MORNING ROUTINE: EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will again brief EU ambassadors at 8:30 a.m. this morning “on the state of play” of his talks with London. Ambassadors will then “review the situation,” a spokesman for the Council presidency said. At 9:30 a.m., Barnier will brief the U.K. coordination group in the European Parliament.
Growing impatience: Parliament is “ready and willing to endorse an ambitious, balanced partnership with the UK but it needs to protect the integrity of the EU’s single market and our common standards,” said the coordination group’s chair, MEP David McAllister. Trade committee Chair Bernd Lange, from the S&D, appeared a tad less patient: “Serious ratification is becoming increasingly impossible,” he tweeted. “Unworthy game.”
Same old, same old: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ate her own words for lunch on Sunday. “We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend,” she had said after a dinner with Boris Johnson in Brussels on Wednesday. But when she and the British PM spoke again on the phone on Sunday at noon, no decision was taken, and they agreed the fruitless-so-far talks would continue.
They didn’t set a new deadline — but why bother? There’s a hard and natural one in less than three weeks.
GOOD MORNING. It must have been hard — about this hard, per the Huffington Post — for Johnson to understand that the rest of Europe meant it when it showed very little inclination to play with him over the past week, or dedicate time to questions they see as being in good (other) hands. During a press conference on Sunday (on new, tightened corona restrictions — her top concern over the past months), German Chancellor Angela Merkel was asked about the fury London is directing at her. “Aha, that’s good to know,” she said. “I’m not negotiating at all.”
**A message from Goldman Sachs: The updated Carbonomics cost curve, analyzed by Goldman Sachs Research, reflects innovation across 100 different technologies to decarbonize power, mobility, buildings, agriculture and industry, and draws three key conclusions on the trends of zero net carbon.**
WEEK OF RECKONING?
EPP EXCLUSION DEBATE: The European People’s Party group’s leadership put a debate “and possible vote” on a request to expel Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch from the group on the agenda of a meeting Wednesday. The agenda, seen by Playbook, was sent round Sunday — so everybody can prepare for the possible hour of truth.
The whole Polish delegation is on board with expulsion: Fidesz is “against a common Europe, against the rule of law … They are attacking our leaders, from Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, to Manfred Weber, with unacceptable comparisons,” Civic Platform MEP Andrzej Halicki told Playbook over the phone Sunday when asked about the views of the delegation he heads.
Time to chose: All of the above, plus Fidesz’s alliance with Poland’s ruling party and EPP political opponent PiS (which is in the ECR group in European Parliament), means: “We cannot be together with a party that is against all the goals that are crucial to us,” Halicki said. “It is time to choose what we would like to be and where we would like to go.” Halicki, the head of a 17-MEPs strong delegation, called for a ballot on Wednesday. “We expect that there will be not only debate, but formal voting, too,” he said. “It is the opinion of the whole delegation.”
Mark your calendars: We’ve been waiting for the Germans for quite some time. Finally, the country’s delegation will meet Tuesday morning to decide what to do. Their chief, Daniel Caspary, invited members in an email this weekend to make up their minds.
Help needed? Caspary attached to his email an interview Deutsch gave to Czech outlet Echo24, in which he repeated a world view according to which his party is the last one standing by the EPP’s “right-wing, Christian-Democratic roots,” while “the EPP is moving strongly to the left;” the basic conflict in Europe is for or against “mass immigration” and George Soros; and the EU threatens Hungarian national identity.
Here’s a sneak peek of Fidesz’s Plan B.
NOW READ THIS: Reporters and editors at dozens of Poland’s regional newspapers are worried they’ll be fired or placed under political pressure after state-controlled refiner PKN Orlen announced the acquisition of Polska Press Group — and they have good reason to be scared, writes Wojciech Kość.
**The countdown to Brexit has begun but big question marks remain on the impacts on trade, travel, and more. On December 16, POLITICO’s reporters will discuss the changes expected and the outstanding issues on a Pro Briefing call. Not a Pro but interested in attending? Email us at [email protected]**
SEEHOFER’S HANDOVER NOTE
ONE ETERNAL QUESTION: What is solidarity? EU countries, five years after the great migration — and migration management — crisis, have yet to agree on an answer. “Some Member States currently see the need for a flexible mechanism while others assess in particular mandatory relocation as a key element for a meaningful solidarity,” a “progress report,” prepared by the German Council presidency, says is the state of play of planned migration and asylum reform for today’s meeting of interior minsters.
End of ambition: Finding “the right balance between responsibility and solidarity” is still the big hurdle EU countries must overcome — and at today’s meeting, Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer will effectively hand over the baton to the incoming Portuguese presidency. He had aimed to reach a political agreement on the main pillars of a migration reform, based on the pact the Commission proposed in the fall. That didn’t work out. The report, seen by Playbook, is a document of collective failure.
The smallest denominator? All the bloc’s governments agree there is an element of EU responsibility on migration: “All Member States commit to mutual support including in cases of migratory pressure or in times of crisis of one of the Member States,” the report says. “While the EU should make all possible efforts to avoid situations of crisis, there is broad agreement for having a mechanism of mandatory solidarity in cases of crisis situations as well as in cases of migratory pressure.”
Playing hardball: The positions on both ends of the migration debate have recently hardened rather than softened. Hungary and Poland have made it clear they will neither ever be obliged to accept migrants from other EU countries, nor do they want to assume responsibility for the returns of rejected asylum seekers instead, as per the Commission’s recent proposals.
Unhappiness in the first line: “While the new pact put forward by the Commission is a step in the right direction, it falls short of addressing several long-standing issues,” wrote Malta’s Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo in a recent op-ed for POLITICO. “Front-line member countries cannot continue to bear the disproportionate pressure of mass arrivals.”
Where the EU seems closest to an agreement: Both camps tend to agree that the fewer migrants, the fewer problems. Border management and protection — and the upgrade of the EU agency tasked with it, Frontex — is dear to all countries, the German report observes. “A priority of the Member States … is the full and rapid implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard Regulation.”
In principle yes, but … a “functioning screening” would help prevent irregular migratory flows, and would quite obviously “ensure the registration of every person entering the EU,” says the German report. And while everyone’s on board in principle, the consequences are still hotly debated. “Whilst it is the understanding of all Member States that applicants who are evidently not entitled to protection must not be allowed to enter the EU, only a number of them are in favour of a mandatory border procedure,” the report says.
TALK ABOUT STATE MURDER: Today, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, Josep Borrell, was due to give a “joint keynote” address at the Europe Iran Business Forum, along with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and several ambassadors to Iran from European countries. The event would offer the chance for Borrell to condemn the murder by Iran of journalist Rouhollah Zam, who was hanged on Saturday, right?
Wrong. Borrell had “sent a pre-recorded message for the Business Forum, he will therefore not have a chance to interact with participants,” said an EU official, adding that “the EU systematically brings up human rights issues.” Human rights “were touched upon” during the last EU-Iran High Level Dialogue that took place a few days ago, the official added. The EU, via a spokesman, issued a statement condemning the execution. More from Jacopo Barigazzi and Paul Dallison.
Here’s European foreign policy at work: The list of EU countries that pulled out of the event “because of the barbaric and unacceptable execution” included Austria, France, Germany and Italy. On the back of that, the event was canceled. Jacopo has more.
Chiming in from London: Tom Tugendhat, chair of the House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee, told Playbook he’d hoped others would follow suit in eschewing the event. “The murder of journalists has become too common,” Tugendhat said. “Rouhollah Zam joins Jamal Khashoggi and many others who have been silenced in a violation of the rights of citizens everywhere. I hope the EU and others will withdraw from cooperation with this murderous regime.”
CLIMATE ACTION: “It was worth not to get any sleep for one night,” Angela Merkel said at Friday’s closing European Council press conference, standing alongside Council President Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, referring to the EU’s hard-fought climate deal. On Saturday, all three spoke at this coronavirus-plagued year’s only big climate bash, along about 70 world leaders who also took part in a U.N.-led virtual summit, to present the deal (and more). Kalina Oroschakoff has the story.
NEXIT: As Norway heads toward an election in 2021, the Euroskeptic Center Party is topping opinion polls, winning over voters with a message that the country needs to renegotiate its 1994 deal with the EU under which it follows many of the bloc’s rules and pays billions of euros in grants in exchange for access to the single market. Charlie Duxbury has the story.
MEANWHILE, IN ITALY: Stefania D’Ignoti looks at the obstacles facing foreign medical staff in Italy who are looking for a job in the country — even as it is engulfed by the second wave of the coronavirus crisis.
TRANSITION UNEASE: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has repeatedly criticized his predecessor Donald Trump for downplaying, or even undermining, an array of human rights causes in America and beyond. But as Biden prepares to take over the top job, he’s facing an unusual request. Activists are urging him to reduce, or “right-size,” the U.S. focus on one human right the Trump administration has done a lot to promote: religious freedom. But scaling those efforts back could prove complicated, Nahal Toosi writes.
OPINION — EUROPE CAN’T FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM WHILE IGNORING THREATS TO ISRAEL, argues David Harris, the CEO of American Jewish Committee, in an op-ed for POLITICO.
ONE MORE THING TO PONDER
FOREIGN FIGHTERS ALERT: There’s no coordinated plan except, perhaps, ignoring the fact there’s a problem with Europeans who have fought as terrorists for the so-called Islamic State, according to Green MEP Hannah Neumann. She recently traveled to Iraq and Syria and returned with both worrying findings and a pointed message for the security community, the EU’s interior ministers included. “We have to talk more on the European level about how our EU-citizen ISIS fighters or ISIS family members are taken care of by the autonomous administration in Northern Syria,” she said in an interview with Jacopo Barigazzi.
The paradox: “None of the EU member states does in any way recognize the autonomous administration of Northern Syria” — to avoid Turkish rage. “On the other hand, we entrust them with taking care of something between 1,000 or 2,000 EU citizens who have either been ISIS fighters or are family members of ISIS fighters. And we do not have a plan on what to do with them,” Neumann said.
What if: “The risk that they escape or will at some point be released is very high,” she said. The camps where the foreigners live, like the one Neumann visited in al Hol, “are basically like small ISIS states. The most radical people use social pressure and sometimes even physically attack those who start to deviate from radical ideology.” The problem isn’t getting any better while no one is doing anything about it: “They’re raising about 7,000 kids under ISIS ideology,” Neumann said.
The options: “Do we need to repatriate them? Which I think according to the law and also to our moral standards, we would need to do — or do we want to see them tried in the region and go to prison there, but then at least we should come up with ideas on how we financially support those doing it and how we make sure that these trials are somehow according to our own standards,” she said.
Why is it an EU problem at all? “It’s an issue that not only affects member states, but also the EU,” Neumann said. Once these people come back, “legally or illegally, they are in the Schengen area.”
OVER AND OUT
FROM THE PLAYBOOK FAMILY ALBUM: POLITICO is launching a new Playbook this coming February — in, for and from Paris, written in French. More on the exciting news here — and welcome Pauline de Saint Remy, who will be the author of Playbook Paris. You can already register to get yours here.
AND A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Your own Brussels Playbook author has been recognized with this year’s “Europe Award” of Italy’s Amerigo Journalism prize. In a note to staff, POLITICO’s Editor-in-Chief Stephen Brown noted the award singled out Playbook’s “special attention on transatlantic issues.” The jury’s statement also said our work on this newsletter “helps EU leaders to better understand the Washington point of view on the hottest economic, political and diplomatic issues.” There’s not much better than hearing that.
BIRTHDAYS: MEP Vangelis Meimarakis; Former MEP Daniela Aiuto; Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt; Norbert Funke from the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Mongolia Regional Capacity Development Center; U.S. Agency for Global Media’s Joan Mower.
Celebrated Sunday: MEPs Marie-Pierre Vedrenne and Andrey Kovatchev; Minister of Justice of Northern Ireland Naomi Long, a former MEP; Former MEPs Christofer Fjellner and Massimo Paolucci; Latvia’s PM Krišjānis Kariņš turned 56; Spanish politician María Dolores de Cospedal García; Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke; Nicolas Robin. Malta’s Republic Day.
Celebrated Saturday: MEPs Jordi Cañas and Anna Cavazzini; Former MEP Maria Heubuch; POLITICO’s Esther King and Guilherme Prochnow; European Parliament’s Andrew Hillman; Remigijus Šimašius, mayor of Vilnius; Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa; Peadar O Lamhna from Ireland’s department of foreign affairs and trade; BBC’s Reeta Chakrabarti; Orgalim’s Malte Lohan.
MANY THANKS TO: Our producer Miriam Webber.
This newsletter was updated to reflect that the Europe Iran Business Forum was canceled.
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