Brussels Playbook: Donald Trumped — Marin’s last dance — Mid-week tipple

Brussels Playbook: Donald Trumped — Marin’s last dance — Mid-week tipple
Опубликовано: Friday, 31 March 2023 05:25

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BREAKING OVERNIGHT: Donald Trump has become the first former U.S. president in history to face criminal charges, after a grand jury in New York indicted him over hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. More here from our colleagues across the pond on a development that may reshape next year’s U.S. presidential election (Trump’s team is capitalizing on the move; some of his most ardent supporters are going quiet). Read this Q&A on the inditement, and keep an eye on our hub for the latest developments.

DRIVING THE WEEKEND: MARIN’S LAST DANCE? Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

FACING THE MUSIC: It’s crunch time for Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin as voters go to the polls this weekend in a general election that could lead to a change in government in the Nordic state.

NECK AND NECK: Opinion polls suggest the result is too close to call. POLITICO’s Poll of Polls aggregator has Marin’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) tied for second place with the right-wing Finns Party on 19 percent, just behind the center-right National Coalition Party on 20 percent. The final poll ahead of the election by Yle puts Marin’s SDP narrowly in third place.

Recap: Marin may have shot to fame last summer when footage surfaced of her letting loose on the dance floor, but it’s worth remembering she only got the job as prime minister after Antti Rinne resigned over a labor dispute six months after the 2019 election. Since then, Marin has presided over a five-party coalition, and is facing criticism for over-spending and over-borrowing — a key concern for the prudent Finns.

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Rightward tilt: As always in Europe, this week’s election is being viewed as a barometer for the political mood, and will be parsed for any sign of a right-wing shift in the electorate. The prospect of a far-right surge is not unthinkable, with the Finns Party — formerly known as the True Finns — on course to win enough seats in the 200-strong assembly to have a shot at forming a government.

Fascist elements: Finland is already grappling with an openly fascist party. Helsingin Sanomat revealed earlier this week that the Blue-and-Black Movement scrubbed illegal sections of its election program to get on the official party register, Playbook’s own Ketrin Jochecová reports. But the items that were removed are still in the party’s online program, according to HS, and include plans to re-examine all residence permits and citizenships granted after 1990, to establish an ethnic register to monitor Finland’s population structure and to limit freedom of speech.

Background: Blue-and-Black — which draws its name from a fascist party active in the 1930s — doesn’t stand much of a chance in the election. (Several members were expelled from the Finns Party for being too extreme, and one of the current candidates was sentenced to prison for an attempted murder.) But an antisemitic attack on a Jewish member of parliament, Ben Zyskowicz, at a metro station in Helsinki earlier this week has sparked soul-searching and outrage in Finland ahead of Sunday’s contest.

NATO UPDATE: In a boost for its NATO aspirations, the Turkish parliament ratified Finland’s bid to join the defense alliance last night, following a similar move by Hungary during the week. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Lili Bayer that Sweden could still become a NATO member by the summer.

BALKANS Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

MONTENEGRO RACE: Finland is not the only country to go to the polls this weekend, with Montenegro’s presidential runoff taking place Sunday. Milo Đukanović, a fixture on the Montenegrin political scene for decades, has a battle on his hands as he faces off against Jakov Milatović, a relative newcomer who is part of the current coalition government.

Refresher: Though Đukanović won 35.2 percent over Milatović’s 29.2 percent in the first-round vote earlier this month, he’s unlikely to pick up much support from elsewhere in Sunday’s runoff. Đukanović — an early ally of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, before he broke with the alleged war criminal — has accused the current government of hosting pro-Serbian and pro-Russian elements. The coalition denies these accusations.

Why it matters: Montenegro has been mired in political instability, most notably last year when the government collapsed over a controversial agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Montenegro’s decision to join NATO in 2017 was a momentous step for the tiny nation — remember when Donald Trump claimed defending the country could spark World War III?

Seize the moment: Some are hoping that political change could reinvigorate the country’s EU membership prospects. “We’re on the cusp of a sea-change in Montenegro after 33 years,” Ivan Vejvoda, a fellow of the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, told Playbook, adding that Sunday’s result could be a harbinger for parliamentary elections scheduled for June. “This could be an opportunity for the European Union to seize momentum on the accession process, and show that it really is serious about enlargement,” he said.

Reminder: Montenegro was the first Western Balkans country to gain candidate status back in 2010 and all 33 negotiating chapters have been opened.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL — BULGARIANS ALSO VOTE ON SUNDAY: Bulgaria’s fifth general election in two years is unlikely to break the country’s long-running political deadlock, meaning President Rumen Radev is once again likely to be the main winner. But what’s his agenda, ask Boryana Dzhambazova and Antoaneta Roussi in this curtain-raiser: Is Radev an anti-corruption crusader, or a pro-Russian stooge?

SPEAKING OF THE BALKANS: Writer and academic Lea Ypi was in Brussels last night and shared her thoughts on the topic of freedom, following her best-selling memoir on growing up in Albania, “Free,” at a salon at Full Circle, one of the coolest venues in the city.

Salon thoughts: Speaking to Playbook, Ypi shared her views on Albania’s long road to EU membership and the role accession plays in the Western Balkans consciousness. “Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the EU has become the ideology of the entire country, an ideological alternative, and a vision of a future where people’s hopes and expectations, their frustrations about the present and their projections of the future, are all clustered together,” she explained.

Expectations vs. reality: “People don’t actually know the reality — know what’s going on inside the EU,” said Ypi, who studied at the European University Institute in Florence for her doctoral work. But she added that in some ways this is good: “It gives a sense of hope, of dynamic transition, of going somewhere. But on the other hand, there is no substantive political discussion of the EU itself. What does the EU want to be, how are we going to engage with the project?” That’s food for thought — even for the countries within the bloc.

BOOZY LIKE THURSDAY MORNING Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

CHEEKY TIPPLE: Italian MEPs, wine lobbyists and curious parliamentary assistants gathered Thursday at 9 a.m. at a makeshift stand in the bar on the third floor of the European Parliament, as Italian lawmaker Alessandra Mussolini hosted a debate on Ireland’s plan to require health warnings on alcohol. (Yup, she’s the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini.)

Try before you buy: Visitors were invited to sample a range of Italian wines, including an alcohol-free white advertised at €16 a bottle and an orange wine from Tuscany on offer at €81. MEPs drained their glasses before heading off to vote, reports POLITICO’s own (and I might add abstemious) Daniela De Lorenzo.

Appropriate? One Danish MEP questioned holding the event during the plenary session — the Parliament’s main legislative window — but Mussolini, whose Forza Italia party sits in the EPP bloc, said that was the point: “We wanted this event specifically now because the plenary brings all lawmakers back to Brussels and we can maximize attention on the topic,” explained Mussolini.

Background: Ireland’s plan to slap health warnings on alcohol bottles has prompted uproar in wine-producing countries like Italy. But the European Commission has already blessed the proposal, which is now under review at the World Trade Organization.

Barbar-esco: The Italians are not giving up the fight: “I am interested in gathering support to form a common front here in the European Parliament, we have to cling on anything possible to defeat the measure. It will wound Italian tradition,” Mussolini said during the event.

Side bar — was the event even legal? Belgium on Thursday implemented a new alcohol plan that bans offering free alcoholic drinks within a promotional campaign alongside non-alcoholic products, Daniela wrote in to flag.

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

GREENS KICK-START CAMPAIGN: The European Green Party will hold its first leadership council today in Brussels as it sets its sights on the 2024 European Parliament election campaign. The gathering of the leaders of all European green parties will give its backing to the Spitzenkandidat process, the “lead candidate” system for choosing the president of the European Commission. “The Spitzenkandidaten process is the strongest democratic tool at our disposal to give EU citizens a direct say in deciding who would be the next European Commission president,” co-chairs Mélanie Vogel and Thomas Waitz said ahead of today’s meeting.

Tell that to Renew: In Thursday’s Playbook, Stéphane Séjourné, the leader of the liberal Renew Europe group, had a different take: “The Spitzenkandidat has never been operational,” Séjourné said. “Unfortunately, the last time it was not the Spitzenkandidat who was appointed to the Commission. So, at some point, we have to be realistic.”

GETTING IN GOOD WITH CONSUMERS: It may still be a year away, but MEPs are raising concerns that a rule which governs the price of long-distance calls may not be extended, which could lead to huge telephone bills for consumers. In a letter to Commissioner Thierry Breton seen by POLITICO, almost 30 MEPs urge him to act now.

Avoid bill shock: “This law has shown itself to be an extremely important tool to protect consumers, especially senior citizens, from the extreme charges, which existed before they were introduced,” the letter states, noting that the measure will expire in May 2024. The MEPs call on the Commission “as a matter of urgency to adopt a proposal to extend this limit until at least 14 May 2029 as an interim measure.”

EP MOVES TO END THE GENDER PAY GAP: The European Parliament on Thursday approved binding pay-transparency rules in a bid to tackle the gender salary gap across the EU. More.

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

HOLOLEI LATEST: The EU’s anti-fraud office has opened an investigation into Henrik Hololei, the EU’s departing transport chief, following POLITICO’s revelations that he accepted free flights on Qatar Airways. “We can confirm that OLAF has opened an investigation into the matter,” the agency said in a statement to POLITICO. The probe, the press office stressed, “does not mean that the persons/entities involved have committed an irregularity/fraud.” Full story here.

PUTIN ESCALATES MEDIA CRACKDOWN: Russian security services detained Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal correspondent who has also previously reported for POLITICO, in Yekaterinburg on suspicion of spying for the U.S., sparking a stinging rebuke from the White House. Detaining a foreign journalist marks a significant escalation in hostility toward foreign media from Moscow. More here.

There ought to be no hiding place for Putin, argues barrister Aarif Abraham in this analysis of how the Russian president could be held legally accountable for his brutal war on Ukraine.

VDL ON CHINA: In a scathing speech ahead of her visit to China next week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday warned Beijing not to side with Moscow in bringing compromised peace to Ukraine, saying: “How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.” Stuart Lau has a write-up.

ICYMI — THE BATTLE TO SAVE TIKTOK: TikTok began working to win over the U.S. and European governments long before the latest concerns about its Chinese ownership, report Hailey Fuchs, Clothilde Goujard and Daniel Lippman in this transatlantic investigation into the company’s years-long lobbying efforts.

KEEPING THE US IN CHECK: Companies benefitting from the United States’ $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act may be required to notify their subsidies to the EU’s antitrust enforcers under new rules, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Thursday. More from Sam Stolton.

DUST OFF THE TICKER-TAPE: U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Northern Ireland and the Republic next month, as preparations gear up to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement. The president will spend a day in Belfast, but will base himself south of the border for most of the trip, visiting the counties of Louth and Mayo in the west (though he’s not expected to cross the Channel to visit Brussels or London). More from Shawn Pogatchnik here.

UK JOINS CPTPP: POLITICO explains what the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is (spoiler: it’s about more than trade) — and how the U.K. got its foot in the door.

COMMITTEE OF THE ABSURD: In an unusual scenario, even by Brussels’ standards, MEPs on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee met with Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides Thursday for a session dedicated to the general pharmaceutical legislation. But like Godot in the Samuel Beckett play, everyone’s still waiting for the proposal, which should have been published Wednesday, but wasn’t. Carlo Martuscelli has more.

CALL FOR EU TO BLACKLIST IRANIAN GUARDS: Fifty Nobel laureates called on the EU to blacklist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In a joint letter sent to Council President Charles Michel, they also call on the United Nations to support a fact-finding mission to Iran to investigate human rights violations and atrocities perpetrated by the regime. “The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the main tool of war, repression, terrorism, and warmongering, that is why the people of Iran want it to be blacklisted by the civilized world, especially the European Union,” said the letter, seen by Playbook.

WEEKEND LISTENING: Check out this week’s EU Confidential podcast, where we dissect Emmanuel Macron’s troubles in Paris and speak to Daniel Calleja Crespo, director general of the European Commission’s legal service. Bravo to the animated Spaniard who manages to do the impossible — make the EU’s legal service sound interesting! And over on Westminster Insider, host Aggie Chambre explains how to become an MP.

**How will the change of leadership in DG MOVE impact transport policy? Get a profound understanding of the latest changes with POLITICO Pro. Request a live demo here.**

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

— European Parliament President Roberta Metsola in The Hague; joint doorstep press point with Prime Minister Mark Rutte at 9:20 a.m., followed by meeting at 9:30 a.m.; meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Netherlands at 10:30 a.m.; audience with King Willem-Alexander at 11:45 a.m.; keynote at the annual Christian Democratic appeal Schmelzer Lecture at 3 p.m.; meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra at 4:15 p.m. Watch.

— Commission VP Margrethe Vestager in Washington D.C.; participates in event on “How Europe is addressing the geopolitical moment and its economic challenges” organized by the Atlantic Council; meets with Acting Chairperson of the Competition Commission of India Sangeeta Verma; meets with U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.

— Commissioner Janez Lenarčič in Lebanon, press point at 11:30 a.m. Watch.

— High Representative Josep Borrell in Spain; participates in “Wake Up, Spain” economic forum.

— NATO Deputy Secretary-General NATO Mircea Geoană addresses London Business School 2 p.m. Register for livestream here.

— Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez continues visit to China.

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

DRUG WARNING: Europe’s heroin market could soon be in for a supply shock, and experts fear the gap could be filled by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which tend to be much stronger, making it easier to overdose, reports Noah Alcala Bach.

AFTER THAT GRIM READ, TIME FOR A RESET: Paul Dallison’s latest Declassified column has some bad news for the summer holiday plans of the Friends of Boris Johnson Association: Amsterdam no longer wants rowdy British tourists.

JON STEWART’S SEARCHING FOR ALLIES: Remember when Jon Stewart visited Brussels earlier in the month? The episode on Europe, titled “Searching for Allies,” airs today.

RUGGER BUGGERS: Calling all EU rugby enthusiasts: A new season is underway at the European Parliament Rugby Team Association, ahead of the parliamentary world cup later this year in France. Training starts Monday and further details here.


Expedition Egypt opens today.

The Brussels Artisan Market has a variety of handicraft products and food and drinks on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.

Millenium Documentary Film Festival, on till April 6, features films on themes of the Sustainable Development Goals.

BIRTHDAYS: Governor of the Bank of Finland Olli Rehn; MEP Tomasz Poręba; Former MEPs Christian Allard and Damian Drăghici; France’s former permanent representative to the OECD and POLITICO 28 alum Muriel Pénicaud; Gilead Sciences Andrea Zanaglio; Formerly RTS’ Romain Clivaz; Euronews’ Francoise Champey; cafébabel’s Quentin Ariès; European Commission’s Daniel Ferrie.

CELEBRATING SATURDAY: MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White; Departing DG MOVE chief Henrik Hololei; Uber Files whistleblower Mark MacGann; Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb; Former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Chuck Larson; A. Wess Mitchell, who was the co-chair of the reflection group on NATO’s future; MLex’s Kait Bolongaro.

CELEBRATING SUNDAY: Former MEP Linnéa Engström; BBC’s Adam Fleming.

THANKS TO: Stuart Lau, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová and producer Grace Stranger.

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