose length of service is uncertain, will complicate matters this time around.

July

What's happening?

The new MEPs officially start their mandate on 2 July. They will elect a President and 14 Vice Presidents for the Parliament. MEPs will vote to elect a new President of the European Commission. This is likely to be a candidate from the largest political group or one who can command a majority and is selected by the EU member state leaders in the council. Membership of committees, the chairmanship of them and the work they will pick up from the previous mandate may also be decided this month.

Why does it matter?

This busy month will see lots of influential positions filled. The President of the Parliament is influential within the institution and among others. The President of the Commission is highly influential as he or she sets the direction and priorities for the Commission, which is the only EU institution that can actually propose new legislation. The membership and leadership of parliamentary committees such as agriculture, environment and trade is crucial as this is where amendments to rules are proposed.

August

What's happening?

The European Parliament does not sit this month and the vast majority of staff in other EU institutions will be on holiday too. It is traditionally a quiet month for all European governments, but there will likely be discussions on the one candidate for European Commissioner each member state can put forward.

Why does it matter?

If the UK is still in the EU, and no exceptions are made, the country will select a potential European Commissioner. Commissioners head up Directorates General of the commission – like ministries for different areas. Commissioners for agriculture, environment, food safety and trade will lead important decisions in these areas.

September

What's happening?

MEPs return from holidays and sit again on 2 September. They will organise hearings for the 26 or 27 Commissioners (depending on the UK’s involvement). These hearings will take place in the relevant committee for each policy area in order to scrutinise the proposed Commissioners’ previous work, abilities and suitability.

Why does it matter?

The Parliament must vote to approve the appointment of the entire Commission as one. Therefore any problematic candidates jeopardise the others. Entire Commissions have fallen in the past on allegations of corruption for example, so getting this process right is important for the stability and shape of the EU for the next five years.

October

What's happening?

Hearings for Commissioners could continue into this month. All MEPs will then vote to appoint all Commissioners to their various positions. Unless extended, the current mandate of European Commissioners and the President, Jean Claude-Juncker, will end on 31 October.

Why does it matter?

The final appointment of Commissioners – potentially including one from the UK – is the final step before they can begin the work of proposing new EU legislation or changes to existing rules. Commissioners also take decisions collectively in some areas where member states cannot agree, a notable example being pesticide authorisations.

November

What's happening?

The new Commissioners will take office for a five year mandate. The mandate of the President of the European Council – currently Donald Tusk – also expires at the end of the month. Member state leaders will therefore likely vote this month to appoint a new President to take office from 1 December.

Why does it matter?

The President of the European Council has been a central, highly influential figure in attaining EU unity or consensus on issues such as migration, climate and Brexit. If by this time the UK and EU are negotiating their future trading relationship, this individual will be tasked with keeping EU leaders united.

December

What's happening?

During this month the Commission President is likely to publish the Work Programme of the Commission for 2020. It will lay out in some detail concrete legislation to be proposed, continued or dropped and the timelines involved. Key among these will concern ongoing CAP reform and potential new changes to pesticide rules.

Why does it matter?

This will show with some precision how the EU will pursue its priorities. Depending on Brexit developments the UK could for example have full involvement in this work during a further Article 50 extension or have to accept new rules but have no say in them during a Brexit transition period.

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Last edited on: 26:04:2019

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