Blog: Brussels Playbook: EU ready for new members? — Brexit bust-up — Beaune’s battle – POLITICO Europe

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By SUZANNE LYNCH and JAKOB HANKE VELA

with ZOYA SHEFTALOVICH

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DRIVING THE DAY: ACCESSION PREP    Share on Facebook  Share on Linkedin  Share on Handclap

OPENING THE DOOR: Is the EU ready for new members? That’s the question dominating discussion in Brussels ahead of next week’s European Council. The latest draft of the summit conclusions seen by POLITICO state that the accession prospects of three countries — Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova — will be discussed when leaders meet in Brussels on June 23 and 24.

State of play: On Friday, the European Commission will deliver its opinion on the countries’ candidacies — and is expected to recommend granting Ukraine official status, our colleagues David Herszenhorn and Maïa de La Baume report, following Monday’s “orientation debate” among commissioners. It is also increasingly likely that Moldova could be given the green light (with conditions). But the jury is still out on Georgia. 

MOLDOVA’S PLEA: In an interview with Playbook, Moldova’s Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said now is the time for his country to get Brussels’ approval: “Moldova is a European country, we have a European culture, language, history, political system and we’ve been a democracy for 30 years.”

Linguistic advantage: Popescu also pointed out that the EU’s body of laws, known as the acquis communautaire, has already been translated into Romanian — Moldova’s official language — which should shave years off the accession process. Similarly, Moldova is integrated economically with the EU, with two-thirds of its exports going to the bloc. “We are Europe, but we want to make the next step and join the European Union — not tomorrow, but we’re in a critical moment where we want to move to the next stage in our aspirations,” Popescu said.

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Campaigning mode: Moldova is campaigning heavily ahead of the decision — all the more so since Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna proclaimed during a visit to Brussels last week that Ukraine’s “biggest concern” was being put into the same EU basket as Moldova and Georgia. Ouch. 

Each to their own: Though no country — least of all Moldova — is going to be dragged into a slanging match with Ukraine, particularly at a time when it is standing up to Russia and has shown it will fight to the death for its European values, Moldova is confident it can make the cut (with conditions), alongside Kyiv. 

Macron’s plan: Popescu also said he’s open to French President Emmanuel Macron’s idea, floated in the European Parliament in March, of a political community that would be open to non-EU members — but only as a complement, not an alternative to full membership. “We want to pursue the standard, traditional accession track to the EU, candidate status, but any other indicative that is complementary to this — not a replacement — to enlargement is welcome by Moldova if it allows us to be better connected to Europe,” he told Playbook. Macron is due to visit Moldova tomorrow.

Breaking the link: Moldova, a country which through successive post-independence governments failed to confront its dependence on Russia, also says it is serious about cutting its 100 percent reliance on Russian gas. For the first time last October, Moldova bought gas from European spot markets. The country is building a connector with Romania, and working with other potential suppliers such as Azerbaijan. It’s also been plugged into the EU’s electricity grid. 

REALITY CHECK 1: As Brussels shapes up for a big debate on enlargement, the reality is that opening the door to the EU is the domain of EU countries, regardless of what the Commission (or Parliament) say. Still, diplomats say it will be hard for EU leaders not to grant Ukraine accession status if the Commission recommends it without any caveats.

REALITY CHECK 2: Macron said the obvious when he insisted in May that any prospect of Ukraine joining the EU is years if not decades away (even if the first stage in the process is endorsed). The Elysée also made the valid point last week that it would be a bad idea to grant countries candidate status and then leave them languishing after years of negotiations, as happened with Turkey. Let’s see if Macron gives any further assurances when he visits Moldova.

PORTUGAL WEIGHS IN: Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa told the FT in an interview published this morning that the EU shouldn’t give Ukraine false hope of joining the bloc. “My focus is to obtain in the next European Council a clear commitment on the urgent support and to build a long term platform to support the recovery of Ukraine,” Costa said. “For this clear and immediate support we don’t need to open at this moment a negotiation or procedure that will take a lot of years — Macron says decades, I don’t say decades — but certainly a long long time. The great risk is to create false expectations that become bitter disappointment.”

SLOVAKIA WEIGHS IN: But Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger urged Olaf Scholz during a visit to Berlin to support Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as EU membership candidates. “We have to realize that the enlargement is a must,” Heger told POLITICO’s Hans von der Burchard.

ZELENSKYY’S WARNING: In a pointed message to Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told German public broadcaster ZDF on Monday evening that Germany “should not attempt a balancing act between Ukraine and relations with Russia.”

NOW READ THIS: The indecision of Ukraine’s allies could doom the country to a long war of attrition that’s to Russia’s advantage, argues POLITICO’s Jamie Dettmer in this commentary piece.

BREXIT BUST-UP    Share on Facebook  Share on Linkedin  Share on Handclap

​​EUROPE FINDS ITS METTLE: After repeated threats, the British government finally unveiled legislation to override the Northern Ireland protocol on Monday, setting the stage for a major clash with Brussels. See our full report from London, Brussels and Washington D.C. here. 

What’s in the bill: Goods destined solely for Northern Ireland would go to a “green channel,” with goods heading to the Republic of Ireland going through a red lane; a new “dual regulation” system for traders; removing the Court of Justice of the EU’s oversight of disputes; changes to state aid and VAT rules.

What’s not in the bill: A “sunset clause” that would phase out EU regulations after a certain time.

EU response: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have brushed off the proposal as “not a big deal,” but the reaction in EU national capitals was very different. Olaf Scholz said the EU has its “entire toolbox at its disposal” (hint: he means the full suite of trade retaliatory measures). His Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock followed suit, saying the EU “cannot accept” the unilateral moves by the British government, adopted for its “own motives.” Italy’s Europe Minister Enzo Amendola accused the U.K. of “violating its international legal obligations.”

Over to you, Šefčo: In a press point Monday evening, European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič said the EU would not renegotiate the protocol.

Here are 3 ways the EU is expected to respond …

— Re-launch infringement procedures it opened against the U.K. in March 2021 but paused a few months later, and potentially open new procedures. An update is expected Wednesday. 

— Outline its own model for the “flexible implementation of the protocol, based on durable solutions within the protocol,” in Šefčovič’s words, which will draw heavily from the compromises proposed by the Commission in October.

— Consider trade action. In a barely veiled threat, Šefčovič said in his statement that the Commission “recalls that the conclusion of the Withdrawal Agreement was a pre-condition for the negotiation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement,” adding that “today’s decision by the U.K. government undermines the trust” necessary for cooperation within the framework of the pact governing post-Brexit trade between the U.K. and EU. In other words, the EU can hit back if it needs to.

Latest reminder: As highlighted in Playbook Monday, Britain can ill afford a trade war, given the OECD last week predicted it would perform the worst of any G20 country except Russia next year. Dismal economic figures released hours before Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced the bill showed Britain’s economy contracted in April, much worse than expected, sending the sterling to a two-year low against the dollar. Even members of Johnson’s own Cabinet are alarmed at the prospect of provoking a trade war with Brussels. 

Next steps in UK: Monday’s announcement was just the first step in a process that could ultimately last more than a year as the bill passes through the legislative process. The Euroskeptic European Research Group (ERG) group of Tory MPs will meet today to decide if the bill goes far enough to meet their demands; the proposed changes are likely to face significant resistance in the House of Lords. In Belfast, all eyes will be on the Democratic Unionist Party to see if the bill is enough to encourage the party to enter power-sharing in Northern Ireland. A letter signed by 52 of the 90 Northern Ireland assembly members on Monday condemned the plan to override the protocol.

Next steps in Brussels: Šefčovič is meeting members of the U.K. Contact Group in the European Parliament today. On Wednesday, he will brief EU ambassadors and unveil details of the infringement procedure and details of the EU’s own model for implementing the protocol. Though no College of Commissioners meeting is currently scheduled for Wednesday, the infringement decision could be adopted by written procedure. 

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

HEALTH MINISTERS MEET: EU health ministers are meeting in Luxembourg today for a jam-packed agenda that includes everything from monkeypox to Ukraine. 

From crisis manager to multitasker: The feeling of all-consuming crisis that marked the health ministers’ meetings at the height of the pandemic has faded, our colleague Helen Collis writes in to report. Instead, ministers are having to juggle a combination of smaller emergencies. 

Monkeypox and more: The heads of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Medicines Agency will address the puzzling double outbreak of monkeypox, as well as acute hepatitis in children. After that, discussion will move to ongoing medical support to Ukraine.

Health data update: But it is the newly published European Health Data Space that will kick off talks at 10 a.m., when ministers will go around the room to give their take on the digital health proposal, with a discussion on how to revise the EU’s global health strategy to immediately follow.

MONEY FOR PALESTINE: As previewed in Monday’s Playbook, the EU has given the green light to funding for the Palestinian Authority as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives in the Middle East — overriding Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi’s concerns.

Details: At a meeting of Monday’s Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument committee, 26 out of 27 EU countries backed a proposal to remove conditionality on funding for Palestine. The one holdout? Hungary.

Background: Várhelyi, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, last year blocked the funding, arguing it should be contingent on changes to the content of Palestinian textbooks, a position that was almost universally slammed by EU countries. The decision to unblock the funds is likely to go down well in Ramallah, where von der Leyen visits today.

BEAUNE IN TROUBLE? He’s been the face of France’s presidency of the Council of the EU and widely viewed as one of the up-and-coming figures in Macron’s party, but Clément Beaune is facing a tough fight to win a seat following the first round of legislative elections in France on Sunday. 

Details: Beaune is running for the first time in Paris’ 7th constituency, but in the first round of votes, finished second behind popular lawyer Caroline Mécary, from the left-wing Nupes coalition. He is now racing to secure his position in the second round next weekend. In France, ministers don’t have to be elected MPs, but the custom is that if a member of government loses a parliamentary election, they resign. Beaune is one of three ministers fighting for seats, as Peter O’Brien reports for POLITICO

Further worries: This piece by our colleagues Cornelius Hirsch and Giorgio Leali digs into the numbers, and shows why Macron should be worried as he faces a battle to secure his parliamentary majority.

5 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM ITALY’S LOCAL ELECTIONS, by POLITICO’s Hannah Roberts.

ECONOMIC COSTS OF WAR: A new report out later this morning by the European Investment Bank sets out the economic costs to Europe of Russia’s war on Ukraine. It ain’t pretty: The report predicts that the finances of EU countries will likely deteriorate, the share of European firms at risk of default will jump to 17 percent, while government finances will be hit.

PUSHBACKS: The rule of law is sinking in Greek waters, argues Pavlos Eleftheriadis, a professor of law at the University of Oxford, in this opinion piece for POLITICO.

**Mark your calendars! POLITICO is going live on July 5 with “Offshore wind: the green energy panacea with some hurdles”. Tune in to this virtual event from 10:00 a.m. CEST for a frank discussion to look at the prospects for offshore wind and the hurdles that are hampering wider acceptance following the publication of the Commission’s RePower EU strategy. Register now!**

AGENDA    Share on Facebook  Share on Linkedin  Share on Handclap

— Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Israel, meets President Isaac Herzog and PM Naftali Bennett. Press conference with Bennett at 11 a.m. Watch. … Von der Leyen then travels to Palestine, meets PM Mohammad Shtayyeh.

— European Council President Charles Michel visits Montenegro.

— Health ministers meet in Luxembourg for Health Council, arrivals from 8:30 a.m. Watch.

— NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in The Hague. Meets with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa and Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš.

WTO ministerial meeting continues in Geneva.

— French President Emmanuel Macron visits Romania.

— Commissioner Thierry Breton meets Belgian Deputy PM Petra De Sutter and Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder to launch the “AeroSpace Lab Factory” in Charleroi, Belgium … Breton also meets German government’s aerospace policy coordinator Anna Christmann.

More commissioners’ agendas: Frans Timmermans in Vienna; participates in Austrian World Summit; meets former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger … Elisa Ferreira visits Vilnius, Lithuania … Jutta Urpilainen in Panama … Margaritis Schinas receives chief executive of AT&T John Stankey; visits the Center for Cyber Security, Belgium … Olivér Várhelyi meets Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs for North Macedonia Bojan Marichikj; meets Director General of the International Organization for Migration António Vitorino … Margrethe Vestager in Stockholm … Mairead McGuinness in dialogue with the European Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (9 a.m.) … Nicolas Schmit in debate with European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (9 a.m.).

— Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister responsible for food exports, Markian Dmytrasevych, speaks at European Parliament’s agriculture committee 10 a.m. Watch.

BRUSSELS CORNER    Share on Facebook  Share on Linkedin  Share on Handclap

SEE EU IN COURT: A group of British officials working for the EU in Brussels are suing the European Commission on discrimination grounds after bosses stopped covering their travel expenses home. POLITICO’s Cristina Gallardo has more.

BIRTHDAYS: MEP Michal Wiezik; Former MEP Maria Lidia Senra Rodriguez; European Parliament’s Cédric Bourlier; POLITICO’s Laurens Cerulus; The Economist’s Duncan Robinson; Kamil Ochmański from Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski’s Cabinet; Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh; Former U.S. President Donald Trump turns 76.

THANKS TO: Sam Stolton and our producer Grace Stranger.

**A message from Sanofi: POLITICO Studio interviews Brendan O’Callaghan, Executive Vice President for Global Industrial Affairs at Sanofi. He sets out his vision to build a strong health care industry, sustainability, and using data to improve production and manufacturing. Sanofi is investing for the future, having announced new facilities that will bring more agility to attend to the needs of growing patient populations. Sanofi is making manufacturing processes more efficient through the use of data, supported by a partnership with Formula 1 giant McLaren. They also aim to net zero greenhouse gas emissions across all operations by 2050 with the interim objective of being carbon neutral by 2030. Find out more about what is next for Sanofi in Europe and beyond.**

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