1. Brussels Playbook
BSSB.BE politico.eu 29/01.2019
* The European Commission is expected to today conclude that U.S. soybeans meet the technical requirements to be used in biofuels in the EU, and to “formally recognize the scheme until July 2021,” EU officials told Playbook.
That means American soybeans are now eligible for public procurement and count as an energy source compatible with the EU’s renewable energy targets (assuming U.S. authorities continue to fulfill certain requirements, such as submitting yearly reports on certification procedures).
GOOD MORNING. That’s of course just the latest instalment of Playbook’s most successful series so far — the deal Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker struck with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump last summer. Today, it’s getting real: So far the whole thing was dependent on market mechanisms — China and the EU basically swapping South and North American markets to satisfy their respective interests and demands. Now, it’ll be based on regulation.
GOOD MORNING. Aside from Brussels’ favorite legumes, we’ve got info on three moving targets for you to watch today, and more news.
1) YET ANOTHER BREXIT SHOWDOWN
COMMONS TAKEOVER. Today’s Brexit debate in the House of Commons is scheduled to last six hours, with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May closing out proceedings before MPs start voting at around 7 p.m. Brussels time. (Charlie Cooper has this guide to watching it like a pro.) And that’s when we leave the realm of the foreseeable.
What’s happening today: Votes on amendments to the government’s Brexit deal may or may not give us a better sense of where to from here. Which amendments will be voted on? That’s for Speaker John Bercow to decide and to communicate today. Which, if any, amendments will the government will back? That, we can help you with.
‘ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION’: Theresa May’s government will whip its MPs to vote in favor of an amendment calling for the Irish backstop to be “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border.” No. 10 will support the amendment put forward by Chairman of the backbench Conservative 1922 committee Graham Brady, Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis said following a meeting between Theresa May and her MPs Monday afternoon. Charlie has more from London.
No hurry at all: What might this alternative be? “We don’t need to hammer out those details before tomorrow. All we have to do is agree that we will find better, alternative arrangements to ensure there is no hard border [in Ireland],” Brady wrote in the Daily Mail Monday. Surely there’s enough brain power in Brexit Britain to come up with that magical solution within 59 days?
Rock, meet hard place: The problem is that voting the backstop out of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement would put the kibosh on the entire deal with the EU. The real question, as it has been since June 2016, is this: Are MPs aware that their potential to scare the EU to death by walking away from the table is limited?
The second-most-interesting amendment, politically … is the one spearheaded by Brexit softies Labour MP Yvette Cooper and the Conservatives’ Nick Boles. It could effectively put MPs in control of Brexit business and extend the Article 50 negotiation period beyond March 29 — if the government doesn’t have a deal with the EU approved by February 26.
**Time is running out for MEPs to decide whether to heed a Council call to split money laundering from a legislative package that would boost supervisory powers for the EU’s financial industry watchdogs. The split would give the European Banking Authority more power and resources to combat dirty money in the EU but potentially delay planned upgrades for all three watchdogs. Join POLITICO and L’AGEFI’s Finance Summit on February 21 in Paris, and learn more on the next steps to fight money laundering with speakers like European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis; European Banking Authority’s Executive Director Adam Farkas and the European Parliament’s Chair of the Committee on Economic and Monetary AffairsRoberto Gualtieri. This is your last chance – book your ticket before February 9 and save 15% on your delegate pass!**
2) PROTECTING ELECTIONS
‘FURTHER AND FASTER’: The Commission will start doing monthly reporting on progress made by platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to address (political) disinformation. According to officials, that’s the gist of a progress report due today, which will be presented by Commissioners Mariya Gabriel and Julian King. While the Commission takes note of action taken by the platforms, it wants them “to go further and faster, with the EP elections just a couple of months away,” one official told Playbook.
One step ahead? Facebook’s head of global public relations, Nick Clegg, used a stopover in Brussels Monday to announce the social media company is ready to adopt rules for its world-spanning platform. Question is: Which ones? “In late March, we will launch new tools to help prevent interference in the upcoming [European parliamentary] election and make political advertising on Facebook more transparent,” Clegg told POLITICO’s Ryan Heath in his first public comments since taking the new job. People and organizations wishing to run political ads will need to be authorized by the platform and all ads will have to contain “paid for by” disclaimers, Clegg said.
Flattering the EU: “There is a clear role here for the EU to demonstrate a middle path — a model that combines the dynamism of Silicon Valley with the regulatory rigor of Brussels,” he said. He warned against overly strict requirements on removing politically sensitive content. “Where anybody indulges in hate speech, that content will be taken down,” he said. “But I cannot stress enough — there is a huge difference between taking down hate speech and taking down content of politicians you don’t like.”
MEANWHILE, IN BRITAIN: The U.K. government is rushing to finalize a draft law against online harms such as cyberbullying and child exploitation, but key details of the proposal have yet to be nailed down amid concerns about stifling innovation, Annabelle Dickson reports.
3) ANOTHER LOW FOR EU FOREIGN POLICY
MADRID ANGERS PARTNERS: The beauty of the EU’s foreign policy is that a veto is at hand for just about everyone if and whenever needed. It was Madrid’s turn Monday to block Council conclusions, according to three EU diplomats. Ambassadors were standing ready all day long to agree on a text on Iran and immediately pass it on to agriculture ministers, who happened to be in town and could have adopted the thing, despite the fact it was unrelated to their own proceedings.
There might have been EU consensus “on all relevant issues related to the Iran file,” as one diplomat told Playbook — “but Madrid had the nerve to take the Council conclusions hostage for nothing more than symbolic reasons.” Those reasons: Injured pride — at least that’s what EU partners reckon — about not being part of a forum of the EU’s Big 4 (including Italy), tasked with conducting a “structured dialogue” with Tehran. Next chance to get the Iran sign off from ministers at a formal meeting is an Ecofin Council February 12.
Coalition of the willing … EU countries including Germany, the U.K. and France are about to set up a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle, or SPV, to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran. The mechanism is “on the verge of implementation,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Brussels on Monday. Watch out for news today. AFP has more.
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