30th Mar 2023


Anti-corruption fixes, Davos, and the Czechs This WEEK

  • Sweden's prime minister Ulf Kristersson (l), EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and Swedish monarch, King Carl XVI Gustaf last week at the kick-off event of the country's six-month EU presidency (Photo: European Commission)
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Welcome back to the Agenda. Let's kick off 2023 with an election, some corruption, the elite-gathering in Davos, and the remains of Brexit.

Over the weekend, the Czechs voted for the aspiring successors to the eurosceptic, pro-Russian — at least before Ukraine's invasion — president Miloš Zeman, and who has been in power for a decade.

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Retired general Petr Pavel, 61, who is running as an independent, will face off former prime minister and business tycoon Andrej Babiš, 68, at the 27 January run-off.

Pavel won the first round over the weekend with 35.39 percent, ahead of Babiš with 35 percent, Reuters reported.

Babiš was acquitted earlier this year by a Czech court on charges of fraud involving EU funds.

He heads the largest opposition party in parliament is an ally of nationalist Viktor Orbán, Hungary's prime minister, while Pavel has distanced himself from Orbán.

While the presidential position is ceremonial, the vote can indicate which way voters central European countries tend to vote after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and amid rising costs of living.

Reform push or smokescreen?

Back in the EU bubble, the European Parliament will convene in Strasbourg for the first time this year, battling to contain the fallout of Qatargate.

President Roberta Metsola presented her 14-point plan to make the assembly's work more transparent.

Transparency International EU has welcomed the proposals but added that there are still "major shortcomings", and too much faith has been put in self-enforcement. It demanded "independent, outside oversight".

MEPs, on Wednesday (18 January), are set to choose a new parliament vice-president following the removal of MEP Eva Kaili, who has been arrested over corruption allegations relating to Qatargate.

On the same day, MEPs are expected to discuss with council and commission representatives recent revelations concerning Uber's former lobbying practices in the EU.

Campaign start

Meanwhile, the corridors of the Strasbourg parliament building are likely to be filled with gossip over how political parties are gearing up for the 2024 European Parliament elections.

The political positioning and campaigning is well under way, with the leader of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), Manfred Weber, seen as trying to woo Italy's far-right prime minister Giorgia Meloni.

The two have met in Rome on 5 January. The EPP has lost influence since the last 2019 election, and currently does not have a prime minister hailing from any of its parties in major EU countries.

And as the global elite gathers in Davos, in the Swiss Alps, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will be there, with almost a dozen commissioners too, for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.

The sizeable delegation might be explained by the fact that this is the first personal winter Davos meeting in three years.

Before the Swiss trip, von der Leyen will meet with French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday (16 January).

Future proof

On Tuesday (17 January), MEPs will have their chance to ask Sweden's prime minister Ulf Kristersson about his government's plan as it takes over the EU council's rotating presidency for the next six months.

On Wednesday, MEPs will debate the results of the previous December EU summit, with European Council president Charles Michel and commission chief von der Leyen.

On Tuesday, MEPs will discuss the EU's response to the protests and executions in Iran with EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, and are set to vote on a resolution on Thursday.

The same day, MEPs are expected to quiz commission representatives on the prospects of establishing a tribunal to consider prosecuting Russia for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. A resolution on the topic will be put to a vote on Thursday.

On Wednesday, MEPs are expected to debate one of the top issues dominating the beginning of the year: how to respond to the US Inflation Reduction Act, a subsidy scheme which offers fiscal incentives to companies who invest in the US.

The same day, lawmakers are set to discuss upholding the rule of law in Spain, where recent election of new members to the constitutional court has raised concerns.

Brexit continued

This week will likely see intense negotiations between the EU and the UK to overcome the long-running dispute over the post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland.

UK foreign minister James Cleverly and EU commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic are set to see each other for talks on Monday.

In the meantime in Brussels, economy and finance ministers are expected to meet on Monday and Tuesday, and among other things, take a look at the economic and financial impact of Russia's war against Ukraine.

And don't forget, you can now pay with euros in Croatia, which became the 20th EU member to join the single currency.

A troubled past hangs over Czech presidential election

The Czech Republic goes to the polls on 13 January in the first round of presidential elections, with a second round run-off two weeks later. Results will say a lot about Czechs' vision for their future — and troubled past.


The overlooked 'crimes against children' ICC arrest warrant

An unprecedented component of this announcement has received less attention: the ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Putin's commissioner for children's rights. Lvova-Belova is accused of deporting and unlawful transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia.


What does China really want? Perhaps we could try asking

Perhaps even more surprising to the West was the fact that the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal was not brokered by the United States, or the European Union, but by the People's Republic of China. Since when was China mediating peace agreements?

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