How will the EIB lead Europe’s green transition under its new chief?

Euronews sits down with the President of the European Investment Bank, Nadia Calviño, to discuss how it is accelerating Europe’s goal to offset carbon emissions by 2050 and its efforts to rebuild Ukraine.

It’s the biggest multilateral lender in the world; the European Investment Bank is providing funds for green projects instead of fossil fuel investments. It is also financing the reconstruction of Ukraine and supporting innovation and competitiveness, not just in Europe but across the globe.

Euronews Correspondent Stefan Grobe spoke with Nadia Calviño, the Former Deputy Prime Minister of Spain and newly-appointed President of the European Investment Bank on The Global Conversation.

To watch the full interview click on the video in the media player above or read the full interview below.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: You just started your six-year term a few weeks ago and already have a lot on your plate. I want to mention one priority, to begin with, Ukrainian reconstruction. Obviously, a monumental task that requires strong European commitments. I wonder how this is going to be managed, how do you fund projects that could still be destroyed by war?

Nadia Calviño, President of the European Investment Bank: Well, the bank has been active in Ukraine for a long time. And actually, since the war started, we have already invested €2 billion in Ukraine. It’s [also] very good news that last week, leaders agreed to reinforce the Ukraine facility. That’s also going to give more guarantees and more firepower to the European Investment Bank Group to continue to support Ukraine now and invest in the reconstruction once the war is over, as soon as possible, I hope.

The EIB’s fight against climate change

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: The EIB is also known by many people as the green bank.So, tell us a little about the projects, the industries, the numbers. And are investors still excited?

Nadia Calviño, President of the European Investment Bank: Absolutely. Well, last year we invested €49 billion in the green transition. So, I think it’s very good. And it’s really a good description of the bank to call us the climate bank. And we have consolidated our brand and we are financing, the whole cycle. That has to do with the green transition from R&D [research and technical development] and deployment of disruptive technologies to reinforcement of the grid. Also, decarbonisation of heavy industry, energy efficiency and net-zero technologies. And so, I think that is the right way to support the transition.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: There is currently an increase in big carmakers delaying the rollout of new electric models, farmers protesting environmental regulations and populists ignoring climate policy. Is the Green Deal in real danger?

Nadia Calviño, President of the European Investment Bank: We are in a transition and changes are disruptive, there are costs involved, which is why the public sector, politicians, as well as public institutions such as the European Investment Bank Group need to accompany those sectors. 

We need to support the agricultural sector in undertaking the necessary investments. We need to support heavy industry to make these adjustments. We need citizens to have access to affordable green technologies

It is our duty to explain things and to accompany our economies and societies, to close the investment gap and ensure we seize the opportunities of these twin green and digital transitions.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: The EIB’s investment report shows that European companies have increased investments in things like innovation, energy efficiency and supply chain diversification. However, the report also warns that there is a risk that corporate Europe is going to be divided, going forward. What is the issue here?

Nadia Calviño, President of the European Investment Bank: It is clear that companies have to think twice about undertaking some of the necessary investments. There is very high uncertainty and geopolitical tension that is also limiting the appetite, the risk appetite of corporations. And that is why the EIB has an important role in de-risking investments. 

When we invest in green hydrogen or a circular battery factory, we are really making this project possible because we bring with us other public investors, but also private investors that see the role of the bank as a very important element of de-risking, but also technical analysis. We rubber-stamp, to a certain extent, that this is a viable project. This is a good project and that is mobilising private investment.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: You mentioned geopolitical tensions. A lot of people in Brussels and in the EU capitals fear the return of Donald Trump to the White House. Are you among them?

Nadia Calviño, President of the European Investment Bank: 2024 is an important year from the perspective that billions of citizens around the world are going to go to the polls, are going to vote and decide what future they want for their lives and their children, including the EU. 

We have the European elections coming up soon, and all these elections are certainly going to have a large impact on our destinies. But most importantly, I think the European elections should lead to a strong unity of Europeans and a solid commitment to remain together and to respond together, united and in a determined manner to the challenges around us. Because that has proven to be throughout history, the right way forward.

The EIB and the capital markets union

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: One key policy in Brussels and in Europe is competitiveness. And let me bring this up in connection with a good old goodie of EU policy ambitions, with a long shelf life, and that is the capital markets union [CMU]. A few days ago, the Council and Parliament agreed to review market infrastructure rules. Are you confident that this could come to a conclusion this year?

Nadia Calviño, President of the European Investment Bank: This is an area where I’ve been working in for many years. You know, I have a lot of experience in dealing with financial regulation. Capital markets union was already one of our top priorities 15 years ago, 10 years ago. And so, I hope that in the next mandate, we will be able to have an updated legal framework in this regard. 

But, in the meantime, as president of the European Investment Bank Group, I have already launched a number of workstreams in the House to see how we can be pioneers of some of the financial instruments that can form the building blocks of this actual capital markets union.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: You just started your term here at the EIB in Luxembourg. Where do you want Europe to be in six years?

Nadia Calviño, President of the European Investment Bank: Well, that’s a very difficult question to reply to because who knows what can happen in the coming six years. Just looking back and thinking what we’ve been through with the pandemic, the war, inflation. I really hope that going forward, we are able to respond in an efficient manner to the challenges that will surely come our way. 

I hope that we have restored peace on our borders and that we can, you know, looking back, think that this was only a short period where so much war and destruction was surrounding the Union. And I hope that we will also see a strongly united, deeper, more integrated economy and society within our European Union and of course, prosperity, welfare and happiness for our kids and grandkids.

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Prognosis for Russia’s economy is ‘not good,’ says EU sanctions envoy

Euronews speaks to David O’Sullivan, the EU’s sanctions envoy, about loopholes, circumvention, Russia’s economy and criticism over the EU’s response to war in the Middle East.

As the West continues to sanction Russia for its illegal invasion of Ukraine, some foreign companies have stepped into the fray and are supplying the Russian military with critical technologies prohibited by the EU, US and UK.

The EU’s special envoy for sanctions, David O’Sullivan, has been travelling to third countries with the aim of limiting sanctions circumvention. 

Listen to this episode of the Global Conversation by clicking the video player above, or read the full interview below.

‘There’s always going to be a degree of circumvention’

Shona Murray, Euronews: So your job is sanctions envoy, but I suppose really what you’re trying to do is ensure that sanctions potential is maximised so that other countries around the world or private entities are not undercutting the sanctions deployed by the US, the EU and the UK. Tell us a little bit about your role.

David O’Sullivan, EU Sanctions Envoy: Well, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We have an unprecedented range of sanctions against Russia, more than we’ve ever sanctioned any other country. We have 60% of our imports, previous imports from Russia are under sanction, 55% of our exports. And obviously, ensuring effective implementation is very important. One part of that, which is my responsibility, is to reach out to countries that have not aligned with our sanctions.

Shona Murray, Euronews: So what would you say then would be a successful use of your time and this time next year, would you hope to see that these critical goods, this critical infrastructure, isn’t found on the battlefield in Ukraine?

David O’Sullivan, EU Sanctions Envoy: Well, we are already seeing that it’s getting more difficult for Russia to acquire these things. I think we have to be realistic. There’s always going to be a degree of circumvention. There’s money to be made. A lot of these products have previously been sold to other countries and are kind of out there on the free market. So if somebody wants to try and buy them, they are still available. But I think our main objective – and in this, I think we are succeeding – is to make it harder, to make it slower and to make it more expensive for Russia to access these products.

Russia increasingly relying on ‘substitute products’ from China

Shona Murray, Euronews: Do you worry, though, that Russia will just re-orient its economy completely and be able to take all of these exports from huge countries like China?

David O’Sullivan, EU Sanctions Envoy: Well, the thing to remember is that the point about these products and most of them – maybe for your viewers, we should explain – I mean, they are typically semiconductors, integrated circuits and fibre optical readers, flash memory cards. They’re things that have a perfectly innocent civilian application in normal circumstances. But they are largely made with US or EU technology. They are not easily replicated in other countries. So it’s hard for Russia to get them as we cease to export them and as we persuade countries, intermediary countries, to no longer re-export them to Russia. And I think, yes, we do see some evidence that it’s getting much more difficult. And they are using substitute products sometimes of Chinese origin, but which are of inferior quality. So this is giving the Ukrainian military a certain technological advantage on the battlefield.

War in Ukraine ‘a different situation’ for Europeans than the Israel-Hamas war

Shona Murray, Euronews: Have things changed for you or maybe become more difficult since the heinous terrorist attack by Hamas on 7 October? Because we saw criticisms from the likes of King Abdullah of Jordan, for example, who was concerned that the EU position when it came to international humanitarian law protecting civilians in Palestine wasn’t the same or wasn’t the same concern when it comes to civilians in Ukraine.

David O’Sullivan, EU Sanctions Envoy: I think they understand that for the Europeans, this is a different situation. I mean, Russia has attacked Ukraine without any provocation. Ukraine posed absolutely no threat to Russia. So this is an unprovoked, full-scale invasion of a sovereign country. And I think people understand why for us in Europe, we have to push back very strongly. And Mr Putin’s ambitions of re-establishing Russian hegemony in the immediate neighbourhood of Russia is something we cannot accept. So I think people do understand it’s different. And that is why, as Europeans, we have a particular obligation in this situation. Of course, I would argue we have also taken a firm position in relation to what’s happening in the Middle East. But I don’t sense that people see this as a sort of binary choice. I often explain we can manage more than one crisis at a time.

Russia is ‘cannibalising the economy’

Shona Murray, Euronews: But we hear from some member states that say that these [sanctions] are pointless and they’re just impacting the European economy. So citizens are suffering at a time when there’s a cost of living crisis. And yet the Russian economy is growing, albeit much slower, 1.1%, I think the IMF said. So what do you say to that response that this is pointless and Europeans are just suffering?

David O’Sullivan, EU Sanctions Envoy: Well, it does come at some cost to us, let’s be honest, because we traditionally have traded a lot with Russia. It’s still not a major part of our trading pattern. And I think companies have been able to find alternate markets. In terms of the effectiveness, I mean, honestly, we had three objectives. One was to deprive Russia, the Russian military, of the technology. The second was to deprive the Russian government of the revenue. And the third was to impose a high cost on the military-industrial complex. Across all three of those objectives, I think we have had quite a lot of success.

We are seeing Russia struggling to get hold of the technology it needs and is now turning to Iran or North Korea. And we do see evidence that the Russians are having to roll out older weapons, older tanks, in order to keep their military equipped. On the revenue side, we estimate that the Russians probably have about €400 billion less to spend. The Russian government traditionally had a surplus in their public expenditure. They’re now running a deficit of 2 to 3%. And yes, the Russian economy is growing a bit. But you need to look closely at why that’s the case. It’s because they’re massively investing in their military. 30% of Russian public expenditure is now on the military, nearly 10% of GDP. If you put your economy on a war footing, of course, you can bend everything to the interest of the military, but you’re cannibalising the economy. There’s no investment going into social welfare, education, health, into research. So the prognosis for the Russian economy, and that’s the third objective of reducing their industrial capacity, the prognosis is not good.

Addressing the loophole in Russian oil sanctions

Shona Murray, Euronews: India is buying a lot of Russian oil, refining and sending it back to the West. That seems kind of counterproductive. What is your position on that and how much of a loophole that seems to be?

David O’Sullivan, EU Sanctions Envoy: Well, we decided at the very beginning that we would not do an embargo on the export of Russian oil in the way that we did, for example, with Iran. The reason for that was because many parts of the global South were dependent on continuing to allow Russian oil to flow. And we took the position that we would allow those flows to continue. So it is perfectly legal for other countries. We’re no longer buying Russian oil, but it’s perfectly legal for other countries to buy it.

Shona Murray, Euronews: And sell it back to the West…

David O’Sullivan, EU Sanctions Envoy: We have kept the price at which it can normally be purchased in a way that still undermines the revenue that Russia gets. Our estimate is that in the first half of this year (2023), revenue from oil went down by 50% in Russia. But yes, they are still able to export it. And yes, in some cases like India, they refine it and send it back to us. The Indian argument would be that they’re the ones making the profit, not the Russians. I think the main objective for us is to make sure that the Russian revenue is severely impacted by the oil price cap. And I think we see a lot of evidence that that is the case.

Shona Murray, Euronews: Okay. David O’Sullivan, EU sanctions envoy, thank you very much for joining us on Global Conversation.

David O’Sullivan, EU Sanctions Envoy: Thank you.

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The far right is already part of the European mainstream

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The far right is not ascendant in the sense that it is banging on the door. It is already in the room and occupying part of the furniture, Tom Junes writes.

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In late November, Geert Wilders and his far-right PVV’s victory in the snap Dutch general elections seemingly stunned political observers across the media spectrum.

Analysts were quick to point out how the success of the far right was the result of “mainstreaming” by predominantly centre-right parties who tended to take over the far-right’s rhetoric and programmatic talking points on immigration.

And while Wilders’ result of 23.5% of the vote in a very fragmented partyscape was arguably a political “earthquake” in the Netherlands, dire statements about the far right’s ascendancy in Europe and pessimistic predictions about the upcoming European elections followed.

You win some, you lose some

It seemed quickly forgotten that just a month earlier in October, in Poland — a country with more than double the population of the Netherlands — a broad alliance of opposition parties managed to trounce the competing radical and far-right parties in an ugly and heavily contested election signalling the likely end of eight years of illiberal rule under Law and Justice (PiS).

Also in October, the far right underperformed in local elections in Bulgaria, a country where various far-right parties (ATAKA, NFSB, VMRO) had been junior governing partners or offered necessary silent support to minority governments for most of the past decade and a half.

Admittedly, neither Poland nor Bulgaria, owing to their post-communist transitions after 1989, have any traditional centre-right parties of the western European kind such as Christian-democratic or liberal parties that would have mainstreamed a generic far-right.

Nor is opposing immigration an exclusive talking point of the far right or centre-right in Central and Eastern Europe, as the nominally left-wing and populist SMER of Robert Fico in Slovakia proves.

Despite the claims of far-right ascendancy, populist, radical right and far-right parties have effectively been “mainstream” and part of the political status quo across Central and Eastern Europe for quite some time.

Poland’s PiS has been the requisite half of a political “duopoly” in the country since 2005, and Victor Orban’s Fidesz has ruled Hungary with a supermajority since 2010.

Slovakia’s SMER has governed for most of the past two decades, while Bulgaria’s far-right has exhibited a dynamic pluralism and series of metamorphoses in the past two decades with its current incarnation representing the third largest parliamentary force.

Seen as the “poorer periphery of the EU”, Central and Eastern Europe often fails to fit political models that are tailored to fit western European realities. But the latter has an enduring far-right phenomenon that goes back nearly a generation as well.

The West is not immune to an enduring far-right presence

Italy, the third-largest EU member state by population, is currently governed by a far-right party, Georgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy.

And though Meloni is the country’s first far-right PM since Benito Mussolini, her party — like Matteo Salvini’s Lega or League — is part of a right-wing bloc that has governed Italy on and off since Silvio Berlusconi’s rise back in the 1990s.

If it would not be ironic to talk about ascendancy while noting that Geert Wilders is at present the Netherlands’ longest-serving MP, the breakthrough of the Dutch far right can be traced to the general elections of 2002 with the emergence and immediate government participation of the Lijst Pim Fortuyn.

The Dutch far right’s story is overshadowed by the neighbouring Flemish far right’s trajectory in Belgium following the first so-called “Black Sunday” in 1991 with governmental participation prevented by a three-decade-old cordon sanitaire against Vlaams Belang (formerly Vlaams Blok).

This was not the case in Austria, where the FPÖ under Jörg Haider managed to enter government in 2000 triggering widespread dismay and outcry about the rise of the extreme right.

Conflicting interests means far-right would struggle to unite

More recently, far-right parties have seen breakthroughs in several countries and entered government in Finland and Sweden, but perhaps the most mediatised case has been France with Marine Le Pen’s consecutive presidential run-off defeats to Emmanuel Macron.

Yet, Le Pen’s presidential campaigns built on her father’s surprise performance back in 2002 which — though ultimately providing incumbent president Jacques Chirac with a Belarusian-style vote share — already signalled the incipient rise of the French far right.

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In the end, far-right parties’ influence has grown over the past two decades as “mainstream” parties increasingly emulated their agenda while their own performance in turn has made far-right parties now become one of several “acceptable” options for voters in many countries.

Does this mean that some broad international far-right alliance is possible in Europe? In theory, perhaps. In practice, this would be rather unlikely since far-right parties tend to have more conflicting interests than what could unite them beyond opposing immigration.

In addition, European elections tend to produce different results than national elections. 

At the moment, there are two groups that bring together radical right and far-right parties (ID and ECR) in the European Parliament. Yet, more than half of their MEPs actually come from only three countries: Poland, France, and Italy.

More so, Wilders doesn’t even have a single MEP, while Meloni’s European policies have been so mainstream that she could more probably lead her party into the EPP rather than join some large yet-to-materialise anti-establishment far-right alliance.

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The far right is already sitting on your sofa

Does this mean that the far right has no clout? On the contrary, it does, but exactly because it is already part of the mainstream in many countries and able to exert a profound influence on the policies of other parties.

The far right is not ascendant in the sense that it is banging on the door. It is already in the room and occupying part of the furniture which requires a change in thinking, meaning, how to deal with a far-right that is not going away in the short run.

And it should also tell those who wish to oppose the far right that these parties’ success and the fact that they are now deemed salonfähig is due to the existence of a large percentage of people who endorse racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobe, illiberal and authoritarian views. 

Perhaps that is something more profound to reflect upon when we think about Europe’s political future.

Tom Junes is a historian and Assistant Professor at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is the author of “Student Politics in Communist Poland: Generations of Consent and Dissent”.

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Charles Michel admits to ‘real difficulties’ between EU and Azerbaijan

Euronews sits down with the President of the European Council Charles Michel to discuss the challenges facing the EU, future enlargement, support for Ukraine and the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The war in Ukraine continues to shake the European Union and neighbouring countries seeking to join the European project. Sources of tension are multiplying, as we’ve recently seen in the Caucasus. Faced with these challenges, Member States are looking for diplomatic, political and business solutions. 

To discuss these threats and challenges, Euronews spoke with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, in The Global Conversation. 

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“New military action has taken place close to the European Union. Azerbaijan launched a lightning military offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh. What is the priority today?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“The question is a shocking one because there was a mediation process underway and the use of violence must always be deplored. And what’s important now is to be very active on the humanitarian front. And we are very committed to supporting Armenia, which is hosting a very large number of refugees who have left the region where they used to live, in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. On the other hand, we must remain politically and diplomatically committed to ensuring that there is a clear reaffirmation of respect for Armenia’s territorial integrity.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“You’ve been involved in this mediation over the last few months. Was the attack a result of a failure of European diplomacy?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“I think that when you’re involved in diplomacy and mediation, you know that it’s not an exact science. And so I think that this mediation, which is being conducted in parallel with others, notably with the United States, has enabled progress to be made, exchanges of prisoners for example, progress in terms of understanding how we could improve connectivity in this region as a factor in stability for the future. Progress has also been made on texts aimed at one day having a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But having said that, there is no doubt that we immediately regretted this military action. I am extremely disappointed by this decision taken by Azerbaijan, and I have made this very clear to President Aliyev.”

Charles Michel rejects the idea that the EU turned a blind eye to preserve its gas agreements with Azerbaijan

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“There were warning signs. The closure of the Lachin corridor, the Azeri troops massing around Nagorno-Karabakh. Did the EU see these warning signs?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“We have been extremely active throughout the summer because once we realised that the Lachin corridor was closed and that there was humanitarian pressure on the region, it was important to reopen this humanitarian access. And throughout the summer and in the weeks and days leading up to this military action, the European Union was very directly involved, both with representatives of the Armenian population in the region and with representatives of the Azerbaijan government, and we managed to ensure that humanitarian access was reopened. And it was a few hours after this reopening that the military action was launched. We will remain very committed. We are not giving up, it is true that we are disappointed by the decision to take military action, but we are not giving up on our commitment to bring stability, security and, in the short term, humanitarian aid to the region.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Did the European Union turn a blind eye in order to preserve its gas agreements with Azerbaijan?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“No, absolutely not. I understand that some people see this as an argument. It’s not a correct analysis. We demonstrated the European Union’s ability to diversify very quickly after the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine and, as a result, there are many options open to us today in terms of access to energy resources.”

‘Real difficulties’ with Azerbaijan

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Should we reconsider these gas agreements to try and get guarantees from Baku?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“What is certain is that we must first see with Armenia how we can find a way to move towards a normalisation of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. A firm and absolutely indisputable guarantee of mutual recognition of the respective territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and Armenia. And how we can also guarantee the rights and security of the Armenian population living in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Is Azerbaijan still a partner of the European Union?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“It is a partner, yes, today it is a partner. But does that mean that the relationship is simple? No, the relationship is not simple. Is it difficult? Yes, and these real difficulties need to be understood.”

‘There is a great responsibility on Azerbaijan’s side’

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“You’re going to meet the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. What are you going to say to them?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“Once again, we’re going to encourage a normalisation process that can lead to commitments on both sides, that there is respect for the commitments that have been made and the absolute priority is to ensure that there are negotiations on both territorial boundaries and borders. In fact, it was the European process that enabled progress to be made on this, on a peace treaty to normalise relations and also on what is known as connectivity, i.e. the ability of both the Armenians and the people of Azerbaijan to move around the region.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“You used the word peace. Is peace possible?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“That will depend on the will of both sides. There’s no doubt that military action creates mistrust, to say the least. So it’s certain that if we want to move towards peace, greater security and greater prosperity, the best thing is for there to be negotiations that can set down a certain number of commitments on both sides.”

‘The international community needs to play a role in guaranteeing the safety and rights’ of those who have fled

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“On 1 January, Nagorno-Karabakh will cease to exist. How can we create confidence in these conditions?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“I think there is a great responsibility on Azerbaijan’s side, from the moment it was Azerbaijan that launched a military operation, it is now up to Azerbaijan to show goodwill, good faith in a commitment with the necessary monitoring by the international community to protect the rights and security of the entire population living in Azerbaijan, including the Armenian population.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Armenia is talking about ethnic cleansing at the moment in Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you agree with this terminology?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“In any case, it’s clear that there is a de facto situation today where the vast majority of the Armenian population has left this region, probably out of fear of how they would be treated by the Azerbaijan authorities.. A large part of the population is now in Armenia, which is why humanitarian aid is needed, particularly from the European Union, and I think that the international community needs to play a role in guaranteeing the safety and rights of this population and seeing how the population will decide to either to stay in part in Armenia or to be able to return to their region.”

‘Russia has betrayed the Armenian population’

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Russia is a major player in the region. Does this attack by Azerbaijan weaken or strengthen Moscow?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“One thing is certain now, and no one can fail to see it. Russia has betrayed the Armenian people and Russia has expressed the wish to have soldiers present to guarantee these agreements on stability and security. And we can see that this military operation was launched without the slightest reaction from Russia, which was on the ground, which was not the case for the European Union, which does not have a military force on the ground, as you know.”

‘We are extremely united’

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“On the subject of Ukraine, is European support for Ukraine still as infallible as ever? The elections in Slovakia saw a party which is pro-Kremlin and against support for Ukraine come out on top. Are Member States still united?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“The answer is yes. We are extremely united and I remember that in the weeks and months following the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine, there was already a lot of speculation at the time that Member States would be fragmented, that they would divide very quickly. This is not what is happening and, on the contrary, the time that has passed has actually welded positions together and strengthened the way in which Russia is sanctioned. Eleven packages of sanctions have been progressively decided against Russia and has strengthened the decision to support Ukraine with financial capacities, with arms, which is a first for the European Union, and above all with a great deal of political support in international forums. It is the European Union that is speaking with a very, very strong voice in support of the just peace presented and proposed by President Zelenskyy, which is based on respect for territorial integrity and respect for the United Nations Charter.”

‘Unity requires a great deal of effort’

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Are you not worried? Because Slovakia and Poland have said they are going to suspend arms deliveries. You get the impression that there are cracks appearing.”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“We’ve been saying that since the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine, there are risks of cracks. That doesn’t mean we’re not vigilant. We are vigilant because unity is rarely spontaneous and unity requires a great deal of effort, political work, convergence and diplomacy. We are going to remain extremely committed, both as Europeans, but also with our allies and our partners around the world, with the United States, with Canada, with Japan and with a great many countries around the world that support this position of the European Union, which aims to defend security in Europe, but not only that, to also defend a world order that is based on rules. Because when a permanent member of the Security Council, as in the case of Russia, attacks its neighbour, it is the world order that is threatened and not just security in Europe.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“How are you going to be able to talk to Slovakia today?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“There have been elections. We must always respect the results of elections. That’s a constant in a democratic area. And then we will see what the government will be, because in the next few days, I suppose, negotiations will take place so that a government can be formed in Slovakia and we will work in good faith, and sincerity, with the government that will come out of this electoral process.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Aren’t you afraid of the blockages or vetoes that are appearing more and more?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“It’s not the first time there have been elections within the European Union, it’s rather a normal process and that’s good. It’s very good!. And when there are elections, we often speculate beforehand and then often realise afterwards that there is an ability to ensure that common sense prevails and that we can really work together, because I think that many people realise that the European Union brings added value, particularly at times like these. These are times of great international tension.”

‘The United States is determined to work hand in hand with the Europeans’

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“In a few weeks’ time you’ll be going to the United States, to Washington. Do you think that American support for Ukraine is infallible there too? We saw an agreement in Congress that shelved aid for Ukraine. There are questions about Washington’s support.”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“In all the meetings we’ve had with President Biden, with Secretary of State Blinken, I’ve noted a very great determination and sincerity in their support for Ukraine, because there is this understanding in the United States, as I said, that it’s not just support for Ukraine or for the European Union, it’s support for a vision of the world based on freedom and democracy. That is what is really at stake. So I’m quite confident that the United States is determined to work hand in hand with the Europeans. A few days ago, I received Joe Biden’s special envoy for Ukraine’s Economic Recovery. This shows that we are really into the details of cooperation and coordination to ensure that the support we provide on both sides is useful and effective for the Ukrainians and for the values we defend. Now, this does not mean that we are naive. There is obviously a need for vigilance. It is necessary at the European level, and it is certainly necessary in the United States.”

‘It is the Ukrainians, and only the Ukrainians, who will have to define when the conditions for negotiation are met’

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“There have been a lot of questions about the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Are you still optimistic about the outcome of the conflict and progress on the ground?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“Yes, I think it’s important not to relax our efforts in supporting Ukraine, including in military terms. We can see that progress has been made. I was able to discuss this again recently with President Zelenskyy. We can see that there is a determination on the Ukrainian side to continue to lead the offensive to reclaim its territory, and that is what this is all about. And that’s why it’s important that Europe and Ukraine’s partners continue to give very, very firm support. When this war was launched, many predicted that Ukraine would not last more than a few days or a few weeks. Now, more than a year and a half later, Ukraine is not only resisting, but has managed to win back territory that was originally conquered by the Russians.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Does this mean that it’s still too early to talk about peace negotiations between the Kremlin and Kyiv?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“I think it’s important to maintain a very firm position of principle. It is the Ukrainians, and only the Ukrainians, who will have to define when the conditions for negotiation are met. And that is what President Zelenskyy is doing when he puts this formula for a just peace on the table. This is also what he is doing when, with our support, he is trying to mobilise the international community, and dozens of countries have met at the level of national security advisors on several occasions at the initiative of the Ukrainians, so that they can put proposals on the table to move towards peace. But a lasting peace must be based on: no impunity, those who commit war crimes must face justice – and a peace based on the principles of the United Nations Charter. Any other formula would send the message to the rest of the world that it is enough to launch an aggression against one’s neighbour and then, sooner or later, there is some form of recognition of the aggressor. This is not acceptable to us.”

EU enlargement: ‘We can’t put it off any longer’

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“At the beginning of September, you set a target of 2030 for further enlargement of the European Union. Is the Union ready for the timetable you are proposing?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“The Union is not yet ready, which is why we have to prepare. And I wanted to set a date because I think that not only must the European Union prepare itself, but the States that want to join us must also speed up the efforts that are necessary in terms of reforms to be able to join us. And the purpose of setting a date is to open everyone’s eyes and to say we can’t procrastinate any longer. We can’t put it off any longer. It’s clear what kind of world we’re in. And if we want this political project, the European Union is a project that has brought a great deal of peace, prosperity and hope after the previous century, which was marked by tragedy and despair. If we want to offer our children a prosperous and stable future, we must start preparing for the evolution of this political project. And that means talking. What do we want to do together in the future? What are our common priorities? How are we going to finance them? It’s never easy to talk about financial resources, but we need to address these issues. And how are we going to decide together? Especially if there are more of us around the table in the future, we may have to adapt the way we make decisions to ensure that we remain a political project that can be effective when necessary.”

EU will be ‘safer and more stable’ once Western Balkan countries join EU standards

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Is it possible to carry out the same enlargement process for each candidate? Some don’t have the same demographic or economic weight. Do we need a common process for each or a differentiated one?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“The process is differentiated, because it is based on the merits of each individual country. We have to be sure that corruption is fought everywhere, that everywhere there is an independent justice system that ensures that the rights of citizens and businesses are respected. But it is clear that beyond this basic principle, which not only we will not renounce but which we will confirm, it is important to see the political stakes involved. Is it in our interest to have the countries of the Western Balkans, which are an enclave within the European Union, subjected on a daily basis to attempts at interference and influence by powers outside the European Union, which do not have the same values as we do? In my opinion, this is not good for our security. We will be safer and more stable once these countries have joined the European Union’s standards in terms of the fight against corruption and the rule of law, for example.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“You mentioned European standards. We can see that some candidates are moving away from them. You talked about corruption and the rule of law. How do you explain this phenomenon? Is Europe not firm enough or not committed enough to attract them to these standards?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“I have a more nuanced position, I think that there are also many examples of candidate countries that are making progress and implementing reforms that they have been asked to implement for some time because these countries understand that there is momentum. They understand that this war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine is opening the eyes of many Europeans, and not just European leaders, but also the people of Europe, to the importance of moving towards an orderly, organised enlargement process.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Can the European Union still afford to procrastinate on enlargement? Isn’t there a risk that these countries will move away from Europe towards other countries?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“The answer is no. We can’t procrastinate. We can’t procrastinate, we can’t delay. We must act. That doesn’t mean that these countries will be in the European Union next week. But what it does mean is that we must put in place a progressive integration mechanism that will ensure that, in a tangible way, in the weeks, months and years to come, we see this economic rapprochement, this rapprochement on democracy, on common values between these countries that are candidates for accession and the 27 countries of the European Union.”

**’**We must ensure that the interests of the European Union are respected,’ in relation to China

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Let’s talk about China. Is China still a partner or more of a systemic rival?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“I see China from a very simple angle. I think there are three pillars to our relationship with China. The first pillar is democracy, fundamental values and human rights, and Europe will not lower its sights on this issue. This is our DNA. We believe that the world is a better, more stable and safer place when we share universal values, and we are going to continue, including with China, to defend our values. That’s the first point. 

“The second point is that it is clear that there is an imbalance in relations between the European Union and China, and that we are economically vulnerable because in certain sectors we are too dependent on our relationship with China. We therefore need to rebalance our relationship with China, and this is the message that we are giving, and that I am giving along with other Europeans, when we engage with the Chinese authorities. We must learn the lessons of Russia’s war against Ukraine. We have seen that our dependence on fossil fuels is a weakness, an Achilles heel. So we need to learn lessons across the board, including in relations with China. 

“And then there’s the third element: China is a player in the climate challenge, a player in global health issues, and a player in global security too. So we must also engage with China on these issues.”

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“Does rebalancing the relationship involve this investigation into Chinese subsidies for electric vehicles, for example?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“Yes, I think it is indeed useful when there are a certain number of indications that lead us to believe that the relationship is unbalanced by certain unilateral acts that are being taken. We must ensure that the interests of the European Union are respected. And in my view, it’s not just with China, it’s with all the regions in the world that, at a given moment, take actions that can lead to the rules of the game no longer being shared in the same way by all the players. We need to be careful at the European level. It’s all very well and very fair to be a loyal player, but what’s important is reciprocity. And when we are loyal, we must expect our partner to be as loyal as we are, in economic terms for example.”

‘Our first intention is to ensure that we are respected by rebalancing our economic relations’

Grégoire Lory, Euronews:

“And if there is no reciprocity, what can the European Union do? What is the next step?”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council:

“First of all, let’s work on rebalancing. And then, when we have made progress on that, we can make assessments and see what instruments we want to use. Whether with China or other regions of the world, we have used the instruments at our disposal, but our first intention is to ensure that we are respected by rebalancing our economic relations.”

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The European leaders who continue to make a splash post-premiership

Following Scottish former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement she’ll be writing a book about her time in office and Sanna Marin’s recent career news, Euronews rounds up some of the most influential European leaders’ lives since they’ve left the top job.

Many former European prime ministers and presidents seem to disappear without a trace after they resign, lose an election or are forced out of office.

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Who can honestly say for certain what France’s François Hollande or Dutch ex-PM Jan Peter Balkenende are doing these days?

For others who leave that position of utmost power, though, their tenure as leader is just the beginning of an exciting – or controversial – life or career.

In the last week, it’s been announced that both Scotland’s former premier Nicola Sturgeon and her Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin have taken on new projects ensuring that they’ll likely be in the spotlight for years to come.

To mark that news, Euronews takes a – non-exhaustive – look at Presidents and Prime Ministers who’ve managed to make a significant impact long after their time in that particular role has come to an end.

Nicola Sturgeon – Scotland

“In my head and my heart, I know that time is now.” Those were the words used by former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon when she stepped down from the top job earlier this year.

Having spent nearly 9 years in the role, one in which she fought tirelessly for Scottish independence but never managed it, she’s been sitting as a backbencher since March.

In June she was arrested on suspicion of fraud – and bailed soon after.

The second half of 2023 has been far kinder to her, so far.

Last month, the former SNP leader announced she was writing a “deeply personal and revealing” memoir about her life and career.

This week, Sturgeon has revealed she’s launched an “artistic creation” company after signing a lucrative publishing deal for that autobiography.

The company, Nicola Sturgeon Ltd, will be used to handle her outside earnings while she continues her work as a backbench MSP.

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Her agent Andrew Gordon has previously said that there had been a “hotly contested” nine-way auction for the book. The winning publisher hasn’t revealed how much the deal was worth but it’s thought to be upwards of €175,000.

As was the case throughout her premiership, Sturgeon has already been criticised for focusing too much on her upcoming book and not enough on her constituents in one of the most deprived parts of Glasgow.

She will perhaps not get quite as much stick as her predecessor Alex Salmond, who set up his own company back in 2015.

Willie Rennie, a Lib Dem MSP, warned Sturgeon not to follow in Salmond’s controversial footsteps, saying, “Let’s just hope that she handles this artistic company with a good bit more dignity than Alex Salmond, who set up a similar company amid a late-career crisis, to process the money from his job as a chat show host on Kremlin-funded TV”.

Up until last year, the disgraced former First Minister presented an eponymous programme, The Alex Salmond Show, on RT UK until it folded after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

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Sanna Marin – Finland

Last week, Finland’s former Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced she would be leaving parliament to join another former Prime Minister – Tony Blair’s – foundation.

After taking office in 2019 at the age of 34, making her the world’s youngest Prime Minister, Marin was narrowly defeated in April’s elections. She stepped down from the leadership of her Social Democrats party earlier this month.

Within the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a London-based policy think tank headed up by the former British Prime Minister, she has been appointed as strategic advisor.

Marin led the country through COVID-19 lockdowns and the ensuing economic turmoil and, more recently, has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, successfully leading Finland to end its military non-alignment in favour of NATO membership.

She has previously spoken of the “great honour” of having led Finland’s government for three and a half years and has refused to rule out a future return to Finnish politics.

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Speaking about her new engagement, Marin told press: “I feel that this assignment [with the Institute] is such that it will benefit the whole of Finland as well”.

Nicolas Sarkozy – France

The only President on our list, Nicolas Sarkozy, is arguably one of the most controversial of all.

He left office as the premier of France in 2012, but has been dogged with controversy ever since.

Late last month it was revealed that Sarkozy is to be tried in 2025 over allegations he took money from late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund one of his election campaigns.

The trial is set to hear from Sarkozy himself as well as 12 other co-defendants. They’re accused of conspiring to take cash from the Libyan leader to illegally fund Sarkozy’s victorious 2007 bid for the presidency of France.

The 68-year-old denies the charges.

Since leaving office, Sarkozy has been convicted twice for corruption and influence-peddling in separate cases involving attempts to influence a judge and campaign financing. He has since appealed against both judgements.

The former French leader allegedly enjoyed cordial ties with the late Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan investigation was sparked by revelations from the investigative website Mediapart which published a document purporting to show that Gaddafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to €50 million.

Sarkozy also faces a separate probe into apparent potential influence-peddling after he allegedly received a payment from Russian insurance firm Reso-Garantia of €3m while working as a consultant in 2019

Outside of his legal wows, Sarkozy has been making headlines in France following the publishing of a second volume of his memoirs.

He’s drawn widespread criticism after suggesting that areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia after the Kremlin’s invasion last year might need to be recognised as Russian.

On Crimea, he claimed the annexed region would remain Russian and that “any return to the way things were before is an illusion”.

Sarkozy and Vladimir Putin have famously enjoyed friendly relations since the French leader was in power.

Jean-Claude Juncker – Luxembourg

Luxembourgish politician Jean-Claude Juncker is a recognisable figure the world over – and for good reason.

The 68-year-old served as the 21st Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013 – making him the longest-serving head of any national government in the EU as well one of the longest-serving democratically elected leaders in the world.

From 2005, he also became the first permanent President of the Eurogroup, too – a role he held until 2013.

His tenure encompassed the height of the European financial and sovereign debt crisis but it wasn’t enough to put him off the heady world of high politics.

After leaving office in 2013, he was announced as the European People’s Party (EPP) had Juncker as its lead candidate, or Spitzenkandidat, for the presidency of the Commission in elections the following year.

He was elected by the European Parliament on 15 July 2014, netting 422 votes out of the 729 cast.

Taking office on 1 November 2014, he served until 30 November 2019, when he was succeeded by Ursula von der Leyen.

Since stepping down from front-line politics, Juncker has all but disappeared from the public eye. He’s long been famous – or should that be infamous – for his great love of playing Pinball. We can only assume he’s enjoying that pastime since his retirement.

Gordon Brown – United Kingdom

The former British Prime Minister was not a particularly popular premier. As chancellor under his predecessor, Tony Blair, though, Brown achieved high approval ratings and was hailed as the most successful chancellor in terms of providing economic stability in the country.

Following just 3 years in office, he was the last Labour premier before the current 13-year run of Conservative leaders.

Since leaving 10 Downing Street, he’s been praised for his continuing contribution to politics and those in need since he quit the Commons in 2015.

After stepping down as PM in 2010, Brown did the thing that so many former Prime Ministers refuse to do – and returned to the backbenches.

He continued to serve as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath until he gave up his seat in 2015.

In the ensuing 8 years, he has made occasional political interventions as well as publishing several political books.

In 2014, Brown played a prominent role in the campaign to maintain the union between Scotland and the United Kingdom during that year’s Scottish independence referendum. Last year, he wrote a report on devolution for Labour leader – and presumed-Prime-Minister-in-Waiting – Sir Keir Starmer.

Brown has also taken a wider approach to his role as a committed public servant.

He has served as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and as Ambassador for Global Health Financing for the World Health Organisation as well as taking on the unpaid position of chair of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

In 2015, Brown took on his first large-scale role in the private sector, becoming an advisor to investment management firm PIMCO.

He famously donates any money earned from that position to his and his wife’s foundation, the Gordon and Sarah Brown Foundation, which supports children’s needs worldwide. He has also been vocal during the UK’s current cost of living crisis, taking the sitting government to task over their apparent lack of action with regards to people facing hardship.

Silvio Berlusconi – Italy

Despite his death in June, late Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi remains as easily one of the most recognisable figures in European politics in living memory.

The former media tycoon who, at the time of his death, was the third richest person in Italy, served as the prime minister of the country in four governments from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011.

He also acted as a member of the European Parliament from 2019 to 2022, a role he had previously held from 1999 to 2001.

While in office, he was legendary across the globe. Known for infamous ‘bunga bunga’ parties, he was ranked in 2009 by Forbes as 12th in the list of the World’s Most Powerful People due to his domination of Italian politics throughout more than fifteen years at the head of the centre-right coalition.

Berlusconi’s 9 years as Prime Minister made him the longest serving post-war prime minister of Italy, as well as the third longest-serving since Italian unification, after Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Giolitti.

In 2013, Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud by the Supreme Court of Cassation. He was given a four-year prison sentence and was banned from holding public office for two years.

He managed to avoid jail due, in part, to his age and instead served his sentence by doing unpaid community service.

He was nevertheless banned from holding legislative office for six years and expelled from the Senate.

After the political banishment was up, Berlusconi returned to the European Parliament as an MEP and returned to the Italian Senate after winning a seat in the 2022 Italian general election. 

Outside of politics, he also owned the popular Italian football club AC Milan from 1986 to 2017

Known for his authoritarian stance, populist political style and brash personality, he was a divisive figure until the end.

Throughout his long tenure, he was accused of mismanaging the state budget and of increasing the Italian government debt. He was also much criticised for his apparent vigorous pursuit of his personal interests while in office as well as being blackmailed due to his turbulent private life.

Despite dividing Italy and the wider political landscape, Berlusoni was given a state funeral following his death on 12 June at the age of 86, after a battle with chronic leukaemia.

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All eyes are on VDL as the political climate gets hotter than ever

As the European Commission president prepares to deliver her potentially final State of the European Union speech on Wednesday, we must look back at her legacy, Ursula Woodburn writes.

The EU has been fighting climate change for decades. But with this summer confirmed as the hottest yet globally — it’s time to work with our international allies and turn up the temperature dial on climate action.

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Last Friday, the United Nations released its first Global Stocktake, a process following the Paris Agreement in which countries pledged to monitor their collective progress in achieving the agreed goals.

In what the World Resources Institute has called a “truly damning report card” for global climate efforts, the key takeaway message is that we are not on track to meet the target of the Paris Agreement. 

To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must scale up ambition and implement clean technology solutions now.

Yet another important climate moment happened over the weekend, at the G20 summit in Delhi. 

Though leaders did not conclude on a timeline for phasing out fossil fuels, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen put forward a successful agreement to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, in the run-up to COP28.

So where does that leave us in Europe?

Changes to the roster in VDL’s final year

Ahead of the EU elections next year, the controversial Nature Restoration Law just made it through parliament in July. 

Frans Timmermans has led the EU’s Green Deal and climate policy since 2019, launching one of the broadest set of climate laws the world has seen. 

But now the climate champion has resigned, and the bloc’s competition torchbearer Margrethe Vestager has gone on leave to pursue the presidency of the European Investment Bank.

Von der Leyen acted decisively to deal with the changes in the European Commission college — although questions remain over how this could impact her final year. 

She swiftly assigned the new Vice-President position to Slovak socialist Maroš Šefčovič, who is an experienced operator on the wider energy issues — and from whom we will need robust support for the Green Deal. 

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She has also handed the climate portfolio to former Dutch Foreign Minister and conservative Woepke Hoesktra.

But as Ursula von der Leyen prepares to deliver her potentially final State of the European Union speech on Wednesday, we must look back at her legacy.

Not all is so rosy despite strong moves amid crises

Her flagship initiative, the European Green Deal, with the concept of Competitive Sustainability at its core, has proved resilient in the face of multiple crises. 

As a result, businesses around Europe are acting to reduce their own emissions, they are talking to their supply chains and considering what they need to invest in in the future. 

The majority have been unwavering in their support — even despite a series of crises which shook the EU to its very core.

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU focused on greening our economic recovery. The plan, named NextGenerationEU, invested €806.9 billion to make Europe greener, more digital and more resilient. 

Following Russia’s war in Ukraine, the bloc then stepped up its deployment of renewable energy and efficiency measures to respond to the energy crisis.

This sent a strong signal to businesses that green growth was the best way to guarantee long-term resilience in future.

However, it’s not all so rosy.

International developments and decisions taken in the US and China continue to complicate investment decisions. The door to new investment in fossil fuels remains firmly open and nature restoration has not yet been sufficiently addressed.

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So how will businesses be impacted?

The 2040 target should be firmly addressed

In a period where some — like Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo — are calling for a regulatory “pause”, policymakers and businesses need to keep their sleeves rolled up to overcome any obstacles in their way.

The climate crisis is not slowing down. Taking action to tackle it is not an option, we must instead ensure that the transition towards a European economy that prioritises people, nature and climate goes ahead.

At this unstable time, businesses can make a difference by calling for a clear, green policy direction (at the depth, breadth and scale needed) to help them plan and unlock necessary investments.

What’s more, we are looking for the EU — and von der Leyen this week — to firmly address the 2040 target. 

From a business perspective, this means setting a climate target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the bloc by at least 90% by 2040.

A few years ago this target might have seemed impossible.

But action taken already by policymakers and businesses has demonstrated that such ambition is within reach — providing carbon removals are limited to no more than 8-10%. 

Europe must act to stay in the running

Separate targets should be set for nature-based carbon removal and technological carbon removal — to improve transparency and accountability.

The long-term future of Europe is rooted in economic prosperity, with businesses that have successfully invested in sustainability staying competitive globally. 

Recent reports have shown that we are in a global race to the top on zero carbon technologies, and Europe must act to stay in the running. 

All of us will need to pull together to build on the transformation enabled by the Green Deal, including the next EU institutions.

Who the 14th President of the European Commission will be still hangs in the balance. In the meantime, the EU must heat up its resolve and act now.  

Ursula Woodburn is Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership at the Europe office, driving corporate support for a climate-neutral, nature-positive and sustainable economy.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Vienna seeks to calm Selmayr ‘blood money’ furor

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Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg signaled his government was de-escalating a row with the EU’s senior representative in the country, Martin Selmayr, who last week accused Vienna of paying “blood money” to Moscow by continuing to purchase large quantities of Russian gas.

“Everything has already been said about this,” Schallenberg said over the weekend in a written response to questions from POLITICO on the affair. “We are working hard to drastically reduce our energy dependency on Russia and we will continue to do so.”

Austrian officials insist that the country’s continued reliance on Russian gas is only temporary and that it will wean itself off by 2027 (over the past 18 months, the share of Russian gas in Austria has dropped from 80 percent to an average of 56 percent).

Some experts question the viability of that plan, considering that OMV, the country’s dominant oil and gas company, signed a long-term supply deal with Gazprom under former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that company executives say is virtually impossible to withdraw from.

Those complications are likely one reason why Vienna — even as its officials point out that Austria is far from the only EU member to continue to rely on Russian gas — doesn’t want to dwell on the substance of Selmayr’s criticism.

“We should rather focus on maintaining our unity and cohesion within the European Union in dealing with Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine,” Schallenberg told POLITICO. “We can only overcome the challenges ahead of us in a united effort.”

Schallenberg’s remarks follow a decision by the European Commission on Friday to summon Selmayr to Brussels to answer for his actions. A spokesman for the EU executive on Friday characterized the envoy’s comments as “not only unnecessary, but also inappropriate.”

Given that the Austrian government is led by a center-right party, which is allied with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s European People’s Party bloc, the sharp reaction from Brussels is not surprising. An official close to the Austrian government said Vienna had not demanded Selmayr’s removal.

Selmayr made the “blood money” comment, by his own account, while defending the Commission chief. He told an Austrian newspaper that he made the remark during a public discussion in Vienna on Wednesday in response to an audience member who accused von der Leyen of “warmongering” in Ukraine and having “blood on her hands.”

“This surprises me, because blood money is sent to Russia every day with the gas bill,” Selmayr told the audience.

Selmayr expressed surprise that there wasn’t more public outcry in Austria over the country’s continued reliance on Russian natural gas, which has accounted for about 56 percent of its purchases so far this year. (A review of a transcript of the event by Austrian daily Die Presse found no mention of the comments Selmayr attributed to the audience member, however.)

Austria’s deep relationship to Russia, which has continued unabated since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has prompted regular criticism from its European peers.

Even so, the EU envoy’s unvarnished assessment caused an immediate uproar in the neutral country, especially on the populist far right, whose leaders called for Selmayr’s immediate dismissal.

Europe Minister Karoline Edtstadler called the remarks “dubious and counterproductive” | Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE

Schallenberg’s ministry summoned Selmayr on Thursday to answer for his comments and the country’s Europe Minister, Karoline Edtstadler, called the remarks “dubious and counterproductive.” Some in Vienna also questioned whether Selmayr, who as a senior Commission official helped Germany navigate the shoals of EU bureaucracy to push through the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline — thus increasing Europe’s dependency on Russian gas — was really in a position to criticize Austria.

Nonetheless, Selmayr’s opinion carries considerable weight in Austria, given his history as the Commission’s most senior civil servant and right-hand man to former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Though Selmayr, who is German, has a record of living up to his country’s reputation for directness and sharp elbows, even his enemies consider him to be one of the EU’s best minds.

His rhetorical gifts have made him a considerable force in Austria, where he arrived in 2019 (after stepping down under a cloud in Brussels). He is a regular presence on television and in print media, weighing in on everything from the euro common currency to security policy.

After Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer recently pledged to anchor a right to pay with euro bills and coins in cash-crazed Austria’s constitution, for example, Selmayr reminded his host country that that right already existed under EU law. What’s more, he wrote, Austrians had agreed to hand control of the common currency to the EU when they voted to join the bloc in 1994.

A few weeks later, he interjected himself into the country’s security debate, arguing that “Europe’s army is NATO,” an unwelcome take in a country clinging on to its neutrality.

Though Selmayr’s interventions tend to rub Austria’s government the wrong way, they’ve generally hit the mark.

The latest controversy and Selmayr’s general approach to the job point to a fundamental divide in the EU over the role of the European Commission’s local representatives. Most governments want the envoys to serve like traditional ambassadors and to carry out their duties, as one Austria official put it to POLITICO recently, “without making noise.”

Yet Selmayr’s tenure suggests that the role is often most effective when structured as a corrective, or reality check, by viewing national political debates through the lens of the broader EU.  

In Austria, where the anti-EU Freedom Party is leading the polls by a comfortable margin ahead of next year’s general election, that perspective is arguably more necessary than ever.

Victor Jack contributed reporting.



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Spain election repeat more likely after expat vote count

Spain’s already complicated electoral landscape just got a lot more complex.

On Saturday, the count of the 233,688 ballots deposited by Spaniards living abroad — which are tallied five days after the in-person vote is held — led to the redistribution of seats in the Spanish parliament. As a result, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party lost one of the spots it was allocated in Madrid, which will now go to the center-right Popular Party.

The Popular Party is now set to have 137 MPs in the next legislature; together with the far-right Vox party’s 33 MPs and the single MP belonging to the affiliated Navarrese People’s Union (UPN), the right-wing bloc is set to control at least 171 seats the same number as Sánchez and his preferred partners. Should the Canarian Coalition revise its stated position, which is against backing any government that includes Vox, the conservative bloc could add another seat to its tally.

Those numbers do not improve conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s chances of becoming prime minister. Even with an additional seat under Popular Party control, he still does not have enough support to overcome the crucial simple majority vote that a candidate must win in parliament in order to form a government.

But with the technical tie created by the reallocation of seats, Prime Minister Sánchez’s already narrow path to victory has become much more precarious, making the possibility of new elections in Spain more likely.

Prior to the loss of the seat in Madrid, Sánchez’s options for remaining Spain’s head of government involved persuading nationalist and separatist MPs to back a left-wing coalition government formed by his Socialist Party and the left-wing Sumar group. The combined forces of those parties and the 153 Socialist and Sumar MPs would have enabled Sánchez to count on 172 favorable votes, slightly more than the 170 the right-wing bloc was projected to control. As long as he convinced the Catalan separatist Junts party to abstain, Sánchez would have had more yeas than nays and been able to form a new government.

But now, with only 171 votes in its favor, the left-wing bloc will be facing at least an equal number of right-wing MPs capable of rejecting Sánchez’s bid to remain Spain’s prime minister. Getting Junts to abstain is no longer enough — Sánchez will need one or potentially two of the separatist party’s MPs to vote in his favor.

A hard circle to square

If getting Junts to abstain was already unlikely, getting the party to explicitly back the Socialist candidate seems virtually unthinkable right now.

Since 2017 the party’s founder, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, has been pursued by the Spain’s judiciary for his role in the Catalan independence referendum. As a member of the European Parliament, Puigdemont has been able to sidestep Madrid’s efforts to extradite him from Belgium, where he lives in self-imposed exile. But in June a top EU court stripped him of his immunity and just days ago Spanish prosecutors called for a new warrant to be issued for his arrest.

Earlier this week Junts said that it would only negotiate with Sánchez if he agrees to declare a blanket amnesty for everyone involved in the 2017 referendum and commits to holding a Catalan independence vote.

“The party that needs our support will have to be the one to make the effort,” said incumbent Junts MP Míriam Nogueras. “These negotiations need to be held from one nation to another … Things are not going to be as they have always been.”

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister María Jesús Montero was quick to reject both demands, saying on Tuesday that the Socialist Party could only negotiate “within the margins of legality set out within the Spanish constitution.”

SPAIN NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Holding new national elections would almost certainly hurt separatist parties. With the exception of Basque group EH Bildu, all of them lost seats in last Sunday’s vote, and they’re likely to lose even more support if they force electors to go back to the polls in December or January.

On Saturday, Raquel Sans, spokesperson for the Republican Left of Catalonia party, admitted that her group had begun to hold discreet talks with Junts with the goal of forging “strategic unity” among Catalan separatists and avoiding repeat elections that “are not in the interest of the public.”

The tie between the two blocs may allow conservative leader Feijóo to press Spain’s King Felipe VI to name him as his candidate to be the next prime minister when parliament is reconvened next month.

Although there is no chance that Feijóo will be able to win the required support from fellow MPs, a failed bid in parliament will allow him to momentarily quiet the dissenters in his ranks who have been calling for him to step down in the aftermath of last Sunday’s result, in which the Popular Party won the most votes in the election but failed to secure the seats needed to form a government.

There is still the possibility, however, that enough party leaders will tell the king that they back Sánchez’s bid and that he has a viable path to form a coalition government. While the now-caretaker prime minister is keeping a low-profile this week, Socialist Party representatives are said to be hard at work, holding informal chats with partners with the objective of stitching up that support in the coming weeks.

Regardless of whether the candidate is Feijóo or Sánchez, the moment one of them fails their first investiture vote, a two-month deadline will begin counting down, at the end of which the Spanish constitution dictates that the king must dissolve parliament and call new elections. That new vote must be held 54 days after the legislature concludes, so if no deal is struck in the coming months, Spaniards would go to the polls again at the end of this year or, more likely, at the beginning of 2024.



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What is the EU’s Joint Climate-Security Nexus agenda all about?

By Olivia Lazard, Fellow, Carnegie Europe

Climate security is key to understanding instability and fragility in and outside Europe, and this agenda should be treated as the lens through which to redefine the continent’s economic and political agency, Olivia Lazard writes.

A few weeks ago, the World Meteorological Organisation announced that the world stands a 66% chance to overshoot past the 1.5°C temperature threshold compared to the pre-industrial level for at least one year between 2023 and 2027. 

At the same time, emissions are still rising, and the planet has re-entered the El Niño cycle.

The latter is usually associated with record-breaking temperatures, breadbasket failures and disasters of extreme intensity that have direct impacts on inflationary pressures and fiscal hollowing the world over.

Simultaneously, the safe and just Earth system boundaries study, published in June 2023, tells us that the planet is being sent into ecological overshoot, tearing away at global economic, political, fiscal, financial and societal fabrics from the local to the international level.

The disintegration of the ecological bases upon which global political economies rely spells security troubles for systems rivalry, resource scrambling, livelihood destitution, macroeconomic policy, conflict and war.

Systemic fragility at the heart of collective security

Against this background, the European Commission has just published its first Joint Communication on the Climate-Security Nexus. 

In EU-speak, the communique holds no legislative or budget power. It is a narrative document created with the objective of establishing a set of working priorities around which various parts of the European Commission and the EEAS can rally and coordinate.

The good news is that the narrative is largely on point. It reflects the systemic fragility at the heart of collective security. 

The document enumerates the ways in which climate change is leading to greater shocks and scarcity of food and water; how it acts as an overwhelming force that drives human displacement, impacts infrastructure, dampens budgets, and empowers autocrats and predatory elites. 

It tacitly recognises that climate changes geography and natural resource distribution, opening up new frontiers for geopoliticised competition, such as the Arctic. 

Competition takes on new forms, too. It doesn’t just involve state actors but also organised crime elements who prey on biodiversity and natural resources, making more and more revenue as resources grow scarcer.

Failure to take geostrategic behaviour into account

The document is also unique on one specific point: it recognises that the EU needs to anticipate the deployment of new forms of geoengineering technologies such as solar radiation management. 

It’s a form of planetary management that entails intervening in the bio-physics of our planet with the aim manage the greenhouse gas effect (without actually doing anything to reduce emissions). 

Such technologies are not regulated. Their direct, second and thirdhand effects are poorly understood and pose risks to international security.

One analytical dimension is missing, though: the EU fails to account for the change of geostrategic behavioural patterns that already act on climate and transition instability. 

Russia, for example, already harvests climate fragility faultlines. The Kremlin does not shy away from weaponising fragility and violence in a resource accumulation pursuit for critical minerals, food and water at the expense of global security. 

This particular lack of geostrategic purview and an adequate task force to respond to the challenges at hand leave the EU vulnerable to gaping strategic and security risks.

A specific foreign policy and staff force are much needed

Short of this blindspot, what the joint communication tacitly expresses is that the world has irreversibly tipped into a new security regime because the climate regime has, too.

The not-so-good news is that while the EU frames the narrative relatively well, it is not actually gearing up for the world it depicts. 

The EU needs to have a foreign policy that reflects interconnected challenges and the necessary staff force to conceptualise the stakes coherently within and between each part of the European house. 

This is far from the case. Just to give an example: there are about two people who work on climate security as such standing within the EEAS’ integrated strategy unit. 

The work they focus on mostly directs efforts at contexts of pre-existing fragility related to conflict — not systemic fragility.

The lack of capacity and coordination for matters critical to the EU’s energy security is also concerning. 

While the EU recognises the need to connect the dots between climate stresses and critical mineral sourcing, for example, there is no coordinating mechanism between DG Grow, EEAS, INTPA and other relevant European Commission staff specifically seeking to address the ways in which geopolitical competition, industrial extraction and expansion, climate security risks, maladaptation and conflict risks intersect.

Since no extra budget is allocated to the joint communication for climate security, it means only one thing. 

The agenda can only be used in the next year as a launching pad for a complex multi-dimensional security assessment exercise that the next European Commission can pick up upon to hit the ground running.

Climate security is key to understanding instability

Different parts of the European Commission and the EEAS should come together with an analysis and a roadmap. 

These should address what the union is up against today in terms of the geo-strategic security environment and whether its resources and institutional set-up match the challenges facing the EU — from supply chain security sabotage to failure of stabilisation and policy dialogue efforts, and partnerships that don’t deliver on adaptation — and how to reshape the EU’s foreign policy in the next European Commission.

Climate security is key to understanding instability and fragility from geostrategic to local levels in and outside Europe. It encompasses political-economic, societal, institutional, and defence security today.

If that much is clear, then the EU cannot afford to make this agenda a beggar. It should be treated as the lens through which to redefine the continent’s economic and political agency instead.

Olivia Lazard is a fellow at Carnegie Europe and an environmental peacemaking and mediation practitioner and researcher with over twelve years of experience in the field.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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The EU puts in place new measures to stop undue political influence

The EU is making fresh efforts to increase transparency and its own credibility following the recent ‘Qatargate’ corruption scandal. On the Global Conversation, Euronews spoke with Vera Jourova, vice president of the European Commission, to talk about the institution’s new anti-corruption measures.

Euronews

Vera Jourova, thanks very much for being on Euronews. Six months have passed since the biggest since one of the biggest corruption scandals of the history of the European Union. And according to the latest polls the majority of the Europeans, in fact, 60% of them are unhappy about how the EU is dealing with corruption. Are you surprised? 

Věra Jourová

It does not surprise me, but at the same time, it gives me another impulse to do something about that. And it doesn’t matter where the scandal appeared. It was one of the institutions, probably the failure more of individual people than of the system. But what can the citizens think? Well-paid politicians, they have undeserved privileges. We don’t know which standards and whether there is some ethics. You know, too many questions and too little answers. So that’s why we came up with the anti-corruption package, which also covers EU institutions. And today I presented the first-ever European ethics body, which would cover all key EU institutions. 

Euronews

Let’s talk about this new ethics body because it will set future standards for all of the EU institutions. But NGOs and, MEPs are demanding that the control should be not connected to the European Union but should be independent. Why is it not happening? 

Věra Jourová

Well, the ethics body is filling in the gap because just imagine each of the institutions have some internal structure that should do the job. The ethics body should not replace these institutional arrangements. There are people who should go after disciplinary breaches and should sanction these cases. So the ethics body will fill in the gaps, the roof above all the institutions, and work on the unified standards will then reflect in the work of each institution. And why not be independent? Well, I think that it’s important that the ethics body will be composed of the people who know the work and the role of each institution. That’s why I proposed something which will be very practical. There will be ten people sitting around the table. I speak about the political level, the vice presidents of each institution or some other high-level official. And there will be five independent experts invited to work together with the representatives of the institutions. I want the ethics body to be meaningful, to be practical, and to be transparent so the standards which the ethics body will agree on will be known to the public. Referring to your first question, what people can think about us. I think that they should know the rules regarding trips, gifts, declarations of assets, and what the politicians do after the mandate. Well, I think that the people have the right to see clear standards.

Euronews

For example, these new standards will prevent in the future commission director general from taking free flights, free hotel rooms paid by foreign actors like Qatar.

Věra Jourová

Honestly, I don’t understand how this can be happening, because either I am on a business trip and then it has to be blessed by the institution and paid by the institution I work for. Or it is a private trip and then I pay it myself. I don’t see any space for anything else. And I think that this is exactly what the ethics body should clarify and we should agree on it. 

Euronews

Do you think also the 700 MEPs are in line to push the standards higher?

Věra Jourová

If you ask all of them, they will tell you, yes. I spoke to many members of the Parliament. Of course the Parliament is a special institution: there are directly elected people. There is always a discussion about the freedom of the mandate or about their immunities. This is very fair to discuss all these things. But at the same time, there should be high enough equal standards for everyone in the Parliament. We see quite different opinions from different political clubs and I am ready to discuss with all. 

Euronews

And how about the investigations and the sanctions for these ethical rules? 

Věra Jourová

Well, it has to remain in the institutions which have a strong legal basis to do that. I know it sounds too legalistic, but I have to recall that this ethics body will be established on the basis of the agreement, and it’s not foreseen in the treaty, and it’s not going to be established on the basis of the law. Once you work for such a body established by the law, you are authorized to look into private documents and to different kinds of materials. You are authorized to inquire the people and you are authorized to sanction the people. And it really requires the strongest possible legal authorization. And this is why the ethics body will not have. 

Euronews

We are one year ahead of the next European Parliament elections. Are you afraid that foreign actors will try to influence the campaign and they might actually derail the campaign ahead of the parliament elections, for example, with fake news campaigns or disinformation?

Věra Jourová

I do believe they will not win because we do everything to protect the elections against hidden manipulation and against different kinds of interference. But that for sure, there will be a strong influence, and that it will be a big pressure from different hostile actors to interfere into the electoral processes. That’s why we are already alerting the member States, which have the obligation to organize the elections, to somehow fortify the systems also against cyber attacks, but also against coordinated campaigns using disinformation. 

Euronews

To fight foreign influence the European Commission is also proposing a new package called Defence of Democracy. But NGOs were protesting against this legislation, they said it’s very similar to the Russian Foreign Agents Act. So after this criticism, will you amend this legislation, to satisfy NGO’s? 

Věra Jourová

The criticism was based on the lack of information about what we plan, and I don’t criticize anyone. I think that it’s mainly on us to inform all who might feel affected by that what we plan. What we plan is for the high level of transparency about the financial flows into Europe. And I think that it’s far from Georgian law or even American law or Australian law, which is the criminal justice piece of law. No labeling, no foreign agents, no stigmatizing. We even want to embed into the law the safeguard against the possible abuse from the side of some member states: not to go beyond the requests or requirements of the law. But you asked about the process also. We admitted that we need more time for two things: For the intense consultations with all who raised voices and who expressed concerns, especially the NGOs, I will simplify that. But many, many others also from the member state official places we heard a lot of question marks. I will use this summer for consultations on the basis of the already very precise text so that we know what we speak about. The second thing, we need to do is to try to collect data, which will give us more certainty about how big the problem is. Collecting such data is not an easy thing because it’s mainly in the possession of the member states, secret services and security agencies. So we are now exploring the way how to get reliable data. So we will do two things over the summer and then in autumn, we will come back to that. Because I am convinced we need such a law. And if not, we will be the only democratic space that doesn’t have a law which at least wants to increase transparency and give us a chance to know who is paid by third countries’ governments. This is the last thing I want to say on the substance because also there was a criticism that all the money coming from abroad. No, it will be about the money paid by third countries’ governments and state organizations. 

Euronews

Do you think social media platforms, big social media platforms, are doing enough to fight disinformation because the current European system is on a voluntary basis and Twitter is leaving even that system?

Věra Jourová

Well, soon we will have the Digital Services Act in force and it will be a legally binding heavyweight legislation that seeks to increase the responsibility of the platforms. And it’s a reaction of something which we saw evolving over the years that the platforms are grabbing too much power and are reluctant to take relevant responsibility. Before that and parallel with that, we have the code of practice against disinformation, which indeed is a voluntary agreement. At this moment we have 44 signatories. We have all the big platforms except Twitter. We can do a lot with it, but of course, it has some gaps still. What I want to change: first of all, to address pro-Russia and pro-Kremlin disinformation, because this is a clear-cut case, the word propaganda has to be removed and we are in the information war and so there should be no compromise. Second, we want the platforms to consistently moderate and invest in fact-checking. It cannot be done only in English or German. It has to be done in all member states languages. And the tricky thing is that the more you go to the east of Europe, the bigger the pressure from Russian propaganda appears. So we want them to invest in fact, checking In these countries. We see big influence of Russian propaganda on Slovakia, on Bulgarian public opinion. We see increased pressures on German communities and especially using some domestic proxies. And this is a new thing when the Russian propaganda is being taken over by the extremist parties in the EU. This is a dangerous new stage. So better moderation. The third thing that we want from the platforms is to enable the researchers.to have better access to data. We need the researchers to analyze the situation. When I say we, we are the rules makers because I would like the internet and social media to remain the free zone for free speech. So also my concern is not to overshoot with the rules which we are taking but to come with proportionate, necessary measures. We need to know what’s happening and the researchers should help us with a serious sort of analysis. The first thing and this is a new agenda, and I asked on Monday the platforms to consider is the new development in generative artificial intelligence. And here again, the code can be a quick vehicle, a quick response.

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