EU

Peter Spiegel

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Cypriot finance minister Harris Georgiades, left, with eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem

And then there was one. If all goes according to plan, eurozone finance ministers will bid a fond farewell to the Cypriot bailout on Monday, making the island nation the fourth of the five countries that were forced into a rescue programme at the height of the crisis to exit. Only Greece remains.

In many respects, the Cypriots have been model bailout students. Nicosia only spent about €7.5bn of the €10bn originally allocated in the programme, and its economy returned to growth last year, a full year earlier than the bailout’s architects anticipated. Indeed, it has out-performed on almost every major economic indicator: its debt levels are lower than originally forecast, its projected budget deficit isn’t a deficit, and its current account is almost in balance.

Still, not everything is so rosy. Most importantly, the bailout will end without the Cypriot government completing all the reform tasks it was supposed to – the privatisation of the state telecommunications operator proved too politically radioactive so close to parliamentary elections, so won’t be done in time. As a result, Monday’s eurogroup meeting will be a farewell, but not a formal closure of the programme. That will happen at the end of the month when the three-year rescue just expires. Read more

Peter Spiegel

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Tusk stops in Athens Thursday morning to meet with Greece's Alexis Tsipras en route to Ankara

If it’s Thursday, it must be Ankara.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, is halfway through a four-day, six-country tour ahead of Monday’s emergency EU summit on refugees that culminates in Turkey. He will meet prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu today in Ankara and cool his heels most of tomorrow morning awaiting an afternoon meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. On almost every stop on his way to Turkey, Mr Tusk has signalled he still isn’t happy with the country’s efforts to stem the migrant flow despite the much-debated bilateral deal in which Ankara was supposed to crack down on migration in exchange for €3bn in EU aid. Tusk has promised to raise the issue with the Turks.

New numbers released by the UN’s refugee agency show that daily arrivals in Greece peaked at more than 3,600 last week, which is not much lower than it has been for the last two months. Overall numbers for February were slightly below January, but EU officials have been reluctant to concede on any Turkish requests – like a new programme to resettle Syrian refugees now in Turkey into Europe – unless those numbers fall more significantly. Read more

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Europe is waking to news that Donald Trump has taken a huge, bounding leaptowards securing the Republican nomination for US president. It is not yet wrapped up; the Republican race will probably run through to the spring. But Mr Trump could barely have emerged in better shape from Super Tuesday and the Europe’s press are all a bit stunned. Before they could even deploy some withering headlines, Mr Trump beat them to the punch, blasting the bloc on terrorism and migration: “You look at Brussels, look at Sweden, you look at Germany – it’s like a disaster.” With an eye on the presidential race, he at least had the diplomatic courtesy to hold back on attacking Germany’s Angela Merkel, a leader he recently said would “be out if they don’t have a revolution”. Read more

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The British EU referendum campaign is barely a week old and it already feels like a war of attrition. For outsiders watching from Brussels, one of the most peculiar clashes is around the question of whether a vote to leave the EU actually means Britain will leave. It turns on arcane EU law – Article 50 of the EU treaty, the so-called exit clause – but it is high-politics. Will voters see an exit as a dangerous gamble, or a gradual withdrawal to a safer place? “A country invokes Article 50 to start exit negotiations, which would seem the obvious first step after a leave vote. But there is nothing mandating London pull the Article 50 trigger immediately, and some have suggested using the Leave vote to try to get better terms without an Article 50 break. The argument will run and run because, as often in politics, both sides rest their case on a kernel of truth.

The idea of “vote Brexit for a better EU deal” comes from theVote Leave campaign and some prominent Brexiteers, including for a brief but dazzling moment Boris Johnson, the London mayor. David Cameron tried to nix the concept by saying the British people “would rightly expect” an Article 50 exit to start “straight away” after a leave vote. That would start a two-year clock ticking on exit talks, opening the risk of British membership and trade arrangements ending overnight if talks turn hostile. The British prime minister added that to imagine other EU countries would negotiate a new UK membership deal was “for the birds”. He won support on Monday by Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, who said the what-if game on future negotiations was “insane”.

A UK government paper on Monday followed up Mr Cameron’s salvo by explaining the divorce mechanics. Lots of uncertain scenarios are depicted – described by Mr Johnson as “baloney” – including a 10-year Brexit process subject to countless vetoes in Europe. But on Article 50, the paper just echoes Mr Cameron’s view of the public “expectation”. It did not say it must be invoked immediately. And nor did it say that Article 50 would cover every aspect of Brexit. Indeed it points out there would need to be a complex trade negotiation alongside and separate from the Article 50 divorce. (For the legal geeks, we have explained more in this annotated version of the Article 50.) Read more

Jim Brunsden

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Schäuble, right, with World Bank president Jim Yong Kim at the G20 in Shanghai this weekend

Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, last week called for leading economies to “go bold” in tackling the looming threat of a global slowdown, saying that “there has to be action on all fronts.” Instead, a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations that concluded at the weekend produced an 11-point statement that was notable as much for what wasn’t in it as for what was.

Ever the budgetary hawk, Germany’s Wolfgang Schäuble – under pressure at home to maintain a balanced budget in the face of huge new spending demands thanks to the refugee crisis – moved quickly at the meeting in Shanghai to bury any idea that the G20 might agree on a coordinated stimulus package through greater public spending. Instead, the communiqué ministers adopted prescribes a medicine that’s much more palatable to Mr Schäuble but politically difficult to administer: pushing ahead with labour-market and competitiveness reforms.

Given Berlin’s struggles within the eurozone to repel repeated pushes from Italy, Portugal, and most recently Spain, for more flexibility in the bloc’s budget rules, the last thing Mr Schäuble wanted was for the most powerful nations on earth to signal that it’s time to open the purse strings. “Thinking about further stimulus just distracts from the real task at hand,” Mr Schäuble said. “If you want the real economy to grow there are no shortcuts without reforms.” Read more

Peter Spiegel

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Mr Kenny does some last-minute campaigning in Dublin ahead of today's general election

Elections are held in a onetime bailout country, and the incumbent party wins – but without enough support to cobble together a governing coalition. It happened in Portugal back in October, in Spain in December, and it seems the most likely scenario to play out today in Ireland, where voters go to the polls for the first time since Dublin emerged from its eurozone rescue two years ago. The Irish Polling Indicator, a daily tally of opinion surveys, has the Fine Gael party of prime minister Enda Kenny at just 28.5 per cent, with coalition partner Labour at 6.5 per cent. “Hung Dáil looms,” declares the Irish Times.

Given Ireland’s unusual political history, finding parties for Fine Gael to partner with (other than Labour) is no easy task. Unlike most Western European democracies, Ireland’s modern party system didn’t really develop on a traditional left-right spectrum. Instead, it’s more of what political scientists term a “centre-periphery” model, originally defined on Ireland’s relationship with its former masters in London. During the Irish Civil War, those who backed the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, which gave Dublin independence, went on to become Fine Gael; those who thought the treaty didn’t go far enough (mainly because the new Irish Free State didn’t include Northern Ireland) eventually became Fianna Fáil.

For those historical reasons, a “grand coalition” of the country’s two main political parties would be an anomaly – despite narrow policy differences (indeed, the Irish Times recently posted a video entitled “What’s the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael?”). To this day, Fine Gael is seen as the party of Dublin’s professional elites, and that division has been exacerbated in the post-bailout environment, where Dublin has thrived but the countryside has failed to rebound. The FT’s Ireland correspondent Vincent Boland has a look at those divisions in his pre-election report from Limerick. Read more

Duncan Robinson

On Wednesday, Vienna hosted nine countries – and 18 ministers – to discuss the migration crisis in the western Balkans. Despite the size of the diplomatic shindig, a few names were left off the list.

To the surprise and annoyance of Athens and Berlin, neither Germany (the main destination) nor Greece (the main entrance) were asked to come along. The European Commission, which has attempted to marshal the EU’s response, was not asked either. Read more

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There are 20 European ministers in Vienna today for one of the most extraordinary meetings of the migration crisis – and there have been some pretty extraordinary meetings.

Austria has convened nine countries along the so-called western Balkans migration route. That sounds reasonable enough. Foreign and interior ministers will be present from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Missing from the guestlist, though, is the main migrant entry-point (Greece) and the main destination-point (Germany). That is either a rather big oversight – or an act of mutiny.

It caps a week where the dominoes have begun to fall in south-eastern Europe. Austria’s renegade policy – imposing asylum caps while waving through Germany-bound migrants – has triggered other national responses down the line. Vienna is even considering deploying troops to the Macedonia border. It is shaping facts on the ground that are fast eclipsing the prospects for a “European solution”, if ever it were possible. Read more

Peter Spiegel

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Other than David Cameron’s deal renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU, the only major decision taken at last week’s Brussels summit was to hold yet another emergency summit on Europe’s burgeoning refugee crisis. With a regularly-scheduled summit already on the calendar for March 17, why would leaders need to reassemble again in the first week of March? According to several EU diplomats, the new gathering will be held at the request of Chancellor Angela Merkel because of a major political event happening in the interim: March 13 regional elections in three large German states.

Increasingly, those elections – in wealthy Baden-Württemberg; neighbouring Rhineland-Pfalz; and eastern Saxony-Anhalt – are being seen as referenda on Ms Merkel’s migration policy. And with UN figures showing refugee arrivals in Greece back up above 3,000 per day, there’s a good reason for the chancellor to be in a bit of a panic. Recent polls show the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland party making significant gains in all three länder, particularly in Saxony-Anhalt, where a survey published yesterday by the mass-market Bild newspaper had AfD at a stunning 17 per cent, ahead of the centre-left Social Democrats. In Baden-Württemberg, whose capital of Stuttgart is home to automaker Daimler, Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats – who have dominated the state’s politics for decades – fell behind the Greens in the same poll. The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says “it looks bleak” for the CDU in the region. In Rhineland-Pfalz, AfD has risen from nothing in the 2011 elections to 8.5 per cent.

The atmospherics have not been helped by events on the ground, which appear to be further radicalising the electorate. Last week, videos emerged of an anti-immigrant mob besieging a bus filled with migrants in the small town of Clausnitz, near the Czech border. That was compounded by another video showing police dragging a frightened boy off the bus as the mob raged outside. Just days later in Bautzen, another small town near the Czech border, onlookers cheered as a building meant to house asylum seekers burned to the ground. Much like the new year’s attacks in Cologne, the incidents have set off another round of German soul searching over just how welcome the country is to immigrants. Read more

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“Let me tell you where I’ve got to, which is, um, I am, um….I’ve made up my mind.”

With these words, Boris Johnson bounded into the Brexit camp on Sunday, jolting Britain’s EU referendum campaign into life. A summit-weary David Cameron had barely caught up on his sleep on Saturday morning when the Mayor of London emailed to let his old pal know he would take the opposite side. There was no reply. Less than 10 minutes before going public, Mr Johnson sent the British prime minister a ‘courtesy’ text. The two men enjoy one of the most cut-throat, competitive personal rivalries in British politics (they have literally wrestled on the floor of Downing Street). That rivalry is now set to engross Britain’s June 23 referendum on EU membership. Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, tweeted “the country’s future had been reduced to uni chums arguing”. “Blond Bombshell” cried The Sun’s frontpage; “Boris Goes In for the Kill” said the Daily Mail; and “Out for Himself” declared the Independent.

Old Brussels hands know what it is to be trolled by Boris Johnson. Read more

Peter Spiegel

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Britain's David Cameron leaves the EU summit building at 5:30am on Friday morning

If you’re reading this morning’s note to find out if David Cameron sealed his “new settlement” deal to change the UK’s relationship with Brussels at last night’s EU summit, you’ll have to wait at least a few hours more. The first night’s debate over the British prime minster’s renegotiation plan was more contentious than many expected and left leaders deliberating into the early morning hours, with the session breaking up just before 2:30am.

After the summit ended, Mr Cameron went off for a private conversation with Donald Tusk, the European Council president who has been brokering the deal, to decide how to proceed at today’s session, which is due to start at 11am – though officials warned that could slip since the summit’s dinner debate on migration went on for more than five hours, longer than organisers had planned. Mr Tusk was to have separate bilaterals with France’s François Hollande, Belgium’s Charles Michel and Czech premier Bohuslav Sobotka before leaders reconvene, and sherpas and lawyers were working away through the morning to draw up another draft text for summit’s second day. “We have made some progress, but a lot remains to be done,” a tired-looking Mr Tusk said before heading off to his meeting with Mr Cameron.

The FT Brussels bureau’s Brexit watcher Alex Barker has pulled together all the blow-by-blow colour from last night’s session, including Mr Cameron and Mr Tusk frightening of the assembled leaders by warning talks may last into the weekend. Alex’s story relates how Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister who is no stranger to marathon summits, was among the more annoyed premiers in the room, wondering aloud why they were debating the nuances of the phrase “ever closer union” when the EU was at risk of “disintegrating” over its mounting refugee crisis. Read more

Peter Spiegel

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Crews prepare the EU summit building for Thursday night's high-stakes gathering

Ever since Donald Tusk, the European Council president, began chairing EU summits just over a year ago, they have frequently been far shorter and more tightly-scripted affairs than those run by his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy. Sometimes gatherings scheduled to run two days are cut short by an entire day, something that never happened under Mr Van Rompuy. So it is a measure of the two-day summit that begins today – where leaders are hoping to finally lock down an agreement on Britain’s renegotiated relationship with the EU – that on the eve of its commencement, those running it are still not entirely certain how the schedule will unfold. “We still don’t actually have a set-in-stone running order,” lamented one EU diplomat involved in the summit’s planning.

Mr Tusk’s ultimate goal is to get all 28 national leaders to agree the “new settlement” demanded by David Cameron, the British prime minister, by Friday morning over what one senior EU official only half-jokingly termed an EU “English breakfast”. That could enable Mr Cameron to announce the date for his referendum on Britain’s EU membership back in Downing Street that very afternoon (most now expect it to be held in late June). But how Mr Tusk is actually going to get to a Friday morning agreement will be partially improvisational.

The one thing organisers do know is that the “British question” will be the first thing on the agenda, shortly after the presidents and prime ministers arrive at 5pm. After a “tour de table”, officials said Mr Tusk expects to take stock of where negotiations stand and then task lawyers and sherpas to start drafting any revisions to the current text he has prepared. The senior EU official said there will be a “war room” filled with lawyers who will attempt to get any political deal into legally-binding language. Read more

We’ve got our hands on the final pre-summit draft of the UK’s “new settlement” deal, sent to member states by Donald Tusk, the summit’s host, in the early hours of this morning.

There are not many changes from Tusk’s first version, published two weeks ago. A lot of the political issues have been left to the summit of EU leaders this evening. We’ve annotated a version of the main text, which you can view here. We’ve also run through the decision setting up an emergency brake for non-euro countries, which is here. I’m afraid Tusk provided no track marks in these drafts, making it difficult to see where the changes were made, but we hopefully spotted all the main issues and revisions. There are two particularly interesting tweaks:

1. City of London safeguards go to the summit:

This was not the plan. The officials negotiating this text wanted to sort the section on economic governance — basically outlining principles for coexistence between euro and non-euro countries — so that leaders weren’t subjected to a deep dive on financial regulation. But they failed to agree a key part that marked out turf on financial stability issues between national, eurozone and EU authorities. Pity the leaders — this is complex stuff. More details in the annotations.

2. The European parliament trigger for the benefits “emergency brake”? (SEE UPDATE)

This change is arcane but politically quite important for Britain and the European parliament. The text is revised to suggest the European parliament may have a say on the decision to trigger the “emergency brake” allowing the UK to restrict benefits to EU migrant workers. (In the earlier draft, MEPs had power over the legislation that would create the brake, but the ability to trigger the brake was left to EU member states.) This is super important for the bigwigs of the parliament — and very tricky for London.

UPDATE: A diplomat called to set us straight on the EP role in the emergency brake. A reference to a Council implementing act — basically bypassing the parliament — was removed. The language is a red rag to the parliament so it is a qualified win for them. But a reference to Council authorisation for the emergency brake remains, which we missed on first reading. That suggests the trigger is still in the hands of member states. One caveat: this area of law is incredibly complex and MEPs are a creative bunch when it comes to their powers and prerogatives. They could, of course, insist that the emergency brake trigger involves their sign-off as a condition for passing the law. Read more

Duncan Robinson

National Front's Nanterre offices during Wednesday morning's police raid

Workers in the National Front’s Nanterre headquarters had a poor start to the day on Wednesday. Their office was raided by a bunch of gendarmes.

But this wasn’t any run-of-the-mill raid. The French police acted as part of a European parliament investigation into Marine Le Pen’s far-right party for alleged expense fiddling by its MEPs.

The party – which is now consistently running first or second in polling for next year’s French presidential race and remains the largest French party in the European parliament itself – were accused by EU authorities last year of fraudulently claiming €7.5m to cover the pay of 20 MEP assistants who worked only on national matters – which is against EU rules.

As expected, FN are not happy it. They hit back, in typically bombastic style, labelling the investigation “a political operation directly led by François Hollande and Manuel Valls with the goal of obstructing, monitoring and intimidating the patriotic opposition”. Read more

Peter Spiegel

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Ukraine's Arseniy Yatseniuk speaks during last night's "no confidence" debate in parliament

Amidst the ongoing refugee crisis, and the more recent fever over Britain’s efforts to renegotiate its relationship with the EU and avoid Brexit, the crisis that once dominated the European agenda and threatened to plunge the continent into another Cold War disappeared from the headlines. But mounting accusations of rampant corruption in Kiev have thrust Ukraine back into the spotlight, culminating with yesterday’s call by President Petro Poroshenko for the resignation of his erstwhile ally, prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk.

Last night, the Ukrainian parliament failed to comply, coming up 32 votes short of the 226 needed to pass a no-confidence motion that would have left the country in a state of suspended animation, stuck between choosing a new technocratic government or early elections. Despite that failure, the fallout from the split between Mr Poroshenko and Mr Yatseniuk – who head the legislature’s two largest parties, which are both part of the governing coalition – is likely to make an already unstable situation even shakier.

The current crisis was sparked by the resignation earlier this month of Aivaras Abromavicius, the government’s reform-minded economy minister who stepped down after accusing the government of condoning corruption and cronyism akin to the disgraced regime of Viktor Yanukovich, the onetime president topped in the 2014 Maidan revolution. The International Monetary Fund, which is still leading a $40bn Western bailout of Kiev after the Russian-instigated civil war plunged the Ukrainian economy into an abyss, piled on with chief Christine Lagarde warning the programme could not continue without a “substantial new effort” to invigorate reforms. Read more

Peter Spiegel

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David Cameron, left, is greeted this morning by EU Parliament president Martin Schulz

It has become something of a newfangled tradition for European prime ministers facing a spot of trouble on the EU stage to make a ritual appearance before the European Parliament to explain themselves – though some seemed to be holding their noses even as they did so.

The precedent was set by Viktor Orban, the Hungarian premier, who in 2012 travelled to the parliament’s second home in Strasbourg to counter criticisms his government was becoming increasingly authoritarian following a new media law and judicial reforms that critics charged improperly consolidated power in his own hands. Just last year, Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, made the Strasbourg pilgrimage at the height of fears his bailout brinkmanship would lead to Grexit. And Poland’s new leader, Beata Szydlo, agreed to appear last month following criticism her new media and judicial laws were following an Orbanesque trajectory.

Which is why many in the European Parliament expected David Cameron would turn up to make his “new settlement” case to them ahead of this week’s high-profile summit, where he hopes to emerge with a “reform” deal he can sell to the British public ahead of an expected June referendum on EU membership. Mr Cameron’s reasons for courting the parliament are not just symbolic, as they were for Mr Orban, Mr Tsipras and Ms Szydlo. He needs MEPs to approve many of the migrant benefit restrictions he has won in negotiations with EU leaders, since they will have to be finalised through the EU’s normal legislative process.

But when Mr Cameron arrives in Brussels today, it won’t be to appear before the entire parliament meeting in plenary session. Indeed, it won’t even be a meeting with the parliament’s conference of presidents – which was the original plan, until someone in Downing Street realised the conference includes leaders of all the parliament’s’ political groups, including those headed by archenemy (and UK Independence party leader) Nigel Farage and French ultranationalist (and National Front leader) Marine Le Pen. Read more

Jim Brunsden

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  © AFP photo

It was one of the most intriguing invitations of the year: would Greek premier Alexis Tsipras agree to meet The Visegrad Wall?

The Visegrad group — Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic — are leading the fightback against Germany’s open-door migration policy. Mr Tsipras’ attendance was intended to show he was “in the loop” on their push to seal the Macedonia border (and trap migrants in Greece in just the way Mr Tsipras is desperate to avoid).

First Mr Tsipras declined, then he said yes, then he backed out. At the very least, it’s a great loss to political spectacle.

Even without Greece there, the V4 meeting will tee-up another stormy week of migration politics in Europe. Read more

Christian Oliver

  © AFP

Greece has become wearily accustomed to micromanagers in Brussels and Berlin telling it what to do. Last summer’s Greek bailout sought reforms in some remarkably specific areas, including the weight of loaves and the shelf-life of milk. (Bakeries and dairies were cast as symptomatic of the economy’s protectionism and uncompetitiveness). Read more

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One side-effect of “crisis Europe” has been a surplus of bombastic political rhetoric. In a crowded field Mark Rutte, the Dutch premier, stood out when likening the EU to the fall of the Roman Empire. Hungary’s Viktor Orban touched a nerve with his “no road back from a multicultural Europe” speech, which in turn built on his warning over the bloc “staggering towards moonstruck ruin”. And of course Fico is FicoRead more

Duncan Robinson

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Greece is not in Dublin. While this fact is pretty basic geography, it is also a crucial part of understanding why the EU’s response to the refugee crisis has been so chaotic. Read more