Brussels Playbook: Biden in Northern Ireland — Brexit do-over? — Macron meets Rutte

Brussels Playbook: Biden in Northern Ireland — Brexit do-over? — Macron meets Rutte
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 11 April 2023 05:22

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DRIVING THE DAY: BIDEN IN NORTHERN IRELAND Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

BIDEN JETS IN AMID JITTERS OVER GOOD FRIDAY DEAL: Twenty-five years after the Good Friday Agreement that ended the Troubles and brought fragile peace to Northern Ireland, U.S. President Joe Biden is due to commemorate the pact during a four-day visit to the island of Ireland starting this evening.

Stepping into the praiseach: Biden lands in Northern Ireland in the middle of a political and economic quagmire. As my colleague Shawn Pogatchnik reports from Belfast, Northern Ireland is locked in a political stalemate between nationalist and pro-union forces that’s not only wreaking havoc on the economy, but threatening to unravel the very deal Biden has come to celebrate.

Deadlocked: For nearly a year, the two sides have failed to reach a power-sharing agreement, effectively shutting down the government and putting unelected permanent secretaries in charge of politically dicey budget decisions.

At the heart of the matter is Brexit. Seven years after the U.K. voted to leave the EU, the Democratic Unionist Party is refusing to honor Britain’s Brexit treaty with Brussels. The result is that Westminster is dictating deep spending cuts to Northern Ireland that London says are necessary after years of indecisive leadership by Stormont (the parliament building in Belfast), but which the nationalists say will hit poor families hardest.

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Biden goes for broke: The American president, who often touts his Irish roots, will deliver three separate speeches during his time in Ireland: Wednesday at 2 p.m. (Brussels time) at Ulster University in Belfast; Thursday at 3 p.m. at the joint houses of Irish parliament in Dublin; and Friday at 10 p.m. outside the cathedral in Ballina, County Mayo, Shawn reports.

Irish eyes: Biden is expected to draw deeply on his Irish heritage to appeal to all sides to keep the spirit of Good Friday alive. But there’s little he can do to unpick the problems exacerbated by Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol agreement with the EU, which unionists fear will lead to Irish unification.

TIME TO REVISIT BREXIT? NEW PRO-EU CAMPAIGN CHIEF THINKS SO. All this is an opportunity for anti-Brexit crusaders. Speaking to Playbook, the newly elected chair of the U.K.’s European Movement, Mike Galsworthy, said the situation in Northern Ireland was a perfect illustration of everything wrong with Brexit, and an advertisement for why the U.K. should rejoin the EU (watch his group’s 13-minute video on that theme).

The EU factor: “Not only did the EU’s single market help set a borderless environment for the Good Friday Agreement to take hold, but the post-GFA PEACE programs as well as broader EU opportunity programs helped Northern Ireland rebuild and flourish,” said Galsworthy, whose “cross-party, single-issue” organization claims more than 200,000 “campaign supporters” in the U.K.

Call to rejoin: “Brexit has knocked that fragile growth. The U.K. rejoining the EU would again help fix all the derailing effects of Brexit on borders, loyalties and uncertainties,” he said.

Shifting sands: Seven years after the Brexit vote, public opinion is swinging against the result, with a majority now in favor of rejoining the European Union and even for holding a new referendum on EU membership.

Don’t mention Brexit: Yet according to Galsworthy, Brexit remains a “taboo” subject for British politicians and the media, which treat it as an irreversible done deal. “If you watch British television, you would think that talking about Brexit is completely taboo because the government doesn’t want to talk about it, the leading opposition party doesn’t want to talk about it and the BBC doesn’t want to talk about it,” he said.

Why is Labour keeping such a low profile on Brexit? “They have a very specific reason for not wanting to talk about it. They want to win the next general election and they want to do so by standing as close as they can to the Tories’ positions,” Galsworthy claimed. “If they proposed anything to do with returning to Europe, the Tories could use that as a wedge issue to say, ‘look, they aren’t respecting the people’s vote.’”

Seizing the moment: For Galsworthy, the fact Brexit remains taboo represents a “huge opportunity” for the European movement. “There is an understanding in the wider public that Brexit is going badly … The effect is like a pressure cooker.”

Slow and steady: The European Movement is trying to solidify support for rejoining the bloc through what Galsworthy called a “step-by-step” approach. “We recognize that we have to do a lot of fixing in our country before we are rejoin-ready — at which point we also have to convince the EU we would be good and reliable partners …. Whether it’s Labor or [British Prime Minister Rishi] Sunak who retakes power, the pressure from us is the same.”

**Join online U.K. Editor Jack Blanchard as he speaks one-to-one with a senior cabinet minister on the future of tech within the U.K., on Wednesday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m. BST. Register today.**

MACRON FALLOUT, CONT’D Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Linkedin Share on Handclap

OUTCRY AS MACRON HEADS TO THE NETHERLANDS: More than 48 hours after its publication, Emmanuel Macron’s interview with POLITICO continues to make waves, with politicians and pundits weighing in on what the French president did (and didn’t) say.

Refresher: Macron questioned whether “it is in our interest to accelerate” a crisis “on Taiwan” for fear of a “Chinese overreaction,” and said the “worst thing” Europe could do would be to “take our cue from the U.S. agenda” geared to defending Taiwan. Macron also said he wanted the EU to become a “third superpower.”

Washington tries to play it down: The State Department argued Macron’s comments weren’t that divisive: “There is immense convergence between us and our European allies and partners and how we tackle [China’s] challenge head-on,” spokesperson Vedant Patel said. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said: “We’ll let the Elysée speak for President Macron’s comments — we’re focused on the terrific collaboration and coordination that we have with France as an ally and a friend.”

Howdy from Wisconsin: But Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of the Select Committee on China, took to Fox News to call Macron’s comments “embarrassing,” “disgraceful,” and say they “play right into the CCP strategy which is to divide America and Europe,” as well as being a “massive propaganda victory for the Chinese Communist Party.” Our Stateside colleagues have more reactions from the U.S.

Former US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul wrote: “I agree with Macron. I want Europe to become the world’s third world power. Another democratic great power in the world would benefit U.S. security, economic and moral interests. But to become a great power, one has to act like one, and spend like one, esp on defense.”

Closer to home, Manfred Weber, head of the conservative European People’s Party in the European Parliament, tweeted: “To protect our freedom, democrats must stand together in defence of a rules-based world, in Ukraine and Taiwan. We have to strengthen our alliance with the US!”

Norbert Röttgen, a Christian Democrat member of the German Bundestag and former head of its foreign affairs committee, wrote: “Macron has managed to turn his China trip into a PR coup for Xi and a foreign policy disaster for Europe. With his idea of sovereignty, which he defines in terms of distance rather than partnership with the USA, he is increasingly isolating himself in Europe.”

May a thousand columns bloom: Meanwhile, pundits everywhere weighed in, from the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board to the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman and Chinese state-affiliated Global Times. One place that was oddly quiet? France — where protests against Macron’s pension reforms continue to dominate the news.

MACRON BACK IN FOCUS TODAY: The reactions come as Macron heads to the Netherlands today and Wednesday to talk “economic security” with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He will deliver a speech on his “vision of European sovereignty” — watch that one for more break-the-glass quotes — in addition to meeting with chip industry leaders and signing a number of industrial and tech deals, Giorgio Leali writes in to report. Read his story, with Pieter Haeck, here.

Best friends: “Our vision of things has become less of a caricature. It’s not about The Hague being very open [trade-wise] and frugal and Paris being essentially solitary and protectionist,” said an Elysée official, pointing to a growing “convergence” on economic files. The official expressed some relief over the Dutch “simple acceptance of the term ‘industrial policy,’” especially at the European level. But the two countries still disagree on some fundamental issues such as the upcoming European Sovereignty Fund.

Geopolitics: The Dutch recently said they’d impose export controls on sales of advanced microchip equipment to China, bowing to U.S. pressure. Ahead of the move, there was a long debate on what the Dutch national security interest is as the country balanced its commitment to free trade with growing concerns over security and Europe’s “geostrategic” position.

Other announcements are expected for Wednesday: Macron, Rutte and business organizations from France and the Netherlands will sign a “pact for innovation and sustainable growth.” New Franco-Dutch cooperation projects on semiconductors, quantum computing and energy, including civil-nuclear projects, will be announced. Seven ministers from each country will participate in bilateral consultations over dinner on Friday evening.

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

SANDU CALLS ON MOLDOVANS TO TAKE TO THE STREETS: President Maia Sandu called in a televised address on Monday for pro-EU Moldovans to take to the streets of Chișinău on May 21, during the European Moldova National Assembly. “I urge you to demonstrate, as a nation, a clear decision to be part of the European family, based on respect, stability, and economic collaboration. I urge you to show that the sole master of this land is the people of the Republic of Moldova,” Sandu said. Moldova, which was granted candidate status for EU membership last June, has faced mounting political pressure from Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. Here’s a transcript of Sandu’s address.

FREE-EVAN LATEST: The U.S. State Department on Monday officially designated Evan Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” by Russia, after the Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested in March on espionage charges. The new designation escalates the case, sending it to a State Department office that specializes in negotiating the release of hostages and those wrongfully detained in other countries. Details here.

BIBI U-TURN: Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu U-turned on his decision to fire his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had challenged the prime minister’s controversial judicial reforms, which triggered mass protests nationwide. Reuters has a write-up.

Now read this: The EU should provide a meaningful security presence in North Africa and be more vocal about repression and violence to its south, argues Nathalie Tocci, director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, in this piece for POLITICO.

SWEDEN-TURKEY CORNER: Sweden is seeking the extradition of Rawa Majid, known among associates as “the Kurdish fox,” a suspected drug lord linked with gang violence in Stockholm. But Majid appears to be hiding out in Turkey — and Sweden is having to balance its NATO aspirations against fighting crime at home, reports my colleague Charlie Duxbury.

DRUG PRICES EXPLAINER: Read this explainer on how Big Pharma keeps drugs prices high, by my health team colleagues Helen Collis, Carlo Martuscelli, Ashleigh Furlong and Sarah-Taïssir Bencharif.

BIZARRE DALAI LAMA VIDEO: The Dalai Lama has apologized after footage emerged of him kissing a young boy on the lips and asking him to “suck my tongue” at an event in northern India. The spiritual leader “often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras,” according to a statement posted to social media explaining the bizarre video. CNN has a write-up.

SPACEX LAUNCH: SpaceX is ready to launch, according to its creator Elon Musk. The starship is, however, still awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval — which could come this week, according to their plan advisory.

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

— U.S. President Joe Biden arrives in Northern Ireland.

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the Netherlands for talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

— The International Monetary Fund publishes its latest world economic outlook at 3 p.m. here.

— Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni in Washington; participates in spring meetings of the boards of governors of the World Bank Group and the IMF.

— Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in Copenhagen; delivers keynote at the Danish Management Society VL42 event on current European issues; meets via videoconference with Minister for Energy of Romania Virgil Popescu.

— Financial Services Commissioner Mairead McGuinness in Boston; delivers remarks at a reception to mark Ireland’s 50 years of EU membership.

— Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki begins visit to the U.S.

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

MAKE WAY FOR PRINCE THIERRY: If you’re in the EU bubble and haven’t yet seen the best live comedy show on EU politics in Brussels, the Schuman Show, you’re missing out. Here’s their take on Disney’s “Prince Ali” song, remixed to be about “Prince Thierry,” or the EU’s industry boss, Thierry Breton. Choice lyrics: “Make way for Thierry/He’ll save our industry/Hey, did you hear what’s up in China? They’ll fund industry till the sun don’t shine, and/This doesn’t give us a level playing field/And now that the U.S. is doing it too/ It’s time for an EU deal!” The next shows are May 25 and May 26. Tickets here.

TRAVEL PSA: If you’re traveling by train between Brussels and Ottignies, expect disruptions until April 16 due to infrastructure works. Details.

TRASHY UPDATE: Brussels-dwellers will get a few more weeks to get used to using orange garbage bags for all organic waste, with the ban on food scraps in white bags shifted to May 15 from May 1, reports BRUZZ.

FILM FEST: The Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, featuring fantasy, science fiction, thrillers and black comedy, starts today.

PAVILION OF HUMAN PASSIONS REOPENS: The pavilion in the Parc du Cinquantenaire has temporarily reopened until April 23, allowing visitors to see the monumental marble relief the Human Passions by Jef Lambeaux. It will also open on May 18 on the International Museum Day. The relief, completed in 1898, is rarely accessible to the public.

CONDOLENCES: Former Walloon Minister and Mayor of Thuin Paul Furlan died Monday at the age of 60 after a long illness. Le Soir has an obituary.

BIRTHDAYS: MEP and POLITICO 28 alum Guy Verhofstadt turns the big 7-0; Eva Hrnčířová, member of the cabinet of the Commission VP Věra Jourová; MEPs Tom Berendsen and Zdzisław Krasnodębski; Helen Fessenden, editor with the Washington Post; Paul Adamson of Encompass.

THANKS TO: Shawn Pogatchnik, Giorgio Leali, Playbook’s reporter Ketrin Jochecová and our producer Grace Stranger.

**A message from is committed to promoting a more sustainable travel industry. With our Travel Sustainable programme, we have created a framework to support accommodations step-by-step in their sustainability efforts. This way we work to close the specific gaps we see in the tourism sector where, currently, less than 1% of accommodations have invested in obtaining a sustainability certification.’s Travel Sustainable programme recognises that accommodations, particularly SMEs, need support to transition onto the sustainability ladder. Read more about our sustainability efforts here. How can EU regulation address challenges and create opportunities for businesses and consumers when engaging with sustainability? How can we create synergies towards a successful green transition? Don’t miss out on our Policy Breakfast on 25 April for an open discussion on these pressing issues.**

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