EU closes in on Russian oil ban — but how tough will it be?

“An immediate, full-blown ban imposed by the EU on oil is still a no-go for economic powerhouse Germany. Berlin has indicated to other EU capitals it’s ready to consider cutting Russian oil — even if it is not yet able to abandon imports of gas — but only under specific conditions, which are now being discussed with the European Commission.”

EU makes late bid to rival China on the Silk Road

“The big idea behind Europe’s Global Gateway strategy is to mobilize up to €300 billion in public and private funds by 2027 to finance EU infrastructure projects abroad. That means building next-generation infrastructure such as fiber optic cables, 5G networks and green energy plants in the developing world, while also trying to compete with China on transport facilities, such as highways and airports.

It’s a long-shot as far as games of catch-up go.

Even if private investors join in, the EU’s spending plan languishes way beneath what it is estimated China is coughing up, and Beijing has bought its way to influence with first-mover advantage in countries from Greece to Sri Lanka. The EU boasts its main selling point is more transparency and higher environmental standards than China, although that doesn’t always go down well in many of the potential partners, which prefer opaque Chinese deals.”

Biden’s team wants EU allies to get real on ‘strategic autonomy’

““I sat through many, many defense ministerials when I was working at the Pentagon and was here in Brussels, where every defense minister around the table would all be in violent agreement about the need to spend more on defense and have a more modern capable military,” said Chollet, who has spent more than a quarter-century working on U.S. diplomacy inside and outside of government, including stints at the State Department, White House and Pentagon.

“But then all those defense ministers would have to go back to their parliaments, to their governments and have to defend those budgets or advocate for those budgets, and they were not successful,” he added. “And that’s a dynamic that still exists here.”

Chollet said that if European allies were finally ready to get serious, Washington would be more than happy to provide guidance about the types of capabilities to start building up.”

“Traveling around the world, he said he sensed that America had not lost its luster.

“There is still a very strong demand signal for American leadership,” he said. “Whether it’s in Bosnia, where I just was, whether it’s in Southeast Asia, where I was three weeks ago, whether it’s in Libya and Tunisia, where I was six weeks ago: People want more of the United States. They want our presence. They want our leadership.”

And that, he said, he tells friends at home is not to be taken for granted: “The U.S. in that position is unique. There are not many countries that you can say that about, if any actually around the world. There’s not a lot of people wanting more of China.””

Why Belarus is using migrants as a political weapon

“Belarus has sent thousands of desperate migrants to its border with Poland in a bid to antagonize the European Union over sanctions imposed last year, in the wake of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on political opponents and protesters.
The influx of migrants, which EU officials say Lukashenko has deliberately provoked as a “hybrid attack” on the EU, comes at a difficult moment for the EU as the bloc struggles with internal tensions of its own, but has so far resulted in an increasingly unified EU response.”

“People trying to leave places like Sulaimaniya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, have received Belarusian visas, bought a ticket on one of the many flights run by the state-operated airline, and headed to Minsk, Belarus’s capital, where some have been housed in government-run hotels, according to the New York Times.

But far from providing humanitarian aid and a safe haven for migrants, the Lukashenko regime is pushing them toward the borders of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania in an attempt to put pressure on the EU to lift sanctions on the nation.

Belarus has also taken direct action to make things harder for its EU neighbors: The New York Times reports that Belarusian security forces have provided migrants with instructions on crossing the borders and tools like wire cutters and axes to break down border fences.

On Saturday, Belarusian journalist Tadeusz Giczan tweeted that Belarusian forces were attempting to destroy fencing at the Polish border and using lasers and flashing lights to temporarily blind and confuse Polish soldiers stationed there in an attempt to help migrants get across the border.

Despite Belarusian efforts to force migrants into neighboring EU countries, however, the vast majority of those currently at the border are stuck there, with little protection from the elements. As winter sets in, migrants are sleeping in tents, often with inadequate clothing and supplies, and EU countries are thus far refusing them entry. Already, at least nine people have died; some estimates are even higher, and conditions could still worsen as winter sets in.”

“Despite the severity of the humanitarian crisis unfolding at Belarus’s borders, Lukashenko’s aims appear to be primarily political. The strongman president desperately wants to bring the EU to the negotiating table over sanctions imposed after he was fraudulently reelected last year and force the bloc to again recognize him as the country’s legitimate leader.”

Joe Biden and the E.U. Move To Lift Trump’s Food Tariffs

“During his first presidential visit to Europe, President Joe Biden and his European Union counterparts..hammered out an important agreement to suspend pointless retaliatory tariffs targeting a host of foods. The Washington Postcalled [the] agreement, which suspends the tariffs for five years, “a significant step in calming trade relations after the fury of the Trump years.””

“It leaves some non-food tariffs still in place. And the agreement could evaporate after five years—or sooner if the E.U. violates the terms of the agreement, notes senior Biden administration official Katherine Tai. This..agreement also doesn’t impact equally lousy Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods. And, in the wake of Brexit, while the E.U. and the United Kingdom are busy playing tariff games that hurt members of each bloc—including Irish dairy and whiskey producers—there’s always the chance new tariffs could arise and target the United States.”

US and Germany have Nord Stream 2 deal, but lack authority to implement it

“A day after the U.S. and Germany announced a deal allowing the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, top officials conceded that neither the White House nor the Chancellery have the authority to implement some of its most crucial components.

As a huge outcry went up from opponents of the Russia-led pipeline project, Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged that her agreement with President Joe Biden hardly settled their political disagreements, and that much remained uncertain.

“The agreement with the U.S. government does not cement the differences, but it does not overcome all differences either,” Merkel said at a news conference. “The differences remain.” Of the deal, she added: “It is an attempt between the U.S. government and us to set certain conditions that also have to be implemented.

“I am glad that we have succeeded so far,” Merkel continued. “And we also have a lot of tasks ahead.”

Those tasks are hardly small and include overcoming fierce opposition from some members of the United States Congress, persuading some extremely dubious EU countries to get on board, and convincing Russia to liberalize its energy sector, divest itself of the €9.5 billion pipeline, and pay Ukraine some additional €20 billion through 2034 to make up for the loss of gas transit fees — which the new pipeline would effectively render unnecessary.

While some influential Germans — notably former chancellor and current Nord Stream 2 chairman of the board Gerhard Schröder — have been instrumental in securing the pipeline’s completion, Berlin may have little to no influence over Moscow once construction is done and gas is flowing.

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat on the foreign relations committee who co-authored U.S. sanctions legislation targeting the pipeline, said she was “skeptical” of the deal given that “the key player at the table — Russia — refuses to play by the rules.””

EU trade chief warns Biden over ‘Buy American’ push

“U.S. President Joe Biden has already started tightening U.S. rules that force federal authorities to buy from American suppliers. This could run foul of Washington’s commitments at the World Trade Organization (WTO), under which it wins access to other countries’ public procurement markets in exchange for keeping its own market open.

While signaling the EU was worried about Washington’s steps, Dombrovskis stopped just short of saying Biden was breaking WTO rules.

“As regards Buy American, this is something which will require some more in-depth assessment, what are the exact implications, what are the implications for EU companies, what does it mean for U.S. commitments in the WTO framework,” Dombrovskis said.”