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By FLORIAN EDER
with ZOYA SHEFTALOVICH
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MESSAGE TO WARSAW, VIENNA AND BUDAPEST: Are you a government that doesn’t want to take in asylum seekers who arrived in another EU country? The Commission, as it ventures once more into Europe’s most sensitive policy issue, has a proposal for you: You can help that country send home migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected instead. This “sponsorship” scheme is among the measures to feature in the Commission’s migration reform plan, according to officials familiar with the proposals.
GOOD MORNING. We’ve got a preview of the Commission’s long-expected migration package for you today. But first, let’s look at an extravaganza that could only happen in the times of corona: When was the last time you remember a European Council meeting being called off with a less than 48 hours’ notice?
NO EUCO THIS WEEK: European Council President Charles Michel has postponed this week’s EU leaders’ summit to next week because he needs to quarantine after someone he met with tested positive to the coronavirus. That’s causing a protocol, scheduling and travel headache, and is a highly unusual decision. But there was fear the Europa building might become the next Ischgl — a super-spreader event.
Deputizing? Nah. The European Council’s rules of procedure suggest that “in the event of an impediment because of illness” of its president, the holder of the recurring Council presidency takes over. A short and non-comprehensive Playbook survey suggests there are more shocking things to EU diplomats than having to imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel officially chairing a summit. But then again …
It’s not often Merkel and her 26 fellow leaders get a two-day slot freed up at such short notice. So why would they insist on the chancellor taking over from Michel … who didn’t even bother asking? “The president is not ill and the postponement was discussed with the German presidency,” a spokesman for Michel told Playbook. A spokesperson for the German government said “we took note” of the postponement and “respect President Michel’s decision.”
MISSED CHANCE? Greece and Turkey agreed to restart talks in a bid to resolve their disputed maritime claims in the Mediterranean — early momentum from recent talks between EU leaders and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which some had hoped to further exploit at this week’s summit. The aim was to address a whole host of topics from EU-Turkey relations in general, to migration and other Eastern Mediterranean files, to Belarus sanctions, which are being held hostage by Cyprus.
France is carefully trying to keep a distance from its friend and best ally in the Eastern Med: “We have to go where the issue is: Cyprus. And we say to them: Please, let’s go fast” in sanctioning the regime of disputed Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune said during a POLITICO live interview with Maïa de La Baume and Rym Momtaz on Tuesday. “I was clear on that … with my Cypriot colleagues saying, ‘OK, you should unlock the Belarus sanctions, because I think you are not doing a favor to yourself by creating this link.’” (Backstory here.)
Speaking of Turkey … and Russia: Beaune suggested the EU must learn to use hard power to deal with its “not so nice” neighbors. European countries had for centuries “directed power at each other,” which led to two world wars and, as a consequence, the creation of the EU. “But we were so bad at dealing with power that we just delegated it, if I may put it like that, to NATO, to the U.S., to national states, armies and so on,” Beaune said. Eventually, “we have to unite and we have to develop tools, and we don’t have them at this stage.” He was as ever singing from his master’s hymn book.
Further reading: Hans von der Burchard has a write-up and here’s the video in case you missed it.
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LAST-CHANCE COMMISSION, NOW FOR REAL: So, the Commission will today try to break the deadlock over the EU’s migration policy by redefining that most contentious term, “solidarity.” Here’s Playbook’s preview of the proposals, a defining moment for the von der Leyen Commission, its president included. Another failure is not an option, said her deputy responsible, Margaritis Schinas who, together with Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, will present the package in the press room today.
Here’s the gist: If EU countries such as Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic absolutely refuse to take in refugees from Greece or Italy, they can help those countries reduce the number of people on their soil, according to EU officials familiar with today’s proposal. This is where the “sponsoring” of the return of those who can’t stay in the EU to their countries of origin comes in.
Getting tougher: That’s the core of a whole array of 10 individual proposals to be put forward today, which are meant to toughen migration policy and reduce the number of people coming to the EU illegally. The Commission is aware migration will always exist, whether prime ministers and chancellors declare individual migratory routes closed or not, and there will always be the need to help the most affected countries in the event of a crisis. Best hope: “We haven’t crossed anybody’s red lines,” one official said.
Here’s how it works: The country a migrant first enters the EU in will get reassurances that it will be “alleviated of the same number of people” as it was entitled to under the relocation scheme, said the official. The sponsor can fulfill its obligations in manifold ways, from organizing return flights to diplomatic engagement with specific countries to convince them to take their citizens back.
Deadline: The sponsors will even be able to choose the nationalities they help return, according to the official — but they’ll have to guarantee it happens within eight months, according to the proposals. Otherwise, they’ll have to transfer the would-be returnees to their own country to complete the procedure. On EU average today, it takes four months to return applicants whose claims have been rejected.
The new focus is returns: Rather than fighting about refugees who are allowed to stay in the EU, the Commission wants EU countries to focus on a joint effort to reduce the number of those who aren’t entitled to protection or asylum. Such a push will include the creation of a new role of an EU coordinator for returns within the Commission, according to officials. Plus a beefed-up border control protocol with, in the future, “full checking of everyone who enters our borders” — which should be more than just taking fingerprints, as is current standard.
How to measure success: If the proposals are still alive and kicking by the time interior ministers meet in early October, diplomats give them a chance to be the basis of discussions.
Further reading: Our own migration guru Jacopo Barigazzi and I teamed up for this walk-up.
‘IT’S A MESS’: “There was broad political agreement this afternoon in the Council” to reach a common approach to travel in the age of corona, Beaune said Tuesday after a meeting with his peers. The EU has to harmonize the criteria for when to introduce and when to ease travel restrictions — “because it is a mess at the moment.” Ministers discussed the German presidency’s “progress report,” which we wrote about in Monday’s Playbook.
NEW BELGIAN TRAVEL RULES: The EU institutions’ host will drop its outright ban on travel to areas marked high-risk due to the coronavirus from Friday. Belgium will instead “strongly discourage” travel. (Strangely, the authorities don’t discourage people from staying in that hotspot called Brussels.) The new language is a return to a pre-coronavirus approach to travel advice, Foreign Affairs Minister Philippe Goffin said in a statement.
Semantics matter: More importantly, it is an effort to match the approach taken in other countries, the minister said. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but replacing a travel ban to the red zones with a negative travel advice that strongly discourages traveling to a red zone is an important step towards real coordination that Belgium wants to establish as soon as possible.” Here are the details.
HOW TO ENABLE ESSENTIAL TRAVEL: The European Parliament plans to take things into its own hands and open a coronavirus testing center for MEPs and staff, and has now made almost €1 million available — by redirecting some of its unused travel budget. The aim is to provide easy access to tests and have results available within a day, to enable MEPs to actually make those trips to and from their constituencies.
Scarce Belgian resources: Tests, and quick results, are something frequent travelers from Brussels, an infection red zone, need when crossing several EU borders, and it’s something the Belgian public health system has become increasingly unable to provide. As a Parliament spokesperson put it politely, the idea is to avoid putting additional strain on the country’s testing centers, “which are already under pressure.”
Note the difference: Parliament builds a testing facility for all members and staff to enable necessary travel — while over at the Commission, they test folks with access to the 13th floor only, so as to avoid the president getting infected or having to wear a mask.
BRITS TOLD TO STAY HOME: For weeks, Britons were told by their government to please go to the office. It looked nicer, apparently, in the eye of a beholder called Boris Johnson. He’s now apparently decided that being prime minister of the country with the most COVID deaths in Europe is perhaps an even worse look, so he’s urging caution and telling people to stay home again.
Further reading: Here’s more on Johnson’s latest U-turn, by Emilio Casalicchio. And Andrew McDonald has a handy and fun synopsis of the government’s coronavirus guidance, as it has instructed Brits to work from home, not to work from home, to work from home, to eat out, and to stay in — all within a few weeks.
SPEAKING OF BORIS: Matthew O’Toole, who sits in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the Social Democratic and Labour Party and is the former chief press officer for Brexit in No. 10 Downing Street, has written a fiery op-ed for POLITICO. “There has been much talk about whether and how” the U.K.’s Internal Market Bill breaches the Good Friday Agreement, O’Toole writes. “By resiling from the Ireland protocol contained in the withdrawal treaty signed with the EU, it jeopardizes all the protections against a hardened border between the north and south. But more broadly, along with the entire project of hard Brexit, it acts as an assault on the nervous system of the settlement in Northern Ireland.”
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FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
BEIJING’S BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, will reach carbon neutrality before 2060, President Xi Jinping told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. “China will raise its nationally determined contribution and adopt strengthened measures and policies. We will strive to reach the peaking of emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060,” Xi said. That’s quite the pledge — it’s exactly what EU leaders wished for, and it makes the U.S. look like a country run by Donald Trump. More here for POLITICO Energy and Climate Pros or here from dpa newswire, and catch up with our free pop-up U.N. Playbook.
MEET ARMIN LASCHET: Armin Laschet, the premier of Germany’s largest state and a leading contender to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, has called for a pragmatic approach to relations with China and Russia. “One can’t only pursue trade relations with countries that follow our societal model,” he told Matt Karnitschnig in an interview. Check out Matt’s profile here.
EXCLUSION AND POVERTY: While they may reside in some of the world’s richest countries, one out of four Roma and Traveller children in the EU lives in a family that cannot afford basic items such as proper food or heating. That’s according to a new survey by the EU’s agency for fundamental rights, out while you were sleeping. Many face hunger, and their life expectancy is 10 years lower than among the general population. Almost a third of parents said their children have been harassed at school because they are Roma or Travellers.
Vicious circle: Two-thirds of young Roma and Travellers completed only lower secondary education, while the number of those surveyed who completed tertiary education is “statistically invisible,” the study says. When it comes to literacy in the national language, 27 precent of younger respondents have difficulty writing and 20 precent in reading. A quarter of those aged 18-24 did not continue their education “because they were looking for work or needed to work.” Find the survey here.
HOW TURKEY BECAME EUROPE’S GARBAGE DUMP: China’s decision to ban most waste imports made Turkey the destination of choice for European waste exporters, writes Selin Uğurtaş. Now, that’s creating a political problem for the government.
FRANCE DOUBLES PATERNITY LEAVE TO 28 DAYS.
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OVER AND OUT
SCHEMBRI ARRESTED: Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff to ex-Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, has been arrested amid allegations he unlawfully received a kickback worth €100,000 through passport sales. Police arrested Schembri Tuesday, a day after a court order that froze all his assets and those of his auditor Brian Tonna, the Times of Malta reported. More.
BIRTHDAYS: MEP Karin Karlsbro; Former MEPs Andrew England Kerr, Marie-Christine Vergiat and Ricardo Cortés; POLITICO’s Santa Silapētere; Former U.S. Ambassador to the EU Kristen Silverberg; Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
MANY THANKS: Jacopo Barigazzi, Stephen Brown, Andrew Gray and our producer Miriam Webber.
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