POLITICO Brussels Playbook, presented by EPP Group: Social Democrats surge in Romania — Montenegro dead heat — China rising
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ITALY — PAOLO GENTILONI IS NEW PRIME MINISTER: Meet Italy’s old new bosses, by Jacopo Barigazzi. Gentiloni, the current foreign minister, is a safe choice for prime minister — a centrist ally of outgoing leader Matteo Renzi, but not his lap-dog. Choosing Gentiloni allows President Sergio Mattarella to leave Treasury Minister Pier Carlo Padoan in place. Teneo Intelligence has described Gentiloni in a note to clients as “likely to be a lackluster prime minister.”
Mid-2017 election likely: Some of the next steps depend upon a January court ruling on what electoral system should apply to the country’s next elections, but the new working assumption for many is that elections will be held between April and June next year. Two events may complicate things: the March 25 60th anniversary of the signature of the Treaty of Rome (the most important EU founding document, but of little interest to most Italian voters), and the 2017 G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily May 26-27.
ROMANIA — LANDSLIDE FOR SOCIALISTS, BUT NO MAJORITY: The Romanian Social Democrats crushed their rivals Sunday; their roughly 46 percent of the vote was more than double the second-placed liberals. Liviu Dragnea, the Social Democrat leader, said he would form an alliance with minor party ALDE. Together, they won roughly 52 percent of the vote. Romania’s president has previously indicated he would block Dragnea’s appointment as prime minister if possible.
MACEDONIA — BOTH RULING PARTY AND OPPOSITION CLAIM VICTORY AFTER NEAR DEAD HEAT: Macedonia’s ruling VMRO party and the opposition Social Democrats were neck-and-neck in national elections Sunday, according to preliminary results, with both claiming victory. The incumbent was slightly ahead on votes, but the opposition said it won one more seat.
**A message from the EPP Group: We have the right (wo)man for the job! We are all set to choose our candidate for president of the European Parliament this week. More info here, including on other priorities for this year’s last plenary session: better, faster and cheaper railway services in Europe and a timely visa waiver for Georgia and Ukraine.**
EUROPEAN COUNCIL WEEK AHEAD …
Foreign Affairs Council Monday: It’s an early start; Federica Mogherini is doing her doorstop interview at 7:45 a.m. Agenda here. She’s able to front up with a smile, having sent Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders to Mali over the weekend to work on the country’s national migration plan, one of the products of the EU’s efforts to reduce migration flows at their source in Africa.
Leaders’ summit Thursday and Friday: Top of the agenda are the migration crisis and security. The bloc’s Brexit strategy will be discussed at a special dinner, to which Theresa May wasn’t invited. Latest draft of conclusions here, including references to the European Youth Guarantee and the European Solidarity Corps.
PLAYBOOK HEARS — MORE CONTROVERSY AT EXTERNAL ACTION SERVICE: Staff in the EU diplomatic corps are debating the merits of Federica Mogherini appointing (apparently without open competition) an Austrian official, Michael Reiterer, to be EU ambassador to Korea. Reiterer was most recently ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein, and Austria already holds two of the top EU diplomatic positions, with Dietmar Schweisgut the ambassador to China and Thomas Mayr-Harting the managing director for Europe and Central Asia.
COMMISSION APPOINTS A CHIEF ECONOMIST: You may have missed it (because it wasn’t announced), but Karolina Leib assumed the title of the EU’s chief economic analyst on December 1, according to the latest Commission college minutes. It seems Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis’ web people haven’t heard either, because Leib is still listed as a member of his team. Get a glimpse into Leib’s economic opinions in this article, “Decomposing total tax revenues in Germany,” from 2010.
CHINA ON THE TRADE WARPATH, AS MARKET ECONOMY STATUS DEADLINE PASSES: Beijing will from today be styling itself as a market economy and retaliating hard against any trading rival that disagrees, POLITICO’s trade team reports. According to the plan agreed when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, as of Sunday, China should have reformed sufficiently from its Communist economic past that trading rivals would no longer have simple ways to impose duties on its goods, if they suspect anti-competitive behavior. There’s a problem though: The U.S. is refusing to recognize China’s claims to the status (and that’s even before Donald Trump takes office), and the EU is under pressure to also resist the upgrade. China, for its part, insists via a spokesperson that it “isn’t the China of yesteryear. The reaction will be firm.”
Laurent Ruessman, a trade lawyer, writes that in terms of the EU’s legal obligations, “nothing will change. In the absence of definitive guidance from the WTO, each member is left to figure out for itself what, if anything, needs to change in its domestic legislation.”
Commission (preemptively) returns trade fire: The Commission launched on Friday three investigations into steel and iron products originating in China and India. Commission officials were at pains to stress they are legally bound to open these investigations because of the complaints lodged to them, and that the deadline for doing so was December 13.
PARLIAMENT WEEK AHEAD: It’s a Strasbourg plenary week. The Sakharov Prize for freedom will be presented to Yazidi activists Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar. MEPs will also vote on an overhaul of the rules governing Parliament and visa reciprocity between the EU and the U.S. and Canada. Martin Schulz will make a farewell statement about his five years leading the institution.
EPP MEPs WILL VOTE ON PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE TUESDAY: Nominations are due today. So far there are four candidates (no Manfred Weber): Alain Lamassoure, Alojz Peterle, Mairead McGuinness and Antonio Tajani. Voting will begin Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Strasbourg.
THE EX-FILES — I AM TONY BLAIR, ASK ME ANYTHING: The Former British prime minister answered questions posed by readers on everything from Nigel Farage as a potential House of Lords member to the chances of a political comeback.
THE CENTRAL BANK HAS NO CLOTHES: Independent central bankers like Mario Draghi were the winners of the 2008 financial crisis. It was all so easy back then, as they trampled over the slain bodies of their political peers to courageously save currencies and banks. The problem, notes Francesco Guerrera, is that eight years into Europe’s economic stagnation, it turns out the central bankers have planted political dynamite in a range of hiding spots. Inequality has grown, and investors find it hard to make a euro in markets both flooded with cheap money, and suffering a drought of productivity-boosting structural reform.
IMF — CHRISTINE LAGARDE’S TRIAL BEGINS IN FRANCE TODAY: Lagarde is charged with being negligent in handling a case involving businessman turned politician Bernard Tapie. Tapie sued the French government for how it handled the sale of his company Adidas after he turned to politics. Lagarde became involved during her time as France’s finance minister, more than a decade after the allegedly fraudulent sale occurred. She is the third IMF managing director in a row to face legal proceedings.
UN — GUTERRES SWORN IN TODAY: António Guterres, former Portuguese prime minister and U.N. high commissioner for refugees, will be sworn in as United Nations secretary-general today and will take office January 1.
NATO — TIME TO GET REAL: Europe needs to lose the talking points and remind allies why the alliance really matters, writes Julianne Smith of the Center for a New American Security in Washington. She is a former deputy national security advisor to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and a NATO policy director at the Pentagon.
AGRICULTURE — SAVING EUROPE’S FARMERS AND SYRIA’S KIDS IN ONE POLICY: Thousands of cartons of Europe’s surplus milk will reach Syrian schools this month after initial setbacks in one of Brussels’ more novel attempts to help the EU’s struggling dairy farmers, reports Emmet Livingstone.
WHAT SCANDINAVIANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Skam, a low budget TV show about teenagers, where scenes are released without warning at the time they take place (e.g. 11 p.m. Saturday night if the subject is a Saturday night party, Tuesday morning if the scene is in a geography class.)
FRANCE — VINCENT PEILLON JOINS SOCIALIST PRIMARY RACE: The MEP and former French education minister has announced he will compete against Manuel Valls, Arnaud Montebourg and Benoît Hamon for the Socialist candidacy in the French presidential election, reports Le Monde. Don’t look to Peillon’s European Parliament CV for much insight — he hasn’t given a speech in more than a year (though he seems quite friendly to Russia when he does contribute.)
NETHERLANDS — ELECTIONS ARE COMING, INTERVIEWS GALORE FROM POLITICIANS: The far-right Geert Wilders (convicted of racial discrimination Friday), told De Telegraaf he is still hopeful he will become Dutch prime minister after the spring 2017 elections. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mark Rutte (who is slightly favored for the job) told the Financial Times: “We cannot push the [EU] project over the edge by pushing for more Europe.” Meanwhile Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem told the daily Financieele Dagblad that the financial crisis was the main reason for the rise of populism in Europe. Dijsslebloem’s social democrat PvdA is on track to be the election’s biggest loser, with two-thirds of its seats at real risk, according to an IPSOS poll conducted late last week.
BREXIT CORNER …
The Guardian wants to know: Why did some papers keep quiet about Boris Johnson’s row with Theresa May?
Verhofstadt plays Fleet Street for fools: Sections of the British press have been in meltdown over a non-binding suggestion by an MEP (which in the end was withdrawn) that Brits ought to be allowed to keep their EU citizenship if they so wish. The Independent loves the idea, but there’s a fundamental problem, reports Harry Cooper: It would require a treaty change. And if you think that can happen before 2019, you might just be more gullible than even the British tabloids. Read here for a fact check.
US — FBI AND CIA AT ODDS ON RUSSIAN ELECTION MEDDLING, LEAVING REPUBLICANS IN A BIND: The CIA view is that Russia effectively campaigned for Trump. The FBI believes there’s no conclusive evidence of that. Trump himself lashed out at the claims Russia has been meddling, prompting one leading European politician to warn Playbook that America’s “deep state, the deepest in the world” (code for the intelligence community) is in for a rough ride under President-elect Trump and is unlikely to react kindly.
TRUMPWORLD — TRUMP’S ENERGY CHOICES SPARK CONCERN: Trump’s transition team has asked the Energy Department to identify employees who have worked on climate change, raising fears the incoming administration is planning an ideological “witch hunt” at the agency, our U.S. colleague Darius Dixon reported.
Exxon chief headed for secretary of state? Trump has indicated he is likely to tap Rex Tillerson, the long-time CEO of ExxonMobil, who has deep ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin (Putin awarded Tillerson an Order of Friendship in 2013, one of the highest honors Russia gives to foreign citizens). “To me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia,” Trump told Fox News about Tillerson on Saturday.
40 minutes with Kellyanne Conway: Trump’s campaign manager rebukes her critics, defends her boss and describes the elusive next first lady.
BILL ENGLISH IS THE NEW NEW ZEALAND PM: “Boring” Bill spiced up his inaugural speech. Sort of.
UNDERSTANDING POPULISM …
Populists and far-right dominated European social media: Jakub Goda visualizes for POLITICO the yawning gap between populists and centrists in Europe’s online conversations. If you’re a moderate, be alarmed.
Majority of Germans have concrete fears about the EU: Research conducted by Demos and d|part shows German citizens hold fears grounded in specific, concrete issues such as loss of social security (53 percent), loss of jobs (45 percent), and loss of national identity and culture as a result of further EU integration (42 percent).
The geopolitics of populism: Closing income inequality gaps will help poorer people in developed economies, but it is unlikely to reduce their anxieties about globalization, write Danny Quah and Kishore Mahbubani. h/t Erik van der Marel
BRUSSELS CORNER …
Shoebox appeal: Each year EU officials and others fill a shoebox with food supplies and toiletries and gift wrap it for delivery to those in need across Belgium. Here’s a great example from Sheena Gooroochurn of how to do it, and here are the storage locations where you can drop your box.
New winter markets in the EU quarter: A “micro-market” will take place on Wednesday December 14 and 21 and back again January 11, 18 and 25, from noon till 9 p.m. Sven Lenaerts, one of the brains behind the colorful picnic tables on Place Jean Rey and other parks and squares in the summer, promises shop stalls and hot drinks.
Schuman lights up: On xpats.com
NEW ARRIVAL: Roberta Metsola MEP has given birth to a healthy baby boy, Kristian.
BIRTHDAYS: POLITICO’s Esther King; Theresa Griffin MEP; Sergey Filippov, associate director at The Lisbon Council.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT Harry Cooper, Quentin Ariès and Zoya Sheftalovich
**A message from the EPP Group: Time to abandon the traditional ‘old Brussels’ thinking that nothing is ever good enough. We need simple and powerful initiatives to show why Europe matters, the benefits it brings and to create the connection with young people that is so keenly needed. We want to give every European a free Interrail pass when they turn 18. Help us to do that by using #DiscoverEU.**