Thu. Jan 20th, 2022


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Negotiations are moving forward as Poland seeks to reach an agreement with the European Commission on its € 36 billion bid for the recovery fund. We will look at the signs of progress and ask whether Warsaw will provide the assurance of judicial independence needed to unlock an agreement in the coming days. Even if it does, the country will not be off the hook next year (look at you, Berlin).

In Strasbourg, the refusal by Turkish authorities to release a captive businessman and philanthropist could cost Ankara diplomatically, as the Council of Europe consider today steps that could end in the withdrawal of the country’s voting rights in the intergovernmental human rights body.

In the EU wake up news, the commission yesterday recall his internal document on inclusive communication (we wrote about it here), which describes it as “not a mature document” and does not meet the commission’s “quality standards”. The document caused a setback in Italy over the recommendation that EU officials speak of ‘holidays’ instead of ‘Christmas’.

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Almost there?

It is now more than half a year since Poland submitted a bid for € 36 billion in grants and loans from the EU Recovery Fund. As the year draws to a close, some diplomats are spying on signs of progress as the commission considers whether to sign the plan, writes Valentina Pop, Sam Fleming and James Shotter.

Closing the EU deal before the end of the year will enable Warsaw to leverage billions of euros in pre-financing. As we enter December, however, the window is dangerously narrow.

Poland has made some concessions in talks with Brussels over the past few weeks, but the remaining gap is still a serious one.

It is noteworthy that the incoming coalition government in Berlin has set a much harsher tone when it comes to rule of law matters than the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The new coalition agreement makes it clear that Germany will not want to see EU money disbursed if the independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed. This suggests that it will insist that Brussels follow a strict rule to adhere to Poland’s reform commitments if the plan is approved.

As things stand now, the main bottlenecks include calls for the reinstatement of suspended Polish judges, and demands for written guarantees about the nature of any regime replacing the Polish judicial discipline, which the EU wants to see dismantled.

It will not be easy to meet these requirements. The harsh Polish Minister of Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, is trying to intensify the pressure on the country’s prime minister not to give in to EU demands.

“The European Commission wants not only the deletion of the chamber, but also the annulment of almost 600 decisions issued by it. I will never accept it, “he said in an interview with the right-wing magazine Sieci earlier this week.

“Poland is supposed to pay € 1 million a day because it does not want to allow such judges to return to the judiciary. . . This is what the EU expects of us today – to give them back, to stop the proceedings [against them] and presumably also pay compensation. It is unthinkable, “he added.

Nevertheless, as the year-end approaches, political pressure is also mounting on Ziobro and his allies to force – and soon – to allow EU cash to finally start flowing.

Chart of the day: Record height

Line chart of harmonized index of consumer prices (annual% change) showing Eurozone inflation sets new record

Inflation in the eurozone rose to 4.9 per cent in November, a record high since the single currency was created, driven mainly by rising energy prices. The increase is likely to put more pressure on the European Central Bank to reduce its monetary stimulus. (More here)

Sanctioning of Turkey

There were nerves among European diplomats in the run-up to a debate on Turkey today at the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights body, writes Laura Pitel and Ankara.

Some feared they would struggle to get the 32 votes needed to fulfill a promise to reprimand the country for refuse to implement an order of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to release Osman Kavala, a captive businessman and philanthropist.

Kavala, 64, has spent the past four years behind bars despite not being convicted of any crime.

The failure to approve a motion to start “infringement proceedings” against Turkey would have been a “disaster” for the credibility of the Council of Europe, which oversees the EHRM, warned one European official.

This was confirmed by human rights groups, who said that the refusal to censor Turkey would not only send the wrong message to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but also to other autocrats across the continent.

“This is a test of the entire human rights system that governs member states of the Council of Europe,” said Milena Buyum, a senior campaigner for Turkey at Amnesty International. “It is, of course, very important for the individual concerned – in this case Osman Kavala – but it will also have an impact on the whole human rights system to which these countries are bound.”

After intense support from both sides, those in favor of being strictly against Erdogan now expect the 47-member body to support a proposal to launch “infringement proceedings” against Turkey when they vote tomorrow after a debate which takes place today.

EU member states are expected to be divided on the issue, with Poland among those allegedly considering a vote against it, say two people familiar with the behind-the-scenes discussions. A spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

The violation process is likely to be lengthy and cumbersome, but could eventually lead to a suspension of Turkey’s voting rights or even suspension from the Council of Europe if it continues to refuse to release Kavala.

The proposal is only the second time that infringement proceedings have been instituted against one of the institution’s 47 member states since the mechanism was introduced in 2010.

The first instance was against Azerbaijan, which was reprimanded in 2017 for refusing to implement an EHRM order to release the opposition leader in prison, Ilgar Mammadov. He was later released and acquitted of the charges against him.

What to watch today

  1. European Commission offers the Global Gateway Strategy to counter Chinese investments abroad

  2. The OECD publishes its economic forecast and analysis for member countries and major economies

  3. Last day of the NATO meeting of Foreign Ministers in Riga

Remarkable, quotable

  • Afghan refugees: A growing number of men and children fleeing the Taliban after the West’s failed withdrawal from Afghanistan have joined those wishing to make the perilous journey across the Channel to the UK, report the FT’s Anna Gross of Dunkirk and Robert Wright in London.

  • French-American hero: American entertainment star and civil rights activist Josephine Baker it became the first black woman to be commemorated in the Panthéon in Paris – an honor bestowed by the French president on those regarded as national heroes.

  • Greek Climate Law: Greece is to import its first climate law, which promises to reduce the country’s dependence on coal within six years as part of a move to a carbon “net zero” economy by 2050. The law comes after Greece suffered devastating wildfires this year partly attributed to global warming ,

  • Russian saber rattlesnake: President Vladimir Putin warned the west against the crossing of Moscow’s “red lines” in Ukraine and said that NATO was threatening Russia’s security by holding exercises and deploying weapons near its borders.

  • Zemmour Candidate: Éric Zemmour, the anti-immigration polemicist, declared his bid for the French presidency, appealing to those he said were despised by the elite and felt like strangers in their own country. The formal launch of his campaign comes as his popularity seems to be waning.

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Today’s Europe Express team: sam.fleming@ft.com, james.shotter@ft.com, laura.pitel@ft.com, valentina.pop@ft.com. Follow us on Twitter: @ Sam1Fleming, @JamesShotter, @laurapitel, @valentinapop.





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