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DRIVING THE DAY: SOCIALISTS GEAR UP FOR 2024
EUROPEAN SOCIALISTS ANNOUNCE ELECTORAL CONGRESS: With European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen keeping quiet about her plans for next year, Europe’s socialists are gearing up to name their pick to challenge her for the top EU job, an official told Playbook.
Spitz-or-die: “We did it [choose a lead candidate] in 2014 with Martin Schulz as we did in 2019 with Frans Timmermans and we will do it again this time,” said Giacomo Filibeck, executive secretary general of the Party of European Socialists, an umbrella group of center-left parties. Officials were already drawing up rules for how the Spitzenkandidat, or lead candidate, will be selected at an electoral congress to be held in February or March of next year, he added.
Your turn: The announcement from Europe’s second-biggest political family piles pressure on the biggest one, the conservative EPP, to spell out its approach.
Can we pencil something in? While EPP statutes say the group has to name a lead candidate, and an electoral congress is due to take place in Bucharest, Romania, it’s unclear when or how they will choose who to put forward.
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No upsides: Part of the problem is that their natural pick, von der Leyen, has little interest in declaring a bid anytime soon. As long as she remains head of the Commission, she can stay above the fray. Joining a Spitzenkandidat process would expose her to public debates with other candidates.
Not running in Germany: On Thursday, the mystery around von der Leyen’s intentions deepened as three members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Germany told POLITICO she had informed them that she would not run for a European Parliament seat in Lower Saxony, her home constituency. MEP David McAllister would lead the CDU list there instead. An official from her office said the Commission chief had yet to make up her mind about seeking another term, Hans von der Burchard and I report here.
Needling across the aisle: As the EPP waits for answers, the socialists are raising the stakes. “Listening to her speech [on Wednesday], she is preparing herself to continue in her function,” Filibeck said of von der Leyen. “I find it good news if she will run in the Spitzenkandidat process. But if it doesn’t happen this way, I would not like to be in their shoes,” he added, speaking of the EPP.
In Sánchez we trust: POLITICO’s poll of polls shows the center left trailing the EPP by 12 percentage points ahead of the European Parliament election next June. But Filibeck was bullish about his political family’s future in Europe, pointing to Spain’s center-left Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who he says will succeed in forming a government. “It will come the time for Pedro Sánchez to gather a parliamentary majority and I believe he has good chances to make it up,” Filibeck said. (More on Sánchez’s chances below.)
Beating back the wave: Referring to recent conservative wins in Sweden, Finland and Italy, Filibeck added: “We can reverse the trend. The center right and nationalists are not destined to win. We can win this showdown.”
Manifesto time: The center-left platform is taking shape around three ideas: Ensuring that the green and digital transition don’t leave people behind; protecting democracy; and defining the role of Europe in a changing world. “We need to make sure that we are able as the European Union to stand up on our own feet when it comes to this evolving world disorder,” he said.
HOLD ONTO YOUR HATS — THIERRY BRETON TO LEAD FRENCH RENEW LIST? Socialists aren’t the only ones thinking about lead candidates. French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party is trialing potential candidates to lead the fight against the far-right National Rally in France. Among them: French Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton, according to reports.
Mr. Vaccines: “He was Mister Vaccines during COVID. He’s the one who is defending the electric car for a decarbonized world. He embodies Europe that changes the daily lives of citizens,” Les Echos cited an adviser to Macron as saying about Breton’s qualities as a possible candidate. Contacted, an aide to Breton declined to comment on the article.
NOW HEAR THIS: The EU Confidential team brings you our top analysis of Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the European Union speech this week, along with a lively debate featuring MEPs Karen Melchior from Renew, Eva Maydell from the EPP and Marc Botenga from The Left. Listen to the episode right here.
MOMENTUM GROWS BEHIND CALVINO TO LEAD EIB: Nadia Calviño’s bid to become the next head of the European Investment Bank is looking stronger, just as European finance minister gather for a meeting in Santiago, Spain. POLITICO reported last week that Paris was leaning toward backing Calviño over top EU official Margrethe Vestager.
Germany leans toward Spain: Now, it looks as if the Spaniard may win the favor of Berlin as well. One immediate reason is that the European Central Bank has just nominated Germany’s Claudia Buch to chair the bank’s supervisory board over the wishes of Parliament, who backed Spain’s Margarita Delgado. “This is a signal that Germany will support Nadia Calviño,” said French Renew MEP Stéphanie Yon-Courtin. Another factor is that Calviño hails from the same center-left family as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
We’re still meeting candidates: That being said, finance ministers are unlikely to finalize their decision on who to back in Santiago, my colleague Paola Tamma reports. Vestager and Italy’s Daniele Franco, who’s also a candidate, will be on-site to make their pitches to finance ministers, but Calviño won’t be talking to her counterparts about the process given that she’s hosting the informal meeting.
No majority: While Calviño has the wind in her sails, a senior French official said that there was currently no qualified majority in favor of any candidate. One further potential twist: Parliament could still reject Buch as the ECB’s top cop, meaning Germany would no longer owe Spain. Stay tuned — Belgian Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem is due to give an update from Santiago.
UKRAINE GRAIN BAN
UKRAINE’S LAST-DITCH EFFORT TO END IMPORT BAN: Kyiv has called on EU countries to follow Bulgaria’s example and reopen their borders to Ukrainian grain imports, Bartosz Brzeziński reports.
What’s this about: The Bulgarian parliament voted on Thursday to lift a ban on imports of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds from Ukraine, imposed earlier this year by the European Commission at the request of Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. The country will no longer restrict imports once the current restrictions expire at the end of today.
Thanks, Sofia: “I am grateful to Bulgaria for its decision,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on X. “Bulgaria sets an example of true solidarity.”
Come on, everybody: The Ukrainian foreign ministry issued a statement on Thursday calling on the four other EU member countries to follow suit. The ministry said that any restrictions provide Russia with “additional conditions for international expansion and resources to continue its war against Ukraine.”
Brussels, you too: “Ukraine expects the European Commission to keep its word and lift all restrictions on Ukrainian agricultural exports,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba posted on X. “No form of continuing the ban is acceptable since it would undermine the single market, the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, and trust in EU commitments.”
Shifting blame: The foreign ministry also said that Ukrainian grain exports were not the root cause of the destablization of the EU’s single market, and suggested that the governments of the eastern EU countries should have a look in the mirror: “For the duration of the European Commission’s ban and the prolonged absence of Ukrainian agricultural products, the problems of farmers in Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and Hungary were not resolved at the level of their governments.”
Not yet: “The Commission has not yet made a decision” on the matter, spokesperson Miriam García Ferrer told reporters in Brussels.
Hardly working: With the restrictions expiring at midnight, “we still have a bit of time,” Ferrer added. “We need to find a solution that is the best for everyone and that’s why it’s taking a bit longer but we are hardly (sic) working on it.”
Good news, Poland? There is talk in Brussels, however, that the Commission may extend the restrictions for another two months. “It’s all in Ursula’s hands now and she could do anything, but this is one of the options,” said a senior EU official, referring to the Commission president. A senior EU diplomat confirmed hearing the same information.
No restrictions, no accession: Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus, meanwhile, said that Poland will not allow Ukraine to join the EU unless conditions are applied to the country’s agricultural production. “As things stand today, Polish agriculture will never win against Ukrainian agriculture,” he added.
**Which of the five thematic passes will you choose at our POLITICO Live Sustainable Future Week? Apply today and craft your very own Sustainable Future Week. More info here!**
IN OTHER NEWS
UN PLAYBOOK: The high-level week at the U.N. General Assembly kicks off this weekend in New York. Keep informed on all the news, analysis —and of course gossip — with our daily newsletter, authored by Suzanne Lynch, who will be on the ground in NYC. Sign up to POLITICO’s U.N. Playbook here.
Zelenskyy in America: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and other officials in Washington, D.C. next week, following his attendance at UNGA in New York, my U.S. colleagues report. The trip is part of a broader surge in Ukrainian diplomacy that has coincided with Kyiv’s military counteroffensive against Russia.
BERLAYMONT FACES QUESTIONS OVER TUNISIA DEAL: The European Ombudsman will publish a letter to the European Commission at 10 a.m. today seeking more information about its controversial migration deal with Tunisia, a spokesperson told Playbook. The letter will seek answers on whether human rights have been sufficiently taken into account in the deal, which was finalized by von der Leyen herself in July. According to a parliamentary hearing last week by DG NEAR chief Gert-Jan Koopman, the EU has yet to disburse any of the money it has promised to Tunisia as part of the deal.
CATALAN AMNESTY: Spain’s Pedro Sánchez is considering a sweeping amnesty to annul pending legal action and sanctions against Catalan independence leaders over their involvement in a failed bid to secede in 2017. The amnesty is the main condition proposed by the pro-independence Junts party in exchange for its support for Sánchez to secure another term in office. Critics warn the move could undermine the country’s democratic foundations, reports Guy Hedgecoe.
CHINA’S CARS: My colleagues Barbara Moens and Camille Gijs have a full rundown of everything you need to know about the EU’s anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese e-vehicles. Read it here.
MEPs INVITE FIFA BOSS TO PARLIAMENT: MEPs from the women’s rights committee have invited FIFA President Gianni Infantino to Parliament to discuss the harassment saga that gripped Spain following the Women’s World Cup, Eddy Wax writes in to report. After being suspended by FIFA, Spanish football boss Luis Rubiales eventually resigned after kissing champion footballer Jenni Hermoso without consent.
Now, cross-party MEPs have invited the FIFA chief to a “constructive dialogue” about “how we together can combat and overcome the problems with violence, harassments and discrimination against female footballers.” Infantino is under no obligation to accept the request. FIFA was contacted but did not immediately respond.
WAR OF WORDS BETWEEN SWEDEN AND HUNGARY: Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on Thursday accused Stockholm of making “unfair and unjust” remarks on the state of democracy in Hungary, which he said were in “contradiction” to Sweden’s bid to join NATO — a bid that Budapest hasn’t yet ratified. Hungary, has dragged its feet on approving Sweden’s candidacy to join the military bloc for months because it says Stockholm has criticized the country’s democratic credentials. Nicolas Camut has the details.
CAN YOU PROTECT US FROM RUSSIA? Whom do Finns trust to deal with the Kremlin? That’s the question that will dominate the country’s campaign for president, as the next head of state will have a big say over how NATO’s newest member secures its 1,340 km border with Russia. Charlie Duxbury has more here.
**Is Europe on track to achieve its 2030 digital targets? Join us to discover this at POLITICO Live’s event “Halfway through the Digital Decade: how far along is Europe’s digital transformation?” happening on September 25. Apply today for onsite participation.**
— Economy and finance ministers gather in Santiago, Spain, for Eurogroup and ECOFIN meetings … Doorsteps at 8.30 a.m. followed by a roundtable, and press conference at 11.45 a.m. Watch.
— Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is in Darmstadt, Germany; Visits the research center for electronic applications of Merck KGaA.
— Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn is in Skopje, North Macedonia; Delivers a keynote speech at the Skopje Economic and Finance Fourm.
— Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas meets with Maarten Wetselaar, CEO of CEPSA, in Madrid.
— Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides holds a videoconference call with representatives of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union … Also holds a videoconference call with Ukraine’s Minister for Health Viktor Liashko.
— Ursula von der Leyen will be in Hanau, Germany on Saturday to deliver a speech to a meeting of the CDU’s Women’s Union … And on Sunday she will be in New York, U.S., along with European Council President Charles Michel and High Representative Josep Borrell to meet with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres as UNGA kicks off.
SPOTTED … at the Australian rentrée Sausage Sizzle last night: David Brightling and Fergus McFarlane of the Australian Mission; Mariko Hayashi, counsellor at the Mission of Japan to the EU; U.S. embassy’s Eric Barbee, Deborah C. Lynn and Rufino Hurtado; U.K. Mission’s Catriona Mace and Tom Aitchison, European Commission’s Kevin Keary; Victoria Main; David Thomas; POLITICO’s Barbara Moens and Suzanne Lynch; Uber’s Paolo Ganino, Al Jazeera’s Annette Ekin; Wall Street Journal’s Dan Michaels; Adrian Sollberger of the Swiss Mission to the EU; EEAS’ Alison Weston.
THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS: An Irish tourist who damaged a statue of an angel and lion outside the newly refurbished Brussels Stock Exchange may have to cover the cost of its repair, according to reports. Video posted to social media showed the man climbing down from the statue, taking a little swing and lopping the arm off the angel in the process. The man was later arrested by police in a fast food restaraunt.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD: Congratulations to MEP Claudia Gamon, who welcomed a new baby girl into the world last Saturday.
CAR-FREE SUNDAY: Cyclists and pedestrians rejoice — September 17 is car-free Sunday in Brussels. Cars are banned from swathes of the city and the STIB network will be free to use. SNCB is also offering €8 return journeys across Belgium for the day. There are a couple of reasonable exceptions to the car-free rule. Le Soir has more details here.
BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Mislav Kolakušić, Stefan Berger and Petri Sarvamaa; Former MEP Alyn Smith, now a U.K. MP; Former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico; POLITICO’s Molly Fluet; Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa; President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni.
Celebrating Saturday: Former European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici; Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP; Former MEP Jytte Guteland; European Commission’s Diego Torres and Benjamin van Zeveren; NBC’s Richard Engel; Sciences Po.’s Johannes Boehm; Taneti Maamau, president of Kiribati.
Celebrating Sunday: MEP Ioan-Rareş Bogdan; Former MEPs Richard Ashworth and Amjad Bashir; InnoGage’s Daniel Van Lerberghe; UNIVERCELLS’ Begoña Sampedro; FinUnion’s Katja Lehto-Komulainen; Former Europol chief Rob Wainwright; The Guardian’s Richard Wolffe; Matthew Boyse, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs; Strategic comms adviser Sara Stefanini; Narendra Modi, PM of India.
THANKS TO: Suzanne Lynch, Hannah Brenton, editor Jack Lahart and producer Seb Starcevic.
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