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Fears of a Viking funeral in Brussels


EXTINCT IN BRUSSELS: The EU has to change its hiring habits or risk virtually eliminating Nordic officials from the European Commission, warn Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Political problem: The Nordics fear that the younger generation isn’t coming to Brussels — a concern reflected in the Commission’s own statistics, according to a POLITICO analysis. Diplomats from those countries blame the EU’s lengthy entrance exam, or “concours,” and jobs that are not as attractive to young Scandinavians. “This is really becoming a political problem,” warned Matilda Rotkirch, a diplomat at the Swedish mission to the EU. “If you don’t fix this problem, it could spread anti-EU sentiments in the member states.”

The stats: The Nordics point to their shrinking numbers in junior roles. Swedes comprise just 0.85 percent of junior ranks, nearly 2 percentage points below the EU’s goal. Meanwhile, Romanians represent 7.2 percent of the same group, well above the 4.5 percent guideline.

Economic incentives: A career in the Commission might look less attractive to Danes or Swedes than to Greeks or Romanians, where average salaries are lower — though with starting salaries north of €5,000 per month for full-time staffers, pay is still well above average even for the EU’s richer members.

Suddenly not so market-driven: Liberal economic logic (which Nordic countries usually hold up high in Brussels) would argue that if highly qualified Romanians are willing to make bigger efforts and work harder for less pay than Danes or Finns, then it’s only fair they get the job — and it’s also the best deal for EU taxpayers.

But the Finns and their Scandinavian neighbors are now calling for hard country-specific employment quotas for the Commission — which other countries warn contravenes the EU’s principle of non-discrimination and could trigger legal challenges.

The Nordic PR push is bearing fruit: In the coming weeks, these countries will team up with a dozen other EU members to hash out an agreement with the Commission on changes that can be made to head off a growing geographical imbalance, report my colleagues Gregorio Sorgi, Giovanna Coi and Lucia Mackenzie.

Merit-based but somehow also following geographic targets: While a Commission spokesperson insisted that “recruitment is based on merit and no posts are reserved for nationals of a specific member state,” the executive has already started reacting to the Nordic complaints.

Balancing the Blue Books: For this year’s applicants, the Commission tweaked its flagship Blue Book traineeship — which brings hundreds of people to Brussels each year for a five-month internship — to boost new hires from traditionally underrepresented countries and reduce overall geographic imbalances. The changes brought the 2023 class more in line with some of the Commission’s geographic targets, according to POLITICO’s analysis of the data.


Well-represented in leadership roles: For all the complaining, POLITICO’s review of the data shows the Nordics are actually faring quite well in terms of influence in Brussels. Among the EU executive’s more senior staff, Denmark and Sweden are represented mostly in line with the EU’s targets, while Finns are even slightly over-represented. Nordic commissioners have also obtained some of the EU’s most powerful portfolios.

Think again: It’s actually the EU’s biggest country that is the most underrepresented, both in junior and senior positions: Germany. The EU’s second-biggest member, France, is also underrepresented in the Commission, the data shows. See all the graphs here, in this excellent piece by Gregorio, Giovanna and Lucia.


CLOCK TICKING: Spain’s king on Tuesday tasked conservative party leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo with trying to form a government that can win a majority in parliament. As no candidate won an outright majority or has a clear path to a coalition government, King Felipe said he would follow convention and give the candidate of the party that secured the most votes a first shot.

Don’t get your hopes up: Feijóo’s efforts are likely doomed. Even with the backing of the far-right Vox Party, Feijóo isn’t expected to be able to overcome the opposition of a majority of Spain’s MPs.

What’s next? It’s now up to the parliament president to fix a date for a vote on Feijóo’s candidacy. Once that first attempt at forming a government fails, a two-month timer starts ticking during which other party leaders, including current Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, will try to form a government coalition. Sánchez will need to secure the votes of some of the seven Catalan pro-independence Junts MPs.

Doing the electoral math: If no candidate secures sufficient votes, a new election will be scheduled for 47 days later. To ensure the hypothetical electoral rerun doesn’t fall on either December 24 (Christmas Eve) or on December 31 (New Year’s Eve), that first investiture vote will have to happen either on August 31 — that is, next Thursday — or not before September 20 (in which case a new election would only happen next year, if no party manages to form a government).

Sánchez opens door to Catalan amnesty: Asked on Tuesday about one of Junts’ key demands to back a government — an amnesty for all those involved in organizing the unconstitutional 2017 independence referendum — Sánchez said he was in favor of continuing down the path of “dialogue” and “coexistence.” While Sánchez’s government previously argued that a general amnesty law would be unconstitutional, on Tuesday, faced with repeated questions from reporters, Sánchez said the legality of such a step would be up for the constitutional court to decide on.


BALKANS PUT PRESSURE ON BRUSSELS: Ministers from Western Balkan countries vented their frustration at the sluggish pace of the EU’s accession process on Tuesday. Speaking at a seminar chaired by the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in the Spanish town of Santander, the foreign ministers of Albania and North Macedonia urged the bloc to move forward with the accession process by the end of the year and set a deadline for their formal entry to the EU, Gregorio Sorgi writes in to report.

Enlargement is high on the EU agenda: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel held a summit with Western Balkan leaders in Athens on Monday evening. Their calls to action come as the Commission will report on progress in negotiations with candidate countries in its regular enlargement update slated for October. EU leaders are expected to decide whether to open full-on accession negotiations at their summit in December. 

New momentum: Russia’s war in Ukraine gave fresh impetus to the accession process of Balkan countries including North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which had been stuck in the pipelines for over a decade. “It is true that for the Western Balkans the tragic war in Ukraine has had positive consequences. It woke up the EU,” said the Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhaçka during the Quo vadis Europa? seminar.

Old grudges: But Xhaçka’s counterpart from North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, chastized EU leaders for shifting the goalposts and blocking the country’s accession process on the basis of historical disputes such as a decades-old spat with Greece over the country’s name. “After we changed the name, we changed the constitution, unfortunately we were vetoed again. This time, not by Greece, unfortunately then by France,” said Osmani, adding that disillusionment with the EU is opening the door to Russian influence in the region. 

Gradual approach: North Macedonia’s foreign policy chief insisted that the Western Balkans need to gradually embrace the EU’s rules before they can officially join the club, using as an example his country’s entrance into the bloc’s energy and transport community. Von der Leyen backed this approach in a speech in Bratislava in May, when she unveiled a four-point plan to gradually bring the Balkans closer to the EU.

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TIMMERMANS’ BIG SHOES: Maroš Šefčovič — the European Commission’s Mr. Fix It — on Tuesday took control of the EU’s climate policy after Frans Timmermans quit to make a run for Dutch prime minister. Šefčovič was handed the powerful role of executive vice president by Ursula von der Leyen, who paid tribute to Timmermans’ “passionate and tireless work to make the European Green Deal a reality.”

Team effort: In comments to POLITICO, Spanish Ecology Minister Teresa Ribera argued her country — which holds the presidency of the Council of the EU until year’s end — would also make sure the bloc remained visible on the global climate front. “The EU will have a visible and committed head at COP28,” Ribera said. “Both the Commission and the Spanish presidency … will defend the position of the EU.”

DUTCH AMBITIONS: Meanwhile, as leader of a “united left” alliance between Dutch Labor and Greens, Timmermans will make “climate justice” a key priority, he told party members Tuesday evening. “I beg of you: Don’t let anyone tell you that there is a contradiction between climate justice and social justice. Without climate policy, social justice is an illusion. But without social justice, we will never win support for climate policy,” he said.

What’s next? Von der Leyen has asked outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to put forward a new candidate for commissioner. However, a replacement won’t necessarily get the same portfolio as Timmermans held. Read more, from Karl Mathiesen, Zia Weise and Suzanne Lynch.


INSIDE THE EU’S MILITARY CRASH COURSE FOR UKRAINIAN TROOPS: My colleague Peter Wilke traveled to a German forces training area in Klietz, two hours outside Berlin, where several European nations are training Ukrainian soldiers to operate German war equipment. Read his dispatch here.

MOSCOW EYES GEORGIAN REGIONS: Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and PM, and current deputy chair of the country’s security council, hinted that Moscow may annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In an opinion piece published on Wednesday, Medvedev said “The idea of joining Russia is still popular in Abkhazia and South Ossetia” and that “It could quite possibly be implemented if there are good reasons for that.” Reuters has a write-up.

GENERAL ARMAGEDDON SACKED (AGAIN): Sergei Surovikin, the former commander of Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, has been dismissed as head of the country’s aerospace forces, according to Russian media. Surovikin, known as “General Armageddon” for his aggressive military strategies in Chechnya and Syria, has not been seen in public since the Wagner Group’s mutiny in June. Paul Dallison has more.

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NAGORNO-KARABAKH CRISIS: With Azerbaijan accused of blocking all supplies to the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, fears are growing over the fate of the 100,000 people living there, Gabriel Gavin reports. Aid organizations are warning that a humanitarian crisis looms, while an official from the region warns “The situation is close to catastrophe.”

GREECE BURNS: Greek authorities continue to battle catastrophic wildfires on multiple fronts across the country. On Tuesday, 18 bodies, possibly migrants, were found near the Turkish border where a major fire has been burning for four days.

DSA DEADLINE LOOMS: As soon as Friday, a total of 19 very large online platforms and search engines visited by more than 45 million Europeans every month will have to comply with the EU’s online content rulebook, the Digital Services Act. Clothilde Goujard takes a look at Big Tech’s to-do list under the new rules.

MUSK DODGING THE COPYRIGHT BULLET: French publishers accuse Elon Musk of tweaking the features of Twitter, now called X, to avoid paying for copyright-protected content. Laura Kayali has the details.

BREXIT BORDER CHECKS: The British government is being told to spell out whether new Brexit border checks will still be introduced in October, Stefan Boscia reports.


— High Representative Josep Borrell in Santander, Spain. Attends the Quo Vadis Europa? event at the Menéndez Pelayo International University.

— NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoană will participate in the Third Summit of the Crimea Platform (virtual).

— BRICS summit in South Africa.