Brussels Playbook: NATO talks Russia-China alliance — Fiscal rules — Serbia-Kosovo

Brussels Playbook: NATO talks Russia-China alliance — Fiscal rules — Serbia-Kosovo
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 04 April 2023 05:19

What’s driving the day in Brussels.




By JAKOB HANKE VELA


with ZOYA SHEFTALOVICH


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DRIVING THE DAY: NATO MEETING Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap


NATO MINISTERS IN TOWN: Foreign affairs ministers from the NATO military alliance are gathering in Brussels for a two-day meeting on Russia’s illegal and brutal war against Ukraine.


New member, new face: As a direct consequence of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Finland and Sweden applied to join the alliance. Today, Finland will officially become the 31st member of NATO — though it seems it won’t be Prime Minister Sanna Marin who takes charge during this new era for Helsinki. So just who is Petteri Orpo, whose National Coalition Party came first in this weekend’s election? My colleague Charlie Duxbury has a profile of the man he dubs Finland’s Mr. Dependable.


Waiting in the wings: Meanwhile, Turkey is still blocking Sweden’s NATO application, urging Stockholm to clamp down on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and address Ankara’s extradition requests. Progress on Stockholm’s application is expected after the Turkish election in May.


China-Russia relationship looms large: The ministers will discuss “China’s growing alignment with Russia” as both countries are “challenging the international order and democratic values,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, reiterating that “any provision of lethal aid by China to Russia would be a major mistake.”


WHICH BRINGS US TO THIS WEEK’S OTHER CRUCIAL MEETING: As NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen are preparing to travel to Beijing, where they’ll meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and seek to lure him out of Putin’s warm embrace.


About that Russia-China friendship: Xi has in the past described Putin as his “best, most intimate friend,” and more recently declared a “no-limits” partnership with Russia. But the nature of the relationship between Beijing and Moscow does, in fact, have its limits, according to the U.K.’s former National Security Adviser Stephen Lovegrove.


Awkward Squad vs. AUKUS Squad: “It seems inconceivable to me that Russia and China will be willing to share technology in the way our nations will be” in the AUKUS alliance of the U.K., U.S. and Australia, Lovegrove told an invite-only audience at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) Sydney Dialogue, attended by Playbook’s own Zoya Sheftalovich. Lovegrove also pointed to the Five Eyes Alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and U.S. as an example of Western nations’ willingness to pool resources and intelligence — unlikely in the more-guarded Russia-China relationship. More from Zoya at the conference below.


FISCAL RULES REFORM Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap


COMMISSION SEEKS TO WIN OVER BERLIN: The European Commission has floated new options to soothe Germany’s concerns about changes to EU rules governing how much debt countries can take on and how quickly they have to pay it back.


Reminder: EU countries and Brussels agree the old debt rules are no longer realistic (especially on the speed of debt reduction) and must be adjusted. Brussels wants to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach and instead negotiate individual long-term plans with EU countries — an approach that Berlin sees as overly arbitrary.


Avoiding a crisis: While the ruling coalition in Berlin is in favor of reform to avoid forcing EU countries into austerity, Germany’s Finance Minister Christian Lindner has insisted there should be common safeguards that apply to all countries to ensure the debt pile is brought back to sustainable levels without triggering a new crisis.


Brussels has now floated 3 options to meet Germany in the middle, sketched out in slides obtained by my colleague Paola Tamma.


Option 1: If countries breach the 3-percent annual deficit threshold, they would be required to reduce their excess debt by a rhythm of 0.5 percentage points per year. That would act as a “safeguard” in case countries overspend and fail to stick to the pace of debt reduction previously agreed with the Commission.


Option 2: The Commission suggests introducing a “no backloading clause” that would force countries to undertake the majority of debt adjustments in the first four years of the plan, to avoid them kicking the can to incoming governments.


Option 3: The Commission suggests requiring countries with debt above 60 percent of GDP to reduce it by the four-year horizon.


Will it work? It’s unclear whether the proposals will win over Germany. Lindner last month requested “further deep technical discussions” before the Commission makes a legislative proposal. The EU executive hopes to come forward with its legal proposal “in the coming weeks,” Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on Saturday. More from Paola.


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WESTERN BALKANS LATEST Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap


SERBIA-KOSOVO ON THE AGENDA: Chief negotiators from Serbia and Kosovo meet in Brussels today in a bid to make progress on a nascent agreement signed in Ohrid, North Macedonia last month, amid renewed hostilities in the region. Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi, the director of Serbia’s Kosovo office Petar Petković, and the EU’s point-man for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue Miroslav Lajčák, will attend the meeting, my colleague Suzanne Lynch writes in to report.


Real world context: The meeting takes place as tensions flared in North Kosovo over the weekend when cars belonging to ethnic Serbs who switched to Kosovo-issued number plates were set alight. The numberplate controversy has become a lightning-rod in the long-simmering conflict, sparked by Kosovo’s decision to oblige all citizens to have Pristina-issue plates — a move opposed by the Serb minority in the north who want to use Serb-issued plates. (Serbia, and much of the ethnic Serb community in northern Kosovo, don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence.)


When a deal isn’t a deal: Today’s meeting is all about “implementation,” officials say, playing down any expectations of a substantive breakthrough — but that reflects a broader snag. The deal clinched by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last month after 12 hours of talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo’s PM Albin Kurti in Ohrid wasn’t actually signed.


Speaking ahead of today’s meeting, a Commission spokesperson said: “We expect both parties to contribute, to create and maintain the atmosphere of normalization, reconciliation and quick implementation of commitments that have been made.” But the ongoing tensions on the ground signal the massive challenge ahead as the EU steps up its engagement in the Western Balkans, Suzanne reports.


MONTENEGRO LATEST: Meanwhile, European Council President Charles Michel congratulated Jakov Milatović, the incoming president of Montenegro, on his victory in Sunday’s election. The runoff contest saw the 37-year-old relative political newcomer oust Milo Đukanović, who has dominated politics in the country for decades. A parliamentary election is scheduled for June 11.


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


SCHOLZ CALLS FOR ROMANIA TO JOIN SCHENGEN THIS YEAR: Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday urged EU countries to admit Romania into the border-free Schengen area, arguing it had fulfilled all necessary preconditions. Speaking in Bucharest alongside President Klaus Iohannis, Scholz praised his hosts’ “central role” in facilitating aid shipments to Ukraine and grain exports out of the country, and said it was “crucial” to show support for Romania.


Full backing: “Germany stands firmly by Romania’s side,” Scholz said, adding that this includes on “the goal of Romania finally gaining full membership of the Schengen area this year.”


Backing Chișinău too: At a meeting with Moldova’s President Maia Sandu, both Iohannis and Scholz also vowed to continue supporting the country, which has faced destabilization attempts by Russia.


#FREEEVAN UPDATE: Jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is “cheerful” and doing well in pre-trial detention, a Russian prison watchdog said Monday — the first report on the journalist’s condition since his arrest on espionage charges, which the U.S. says are fabricated. Alexei Melnikov, a member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission, also said Gershkovich has been allowed to go for daily walks and was reading Vasily Grossman’s novel “Life and Fate” from the prison library. Several of Gershkovich’s colleagues and friends have said he had been reading the novel when they last saw him. Details here.


Appeal: Gershkovich has appealed against his pre-trial detention through his lawyers, Reuters reports.


RUSSIA TO BAN ICC: Russia’s State Duma is preparing amendments that will ban the International Criminal Court’s activities in Russia and criminalize public appeals on the enforcement of its decisions. The law will also apply to any other international bodies “directed against the Russian Federation and its citizens,” according to Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the lower house.


MOSCOW’S SPIES: There’s growing evidence that Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR) and its military intelligence agency (GRU) are aggressively trying to rebuild their human espionage networks in Europe, reports my colleague Jamie Dettmer.


BATTLE FOR THE FUTURE: Speaking (via livestream) at the ASPI Sydney Dialogue, Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO and China hawk who is now chairman of the U.S. Special Competitive Studies Project, said the West is “locked in a battle with China that will define the future for the rest of our lives.”


‘And China is not like the Soviet Union,’ Schmidt warned. “At its height, the Soviet Union was only a third of the scale of the United States … Now we have an autocratic competitor that is run by technocrats, that is very capable of inventing a new future. They can invent a new communication future — that’s called Huawei and 5G, which is also known as a signals intelligence nightmare. They can invent a new application known as TikTok, which has taken over all the teenagers in the world.”


Don’t trust Chinese tech: “We need to get our act together,” Schmidt implored the government and defense-industry heavy audience. “We gotta get ourselves together so that we win in the competition around strategic platforms. I don’t want to be using Chinese operating systems to do my communications. I just don’t. I don’t trust them.”


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


DUTCH TRAIN CRASH: Multiple people have been seriously injured after a passenger train derailed in Voorschoten overnight. NOS has more.


EU IN BELFAST: The EU’s top brass will travel to Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the peace deal designed to end decades of conflict, according to two EU and U.K. officials. The presidents of the Commission and Council, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, are both expected to deliver speeches during the three-day conference at Queen’s University Belfast from April 17-19, my colleagues Shawn Pogatchnik and Gregorio Sorgi write in to report. The Commission declined to confirm von der Leyen’s visit, while a spokesperson from QUB said that they “would hope to welcome both” presidents but also didn’t confirm their attendance.


Stay away: But writing in the Telegraph, former Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said the EU can claim no credit for the peace deal, and should stay away from celebrations to mark its anniversary.


Speakers’ list: The official program on QUB’s website includes an opening speech former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as panels featuring some of the key architects of the deal, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, long-time Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.


Dropping in? U.S. President Joe Biden is expected in Belfast on April 11 to kick off a five-day visit, which will also include the Republic of Ireland.


OPEC+ DEALS BLOW TO THE ECB: A decision by the oil-pumping cartel to slash production by 1 million barrels a day has thrown a spanner into central banks’ efforts to tame inflation, Paola Tamma reports. Europe, as a net oil importer, risks being particularly hard hit, “because oil prices are very relevant for headline inflation in Europe,” according to Jorge León, senior vice president of market intel firm Rystad Energy.


E-SCOOTERS LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY: Parisians voted to ban shared e-scooters in the French capital — but the industry has vowed to keep fighting, and privately owned machines remain legal. More on the fate of the trottinettes here.


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


— NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels. Statement by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at 11 a.m.; other doorsteps from 11:10 a.m.; joint statement by Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at 12:30 p.m.; joint statement by Stoltenberg and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 1:30 p.m.; press conference with Stoltenberg and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at 3 p.m.; ceremony for Finland’s accession at 3:35 p.m.; meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, with Finland and Sweden, at around 4 p.m.; Stoltenberg press conference at around 6:45 p.m.; joint statement with Stoltenberg and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Yoshimasa Hayashi around 7 p.m. Watch.


— EU-U.S. Energy Council ministerial meeting 10 a.m.; arrivals from 8:40 a.m.; joint press statement with EU High Representative Josep Borrell and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken around 9:40 a.m. Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson among those participating. Watch.


Kadri Simson meets with U.S. Deputy Secretary for Energy David Turk; meets U.S. Ambassador to the EU Mark Gitenstein.


— European Commissioner for Innovation Mariya Gabriel meets with U.K. Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan to discuss Britain joining the Horizon research program. Details here.


— Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis participates via videoconference in the G7 trade ministers’ meeting; participates in the 4th Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting under the Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan.


— Neighborhood Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi receives Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan Ayman Safadi; U.S. Ambassador Mark Gitenstein; Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Pekka Haavisto.


— Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn in Rome; meets Italy’s Minister of Finance Carlo Giorgetti … Hahn also travels to Athens, where he meets Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Minister of Finance Christos Staikouras.


— Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders in Japan.


— European President Roberta Metsola meets the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada Mélanie Joly at 11 a.m.


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


COMMISSION CLIPS HOLOLEI’S WINGS: European Commission official Henrik Hololei will take a pay cut in his new role as a top adviser at the department in charge of international partnerships, according to a spokesperson from the EU’s executive. Hololei was forced out as the EU’s top transport official following POLITICO’s revelations that he accepted free flights on Qatar Airways while his team negotiated a major aviation deal with the Gulf state.


Slap on the wrist: In his new job, the Estonian official will maintain his top rank on the Commission’s pay grade but will have to give up the so-called management allowance, which only applies to jobs with management responsibility and, according to an EU official, accounts for 4.2 percent of the total salary, Gregorio Sorgi writes in to report.


RIGHT TO DISCONNECT LATEST: Companies in Belgium with more than 20 employees must by now have drafted a policy on the right to disconnect, which allows workers to not respond to job-related matters outside of their working hours without fear of reprisal. The move is a part of the Labour Deal package agreed last year.


Push for EU rules: France was the first EU member country that recognized the right to disconnect in 2017; Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg have also implemented certain safeguards. The European Parliament has called on the Commission to prepare a directive that would implement an EU-wide right to disconnect.


What’s next: The Commission presented an initiative on mental health — in response to the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe — with adoption planned for the second quarter of 2023. An EU official confirmed to Playbook’s Ketrin Jochecová that a directive is on the way. “As a first step, the Commission invited social partners to find commonly agreed solutions to address the challenges raised by telework, digitalization and the right to disconnect,” the official said, adding that the social partners are now reviewing the agreement on telework from 2002. Once the agreement is updated, it will be put forward for an adoption.


NEW JOB: Besnik Sallahu is the first Kosovar liaison officer to EUROPOL (here’s the announcement).


BIRTHDAYS: MEP Daniel Caspary; Former MEP Peter Simon; Marco Buti, European Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni’s head of Cabinet; MLex’s Nicholas Hirst; Willy Borsus, vice president of Wallonia; President of the National Assembly of the Central African Republic Simplice Sarandji.


THANKS to Suzanne Lynch, Paola Tamma, Gregorio Sorgi, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová and producer Grace Stranger.


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