Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022


Good morning and welcome to Europe Express.

While Poland may be stealing the spotlight with its sovereignty disputes with Brussels, another Eastern European country, Romania, also began to challenge the rule of law in EU law. In an interview with Europe Express, Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, set out the issues and what consequences Bucharest can expect.

Meanwhile, the last session of talks with Russia ended on a rather gloomy note in Vienna yesterday, with Moscow describing the whole effort as a “dead end”. Here is the FT se neem over the week of diplomacy that has managed to prevent an immediate conflict, but some have feared that the worst is yet to come.

And in energy crisis news, the Netherlands is pumping reluctantly emergency gas supplies for the EU, including top client Germany, despite the government’s plans to retire Europe’s largest gas field in the coming years.

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Mini-Poland in the making

Romania’s constitutional court follows in the footsteps of its counterpart in Poland when it comes to challenging the rule of law in EU law, according to Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, writes Valentina Pop and Sam Fleming in Brussels.

Last year, only in May pronunciation, followed by a second one in December, the European Court of Justice said that judges in Romania should place EU law above national law, including rulings of the national constitutional court, when violating the EU treaty.

Romania’s constitutional court opposed both rulings, arguing that judges should put Romanian law first.

The decisions of the Bucharest-based court reflect what Poland and Germany’s constitutional courts have also ruled on the rule of law. But while Poland’s legal action by the country’s prime minister (who does not shy away from numerous legal disputes), the commission buried the ax at Germany after Berlin sent assurances that it fully supported the rule of EU law.

According to Reynders, Romania’s government falls somewhere in between. “We received a response from the Romanian government saying: ‘No, we want full respect for [EU law] priority. . . but within the framework of the Romanian constitution. ‘ So, that is not exactly the answer we received from the German government, without any conditions. “

Reynders said he could initiate legal action against Romania, given the country’s “high, permanent and sustained position to go against EU law or the binding nature of the EHJ rulings”.

Although not as advanced in its resistance to EHJ rulings, Romania could follow Poland and be fined millions of euros if it refuses to carry out the rulings of the Luxembourg court.

One such demand is to abolish a special prosecution unit for judges, which “can be seen as an attempt to establish an instrument of pressure and intimidation with regard to judges”, according to the EHJ. Reynders said the Romanian justice minister had promised that the special unit would be abolished as part of a broader reform, which has yet to be approved by the country’s parliament.

But Reynders said it was a halting tactic he encountered in talks with Hungarian counterparts. “First you have to implement [the ECJ rulings], in Romania, stop with the special section. Then, if you want to set up a new system, we will verify. ”

Although some similarities can be found between Warsaw and Bucharest, one big difference remains: Romania has started receiving funds under the bloc’s NextGenerationEU € 800bn recovery package. And unlike Poland, it is under the jurisdiction of a pan-European prosecutor’s office (accidentally led by a Romanian prosecutor, Laura Kovesi), who can bring people to court for embezzling or defrauding EU money.

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Dutch-German hot air over gas

What’s a little extra imported gas between historical friends and neighbors? The Netherlands and Germany are beginning to find out, as ties between the centuries-old allies have come under pressure over Berlin’s requests for emergency Dutch gas supplies, writes Mehreen Khan in Brussels.

Stef Blok, the Netherlands’ outgoing Minister of Economy, wrote last month warned his German counterpart Robert Habeck that German requests for additional gas supplies from the Groningen gas field were a cause of “serious concern”.

The Netherlands has committed to closing Groningen, Europe’s largest gas field, due to concerns about earthquakes and mini-earthquakes caused by decades of underground pumping.

But the field will have to continue to produce well above forecasts this year, partly due to rising demand from Germany and Europe energy crisis. Germany alone will need about an additional 1.1 billion cubic meters of gas from Groningen this year, according to reports.

Blok warned Berlin that Germany should strive to keep its appetite for gas to a “minimum”, as Groningen is gradually being removed from the network. The Netherlands is weaning itself of gas as part of its green transition and opting for an energy strategy that is the opposite of Berlin’s, and choosing to bet big on nuclear power.

During his first visit to the new chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte raised the difficult issue of German gas demand. “We want to get rid of gas production,” Rutte said at a joint press conference.

But the Dutch chose a more diplomatic tone than Blok, adding that the Netherlands was aware of “German wishes” for more imports.

As with many EU countries, the Dutch are angry about Germany’s increasing dependence on Russian gas, including the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, to meet its energy needs over the next few decades. But a natural consequence of less Russian gas in Europe is a greater demand from other sources – led by Groningen.

Chart of the day: Short vegan burgers

Bar chart of short interest as a percentage of free float from January 10 (%) showing Top Short Shares in the Russell 1000

Beyond Meat has become one of the companies with the most discounts in the US as investors worry about weaker sales and skepticism grows about the plant-based meat boom. Short positions on Beyond Meat shares have increased by 40 percent since the end of October, when the California-based company issued an income warning. (More here)

What to watch today

  1. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and EU Brexit Commissioner Maros Sefcovic speak to the press after a two-day meeting

  2. EU foreign ministers meet for second day of informal council in Brest, France

  3. Italy holds state funeral for the late European Parliament President David Sassoli

Smart reading

  • Energy without carbon: The EU’s national energy and climate plans are insufficient to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, according to this analysis by Bruegel. Three-quarters of the block’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas to produce energy, including heating for buildings, transportation and operation of machinery. The transition to climate neutrality means that these services must be provided without associated emissions.

  • Polish-German relations: The new government in Berlin is not good news for the already strained relationship with Warsaw, write Monika Sis for the European Policy Center. On issues including the rule of law, European federalism, energy policy, climate change and relations with Russia, Warsaw will see even less eye to eye with the government of Olaf Scholz than with that of Angela Merkel.

  • Not ‘adult joy’: A new term has been coined for vaccinated people who revel in the disease – and even deaths – of anti-waxxers, write the FT’s Simon Kuper. This hard feeling is ignored by family members, including children, who experience shame and anger and often suppress their sadness.

Britain after Brexit – Keep abreast of the latest developments as the UK economy adjusts to life outside the EU. Sign in here

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





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