Brussels Playbook: Michel backs Macron — Borrell in China — Kaili holds out

Brussels Playbook: Michel backs Macron — Borrell in China — Kaili holds out
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 12 April 2023 05:30

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By NICHOLAS VINOCUR

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DRIVING THE DAY: MACRON KEEPS SPOTLIGHT Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

FRENCH PRESIDENT HECKLED DURING ‘EU SOVEREIGNTY’ SPEECH: With half of Europe pushing back on his comments to POLITICO about Taiwan and Europe’s relationship with the U.S., French President Emmanuel Macron drilled down on his vision for a “sovereign Europe” that can “choose” its partners during a speech in The Hague that was interrupted by protesters.

Right all along: Macron, who’s facing huge protests against his pension reform at home and a backlash to his Taiwan comments abroad, used his speech on Tuesday to argue that his idea of a bolder, more assertive EU was winning the day in Europe.

Now just do this: The 45-year-old leader argued that the EU should double down on producing “European champions” to take on global rivals, “build more sovereignty on energy,” and called for more public subsidies for nuclear energy projects, Sam Stolton and Camille Gijs write in to report.

Fair trade: Macron also said the EU’s approach to trade should “obey a rationale that goes beyond purely economic logic,” adding that future deals need to be sustainable, fair and allow the bloc to achieve clear strategic interests, such as access to raw materials.

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What’s that you said? But the speech was overshadowed by noise — from the audience, where protesters shouted him down and unfurled a banner saying “President of violence and hypocrisy;” and from further afield, as Central and Eastern Europeans lashed out at his suggestion the bloc should avoid “following” Washington.

Eastern anger: “Instead of building strategic autonomy from the United States, I propose a strategic partnership with the United States,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Tuesday ahead of his own trip to the U.S. Off the record, Eastern Europeans struck a tougher tone: “We cannot understand [Macron’s] position during these very challenging times,” one diplomat who requested anonymity told my colleague Jacopo Barigazzi. Read his full story here.

Another taste of the furious reaction: Macron “wants to be the leader of Europe post-Merkel,” said a diplomat, “but seems to forget that in order to lead one needs to make sure others follow along.”

Michel to the rescue: The din carried over to Brussels, where a spokesperson for the European Commission did his best to promote unity between Macron and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen; and where Council chief Charles Michel offered the French leader rare backing for his controversial remarks.

Think like Mac: “On the issue of the relationship with the United States, it’s clear that there can be nuances and sensitivities around the table of the European Council,” Michel told French TV show la Faute à l’Europe (which has a partnership with POLITICO), in an interview airing today. “Some European leaders wouldn’t say things the same way that Emmanuel Macron did,” he said, adding: “I think quite a few really think like Macron.”

Not so autonomous: Michel’s words will give Macron a boost on the EU scene. But criticism of his embrace of “strategic autonomy” is bound to keep dividing the bloc — as a leaked letter revealed that Germany’s land forces would not be able to fulfill their commitment to NATO, Bild newspaper reported Tuesday.

No fighting, please: While Berlin pledged a fully equipped army division to NATO in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine, the letter from the army’s inspector general said the army would “not be able to hold its own in high intensity combat,” Gabriel Rinaldi reports.

Numbers don’t lie: The leak was a reminder of the gap between ambitions of autonomy and the reality in Europe, where the U.S. not only provides the bulk of military aid to Ukraine, but a security umbrella covering the entire bloc. While France touts strategic autonomy, it’s far down the ranking of countries providing aid to Ukraine, with less than €1 billion pledged since the start of the war, according to the Kiel Institute.

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Your Playbook author argues as much in this piece out today — reflecting on Macron’s habit of causing international outrage with his comments on foreign policy, only to have an army of defenders and interpreters line up to explain how he’s been misunderstood.

SPEAKING OF MICHEL — ICYMI: The former Belgian PM is in hot water over his expensive travel habits and this time it’s not just us saying it. Per French daily Le Monde, Michel can’t get enough of travel on private jets, including a trip to China last December that cost €460,000.

NOW READ THIS — MACRON’S FALL GAL? French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s days as Macron’s chief lieutenant might be numbered, as the president may be looking for someone to take the fall for his unpopular pension reforms. My colleagues Laura Kayali, Clea Caulcutt and Pauline de Saint Remy have the story.

BORRELL TO TALK TAIWAN Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

BORRELL TO BEIJING: Amid the controversy caused by Macron’s China trip, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will be traveling to Beijing from Thursday to Saturday, EU officials say, my colleague Stuart Lau writes in to report.

On the itinerary: Borrell will conduct the annual EU-China strategic dialogue with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. He will also meet China’s paramount foreign policy chief, Wang Yi, as well as the new Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who’s been sanctioned by the U.S.

Won’t leave Taiwan unmentioned: Borrell will raise the very topic Macron told POLITICO Europe should avoid: Taiwan. “It is critical … in preserving peace, of course, in particular, in the Taiwan Strait, in around Taiwan,” a senior EU official said ahead of Borrell’s trip. “There is no such military aid … given by European Union members to Taiwan [like the U.S. does]. Having said this, we are strongly engaged in and with Taiwan, with a very strong economy and a very thriving democracy.”

BELGIUM PROBES CYBERATTACK: Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told lawmakers on Tuesday that the country’s Center for Cybersecurity was involved in detecting a cyberattack attempt on MP Samuel Cogolati, who has been critical of China and has been sanctioned by Beijing. Cogolati told Playbook that according to De Croo, the center acted upon an external warning. “While the [center] cannot disclose its sources, we can confirm that this is a warning issued as part of its ‘Spear Warning’ service,” the Belgian leader said.

NOW READ THIS: President Xi Jinping is fixated on ending China’s century of humiliation — and Europe shouldn’t chart a middle course in response, argues Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, in this opinion piece for POLITICO.

QATARGATE Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

TARABELLA RELEASE LEAVES ONLY EVA KAILI IN JAIL: Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella will move from jail to house arrest after being detained for over two months pending trial as part of a probe into an alleged cash-for-influence corruption scheme dubbed Qatargate, my colleagues Eddy Wax, Camille Gijs and Pieter Haeck report.

Getting out: “We’ve just learned with relief of the imminent liberation of Marc Tarabella,” a member of the Socialist MEP’s close circle wrote to POLITICO. A spokesperson for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office also confirmed Tarabella’s forthcoming release from a jail in Wallonia.

Last woman jailed: With Tarabella moving to house arrest, only one person charged in the Qatargate probe will remain detained in jail: former Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili. MEP Andrea Cozzolino is under house arrest in Italy fighting his extradition to Belgium — which on Tuesday was delayed again.

**Don’t miss POLITICO Live’s virtual event on May 4 “Is Europe on the right path to prevent medicines shortages?”. POLITICO is convening high-level speakers to discuss if pharmaceutical laws are helping or failing to prevent empty shelves in pharmacies. Register here.**

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

IRAN SCOOP: China and Russia are in advanced secret talks with Iran to replenish the Islamic Republic’s supply of a key chemical compound used to propel ballistic missiles, my colleague Matthew Karnitschnig reports this morning. Such a move would mark a clear violation of U.N. sanctions and possibly help Moscow replenish its depleted stock of rockets, Matt writes in his must-read story.

Tehran has form: Iran has supplied Russia with so-called kamikaze drones that it has used to attack Ukrainian civilian targets and has also advised Moscow on how to circumvent sanctions.

SERBIA REVELATION: Serbia has agreed to supply arms to Kyiv or has sent them already, according to the latest revelations from the leak of classified Pentagon documents. Reuters has more.

HUNGARY FRUSTRATES NATO ALLIES: Officials and experts say that beyond domestic political calculations, Hungary’s blocking of Sweden’s NATO bid goes back to its ties to Ankara and Moscow, reports my colleague Lili Bayer. Budapest’s position is part of a broader foreign policy strategy, Lili explains.

BRETON CONTINUES DEFENSE TOUR: Single Market Commissioner Thierry Breton continues his tour of the EU’s defense industry today, popping into Bucharest to meet with government officials and manufacturers. Breton will meet with Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă to discuss the need to increase the production of ammo for Ukraine.

ROAD TO GREEK ELECTION: Greek MPs voted Tuesday to ban the extreme-right Greeks-National Party from running in elections, aiming to block its members linked to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn criminal organization from entering parliament, reports my colleague Nektaria Stamouli.

HOW MANY TWITS ARE THERE NOW? Just 1,500 people currently work for Twitter, down from “just under 8,000,” new owner Elon Musk revealed in an interview with the BBC. Musk also promised to update the BBC’s “government-funded media” tag, after the broadcaster objected to the label. “Have I shot myself in the foot with tweets multiple times? Yes,” Musk admitted. “I think I should not tweet after 3 a.m.”

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

— U.S. President Joe Biden in Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement; meets British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at noon; gives speech at Ulster University at 2 p.m.

— French President Emmanuel Macron in the Netherlands.

— Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki continues U.S. visit.

— European Parliament President Roberta Metsola gives opening address at the First Inter-Committee meeting of the European Parliament and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine at 11 a.m.; Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Ruslan Stefanchuk delivers address afterward. Watch.

— Single Market Commissioner Thierry Breton in Romania; meets with Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă.

— Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis in the U.S.; participates in “Transatlantic Trade and Cooperation in Times of Global Turmoil” event; participates in third ministerial roundtable discussion for support to Ukraine, organized by the World Bank.

— Financial Services Commissioner Mairead McGuinness in the U.S.; participates in “The Future of Finance: the EU-U.S. Relationship in Sustainable and Digital Finance” event; speaks at reception hosted by Ambassador of Ireland to the U.S. Geraldine Byrne Nason, with Ireland’s Minister for Finance Michael McGrath, President of the Eurogroup Paschal Donohoe and Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland Gabriel Makhlouf.

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

POP-UP UKRAINE EXHIBITION KICKS OFF TODAY: The Ukrainian Yellow Ribbon civil resistance movement, which was among the recipients of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2022, is running a pop-up exhibition called “State of Defiance” at Station Europe on Place du Luxembourg. The two-day exhibition includes displays of items from Ukraine’s Russian-occupied territories. Details here.

What’s happening: One of the movement’s founders will beam in from occupied Melitopol and report on the situation there. Lithuanian MEP Petras Auštrevičius, from the Renew group, has confirmed he’ll attend. Opening times: Today from 12:30 p.m. until 7.p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. till 7 p.m.

STAFF AT ART & HISTORY MUSEUM DENOUNCE TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT: Staffers of Brussels’ Art & History Museum complain of a “toxic work environment” and “chaotic management” in a letter sent to the government and Secretary of State for Science Policy Thomas Dermine, RTBF reports. This isn’t the first time a Brussels museum has been criticized for alleged misconduct — employees of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts last year accused its director of sexism, racism and intimidation.

BRUSSELS BIDS FOR WORLD CYCLING CHAMPIONSHIP: Brussels wants to host the World Cycling Championships in 2030, the city announced Tuesday. There’s a press conference today at 11 a.m., with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to attend.

DAY TRIP IDEA: The Floralia exhibition at Groot-Bijgaarden Castle is on, and the flowers — particularly the tulips — are looking great. Open until May 4.

EP JOBS: The European Parliament has launched its latest recruitment drive for those with disabilities. Applications are open until April 25.

CONDOLENCES: Human rights activist Dana Němcová, one of the leading Czech dissidents of the communist era, died on Tuesday at the age of 89. She was among the first signatories of Charter 77, a manifesto uniting the opponents of the hard-line communist regime installed after the Soviet invasion in 1968, Playbook’s own Czech-watcher Ketrin Jochecová reports.

BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Lara Wolters, Geoffroy Didier, Jarosław Kalinowski, João Pimenta Lopes and Teuvo Hakkarainen; Belgian politician Hugues Bayet, a former MEP; George Robertson, former secretary-general of NATO; Woody Johnson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom; EEAS’ Filippo Cristini; Tobias Gehrke of the Egmont Institute; Ceemet’s Delphine Rudelli.

THANKS TO: Wilhelmine Preussen, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová and our producer Grace Stranger.

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