Brussels Playbook: Big brother Xi — Foreign affairs summit — Fishy business

Brussels Playbook: Big brother Xi — Foreign affairs summit — Fishy business

Press play to listen to this article

Voiced by artificial intelligence.

TODAY IN PARIS: Emmanuel Macron’s government faces several motions of no confidence in the National Assembly after his government forced through a deeply unpopular pensions reform bill. If the move succeeds, which is unlikely but not impossible, that would kill the bill and trigger the resignation of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and her government. Though Macron himself would not be forced out, it would seriously weaken his presidency for the remainder of his term, reports Clea Caulcutt.

GOOD MORNING and happy vernal equinox; the nights are getting shorter and the days are getting longer once again. Playbook isn’t particularly big on astronomy, but spring is finally here — which means Europe made it through the winter.

Europeans have withstood Vladimir Putin’s cynical attacks against their economy and energy security without massive disruption or upheaval, cutting their gas consumption and keeping cool heads (except Hungary, where the government launched a propaganda campaign against EU sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine).

It’s an astounding feat that few would have predicted not so long ago. Europe’s welfare systems and additional government support proved key in ensuring the vulnerable were — mostly — able to warm their homes. And the bloc’s economy proved more resilient than experts and politicians expected, avoiding a recession.

As temperatures rise, the EU is approaching the end of the heating season with its gas storage levels near record highs. In Germany, which was particularly vulnerable after Gazprom shut down Nord Stream last August, storage levels were above 63 percent last Friday. Taking a step back, free Ukraine stands, Russia’s offensive is struggling and autocrats around the world have been warned not to underestimate democracy. How’s that for a Monday pep talk?

**A message from Equinor: As Europe strives to protect and decarbonise its industrial base on its pathway to Net Zero, our cooperation plan with RWE represents a unique example of how #together we can develop a decarbonised energy system for Europe that creates jobs, stimulates industry development and ensures value creation.**


BIG BROTHER XI: China’s President Xi Jinping today starts a three-day visit to Moscow that will be closely watched in Europe.

China has 2 opposing ambitions: On the one hand, it wants to portray itself as a responsible global player, upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of countries. On the other, it’s building an alliance of autocracies, such as with the joint naval exercises it just held with Russia and Iran.

Xi’s trip will also make clear the new power dynamics: China is the big brother who, along with India, has propped up Russia with increasing purchases of oil; while a diminished, increasingly isolated — and now internationally wanted — Putin needs Beijing more than ever to survive.

Why is Xi still Putin’s bestie? Stuart Lau considers a bromance that began with vodka and sandwiches a decade ago, and continues with today’s visit to Moscow. One of the downsides of China being a dictatorship is that journalists can’t really pin Xi down on a contradiction: how can Beijing both declare a “friendship without limits” with Putin’s Russia and at the same time claim a role as peace-broker?

What’s clear is that Xi will soon have to make up his mind. For now, Western leaders still seem willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Europe and the U.S. have been extremely tight-lipped following POLITICO’s revelations of clear evidence that China has already shipped weapons to Russia and reports from Friday claiming that Russia is firing Chinese ammo.

The audacity of hope: Diplomats told Playbook that EU leaders still hope Xi will opt to play a constructive role, as they believe he stands to win more from portraying himself as a peace-broker than from a proxy war with the West. But that means halting arms shipments to the aggressor — which are clearly illegal under international law, unlike arms shipments to countries defending their own territory.

The truth is, for all of China’s warnings against “two-bloc confrontation” and a “Cold War mentality” — the question of whether the world will enter a spiral of increasing polarization lies more than ever with Xi.

MEANWHILE, IN BRUSSELS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET: Against that backdrop, ministers of several EU countries and Norway will seek to strike a deal today on joint purchases of ammunition for Ukraine, marking another step in EU integration, as Playbook and our POLITICO colleagues reported last week. EU foreign affairs ministers will meet their Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba before moving on to EU topics among the 27.

What’s on the table: On Sunday night, EU ambassadors reached a preliminary deal to supply Kyiv with 1 million 155-millimeter shells — the amount Ukraine has requested — over the next year. Full details from my colleagues Suzanne Lynch and Jacopo Barigazzi.

Now read this: By aiding Ukraine to secure a rapid military victory, European governments would be helping their own defense industry, argue Olivier Schmitt and Lucie Béraud-Sudreau in this opinion piece for POLITICO.

Also on the foreign affairs agenda: Tunisia, where democracy has crumbled following a military coup. Ministers will discuss how to nudge the leadership to take a “more measured” approach, according to one senior EU diplomat.

Ministers will also talk Iran, where the regime has brutally suppressed democracy protests, as well as Israel and the Middle East process — among widespread concern in the EU that Israel’s governing coalition of ultra-religious and hard-right parties is about to roll back the rule of law, according to senior diplomats and an EU official.

**On March 28 at 4:00 p.m. CEST, POLITICO Live is hosting an online event on “Protecting Europe: How the war in Ukraine changed Europe’s thinking on defense?”. Join CSIS Director Max Bergamnn, Ambassadors to NATO of France and United Kingdom Muriel Domenach and David Quarrey as they deep dive into Europe’s thinking on how to best arm itself and where allies should focus their defense priorities in the coming years. Register today.**  


GRAIN DEAL UPDATE: A deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports to pass through the blockaded Black Sea has been extended for 120 days, Ukraine announced Saturday, but Russia again griped that it would only assent to a full rollover if its own exports of food and fertilizer are freed up. My colleague Susannah Savage reports that Moscow and Kyiv are fighting a battle for the hearts and minds of the Global South, and instead of troops and tanks, they are deploying shiploads of grain and fertilizer.

KREMLIN’S WAR ON ITS OWN PEOPLE: In Russia, an anti-war drawing can cost you your daughter, writes Eva Hartog from Yefremov, a provincial city a four-hour drive south of Moscow. Eva reports on the case of Alexei Moskalyov and his 12-year-old daughter Masha, who attracted the attention of the authorities when she drew a pro-Ukraine picture at school last April. Alexei is now facing two legal cases, while Masha is in state custody.

WAR FALLOUT — GERMANY AND JAPAN TO COOPERATE ON ECONOMIC SECURITY AND DEFENSE: Germany and Japan agreed on Saturday to strengthen cooperation on economic security in the aftermath of tensions over global supply chains and the economic impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine. In a joint statement, the two countries said they will work on establishing “a legal framework for bilateral defense and security cooperation activities,” including ways to protect critical infrastructures, trade routes and to secure future supply of sustainable energy.


CARS SHOWDOWN: Brussels and Berlin today continue negotiations to end Germany’s blockade of EU legislation to reach zero emissions from cars sold from 2035. Time’s running out, as leaders are keen to avoid German FDP leader Christian Lindner’s favorite fight taking over their EUCO summit starting Thursday. As Playbook first reported last week, the European Parliament is also voicing its frustration over Berlin’s attempt to overturn its vote.

Lindner emboldened: In comments published across Funke Group media on Friday, the German finance minister hit back against criticism from Paris (which wants to stick with the 2035 deal). “It is very regrettable that the French government is declaring a showdown to ban the internal combustion engine,” Lindner said — ironic, given Berlin’s last-minute U-turn provoked said showdown.

French resistance: In an interview with POLITICO on Friday, French Transport Minister Clément Beaune said the 2035 plan should stand, doubling down on Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire’s insistence that Paris would fight to keep it. “Our choice for 2035 must remain — as we have collectively committed to do, including Germany — to get out of combustion engine vehicles,” Beaune said.

Catching on: But Lindner seems to have taken a liking to the fight and is looking to benefit from public support for old-school cars. An opinion poll now touted widely across German media showed that 67 percent of respondents were against the EU’s car plan, with only 25 percent in favor of the deal agreed last year between EU countries.

FISHERIES MINISTERS DISCUSS SUSTAINABILITY PACKAGE … BUT WANT TO ALLOW OVERFISHING: EU fisheries ministers will today discuss a package of measures intended to make fisheries more sustainable. Speaking ahead of the meeting, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius told Playbook: “My message to the ministers today is clear: Let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture … we must resist the temptation of short-term gain, for if our oceans perish, so will our fishers.”

Not so sustainable: But it will be hard not to see the package as green-or blue-washing, considering EU countries, led by France and Spain, are behind the scenes trying to allow more overfishing of endangered species such as tuna. Indeed, Paris, Madrid and others are pushing in negotiations with the Parliament to roll back restrictions against massive overfishing and are insisting on higher “margins of tolerance,” which would allow fishers to under-report their real catches.

SERBIA, KOSOVO REACH TENTATIVE PACT: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Kosovo and Serbia agreed to implement an EU-backed deal to normalize relations. “We have a deal,” Borrell tweeted late Saturday after 12 hours of talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and EU officials in Ohrid, North Macedonia.

Caveat: Despite Borrell’s announcement, the two sides stopped short of actually signing the agreement. Serbia’s Vučić said the parties have not agreed on all points, Reuters reported. “Despite differences, we had decent conversation,” Vučić was quoted as saying. Kosovo’s Kurti said: “This is a de-facto recognition between Kosovo and Serbia.”

ICYMI — OMBUDSMAN PROBES EU’S ONLINE RECRUITMENT SHIFT: EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has opened a case into the decision to switch to remote-only testing for Commission recruitment, following complaints from candidates. As POLITICO reported last month, the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) has scrapped in-person testing, arguing online tests are cheaper, more eco-friendly and inclusive. But some job applicants complained of technical issues and an unresponsive test provider. The Ombudsman has now sent questions to EPSO, asking for more details on how the tests are carried out in practice and what kind of technical support is provided.

**Tomorrow, join us at 4:30 p.m. at POLITICO Live’s event “Telecoms drumbeat for the future of connectivity . Hear from our line-up and tech reporter Mathieu Pollet on how new technologies will impact investments in telecoms infrastructure. Register now!**


— Agriculture and Fisheries Council 10 a.m. Doorsteps from 8:30 a.m.; press conference around 8:45 p.m. Watch.

— Foreign Affairs Council 10:45 a.m. Doorsteps from 8:30 a.m.; joint working session of the FAC with foreign affairs and defense ministers at 2:45 p.m.; press conference around 6:30 p.m. Watch.

— International donors’ conference “Together for the people in Türkiye and Syria.” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to deliver opening addresses from 1:30 p.m. Full agenda. Watch.

— NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg receives Finland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto and Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen; press statement at 2:15 p.m. Watch.

— European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs questions President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde from 3 p.m. Watch.

— High-level panel on the need for EU regulation to tackle child sexual abuse material online, featuring actor/entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher and MEPs Javier Zarzalejos and Hilde Vautmans at 4 p.m. Info.

— European Parliament President Roberta Metsola meets with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi at 2:15 p.m.; with U.S. Ambassador to the EU Mark Gitenstein at 3 p.m.; with Chair of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Borjana Krišto at 4 p.m.

— Council President Charles Michel meets Borjana Krišto at 10:45 a.m.; with Ursula von der Leyen and Christine Lagarde and EIB President Werner Hoyer at noon.

— Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans in Copenhagen, Denmark; participates in the Copenhagen Climate Ministerial.

— Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen receives Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq Fuad Hussein.


IRAN PROTEST IN BRUSSELS TODAY: Protesters demanding that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps be designated a terrorist organization will gather in Place Jean Rey from 11:30 a.m. today and march to Schuman Square. The march is being organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

SMART CITY STRATEGY: Brussels unveiled its Smart City strategy on Friday, focusing on improving services to citizens through new tech, and reducing environmental impact. The city is targeting seven areas via 48 projects (and is also looking for new projects to back). “One of the areas is proximity — we want everything essential in Brussels to be accessible within 10 minutes on foot or by bike,” Brussels’ Smart City Councillor Fabian Maingain told Playbook’s Ketrin Jochecová. “We also want to build [positive energy districts] that produce more energy than they consume.”

BELGIUM RECOGNIZES BUDDHISM: Belgium’s government approved a draft law to recognize Buddhism, making it the second EU country to do so (after Austria), reports Reuters. The Belgian Buddhist Union, which estimates the number of Buddhists in Belgium at 150,000, requested recognition in 2006.

BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, Andżelika Możdżanowska and Jan Zahradil; Former MEP Louis-Joseph Manscour; European Environmental Agency’s Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx; EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák, a former Slovak foreign minister; Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair and POLITICO 28 alum.

THANKS to Mari Eccles, Susannah Savage, Daniela De Lorenzo, Jones Hayden, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová and producer Grace Stranger.

**A message from Equinor: By working together, we can develop a decarbonised energy system for Europe and its industry. In collaboration with RWE, we have presented a concrete plan to replace German coal-fired power plants with gas-fired, hydrogen-ready power plants, and to build production of Norwegian low-carbon and renewable hydrogen to be exported to Germany by pipeline. The collaboration will strengthen energy security for Europe’s leading industrial country while at the same time offer a viable route to a necessary energy transition for hard to abate industries.**

SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: Brussels Playbook | London Playbook | London Playbook PM | Playbook Paris | POLITICO Confidential | Sunday Crunch | EU Influence | London Influence | Digital Bridge | China Direct | Berlin Bulletin | D.C. Playbook | D.C. Influence | Global Insider | All our POLITICO Pro policy morning newsletters

More from …

Jakob Hanke Vela

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *