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POLITICO Brussels Playbook

By SUZANNE LYNCH and JAKOB HANKE VELA

with ZOYA SHEFTALOVICH

PRESENTED BY

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DRIVING THE DAY: OPENING THE DOOR TO UKRAINE

UKRAINE’S EU PATH: The European Commission will today deliver its verdict on granting EU candidate status to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova ahead of next week’s European Council summit. But the writing is now firmly on the wall when it comes to Kyiv’s aspirations: the door will be opened to the war-torn country. 

HIGH-PROFILE VISIT: The historic visit to Ukraine of French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who were joined by Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, produced an unequivocal message: welcome to the club.

At a time when it’s all too easy to be cynical about the EU, Thursday’s visit by the four leaders to Kyiv served as a reminder of what the European project is about at its core: peace, freedom and solidarity — even if many say the trip should have happened earlier. As Scholz put it: “Ukraine belongs to the European family.”

Ukraine now looks set to join the Union. Yes, it may take years or decades, but the leaders have now made clear that they see Ukraine’s place inside the EU. As our colleague David Herszenhorn puts it, the visit also sent a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin: the Soviet sphere of influence is dead, and it will not be resurrected by force.

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Now the difficult bit: The leaders made it clear that they will back EU membership for Ukraine — but with conditions. The next few days in the run-up to next week’s European Council is likely to see feverish behind-the-scenes discussions about what those conditions will be. Brussels could give an early take on its views when it issues its communiqué today after the College of Commissioners meets. 

Path to EU: At the very least, the European Council is expected to impose conditions such as strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law before Ukraine would be allowed to begin formal accession negotiations with the EU. Macron has previously said that the overall process could take a decade or longer.

All on board: But in an early sign that Thursday’s political commitment from the leaders of the three biggest EU economies will dictate which way the wind is blowing, Denmark (long seen as one of the most skeptical countries when it comes to enlargement) indicated last night that it will give the green light to Ukraine’s candidate status, once it sees the proposals on conditions. 

ENVY ON THE KYIV EXPRESS: As the world awoke to pictures of the three big shots of EU politics taking the train to Kyiv on Thursday, a conversation between Scholz, Macron and Draghi captured on video revealed the German and Italian leaders needling Macron over his posh train cabin. It offered some light relief on an otherwise sobering day. Our colleague Hans von der Burchard has the story

WESTERN BALKANS: EU countries are conscious of not leaving the six Western Balkan countries, who aspire to be EU members, out in the cold. European Council President Charles Michel has been taking the lead on the outreach, visiting the six capitals in recent weeks, culminating in Thursday’s visit to North Macedonia. A summit of all six Western Balkan leaders together with the EU 27 will take place next Thursday before the European Council. 

WHAT UKRAINE’S CANDIDATE STATUS MEANS FOR THE EU: Looking past the symbolism, diplomats and officials in Brussels are already looking into the future implications of Ukraine’s EU membership, even if it is years away.

Counting the money: While a decade may seem like a long time, that’s not the case for the Commission’s budgetary officials, who think in seven-year cycles. Indeed, diplomats and officials contacted by Playbook were quick to point to financial realities, for example around the issue of EU farm subsidies. The Common Agriculture Policy currently pays farmers hundreds of euros per hectare, which diplomats say will be unsustainable with Ukraine’s vast fields. The same haggling over money could accompany discussions over structural funds that help poorer regions. 

Hey big spender: Ukraine, with a GDP per capita below €4,000 per year before the war, is much poorer than even the poorest EU member country. It would suddenly become the largest beneficiary of such EU funds, diplomats pointed out, arguing payment schemes would need to be adapted. “The country is a bottomless pit,” one said. But ultimately, that conversation will be for another day as next week’s summit focuses on the symbolism of Ukraine being welcomed into the fold.

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FRENCH ELECTION PREVIEW

MACRON’S MAJORITY ON THE LINE: He may have been burnishing his credentials on the international stage by traveling to Ukraine Thursday, but Emmanuel Macron has a fight on his hands at home. France votes in the second round of the legislative elections Sunday, in a ballot that will determine whether the second-term president can retain his majority in the National Assembly.

Recap: The left-wing NUPES alliance led by hard-left veteran Jean-Luc Mélenchon finished neck-and-neck with Macron’s Ensemble! Coalition in the first round, each with just over 25 percent of the vote in the battle for control of the 577-strong assembly.

Help or hindrance: Macron’s decision to travel to Romania, Moldova and then Ukraine just days before the election has divided opinion in France. While some say the president, who has been an aloof presence on the campaign trail, should be out knocking on doors, the image of Macron as a serious statesman plays into one of his central arguments — that Mélenchon and his acolytes would play havoc with French foreign policy, given threats to pull out of NATO and reject elements of EU integration. 

Beaune on the campaign trail: POLITICO’s Peter O’Brien hit the campaign trail this week in Paris with Clément Beaune, one of three Macron’s government ministers with a fight on their hands to win seats on Sunday. The 40-year-old Beaune enlisted former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to add star power to his campaign this week. You can read Peter’s full report here

Say nope to NUPES: Beaune, a close Macron ally, is targeting several thousand right-wing voters in the district in the hope they’ll give a wide berth to NUPES candidate Caroline Mécary, a popular 59-year-old lawyer and LGBTQ+ activist. It may be a tough ask.

Now read this: Writing for POLITICO, George de Ménil sets out what’s at stake for France.

IN OTHER NEWS

CONFERENCE ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE: A communiqué on Ukraine’s EU membership prospects is not the only announcement coming from the Commission today. After a College meeting, the Commission is due to present its first formal response to the Conference on the Future of Europe, which concluded in May.

Background:​​ Officials say it’s an “initial response,” and expect to hear lots about which elements of the proposals that came out of the year-long exercise have already been implemented. Still, it’s a first step, with the real meat of the Commission’s proposal expected in President von der Leyen’s State of the European Union speech in September. 

BREAKING THIS MORNING — WTO DEAL: The World Trade Organization this morning approved agreements to authorize generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines, curb fishing subsidies and continue a 24-year-old ban on tariffs on digital goods and services on the internet. More here for POLITICO Pros.

GREECE NOT HAPPY: The Greek government has reacted with fury to a letter sent by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to the European Commission, complaining about pushbacks in the Evros river area near the Turkish border. As reported in Playbook, committee Chairman Juan Fernando López Aguilar penned the letter to the Commission outlining concerns, which Greece has denied.

Fallout: Greek Interior Minister Notis Mitarachi accused Greek opposition politicians of stirring trouble in the European Parliament, flatly rejecting the allegations made in the letter to Commissioners Margaritis Schinas, Ylva Johansson and Věra Jourová. In an unusual move, López Aguilar last night invited the Greek minister to attend a meeting of the committee later this month, Playbook hears.

Context: The Greek government is warning that a new migration wave is looming near the Turkish border this summer, accusing Ankara of “instrumentalizing” migrants. Greek officials are in ongoing talks with the European Commission about money for border funding. Similarly, Athens has slammed the migration pact that progressed at last Friday’s Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, contending that it lets northern countries off the hook when it comes to offering solidarity to front-line migration states by offering a voluntary mechanism that aims to settle only 10,000 people.

HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND — ANDALUSIA ELECTION: Voters in Andalusia go to the polls Sunday, with the Popular Party set for a big win. POLITICO’s Guy Hedgecoe has the essential analysis.

CLIMATE FIGHT: A fight between rich and poor countries over compensation for climate damage threatens to overshadow this year’s United Nations summit in Egypt after two weeks of talks ended with little progress on Thursday, reports POLITICO’s Zia Weise.

ULYSSES UPDATE: Playbook can confirm Eurogroup President Paschal Donohoe exceeded his colleagues’ wildest expectations at Thursday’s meeting and presented them with a copy of James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” — in multiple languages — to mark the book’s centenary. Tackling the modernist tome in Finnish and Galician may be just the thing to unwind over a sangria on the sun lounger when finance ministers head off on their holidays this summer. It may also help soften the blow of not agreeing the completion of banking union — one of the Irish finance minister’s top priorities over the past few years, which has now been mothballed after countries failed to reach agreement on Thursday. (More here from Paola Tamma and Bjarke Smith-Meyer.)

Taxing matters: Finance ministers face more problems when they return for a second day of meetings today. As outlined in Thursday’s Playbook, hopes of a deal on the minimum corporate tax rate during the French presidency are fading fast. Hungary, which put a last-minute spanner in the works by raising problems with the deal, is not expected to endorse the agreement today, but may do so in July — too late for the French, who had hoped to reach agreement before their stint in the Council presidency ends at the end of this month. 

GDPR SHAKE-UP: European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski will take a pop at EU privacy enforcement efforts against companies like Google and Meta in an announcement later today, reports our colleague Vincent Manancourt. “I myself share views of those who believe we still do not see sufficient enforcement, in particular against Big Tech,” he is expected to say. The intervention is likely to be seen as a jibe at the Irish Data Protection Commission, which regulates the lion’s share of tech companies under the General Data Protection Regulation because they are headquartered in Dublin.

COUNCIL VACANCY: It’s been six weeks since the Council’s Secretary-General Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen resigned unexpectedly, but there’s still no permanent replacement.

France’s Ambassador to the EU Philippe Léglise-Costa is among the top contenders for the job, and several diplomats said Charles Michel seemed inclined to appoint him, given he’d proven a savvy negotiator and broker during the French Council presidency. But Michel is playing his cards close to his chest. 

Reading the runes: Some observers see the fact that a successor hasn’t yet been announced as a sign Michel is waiting for the French Council presidency to finish at the end of June to appoint Léglise-Costa.

But there are signs of a mini-rebellion brewing: Two sherpas from two EU countries have told Michel’s team their countries would oppose Léglise-Costa if he was proposed, over fears his appointment would give France too much influence in the Council, senior diplomats told Playbook. “The question now is, are they bargaining and is there a deal to be made?” one said. Nonetheless, several officials said they believe Léglise-Costa’s appointment is a done deal. 

RUSSIAN SPY DISGUISED AS BRAZILIAN: Dutch intelligence services said Thursday they stopped a Russian spy from infiltrating the International Criminal Court (ICC). Authorities allege an officer working for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, named Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, was supposed to start an internship at the ICC in The Hague in April, using the name Viktor Muller Ferreira and claiming to be from Brazil. He’d built a fake identity spanning years, and had spent time studying in Ireland. POLITICO’s Luanna Muniz has the write-up.

DAVID DAVIS UNCHAINED: This week’s Westminster Insider podcast is a true must-listen: Our colleague Jack Blanchard sits down for a boozy dinner with the U.K.’s former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who tells him Ireland’s Brexit scars could take a decade to heal, and dishes on everyone from Boris Johnson to Theresa May and more.

Protocol mess: On the farms and high streets of Northern Ireland, the protocol is more than a political row, POLITICO’s Shawn Pogatchnik writes in this deeply reported piece from on the ground.

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AGENDA

— European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen chairs meeting of College of Commissioners, 10:30 a.m. Followed by press conference on the EU membership applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

— European Council President Charles Michel meets Prime Minister of Slovenia Robert Golob.

Ecofin meetings of EU finance ministers, Luxembourg; arrivals from 7:30 a.m. 

Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden; Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen participating. 

Commissioners on tour: Elisa Ferreira in Sweden  Jutta Urpilainen in Ecuador … Margaritis Schinas in Athens.

— Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver video address, according to the Kremlin.

BRUSSELS CORNER

LA CANICULE: Belgium is braced for a heatwave this weekend, along with neighboring countries, as cities from Madrid to Warsaw are expected to experience abnormally high temperatures. Stay cool out there!

CHANGES AT DANISH PERM REP: Denmark’s Permanent Representative to the EU Jonas Bering Liisberg is moving on next month. Deputy Ambassador Per Fabricius Andersen will take over for a year, with Denmark’s secretary of state for European affairs being lined up to then take the baton in the run-up to Denmark’s presidency of the Council in 2025. Best of luck to all.

MANHATTAN MANSION UPDATE: Check out the real estate listing for the property the EU’s diplomatic wing wants to buy on New York City’s Upper East Side, as detailed in Thursday’s Playbook. To whet your palate: There’s peacock feather wallpaper, snow-melting tiles … and a “leather-clad commercial elevator.”

WEEKEND LISTEN: The special guest on our EU Confidential podcast is John Ramsden, a former British ambassador, who talks about his new book, “The Poets’ Guide to Economics.”

Good luck Andrew! This week’s podcast is a bitter-sweet one for us at POLITICO, as it marks the final episode for our colleague Andrew Gray, who is heading off for new adventures. Best of luck Andrew!

WEEKEND READ: “Only a superhero can stop Putin now. Is anyone up to the challenge?” Read Paul Dallison’s Declassified column.

BIRTHDAYS: Former European Commissioner Joaquín Almunia; POLITICO alum Maxime Schlee; Journalist Szabolcs Panyi; The Spectator’s Dominic Green. Icelandic National Day.

Celebrating Saturday: Estonian PM Kaja Kallas; Bulgarian President Rumen Radev; MEP Mikuláš Peksa; Former German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier; Former MEP Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl; Former MEP Virginie Rozière, now co-chair of France’s Left Radicals; Damir Filipovic from the Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation; POLITICO’s Mari Eccles, Blanca Esteban Renedo and Grace Stranger; AVIV Group’s Stephanie Megret; Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Polish Law and Justice party POLITICO 28 alum, turns 73 … and Paul McCartney turns 80.

Celebrating Sunday: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson turns 58; Former European Commissioner Karmenu Vella; Irish politician and former MEP Matt Carthy; Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo; Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

THANKS TO: Stuart Lau and producer Grace Stranger.

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