Special highlights from EU decision making: EU-Serbia relations, Data protection & Ambient air quality

This briefing includes our latest observations regarding the politics behind EU policies on the following subjects:

- EU-Serbia relations

- Data Protection

- Ambient air quality (for premium subscribers only)

EU-Serbia relations

The accession of Serbia to the EU is having a hard time, as demonstrated by a wave of criticism injected in its yearly progress report. While such criticism is not new, it assumes new connotations in light of the current tensions between the European Union, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other hand. This is notably true when it comes to Covid-19 vaccination, where Serbia’s policies could be compared with Hungary’s independent stance as previously identified by VoteWatch. The foreign policy of Serbia (and the concerns this raises among EU political representatives) further confirms our observations of how the deepening divide between Western EU and (part of) “new Europe” is providing fertile ground for bigger influence of non-EU players in the EU’s backyard.

However, the strength of the criticism is different among various political networks. 50% of MEPs, mainly belonging to S&D, Greens/EFA and ECR, express strong concerns about Serbia’s increasing cooperation with China and Russia. Nevertheless, these MEPs are narrowly short of securing a majority in their favour, in part due to the pivotal role of Renew Europe who is siding with EPP on this proposal. Despite the generally critical views of the EPP on Russia, the political group led by Manfred Weber is keen on shielding (EPP-affiliated) Vučić from these attacks. There are notable exceptions, such as the Dutch and Swedish EPP members, who are more critical of Serbia's geopolitical approach, in line with their more hawkish stance on Russia. Notably, the very harsh tone in criticism towards Serbia was rejected in the EP by a margin of only 7 votes.

Find the full breakdown of the vote here.

Critical moves also extend to the domestic political agenda of Serbia, as a majority of MEPs claim that there has been a considerable lack of progress in many areas of Serbia’s reform agenda and are concerned about political developments, such as the early elections in 2020, which led to the consolidation of Vučić’s political majority. The position of Renew Europe on Serbian domestic politics is much more critical, which means that in this case EPP and the other like-minded forces (The Left and ID groups) end up on the minority side.

Find the full breakdown of the vote here.

It is relevant to note that the strong criticism of Serbia does not necessarily reflect an opposition to the enlargement process as a whole. In fact, some political families such as ECR are strongly pro-enlargement, as previously mentioned by our previous report, even if they do not shy away from criticising Serbia otherwise. In light of this, when a proposal is directly critical of the country, without implying any changes in the enlargement process, we observe MEPs from ECR siding with Renew, S&D and Greens/EFA in what some would consider an odd coalition. On the other hand, when a proposal uses the case of Serbia to call for changes in the accession process, it is not unusual to see ECR siding in opposition alongside the EPP, as shown below.

Find the full breakdown of the vote on changing the reporting methodology for accession here.

Data protection

Clear “left/right” divisions can be observed when it comes to data protection, as it also is the case on environment proposals. Indeed, MEPs from Renew Europe contribute to the majority shifting towards the pro-regulatory side on several divisive proposals related to ePrivacy or the GDPR. One subject that was particularly sensitive across several proposals relates to whether or not the European Commission should initiate infringement measures against Member States who are not complying with Data protection legislation. In light of this, it is not surprising to see certain geographical divisions, as discussed below.

To begin with, a clear majority of MEPs, made up of Renew Europe, S&D, Greens/EFA and The Left, is notably urging the Commission to start infringement procedures against those Member States that have failed to fulfil their obligations under the GDPR. The EPP is the most divided group on this issue, in particular due to the positions of Polish and Portuguese MEPs who are supporting infringement measures. Find the full breakdown of the vote here.

Similarly, a majority of MEPs are expressing concerns about the lack of implementation of the ePrivacy Directive in view of the changes introduced by the GDPR, thus calling for infringement measures against Member States who are failing to comply with the legislation. It is relevant to note that several delegations associated with national ruling parties in their respective parties are opposing such procedures, which indicates that the enforcement of the revised directive will likely raise similar disputes in the future. This is the case with several MEPs from CEE countries (Hungary, Lithuania or Poland amongst others), as well as German members from Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU or Italian MEPs from Lega and Forza Italia amongst others. Find the full breakdown of the vote here.

Lastly, another particularly divisive issue concerns initiating infringement procedures against Ireland and Luxembourg for failing to address companies that do not fulfil their privacy duties through effective sanctions. As shown in the dedicated breakdown of the vote, it is not surprising to observe a strong opposition from Irish MEPs, with a few exceptions within Sinn Féin or the Greens. Since Luxembourgish MEPs appear to be more strongly divided, their positions are rather different than that of their Irish counterparts and quite remarkable: MEPs associated with national ruling parties take a much more moderate stance vis-à-vis a tougher enforcement (either supporting the proposal, or abstaining), while members from the opposition broadly oppose it.

Are you interested in EU digital policy? Find our policy matrix here and uncover which MEPs can help you advance your agenda.

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Ambient air quality

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