Brussels Playbook: Summit time — Michel’s mess — Bettel goes nuclear on nuclear

Brussels Playbook: Summit time — Michel’s mess — Bettel goes nuclear on nuclear
Опубликовано: Thursday, 23 March 2023 05:56

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DRIVING THE DAY: SUMMIT TIME Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

EUCO’S BACK: EU leaders meet in Brussels this morning for the first day of their summit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will join them virtually for a discussion on support for Kyiv, after ministers agreed on a historic ammo procurement program. But the main focus of the EUCO will be the economy, with leaders to discuss how the EU can best provide high-quality jobs as the bloc faces the need to decarbonize, China-U.S. tensions and Russia’s war.

Lobbying on ammo: With the EU leaders set to give their final sign-off to the plan to buy arms together, the bloc is speeding toward a new stage of defense integration. In the lead-up, weapons-makers from both sides of the Atlantic have been clamoring for facetime with key commissioners and lawmakers, while lobbying firms are drafting military experts for their Brussels office, report my colleagues Sarah Wheaton and Lili Bayer. Meanwhile, Paul Taylor writes that the EU might not be up to the task of carrying out the joint procurement plan.

UN call: Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is flying to Brussels to ask the EU leaders to ease sanctions on Belarusian fertilizers, report my colleagues Bartosz Brzezinski, Barbara Moens, Leonie Kijewski, Susannah Savage and Jacopo Barigazzi. Lithuania isn’t impressed.

It’s still the economy, stupid: The messy collapse of Silicon Valley Bank after a bank run and the Credit Suisse takeover have so far not infected the Eurozone’s banks. But the jitters are a good reminder that EU leaders have still not set up the European Deposit Insurance Scheme, which was designed to protect the bloc’s economy against bank runs. More here, by Izabella Kaminska.

But Germany and France steal the show — again: There’s the official agenda for EU leaders … and then there’s the German and French drama agenda. Read more on that by Suzanne Lynch, Clea Caulcutt, Hans von der Burchard and Josh Posaner.

**A message from Equinor: As Europe strives to protect and decarbonise its industrial base on its pathway to Net Zero, our cooperation plan with RWE represents a unique example of how #together we can develop a decarbonised energy system for Europe that creates jobs, stimulates industry development and ensures value creation.**

EUROPE’S CHALLENGE: “We are at a crossroads and we must face challenges because protectionist tendencies are appearing everywhere,” Luxembourg’s PM Xavier Bettel told Suzanne and me in an interview Wednesday ahead of the summit.

Back to the free-trading roots: After spending hundreds of billions on cushioning soaring energy costs, Europe won’t be able to match China’s or America’s massive industrial subsidies. But the EU may have an ace up its sleeve: “The European Union works and its countries have been successful, because free trade works and markets are open in Europe,” Bettel said, arguing there was untapped potential in striking new agreements around the world.

US deal? Asked whom the EU should strike pacts with, Bettel mentioned South America’s Mercosur countries, which Brussels is seeking to finalize agreement with — but also noted the bloc still doesn’t have a deal with the U.S. The European Commission “is in talks” with Washington, and President Ursula von der Leyen “has just returned from the United States and will brief us [Thursday] on the results of the discussions,” Bettel said.

Speaking of Mercosur: Countries party to the EU-Mercosur trade deal will be expected to maintain their Paris Agreement climate pledges and 2019 anti-deforestation targets, according to a draft of the sustainability addendum obtained by my POLITICO Pro Trade colleague Sarah Anne Aarup. EU countries are negotiating the additional commitments with their South American counterparts in an attempt to rein in deforestation in the Amazon.

China deal? Several diplomats on Wednesday said European Council President Charles Michel was behind the scenes advocating for a resurrection of the failed EU-China investment deal. The agreement makes it easier for European companies to outsource production to China, and for Chinese companies to buy up EU businesses — not exactly what you’d call diversification. But an official close to Michel insisted he was not pushing for the agreement and had not struck any tentative deal with Chinese authorities during his trip to Beijing last year, insisting there had been “no negotiations.”

SPEAKING OF MICHEL — TODAY’S MUST-READ: The Belgian Council president spends too much time on the road and too little time on the core function of his job: preparing and running European Council summits, a growing chorus of leaders, advisers and diplomats tell my colleagues Barbara Moens and Suzanne Lynch, who have a detailed long-read about Michel out this morning. They spoke to dozens of diplomats; former and current Council officials; and representatives of national governments within and outside the EU. While Michel had his defenders, they write, what emerged is a portrait of a politician whose sharp rise carried him to the top of his country’s politics, but who now finds himself isolated at the apex of the European Council.

What Charles does next: With Michel’s second — and last — term as Council president coming to a close toward the end of next year, there’s another complaint: that he’s increasingly focused on his next job. By then, he will be 48 and already have served as leader of his country and president of one of Europe’s top institutions, and he’s unlikely to be happy to walk off into the sunset, Barbara and Suzanne write. Given Michel’s penchant for international travel, he might be interested in anything from head of an international institution to becoming the EU’s next foreign affairs chief. Make sure you read their full piece — it’ll be the talk of the EUCO.

AND SPEAKING OF TOP JOBS — KALLAS’ CALL: Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, meanwhile, has a message for her fellow leaders ahead of today’s summit: It’s time to put Central and Eastern Europeans in charge. “We have been members of NATO and the European Union for 19 years,” Kallas told POLITICO’s Jacopo Barigazzi and Lili Bayer from her office in Tallinn, taking a break from her coalition talks to form a new government. “We should be on the radar for top jobs.”

MORE SUMMITRY FUN WHERE THAT CAME FROM … via POLITICO’s traditional live blog, kicking off in a few hours once leaders start arriving.

**On March 28 at 4:00 p.m. CEST, POLITICO Live is hosting an online event on “Protecting Europe: How the war in Ukraine changed Europe’s thinking on defense?”. Join CSIS Director Max Bergamnn, Ambassadors to NATO of France and United Kingdom Muriel Domenach and David Quarrey as they deep dive into Europe’s thinking on how to best arm itself and where allies should focus their defense priorities in the coming years. Register today.** 

MORE FROM BETTEL Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

IN DEFENSE OF THE IRA: Luxembourg’s PM suggested the EU had overreacted to U.S. President Joe Biden’s green subsidies — the U.S. is just doing, if more forcefully, what the EU has done for decades: investing in renewables and the green transition. “For once, the Americans are moving towards a more ecological direction, something we haven’t seen from them before,” Bettel said. “I have been prime minister for 10 years now, and we haven’t frequently heard of actions that align with this direction.” But, he hastened to add, this “shouldn’t be at the expense of others. It has to be something that we try to do together.”

Don’t blow up the single market: Bettel warned against the Franco-German push to weaken state aid rules, which threatens to undermine the EU’s single market. “I had a visit this week from German parliamentarians,” Bettel said. “I just told them that they need to understand that for some countries it’s quite tricky and difficult to think that if you lift all the rules, everyone does what they want … If we encourage distortions of the level playing field, that’s the wrong approach.” He added: “We don’t all have the same fiscal capacity to support businesses with our public money. We don’t all have the same budgets. So that’s why we need to avoid … opening Pandora’s Box.”

Instead, deepen it: Bettel argued for a new push to deepen the EU’s single market for services and e-business through simpler rules and more mutual recognition — which France and Germany have resisted, inadvertently helping the big digital incumbents and hurting newcomers. “When you have a big company coming in, they don’t care. But when you have a small company, you have to comply with 27 different legislations … It’s not easy to sell your services and you’re probably not going to. So you’re going to be limited to two or three markets and not the single market,” Bettel said.

GOING NUCLEAR ON NUCLEAR: “Nuclear is neither sustainable, nor safe, nor fast,” Bettel said when asked about the French push to include the energy in EU legislation. “Some people think they are selling nuclear power as the answer to everything,” he continued, but pointed out that it takes at least 10 years for a plant to be operational — too slow to solve today’s energy problems.

Safety concerns: “Secondly, we have had incidents at the international level which are worrying and which have had catastrophic repercussions for many other countries,” Bettel said. “And thirdly, we still have a problem with nuclear waste. We still don’t know how to deal with it, so we can’t say that it is safe and sustainable.” Bettel argued that it’s up to national governments to decide their own energy mix. “Everyone can do what they want,” he said. But nuclear should not benefit from a “European label,” he argued. “It would be in fact wrong to call it a green energy, or safe, or renewable.”

HUNGARY’S ANTI-LGBTQ+ LAW Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

SPAIN BACKS EU LAWSUIT AGAINST ORBÁN’S BILL: Following Playbook’s report Wednesday on the legal dispute against Hungary at the Court of Justice of the EU over an openly discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ law, Spain has decided to join the case and back the European Commission, a spokesperson for PM Pedro Sánchez told Playbook.

Big deal: A second Spanish official explained that while it was highly unusual for EU countries to take sides in legal disputes against another member of the bloc, the Hungarian government’s infringement against basic human rights of minorities meant Madrid could not remain a bystander.

That brings the supporters’ tally to 10: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the European Parliament have asked to join the Commission’s case.

Where’s Macron? With only days left to decide, France is still hesitant, despite having initiated the letter slamming Hungary’s law and vowing to “continue fighting against discrimination towards the LGBTI community.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, meanwhile, is proving he leads a progressive government in name only. In a historic irony, his conservative predecessor Angela Merkel paved the way for gay marriage. Meanwhile, Scholz’s government of Socialists, Greens and Liberals is focusing its energy on saving the combustion engine car, while remaining a bystander and refusing to stand up for the values the coalition pretends to hold dear.

BETTEL: BEING GAY IS NOT A CHOICE; BEING A HOMOPHOBE IS. The lawsuit against Hungary should remind Viktor Orbán’s government that “the EU is a project of peace, it is a project of tolerance and it is not a project of hatred, of division,” Luxembourg’s Bettel said. “It’s necessary to remind certain countries from time to time with a little jab here, like a booster jab for the vaccines — which is why we’re doing this lawsuit with other institutions and countries.”

Get your facts right: Bettel, who was only the third openly gay head of government worldwide, said: “It is not because you watch a movie about homosexuality that you become gay.” Bettel warned about a global backslide on LGBTQ+ rights, alluding to reports that Tanzania is discussing castrating gay men. “I wonder where we’re arriving at. When someone says being gay is a choice — I can assure them that it is not a choice, but to be homophobic, that is a choice. And I’m sad to see that there are more and more of them.”

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

WHAT’S WRONG WITH TIKTOK? Western governments are ticked off with TikTok, with allegations that the Chinese-owned video app facilitates espionage, fails to protect personal data and corrupts young minds. But do the allegations stack up, asks my colleague Clothilde Goujard.

NEW SURVEY FINDS GERMANS BELIEVE BERLIN’S NOT DELIVERING ON EUROPE: The German government has not yet fulfilled its coalition promise to lead an active EU policy and shape Europe in a constructive way, according to almost 75 percent of those surveyed by the Heinrich Boll Institute and Das Progressive Zentrum. The survey, to be published later today and previewed by POLITICO, focuses on Germans’ expectations of their country’s leadership role in the EU. A majority of respondents said the most important goals for the EU should be boosting its defensive capability and energy independence.

CHEATS, EVERYWHERE: Seventy-seven percent of European diesel-powered cars produce levels of emissions that indicate the presence of an emissions-cheating device, according to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation. More here.

**Discover the video recording of POLITICO Live’s event "Made-in-Europe: How to keep up the fight in the electric car race?” that took place on March 21. The event included an exclusive interview with Luca de Meo, CEO of Renault and chairman of ACEA, and a fire-side chat discussion with Benjamin Krieger, secretary general, CLEPA; Julia Poliscanova, senior director, T&E and MEP Alexandr Vondra (ECR, Czech Republic), rapporteur for Euro 7.**

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

— European Council summit. Arrivals and doorstep from around 10:30 a.m.; roundtable at 11:30 a.m.; press conference by Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (time TBC). Agenda. Watch. POLITICO’s live blog.

— EU’s Chief Prosecutor Laura Kövesi presents European Public Prosecutor’s Office’s 2022 annual report to the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control and Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs at 9 a.m. Watch.

— EP President Roberta Metsola delivers opening keynote at the Summit of Barents Euro-Arctic Indigenous Sámi People at 9 a.m.

— Commission VP Valdis Dombrovskis participates in event on Belgium’s recovery and resilience plan.

— POLITICO Live Finance Summit in Paris. Commissioners Paolo Gentiloni and Mairead McGuinness to participate.

Mairead McGuinness meets with French Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire in Paris.

— European Economic and Social Committee 577th plenary session resumes at 9 a.m; Commission Vice President Věra Jourová participates in debate on “united for democracy: employers’, workers’ and civil society’s organisations working for a sustainable democratic future.” Watch.

— Ceremony marking the initial operational capability of the new Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft fleet at the Eindhoven Air Base. Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren delivers address at 1:40 p.m. … NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg at 1:45 p.m. … Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton at 1:50 p.m. Watch.

— NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoană meets with the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ilia Darchiashvili at NATO HQ in Brussels. Followed by a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission.

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

EUCO DISRUPTIONS: Expect major disruptions in the European Quarter due to the EUCO. The perimeter around Schuman will be closed off from 9 a.m., as will the Reyers tunnel toward the center from 8 a.m. Bus lines 12, 21, 36, 56, 60 and 79 won’t serve Schuman. More info from STIB and Police.

CULTURAL FIX: Festival Passa Porta is bringing writers, artists and bookworms to Brussels for a literature festival. Among the attending authors: Timothy Garton Ash, Mohsin Hamid and Giuliano da Empoli. And the Brosella Spring Festival, featuring jazz and urban etno, starts today and runs until March 26.

SPORTS FIX: Registrations are open for the BXL Tour 40km cycling race, which will be held in Brussels on June 18. Register.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIX: Belgian police carried out drug raids around Wallonia earlier this week, seizing large amounts of cocaine and cannabis. It comes after the U.N. identified Belgium as one of the key entry points of cocaine to the Continent earlier this month, and Antwerp topped the table for cocaine consumption in Europe.

NEW JOB: France is set to appoint a new ambassador to Italy, our POLITICO Paris Influence colleagues report. Martin Briens, the former chief of staff to Florence Parly, the minister of the Armed Forces during Macron’s first term, will replace Christian Masset.

BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Sara Cerdas and Dragoș Pîslaru; Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; Former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso turns 67; Former MEPs Véronique De Keyser and Graham Watson; Ofcom’s Tiernan Kenny; European Commission’s Sandrine Dupret; Susanna Arus from Frank Bold; Maggie Gage of OneMain Financial.

THANKS to Suzanne Lynch, Sarah Anne Aarup, Barbara Moens, Gregorio Sorgi, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová and producer Grace Stranger.

**A message from Equinor: By working together, we can develop a decarbonised energy system for Europe and its industry. In collaboration with RWE, we have presented a concrete plan to replace German coal-fired power plants with gas-fired, hydrogen-ready power plants, and to build production of Norwegian low-carbon and renewable hydrogen to be exported to Germany by pipeline. The collaboration will strengthen energy security for Europe’s leading industrial country while at the same time offer a viable route to a necessary energy transition for hard to abate industries.**

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