Brussels Playbook: Will big oil pay for Ukraine? — Transport chief’s hard landing — EU-US deal

Brussels Playbook: Will big oil pay for Ukraine? — Transport chief’s hard landing — EU-US deal
Опубликовано: Thursday, 30 March 2023 05:18

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GOOD MORNING FROM BERLIN, where President Frank-Walter Steinmeier last night held a white-tie state banquet for Britain’s King Charles III — who spoke to his hosts in English and German (watch here). Alas, your humble scribe was not at the lavish dinner at Schloss Bellevue — but then again, neither was Chancellor Olaf Scholz!

So what was on the menu? Four courses that featured carp, chicken with prune — and regional, seasonal and organic vegetarian dishes, in a nod to Charles’ preferences, according to Spiegel.

DRIVING THE DAY: MAKE BIG OIL PAY FOR UKRAINE Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

WARTIME WINDFALL: Kyiv’s Energy Minister German Galushchenko in an interview with POLITICO turned up the heat on international energy firms that have profited from sky-high prices after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Boom from Russia’s bombs: Galushchenko called on international energy firms whose revenues have boomed since the invasion to give a share of their extra earnings to Ukraine. He noted that Lithuania’s largest energy company, Ignitis Group, is already mulling handing 10 percent of its profits to Kyiv, and urged others to follow suit.

No to Russian nuclear: Galushchenko also offered to help European nations shake their nuclear-energy sectors’ reliance on Russian supply chains. Despite cracking down on fossil-fuel imports from Russia, the EU still operates 18 Moscow-designed reactors for which no alternative fuel source exists. Ukraine is working with U.S. nuclear giant Westinghouse to begin producing fuel by “the beginning of next year,” he told my colleagues Victor Jack and Gabriel Gavin.

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SANCTIONS WARNING: Amid allegations that oil and gas from Russia are still entering the EU, Galushchenko also called on Western nations to tighten restrictions and to ensure that banned exports from Moscow don’t find ways through the blockade.

Cash for the Kremlin: “If on one side you’re trying to restrict them and on the other you’re giving them opportunities, you’ll allow them to make endless war,” Galushchenko said. “We’re talking about money — but that money costs Ukrainian lives. They need this money to produce new missiles, buy new Iranian drones, produce new artillery, tanks and so on.”

NOT MAKING RUSSIAN ATHLETES PAY: Meanwhile, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee recommended allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes — but not teams — to compete in sporting events under a neutral flag, but postponed its decision on what to do at the 2024 Paris summer and 2026 Milan winter Olympic Games. The recommendation, made after a three-day summit in Lausanne, excludes those who actively support Russia’s war or serve in the military.

Who’s unhappy? Pretty much everyone. Ukraine’s Ministry of Youth and Sports condemned the recommendation, saying “representatives of the aggressor states should not be in international sports arenas.” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said “Russian sport is centrally coordinated from Kremlin.” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he’ll build a coalition to push back against the “wrong decision.”

Russia’s response: The president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, claimed “neutral status is a violation of human rights.” Give us a moment, Playbook has just popped out to buy the world’s tiniest violin.

EU TRANSPORT CHIEF’S HARD LANDING Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

TAKING THE EMERGENCY EXIT: Senior Commission official Henrik Hololei has quit his post as director general of the transport department, as my colleagues Jacopo Barigazzi, Nick Vinocur, Mari Eccles and Sam Stolton scooped.

The Estonian official had been under fire — and under investigation — since POLITICO revealed he’d repeatedly flown for free on Qatar Airways while his team negotiated a major EU-Qatar aviation agreement. The Commission claimed his sponsored trips to the Gulf state had been checked and a conflict of interests ruled out — only to be forced to admit the person who’d authorized the trips and ruled out the conflict had been Hololei himself.

Don’t cry for me Doha: Hololei hasn’t been fired. Rather, from April 1 he’ll become a political adviser with no management responsibility in DG INTPA, the Commission’s department in charge of international partnerships.

This is your new captain speaking: Maja Bakran Marcich will lead DG MOVE in an acting capacity following Hololei’s exit.

Blame POLITICO: Hololei repeatedly refused our interview requests, but he did speak to Estonia’s public broadcaster … to blame us for losing his job. “In a situation where POLITICO has found it necessary to write more stories about the directorate-general in the last four and a half weeks than about the war in Ukraine and the banking crisis put together, my first priority was to ensure that my directorate-general can work in peace,” he claimed. Of course, a quick glance at our back catalog reveals dozens of articles about Russia’s war against Ukraine in the past four weeks — several orders of magnitude more than we wrote about Hololei.

Clearly not a good week for Kallas in Brussels: Hololei was one of Estonia’s highest-placed civil servants in the Commission, and he is well known in Tallinn. He used to be head of Cabinet for former Commission Vice President Siim Kallas — who was a former Estonian prime minister himself, and is the father of Estonia’s current PM Kaja Kallas.

Read all about it: Joshua Posaner, Mari and Jacopo have today’s must-read behind-the-scenes piece on the EU’s Mr. Aviation here.

ON THE TOPIC OF AVIATION — RYANAIR REVOLVING DOOR: Eamonn Brennan, who stepped down as head of Europe’s air traffic control agency Eurocontrol in December, will start as a non-executive director of Ryanair’s board on April 1. The move is raising eyebrows in the (already quite piqued) aviation sector, my colleagues Sarah Wheaton and Mari Eccles report in this week’s EU Influence newsletter.

Irish connection: Brennan, who spent 15 years at the Irish Aviation Authority before joining Eurocontrol in 2018, drew complaints from Eurocontrol’s unions in November after he reportedly offered Ryanair management staff special access to the agency’s Brussels headquarters. (Both Eurocontrol and Ryanair rejected any suggestion that the Irish budget airline was getting special treatment).

ROAD TO 2024 EU ELECTION Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

RENEW LEADER CALLS FOR CENTRIST COALITION: Stéphane Séjourné, the leader of the liberal Renew Europe group, wants the EU’s centrist parties to negotiate a coalition treaty for a “pro-European coalition” to be formed after the 2024 Parliament election. That pact should decide on all the EU’s top jobs — not just the Commission presidency, Séjourné argued. “I believe that the decision on the top jobs should come from the European election, because it is the most democratic election, where the 450 million Europeans express their will,” he said.

Center rules: “We will go to the elections of 2024 with the promise not to govern with the far right and the far left. For us, Europe is governed in the center or it is ungovernable,” Séjourné told Playbook in an interview.

Looking at you, Manfred: “The alliance of the right [between center-right and far-right parties] is a fantasy,” said Séjourné. “It doesn’t work. Either it leads to the disappearing of Christian Democracy, like in Italy, or it leads to a very unpopular government, like in Sweden.”

Turning on the spitz: “The Spitzenkandidat has never been operational,” Séjourné said, referring to the “lead candidate” system for choosing the president of the European Commission, which EU leaders abandoned in 2019 when they shunned Manfred Weber and appointed Ursula von der Leyen instead. “Unfortunately, the last time it was not the Spitzenkandidat who was appointed to the Commission. So, at some point, we have to be realistic.”

Democratic deficit: “I want a real coalition treaty, as in all democracies,” Séjourné said, adding “2024 must be the moment of democratic maturity of Europe.” The Commission president ought to be “the candidate who can gather a majority. This is the bottom line.”

Coming for EUCO: In this proposed treaty, the coalition groups would also decide how to carve up the EU’s other top jobs, Séjourné argued. “The president of the European Parliament, Council presidency, Commission presidency, high representative, ECOFIN, EIB … In short, we have a number of top jobs for which we have political competences and on which we can align people. So there is a choice to be made between one or more political leaders in all the institutions.” Let’s see how that flies with EU countries, which jealously guard their right to appoint top jobs.

What’s next: Séjourné said he would discuss the idea with the presidents of the European political parties from September, after the summer break.

ON FRENCH PENSION REFORMS: Asked about the fallout from Emmanuel Macron’s decision to ram through unpopular changes to France’s pension system, Séjourné, a close ally of the French president, said: “As you know, the most responsible reforms are often the most unpopular ones.” Macron and his supporters “had the choice of either raising taxes, lowering pensions, or correcting the balance through an age measure. And we felt it was fairest to correct the balance through age-related measures.”

Any second thoughts? Would Macron’s originally proposed point-based reform (which aimed for fairer burden-sharing between those who enter the workforce early and those who do so later) have been better in hindsight? Séjourné argued Macron’s original proposal had led to similar protests, and it was only now that critics were suddenly saying it was fairer.

The idea isn’t dead: “I still believe in this model, which is more liberal and which also allows people to respond to a form of individualization of retirement, which seems to me more valid,” he said, arguing the point-based reform would have allowed every French worker to decide individually when to retire, depending on how many points they had accumulated during their working life. “I still believe in this idea and we will probably have to come back to it in another moment of the French political life, probably when a presidential election will be held.”

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

TRADE DIPLOMATS TALK EU-US DEAL TODAY: The EU’s trade diplomats will today discuss the transatlantic negotiations on critical raw materials, which pave the way for more EU access to the subsidies of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, two people briefed on the meeting told my colleague Barbara Moens.

A deal is in the air: U.S. President Joe Biden and Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced earlier this month in Washington that they were working on a deal on critical raw materials. The long-awaited guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department on the tax incentives this week will exclude minerals extracted and processed in the EU, a senior U.S. official said last week. But the Treasury’s proposal will start a 30-day comment period. The expectation is that Brussels and Washington will conclude discussion by then, especially after the U.S. and Japan reached a deal earlier this week.

The problem: The legal architecture of the deal is still very unclear on both sides of the Atlantic. While some EU officials argue the deal would need to be approved by both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, others want to be more pragmatic to keep the end goal in sight: getting concessions from Washington on the Inflation Reduction Act.

ZELENSKYY INVITES XI TO UKRAINE: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday invited his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to Ukraine, for what would be the first direct communication between the two leaders since the beginning of Russia’s all-out war. “I want to speak with him,” Zelenskyy said. Read more.

Erdoğan to host Putin? “Maybe there is a possibility” that Vladimir Putin may travel to Turkey on April 27 for the inauguration of the country’s first nuclear power reactor built by Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday. Reuters has a write-up.

SAD UPDATE: Alexei Moskalyov, the Russian man sentenced to two years in prison after his daughter drew an anti-war picture at school, has been detained in Minsk, MediaZona reports this morning. Moskalyov had been on the run.

PRODUCT SAFETY UPDATE: The European Parliament is today expected to formally adopt revised rules on general product safety, after a debate on Wednesday. The regulation comes in response to a surge in online commerce and aims to ensure goods purchased online meet the same safety standards as those bought at bricks-and-mortar retailers. “Consumers will have someone responsible for every product in the EU,” Dita Charanzová, the rapporteur for the file, told Playbook’s Ketrin Jochecová, adding that shopping for Christmas presents in 2024 will become safer. “Online marketplaces will have to remove unsafe products within two days and make sure they don’t come back. Consumers will finally know about recalls and will get their money back.”

LONDON’S NOT AFRAID OF AI: As Elon Musk urged humanity to get a grip on artificial intelligence, in London ministers were hailing its benefits. Rishi Sunak’s new technology chief Michelle Donelan on Wednesday unveiled the government’s long-awaited blueprint for regulating AI, insisting a heavy-handed approach is off the agenda, Annabelle Dickson reports.

BIG TECH DISINFO CALL: The prime ministers of Moldova, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine want the CEOs of big social media platforms to do more to fight disinformation. In an open letter, they call on the platforms to stop accepting payments from those who have been sanctioned, dedicate more money to content moderation, and to increase cooperation with governments.

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

— European Parliament plenary session concludes in Brussels. Highlights: Debate on equal pay at 9 a.m.; Rule of law at 10:15 a.m.; voting session at 11 a.m. Agenda. Watch.

— Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers speech on EU-China relations to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre at 11 a.m. Watch.

— Summit for Democracy continues. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager among those participating today. Program. Watch.

Margrethe Vestager also participates in the EU-U.S. Joint Technology Competition Policy Dialogue in Washington D.C.

— Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič begins two-day visit to Lebanon.

— Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans delivers keynote speech at the 8th Clean Energy Summit.

— Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis receives EU sanctions envoy David O’Sullivan.

— Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius begins two-day mission to Italy.

— European Parliament President Roberta Metsola visits The Hague; meets with the President of the Netherlands parliament Vera Bergkamp and President of the Senate Jan Anthonie Bruijn at 5:15 p.m.; meets with International Criminal Court President Piotr Hofmański and Prosecutor Karim Khan KC at 6 p.m.; Town hall discussion with students at Leiden University at 6:15 p.m.

— German Chancellor Olaf Scholz receives Britain’s King Charles III at the federal chancellery for talks.

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

THIS DOESN’T BODE WELL FOR THE EU’S TECH WIZARDRY: Want to stream a pirated movie or access sex-workers platform OnlyFans? The European Commission has you covered. Researchers at cybersecurity firm Nord Security said they’ve found links lurking on a Commission website that were promoting illegal streaming websites and services creating accounts for websites like OnlyFans and gaming platforms like Fortnite, PlayStation and others, Laurens Cerulus reports.

NGO SLAPS BELGIUM: Amnesty International has criticized Belgium for its migration reception crisis, irresponsible arms transfers, prison overcrowding, as well as discrimination against foreign nationals in its labor market, in its latest report on the state of human rights around the world. “Asylum seekers were left destitute and Afghan asylum seekers were denied international protection,” the report said.

YOU’RE INVITED: This week marks the first birthday of our Living Cities project. For the occasion, the reporters behind it — Aitor Hernández-Morales and Giovanna Coi — will be going live in a Twitter Space at 4 p.m. today to discuss the biggest issues facing urban centers. Got a question for them? Leave it in the comments here.

BRUSSELS BOOK FAIR: The French-language book fair Foire du Livre returns to Tour & Taxis today after three years. It’s open till the end of the week — register to attend.

BIRTHDAYS: MEP Rosa D’Amato; French MP Manuel Bompard, a former MEP; Danish MP Linea Søgaard-Lidell, also a former MEP; European Commission’s Cláudia Silva; Eric S. Rubin, former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria.

THANKS to Suzanne Lynch, Eddy Wax, Sarah Wheaton, Mari Eccles, Barbara Moens, Nicolas Camut, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová and producer Grace Stranger.

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