Brussels Playbook: Disjointed China trip — Crimea ‘non-negotiable’ — Egg hunts

Brussels Playbook: Disjointed China trip — Crimea ‘non-negotiable’ — Egg hunts
Опубликовано: Friday, 07 April 2023 05:24

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GOOD FRIDAY MORNING. It’s pure coincidence that today’s Playbook comes to you from me, Stuart Lau, POLITICO’s EU-China correspondent — and I’ve spent the past 24 hours poring over footage, readouts and body language as the bloc’s power couple tried to bargain with Beijing. Here’s how that went …

DRIVING THE DAY: CHINA TRIP Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

ITINERARY LATEST: French President Emmanuel Macron continues his China visit today with a stop in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. His Chinese host, Xi Jinping, is expected to accompany him. While there, Macron will engage university students in a town hall meeting, where he’ll likely focus his message on ideals like openness, freedom and outward-looking personality — yep, just like the China envisioned by the West in the 1990s.

Brussels bound: Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is returning to Brussels after three official meetings — all packed into a single day Thursday. Macron’s decision to invite von der Leyen on the trip was intended as a display of European unity; the result was anything but.

HOW IT STARTED: The contrast between the duo’s treatment in Beijing was obvious from the start. Macron walked down red-carpeted stairs from his Cotam Unité (aka France’s answer to Air Force One) to be greeted by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, one of Xi’s most trusted aides. Von der Leyen was met by the lower-ranking Ecology Minister Huang Runqiu at the airport — and at a regular passenger exit.

How it continued: On Thursday morning, Xi descended the outsized steps of the Great Hall of the People to greet the French president with smiles and a handshake, before the two went inside for meetings. Afterward, von der Leyen’s car arrived — and she walked up the Great Hall stairs in solitude with only a Chinese staffer by her side.

It got lonelier as night fell … Von der Leyen staged her solo press conference at the EU delegation to China compound in the evening, miles away from the state banquet with which Xi was lavishing his French guests. (Those close to the Commission’s thinking have said her trip was independent from Macron’s.) POLITICO’s Jamil Anderlini, Clea Caulcutt, Suzanne Lynch and yours truly have this write-up.

THE MESSAGE IS CLEAR: FOR BEIJING, IT’S NOT BRUSSELS THAT MATTERS. Xi considers the U.S. his main strategic challenge; when it comes to Europe, the main interlocutors are traditionally France and Germany. The Chinese readout of Xi’s bilateral with von der Leyen — their first ever — showed it had been less than amicable.

In Xi’s words: “China and the EU need to step up communication to establish the correct mutual understanding, and to avoid misinterpretation or misjudgment,” Xi said. “We hope the European Commission will play a constructive role … based on the fundamental and long-term interests of the EU.” (Looking at you forced labor ban; foreign subsidy regulation; anti-coercion instrument; outbound investment screening plan; critical raw materials act; Global Gateway … all courtesy of Brussels.)

Social media got nasty: Von der Leyen was vilified in many online articles in China, with pundits accusing her of being an American puppet. “By bringing von der Leyen with him, it seems Macron’s lacking a bit of sincerity,” noted an article published by a social media platform affiliated with the defense ministry.

Xi had warmer words for Macron: The Chinese leader “positively commented on Sino-French relations … of which stability is a prominent feature and valuable asset worthy of our tender care,” according to a readout. Sweet.

… Until Macron got naughty in public: During a press conference, Macron got up to his old tricks, speaking for roughly twice as long as Xi did — a protocol faux pas that didn’t go unnoticed by members of the Chinese entourage. As Macron kept talking, Xi at times looked impatient and annoyed, heaving a couple of deep sighs and looking uncomfortable as the French leader addressed him directly, apparently ad-libbing on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Here’s the observation from Clea and Jamil in Beijing.

WARNING ON RUSSIA TIES: In their public messaging, both Macron and von der Leyen called on China to use its relationship with Russia to try to bring an end to the war. Their approaches differed: Macron played good cop — “I count on you to bring Russia back to reason” — to von der Leyen’s bad cop: If Beijing supplies arms to Russia, even indirectly, she warned, “this would indeed significantly harm the relationship between the European Union and China.”

BUT THERE WASN’T MUCH MOVEMENT: According to von der Leyen, Xi told her he would be willing to (finally) call Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — when the conditions and time are right. In his meeting with Macron, Xi stuck to the old script, calling again for peace talks while criticizing nuclear threats.

NO DELIVERABLES ON TRADE: While Ukraine was the main theme on Thursday, the file that arguably matters most to von der Leyen’s competence — trade — saw little progress. According to the Commission chief, the EU’s stalled investment deal with China wasn’t mentioned during her discussion with Xi.

Signaling CAI’s end: “The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment did not come up,” von der Leyen said during a press conference. “You know our position. We started negotiations round about 10 years ago and concluded the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment two years ago. A lot has happened since then,” she said, including deterioration in market access for EU companies in China. Suzanne has the full details here.

LISTEN, LISTEN: For more POLITICO coverage on this week’s landmark visit by Macron and von der Leyen to China, check out the EU Confidential podcast, where I join Suzanne in Brussels and Jamil and Clea in Beijing to analyze the visit.

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

CRIMEA CONFUSION: A day after the deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office told the FT that Ukraine might be ready to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if Kyiv succeeds in achieving its strategic goals on the battlefield, another top official appeared to walk back from that sensitive suggestion.

No change: In an interview with POLITICO’s Ukraine correspondent Veronika Melkozerova, Tamila Tasheva, Zelenskyy’s envoy on Crimea, said there has been no change to Kyiv’s plan of recovering the Russian-occupied peninsula. “Ukraine will choose the way to bring Crimea back, using political and military means,” Tasheva said.

The only choice: “Ukraine plans to give Russia a choice on how to leave Crimea. If they don’t agree to leave voluntarily, Ukraine will continue to liberate its land by military means,” added Tasheva. Here’s Veronika’s article.

GREEK BACKING FOR UKRAINE: Greece will continue to send military assistance to Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said on Thursday during a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov in Athens. He promised more artillery and small arms ammunition shipments, access to Greek hospitals for wounded military personnel and additional Soviet-era BMP infantry fighting vehicles.

Caveat: But Athens said it needs to keep much of its top weaponry for its own defensive needs, including the S-300 air defense missile system, Nektaria Stamouli writes in to report. “The rumors are running rampant: That we will send fighter jets, and S-300s, and this and that. For goodness’ sake,” Panagiotopoulos told the Greek parliament. “We give what we can give, but nothing that would weaken in the slightest our own defense capabilities given our own national security challenges.”

LAVROV’S ANKARA AGENDA: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Turkey on Thursday for talks with his Turkish counterpart on the future of the deal that allows grain exports from Ukrainian ports through a safe corridor in the Black Sea, as AFP reports. Energy issues, “normalizing the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and the dialogue between Ankara and Damascus” will also be addressed in today’s talks, according to Russian state-run TASS.

DISINFO WARNING: In the Arabic-speaking world, Russian disinformation is thriving, writes H.A. Hellyer, a Carnegie Endowment scholar, in this op-ed for POLITICO.

#FREEEVAN APPEAL: A Moscow court said Thursday that it would hear an appeal on April 18 from the lawyers of Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was jailed in Russia last week on accusations of spying, the newspaper reported. On Thursday, Russia said its deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, had discussed Gershkovich’s case with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, after she raised the issue.

NOW READ THIS — MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI’S PLEA: “I am a political prisoner in Georgia … and I am now dying,” writes former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in this powerful opinion piece for POLITICO. “My martyrdom will certainly be considered a victory for Putin — a powerful symbol to all leaders in this region, and possibly the world, who fail to stand up to Russian imperialism.”

**Join us on April 25 at POLITICO Live event “Breaking barriers in innovation and access: can the pharma legislation do it all?” for a thought-provoking discussion on how Europe can improve access to innovation in the healthcare sector. Register now to secure your spot!**

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

EPP POSTPONES MEETING OVER TUSK SMEAR: The European People’s Party postponed a meeting of its top MEPs, which was supposed to take place in Warsaw next week, EPP spokesperson Pedro López told my colleague Eddy Wax, confirming a Euractiv article Thursday night.

The reason? Desperate attempts by the ruling Law & Justice party, its MEPs, governing partners and state-controlled media, to connect opposition Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk to a raid this week at the EPP’s headquarters in Brussels, and somehow link it all to Qatargate too.

Awkward: But the raid really wasn’t about Qatargate or Tusk, who is an EPP heavyweight and former European Council president. It was about an investigation into regional German politician Mario Voigt, whom the EPP hired to run its digital EU election campaign in early 2019. The raid has disquieted the EPP just over a year from the next bloc-wide election — but at this stage it’s still nowhere near a scandal or electoral threat the size of Qatargate, Eddy reports.

Factually incorrect: Polish Public Television wrote that Tusk was chairman of the umbrella European People’s Party during the period the German investigators are looking into. That’s not true. Tusk was elected EPP chief in late November, long after Voigt’s campaign work for the EPP was done, and his name has not come up in the investigation.

It’s election season: The saga demonstrates how Poland’s government is closely watching developments in Brussels to use them for national gain against Tusk’s Civic Platform ahead of an election later this year.

Taking the PiS: “To avoid further misuse of such a lie we have postponed the meeting for after the Polish elections, which we hope will serve to erase PiS from Warsaw government and stop their mishandling of the public media,” said the EPP spokesperson mentioned above. The EPP’s bureau meeting will take place in February next year instead. Now the Warsaw trip will come at a prime moment ahead of the EU election instead.

QATARGATE LATEST: Pier Antonio Panzeri, the lead suspect in the Qatargate corruption probe, is moving from jail to house arrest with an electronic monitor pending trial, his lawyer confirmed to POLITICO. Camille Gijs has the story.

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

LGBTQ+ EU14 VS. HUNGARY: France, Germany and Slovenia have now joined 14 other EU countries, plus the European Parliament, in a lawsuit against Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ+ law in the Court of Justice of the EU. The lawsuit was initiated by the European Commission. The deadline to join the suit was last month but there was a 10-day grace period, which ended Thursday. H/t Jakob Hanke Vela.

PRESIDENTIAL REGRET: Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said his decision to join the Communist Party in 1988, shortly before the country became independent, was a “mistake of [his] youth,” Nicolas Camut reports.

BERLUSCONI UPDATE: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been battling leukaemia “for some time,” according to his doctor, and is in intensive care for pneumonia — Ansa has more.

SCOTTISH SCANDAL: Scottish National Party activists anxiously await further developments and the political fallout which will follow Wednesday’s arrest of Peter Murrell, the party’s ex-chief executive and husband of former leader Nicola Sturgeon. More details from Andrew McDonald.


Tale of intrigue: Paola Tamma has this story of improbable friendship and backroom dealing that concerns one of the EU’s most secretive and influential bodies, and two of its leading members who have just been booted off it.

AI drugs: Europe is grappling with how to regulate drugs developed by artificial intelligence, reports my colleague Ashleigh Furlong.

The room where it happened: Monday is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. In a special edition of our Westminster Insider podcast, host Ailbhe Rea heads home to Belfast to retell the gripping inside story of how the historic compromise was reached.

More GFA commemoration … here via the European Movement U.K., which has a video featuring stories from people in Northern Ireland about the agreement.

Friday funny: Paul Dallison’s Declassified humor column is all about “Playboy and erotica in Emmanuel Macron’s Cabinet of sin.”

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

— French President Emmanuel Macron in Guangzhou, China.

— Good Friday.

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

METRO LINE 5 DISRUPTION: Line 5 of the metro won’t run between Merode and Herrmann-Debroux during the Easter weekend April 8-10 for line maintenance, with buses running instead. Details here.

FIGHT IN THE MUSEUM … NO MORE: The MIMA contemporary art museum in Molenbeek canceled plans to stage a boxing match between police and local athletes on Thursday evening, saying it had received threats on social media. Eddy Wax has the story.

DELHAIZE ROW GETS LEGAL: The BBTK trade union has filed a criminal complaint against supermarket chain Delhaize, arguing it broke the law when announcing its intentions to franchise its stores. Brussels Times has more.

FLANDERS CYCLING PLAN: Flemish Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters has unveiled a new cycling ambition for Flanders. “We aim to guide today’s and future policy decisions by setting the bar high: by 2040, at least 30 percent of our trips should be made by bike; motorized vehicles should disappear as much as possible in the proximity of schools; and unsafe cycling infrastructure should be a thing of the past,” she told Playbook’s Ketrin Jochecová.

Belgium’s cyclist’s union isn’t impressed. “It’s easy to declare an ambition for cycling by 2040, but where are the concrete measures to realize that ambition?” the union declares on its website. “We note that various actors important in bicycle policy were not involved in the drafting of this bicycle ambition.” The union asked the minister to draw up concrete plans that will take into account consultations with relevant stakeholders.

WHERE TO GO EASTER EGG HUNTING: Comic Art Museum April 8-10 … Wolvendael Park April 8 … Croquette hunt on April 9 … Wolf Food Market on April 9 … BELvue Museum April 9-10 … Chalet Robinson April 10 … Underground treasure hunt at Coudenberg Palace until April 16.

Bonus: The Bel’Œuf exhibition featuring giant eggs from some of Belgium’s top chocolatiers is on at the Hotel Amigo until April 10. More here.


The Fair of Laeken starts today at the Place Emile Bockstael, running through May 1.

The Bâtard festival, featuring emerging and avant-garde artists and performers, runs till Saturday.

The Makers Market is on in Tour & Taxis on April 9.

The BRDCST music festival opens today until April 10, featuring genres like Moroccan punk, Turkish psychedelia, South African Gqom and Japanese folk.

INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY: This Saturday is International Roma Day, which seeks to celebrate Romani culture and raise awareness of the issues facing Romani people. Brussels marks the day at the Place de la Bourse on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Benoît Biteau, Axel Voss and Marcel De Graaff; Former MEP Marju Lauristin; European Commission’s Caroline Alibert-Deprez; EEAS’ Georgi Grigorov; Former Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schröder turns 79; POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman.

CELEBRATING SATURDAY: MEPs Cláudia Monteiro De Aguiar, Marek Paweł Balt and Danuta Maria Hübner; Dutch MP Kati Piri, a former MEP; Andrej Plenković, prime minister of Croatia; Former European Commissioner and WTO chief Pascal Lamy; Market Watch’s Lukas Alpert; Acumen Public Affairs’ Giles Keane.

CELEBRATING SUNDAY: MEPs Andreas Schwab, Christophe Grudler, Giorgos Georgiou and Hermann Tertsch; Italian Senator Carlo Calenda, a former MEP; Former French Finance Minister Michel Sapin; Pablo Asbo of EUROCOMPETITION; Swiss politician Alain Berset; POLITICO’s Esther Webber; Journalist Ali Aslan; Harris Georgiades, Greek Cypriot economist and politician, and POLITICO 28 alum.

MANY THANKS TO: Suzanne Lynch, Clea Caulcutt, Jamil Anderlini, Jakob Hanke Vela, Nektaria Stamouli, Eddy Wax, Nicolas Camut, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová, and producer Fiona Lally.

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