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Reality check: Webers plan for Europe

Hes a Man(fred) with a plan.

Manfred Weber this week presented 12 policy proposals as part of his bid to be named the next president of the European Commission.

The Bavarian nominee of the European Peoples Party (EPP) said his ideas are part of his vision for a “strong, smart and kind” Europe. “I give you my guarantee: If you choose me as your next European Commission president, these proposals will see the light within the next five years,” he declared.

Weber has a way to go before he can get a shot at making his plans reality. While the EPP is projected to come first in next months European Parliament election, EU leaders could still nominate someone else for the Commission presidency. Critics have expressed doubts about Webers readiness for the post, as he has not held executive public office at a senior level.

But if Weber does triumph, what will become of his plans? POLITICOs specialist reporters put his proposals under the microscope to see how they compare with current EU policies and rate their chances of becoming reality.

1 — 10,000 European Border Guards by 2022

The overall target of equipping Europes newly established border forces with 10,000 staff has already been agreed by EU governments and the European Parliament. The plan is to have 5,000 operational staff by 2021, and a 10,000-strong force by 2027. Webers proposal calls for staffing up much more quickly, but that may not be so straightforward. The Commission initially proposed to have 10,000 staff by 2020, only to see this deadline pushed back to 2027 in negotiations with member states and the Parliament — even some governments that take a tough line on migration dont like the idea of handing over border control to the EU.

French border control was ramped up over Christmas | Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

Webers pledge to “put a definite stop” to human traffickers is even more of a stretch. Migration has complex causes and even an expanded force would struggle to patrol all of Europes vast sea border effectively.

Chances of becoming reality: 1/5

— Jacopo Barigazzi

2 — European FBI to fight terrorism

After every terrorist attack on EU soil, someone usually calls for the creation of a European equivalent of the FBI. Now its an election pledge, adopted not just by Weber but by his German conservatives in their manifesto. The idea is to beef up Europol, the European police agency. But the plan seems to stop well short of giving it the same powers as the FBI. The F-word, “federal,” which would mean giving up executive powers to the EU, is a red flag for a number of countries. So this plan is more about better intelligence-sharing, and even joint investigations, while leaving the power of arrest with national police forces.

Diplomats say that in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and Brussels three years ago, intelligence-sharing between EU countries has already improved. There does appear to be an appetite among EU members to go further. The intelligence community, however, has qualms, with one former senior Belgian intelligence official telling POLITICO that services, especially of big EU countries, are opposed to sharing delicate operational information in such a large forum.

Reality rating: 3/5

— Jacopo Barigazzi and Lili Bayer

3 — Stop accession talks with Turkey

On this point, Weber is in line with his close ally, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has led the calls in recent years for the EU to pull the plug on Ankaras moribund bid for EU membership.

But as Commission president, Weber would not have the power to make this happen on his own. It would need a unanimous decision by EU member countries — Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Malta have all affirmed their support for Turkeys membership this year. Some national leaders are worried about how Turkey would respond if it was publicly spurned by the EU. Among their concerns is the fate of the EUs migration pact with Ankara that officials say has helped stem the flow of migrants into the bloc.

Whether the Turkey-EU agreement is a success is a matter of debate — the number of people returned under the deal is tiny and more migrants arrive in Greece from Turkey than are returned. But the EU would not have been able to strike such a deal with Ankara if it hadnt been able to offer the prospects of visa liberalization and opening chapters in accession talks.

Reality rating: 1/5

— Jacopo Barigazzi and Zia Weise

4 — New rule of law mechanism

Poland and Hungary stand accused by EU institutions of putting the blocs fundamental values at risk. But those proceedings have gone nowhere, prompting calls for better ways of dealing with countries accused of backsliding on the rule of law. Webers plan is for a nine-person panel to assess the rule of law in all EU member states, with potential financial sanctions following a review by the European Court of Justice.

The European Commission last year published its own plan for linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law but that idea has run into legal problems and political resistance, primarily from eastern EU member states. Webers proposal will likely face opposition from the same countries, whose governments say such measures are unjustified meddling in domestic affairs and unfairly penalize eastern states, who are more dependent on EU funds than their western counterparts.

While countries like Germany, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands are pushing hard for tougher rule-of-law standards, other governments will push back fiercely, potentially even threatening to veto the EUs long-term budget.

Reality rating: 2/5

— Lili Bayer

5 — European master plan against cancer

Weber said in December that Europeans could be the “first ones to cure cancer.” Hes already dialing back that ambition. “By pooling all our talents, knowledge and resources, we can truly join all our forces in the fight against cancer,” his manifesto now reads instead.

We Europeans could be the first ones to cure cancer if we unite our forces. This is my vision for a #BetterEurope. #EuropeanCancerForum #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/orUsONzrWE

— Manfred Weber (@ManfredWeber) December 4, 2018

Weber may be taking to heart early feedback that “curing” a disease as complex as cancer isnt realistic, as well as criticism that new cures would only go to the EUs richer countries while cancer care in Eastern Europe falls further and further behind.

At this point, its hard to distinguish Webers vague ambitions from that of a “mission” proposed by the European Commission as part of the Horizon Europe program — to direct EU research money toward a concrete, easy-to-communicate goal related to cancer. Weber is likely to face the same challenge as the Commission in defining a target thats both achievable and worth getting excited about for regular people.

In reality, the EU is broadly failing to cooperate against cancer — countries dont even collect basic data in the same way. So even a modest improvement could make Webers new aim achievable — to “save thousands of Europeans” from a disease that killed 1.9 million people last year. Then again, beyond throwing money at researchers and convening discussions, there isnt much the Commission can do; health policy is up to national capitals. His use of the bully pulpit will be key to any success.

Reality rating: 4/5

— Sarah Wheaton

6 — Smart homes for the elderly

Weber wants to develop “smart houses where elderly people can continue to live at home with independence and close to their families.”

The EU is already plowing millions of euros into research projects to make household energy systems smarter, link up household appliances or use digital technology to make peoples lives easier as they get older through its broad research program Horizon 2020.

But even the technologies that already exist arent mainstream, not only because of the lag time in upgrading homes but also because of public acceptance and concerns around privacy or cybersecurity. Rejection of smart energy meters in France, for instance — utility company EDF previously faced lawsuits from people arguing smart meters pose health and privacy issues — is illustrative that a major factor will be convincing people they want these technologies in their lives. The Commission has less influence over this, and opponents may even have a point — evidence suggests reasonably basic and benign smart home devices already in circulation not only collect sensitive data but can also be hacked.

A true “smart home for the elderly” likely encompasses linking not only every household appliance but incorporating the basic health care thats provided in a retirement home (think telemedicine and care robots) and installing systems to help people manage their social interactions with the outside world.

Joining that all together will take a bit more time than Weber has in office, but his pledge is general enough that making progress toward it seems possible.

Reality rating: 3/5

— Laura Greenhalgh

7 — 5 million new jobs for our youth

Under Webers partys leadership, Europes economy added 12 million jobs since 2014, according to Commission figures. But the European Commission itself lacks the money, legal powers and direct market influence to create many jobs.

In an interview with POLITICO last week, Weber was unable to explain what specifically his policies would do to help an unemployed young Italian losing faith in the EU, saying such support is a national responsibility. Weber is stronger when pushing the economy-wide benefits of EU investments in infrastructure and reform of Europes social market economic model.

Webers goal is achievable but he would likely not be the prime mover behind making it happen.

Reality rating: 3/5

— Ryan Heath

8 — Cutting over 1,000 outdated regulations

Assuming Weber would take several months to develop his list of cuts, this promise requires him to cut one regulation each working day of his five-year term of office. (Commission officials work around 213 days per year.) The Juncker Commission attempted to cut back existing regulations, and create new ones at a slower pace. It succeeded, but got nowhere close to cutting 1,000 regulations. Interest groups would likely generate backlash and demand longer and deeper consideration nearly every time a regulation is proposed for deletion. If they failed to convince Weber and the Commission, they could also lobby Parliament or CRead More – Source

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