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EU FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
TODAY: FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS WEAPONS FUND FOR UKRAINE: What will happen to Ukraine if Donald Trump — or a similar candidate — wins next year’s U.S. presidential election and pulls military support for the country? That’s a question EU leaders have been pondering for the past months, with no clear answer.
Might this be it? Now, the Commission’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has prepared a proposal — revealed by my colleague Jacopo Barigazzi: EU countries should commit to long-term military support for Kyiv with a €20 billion fund that would co-finance weapons purchases.
Predictability is key: EU foreign affairs ministers will discuss the proposal today. In an interview with Playbook, Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon said the proposal responded to the “need for long term predictability of military aid for Ukraine.” Fajon also said Slovenia would push “for just peace as soon as possible,” including in its role as a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council. More from Fajon, below.
Just doing our bit: Many diplomats were unhappy about POLITICO’s scoop on the External Action Service proposal for a fund for military assistance for Ukraine, with some arguing the leak could make the discussions more complicated.
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The tricky bit: The deal would need to be linked to the mid-term Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) budget discussions and there is an argument that some of this money should also be used to boost the European industrial base. Don’t expect a deal before fall, as finance ministers get a say on where the cash goes.
BUDAPEST FRUSTRATION: The Hungarian government is still blocking the eight tranches of European Peace Facility money for Ukraine and some diplomats expect frustrations over the issue to go on the record at today’s foreign ministers’ meeting. It wouldn’t be the first time such irritation has spilled over: As Jacopo reported in May, at that month’s foreign ministers’ meeting, Germany’s Annalena Baerbock didn’t shy away from criticizing her Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó.
THE BLINKEN CONNECTION: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will dial in to the meeting. Blinken, who visited Beijing last month, is expected to discuss Russia and China, the Black Sea grain deal and the Western Balkans. As a senior EU official put it: “Every single conflict in the world will be subject to the conversation.”
Also dialing in: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who is expected to brief ministers on the situation on the ground and Ukraine’s needs.
TURKEY AFTER VILNIUS: After Ankara gave the green light to Sweden joining NATO, there’s now some willingness to do more for Turkey, some diplomats say. But that will come in the form of an initial discussion that will take place over lunch, ahead of a report that Borrell will present in the fall. It comes after Borrell met with the new Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan in Jakarta last week.
What does everyone want? Turkey’s not-so-good economic situation means it’s interested in boosting its relationship with the EU, its biggest trading partner and investor. Diplomats mentioned several avenues to boost cooperation, such as updating the EU-Turkey customs union, updating a migration deal, or deeper cooperation on energy and climate. But before deciding on any of these, diplomats insist they want to see some action from Ankara on key issues including human rights and the rule of law.
MI6 CHIEF ON RUSSIA, CHINA AND AI
MI6 CHIEF SHEDS LIGHT ON CHINA-RUSSIA-IRAN AXIS: Richard Moore, the head of Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6, said his agency is now devoting “more resources to China than any other mission.” Asked by POLITICO about Beijing’s increasing proximity with Moscow and Tehran, Moore said the trio is stuck with each other because “they are kind of running out of options.”
China ‘complicit’ in Russia’s war: “Those three countries are sort of pushing themselves together; it’s not like anybody else is pushing them together,” Moore said. He added that Beijing “proclaims” to believe in sovereignty and territorial integrity, “and yet very clearly, it’s taken the side of Russia.” China is “absolutely complicit” in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he told POLITICO’s Anne McElvoy at an event in Prague Wednesday.
ON SPYING AND AI: Moore said human intelligence remained crucial to do what “machines cannot do,” while underscoring that MI6 was “experimenting like mad” with AI. He noted that China’s practice of illegally “hoovering up” data from abroad gave it some advantages in developing AI.
MOORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM: You can watch the spy chief’s interview with Anne here and read more about what was said in the interview on China here and Vladimir Putin’s grip on power here. Check out the 007 takeaways, too.
Further listening: The Moore interview was recorded for POLITICO’s new Power Play podcast, officially launching in September — bringing you inside the minds of those who wield power. Be sure to listen here and follow the podcast here.
SLOVENIAN FM CALLS FOR SPEEDING UP WESTERN BALKANS ACCESSION: “For us it is a priority to push with the enlargement process, because we see a lot of instability … we are losing credibility,” Tanja Fajon warned in an interview with Playbook, citing “Russian interference and disinformation, particularly in Serbia and Republika Srpska.” The region needs the prospect of enlargement and investment to stabilize and stop “the huge brain drain that is happening.”
Think outside the box: Fajon told Playbook that if European leaders in December decide on next steps on enlargement in relation to Ukraine and Moldova, the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership bids should also be considered. “Let’s think out of the box and speed up the enlargement process. Otherwise we put at stake the security and stability of our neighborhood and we lose an entire generation.”
On the Security Council: Slovenia will focus on efforts to bring a “just peace” to Ukraine, but also “conflict prevention” in other parts of the globe, during its two-year stint on the U.N. Security Council, Fajon said. Conflict prevention, she noted, also involves “successful water management, climate change” and a focus on women.
Council reform: Fajon said a reform of the Security Council was necessary, given 80 percent of what appears on its agenda are topics related to Africa, with no African representatives at the table.
West vs. rest? Fajon said she has encountered “criticism, or let’s say the feeling that we are not consistent in our positions towards the other conflicts around the globe, if you look at the Middle East, if you look at Africa,” where the EU is not necessarily as engaged in upholding the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty as it is doing in Ukraine.
No colonial baggage: But Slovenia’s own history could help it build bridges with other regions in the world that have been reluctant to call out Russia’s invasion, Fajon argued. “Slovenia has no negative experience of being a former colonial power, so we don’t owe anyone anything,” she said about her country’s cooperation with Latin American and African countries.
Saving Schengen: Fajon was also outspoken on Austria’s illegal re-introduction of border controls with Slovenia. The EU’s border-free area “Schengen is one of the most tangible EU projects, but currently Schengen is at stake,” she warned. “The situation is that if we don’t manage to restore Schengen and to complete the pact on migration, then we will fail, you know, with this freedom of movement.”
SCOTT MORTON FALLOUT
VESTAGER’S CHANCES FOR EIB POST: The carnage around Fiona Scott Morton’s decision to pull out of the running for the post of chief competition economist has dealt a blow to Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s own bid to become the head of the European Investment Bank — with consequences for the wider race for EU top jobs.
Up in the air: Vestager was Denmark’s nominee to lead the EIB once President Werner Hoyer’s mandate ends this year. She was considered the front-runner, but her position is now unclear, according to bank officials, as my Financial Services colleague Paola Tamma reports. French support is uncertain after Paris successfully led the charge against Vestager’s appointment of Scott Morton, a U.S. national, to the role of chief economist at DG COMP, the Commission’s department in charge of antitrust enforcement.
Paris holds the cards: France plays an important role because it contributes a large share to the EIB’s capital, which gives its vote more weight in decisions on appointments.
Nuclear ambitions: French officials said Vestager’s bid is not dead in the water, but depends on many things, our Paris-based colleague Clea Caulcutt writes in to report. Chief among them is how much a Vestager-led EIB would pander to French interests, including a request by President Emmanuel Macron to fund nuclear energy, and a Paris-led push for the EIB to invest more in defense. Another factor is who else is running for the position.
The other contenders for the EIB top job are Daniele Franco, a former Italian finance minister; Poland’s Teresa Czerwińska, currently EIB vice president; and Spain’s Deputy PM and Finance Minister Nadia Calviño. With Spaniards heading to the polls on Sunday, Calviño has courted French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire’s support as a “contingency” to the outcome of the election, one official told Playbook.
The view from Paris: Asked about their country’s position on the EIB role, a senior French official said Paris “is waiting to see the field of potential candidates [after the] Spanish elections” to decide on a candidate. Complicating the possible Spanish bid is the fact Madrid has already put forward a candidate to replace Andrea Enria as the chair of the ECB’s Supervisory Board — Margarita Delgado.
Spain’s bid: Other officials said that if Calviño did go for the job, she would be a strong rival for Vestager, but would need to gather support in Berlin as well as Rome. In other words, Vestager’s bid hangs on the outcome of this weekend’s Spanish election at least as much as on her own qualifications and persuasion powers.
Process: As Paola and her Financial Services colleagues reported, the goal remains to agree on a name by consensus at an informal gathering of finance ministers in Santiago in mid-September. If that can’t happen, there are a few more months for political horse trading, and a “parachute candidate” could also appear. If no consensus can be found, the voting procedure requires a qualified majority, which is equal to 18 votes representing 68 percent of share capital.
Read more: Suzanne Lynch and Elisa Braun have the full details of how the Scott Morton saga unfolded, Macron’s intervention, and the damage it has done to Vestager.
THE FINAL FURLONG: After years of grueling negotiations the end might be in sight for the EU’s flagship asylum deal. The bloc’s home affairs ministers will meet today in Logroño, Spain, to discuss the final chapter of the agreement focusing on the management of crisis situations at the EU’s border. But don’t expect it to be an easy ride.
What is a crisis? The Commission will ultimately decide when to trigger the crisis mechanism, which will set in motion ad hoc measures to lift pressure on frontline countries. “When it comes to 2,000 migrant arrivals a week then we have a situation of crisis,” the Spanish MEP and rapporteur for the crisis regulation Juan Fernando López Aguilar told my colleague Gregorio Sorgi, pointing to the situation in Lampedusa, Italy and the Canary Islands, Spain.
Frontline support: But several diplomats indicate that this mechanism is really aimed at supporting frontline countries managing the flow of refugees fleeing Ukraine. Diplomats hope today’s informal gathering will be less nerve-wrecking than the summit which unblocked the central planks of the deal in June — but still, there are a few major outstanding issues on the table.
North vs. South: A group of Northern countries including Germany and the Netherlands are unhappy about a proposal to suspend migrant returns from the countries of secondary destination — which are mostly in Northern Europe — to frontline states in the Mediterranean facing a major crisis. Northern countries are also worried that nations of first entry would be exempt from carrying out strict migrant border checks under the regulation.
No appetite for mandatory relocations: EU ministers are also expected to fend off the European Parliament’s push to force the redistribution of migrants across Europe — so-called mandatory relocations — whenever a frontline state faces a crisis. López Aguilar hinted on Wednesday at a potential compromise “in which there would be binding relocation programs in certain circumstances and some other forms of solidarity in others.” But diplomats ruled out any reference to mandatory relocations, an unpopular concept even among countries of first entry such as Italy and Greece that are governed by conservative parties.
Bumpy road ahead: The Spanish Council presidency hopes today’s discussion will pave the way for EU ambassadors to seal off a joint position before the end of July, leaving sufficient time to approve the entire package before next year’s European parliamentary election. But an EU diplomat warned that “quite a few breakthroughs” are needed to keep this schedule on track. The diplomat also noted that with Poland and Hungary voting against, only a few other member countries are needed to block a deal.
IN OTHER NEWS
POLICE RAID MEP’S HOME: Police raided the house of Belgian Socialist MEP Maria Arena on Wednesday as part of the Qatargate investigation. Several lawmakers from Arena’s center-left Socialists & Democrats grouping have been caught up in the probe but, to date, Arena has not been charged or even questioned by Belgian prosecutors. More here from Eddy Wax and Louise Guillot.
OSMOSE UPDATE — EU PARLIAMENT AGREES TO RENT €2M A YEAR STRASBOURG OFFICES. Details here.
EXCLUSIVE — EU COUNTRIES CALL FOR ‘STRATEGIC AUTONOMY’ COMMISSIONER: Europe should clearly define what it means by “open strategic autonomy” — Brussels’ favorite new catch-all phrase — and should have a dedicated commissioner to make sure the Union’s policy is coherent, write Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia in a paper obtained by Playbook.
The paper argues: “The responsibility of spearheading the Union’s open strategic autonomy should be explicitly included in the portfolio of an executive vice-president.”
Risk diversification: The paper also sets out a strategy for the Union to identify critical sectors and diversify risks. “One of our biggest challenges is mitigating our dependencies for critical raw materials. It requires that we act now in a decisive and concerted effort. We need to diversify our supply routes and invest in extraction within Europe,” Dutch Trade Minister Liesje Schreinemacher told Playbook.
WAGNER LOSSES: Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group said at least 78,000 troops took part in the battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, with 22,000 killed in the months-long fight, according to a Wagner-linked Telegram channel, the Financial Times’ Christopher Miller reports. On Wednesday the Russian warlord said Wagner will not go back to fight in Ukraine and will stay in Belarus to train local troops.
NOW READ THIS: My colleague Nicolas Camut reports on why Ben from Ben & Jerry’s blames America for Russia’s war in Ukraine — and is campaigning against countering Putin’s aggression.
PHARMA REFORMS: The EU’s proposed pharma reforms will make it harder for companies to conduct research and for Europeans to reap the benefits of cutting-edge drugs, argues Annette Bakker, president of the Children’s Tumor Foundation, in an opinion piece for POLITICO.
FRENCH RESHUFFLE: France’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is expected to announce a Cabinet reshuffle today. More from TF1 here.
KORAN CONTROVERSY: Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad was stormed and set alight in the early hours of Thursday morning, amid continuing protests in Iraq against Koran-burning in Sweden. All embassy staff are safe, according to the foreign ministry. More from Reuters.
— Informal meeting of justice and home affairs ministers in Logroño, Spain. Arrivals and doorsteps at 8:40 a.m. … roundtable at 9 a.m. … press conference by Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska at 5 p.m. Agenda … Watch.
— NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg meets with Greek Foreign Minister Georgios Gerapetritis.
— U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is in Brussels. … meets Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis to continue discussions on establishing a Global Arrangement on Sustainable Steel and Aluminum.
— Valdis Dombrovskis also meets, via videoconference, Minister for Trade and Industry of Singapore Gan Kim Yong.
— Commission Vice President Věra Jourová receives organizers of the European Citizens Initiative Fur Free Europe … receives U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.
— Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders meets with Spanish Justice Minister Pilar Llop … Irish Justice Minister Helen McEntee.
— Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit is in Indore, India to attend the G20 labor and employment ministers’ meeting.
— Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson is in Goa, India to participate in the CEM-14/MI-8 and G20 meetings.
WHERE TO WATCH THE WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: The Women’s World Cup kicks off today in Australia and New Zealand. You can watch some of the matches (at least those at a reasonable hour) in Brussels … at O’Reilly’s Irish pub … Rooster’s … or de Valera’s.
Meanwhile, in Auckland, at least two people and an armed attacker were killed and others wounded in a shooting in New Zealand’s largest city overnight, hours before the World Cup was due to kick off there. More here from the Guardian.
FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR NON-PROFIT SECTOR: STIB public transport will be free for non-profit sector employees from September, the Brussels government announced on Wednesday. Around 20,000 people will benefit.
FLOW SWIMMING POOL REOPENS: Good news in case the heatwave strikes in Belgium — the Flow outdoor pool will reopen today. The pool shut at the beginning of July after failing water quality tests.
BIRTHDAYS: MEPs José Gusmão and Nicolás González Casares; Former MEP Cristian Ghinea; Former Commission President…
Read Nore:EU plans weapons fund for Ukraine