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‘We need a real policy for China’: Germany ponders post-Merkel shift

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Few people have heard of IMST — a small German company with just 145 employees, specialising in satellite, 5G, and radar technology. That was until last month, when the government in Berlin stopped it being acquired by a subsidiary of Casic, the Chinese arms conglomerate. The deal, concluded the German economics ministry, represented a “serious threat to public order and national security”.

“What is being sold? It’s a key technology that the Chinese don’t have […] Why is it being sold? Because there’s a gap the Chinese have to fill,” a German official told the Financial Times. “It’s not just about weapons, it’s also about high tech, different sectors where Germany is a world-leader.”

The nixing of the IMST deal is symptomatic of a growing mistrust overshadowing the China-German relationship. It also provides important pointers to the future direction of German policy on China after Angela Merkel, chancellor for the past 15 years, finally quits the political stage.

Ms Merkel personifies old ideals of western rapprochement with China — the principle that ever deepening economic ties with the west would encourage political change in Beijing, and a shift to liberalism and western values. “Wandel durch Handel” — change through trade — was for years a key precept of German policy.

The acquisition of robotics manufacturer Kuka by a Chinese firm in 2016 prompted Germany to tighten its law on overseas investment into strategic industries © Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Yet her approach is looking to many in Germany to be increasingly out-of-date. “There is no willingness on Merkel’s side to change, but there will definitely be a more robust approach to China after she goes,” says Nils Schmid, foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, the junior partner in Ms Merkel’s grand coalition.

Europe’s approach to China is in a moment of considerable flux. The EU has just signed a long-awaited investment treaty with Beijing — a big victory for both Chinese diplomacy and European business, which was completed during Germany’s six month presidency of the bloc.

But the EU is also increasingly alarmed at the growing influence of what it calls “authoritarian powers”, such as China, and has called for a stronger alliance with the incoming US Biden administration to assert the interests of democracies in global governance — putting aside the many frictions of the Trump years. Berlin will be central to how this plays out in Europe.

“There’s going to be a discussion between democratic nations about the threat from authoritarian regimes, whether it’s China, Russia or other countries,” says Noah Barkin, a Berlin-based analyst at research firm Rhodium Group. “If Germany is going to be part of that discussion, it’s going to feel huge pressure from its allies to speak out more, to be more forceful in its approach to China.”

While some German politicians want to take a stronger line on human rights, others worry about the consequences that might have for German companies active in the highly lucrative Chinese market.

‘Wandel durch Handel’, change through trade, has been a long standing precept of chancellor Angela Merkel’s when dealing with Chinese president Xi Jinping, left © Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

The concern is understandable. Germany has profited handsomely from China’s integration into the global economic system, as Chinese companies and consumers snapped up German cars and machines. By 2018 Sino-German trade volume had reached €200bn and China was Germany’s largest trading partner.

Merkel’s gamble

In such circumstances, Trump-style “decoupling” of economic links was never going to be an option for Germany. Ms Merkel has strongly resisted any tendency to see China as an adversary, in a replay of the old cold war between the west and the USSR. “If we have this continental drifting apart of our nations, populations, and public opinion and so forth, that is a concern,” says Jörg Wuttke, a German businessman and head of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China. “[This] is not the Soviet Union, where you basically had a common border but no other interest. We have no border with China, but we have huge global supply chains and economic interests.”

Yet the hope of some of Merkel’s camp — that economic engagement would open China up politically — has failed to pay off. China has become more repressive at home — in Hong Kong and in its treatment of the Uighurs — and more assertive abroad, for example, in its island-building in the South China Sea. Under President Xi Jinping it has aggressively countered criticism abroad with “wolf warrior diplomacy”, while ramping up its economic and political espionage activities throughout the west — including in Germany.

“We’re all pretty disenchanted, all of us who saw China opening up and reforming in the past couple of decades and thought it would lead to a rapprochement, and that we would end up being more in sync,” says one German official. “It didn’t happen.”

Ms Merkel has defended her commitment to dialogue with China. She argues that without co-operation from Beijing, the world cannot possibly hope to solve some of its biggest challenges, such as climate change.

But her “partnership” approach has come under mounting criticism, with a chorus of politicians accusing her of prioritising the interests of German business above human rights.

Line chart of German goods exports to China as a % of total showing The Chinese market has become increasingly important for Germany

“We need a real foreign policy for China — not just a business-oriented policy,” says Mr Schmid. “We need to decouple our foreign policy from the commercial interests of big business.”

Friedrich Merz, a conservative politician who is vying to be the new head of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, exemplifies the more hawkish tone on China. “We are dealing with an expansive, imperial foreign policy,” he told a recent campaign event. “China has a Europe strategy — do we have a China strategy?”

But any dramatic shift in policy is unlikely as long as Ms Merkel is still chancellor. “The biggest constraint is Angela Merkel herself,” says one diplomat in Berlin. “The system is already moving — now everyone’s watching to see how far Merkel will be willing to let it go.”

Some of the unresolved questions over German policy on China — and their potential to become an irritant in relations with the US — resurfaced in recent days as the EU clinched the “China-EU Comprehensive Agreement” or CAI.

Brussels says the deal, seven years in the making, will improve European companies’ access to the Chinese market and create a more “level playing field for EU investors”. It will, the bloc said in a statement, “prohibit[ . . . ] forced technology transfers and other distortive practices” and remove barriers, such as the requirement that companies form partnerships with local firms in joint ventures.

The deal was one of the crowning achievements of Germany’s 6-month presidency of the EU: Ms Merkel has been one of the CAI’s most vocal champions.

But the agreement could cause tensions with the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden, who would like the US and EU to show a united front in their dealings with China. Jake Sullivan, who will serve as Mr Biden’s national security adviser, tweeted recently that the new administration would “welcome early consultations with our European partners on our common concerns about China’s economic practices”. A former official with the Obama administration said the message to the EU contained in the tweet was to “slow things down”.

German company Daimler sold more Mercedes passenger vehicles in China between January and November last year than in the whole of 2019 © Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

The EU has rebuffed US criticism of the deal, saying it is merely winning similar trade benefits to those established in the so-called “Phase 1” trade deal struck by the Trump administration with China last year.

But there has also been criticism of the CAI from human rights advocates. As part of the agreement, the EU had wanted China to ratify International Labour Organization conventions, including those on forced labour — an issue that has taken on increasing urgency in the light of China’s incarceration of millions of Uighurs in Xinjiang. In the end, though, the Chinese government merely agreed to make “continued and sustained efforts” to ratify the relevant ILO conventions.

Some smaller EU member states felt that Berlin had swept aside their misgivings about the CAI in its rush to conclude the deal. “The internal EU tensions caused by the way Germany whipped through this deal at the end of its EU presidency are leaving their mark,” Mikko Huotari, head of the Mercator Institute for China Studies, wrote this week.

Friction over the CAI came to the surface in the Bundestag last month when a Green MP, Margarete Bause, brought up the ILO issue and asked Ms Merkel whether, in her eagerness to clinch a deal, she was ignoring the plight of the Uighurs and the Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong.

The chancellor said that when it comes to trying to help people affected by Chinese repressive practices, one should always ask oneself whether “dialogue is more useful than not speaking at all”.

“This contradiction between the values we share. and the interests we have . . . that’s the point where we will always have to make political trade-offs,” she said.

The exchange shed light on how German rhetoric on China could change after the Bundestag election in September, when Ms Merkel bows out after 16 years as chancellor and a new governing coalition is formed.

Green MP, Margarete Bause, pictured here with Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, has expressed concern that Germany is ignoring human rights abuses in its eagerness to make a deal with Beijing © Michaela Rehle/Reuters
Nils Schmid, foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats: ‘There will definitely be a more robust approach to China after [Merkel] goes’ © Omer Messinger/EPA-EFE

“Regardless of who replaces Merkel, the next German government is likely to include the Greens, who are the most hawkish party in Germany on China and very focused on human rights issues,” says Mr Barkin. “If they’re in government, that is going to change the way the government sounds on China.”

Sputnik moment

Ask any German official when alarm bells began to ring about the intentions of the Chinese leadership, and the answer is always the same: the €4.5bn acquisition of Kuka, Germany’s largest maker of industrial robots at the time, by the Chinese appliance maker Midea in 2016.

The deal prompted fear that critical German knowhow was ending up in Chinese hands. Politicians complained about a lack of reciprocity — German companies would never be able to acquire any Chinese firm as strategically important as Kuka. Shortly afterwards, Germany tightened its law on overseas investment, enhancing ministers’ powers to block foreign acquisitions of strategic assets. It was this change of law that allowed the cabinet to block the IMST deal last month.

Yet concerns about Beijing’s economic strategy continued to grow, fuelled by Made in China 2025, President Xi’s 10-year plan to transform the country into a technological superpower. Germany fretted that in pursuit of these goals, Beijing would target German companies and siphon off their intellectual property.

In 2019 the BDI, Germany’s main business organisation, released a landmark policy paper saying the country’s liberal, open model was increasingly in competition with China’s “state-dominated economy” and needed to protect itself more effectively from Chinese companies.

Mr Wuttke says Germany and Europe should see China’s comprehensive industrial policy, which contrasts so starkly the approach of most western countries, as a “Sputnik moment” — a reference to the panic the Soviets unleashed with the launch of the world’s first satellite into space in 1957. “They have a plan,” he says. “How come we don’t have a plan?”

There are also concerns about China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which Germany began to see as a “fundamental challenge to the EU”, according to one senior official in Berlin. He said Europe was investing similar amounts in infrastructure in areas like Central Asia, a key element of the BRI, and yet the “political impact of China’s investments was much greater [ . . .] It’s still very difficult to find an answer to a state controlled system.”

The sense of gloom is, if anything, deepening, with German companies increasingly concerned that they will end up being squeezed out of the Chinese market by domestic upstarts. A recent study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a think-tank, warned that if Made in China 2025 is a complete success, Germany’s critical machine-building industry could see its exports to China shrink from €18bn in 2019 to €13bn in 2030.

Ulrich Ackermann, head of foreign trade at the German Machinery Association, says the age of “eternal growth” in exports to China may be coming to an end. “We need to be constantly aware of our dependence on the Chinese market and prepare to develop new, alternative growth markets in Asia in a timely manner,” he says.

Yet despite calls for greater diversification, some German companies continue to retain a laser-like focus on China. The auto industry in particular has become, if anything, more dependent on China — largely because it has recovered so much more quickly from the corona pandemic than other countries.

Daimler recently announced that it sold more Mercedes passenger vehicles in China between January and November last year than in the whole of 2019. It also said that it produced more than 600,000 Mercedes cars last year in China itself, up from the 560,000 it made there in 2019.

German politicians say auto industry executives are lobbying hard against a tougher stance towards Beijing, warning a backlash that closes off the Chinese market could cost jobs at home.

‘China+X’

The example of Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei highlights the dangers. In 2019 German politicians first began demanding that the company be excluded from the buildout of Germany’s 5G network, on security grounds. The reaction from Beijing was forthright: its ambassador to Germany, Ken Wu, said Berlin would have to “expect consequences” from such a move. “The Chinese government will not stand idly by,” he said.

Fears of repercussions for German companies was seen as one of the main reasons why Ms Merkel firmly resisted any move to explicitly bar Huawei. But the pressure from China sceptics — even those in her own CDU — has been relentless. Late last year her cabinet finally adopted a new IT law that creates significant hurdles for any participation by Huawei in the 5G network.

The German foreign ministry has also signalled its desire for a shift. Last year it issued new Indo-Pacific Guidelines, which reflect a fundamental rethink of its policy on the Asia-Pacific region. The message is that the country has become too reliant on China, and must now “diversify” its relationships in Asia, “in order to avoid lopsided dependencies and to become more closely interconnected with the power centres of tomorrow”, according to the document.

German officials stress that this bears no resemblance to US-style decoupling: one foreign policy official refers to the new policy as “China + X”. There have already been some successes: officials point to the trade deals the EU has struck in recent years with Japan, Vietnam and Singapore, and the one it is currently negotiating with Indonesia.

The recently signed China-EU Comprehensive Agreement could cause tensions with incoming president Biden, who would like the US and EU to show a united front in their dealings with Beijing © Dursun Aydemir/Pool/Bloomberg
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen oversaw the EU-China deal which was seven years in the making © Lukasz Kobus/EU Commission/dpa

The dangers of moving too slowly on trade were made clear in November, when China spearheaded the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a new free trade deal with 14 other Asia-Pacific nations that account for 30 per cent of the world economy.

Politicians in Europe saw RCEP as a wake-up call — and a sign that the EU must join forces with the US to counter China’s efforts to establish an international economic architecture more suited to its interests.

Speaking to reporters last month, Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right European People’s party group in the European Parliament, said the west was losing economic influence in the world “at breathtaking speed”. When the EU and US negotiated their aborted Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, he noted, they accounted for 50 per cent of the global economy: now it is just 42 per cent

“Either we team up with the Americans to try to shape the global agenda, or the Asian countries will do it instead,” he said.



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Berlin under fire over attempt to interfere with Wirecard inquiry

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Germany’s finance ministry has come under fire over an attempt to secretly interfere with the questioning of a key witness during a parliamentary inquiry into Wirecard, a potential breach of parliamentary etiquette.

The collapse of the German payments company last summer sent shockwaves through Germany’s financial and political elite. A parliamentary inquiry has exposed multiple regulatory failures and led to the departure of the heads of three supervisory agencies.

Days ahead of Friday’s final parliamentary debate on the committee’s final report, the finance ministry disclosed that one of its senior officials tried to intervene in the inquiry’s work in the run-up to the questioning of Munich chief prosecutor Hildegard Bäumler-Hösl, a key witness.

The government revealed this in a written answer to a question raised by Fabio De Masi, an MP for the hard-left Die Linke party, which was seen by the Financial Times.

The ministerial official was not named, but can be identified by the description of his role, as Reinhard Wolpers, the head of the subdivision financial market stability. Wolpers is one of three finance ministry employees who are members of BaFin’s administrative council. The finance ministry declined to comment on his identity.

In the run-up to the questioning of Bäumler-Hösl in January, Wolpers approached BaFin’s then-vice president, Elisabeth Roegele, and asked her to provide questions for Bäumler-Hösl which he then would pass on to MPs.

The government has no constitutional role in the inquiry, which is being pursued by parliament and has powers akin to a court. Moreover, Roegele was also nominated as a witness and had not yet been questioned by MPs at that point. She was forced out of her job by the government alongside President Felix Hufeld in late January.

“Wolpers’ behaviour is a clear violation of rules,” De Masi told the Financial Times, adding that the government official showed a “lack of respect for the Bundestag”.

BaFin and Munich prosecutors are embroiled in a blame game over the controversial 2019 short selling ban which investors regarded as a vote of confidence in the disgraced company. BaFin imposed the ban after receiving information from Munich prosecutors about an allegedly imminent short selling attack against Wirecard.

Several BaFin employees told MPs that Munich prosecutors had stated that the information was highly credible. Bäumler-Hösl denied that and said she just passed it on to BaFin without commenting about its validity.

The short-selling ban is potentially toxic for German finance minister Olaf Scholz, who is the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor in September’s federal election.

The finance ministry scolded the watchdog publicly for the short selling ban, saying it was based on poor and insufficient analysis.

The ministry’s response to De Masi disclosed that Wolpers approached Roegele via email and text messages days ahead of Bäumler-Hösl’s testimony. The ministry said Wolpers “acted upon his own, personal initiative and did not co-ordinate with other employees of the finance ministry”. It added that the executive level “at no point” was informed about the behaviour but only became aware of the matter because of De Masi’s inquiry.

“The communication of [our] employee with Ms Roegele was eventually without a result, as Ms Roegele did not submit such suggestions for questions,” the ministry said, adding that “no information” was passed on to members of the inquiry committee from the ministry.

Lisa Paus, a Green MP, said that the “authority of the finance ministry” was misused for the political interest of the Social Democrats. “That’s an absolute no-go.”

Florian Toncar, an MP for the pro-business Free Democrats, said that it would be “very surprising” if Wolpers’ actions were “not approved or even requested by the ministry’s senior level”.

Jens Zimmermann, SPD representative on the inquiry, said he was unable to comment on internal procedures at the ministry “as I don’t have any insights [into them]”, adding that his only contact was with the ministry’s official representatives in the committee. “I did not receive any suggestions for potential questions to Ms Bäumler-Hösl,” Zimmermann said.

Wolpers and Roegele did not respond to FT requests for comment. Munich prosecutors declined to comment.



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UK exporters get more than £12bn in government financial aid

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UK exporters have been given more than £12bn in state financial support to keep Britain trading with the rest of the world through Brexit and the pandemic.

UK Export Finance, the government’s export credit agency, provided British businesses with the highest level of financial support in 30 years in the 12 months to the end of March, according to its annual report published on Wednesday. This is almost treble the amount from the previous financial year, to help exports to 77 countries.

The agency aims to support viable UK exports with loan guarantees, insurance and direct lending to help them win, fulfil and get paid for international business where there are gaps in private sector provision. 

UKEF provided more than £7bn in support to companies disrupted by the pandemic, such as Rolls-Royce, Ford, easyJet and British Airways, with a mixture of trade guarantees and insurance to encourage private sector lending to exporters.

It also helped exporters facing Brexit risks, for example providing a £480m guarantee on a £600m commercial loan in March 2021 after a carmaker committed operations to the UK. 

UK exporters, especially smaller businesses, have complained about extensive red tape and costs arising from trading with the EU after Brexit.

Many have also warned that the trade deals struck by the government have yielded little benefit so far, instead causing them to rejig operations and move production and distribution overseas.

“We are opening up the world’s fastest-growing markets through the trade deals we are negotiating so that the UK can recover as quickly as possible from the pandemic,” said minister for exports Graham Stuart.

Support through finance and guarantees was given to 549 companies, more than double the number helped over the previous two years.

The agency also underwrote its largest ever civil infrastructure project, with £1.7bn in guarantees to build two monorail lines in Cairo and provide the trains, the first such exports in more than 12 years.

The export agency is now planning to increase its coverage of businesses focused on zero carbon initiatives. 

Stuart will say on Wednesday that UKEF will create a renewables, energy and carbon management team to underwrite activity across sectors such as wind power, solar, green hydrogen, grid resilience and decommissioning. UKEF has also committed to ending support for new fossil fuel projects overseas. 

Last year, UKEF launched a new scheme to encourage trade after Brexit and for small businesses to take advantage of new trade agreements.

Under this, exporters could apply for larger loans from the UK’s five high street banks backed by an 80 per cent guarantee that can be used both to cover costs linked to exports and also to scale up business operations.

Marcus Dolman, co-chairman of the British Exporters’ Association, said that such new products were “already proving their value to UK exporters and to supporting UK jobs”.



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What unites and divides Germany’s potential coalition partners

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Guten Morgen and welcome to Europe Express.

Germany’s election season is kicking into gear and both Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU/CSU and the up-and-coming Greens have published their election manifestos. With polls indicating the two parties could end up bedfellows in the first post-Merkel government, we compare their Europe-related policies.

The Uefa Euro 2020 football championship is in full swing and gripping fans across the continent. But we explore a darker reality that has spilled out in stadiums and pitches: culture wars.

In Luxembourg, EU affairs ministers meet today to prepare for a summit, hear the latest on EU-Swiss relations and discuss the rule of law in Hungary and Poland.

This article is an on-site version of our Europe Express newsletter. Sign up here to get the newsletter sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning

Berlin calling

Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, have laid out their joint election manifesto after the Greens published theirs in past weeks. It is well worth looking at what unites and divides the potential government allies in the post-Merkel era.

In brief, the CDU/CSU wants to return to how things were before the coronavirus pandemic, especially on fiscal rules and the sacrosanct schwarze Null (a balanced budget). They seem lukewarm on disruptive digital and green policies and made a libertarian push for a retreat of the state from many areas of society under the motto: “throwing money at problems isn’t always the best way to solve them”.

Meanwhile, the Greens have put forward a transformational plan. Their ambition is to turn Germany into a carbon-neutral economy in the next 20 years. Here are three areas to watch closely:

Debt and spending 

  • The CDU/CSU have insisted that once the pandemic is over, so should be any relaxation of fiscal rules. They support the EU’s unprecedented, mutual-debt-fuelled €800bn recovery plan, but say it should be a one-off. They oppose consistent debt mutualisation across the bloc. (Here is Armin Laschet’s take in an interview with the FT)

  • The Greens are less dogmatic about what other EU nations should do in terms of borrowing. They even suggest a relaxation of Germany’s debt brake to allow public investment in schools and infrastructure, to be financed with more debt. 

Climate goals

  • The CDU/CSU have embraced the goal of CO2 neutrality by 2045 and a 65 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2030. But there are caveats for some industries and climate activists have pointed to inconsistencies and omissions in the conservative parties’ manifesto — notably their vague commitments on a “stable, fair and transparent” price for carbon.

  • The Greens are seeking to raise the carbon price to up to €60 per tonne in 2023, along with subsidies and incentives to cushion the social impact of a greener economy. 

Europe and foreign policy

  • The CDU/CSU were more dovish on China and Russia and they failed to mention the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The Greens were more hawkish and maintained their opposition to the pipeline for environmental and geopolitical reasons (they worry about circumventing Ukraine, depriving it of transit revenues, and increasing energy dependence on Russia).

  • Both the CDU/CSU and the Greens favour majority voting in EU foreign policy, replacing the current model of unanimity. The Greens would also abolish the need for unanimous EU decision-making on taxation.

The September 26 election result will determine how much of these manifestos get translated into actual policy — and how much one or both political groups will have to compromise.

Chart du jour: Europe’s Covid bill

Bar chart of Government debt as GDP (%) showing National debt in Eurozone countries spiked in 2020

Public debt in the eurozone rose 14.1 per cent in 2020 compared with the previous year, the biggest leap in two decades, driven by the pandemic. Greece and Spain have recorded the biggest single increase in debt loads, while Ireland only recorded a marginal increase.

Beautiful game, uglier realities

International football’s biennial jamborees usually offer a few weeks of summer escapism for avid fans and newbies alike, writes Mehreen Khan in Brussels.

But this year’s European championships have become an extension of the psychodramas and culture wars that dominate political life on the continent.

The list of controversies runs long (and we are only 11 days in). Last month, France’s far-right kicked off a movement to boycott Les Bleus over a rap song. In England, the national team has defied criticism in the tabloid press by continuing to take the knee in support of Black Lives Matter, despite jeering from some of their own fans. 

Further east, Ukraine’s football association was ordered by governing body Uefa to partly modify its kit design. Russia had complained that the jersey included a map of Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

Greece has also complained to Uefa about neighbouring North Macedonia using the acronym “MKD”. The Greeks (who didn’t qualify for the tournament) say the abbreviation violates the terms of the 2018 agreement under which Macedonia changed its name to North Macedonia.

The latest conflagration came this weekend, when German captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer became the subject of an investigation by Uefa for wearing a rainbow armband in support of LGBT+ rights. News of the probe prompted senior EU officials to express support for the player.

The inquiry has since been dropped by the governing body, which concluded that the armband did not constitute a breach of its rules prohibiting the display of “political symbols”. 

Neuer’s Germany faces off tomorrow against Hungary, where LGBT+ rights have come under political assault from Viktor Orban’s ultranationalist government. Munich’s Allianz arena is preparing to welcome the visitors by lighting up the stadium in rainbow colours.

Separately, Uefa on Sunday said it was investigating “potential discriminatory incidents” during Hungary’s two opening matches in Budapest, where TV images captured homophobic banners among the 55,000-strong crowd. Monkey chants were also reportedly directed at French players on Saturday. 

Brussels risks getting ensnared in the politicisation of the world’s most popular game. EU diplomats have told Europe Express that the incoming Slovenian presidency, led by rightwing prime minister Janez Jansa, wants leaders to sign off on summit conclusions this week on the governance of sport. 

Under the banner of the European Way of Life, Jansa is pushing for leaders to agree language “reaffirming the uniqueness of the organisation of sport in Europe”. The request has baffled diplomats, particularly as the EU has little legal authority over sport.

Slovenian diplomats said the push was needed to prevent schisms such as the scuppered European Super League that rocked world football earlier this year. Jansa also has a long-running grudge against his compatriot and president of Uefa Aleksander Ceferin, often taking to Twitter to send pointed jibes at football’s governing chief.

Between all the spats and controversies, viewers could be forgiven for forgetting that some football is also going on.

In the dock

Poland and Hungary will be in the spotlight during ministerial meetings in Luxembourg today as member state ministers discuss Article 7 procedures against the two countries, writes Sam Fleming in Brussels.

These procedures allow the European Commission, European parliament or member states to take action against countries for serious breaches of the rule of law under threat of punishments such as the suspension of EU voting rights.

The commission triggered the process against Poland in 2017, while the parliament launched it against Hungary the following year.

In Poland, incursions into judicial independence have continued, as have apparent threats to the primacy of EU law. In Hungary, there are mounting concerns about the judiciary, anti-corruption frameworks, media pluralism and human rights. Last week, Hungary passed an anti-LGBT+ law that sparked criticism from rights groups. The commission said it would look into whether the legislation breached EU laws.

Nevertheless, the two countries can shield each other from punishments under the Article 7 regime by wielding their vetoes. The question ahead is whether the commission can obtain better results by deploying powers agreed last year to withhold EU funds over breaches of vital principles.

Commission vice-president Vera Jourova is due to address the ministers in the General Affairs Council, setting out the state of play in both countries.

“The last hearing on Poland took place in December 2018 and on Hungary in December 2019, and many things happened since then,” she told Europe Express. “Unfortunately most of them continued to raise our concerns.”

What to watch today

  1. EU affairs ministers meet in Luxembourg

  2. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel receives European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Berlin

Notable, Quotable

  • United front: French politicians from left to right have persuaded a Green candidate to withdraw from the second round of regional elections on Sunday. The move is aimed at ensuring that Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National does not take control of the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

  • Belarus sanctions: EU foreign ministers approved sanctions against a further 86 individuals and organisations in Belarus and set their sights on industries including finance, potash and petroleum products to put pressure on President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

  • Government collapse: In a first for Sweden, the country’s prime minister Stefan Lofven has lost a no-confidence vote in his government. The vote, engineered by rightwing opposition party Sweden Democrats, means Lofven has a week to call an election or build a new ruling coalition.

  • German tech offensive: Germany’s Federal Cartel Office added Apple to the Big Tech companies in its crosshairs, launching a probe into whether the iPhone maker has established market dominance through its “digital ecosystem”.

  • St Schuman: “Founding father” of the EU Robert Schuman may soon become a saint. The former French prime minister was given the title of “venerable” in a decree by Pope Francis over the weekend, which is one of the steps that could lead to sainthood.

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Today’s Europe Express team: sam.fleming@ft.com, mehreen.khan@ft.com, david.hindley@ft.com, valentina.pop@ft.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Sam1Fleming, @MehreenKhn, @valentinapop.





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