Brussels Playbook: Estonia games the system — Migration vote — Huawei probe

Brussels Playbook: Estonia games the system — Migration vote — Huawei probe
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 28 March 2023 05:26

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By JAKOB HANKE VELA

with ZOYA SHEFTALOVICH

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WEAPONS FOR UKRAINE Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap


TENSIONS GROW OVER EU CASH FOR WEAPONS: In response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv’s allies have rushed to provide military aid. In a historic first, EU countries have been partially reimbursed for that aid with money from a joint fund called the European Peace Facility (EPF), to which member nations contribute based on the size of their economies.


Officially, EU countries have hailed the fund as a sign of solidarity. But behind the scenes, tensions have grown over how much money countries are expensing to the joint fund. Playbook spoke to seven EU diplomats and officials for this report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information.


The accusation that emerged from those discussions is that one country in particular — Estonia — has been renewing its arsenal at the expense of its EU neighbors, while sending old stocks to Ukraine.


Accounting magic: Officially, all countries receive the same rate of reimbursement, which EU nations agreed on: some 84 percent of the price paid. However, what’s not agreed is how countries calculate the price of the equipment they send to Ukraine. “There are widely different approaches, each country is using their own methodology” to calculate the costs, said one official.


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Classified data from the EU’s foreign affairs and defense department (EEAS) shared with diplomats from EU countries and revealed for the first time by Playbook show that six countries have calculated their reimbursement claims based on the purchasing price of new materials, rather than the actual current value of what they’ve sent to Ukraine.


The 6 countries named: Finland (which according to the EEAS claimed 100 percent of the new purchasing price), Latvia (which claimed 99 percent), Lithuania (93 percent), Estonia (91 percent), France (71 percent) and Sweden (26 percent).


Estonia topped the list in absolute figures, claiming more than €160 million for its past donations to Ukraine, for which it was reimbursed €134 million based on the EPF’s rate, according to an EEAS overview obtained by Playbook.


Not happy: Those figures have diplomats from other countries fuming at what they described as sanctimonious behavior from Estonia. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, the diplomats said, has very publicly led calls in the EU for more military support for Ukraine, but seems to have found a way to support her own army quite generously in passing.


Yikes: “They are sending their scraps to Ukraine and buying brand new material for themselves, financed with EU money,” said one EU diplomat about Estonia.


Keeping the peace: A second EU diplomat from a different country confirmed that Estonia’s behavior had raised eyebrows across the EU, as a “particularly blatant case” — even though no one wanted to call Tallinn out to avoid any sign of divisions.


How it works: “What the Estonians do is, they send old material, which is no longer in production, and then ask for reimbursement [based on the price of] modern alternatives,” said the second diplomat. “For example, they have sent Strelas [old Soviet shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles] to Ukraine, but claimed reimbursement for modern Stingers, which of course have more capabilities and command a much higher price. This is also why Estonia’s military support appears to be so much higher per capita than that of other countries in the statistics everybody cites.”


No comment: Spokespeople for Estonia’s permanent representation to the EU and Estonia’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment by publication. However, the government in Tallinn has in the past confirmed that it calculates its aid to Ukraine based on the “recovery value” of the donated material and said in a statement in January that it was “applying for funds from the European Peace Facility for the replacement of equipment.” Spokespeople for Finland and Lithuania also declined to comment.


SPEAKING OF WEAPONS — GERMAN LEOPARDS ARRIVE IN UKRAINE: Berlin has handed over 18 new-generation Leopard 2A6 tanks to Kyiv, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Monday. “We delivered Leopard tanks as we announced,” Scholz told reporters at a press conference in Rotterdam, where he met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for consultations, POLITICO’s Hans von der Burchard reports.


What about jets? Asked about fighter jets for Ukraine, Rutte told reporters there were “no taboos,” but that such decisions must be taken jointly with allies.


ENERGY COUNCIL Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap


HAPPENING TODAY: The EU’s energy ministers will meet for an Energy Council, as high-profile disagreements between Brussels and the EU’s big beasts threaten to derail some of the bloc’s flagship policies.


On the agenda: European energy security, renewables and reducing gas demand. But the real fight is likely to be on the sidelines of the meeting, my Energy Pro colleagues report in their newsletter this morning. The ministers will debate the inclusion of nuclear-powered hydrogen in the Renewable Energy Directive, with France leading a coalition of nine member countries pushing to get it recognized in the text. But seven countries, including Germany, are resisting the push, saying it could undermine the bloc’s climate targets.


Will Paris win? It also won’t be easy for France to get its way, Victor Jack reports, as both camps have a blocking minority.


Digging in: A group of 12 countries — Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Latvia — will meet before the summit to coordinate their positions on the gas package and on a proposal to promote the use of renewable energy in industry, Victor reports. That group includes the staunchest opponents of France’s nuclear-powered hydrogen plan.


Paris won’t go down easy: France will host a rival meeting of its newly formed nuclear coalition ahead of the Energy Council, with two more countries potentially joining informally, on top of the 11 existing members of the informal alliance.




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


FINLAND A STEP CLOSER TO NATO: Hungary’s parliament on Monday voted in favor of Finland’s NATO membership. Helsinki now only needs the Turkish parliament’s approval — expected soon — to become a NATO member.


Sweden on hold: Hungary has left Sweden waiting in the wings. But even if it hadn’t, Stockholm is still facing a veto threat from Turkey, which wants it to extradite people such as followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, members of the militant Kurdish PKK group, and critics accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.


IOC TO DECIDE FATE OF RUSSIAN ATHLETES: The executive committee of the International Olympic Committee gathers from today for a three-day meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, to decide whether Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete in the 2024 Olympics. The IOC has previously come under fire for allowing these athletes to participate in Paris under a neutral flag.


Protest in Brussels: The Promote Ukraine NGO will hold a demonstration in Brussels outside the representation of the European Olympic Committees to the European institutions on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. to put pressure on the IOC. “It would be a sick absurdity to allow Russian athletes to compete for medals in Paris while their government’s artillery and missiles continue to wreak havoc on millions of innocent lives,” Olena Kuzhym from Promote Ukraine told Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová.


CAN A WAR CRIMINAL BE IN CHARGE OF THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL? Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over allegations of war crimes; on April 1, Putin’s Russia is set to take up the presidency of the United Nations Security Council. Activist Colombe Cahen-Salvador argues in favor of a boycott in this opinion piece for POLITICO.


MIGRATION VOTE Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap


MIGRATION CRUNCH VOTE: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m., the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) will vote on four sections of the Asylum and Migration Pact, the EU’s flagship migration package, which MEPs aim to adopt before the end of Parliament’s term in 2024. The S&D, EPP and Renew are expected to back the proposals, my colleague Gregorio Sorgi writes in to report.


Returns fast-track: LIBE will vote on whether to introduce tighter migrant screening, which would essentially fast-track the processing of asylum-seekers who are unlikely to get refugee status, while leaving the Dublin Treaty (which established the rules for processing asylum applications) untouched, according to a draft text seen by POLITICO. Renew MEP Fabienne Keller, one of the rapporteurs on the file, told us that “persons in need of protection must rapidly access the refugee status, while those who are manifestly not eligible to asylum are to swiftly be returned to a third country.”


Dublin angle: The text argues that stricter screening “could help discourage secondary movements in the Schengen area,” addressing countries’ concerns regarding uncontrolled migration from the country of initial arrival to other EU nations. The argument is that a more stringent registration system will make it easier to return migrants under Dublin rules. S&D MEP Birgit Sippel, also a rapporteur on the file, told Playbook that “the new screening procedure will allow us to register and check everyone entering the EU irregularly while ensuring all applicable asylum safeguards.”


Mandatory relocations are back: One of the most controversial points on the agenda is the mandatory relocations foreseen when an EU country is overwhelmed by an uncontrolled flow of migrants. The legal text calls on the Commission to decide whether a country is facing a crisis, defined as “mass and sudden arrivals of third country nationals.” This ambiguous language might raise concerns among those member countries that deplore mandatory relocations, who might try to water down the text in the upcoming negotiations between Parliament and Council.


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


HUAWEI WATCH: Belgium’s intelligence service is scrutinizing the operations of technology giant Huawei as fears of Chinese espionage grow around the EU and NATO headquarters, according to confidential documents and three people familiar with the matter. My colleagues Samuel Stolton and Laurens Cerulus have the must-read story. They report that Belgian intelligence officers want to determine if there are any direct ties between the Chinese state and Huawei’s Brussels office. Of particular interest are Huawei reps who may have previously held posts in EU institutions.


What else Beijing will be angry about today: “Dear lawmaker colleagues and dear people of Taiwan, I guarantee you we are with you now, we will continue to be with you and under any circumstances we are in the same boat together,” said the president of the lower chamber of Czech parliament, Markéta Pekarová Adamová, in an address to Taiwan’s parliament overnight.


FRANCE BRACES FOR MORE PROTESTS: Expect more heated protests in France today against Emmanuel Macron’s pensions reform, with trade unions calling for a general strike. In the wake of last week’s violent clashes, which resulted in more than 450 arrests, the French president was forced to cancel a state visit by King Charles III amid security concerns. What happens today could indicate whether anger is beginning to ebb — or if it’s going to grow into a broader movement.


Meanwhile, pro-Russian hackers took down the National Assembly website.


RUTTE HOLDS IT’S-NOT-A-CRISIS CRISIS MEETING TODAY: Dutch PM Mark Rutte meets with his deputy prime ministers today to discuss this month’s provincial election results, which dealt a major blow to his ruling coalition, my colleague Barbara Moens writes in to report. At last week’s Council summit, Rutte wouldn’t call it a “crisis meeting,” stressing he wants to discuss not just the election but also “broader dissatisfaction in society.”


GERMAN COALITION TALKS: Olaf Scholz is back in Berlin today, where he will face a second round of intense discussions among his three-party coalition. The trio is struggling to agree on issues from finances to climate protection to extending and modernizing Germany’s Autobahn network — which the Greens have so far opposed.


What a clown: Meanwhile, German police are reinforcing security measures after a thief wearing a clown mask gained access to the complex where Scholz’s apartment is located, Spiegel reported (including a picture of the masked suspect).


SAAKASHVILI GETS HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE: Norway has given former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is currently imprisoned and says he is being poisoned by Russian agents, the Sjur Lindebrekke Award for promoting human rights and democracy. Georgia’s current Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili called the move an “insult” and “almost the same as if some country gave [Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring] Breivik an award,” reports Agenda.


NO HITS, SHERLOCK: The European Commission is working out how to exclude British TV productions from what the bloc considers “European works” under EU rules on audiovisual, according to a paper seen by POLITICO’s Mathieu Pollet. The move could disincentivize investment in and collaboration with the British production scene.


NETANYAHU DELAYS JUDICIAL REFORMS: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday he would postpone controversial legislation that would have allowed parliament to overturn decisions of the country’s top court with a simple majority. The move comes in response to historic protests against the legislation by Israelis worried about what many described as an attack on democracy. Details here.


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


— Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council at 10 a.m.; arrivals and doorsteps from 8:45 a.m.; press conference at 5:30 p.m. (approximately). Watch.


— European Consumer Summit 2023. Watch.


— European Parliament press conference on anti-coercion instrument at 1:30 p.m. Watch.


— European Parliament press conference on new asylum and migration rules at 3:30 p.m. Watch.


— EP President Roberta Metsola meets the Speaker of the National Assembly of Slovenia Urška Klakočar Zupančič at 4 p.m. Watch.


— Council president Charles Michel visits Moldova, meets President Maia Sandu at 11:40 a.m.; joint press conference at 12:50 p.m.; meets the Speaker of the Parliament Igor Grosu at 3 p.m.; meets Prime Minister Dorin Recean at 3:30 p.m. Watch.


— Joint doorstep by Minister of Energy of Ukraine German Galushchenko and Swedish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Energy Ebba Busch at 2:40 p.m. after an informal lunch.


— German Chancellor Olaf Scholz receives the President of Kenya William Ruto on his inaugural visit to Germany. Press conference at 5 p.m.


— Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans delivers speech at the opening of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture 2023 in Brussels; holds a videoconference with China’s special envoy for climate change, Xie Zhenhua.


— Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis receives CEO of the Lufthansa Group Carsten Spohr.


— Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas in Cairo, Egypt; meets with Interior Minister Mahmoud Tawfik.


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


NEW OFFICE: Companies Glen Echo Group, BerlinRosen and Derris are opening a joint European office in Amsterdam, focusing on media relations, public affairs and strategic communications. It’ll be led by Colin Bortner, who was previously Netflix’s Director of Global Public Policy for EMEA, as well as Caroline Behringer, former spokesperson for U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Michael Rabinowitz-Gold from BerlinRosen.


PART TIME TRAIN PASS: SNCB has launched a new flexible ticket subscription that’s more suited for those who only go into the office part time. Details.


EU WOMEN IN FINANCE: Bloomberg announced on Monday the expansion of the EU Women in Finance initiative to Poland, Ireland and Switzerland, bringing the total number of participating countries to nine. The program aims to provide training on financial markets to young women and empower them to pursue careers in finance. “Finance, particularly at management level, continues to be male dominated. This is not just about women in top jobs; we must do more to encourage women to consider finance as a career and support women at all levels in the sector,” said European Commissioner for Financial Stability Mairead McGuinness.


SPOTTED … at Bloomberg’s reception and private viewing of Michel François’ “Contre nature” exhibition at Bozar: Bloomberg Chair Peter Grauer; Bloomberg Brussels Bureau Chief Kevin Whitelaw; Anneka Treon, Van Lanschot Kempen’s chief economist; Irene Tinagli, MEP; FGS partner Ayrton Thevissen; Invest Europe’s Conor Quinn; Visa’s Mike Wilson; FGS Global’s Saim Saeed; Alexandra Jour-Schroeder, deputy director general DG FISMA; Aleksandra Tomczak of Commission EVP Frans Timmermans’ Cabinet; Maria Tadeo, Bloomberg TV Brussels.


BIRTHDAYS: MEPs StéphanieYon-Courtin and Robert Hajšel; Former MEP Karoline Edstadler, now Austria’s constitutional affairs minister; Former MEPs Inés Ayala Sender, Dinesh Dhamija and Petr Ježek; Former Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri; Bozar’s Kris Schillemans; Eline Chivot from the European Commission.


THANKS to Gregorio Sorgi, Barbara Moens, Florian Eder, Hans von der Burchard, Clea Caulcutt, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová and producer Grace Stranger.


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