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Ukraine Eyes Deal With Hungary as Ministers Meet in Kyiv


MINISTERS ON THE GROUND: The EU’s foreign affairs ministers and chief diplomat Josep Borrell meet for a special session with their Ukrainian counterpart today — but instead of Dmytro Kuleba coming to Brussels or dialing in, this time, they’re going to Ukraine. Playbook spoke with Kuleba on the phone ahead of today’s historic Council.

Strong message: “The fact that this Foreign Affairs Council is coming to Ukraine is a message in itself,” Kuleba said, arguing it was living proof of Ukraine’s gradual accession to the EU. “The message is that Ukraine is becoming a member of the European Union, the process is taking place right as we speak and hold these meetings.”

Overcoming Hungary’s veto: But today’s meeting should also yield tangible results, Kuleba said. In particular, he mentioned the European Peace Facility — the pot of money that finances weapons contributions for Ukraine, and which needs an urgent refill. Hungary has been blocking the next €500 million tranche for months, but Kyiv says a deal has now been reached.

Name and shame: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had blocked the aid in an effort to blackmail Kyiv into removing a Hungarian bank from a list of war sponsors. Ukraine’s name-shaming list of “international sponsors of the war” listed OTP — Hungary’s largest commercial bank, which has millions of customers in Russia and is accused of recognizing the so-called people’s republics in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk.

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Deal within reach: Officials told Playbook that Kyiv and Budapest were working on a tentative deal under which the bank would change some of its operations and, in exchange, would be removed from the list, paving the way for Hungary to stop vetoing the €500 million in EU military aid for Ukraine. A Ukrainian official told Playbook that OTP Bank was now off the list, and that they believed they have a deal for Hungary to lift its veto.

More weapons for Ukraine: Kuleba also highlighted the EU’s new act to boost ammunition production, under which the bloc wants to increase its capacity to deliver rounds to keep up with Russia’s war machinery. “It’s something that we are very much looking forward to,” he said.

Fewer weapons for Russia: Kuleba wants his EU colleagues to discuss new sanctions against Russia today, which would thwart Moscow’s ability to make weapons. “The EU can really play a role not only in helping Ukraine to obtain necessary weapons, but also in suppressing the Russian capacity to produce weapons for themselves,” he said. But “to make Russia produce less tanks and especially drones and missiles and other weapons, sanctions have to be stepped up.”

EU accession negotiations: “Needless to say, we will emphasize the need and the expectation to open accession talks by the end of the year,” Kuleba said.

About Slovakia’s and Poland’s elections: Asked whether Ukraine feared Slovakia or Poland would pull their support for Ukraine following elections on Saturday and October 15 respectively, Kuleba was diplomatic: “We are not afraid of it. We take it as a reality … I have no doubt that despite sometimes overheated campaign discussions and emotions … the people of both countries understand that the security of Ukraine is also their security, and none of them wants to live with Russia by their side.”

Washington funding: The foreign ministers meet following news over the weekend that a last-minute funding bill aimed at averting a government shutdown in Washington did not include aid for Ukraine. That was a blow for U.S. President Joe Biden, but also for Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy, my U.S. colleagues report. However, it’s expected that there would be another attempt at passing legislation to provide aid for Ukraine in the near-term.


MEPS GRILL HOEKSTRA FOR EU CLIMATE CHIEF: Former Dutch Minister Wopke Hoekstra needs to convince the European Parliament today that he’s the right man for the job of climate action commissioner.

Pass the popcorn: Today’s hearing will be far from a rubber-stamping exercise. The center-right politician is already under fire for his lack of expertise in climate policymaking, his past work for oil giant Shell and his opposition to ending drilling at the Netherlands’ Groningen gas field.

You scratch my back: The Socialists & Democrats may grind their teeth at Hoekstra’s nomination, but they’re expected to back him as they want their own man — Maroš Šefčovič — to be confirmed as the Commission’s vice president for the Green Deal at his own hearing on Tuesday. In other words, the EPP and the S&D have got each other by their crown jewels, as if one shoots down the other’s candidate, the other will fall too.

Hoekstra will promise to deliver on ‘substance’: An EU official told Playbook that Hoekstra would focus on showing his commitment to continuing the EU’s climate agenda, arguing that while he may not have climate credentials, he did lead “the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which are the two top ministries in the Netherlands.” The same official added: “At the end of the day, what matters in these hearings is the substance.”

Work cut out: The official pointed to a letter by the Greens detailing five commitments they want Hoekstra and Šefčovič to make at their hearings, including ambitious and “science-based” emission reduction targets by 2040; imposing a deadline by which EU countries should phase out fossil fuel subsidies; and finishing the Nature Restoration Law by the end of the mandate — legislation that is particularly controversial in the Netherlands.

Ticking the boxes: The official said the demands of the Greens — whose support will be needed to pass legislation — was like “public benchmarking” as it sets the expectations of which boxes Hoekstra will need to tick in his speech and Q&A with MEPs. “You can expect him today to commit to present his plan for the EU’s 2040 emission reduction targets in the first quarter of 2024,” the official added.

Time’s ticking: Hoekstra wants to be confirmed this week. EU climate ministers will meet on October 16 to prepare his mandate for the U.N. climate talks, for which Hoekstra wants to be in the saddle. You can follow the committee hearing with POLITICO’s live blog.

Job moves: Anthony Agotha, who worked on climate diplomacy, will join the EU’s foreign affairs department as special envoy for climate and environment diplomacy, following in the footsteps of Marc Vanheukelen. Agotha won’t be replaced in Hoekstra’s Cabinet, as it will be downsized in comparison to his predecessor Frans Timmermans’.

Staying: Timmermans’ Cabinet chief Diederik Samsom will stay on as Hoekstra’s head of Cabinet. Dutch diplomat Jori Keijsper will also retain her role as communications adviser in the Cabinet of the climate commissioner.


RUSSIA-FRIENDLY FICO WINS IN SLOVAKIA: Former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico — who resigned in 2018 after the murder of Ján Kuciak, a journalist who uncovered government corruption — won Slovakia’s election on Saturday. Fico’s party Smer came out on top with 23 percent of the vote, 5 points ahead of the liberal, pro-Western Progressive Slovakia (PS), which took 18 percent. 

Kingmaker: Peter Pellegrini, chair of the Hlas social-democratic party, which finished third with almost 15 percent of the vote, has emerged early as potential kingmaker. Hlas split off from Smer in 2020, and both Fico and Pellegrini have said they regard each other as their most logical option for a political partnership. But Pellegrini also made clear that Fico would have to course-correct and that his party would only join a coalition if Smer makes compromises. Read more from Tom Nicholson here.

Two’s a crowd: The concern among diplomats in Brussels is that Slovakia could join Hungary in vetoing EU aid for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia — making it even more difficult to reach consensus.

The S&D’s most problematic member: Smer is a member of the Party of the European Socialists (PES) and the S&D group in Parliament — even though the Slovakian party is close to Russia, has vowed to end support for Ukraine and is homophobic. But the Socialists are now reacting.

Löfven threatens Fico’s exclusion: Party President Stefan Löfven threatened to exclude Smer from PES if Fico continues his pro-Russia stance in power. “The PES supports Ukraine and we expect our member parties to continue to support Ukraine,” Löfven told Dagens Nyheter in an interview (in Swedish). 

A warning: Ultimately, Smer may be expelled from the group, warned Löfven: “If the rhetoric continues, and starts to be implemented in a government, then I will make sure to start that process.”


TIME FOR CONSENSUS IS OVER: “There is a time for coalitions to achieve results, now is the time for campaigns. The time for consensus and intermediation is over. Now it’s about winning on our values,” European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told an audience of MoDem party members on Sunday in Brittany.

Spitzenbreton? Breton once told your Playbook author live on stage that he’d consider running for the job of Commission president. Is he seeking the support of the center-right MoDem for the EU election list?

It did sound a lot like his campaign: Breton reminded the audience of the more combative EU approach that emerged during his mandate (think of his intervention to save the EU’s vaccine supplies, threatening export curbs, or his ammunition initiative for Ukraine). “If there’s one word I’d like to take away from this mandate, it’s the emergence of the concept of ‘Europe as a power,’” he said.

Credentials: “The European track record is our track record, the Renew track record. It belongs to no one else. We will not allow our record to be stolen from us,” Breton said.

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POLAND PROTESTS: Poland’s opposition claimed over a million people took part in an enormous rally in Warsaw and other Polish cities on Sunday, with just two weeks to go until the country’s general election. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party still leads in the polls, but the Million Hearts March, led by Donald Tusk and his Civic Coalition party, sought to show that the government can be beaten.

Somber mood: Despite the turnout, the mood among those marching was sober, Jan Cienski reports from Warsaw, as to defeat PiS, Tusk’s opposition will need a rapid change in fortunes.

GREECE SPYWARE SCANDAL: Greece’s opposition parties have accused the government of attempting an “institutional coup” after pushing through changes in the leadership of the independent watchdog investigating the country’s surveillance scandal. The government made the changes last week with the help of votes from the ultra-nationalist Greek Solution party. 

European Parliament intervenes: In a letter to EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, head of the European Parliament’s PEGA Committee which is investigating the use of Pegasus spyware, called for an investigation into the leadership replacements at the Greek watchdog.

WHAT SINGLE MARKET? Romanians get access to some medicines two years after Germans. Carlo Martuscelli explores why, when it comes to life-saving drugs, access to a cure can depend on where in the EU you live. Policymakers are aware of this postcode lottery — and now they want to change it.

TURKEY STRIKES: Turkey launched air strikes against Kurdish targets in northern Iraq on Sunday, after the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside the Interior Ministry in Ankara earlier in the day.

CANADA’S NAZI SCANDAL: The Canadian parliament’s controversial recognition of a former SS trooper is a demonstration of how when history is complicated, it can be a gift to propagandists who exploit the appeal of simplicity, author and commentator Keir Giles writes in an opinion article for POLITICO.

Source: Politico