Brussels Playbook: Valentine’s Day PSA — VDL’s texts — EPP’s problem: Berlusconi

Brussels Playbook: Valentine’s Day PSA — VDL’s texts — EPP’s problem: Berlusconi
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 14 February 2023 05:23

What’s driving the day in Brussels.


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FIRST THINGS FIRST: Not one, but two diplomats from EU countries reached out to ask us to please remind everyone that today is Saint Valentine’s Day — to prevent potential divorces. (And they were not Dutch officials trying to give a boost to their country’s flower industry!)

Also spare a thought for same-sex couples in the various EU countries where the state considers them good enough to pay taxes together but not to get married in 2023, including Italy, Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Greece. On that note … share the love!

DRIVING THE DAY: BIG DEFENSE TALKS Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

NEXT STEPS FOR UKRAINE: Ministers and officials from more than 40 countries (including NATO and other allies) are meeting this morning to discuss additional military and logistical support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov is expected to attend in person.

Defense ministers from NATO countries will then meet in the afternoon for the North Atlantic Council at 5 p.m.

Fighter jets question: On Monday, ahead of the meeting, NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg said ministers were likely to discuss potential deliveries of fighter jets to Ukraine.

“There is now a discussion going on also on the question of aircraft,” he said, “and I expect that also to be addressed tomorrow at the meetings here in Brussels.”

Germany, Poland and the U.S. have been reluctant to say whether they were in favor of such deliveries, while other countries such as France and the U.K. have been more open to the idea of supplying jets at some point in the future. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week said the Royal Air Force would start training Ukrainian pilots on Western fighter jets — which experts said were likely to be Eurofighter Typhoons.

No immediate decision: Stoltenberg warned that any decision on fighter jets would be reserved for the future, since pilots first need to be trained. But of course, the question is whether other countries will join the U.K. in starting such training so that Ukraine can eventually use the jets if needed.

Getting more countries on board for Leopards: Tanks are also on the agenda, as other EU and NATO countries have been slow to follow Germany’s decision to send modern Leopard 2 battle tanks.

At last week’s EUCO summit, Germany’s Olaf Scholz noted that some of his allies (who had urged Berlin to approve tank exports) were now lagging behind when it came to actually delivering. “We are striving to ensure that many others who have come forward in the past now follow up on this finger-pointing with practical action,” Scholz told reporters.

Room for more: Many armies across Europe and from NATO allies use the Leopard 2 including those of Denmark, Spain, Poland, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Canada.

Poland has pledged 14 Leopard 2 tanks and 60 modernized older Polish-made tanks. But France, which put pressure on Germany to deliver Leopards, is hesitating to deliver Leclerc battle tanks of its own.

Spain, which has Leopard 2 tanks, has not yet confirmed whether it would send some. The Netherlands reportedly said it will not send modern Leopard 2 tanks but only older decommissioned Leopard 1 tanks together with Germany.

Need for speed: On Monday, Stoltenberg did not mention any countries, but seemed to agree that now was the time to deliver: “My top priority is to ensure that the pledges allies have made for infantry fighting vehicles, for armor, for battle tanks, that are delivered as soon as possible because every day counts,” he said.

Beyond the headlines: Stoltenberg also stressed that ammunitions, spare parts, maintenance and logistics were just as crucial as the weapons systems themselves, which he said was “an enormous logistical task that requires enormous amount of … deliveries every day.”

NOW READ THIS: My colleague Lili Bayer explains why fulfilling Ukraine’s defense requests is getting trickier: Aside from the issues related to tanks and jets, Kyiv is also using thousands of rounds of ammunition per day — and Western production simply can’t keep up.

**Join us for an in-person conversation on March 8 at POLITICO Live Women’s Day Interviews with Ylva Johansson, European commissioner for home affairs, to discuss what it means to be a woman leader. Register today**

MUNICH SECURITY CONFERENCE Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

CHINESE CONNECTION: As the world’s security elites gather in Munich this Friday, their mobile phones will be connecting to Chinese telecoms equipment surrounding the venue, my POLITICO colleagues report in this juicy story out today.

Top targets: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, German Chancellor Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron are among the hundreds of heads of state and government, as well as ministers, foreign dignitaries and others, gathering at the yearly conference at the five-star Hotel Bayerischer Hof.

Who needs balloons if you can be on this rooftop? From the ice-themed Polar Bar on the hotel’s rooftop, you can overlook the city’s skyline — and spot multiple telecommunications antennas in proximity, supplied by controversial Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, POLITICO’s Louis Westendarp, Antoaneta Roussi and Laurens Cerulus report. POLITICO was able to confirm the hardware was supplied by Huawei visually, as well as in talks with industry insiders with knowledge of the location’s networks.

Always connected: One mast, on top of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof building itself, is also potentially equipped with Huawei gear, talks with two industry insiders suggested. The question of whether to allow Chinese 5G suppliers into Western countries in previous years became a bone of contention between Berlin on the one hand and Washington and like-minded partners on the other.

Huawei has consistently denied posing a security risk to European countries.

PUTIN’S ASSETS Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

FEARS OF COUP IN MOLDOVA: Russia has plans to stage a coup in Moldova, Chișinău warned on Monday. Under Moscow’s plan, citizens of Russia, Montenegro, Belarus and Serbia would enter the country to try to spark protests in an attempt to “change the legitimate government to an illegitimate government, controlled by the Russian Federation to stop the EU integration process,” according to Moldova’s President Maia Sandu.

Sandu called for heightened security measures in Moldova after the pro-EU government resigned last week, following months of pressure from Moscow, which is waging an all-out war on neighboring Ukraine.

“The plan included sabotage and militarily trained people disguised as civilians to carry out violent actions, attacks on government buildings and taking hostages,” Sandu told reporters. Sandu’s remarks come after she nominated a new prime minister on Friday to keep her country on a pro-EU trajectory after the previous government fell earlier in the day. Read more.

BERLUSCONI BECOMES PROBLEM FOR EPP: Silvio Berlusconi — the Italian media tycoon, former PM and current president of the center-right Forza Italia — has made headlines again after he appeared to defend Russia’s war against Ukraine on Sunday, blaming the democratically-elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for Vladimir Putin’s invasion and urging the U.S. to cut military help.

Old buddies: The 86-year-old has described Putin as one of his closest friends, and was among the few Western politicians on the Kremlin’s end-of-year greeting list.

In an interview with public broadcaster Rai last September, Berlusconi said the plan behind Russia’s attack on Ukraine was for Russian troops to enter “in a week to replace Zelenskyy’s government with a government of decent people.”

Meloni and Brussels not amused: PM Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party governs in a coalition with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, made clear she didn’t agree. Her office quickly emphasized that Rome supports Ukraine, while Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani from Forza Italia on Monday said his party “has always been in favor of the independence of Ukraine, on the side of Europe, NATO and the West.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, who belongs to the European People’s Party like Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, said she “does not share the same view” as Berlusconi.

Silence from EPP leader Weber: EPP leader Manfred Weber did not respond to a request for comment on whether Berlusconi’s repeated remarks were in line with his and the EPP’s “red lines” on supporting Ukraine.

But other EPP members did not mince their words: MEP Rasa Juknevičienė, a vice chair of Parliament’s defense subcommittee and a former defense minister of Lithuania, told Playbook that Berlusconi’s repeated bouts of support for Russia and attacks against Ukraine’s government went “against the EPP line,” which “was and is very clear. We were active in supporting Ukraine on every front.”

Time to retire? “I think Berlusconi is the past, not the future of Italy and Forza Italia,” she added.

‘Senile or corrupted’: Riho Terras, an MEP from Estonia and former military officer (nicknamed “the General” in Strasbourg) was even more outspoken: “Ramblings of an old man who should retire,” he tweeted, adding that Berlusconi’s remarks made clear he “is uncapable of understanding basic facts [about] Russia’s war and genocide against Ukrainian people.”

Asked by Playbook whether he believed Berlusconi was really unable to understand what’s going, or instead could be very consciously using the EPP’s platform to repeat Moscow’s talking points, Terras suggested it was one or both: “Just senile or corrupted by Putin!” he said in a text.

Victory for Meloni in regional elections: Meanwhile, Italy’s right-wing coalition just scored huge victories in key regional elections in Lombardy and Lazio — and Meloni’s position was strengthened compared with her governing partners after resoundingly totaling more votes.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy came first in Lombardy with around 25 percent of the vote, according to early results, overtaking her right-wing partners the League, which won 16 percent in its northern stronghold, and Forza Italia which won 8 percent. More from Gregorio Sorgi.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

FOUR POLISH MEPs FACE IMMUNITY VOTE: Four right-wing Polish MEPs face losing their legal immunity in a battle with an NGO chief who’s suing them for an allegedly Islamophobic electoral campaign ad, Eddy Wax and Jan Cienski report.

Named: In Strasbourg on Monday, Parliament President Metsola named the lawmakers as Solidarna’s Patryk Jaki and Beata Kempa, as well as Law & Justice’s Beata Mazurek and Tomasz Poręba, saying a request had come from Poland’s “competent authorities.”

60 seconds of fear: An activist called Rafał Gaweł has accused them of violating Polish anti-hatred laws by producing and spreading a campaign video that the ruling Law & Justice party broadcast before local Polish elections in 2018, denouncing the EU’s migration policy. It shows a fictitious future where local governments under opposition control open the country to migrants, interspersed with footage of Arab-looking men lining up at a border. Set to dramatic music, there are scenes of street violence, burning cars and riots, with people complaining about ethnic enclaves and sexual attacks.

ECR cries hoax: Right-wing ECR chief Ryszard Legutko sent all MEPs an email Monday — seen by Eddy — that warned the case was a “hoax,” and that it’s “clearly unfounded and politically motivated” ahead of Poland’s national election in the fall. (That’s even though the case started in 2019.) The ECR group even said it was somehow an attempt to link it to Qatargate, but it’s unclear how.

Gaweł-banging: The activist Gaweł, who’s targeting a total of 12 Law & Justice politicians in his lawsuit, is coming under attack from state-controlled media. Gaweł got asylum in Norway after being convicted of fraud and extortion, a major attack line from the state-controlled media and Legutko, who told MEPs he’s “a completely unreliable figure by virtue of his criminal record.” He’s remained outside the EU because a Norwegian court refused a Polish request to extradite him, saying he may not get a fair trial. His NGO called the push to waive the four MEPs’ immunity its crowning achievement in years of legal battling. The next steps are in the hands of the legal affairs committee.

ETHICS BODY DEBATE TODAY: Věra Jourová, the Commission VP for values and transparency, will parry in the plenary over the long-stalled plans for an independent, interinstitutional EU ethics body. A majority of MEPs have voted in favor of such a body.

QATARGATE — LAWYER FOR PARIS BOMBER TAKES ON KAILI’S DEFENSE: The former lawyer to Salah Abdeslam — the key figure in the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks — is taking over the defense of Greek MEP Eva Kaili in the probe looking into alleged corruption in the European Parliament. More details here.

IN OTHER NEWS Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

NYT SUES EU OVER REFUSAL TO RELEASE CRUCIAL TEXT MESSAGES: The New York Times is taking the European Commission to court over the executive institution’s failure to release text messages between its president, Ursula von der Leyen, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

The newspaper will face off against EU lawyers in the bloc’s highest court, arguing that the Commission faces a legal obligation to release the messages, which could contain information on the bloc’s deals to purchase billions of euros worth of COVID-19 doses. More here from Samuel Stolton.

BRUSSELS’ BATTLE AGAINST HUNGARY’S ANTI-LGBTQ LAW MOVES FORWARD: Brussels’ legal battle against Budapest over an anti-LGBTQ+ law is officially on. The infringement procedure — a legal pathway for Brussels to challenge EU countries — was published in the Official Journal of the EU on Monday.

Reminder: The European Commission announced in July 2022 it was taking Hungary to the EU’s top court, the Court of Justice of the EU, over a new law that bans the portrayal of gay, lesbian or trans people or fictional characters in any media that could be seen by children.

The Commission said the law violates the EU’s fundamental rights laws, and also runs afoul of several other European regulations for telecoms, audiovisual markets and digital policy, such as the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

EU countries chiming in: Belgium said on Monday it would back the Commission in its legal battle.“These rights are facing increasing pressure and this trend must be reversed,” said the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib. NGOs Forbidden Colour, Háttér Society and Reclaim on Monday also called on other EU capitals to submit “written observations” on the case to the Court of Justice of the EU in the next six weeks. The groups said at least 20 countries were likely to engage in what could become the “largest human rights infringement procedure” brought to the CJEU.

**Kemi Badenoch, United Kingdom secretary of state for business and trade and Jane Hartley, United States ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandwill speak at POLITICO U.K. 2023 event on February 21. Register today to follow the discussion online.**

AGENDA Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

European Parliament plenary session; CO2 emission standards for cars and vans at 9 a.m. … Press point by President Roberta Metsola and Latvia’s President Egils Levits at 11:15 a.m. … formal address at 11:30 a.m. … voting session at 12 a.m. … Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: EU accession at 1 p.m. … The EU priorities for the 67th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women at 2 p.m. … Question time for the Commission on strengthened EU enlargement policy to the Western Balkans at 3 p.m. … Establishment of an independent EU ethics body at 4:30 p.m. … Response to the situation in Tunisia at 6 p.m. … Tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo at 7 p.m. … Amendments to the European Long-Term Investment Funds (ELTIFs) Regulation at 8:15 p.m. Watch.

Economic and Financial Affairs Council; arrivals and doorsteps at 8 a.m.; press conference at 1 p.m. Watch.

— Ukraine Defence Contact Group (UDCG) and NATO Ministerial; arrival and doorstep by top EU diplomat Josep Borrell at 9:45 a.m.

— European Parliament press briefings: S&D at 10 a.m. … Greens/EFA at 10:20 a.m. … Renew at 10:40 a.m. … EPP by 11 a.m. … The Left at 11:20 a.m. Watch.

— EU Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič is in Washington; participates in a fireside chat at the Atlantic Council on EU support to Ukraine at 11:30 p.m.

— The European Court of Human Rights issues a final ruling in the so-called “Luxleaks” whistleblower case at 11.30 a.m.

— European Council President Charles Michel meets with Saudi Arabia’s minister for foreign affairs, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, at 7 p.m.

— Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meets Terry Reintke and Philippe Lamberts, co-chairs of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament; meets Martin Schirdewan, co-chair of The Left in the European Parliament.

— Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni meets with Minister of Finance of Finland Annika Saarikko.

— Commission Vice President Vĕra Jourová is in Strasbourg, meets with European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

BRUSSELS CORNER Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

PUBLIC TRANSPORT STRIKE: Trade unions representing workers from the public transport company De Lijn will hold a strike today, resulting in bus and tram disruptions across Flanders. Members of Brussels public transport company STIB will not take part. Details of the affected routes can be found on the De Lijn website.

NEW CENTER FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE IN BRUSSELS: Belgium’s Red Cross is opening a new center for homeless people today, located at the Rue Belliard. The temporary center for a maximum of 84 people will be open until the end of June.

BELGIUM PENSION REFORM UNVEILED: Belgium’s Pensions Minister Karine Lalieux presented a new plan to reform the country’s pension system on Monday, Le Soir reports. Lalieux wants to get the reforms approved by March — but the proposal has already received negative responses from other parties.

Refresher: The reforms are essential for Belgium to get cash from the EU recovery fund — but also seem like a mission impossible given the fact that the country is governed by a coalition consisting of seven parties with different interests, as POLITICO reported before.

What’s in the plan? The most significant step would mean that the minimum pension would no longer be calculated by age, but instead by career length. The current minimum pension age of 62 would be abolished, and employees would be eligible for pension once they have worked for 42 years (30 years in working hours). Furthermore, the reform would harmonize pensions between the public and private sectors and tackle gender inequality by including maternity leave into working hours to reach the minimum pension.

But: Some politicians have already expressed criticism. One of them is Sammy Mahdi from the Flemish CD&V party — part of the governing coalition — arguing that the proposal’s attention to people over age 60 represents a “false good idea” aiming to tax them more.

NEW JOB: Muhammad Ali Pate — a former Nigerian health minister and senior World Bank official — was named the CEO of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, which has played a pivotal role in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines around the world.

REMEMBERING GIL-ROBLES: Former European Parliament President José María Gil-Robles died Monday, aged 87. Metsola paid tribute to the center-right politician, who led the chamber from 1997 to 1999. She said he “led the Parliament at a time of change with great determination to make this institution stronger and closer to the citizens.” Playbook’s condolences to his family and friends.

BIRTHDAYS: Dutch Prime Minister (and POLITICO 28 alum) Mark Rutte; European Commission’s Koen Doens; Media mogul and former U.S. presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg; Journalist Carl Bernstein; Hans-Adam II, reigning prince of Liechtenstein; Businessman Martin Sorrell.

THANKS TO: Clothilde Goujard, Eddy Wax, Jan Cienski, Sarah Wheaton, Jacopo Barigazzi, Paola Tamma, Camille Gijs, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová, editor Emma Anderson and producer Grace Stranger.

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