Brussels Playbook: EU vs. greenwashing — Russian oil cheats — Hungary’s anti-gay law

Brussels Playbook: EU vs. greenwashing — Russian oil cheats — Hungary’s anti-gay law
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 22 March 2023 05:25

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DRIVING THE DAY:EU VS. GREENWASHING Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

GREENWASHING CRACKDOWN: The European Commission will today unveil its strongly lobbied and oft–delayed Green Claims Directive, which takes aim at corporate greenwashing by setting rules on what type of environmental claims companies can make — and insisting they should be verifiable.

Big problem: “Companies have found extremely sophisticated ways to engage in greenwashing,” Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius told Playbook. “We found that more than half of environmental claims we examined in the EU were vague, misleading or unfounded.”

Made from 100 percent recycled drafts: An early draft of the proposal — obtained by our Pro sustainability team in January — requires EU countries to ensure companies’ environmental claims are based on “widely recognized scientific evidence,” my ace colleague Leonie Cater reports. However, companies will now be given leeway on how they can back up their boasts. EU countries will also have flexibility, given the norm is a directive that countries can adapt before transposing it into national law, rather than a regulation that would apply immediately across the EU.

‘Climate neutral’ — really? The type of claims the draft envisages include recycled-content percentages for products, or climate-related claims based on offsets. If national authorities find claims don’t comply with the rules, the company will have 10 working days to remedy the situation; if it does not, countries must impose penalties.

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The idea is straightforward: Companies often say it’s consumers who will drive the change to a greener economy — but they can only do that if they can rely on the information firms give them. “This is exactly what we want from the new Green Claims Directive,” Commissioner Sinkevičius said: “To provide consumers with greater clarity and ensure that companies committed to environmentally friendly practices compete on a level playing field.”

What about the EU’s own greenwashing? But if the Commission started applying the same rules to its own bombastic claims, it would definitely be in trouble. Just think of the “circular economy” Brussels wants to build (with loads of new mines and raw material extraction for batteries and electric vehicles), or of the “green taxonomy” (which includes natural gas and nuclear power) or of the “sustainable blue economy” for oceans (based on overfishing backed by France, Spain and others). Of course, dealing with the consequences of all those fake green claims in business and politics will be for the “NextGeneration EU.”

RUSSIAN WAR Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

OIL CHEATS: The EU is turning a blind eye to Russian oil coming in through the back door. That’s the claim being made by senior Ukrainian officials, MEPs and oil industry insiders, who have spoken to my colleague Gabriel Gavin. “I had a friend in New York in the 1990s who complained cockroaches would get into his apartment through any available hole — that’s what Russia is doing with its energy,” said Oleg Ustenko, economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “We have to fix these holes to stop Russia receiving this blood money.”

How Russian oil is getting in: Crude is notoriously difficult to track on global markets — it can be mixed or blended with other shipments in transit countries, and the refining process also removes traces of origin. The complex network of shipping companies adds a further layer of mystery. Read Gabriel’s story in full here.

DEFENSE RAMP UP: The European Commission is working full-speed on a new legal instrument that will allow Brussels to mobilize the EU budget to support a ramp-up of weapons and ammunition production, two EU officials told Playbook. The Commission’s industry chief Thierry Breton is preparing a draft to be put forward “within weeks,” according to one of the officials. It follows Monday’s mandate from EU defense ministers, who asked Brussels to prepare new measures to boost production capacity.

Responding to demand: Brussels, the two officials said, has come to the conclusion that the current negotiations on an instrument meant to incentivize EU procurement could be delayed in the European Parliament because of disagreements on major amendments that could derail the legal basis for the regulation. While those negotiations won’t stop, the Commission has decided to put forward a new, separate proposal to focus on support for production and react more rapidly to the demands from EU countries.

BRETON’S AMMO TOUR: Meanwhile, Breton is continuing his tour of European ammunition production sites today in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, following previous stops in Bulgaria and France. On Monday, Breton will travel to Poland.

Report from the ground: Laura Kayali writes in with a dispatch from an industrial plant belonging to French arms manufacturer Nexter. The company hasn’t waited for the EU’s nod to ramp up production — it’s been building Caesar truck-mounted howitzers that have been delivered to Kyiv in recent months, and producing the 155-millimeter shells Ukraine needs.

Waiting on EU: Nexter wants to double its 155-millimeter shell production by 2025 — but it’s waiting for more concrete nods from Paris and Brussels. Emmanuel Macron gave one signal earlier this year, saying France was planning to boost the military budget by a third to modernize its armed forces between 2024 and 2030. French company Eurenco will also relocate powder production for ammunition from Sweden to speed things up. But the factory won’t be fully operational before early 2025 — a lifetime given the urgency of supplying Ukraine. Read more here.

US ARMS INCOMING: U.S. military officials have told our Stateside colleagues that the Ukrainian troops sent for training on the Patriot missile defense system, considered one of the most advanced in the world at shooting down missiles and aircraft, have mastered it much faster than expected, and are almost ready to use it on the battlefield. The U.S. is also accelerating the training and delivery of Abrams tanks to get them to Ukraine this fall.

XI-PUTIN MEETING: China’s President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said they backed “peace talks” for the war in Ukraine — but they blamed NATO and Putin made no offer to withdraw his troops from Ukrainian territory, Stuart Lau reports.

What Twitter’s talking about: The dictators’ tiny flags.

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

COUNTDOWN IS ON: The European Parliament and Ireland on Tuesday became the latest to join the European Commission’s legal dispute against Hungary at the Court of Justice of the EU over an openly discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ law. But with only days left for countries to join the lawsuit, diplomats are shifting into high gear to build a wider coalition.

What’s this about: The anti-gay law was imposed in 2021 by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as part of his culture war to rally right-wing support (and, as critics noted, to move the conversation away from rampant corruption). It bans the portrayal of sexual minorities in fiction and non-fiction, ostensibly to protect minors. Hungary’s remaining free broadcasters criticized the law and warned it could impact screenings of films such as Harry Potter and TV series such as Friends.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has taken a principled stance against it. “This legislation uses the protection of children as an excuse to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation,” von der Leyen said after Hungary’s parliament passed the new law in 2021, calling it “a disgrace.” The Commission launched legal proceedings that resulted in this year’s case before the court.

Who’s in: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal and the European Parliament have asked to join the Commission’s case. But Germany and France are still hesitant, despite having signed a letter slamming Hungary’s law and vowing to “continue fighting against discrimination towards the LGBTI community.” The deadline for joining is the end of the month.

Diplomats and officials in Berlin say the foreign ministry is keen to join — Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock is championing a feminist, progressive foreign policy. But the chancellery has pumped the brakes, with the decision now squarely resting with Olaf Scholz.

The German chancellor has been more reluctant, for fear of playing into Orbán’s narrative pitching a “woke” Brussels against good-old Hungarian values. But that’s why it’s important for more capitals to join the case, argued two diplomats from countries that already have.

The case for joining: The more EU countries jump aboard, the harder it will be for Orbán to claim it’s Brussels Eurocrats vs. Hungary. The signal then would be, diplomats from the countries backing the lawsuit say, that a majority of European countries are standing up for the Hungarians whose own government is chipping away at their basic freedoms enshrined in EU law. (Freedoms and rights that Budapest subscribed to when it decided to join the EU.)

Where’s Spain? PM Pedro Sánchez has campaigned on a feminist and pro-LGBTQ+ rights platform at home — but when it comes to taking a stand at the EU level, his government has remained silent. The same diplomats said they expected Madrid to make a decision only once Berlin and Paris have.

Coasting, as usual: In other words, Spain is reverting to its school-slacker approach to EU politics: sit at the back, don’t make eye contact with the teacher, and wait for the kids in the front row to shout the answers.

**Key MEPs such as Brando Benifei (S&D, Italy), Axel Voss (EPP, Germany) and Dragoș Tudorache (Renew Europe, Romania) will be taking part in POLITICO Live’s Europe Tech Summit on April 26-27. Will you be joining them? Don’t miss out on this chock-full day of tech discussions – Register today.**

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

COMMISSION COLLEAGUES WANT HOLOLEI TO STAND ASIDE DURING INQUIRY: The EU’s embattled top transport official, Henrik Hololei, is facing calls from his own colleagues to step aside pending an inquiry into his decision to accept free flights to Qatar while his team struck a major deal with the Gulf state. The Commission is investigating whether Hololei broke the rules by accepting the tickets and clearing himself of any conflict of interest. The EU executive has so far stopped short of sanctioning Hololei over the free Qatar Airways flights, which were first revealed by POLITICO. Nick Vinocur, Mari Eccles and Suzanne Lynch have the story.

BANKING UPDATE: The chaos of the past week seems to be abating, for now, but the panic shows just how quickly confidence can evaporate in the face of a bank run, as well as how interest-rate hikes could create losses that spread across the financial system, writes Hannah Brenton.

SLOVAKIA’S DISINFO PUSH: Slovakia wants the EU to tackle disinformation more effectively even before the EU’s content law, the Digital Services Act, starts to apply next year, said State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs Andrej Stančík in an interview with Playbook’s Ketrin Jochecová.

Why the rush? “In Slovakia, we have only one content regulator and the average response time is not adequate” at around 42 days, Stančík said, adding that he had brought the issue up at the General Affairs Council on Tuesday. He said the EU should act fast, arguing that disinformation contributes to division. “We are talking about legislation, about more transparent and open rules. We should act before the DSA, because the threat is happening now. It’s no secret that hybrid warfare is happening also in social media,” Stančík said.

Context: Slovakia is going through a turbulent time ahead of an election in September, with Robert Fico’s pro-Russian party Smer-SD in the lead, according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls. Fico is critical of sanctions against Russia and wants to stop military aid to Ukraine.

CZECHS IN TAIWAN: A Czech delegation led by the president of the lower chamber of parliament, Markéta Pekarová Adamová, and made up of around 150 officials, scientists and businesspeople, is heading to Taiwan for a five-day trip. The delegation will visit South Korea first, before traveling to Taiwan on Saturday, where they’ll meet President Tsai Ing-wen and other ministers.

Poking Beijing in the eye: The visit comes despite warnings from China, and is more evidence of a change of direction for Czechs under new President Petr Pavel, who angered Beijing by speaking with Tsai shortly after his election. Pavel’s predecessor Miloš Zeman, meanwhile, was known for friendly relations with China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory.

NO WINNIE: Horror film “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” won’t be shown in Hong Kong and Macau as planned, the distributor announced. References to the cartoon character have been used to protest against Xi.

MELONI WATCH: Despite the constructive tone so far, relations between Rome and Brussels seem destined to become strained, argues Mujtaba Rahman, the head of Eurasia Group’s Europe practice, in a column for POLITICO.


**It is happening next week! If you want to know more about what the current challenges are when it comes to differentiating between a respiratory infection due to COVID, influenza or RSV, and what tools are currently available or in development, join us next Wednesday at POLITICO Live’s virtual event “Managing the growing burden of respiratory infections in the EU”. Register now!**

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

— Commemoration of seventh anniversary of the Brussels terror attacks at 10:30 a.m. European Parliament chief Roberta Metsola and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo among those attending.

— Weekly College of Commissioners meeting at 10:30 a.m., followed by readout and press conference.

— Tripartite Social Summit at 3 p.m.; arrivals and doorsteps from 2:30 p.m.; press conference around 5:15 p.m. Council President Charles Michel, Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen among those attending. Watch.

Roberta Metsola meets the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Andriy Kostin at 9 a.m.; meets Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides at 4:40 p.m., press point at 4:35 p.m. Watch.

— Commissioners Mairead McGuinness and Paolo Gentiloni meet with President of the European Banking Federation Christian Sewing.

— Commissioner Thierry Breton visits Czech Republic and Slovakia on defense industry tour; meets Czech Deputy Minister of Defense for Industrial Cooperation Radka Konderlová and Director of the Czech Intergovernmental Defense Cooperation Agency Aleš Vytečka; as well as the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Eduard Heger, and Slovak Minister of Defense Jaroslav Naď.

— President of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides in Brussels. Meets with Council President Charles Michel at 1 p.m. … Commission chief von der Leyen at 4 p.m.

— European Economic and Social Committee 577th Plenary Session at 3 p.m. Watch.

— The 13th meeting of the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee; press conference at 4 p.m. Watch.

— “Democracy in the EU: How is the European Commission defending the rule of law?” event. Commissioner Didier Reynders attends. 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

— NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg meets with the Head of Federal Department for Defense, Civil Protection and Sports of Switzerland Viola Amherd. After the meeting, Amherd will participate in a meeting of NATO’s North Atlantic Council.

— NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoană meet with the Minister of Defense of North Macedonia Slavjanka Petrovska at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

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

COMMEMORATING TERROR VICTIMS: Today is the seventh anniversary of the coordinated Brussels terror attacks at the international airport and the Maelbeek metro station, which killed 32 people. A commemoration will be held this morning from 10:30 a.m. at the memorial to the victims of terrorism on Rue de la Loi, between the Schuman roundabout and Park Cinquantenaire. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and representatives of the emergency services and the victims’ associations will attend. More info here.

GUEST TEACHERS TO SOLVE SHORTAGE: Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts introduced on Tuesday a proposal aimed at tackling a teacher shortage in Belgium. The plan is to allow more schools to hire external experts who would not need a standard teaching certificate. “It will be possible for a bank manager to come and teach economics, a translator to take over French lessons or a pianist to give music lessons,” said Weyts in a press release.

WOMEN’S FILM FESTIVAL: Today marks the start of the Elles Tournent festival, dedicated to films directed by women and focused on bringing equality into the cinema industry. More info.

NEW JOB: Daniel Rocha has been named partner at global advisory firm Qorvis – the first partner to be located in Brussels.

BIRTHDAYS: MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen; Former MEP Norbert Neuser; Latvia’s Deputy PM and Defense Minister Artis Pabriks, a former MEP; PMCG’s Marion Soury; Daniel Knowles of the Economist; ZDF’s Gunnar Krüger.

THANKS to Laura Kayali, Leonie Cater, Barbara Moens, Suzanne Lynch, Gavin Bade, Gabriel Gavin 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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