I start this week with Paris and its unfortunate choice of mascot for the 2024 Olympics. The “Phryges” — supposedly based on Phrygian caps — were unveiled in November but I only became aware of them this week, when my teenage daughter pointed them out to me and described them as “upside down uteruses.”
According to the official website, the Phryges are “black belts in pancake flipping” and stand for freedom, the French Republic and revolution! As French President Emmanuel Macron tries to ram his pension reforms through a recalcitrant parliament and braces for massive strikes and protests, I’m sure he is wishing for a little less revolutionary spirit. Visitors and residents must be feeling the same as mountains of garbage pile up in the most romantic city on earth, leading to warnings of a rat invasion.
Those steaming piles of rubbish have proved quite handy for the restive population, who set fire to garbage mounds around the Place de la Concorde on Thursday in protest against Macron’s pension reform antics.
Over in the U.K., Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is — whisper it — turning out to be quite good at his job. He has cleared some important hurdles in the last month, including apparently solving post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland and clamping down on undocumented immigration, and this week he seems to have sailed through a tricky budget without any major stumbles.
This is despite worries within the Tory party that the prime minister is just a bit “cringe,” as we reported back in January. “There’s a sort of ‘Ed Miliband with Prada shoes’ problem,” with Rishi Sunak, according to one researcher who conducts political focus groups around the country.
Speaking of cringe, the U.K.’s former Health Minister Matt Hancock is never far from the headlines. This week his travails stemming from the leak of his WhatsApp messages were the butt of jokes from former colleagues and the Treasury as it revealed its budget.
When I think of Matt Hancock, which is admittedly not often, I get the sense he somehow must have become addicted to humiliation and now seeks out any possible opportunity to expose himself to public ridicule.
On a more serious note, we worked with our stellar U.S. colleagues to dig up clear evidence that Communist Party-controlled Chinese weapons companies are already providing lethal assistance to Russia. Some of our sources suggest the small volumes we have found are merely the tip of a much larger iceberg. I suspect the Biden administration is aware of this but is currently unwilling to publicly shame Beijing because it hopes to provide a face-saving path for Xi Jinping to quietly stop the flow of Chinese weapons to Russian forces in Ukraine. With emperor Xi headed to Moscow next week to sign “a number of important bilateral documents,” the window to convince him on this front may be closing.
On that worrying note, I wish you a restful and enjoyable weekend.
All the best,
**A message from IHI: Green ammonia is a crucial driver for a sustainable energy transition. Its production process, which uses hydrogen and water electrolysis, makes it 100% renewable and carbon-free. By partnering with innovative companies and utilizing green ammonia, we can pave the way to a carbon-neutral society and achieve fully renewable energy resources.**
‘Hunting rifles’ — really? China ships assault weapons and body armor to Russia
Great transatlantic sleuthing with our Washington newsroom to dig up customs data which revealed Chinese companies are delivering assault weapons — labeled as ‘hunting rifles’ — body armor and drone parts to Russia. Read the story.
Macron’s defiant show of force in parliament exposes a weakened president
We delivered first-class coverage of a pivotal moment in French politics — as a weakened Emmanuel Macron had to railroad through his pension reforms. We had an excellent curtain-raiser then were first out of the blocks with the breaking news that Macron had shockingly taken the nuclear option. Read the story.
France pushes protectionism in Ukraine defense plan
A top scoop that unveiled some of the divisions in the EU when it comes to the plan to help Ukraine get more ammo, and the French push to ensure the ammo is made in Europe. This story was days ahead of a similar article in the Telegraph. Read the story.
Don’t burn coal, burn your ideals! Europe’s plan to rival Chinese industry
When the world economy is increasingly dominated by the rivalry between China and the U.S., how can Europe compete? The answer in Brussels is becoming clear: if you can’t beat them, join them. Major reforms proposed in recent days envision vast state subsidy injections and centrally designed green industries. Say goodbye to the EU’s free-market principles and watch as Brussels channels its inner Beijing. Read the story.
Barking mad? Commission chews over bring-your-pet-to-work policy
Top management at the European Commission are considering letting staffers bring their four-legged friends — and other pets — to work. This is a topic of great interest to the majority of people who work for the EU — written in an entertaining way. How many pet puns can you spot? Read the story.
UK ministers welcome Qatari bid for Manchester United
Jaw-dropping exclusive on how the U.K. is rolling out the red carpet to Qatar and its likely bid to buy Manchester United. Bearing in mind the Qatargate revelations, you have to wonder about the glowing quotes from current and former U.K. officials that peppered the story. Read the story.
Saving Silicon Valley Bank UK: How the British tech sector averted disaster
We pulled together this tick-tock on the race to rescue Silicon Valley Bank U.K. in record time on Monday. Included reporting from aboard Rishi Sunak’s flight to California and great lines on the Bank of England’s involvement. It makes for a meticulously reported and grippingly told account of one of the most dramatic weekends in the U.K. startup sector’s brief but colorful history. Read the story.
**On March 28 at 4:00 p.m. CEST, POLITICO Live is hosting an online event on “Protecting Europe: How the war in Ukraine changed Europe’s thinking on defense?”. Join CSIS Director Max Bergamnn, Ambassadors to NATO of France and United Kingdom Muriel Domenach and David Quarrey as they will deep dive into Europe’s thinking on how to best arm itself and where allies should focus their defense priorities in the coming years. Register today.**
YOUR WEEKEND PLAYLIST
EU Confidential: Das Auto debate — Activist Bill Browder on Russia’s political prisoners:
Das Auto debate — Activist Bill Browder on Russia’s political prisoners: We debate Germany’s last-minute effort to derail EU plans to end the sale of combustion engines by 2035. And our special guest is author and activist Bill Browder, discussing how the EU can take a stronger stance on punishing human rights violators. The EU wants to ban the sale of new combustion-engine vehicles by 2035, but the policy isn’t going down well with German lawmakers keen to protect the country’s behemoth car industry. Host Suzanne Lynch is joined by POLITICO’s Joshua Posaner and Hans von der Burchard to unpack the latest row stirring debate about the future of Das Auto. Then, Suzanne sits down with Bill Browder in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to discuss his efforts to draw EU attention to political prisoners in Russia and Georgia. Finally, Josh and Hans return for our final segment decoding Brussels-speak. This week, the team explains what a “trilogue” is in EU policymaking. Listen to the episode.
Westminster Insider: How to U-turn and get away with it
Host Aggie Chambre explores the best and worst political U-turns of recent times — and ponders how and why certain politicians get away with abrupt changes of heart. Former Lib Dem Cabinet Minister David Laws recalls the tuition fee furor that sunk his party, while former Downing Street chief of staff Fiona Hill discusses Theresa May’s swiftly abandoned “Dementia Tax” of 2017. Liz Truss’ close allies Simon Clarke and Sarah Ludlow relive the U-turn over her disastrous “mini-budget” of 2022, while ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett picks over the most significant U-turns of the New Labour years. Former Thatcher aide John Whittingdale discusses what happens when your leader simply refuses to change course despite massive opposition, while Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein argues that U-turns are actually a cause for celebration in a complex world. Listen to the episode.
**Save the date: happening on Tuesday, April 25 at 1:00 p.m. CEST – POLITICO Live’s event “Breaking barriers in innovation and access: can the pharma legislation do it all?”. Register today!**
What’s the most offensive thing about Hungary? Read Declassified to find out more (but be warned, it’s really bad).
“The new series of ‘The Bachelor‘ looks awful.“
Can you do better? Email [email protected] or on Twitter @pdallisonesque
Last week we gave you this photo:
Thanks for all the entries. Here’s the best from our postbag — there’s no prize except for the gift of laughter, which I think we can all agree is far more valuable than cash or booze.
“The official dartboard of the ‘Russian Oligarch Falling Out of a Window’ Competition is formally unveiled,” by Darren Azzopardi.
**A message from IHI: Ammonia presents a great opportunity for Europe to reach carbon neutrality while creating new economic opportunities. It can be used as a hydrogen carrier and bunker fuel in the maritime sector, reducing emissions and creating energy clusters at ports. It plays an essential role as a fertilizer precursor, particularly relevant in a European economy that faces massive disruptions to its traditional supplies of natural gas for ammonia synthesis due to the current energy crisis. Ammonia can be produced from renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar, which can help decarbonize the fertilizer industry. Investing in multi-solutions that utilize ammonia as a sustainable energy source can benefit the transport, industry, and power generation sectors as well.**
SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: Brussels Playbook | London Playbook | Playbook Paris | POLITICO Confidential | Sunday Crunch | EU Influence | London Influence | Digital Bridge | China Direct | Berlin Bulletin | D.C. Playbook | D.C. Influence | Global Insider | All our POLITICO Pro policy morning newsletters