Brussels Playbook: Down on the Danube — Kaliningrad crisis — Buzz Lightyear and VDL – POLITICO


AND THEN THERE WERE NONE: Hungary’s Permanent Representative to the EU Tibor Stelbaczky is leaving his publish, Playbook can report, leaving a emptiness at one in every of the most important moments in the Continent’s — and the EU’s — latest historical past.

Not in celebration temper: Contacted by Playbook, Stelbaczky declined to remark on the causes for his departure. The large query a few of his colleagues are elevating is whether or not he’s has lastly had sufficient of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s antics. While diplomats from international locations near Hungary mentioned the ambassador had been planning to go away for some time, his departure now shines a light-weight on a job that’s grow to be very tough certainly.

Tough gig: It’s clear that inside Coreper — the common assembly of EU ambassadors who coordinate EU coverage — Stelbaczky has had one in every of the most disagreeable jobs, pressured to defend his authoritarian authorities’s positions as they grow to be more and more tough to justify.

More reputational injury: Orbán’s hostage diplomacy over sanctions undermined the credibility of the EU by delaying a package deal towards Russia for weeks. But arguably Hungary has now overplayed its hand: By scuppering an EU tax deal, Budapest broken its personal credibility as an inexpensive associate in Brussels.

**A message from Equinor: To obtain local weather neutrality by 2050, motion known as for as we speak. We have introduced our first Energy Transition Plan; a concrete plan of outlined actions to make sure we’re delivering on our net-zero ambition. The set targets, now to be accompanied by motion.**

Spare a thought: While Orbán’s anti-EU politics rating nicely at house, that zero-sum-game method to negotiations doesn’t get you far in Coreper, a physique that takes choices primarily based on mutual belief. Above all, the physique operates on the understanding that whereas as an envoy it’s essential to defend your nation’s pursuits, you continue to want to stay constructive — as a result of you will note your colleagues once more subsequent week (or as has these days been the case, a number of occasions per week), and will want their assist the subsequent time round.

Downfall: Orbán’s “Hungary first” method was at all times abrasive, however different ambassadors and leaders have in the previous discovered methods to work with him, arguing he was a bargainer however in the finish at all times able to strike a deal. That evaluation has modified dramatically over the previous weeks.

Putin’s man: First, Orbán’s fixed protection of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pursuits has antagonized his one-time Eastern European allies, and revealed Hungary as one in every of the West’s weakest hyperlinks in the face of Moscow’s aggression. Every nation has needed to make sacrifices for the sake of unity, so endurance with Hungary’s caprioles has run skinny. Orbán’s video games have additionally undermined Budapest’s credibility in additional insidious methods.

Divided loyalty: It’s one factor to delay EU choices since you need cheaper oil, diplomats argued. But it’s one other to do the similar to maintain Putin’s propagandist Patriarch Kirill off the sanctions record — a call that was hardly taken out of nationwide curiosity, given Hungarians are largely Catholics and Protestants. (Less than 0.1 p.c of Hungarians are Orthodox, and of these, most are Romanian and Ukrainian minorities.) That episode led many in Brussels to marvel what sort of backroom offers Orbán had achieved with Putin. Several senior diplomats advised Playbook they doubted Orbán’s actual motives and the place his allegiances lie.

Not a person of his phrase: Last week, Hungary once more angered different EU international locations, when it launched a last-minute opposition to the EU’s minimal company tax — regardless of beforehand backing the deal. At Friday’s finance ministers’ assembly in Luxembourg, Hungary immediately blocked the tax, prompting suspicions that it was utilizing its veto energy to safe concessions on different recordsdata. Another principle: Some diplomats who’re nearer to Budapest advised us they consider the transfer was payback for France forcing Hungary to very publicly block the inclusion of Kirill on the record, and not eradicating his title silently at an earlier stage.

NOW READ THIS: For Putin and the Catholic Church, historical past is repeating itself, writes POLITICO’s Jamie Dettmer.

EU REFORM       

QUESTION OF UNANIMITY: Hungary’s truculence has resurfaced a query that has been effervescent away in EU circles for many years: Should the bloc name time on unanimity in international coverage? European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen known as on Monday for an finish to the unanimity precept in international coverage issues, telling our colleague David Herszenhorn and others that the EU wants to maneuver to certified majority voting in international affairs.

Not enjoying it honest: Some international locations are dropping endurance with others for utilizing unanimity as a type of hostage-taking to realize unrelated targets.

Reality verify: The resolution to desert unanimity wants the assist of all 27 EU members — a Catch-22, as our colleagues Paola Tamma, Bjarke Smith-Meyer and Giorgio Leali write on this glorious piece. Even diplomats from international locations in favor of scrapping the unanimity rule say they don’t actually consider it should occur.

Many small international locations, rightly, fear that if the precept of unanimity is deserted for giant choices like accession, international coverage and taxation, they are going to be steamrolled by the greater members. But even large hitters, similar to France, very very like their veto powers on issues similar to commerce offers with South America.

In different phrases: Countries are prone to cope with von der Leyen’s proposal like Pixar handled Buzz Lightyear — sending it to infinity and past.

Never say by no means: But some international locations are open to a “selective unanimity” — altering guidelines in some instances however not in others. Dutch Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag mentioned Friday that the Netherlands would assist altering the guidelines for some — restricted — areas of international affairs, however definitely not on fiscal coverage.

But however however: Countries similar to Greece and Cyprus are unlikely to agree to surrender their veto in international coverage, given their arch-rivalry with Turkey. Eastern and Baltic members are additionally frightened {that a} majority of Western European international locations together with France, Italy and Germany aren’t delicate sufficient to the dangers posed by Russia — a priority the conflict in Ukraine has confirmed is justified.


KALININGRAD ON THE BRINK: Russia on Monday demanded the Lithuanian authorities instantly reverse restrictions on shipments of EU-sanctioned Russian items by Lithuanian territory to its exclave of Kaliningrad. The Russian international ministry mentioned: “If in the near future cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation through Lithuania is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests.” More right here.

Alert and alarmed: Tensions are excessive as many Western diplomats and navy consultants have been warning that Russia might use Kaliningrad, which is situated between Poland and Lithuania and is provided by Russia through rail and gasoline pipelines, to divide NATO and take a look at the West’s resolve. Moscow’s feedback Monday appeared to verify these fears, with the Russians accusing Lithuania of blocking freight trains, whereas Vilnius seems to be merely imposing the EU’s sanctions.

Lithuania’s response: Vilnius insisted in a press release that “the transit of passengers and EU non-sanctioned goods to the Kaliningrad region through the territory of Lithuania continues uninterrupted.” The ministry of international affairs made clear that Lithuania “has not imposed any unilateral, individual, or additional restrictions on the transit and is acting fully in accordance with EU law.”

EU backs Vilnius: The EU’s international affairs chief Josep Borrell defended Lithuania in feedback to reporters on Monday, saying the nation was not imposing a blockade of the exclave, and was merely imposing EU sanctions.

ICYMI: Matthew Karnitschnig’s must-read story on the Suwałki Gap, aka the most harmful place on earth, delves into the significance of Kaliningrad.

ENERGY SQUEEZE: Meanwhile, Russia is hitting Europe the place it hurts by slicing gasoline provides. Germany reported it was receiving 60 p.c much less gasoline by its Nord Stream 1 pipeline, with Economy Minister Robert Habeck warning he didn’t consider Moscow’s official clarification, which blamed restore works for the reduce.

Bringing again the coal: On Monday, Habeck introduced Germany will reactivate coal energy stations in an effort to scale back gasoline consumption and proceed filling its storage for the winter. The Netherlands additionally introduced it should enable coal-fired energy stations to fireside up at full velocity attributable to falling Russian gasoline provides. POLITICO’s Laurenz Gehrke, Karl Mathiesen and Paola Tamma have extra on Russia’s gasoline conflict on the EU.

UKRAINE’S LANGUAGE OF WAR: Playbook’s personal Zoya Sheftalovich has this piece on the slang Ukrainians are utilizing practically 5 months into the Russian conflict.

Don’t look, Manu: The French president might have given his blessing to Ukraine’s bid to affix the EU throughout a go to to Kyiv final week, however Emmanuel Macron nonetheless isn’t profitable any recognition contests. Ukrainians have taken to utilizing the time period “Macronite” to explain somebody who makes an enormous present of concern however does nothing to assist, Zoya writes. Meanwhile, Shoiguing — named after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu — is pretending all the things at work goes in accordance with plan … whereas the sh*t hits the fan.


SWEET FAC ALL: Josep Borrell upped the ante Monday, branding Russia’s actions to dam the export of meals from Ukraine a “real war crime.” But EU international ministers assembly in Luxembourg had little substance to point out by way of precise options to the downside — once more. 

Reality verify: With the concern excessive on the agenda once more in Brussels forward of this week’s leaders’ summit, and Germany set to host a meals safety convention with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Berlin on Friday, it’s unclear if any precise progress might be made.

Reminder: It’s now two weeks since European Council chief Charles Michel at the U.N. Security Council accused Russia of utilizing meals provides as a “stealth missile towards growing international locations.” But whereas the intervention made loads of headlines, it led to no adjustments in the Russian place, with thousands and thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain nonetheless caught in the Black Sea. 

Conclusions vs. actuality: The newest model of the European Council conclusions to be signed off by leaders this week and seen by POLITICO urges Russia to “immediately stop targeting agricultural facilities and removing cereals and to unblock the Black Sea.” Leaders may even reiterate their assist for “the efforts of United Nations Secretary General Guterres to this end” — aka pushing the accountability for a deal again onto the U.N.

Problem 1 — Land bridge difficulties. As the chance of unblocking the Black Sea recedes, officers in Brussels, Washington and the U.N. are turning their consideration to the chance of transporting Ukraine’s crops by land. U.S. President Joe Biden touted the thought of momentary silos on Ukraine’s EU border; the European Commission has championed “solidarity lanes.” But as Commissioner Janez Lenarčič advised Playbook earlier this month, even when all the doable land choices — railway, vehicles, inland waterways — had been deployed, solely about 20 p.c of Ukraine’s grain could possibly be moved, at greatest.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock acknowledged this actuality on Monday. “It is evident that, in the finish, we will definitely not have the ability to get out all grain but when we even simply handle to free a part of it, on varied routes, then this may assist,” she mentioned in Luxembourg. 

Problem 2 — PR problem in Africa. The President of the African Union Macky Sall caught the EU off guard by showing to purchase into Moscow’s propaganda after assembly with Putin earlier this month. Since then, the EU has achieved little to counter the false narrative that Western sanctions are answerable for wheat and fertilizer shortages.

Perception issues: European ambassadors who visited Cairo and Addis Ababa final week had been shocked at the notion hole between the EU and Africa about who’s in charge for the meals crisis, with pro-Russian sentiment operating wild. While the EU is pumping vital money into Africa — asserting one other €100 million for Egypt final week, for instance, to assist with meals safety — Moscow is managing to shift the blame for rampant excessive costs and provide constraints to Brussels.

Watch out as we speak: The ECB is because of launch an replace on the present surge in meals inflation in the euro space and the affect of Russia’s conflict.


FRENCH POST-MORTEM: A really unusual French parliamentary election resulted in humiliation for Emmanuel Macron this weekend — and it might nicely flip right into a slow-motion calamity for France, writes John Lichfield on this important evaluation. “How France will be governed, and by whom, for the next five years is anyone’s guess,” he writes. “Sources close to Macron suggested to the French media that he may be tempted to call another election. On one reading of the French constitution, he must wait 12 months. Another interpretation suggests he could do so whenever he chooses.”

ANTITRUST HEADACHE: What’s the compound curiosity on €1 billion over 12 years? Intel has achieved its calculations and is looking for €593 million from the Commission after its file 2009 antitrust high-quality was annulled earlier this yr, POLITICO’s Aoife White reviews. It’s the largest in a string of comparable claims from firms demanding curiosity after EU courts canceled antitrust fines in the wake of a call final yr. Deutsche Telekom, British Airways, Singapore Airlines Cargo and Cargolux even have related claims.

Budget danger: Whenever there’s a mega high-quality to dole out, the Commission often has some explanatory press assertion about how the cash goes into the EU funds. But what if the Commission has to pay out large cash when it will get it mistaken and loses a case? The stakes are immediately excessive for antitrust officers if they’re faulted for any sloppy work.

Some reduction: The Commission appears to be off the hook for a few of the different huge fines beneath overview. The curiosity might be claimed solely on fines that had been paid upfront. Qualcomm, which simply had its high-quality canceled, and Google, with appeals pending, all paid their fines through monetary ensures, in order that they shouldn’t be eligible for compensation. Phew.

Way out? The Commission can attraction to the EU’s high courtroom — and it’ll be attention-grabbing to see what arguments Brussels depends on. Had the EU courts dealt extra swiftly with Intel’s authorized saga (which remains to be unfinished), the compound curiosity would have amounted to far much less. The Commission might additionally search to scale back its publicity by lowering the punitive 3.5 p.c charge it fees late-payers — which it’s now being charged itself.

NATURE PACKAGE UPDATE: European commissioners’ heads of Cabinet on Monday backed the EU’s nature package deal, which units obligatory targets for biodiversity safety and pesticide discount — however left open one technical query on pesticides, individuals concerned in the discussions advised Playbook.

Back on: Agreement on the actual calculation of the pesticides goal remains to be pending, however the expectation is that commissioners will have the ability to log out on the package deal on Wednesday.

Commissioner Mairead McGuinness advised Playbook she was on board with the total ambition of the package deal and the targets, disputing that she had sought to guard Ireland’s peat trade by opposing re-wetting of peatlands. Instead, she argued that whereas nature safety targets must be binding, member international locations ought to have leeway in deciding how precisely they want to meet these. “I fully support the nature restoration targets set in the proposal and did not look for any changes,” she advised Playbook, including nevertheless that she had “worked with colleagues to provide for flexibilities in how the targets would be met.”

SPACE JUNK: A catastrophe in outer area is ready to occur, however Europe may help, Paul Taylor writes in his newest Europe at Large column for POLITICO.

**What measures will likely be wanted to allow immunocompromised sufferers to return to regular? Tune in to POLITICO Live’s digital occasion “The unmet needs of immunocompromised patients post-COVID 19” on June 29**


General Affairs Council, Luxembourg, 9:30 a.m.

— Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi take part in the first day of the European Development Days Forum. Program. Watch.

— Council chief Charles Michel meets with President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo 12:30 p.m.

— NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg meets French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

— European Parliament President Roberta Metsola continues Finland go to; meets with President Sauli Niinistö, adopted by press level.

Kalinowski Forum at the European Parliament, 9:30 a.m. Participants embrace Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Lithuania Ingrida Šimonytė; Belarus opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi and MEP Anna Fotyga.

— European Parliament’s committee of inquiry to research the use of Pegasus and different surveillance spyware and adware holds listening to with representatives of firm NSO, 3 p.m.

— Launch of European cultural heritage cloud beneath Horizon Europe program at 1:30 p.m.

— Commissioner Janez Lenarčič in Ethiopia.

— Commissioner Ylva Johansson receives Bulgarian Justice Minister Nadezhda Iordanova.

— Commissioner Thierry Breton in Portugal; meets PM António Costa, and will focus on vital uncooked supplies with Economy Minister António Costa Silva and Foreign Minister João Gomes Cravinho.


LUMUMBA’S TOOTH HEADS HOME AT LAST: Belgium will this night return to Congo the final stays of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of Congo. The stays include a tooth, stolen by a Belgian police officer who had dissolved Lumumba’s physique in acid after his assassination in 1961. The full backstory, by Camille Gijs and Stephan Faris, right here (should you haven’t learn it but, please do).

Historic second: On Monday, the Belgian authorities handed over Lumumba’s stays to his descendants in a ceremony in central Brussels. Lumumba was murdered 60 years in the past, simply months after main Congo’s independence from Belgian colonial rule. He was tortured by authorities of a Congolese breakaway state, beneath the supervision of Belgian officers.

Sorry — however no justice: During Monday’s ceremony, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo apologized “on behalf of the Belgian government” for its function main as much as Lumumba’s assassination. But earlier this yr, the Belgian parliament rejected prosecutors’ request to entry secret paperwork about the Belgian state’s doable involvement in the killing, ruling they had been off limits as a result of the parliamentary inquiry had been held behind closed doorways.

EUROPEAN INVENTORS PRIZE: The European patent workplace will as we speak at midday unveil the large winners of this yr’s inventors award. Watch right here.

OUR CONDOLENCES: Former Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen died over the weekend aged 80. 

BIRTHDAYS: ​​MEP Helmut Scholz and Bernhard Zimniok; Former MEP Helga Trüpel; French Senator and former MEP Alain Cadec; Writer George Jahn; U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden; Britain’s Prince William turns 40; President of Slovakia Zuzana Čaputová; Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia; Czech Deputy Permanent Representative Jaroslav Zajíček.

THANKS TO: Camille Gijs and our producer Ivo Oliveira.

**A message from Equinor: We goal to be a net-zero power firm by 2050 and to realize that now we have adopted a transition plan with medium-term ambitions primarily based on concrete actions. But delivering on every pillar of our technique would require the mandatory body circumstances and the assist of coverage makers. For occasion, by 2030 we anticipate to direct greater than 50% of our gross investments in the direction of renewables and low carbon options like CCS and consequently we promote with governments the mandatory allowing and fiscal regimes and making acreage accessible for each offshore wind and carbon storage.**

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