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By FLORIAN EDERwith ZOYA SHEFTALOVICH
GOOD MORNING. Today’s Playbook has four main sections to help bring you back up to speed. Playbook hopes your weekend was as wonderful as mine, spent on Bavaria’s sunny country roads, best experienced in a vintage racer or from a biergarten, with some politics thrown in. Alas, the tranquility won’t last — this week will be a hectic one. So take a deep breath, because with Brexit looming Friday, expect a flurry of last-minute activity to avoid Britain jumping, or being pushed, off the cliff.
1. WHAT’S NEXT?
EUROPE IN 2030: Climate change, demography and urbanization. Those are the Top 3 mega-trends that will determine the policy focus of the next two EU legislative terms, according to a report titled “Global Trends to 2030: Challenges and Choices for Europe,” which will be presented in the European Parliament today. Playbook previewed the magnum opus, compiled by strategists from the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission and the External Action Service. “All institutions are trying to sharpen their foresight capabilities, so we can better anticipate potential future crisis,” Ann Mettler from the Commission’s European Political Strategy Centre think tank, who chaired the group, told Playbook.
Test everything; hold fast what is good. One of the assets U.S. presidents have at their disposal to help shape their long-term strategic goals is a report on global trends by the National Intelligence Council, produced every four years and handed to the incoming office-holder. (Whether Donald Trump read the 260 pages prepared for him, and what he makes of them, is a mystery.) The European institutions are keen to offer the same kind of advice (once again) to their new incoming chiefs this year.
It’s a 50-page reality check: “Due to an increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial times, we will incur economic and environmental damage,” the report warns. The text invokes Europe’s ageing populations and Africa’s need to “manage a significant youth bulge.” With two-thirds of Europeans predicted to live in small- to medium-sized metropolises in the not-so-distant future, poor management of the demographic changes could lead to the rise of Sin Cities, where “crime, pollution and violence” run rampant, the report predicts. “China will be the first global economy, and Europe will be second — but our purchasing power per head will be almost four times higher,” the report summary notes.
We’re going to be more and better connected: “The number of devices connected to the internet will have increased five-fold to 125 billion, and the amount of air passengers will nearly double. Everything humans do, good and bad, will be amplified,” according to the report.
‘Game changers’: The report doesn’t just outline problems, but also offers advice on policy-making “game changers” — in other words, what Europe could do to avoid the Continent turning into a dystopian hellscape. (Closing your eyes and letting it happen is not among the proposed actions — neither national nor European politics needs nudging towards the easiest course of non-action.)
In short: Let’s have a look at the executive summary, which breaks the whole report down concisely enough to perhaps earn itself some executive time. “If we do not keep temperature increases below 1.5 degrees, we risk heading towards extinction later this century,” it says. On demography, it doesn’t focus on migration (so it’s not the “secret plan” Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán keeps talking about): The report says that “if we age better we can mitigate declining birth rates.”
Some bitter truths: “If we do not develop a European approach” to regulate new technologies, “China and the U.S. will do it without us.” They will also take the lead in global polices if Europe doesn’t “change the way it thinks about defense, diplomacy and itself.” We’ve got the whole report here for you ahead of publication, and if you don’t have a spare hour or two, here’s the summary.
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2. LOBBY TRANSPARENCY FIGHT
MOVING IN CIRCLES: On to more day-to-day and less successful cooperation between the EU institutions. With the opportunities to come to an agreement on better lobby transparency in the EU under the European Parliament’s current term swiftly coming to an end, it’s become clear that talks are at an impasse — and the remainder of the term will mainly be used to play blame games.
Reminder of the state of play: The Commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans insists on a maximum, if simple, solution: No unregistered lobbyist should get to meet with staffers from any of the EU’s three main institutions. European Parliament says it can’t go that far due to restrictions imposed by its own legal service. Council relies on individual governments such as the incoming Finnish presidency to voluntarily publish their main diplomats’ lobby meetings. Last week’s developments here.
FRESH ALLEGATIONS: Parliament’s main negotiators, MEPs Danuta Hübner and Sylvie Guillaume, wrote in an email to NGOs and lobbying associations on Friday, seen by Playbook, that they remain “committed to making significant progress towards increased transparency.” They say they would have loved to find agreement on an “enhanced” transparency register (code for one that’s just slightly improved) during the final plenary later this month — and accused Timmermans of “persistent refusal,” adding: “By de facto suspending the political negotiations, the Commission is sending the wrong signal to the European citizens.”
Commission shoots back: “One sentence in the latest letter by the parliamentary rapporteurs says it all,” said Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud. “While previously we agreed to work towards a mandatory transparency register, the EP now speaks of an ‘enhanced transparency register.’” In the Commission’s view, the discussion is going backwards — the three institutions stated they wanted to continue discussions “on moving towards a mandatory transparency register” as recently as in February.
‘No one is suspending anything,’ a Commission official close to Timmermans told Playbook. The “no meeting with lobbyists who are not on the register” rule “is what would make the register mandatory,” the official said. “To drop this for reasons of political expediency and accept instead an ‘enhanced’ register under which decision-makers in the EP and Council are still free to meet unregistered lobbyists would be incomprehensible for citizens.”
TIMMERMANS IN LION’S DEN: Timmermans, in his capacity as the Social Democrats’ Spitzenkandidat, visited Austria and Poland this weekend, where he campaigned with Robert Biedroń, the new flag-bearer of Poland’s left. The Christian Democrats’ Manfred Weber had a campaign stint at home on the agenda. Read on for more on that …
3. THE EPP’S YOUNG GUNS
MEET WEBER’S NO. 1 FAN: “It wasn’t hard to make you elected our Spitzenkandiat,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told the EPP’s candidate for the Commission presidency Saturday, in front of an audience of EPP supporters. “Everybody was only waiting for him to say that he’s going to do it,” Kurz said of Weber, promising to “walk and run” for Weber, “so May 26 becomes a success and you become our Commission president.”
Weber’s work and Kurz’s contribution: Weber, speaking alongside Kurz and Bavarian Minister-President Markus Söder in Straubing, a town in Weber’s home region of Lower Bavaria, replied that “Sebastian, as a friend, underplayed his role” in Weber’s own success. He went on to enlighten the 2,300-strong audience, who were treated not only to campaign slogans but also some insights into the inner workings of Europe’s Christian Democratic party family.
Weber revealed how he prepared his bid to be the EPP’s main candidate in the EU election. He said Kurz “was among the first, one year ago, with whom I talked about this.” Weber said he talked to others too, but the decisive green light came from Kurz, whom he said he asked: “How do you assess this? Do you trust me to do that? How do you see this [going down] with your partners in the European Council?”
New generation: Kurz, now aged 32, has consistently pushed for change within both the EPP and EU politics in general. The Austrian has held up his own takeover of his country’s People’s Party, which led him into Vienna’s chancellory (and into a coalition with the far-right FPÖ), as the model to follow. Kurz told the Straubing crowd he and the EPP’s other young guns pushed their views into the party mainstream. “Our line also on the migration issue is gaining more and more acceptance in the EU,” Kurz said. Now they want more: One of their own atop the next Commission.
SPEAKING OF THAT MIGRATION LINE … Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán formally launched his Fidesz party’s campaign for the European Parliament election last Friday with a speech focusing on the idea that Europe’s population is in danger of being replaced by migrants and that “elites” in Brussels are disconnected from reality, our own Lili Bayer writes in to report. The Hungarian leader, whose party was suspended by the European People’s Party last month, proclaimed: “We decide about our future, and not the European People’s Party.” He added: “After the elections, we will see where the European People’s Party will turn. Now it looks like it turns leftward, toward a liberal direction, liberal empire-building and Europe of migrants. If it turns that way, you can be sure we won’t follow it.”
Hungary for trouble: Orbán also referred to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as a “socialist” who holds responsibility for Brexit and a “migrant invasion,” and called Manfred Weber a “Brussels Bavarian” who behaves toward Hungary in a way a “Munich Bavarian” would not. Speech in full.
WHERE’S THE BEEF? The paucity of Europe-wide pre-election debates is just the latest sign the Spitzenkandidat system may not survive the 2019 election cycle, write David Herszenhorn and Maïa de La Baume.
**Register today for POLITICO’s Spotlight “Election integrity 2.0: Voter participation in the digital era” taking place during the Yo!Fest 2019 on April 30 in Brussels. Powered by Facebook, the event will feature a panel discussion focusing on how Europe can put today’s technological disruption at the service of the electorate and how these technologies can deepen and broaden voter participation. Full program available on the website.**
4. BREXIT CAR CRASH
EXCLUSIVE POLL: As the U.K.’s Conservatives struggle to deliver Brexit and with a general election now looking within the realm of possibility, an exclusive poll for POLITICO suggests voters have lost trust in the party on core issues. In swing seats across the country, the Tories trail Labour on the central issues people most care about, a new POLITICO-Hanbury tracker poll found.
Generally unhappy: There is deep discontent with the two main parties, which are both seen as out of touch and incompetent. Yet it is the Tories who now trail overall on the core issues ranked as the most important by the public — Brexit, crime, housing and health.
Big but: Despite the negative view of the party and its handling of Brexit, Theresa May is still seen as the stronger leader compared to her opposition counterpart Jeremy Corbyn, who, the survey suggests, is the significant block to Labour pulling away in the polls. Tom McTague has more.
VIEW FROM LABOUR LAND: Britain should hold an inquiry into how Brexit has been handled, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told a live taping of POLITICO’s EU Confidential podcast in London Sunday. “We will need to look at why it is that we spent billions of pounds on no deal,” she said. “You know, why David Cameron had a referendum without telling the civil servants to prepare in case he lost the referendum.” Thornberry also demanded any Brexit deal between her party and the government be put to a second vote as she suggested Labour MPs from Leave-supporting constituencies were “misunderstanding” their constituents. Listen to the full podcast here.
MEANWHILE ON THE CONTINENT: The action will be taking place in Brussels this week (unless a majority for Theresa May’s exit deal magically emerges in the House of Commons). The main question for Wednesday’s extra EU summit is whether to go short or long when granting yet another extension to the U.K. … or some combination thereof, or even an outright there’s-the-door message.
The battle lines: French President Emmanuel Macron leads the ras-le-bol camp (though he’s looking rather lonesome in it, despite some noise to the contrary, EU diplomats suggest). In the minority or not, he’s still the French president. But he also promised only last week not to let Ireland down, and in case he has suddenly come down with a case of selective amnesia, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar sent a postcard over the weekend, from Dublin with love: Any EU country that vetoes a Brexit extension and as a result causes economic and political harm to other countries particularly vulnerable to a no-deal Brexit “wouldn’t be forgiven for it,” Varadkar told broadcaster RTÉ.
Warning: A country that blocks an extension should “know they might find themselves on the other end of that particular veto power in the future,” Varadkar added.
So what’s going to happen? Notwithstanding threats of possible intra-EU retribution, this week is perhaps also a good opportunity for Macron to demonstrate that his EU policy is not all about France. It would be surprising, given the past two years of unity, if the outcome of Wednesday’s EU27 deliberations did not take into account what Ireland — the EU country most directly affected by Brexit — most wants, which is this: No fall from a cliff-edge this Friday.
To that end … The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier visits Dublin for talks with Varadkar today.
We hear you: Wouldn’t it be ridiculous for Britain to take part in the EU election? Sure. But it wouldn’t be the first time British leaders have to make the embarrassing admission that quitting the Union without a deal won’t make the U.K. a land of milk, honey and Champagne.
**For a professional guide to the 2019 EU election, the Global Public Affairs Club (GPAC), a network of C-level professionals, has prepared the 2019 EU Election Executive Program — an event hosted by POLITICO journalist Ryan Heath on April 11-12 in Brussels. Contact us today at [email protected]**
AROUND THE CONTINENT
WHAT’S WITH ALL THE FARMYARD PHOTO-OPS? Spain’s rural interior has become the subject of mass political and media attention ahead of the April 28 national election — to the benefit of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists, writes Diego Torres.
Latest polling: Sánchez’s Socialists are on track to get the most votes in the election according to a GAD3 poll published by Spain’s ABC newspaper, but fall short of an outright majority. The party would win 31.1 percent of votes, or about 137 to 139 seats in the 350-seat parliament.
ITALY GETS THE JAB: A year after Italy’s governing parties took power pledging to repeal mandatory vaccinations, they can’t figure out how to follow through on that promise, reports Carmen Paun.
GLYPHODRAMA LATEST: Experts say the impact of weedkiller glyphosate on soil health represents a serious threat to Europe’s long-term food security, reports Simon Marks.
OVER AND OUT
ICYMI I — WESTEROS PLAYBOOK: Game of Thrones gets the POLITICO treatment, courtesy of Playbook’s own Zoya Sheftalovich, plus Cristiano Lima and Zack Stanton. Chock full of everything you need to know ahead of the Season 8 premiere this Sunday, plus puns, palace intrigue, Westerosi fan theories and more. (Also, obviously, spoilers.)
ICYMI II — 2019 EU PRESS REVUE NOW ONLINE.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: Kirstjen Nielsen will leave her post as secretary of Homeland Security, U.S. President Donald Trump announced overnight. Here’s POLITICO’s list of notable departures from Trump’s White House.
BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar, Danuta Hübner and Kati Piri; Former European Commissioner and WTO chief Pascal Lamy; Kate Stence; WSJ’s Lukas Alpert; Acumen Public Affairs’ Giles Keane; Andrej Plenković, prime minister of Croatia.
Celebrated Saturday: MEP Jo Leinen; Director-General for Justice and Consumers Tiina Astola; Oliver Gajda, European Crowdfunding Network; Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands; U.K. Ambassador to Germany Sebastian Wood; Charles Rivkin, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America and former U.S. ambassador to France.
Celebrated Sunday: MEP Axel Voss; Former MEP Marju Lauristin; European Commission’s Caroline Alibert-Deprez and Georgi Grigorov; Former Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schröder turned 75; POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman turned 29; Co-oking’s Elodie Bouscarat; Tonga PM ʻAkilisi Pōhiva; Brigi Rafini, prime minister of Niger.
THANK YOU: To our producer Arnau Busquets Guàrdia.
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