May 23, 2023

Brussels Playbook: Pro

POLITICO's must-read briefing on what's driving the day in Brussels, by Jakob Hanke Vela.

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HOW TO CAMPAIGN IN NEW YORK: Stay tuned today for a new episode of the series the West and its allies against Russia and its shrinking "sphere of influence’ at the United Nations HQ. Slovenia and Belarus are competing for a non-permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council. The new non-permanent member will be elected by the General Assembly in a secret ballot, for a term of two years. Many in Brussels will also be keeping an eye on it (at 4 p.m. CET).

No ‘smearing’: Slovenian Foreign Affairs Minister Tanja Fajon told Playbook her campaign strategy for the non-permanent seat. "Our focus was on running a fair, honest … bid under the slogan ‘Building Trust. Securing Future," she said, adding that Slovenia had been "refraining from a smearing campaign" against its opponent.

UNDEAD AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE: The EU's Hungarian headache may be about to get a little more intense, with neighboring Austria's far-right Freedom Party maintaining a poll lead ahead of the country's next election in 2024 under the leadership of a man that European Parliament President Roberta Metsola describes as "simply not trustworthy."

Slovak to the future: There's also an election in Slovakia in 2023 and pro-Russian Robert Fico is leading in the polls. He's said he’d end military support for Ukraine.

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Here comes the Kickl: Austria's governing center-right and green coalition is unpopular, with inflation and immigration key issues for the electorate. Enter pro-Russian Herbert Kickl, an Ivermectin enthusiast who wants to turn the Alpine country into a "fortress" against migration.

The other opposition is Austria's oldest party, the Social Democrats, which this weekend showcased its governance skills by accidentally announcing the wrong winner of its leadership contest.

What it means for Europe: European officials warn that wins by pro-Russian parties in Austria and Slovakia would hand Russian President Vladimir Putin a powerful tool to disrupt the EU's sanctions on Russia and its efforts to assist Ukraine. "It would be a disaster," a senior Commission official told my colleague Matthew Karnitschnig.

Bear in mind: Kickl's victory is far from a done deal. His personal approval rating is among the lowest of all Austrian politicians. What's more, support for the Freedom Party has proved volatile in the past and this latest spurt is likely more a sign of protest against what many Austrians see as the dysfunction of the current government than endorsement of the far-right's policies.

Fickle on Fico: The would-be Slovak leader is also a divisive figure. He was forced from office in 2018 following mass protests. At the time, Fico tried to put them down by associating them first with Ukraine's Maidan revolution and saying they were funded by dogwhistling conspiracy theorists’ least-favorite financier, George Soros.

HAPPENING TODAY: NEW EUROBAROMETER DATA ON EU ELECTIONS: The European Parliament will today release its much-publicized Eurobarometer poll on the attitudes of EU citizens toward the powers-that-be in Brussels. The poll will be published at noon (watch here, from 11.30 a.m.), but Playbook got a sneak peek.

Key data: Just over half (56 percent) of respondents, forming a representative sample, said they are interested in the European elections … not very encouraging given that 71 percent of them also said they believed that EU actions have an impact on their daily lives.

Not that interested, clearly, because less than half (45 percent) of EU citizens are aware the elections are actually taking place next year.

Tough sell: The parliament may try to sell this as a success, given that it's more than at this point in 2018, a year before the last election. But it's still not really an impressive proportion, given Brussels’ significant increase in powers over the past years, and its central role in everything from the COVID-19 pandemic response to answering Ukraine's calls for aid against the Russian invasion.

It's ignorant — but is it irrational? Expect the usual response from capitals, arguing politicians and media "need to do more" to explain the EU to Europeans. But politicians only have themselves to blame — there’d be no need to explain the importance of European elections if MEPs had the powers of a real parliament — namely proposing laws and deciding who leads the Union.

COUNTEROFFENSIVE: Meanwhile, on the real battlefield in Ukraine (and recently, also in Russia), indications are growing that Kyiv has started its counteroffensive, though Ukrainian officials are refusing to confirm.

Information lockdown: A press officer for one of Ukraine's mechanized brigades told POLITICO that in the coming weeks, Kyiv's armed forces would be sticking to a "no-comments" policy when it comes to revealing details about the counteroffensive.

"Words are very unnecessary, they do only harm," Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a tweet on Sunday, quoting English electronic band Depeche Mode. On the same day, Ukraine's armed forces published a video, showing its soldiers urging Ukrainians not to spill their country's secrets, and stating that there would be "no announcement about the start" of the counteroffensive.

DEEPFAKE PUTIN SPEECH: On Monday, Playbook reported about the EU's fears that AI may be used to generate fake videos of politicians.

Computin’ power: Just a few hours later, we had a real-live example. Hackers broadcast a fake emergency televised appeal from a computer-generated Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring martial law after Ukrainian troops crossed into Russian territory, the Kremlin told state media on Monday.

Information warfare: A number of radio and television stations in border regions aired the message, purportedly from the country's commander-in-chief. On screen, a realistic-looking Putin declared that a full-scale mobilization would begin in preparation for all-out war with Ukraine, while urging citizens to evacuate their homes and seek safety further inside Russia. Read more.

SCOOP: EU COUNTRIES GROW IMPATIENT WITH FRANCE OVER RENEWABLES: More and more EU countries are becoming annoyed with France for blocking the approval of the Renewable Energy Directive — which sets ambitious targets for the rollout of renewables.

Why is France blocking it? France wants the file to include better incentives for nuclear energy, which has caused concern among many of its EU partners — who argue that while nuclear power is extremely low-carbon it's obviously not renewable, and should therefore be dealt with separately.

A little less conversation … Around 10 countries have clubbed together and signed up to a statement — to be sent today, and of which Playbook obtained a draft — calling on the Swedish presidency to stop listening to Paris and bring forward the renewable energy law.

… A little more action, please: "We jointly urge you to bring the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive to a final, long overdue conclusion," reads the draft. "We would like to underline that it is of utmost importance to proceed with the final adoption of the Renewables Directive as soon as possible: This is key to swiftly kick off the necessary investments and to create legal certainty and predictability for investors in renewable energy."

Sick-of-France club: By last night, Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Ireland, Slovenia, Belgium, Austria, Portugal and Lithuania had supported the statement, according to two diplomats.

Pun fun: "The text is basically urging the Swedes not to get sucked into this condition of Stockholm Syndrome by facilitating [France's] hostage situation," said one of the diplomats.

DINER CHEZ SCHOLZ: French President Emmanuel Macron is getting a special treatment this evening as Olaf Scholz invites him to a dinner in Potsdam, close to Berlin, where the German chancellor lives with his wife — a gesture Scholz hasn't made to any foreign leader since taking office in late 2021.

State visit coming: Scholz won't be wielding the frying pans himself, though, as the leaders will meet in a restaurant. They "will deal with the entire range of Franco-German and European issues," including "security policy," according to a spokesperson. Last week, Scholz and Macron appeared to diverge on the issue of security guarantees for Ukraine. The dinner comes ahead of a state visit by Macron to Germany in early July.

MIGRANT OPT-OUT: The EU is trying to put a price tag on rejecting migrants as a creative — and controversial — solution to unblock the multiplying disagreements threatening to derail Europe's chance to reform how it welcomes asylum seekers. Officials have tried for months to find a formula to distribute the tens of thousands of people seeking protection in Europe more evenly across the bloc. As a workaround, diplomats have privately discussed a very capitalist solution: Countries could simply pay to opt out of the relocation program. Jacopo Barigazzi has more.

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL SLAMS METSOLA’S PARLIAMENT REFORMS: Transparency International, an NGO, is today releasing an assessment of the progress (or rather, the lack thereof) of Parliament's reforms following the Qatargate corruption scandal.

"In December last year the Parliament promised root-and-branch reform to prevent a recurrence of Qatargate. Instead, we’ve seen nothing but dither and delay and attempts to blame others for what happened," Transparency International's Michiel van Hulten told Playbook.

"Despite lots of talk about transparency, the so-called reform process is taking place in secret meetings behind closed doors. So far not a single decision has been taken to strengthen ethics and integrity rules in relation to sitting MEPs. The president should be leading this reform effort from the front, but she's nowhere to be seen." You can read the report here.

WE WILL LEAD ON AI, SAYS BRITAIN’S PM SUNAK: Wannabe tech bro Rishi Sunak is this week heading to his first White House summit as U.K. prime minister, and aims to use it to position his wannabe global superpower country as a leader in the regulation of artificial intelligence.

The problem: The U.K. is locked out (Brexit benefits!) of the Tech and Trade Council, which comprises the EU and U.S. and which is where the big players are actually negotiating AI governance.

The solution(s): Sunak has suggested creating an International Atomic Energy Agency for AI (an idea that OpenAI's Sam Altman likes) and hosting its HQ in the U.K. Another idea is for a CERN-like organization for AI, which the U.K. could help lead. Or, his least ambitious and most likely to actually happen: just hold a big conference in the U.K. in the fall where everyone can discuss AI.

What will Biden say? We’ll find out Thursday. Laurie Clarke, Annabelle Dickson and Cristina Gallardo have more detail.

CZECH REPUBLIC BANS BOOZE ON GOVERNMENT PLANES: Gone are the days of three-course meals and bottomless Chardonnay aboard government aircraft for Czech ministerial delegations.

Harassment scandal: Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová banned alcohol consumption on government planes following an alleged sexual harassment case during a trip to South Korea in April. The scandal involved a military doctor who allegedly inappropriately touched a woman administering a COVID-19 test aboard a government jet. Read more by Playbook's Ketrin Jochecová.

**Curious about the future of state aid in Europe? Join POLITICO alongside Ben Smulders, deputy director-general from DG COMP, Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of European Policy Centre and Mario Monti, former prime minister of Italy & former EU competition commissioner for a chat at our Competitive Europe Summit on June 27-28. Only a limited number of spots available! Apply here.**

European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) will present its annual report at 3 p.m. in the Commission press room in Brussels. Watch.

— EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly hosts a conference on "Building a stronger EU integrity framework" with Commission Vice President Věra Jourová, European Parliament's Vice President for Transparency Katarina Barley, OLAF Director General Ville Itälä and Member of the European Court of Auditors George Hyzler. Watch from 10:30 a.m.

— European Medicines Agency press briefing on public health emergencies at 3:30 p.m. Watch.

— EC press point by Commissioners Nicolas Schmit and Ylva Johansson and Special Adviser Lodewijk Asscher, on the integration of people in the EU fleeing the war in Ukraine at 10 a.m. Watch.

Johansson is also hosting a press point on the EU Action Plan for the Western Mediterranean and Atlantic routes at 10:30 a.m. Watch.

— Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participates in the 25th International WDR Europaforum via video message … receives the EPP Group Young Members Network.

— NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg travels to Slovakia to participate in the B9 Summit, hosted by the Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Polish President Andrzej Duda … later, meets with Čaputová and Slovak Prime Minister Ľudovít Ódor. Opening remarks at 11:20 a.m.; press conference with Ódor at 4:30 p.m. Watch.

— Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans attends a working meeting on Mediterranean cooperation on hydrogen and clean tech, organized by Business Bridge Europe … delivers an opening keynote speech at the EnerGreenDeal Conference.

— Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager receives members of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association; receives Secretary of State for European Affairs of France Laurence Boone.

— Vice President Jourová speaks at the event "Democracy Alive: The Brussels Summit."

— Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas in Paris: meets OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann … meets French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin … meets Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne … delivers a speech at the Paris Cyber Summit … visits Campus Cyber.

— Commissioner Nicolas Schmit participates in the closing event of European Youth Forum's internship campaign "Can you afford to work for free?"

— Commissioner Thierry Breton delivers a keynote speech at the conference: "The Future of the Electronic Communications Sector — Towards a European success story?"

— Commissioners Virginijus Sinkevičius participates in the EU Green Week opening debate — Delivering a Net Zero World … participates in the EU Green Week debate — The impact of war: environmental damage in Ukraine, priority challenges and plans for restoration.

— The European Court of Human Rights is due to rule in the Navalnyy v. Russia (no. 3) case, concerning Alexei Navalny's alleged poisoning with a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group in August 2020.

— European Movement's Democracy Alive summit with Vice President Jourová, Irish Ambassador Tom Hanney, Lithuanian Ambassador Arnoldas Pranckevičius, Commission Director General of DG Communications Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, TikTok's Caroline Greer, SGI Europe's Valeria Ronzitti and others. Brussels. 10 a.m.

**Don't miss your chance to connect with EU policymakers and healthcare experts, at POLITICO Live's first live taping podcast "When will Europe get there?" on July 5 in Brussels. This event is part of the POLITICO Podcasts series "Severing the chain: How to end HIV transmission in Europe? ". Register now!**

NATO EXPANSION: NATO is considering further expansion — but it's not what you think. The military alliance is, according to Euractiv, struggling to find space for the delegations of newcomers Finland (and potentially Sweden) in its Brussels headquarters, which it says are too small.

"NATO is reviewing its current office space allocation to accommodate a growing Alliance. This could entail constructing extra facilities," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu told Playbook.

NEW JOBS: Michelle Roverelli became the new director of member relations and communications of the European Broadcasting Union. Sylvie Matelly will be the new director of the Jacques Delors Institute from October 1, succeeding Sébastien Maillard. An economist, Matelly is currently deputy director of the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) in Paris.

FISHLOVE: Have you ever dreamt of seeing naked celebrities posing with dead fish? Now is your chance. There's a photography exhibition (click at your own risk) in front of the European Parliament running until June 9 and featuring Sean Penn and Gillian Anderson, among others. The goal? To promote sustainable fishing practices and call on the EU to end overfishing and deliver a transition to low-impact and low-carbon fishing for the EU.

FRESH MAFIA RAIDS: Belgian police arrested 8 people and seized drugs, money and luxury goods in a new raid against ‘Ndrangheta, an Italian mafia organization. Pieter Haeck has details.

BIRTHDAYS: MEP Javier Zarzalejos; Former European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos; Harwood Levitt's Margot Lotz; InterSystems’ Geoffroy Vitoux; Deloitte's Mehdi Peeters; Estonia's Deputy Director for EU Affairs Katrin Juhandi. Sweden's National Day.

THANKS to Jacopo Barigazzi, Matthew Karnitschnig, Pieter Haeck, Hans von der Burchard, Veronika Melkozerova, Gabriel Gavin, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová and editors Joe Stanley-Smith and Sanya Khetani-Shah.

CORRECTION: This newsletter was updated to correct the members of the Trade and Technology Council.

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By JAKOB HANKE VELA HOW TO CAMPAIGN IN NEW YORK: No ‘smearing’: UNDEAD AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE: Slovak to the future: **A message from Meta: ** Here comes the Kickl: The other opposition What it means for Europe: Bear in mind: Fickle on Fico HAPPENING TODAY: NEW EUROBAROMETER DATA ON EU ELECTIONS: Key data: Not that interested, clearly Tough sell: It's ignorant — but is it irrational? COUNTEROFFENSIVE: Information lockdown: DEEPFAKE PUTIN SPEECH: Computin’ power: Information warfare: SCOOP: EU COUNTRIES GROW IMPATIENT WITH FRANCE OVER RENEWABLES: Why is France blocking it? A little less conversation … … A little more action, please: Sick-of-France club: Pun fun: DINER CHEZ SCHOLZ: State visit coming: MIGRANT OPT-OUT: TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL SLAMS METSOLA’S PARLIAMENT REFORMS: WE WILL LEAD ON AI, SAYS BRITAIN’S PM SUNAK: The problem: The solution(s): What will Biden say? CZECH REPUBLIC BANS BOOZE ON GOVERNMENT PLANES: Harassment scandal: **Curious about the future of state aid in Europe? Apply here.** European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) Emily O’Reilly Věra Jourová Katarina Barley Ville Itälä George Hyzler. 10:30 a.m. 3:30 p.m. Nicolas Schmit Ylva Johansson Lodewijk Asscher 10 a.m. Johansson 10:30 a.m. Ursula von der Leyen Jens Stoltenberg Zuzana Čaputová Klaus Iohannis Andrzej Duda Ľudovít Ódor. 11:20 a.m.; 4:30 p.m. Frans Timmermans Margrethe Vestager Laurence Boone. Jourová Margaritis Schinas Mathias Cormann Gérald Darmanin Élisabeth Borne Nicolas Schmit Thierry Breton Virginijus Sinkevičius Jourová Tom Hanney Arnoldas Pranckevičius Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen Caroline Greer, Valeria Ronzitti **Don't miss your chance to connect with EU policymakers and healthcare experts, Register now!** NATO EXPANSION: NEW JOBS: Michelle Roverelli Sylvie Matelly Jacques Delors Institute FISHLOVE: FRESH MAFIA RAIDS: BIRTHDAYS: Javier Zarzalejos Dimitris Avramopoulos Margot Lotz Geoffroy Vitoux Mehdi Peeters Katrin Juhandi THANKS Jacopo Barigazzi Matthew Karnitschnig Pieter Haeck Hans von der Burchard Veronika Melkozerova Gabriel Gavin Ketrin Jochecová Joe Stanley-Smith Sanya Khetani-Shah **A message from Meta: ** SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: