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Plan for the day after Israel-Hamas war is sought by EU


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EU LEADERS IN MIDDLE EAST

EU PUSHES PLAN FOR DAY AFTER WAR: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell are ramping up diplomacy in the Middle East. As they embark on separate trips to the region, they’ll seek to kickstart discussions with leaders on a plan for when the fighting between Israel and Hamas ends.

Today’s agenda: Borrell is in Israel for meetings with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, President Isaac Herzog and opposition leader Yair Lapid. No meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been announced.

On Friday, Borrell will travel to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Von der Leyen, meanwhile, will embark on a trip to Egypt and Jordan on Friday.

Red lines: The EU wants to make sure Gaza does not fall back into Hamas’ hands, but leaders also want to avoid a long-term Israeli presence in the enclave — the U.S. has also made clear that Israel should not reoccupy Gaza. Europe is also seeking to prevent another long-term blockade.

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German plan suggests UN control of Gaza: An unofficial discussion paper from Berlin proposed the “internationalization of Gaza under the umbrella of the United Nations (and regional partners),” my colleagues Jacopo Barigazzi and Barbara Moens reveal.

Define long term: That should lead to “a carefully organized transition” toward Palestinian self-administration, “ideally” through elections “and in combination with an international coalition that provides necessary security.”

UN, really? However, both Palestinian and some EU diplomats have serious doubts about the feasibility of the idea, with a senior Palestinian figure in Europe calling it “unacceptable.” One EU diplomat described the document as “stillborn.”

Think again: Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog poured cold water on Germany’s suggestion that the U.N. could take control of Gaza after the war, telling our Power Play podcast: “I’m not sure the U.N. model is the best model because we don’t have a good experience with U.N. mandated forces … We need an effective force on the ground that can deal with terrorists and their infrastructure.” He added: “We are open to other forces going in, regional or international.” Listen here.

Two-state opportunity amid all the gloom: The EU and U.S. argue Gaza should eventually be administered by a reformed Palestinian Authority — which would pave the war for a two-state solution. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that an “effective and revitalized Palestinian Authority” should ultimately govern Gaza.

Long road ahead: But neither Blinken nor EU leaders have suggested how to make the PA more “effective” — or how to overcome the Israeli government’s opposition. Netanyahu has stated his country will take “overall security responsibility” for Gaza “for an indefinite period.” President Isaac Herzog told the FT in an interview that Israel would have to maintain a “very strong force” in Gaza. “If we pull back, then who will take over? We can’t leave a vacuum. We have to think about what will be the mechanism; there are many ideas that are thrown in the air. But no one will want to turn this place, Gaza, into a terror base again.”

MEANWHILE: The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday approved a resolution put forward by Malta calling for urgent and extended “humanitarian pauses” in the Gaza Strip for a “sufficient number of days.” Unlike other U.N. resolutions, Security Council ones are binding under international law, meaning the decision will ramp up pressure on Israel to extend pauses in fighting. More from Seb Starcevic here.

Maritime corridor: Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos today travels to Israel with a team of technocrats to discuss with Israeli counterparts the idea of establishing a sea corridor from Cyprus to Gaza to transfer humanitarian aid. The plan could see aid checked by Israel in Cyprus before being allowed into Gaza, Nektaria Stamouli writes in to report.

NOW READ THIS: As EU leaders make for the Middle East, Nathalie Tocci explores the rise and fall of geopolitical Europe in an opinion article for POLITICO. “Europe’s approach to Ukraine held the premise of showing what a geopolitical Europe could mean,” she says, but “the Middle East now reveals its demise.”

BIG BROTHER EU

COMMISSION IN HOT WATER OVER TARGETED ADS: The European Commission faces a challenge today after revelations it has been using targeted advertisements on digital platforms — which rely on sensitive private user data — to push political propaganda for a highly controversial law, Mathieu Pollet and Clothilde Goujard report.

Happening today: Privacy group None of Your Business (or NYOB, led by the Commission’s bête noire Max Schrems) is taking aim at the EU executive and its microtargeting of users on X, with a new complaint filed today with the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS). The complaint is against the Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME), led politically by Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, our colleagues over at the Morning Tech newsletter report.

Backstory: POLITICO previously reported that the Commission’s services microtargeted millions of European citizens on the social media site formerly known as Twitter, with ads based on personal data — including their religious and political beliefs — to garner public support for its controversial proposal on fighting child sexual abuse material.

Not on my watch: NOYB argues the advertising campaign violated the bloc’s data protection law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and also contravenes X’s own rules. “The EU Commission has no legal basis to process sensitive data for targeted advertising on X. Nobody is above the law, and the EU Commission is no exception,” said Felix Mikolasch, a data protection lawyer at NOYB.

Making it their business: NOYB urges the EU’s data protection watchdog to investigate and impose a fine. It also said it was contemplating lodging another complaint against X for allowing the microtargeting to happen. The EDPS has been looking into the issue since late October and has asked the DG to provide more information.

BIG BROTHER LAW: Under the draft bill, the EU would force social media and messaging platforms to scan and report illegal material of child sexual abuse including photos and conversations between potential offenders and victims. The backdoor would work using an AI filter that screens the messages before they are encrypted — if the filter detects suspicious messages, it reports them to authorities.

Mass surveillance: Privacy advocates have been warning the bill would effectively break encryption and lead to mass surveillance — and would grant the EU a foot in the door, which it could expand in future to spy for other offenses.

Next steps: A key European Parliament committee recently approved a more privacy-friendly position, striking certain provisions from the text. EU governments have yet to make up their minds on what to do with the bill.

ELSEWHERE IN BIG TECH: Tech companies are coming out of the woodwork to challenge the Commission’s label of digital “gatekeepers.” Meta on Wednesday was the first to say it had filed a legal challenge to the EU’s revamped enforcement regime, disputing EU officials’ decision to bring its Marketplace and Messenger services into the scope of the new digital competition rulebook. Edith Hancock has more.

LUXEMBOURG’S NEW GOVERNMENT

BETTEL’S BACK: Luxembourg’s outgoing Prime Minister Xavier Bettel will remain in government — but as foreign minister. That comes after a coalition agreement struck Wednesday evening with the center-right Christian Social People’s Party (CSV), my colleague Nicolas Camut reports.

Out with the old, in with the old: The new government will be led by CSV leader Luc Frieden, who is known in Brussels circles, having previously served as finance and justice minister during former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s time as Luxembourg’s PM.

HANSEN COMEBACK: Christophe Hansen, who quit as an EPP MEP to run in the Luxembourg election, is set to be proposed as the country’s new European commissioner after the June EU election, as part of the coalition agreement, according to an official briefed on the negotiations (h/t Barbara Moens).

COSTA CORNER

SOCIALISTS KEEP THE COSTA DREAM ALIVE: EU politicians were shocked after a corruption investigation was launched against Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa. But with Costa’s role in the alleged corruption still unclear, the Party of European Socialists hopes he might still be in the race for an EU top job after June’s EU election.

Hope springs eternal: Giacomo Filibeck, the party’s secretary-general, told Jacopo Barigazzi that Costa’s “reputation remains intact.” While he didn’t want to get into the details, Filibeck stressed that Costa has “the reputation of an honest politician who puts the integrity of institutions always above himself.”

Questions about the investigation: The fact that a Portuguese judge dropped charges against some of Costa’s allies on Monday showed that the investigation “has been run with a bit of superficiality considering the enormous impact that it had on the government,” Filibeck argued.

Let the courts decide on Spanish amnesty: On the issue of Socialist Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plans to grant amnesty to Catalan separatists in exchange for their political support, Filibeck said that’s an issue best left to the courts. “We believe that whatever they are presenting is in line with their own constitutional provision, and that the Spanish Constitutional Court will determine the validity of it,” he said.

Taking sides:
 EPP leader Manfred Weber told Playbook that the group would request a debate about the risks of “deterioration of the rule of law” in Spain over Sánchez’s amnesty deal. For Filibeck, “what is worrying is to see the European People’s Party leadership … getting into the midst of this internal fight in Spain” and taking the same side as the far-right Vox party.

Lack of solidarity: Speaking of the attacks by protestors on the headquarters of the Spanish Socialist Party in Madrid and Brussels last week, Filibeck said: “I’m a bit appalled by the fact that he [Weber] didn’t feel the same sentiment of urgency of condemning the raids.”

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FOCUS ON GERMANY

SUPER MASSIVE BUDGET HOLE: Germany’s top court has blown a giant hole in the country’s budget. On Wednesday, judges ruled that Berlin’s decision to reallocate €60 billion of unused debt and use it for the country’s green transition was unconstitutional. The ruling is likely to impact how governments plan their budgets for years to come, Nicolas Camut and Peter Wilke report.

FAMILY-OWNED BUSINESSES WARN OF REGULATORY HELL: Germany’s family-owned businesses say an avalanche of EU regulations is overburdening companies to the point of reaching “a critical juncture.” In a manifesto shared exclusively with Playbook, the companies warn that over just the past months, the EU has added a kafkaesque amount of reporting obligations.

Welcome to Europe, hope you like paperwork: The carbon border tax, for example, means that scaffolding manufacturers must compile reports on the emissions of their suppliers in third countries. “The EU guidelines comprise 266 A4 pages for suppliers and 104 pages for their customers,” the manifesto says.

IN OTHER NEWS

BIDEN-XI MEETING — ‘HE’S A DICTATOR’: U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping had a tightly scripted diplomatic encounter Wednesday on the sidelines of a Pacific states summit in San Francisco. The two leaders agreed to resume high-level military-to-military communications, and to further discuss the impacts of AI. Biden later said of Xi: “He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country that is a communist country.” My U.S. colleagues have more.

MORE RUSSIA SANCTIONS INCOMING: The Commission has suggested new sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine, introducing a ban on Russian diamonds and tightening other measures, such as the oil price cap, according to documents seen by POLITICO. Read more by Barbara Moens, Jacopo Barigazzi, Gabriel Gavin, Camille Gijs and Victor Jack here.

TIMMERMANS’ GREEN DEAL COMES BACK TO BITE: As a candidate for Dutch prime minister, Frans Timmermans could soon be grappling with the proposals he was the architect of while at the European Commission, Karl Mathiesen reports.

GLYPHOSATE UPDATE: In 2017, President Emmanuel Macron vowed that France would ban the controversial herbicide glyphosate within three years. But that promise has now gone down the drain, Bartosz Brzeziński writes.

AFRICA AND ALZHEIMER’S: Much about Alzheimer’s is still a mystery, Ashleigh Furlong reports — but Africa could help solve it.

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AGENDA

— Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is in Berlin, Germany; attends European China Conference … delivers keynote speech at a strategy congress organized by the CDU/CSU in the Bundestag.

— European Council President Charles Michel is in Zagreb for an informal dinner on strategic agenda consultations; Croatian, Slovak, Polish, Italian and Maltese leaders have been invited.

— High Representative Josep Borrell travels to the Middle East and begins his visit in Israel; meets Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid … Major General Ghassan Alian … President Isaac Herzog … Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and others. He will also hold talks with U.N. Special Coordinator Tor Wennesland, UNRWA Acting Deputy Commissioner General Natalie Boucly, and UNICEF Special Representative Lucia Elmi. Press conference with Herzog and Borrell at 5 p.m. Watch.

— European Parliament President Roberta Metsola presides over the Conference of Presidents meeting at 10 a.m.

— Member countries’ permanent representatives meet in Coreper II at 10 a.m.

— Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson is in Madrid, Spain; gives welcoming remarks at the EMN Spanish Presidency Conference — Shaping the future of EU legal migration: Where are we and where do we want to go? at 10 a.m. … receives the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Guardia Civil award at 5 p.m. Watch.

— Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas is also in Madrid; meets, jointly with Ylva Johansson, Moroccan Economic Inclusion Minister Younes Sekkouri … meets Director General of the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration Amy Pope.

— Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson is in Georgia; press conference with Georgian Vice Prime Minister and Economy Minister Levan Davitashvili at 12:30 p.m. Watch.

— NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg receives Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs. Press point at 1:30 p.m. Watch.

— Climate Action Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra is in Beijing, China; delivers opening remarks at the event titled the EU’s Carbon-Border Adjustment Mechanism for Climate Policy, and Implications for Chinese Companies, hosted by the EU-China Partnership Facility … meets with Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu … meets China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua.

— Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli is in Ljubljana, Slovenia; meets with the head of Slovenia’s national equality body Miha Lobnik … delivers online keynote speech at the High Level Meeting on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

— Meeting of presidents and secretaries-general of the Economic and Social Councils of the EU and the European Economic and Social Committee and the Spanish Council presidency in Madrid. Details.

BRUSSELS CORNER

CHANGES AT DE LIJN: Flemish transport company De Lijn is rolling out dramatic changes to the transport network, scrapping stops and changing and renaming routes, it announced this week. The changes take effect from January 6.

Details: Buses will no longer detour through neighborhoods where only a limited number of passengers board and will instead stay on the main road to speed up services. This will lead to a fall from around 20,000 stops to about 16,000. Every fourth stop will be designated “De Lijn Flex,” where buses will not regularly pick up passengers, though you can book a ride through the Hoppin app. Routes will be optimized as well, running more frequently or running earlier or later. More information on the website.

DIVERTED TRAM LINES: Trams 51 and 93 will be diverted this weekend as the tracks are being replaced. Tram 51 will be diverted from the Guillaume De Greef stop to Heysel, while tram 93 will be diverted from Guillaume De Greef to De Wand. T-buses will replace trams between these stops.

POSSIBLE EUROSTAR COMPETITOR: A new high-speed train operator, Heurotrain, seeks to connect Amsterdam with London with stops at Schiphol Airport, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels. The plan would see 15 trains running per day from December 2027. The operator also wants to run trains between Amsterdam and Paris.

GENDER PAY GAP: The first barometer on quality of work conducted by View.Brussels has thrown up an interesting statistic: full-time female employees earn on average more than their male colleagues in Flanders and Wallonia. However, in Brussels women still earn less than men. The survey, which analyzed data from 2020, also revealed that remote working is more common in Brussels than in Flanders and Wallonia.

Still a problem: Wednesday marked European Equal Pay Day, which aims to raise awareness about the fact that women still earn less than men. According to a new report from the Commission, the average gender pay gap in the EU stands at 13 percent.

FLEMISH GOVERNMENT STRIKES NITROGEN DEAL: The Flemish government has reached a deal on nitrogen emissions this week, which includes measures to ensure that emissions in Flanders are halved by 2030. The negotiations almost led to the collapse of the Flemish government, with the farming industry pushing back hard against proposed new rules. The agreed deal makes some concessions to the agriculture sector.

JOUROVÁ WINS VISION FOR EUROPE AWARD: Commission Vice President Věra Jourová was recognized for her work promoting European ideals, winning the Vision for Europe award. Here’s the social media post.

OH CHRISTMAS TREE: Christmas cheer has arrived in Brussels, with the city’s Christmas tree on display at Grand-Place from today. The tree is decorated with symbols of the 11 Indigenous Nations of Quebec, the guests of honor of the Winter Wonders event. It will be illuminated on November 24.

BRUSSELS FASHION SALES: Fashion enthusiasts can head to Halles Saint-Géry to buy clothes from both new and experienced designers at reduced price until Saturday.

NEW JOB: Jack Schickler has joined Euronews as senior finance correspondent. He was previously at Coin Desk and the European Commission.

BIRTHDAYS: MEPs José Ramón Bauzá Díaz, David Casa, Damien Carême and Franco Roberti; Former MEP Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso; Journalist Judith Mischke; U.K. Mission to the EU’s Dimitrios Mavridis; American Express’ Caroline Emch; Irish activist Panti Bliss, aka Rory O’Neill, a POLITICO 28 alum; POLITICO’s Douglas Busvine; Former Finnish PM Sanna Marin turns 38.

THANKS to Jacopo Barigazzi, Barbara Moens, Nicolas Camut, Aitor Hernández-Morales, Nektaria Stamouli, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová, editor Jack Lahart and producer Seb Starcevic.

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