Friday, December 8, 2023

POLITICO Confidential: ‘Over my dead body’ — MEPs’ slippery side jobs — Nord Stream theories

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The best of POLITICO’s coverage selected by Editor-in-Chief Jamil Anderlini.


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Dear readers,

This week marked 70 years since the death of Stalin (incidentally this is the name of my favorite movie, from the genius Armando Iannucci. Watch it if you haven’t already.) Putin and his minions are channeling the ghost of the old Georgian dictator in an attempt to add a touch of legitimacy to Moscow’s faltering rule. 

But in Stalin’s homeland, a revolt against the revolting behavior of his descendant in the Kremlin broke out this week, culminating in a stunning defeat for pro-Putin forces in the Georgian government.

I want to salute two excellent POLITICO contributors who bravely reported on these events over the last week — Eva Hartog in Moscow and Dato Parulava in Tbilisi. Well done comrades!

The scenes in the Georgian capital this week were eerily reminiscent of the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2014, which set in motion the events that led us to today’s brutal war of Russian aggression. They also took me back to my time covering the chaotic Hong Kong “water revolution” in 2019.

During those momentous months, which saw the biggest outpouring of dissent on Chinese soil since the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, the documentary film “Winter on Fire” about the Maidan movement went viral among the young Hong Kong demonstrators.

That Hong Kong rebellion failed but, with the dictator in Beijing effectively anointing himself emperor-for-life this week, I predict worse unrest in the Middle Kingdom in the years to come.

This will be a problem for European leaders, who still desperately wish they could continue selling stuff to China but are under pressure from Washington to pick a side in what has already morphed into a new Cold War between autocracies and democracies.

The latest front in this ideological battle? Pandas, of course!

The shameless communist propaganda outlet Global Times has reported on the “spontaneous” campaign of Chinese netizens to monitor the plight of giant pandas lent to zoos around the world, following alleged torture of the ursine ambassadors by evil Americans in the Memphis zoo.

This campaign just happens to have spontaneously started after blanket coverage from Chinese state media. Anyone who is familiar with the atrocious conditions in which pandas and other fauna have traditionally been kept in Chinese zoos and panda mills will find the whole affair laughable, especially when you hear which country treats its pandas the best, according to state propaganda. That country? Russia of course!

“The pair [of pandas lent to Russia by Beijing] not only displayed a vibrant character, but reportedly gained weight since they started living in the Moscow zoo,” gushes the Global Times.

Evil Americans! Stop bullying our national animal!

Bon weekend,



Protecting nature, destroying lives: The chemist vs. the Dutch farmers

Empathetic, insightful and lyrically told, this deeply reported profile of the man who sparked the Dutch farmers’ protests explores one of the biggest challenges facing policymakers today: How to implement environmental commitments without causing social disruption. Read the story.

‘Over my dead body’: How Georgian protesters beat a Russian-style legal threat to their freedoms

Our correspondent in Tbilisi did a great job covering this hugely momentous point in European history. The writing is excellent, the voices in the story are numerous, and the photos and video really added to the experience. Great work. Read the story.

EU tells UK its asylum plan ‘violating international law’

This story, on the back of a POLITICO Women’s Day event at our Brussels office, was an ideal example of POLITICO’S LIVE event programming making international news. We pressed European Commissioner Ylva Johansson on the U.K.’s plan to stem the flow of migrants across the English Channel. The result was a scoop, with Johansson revealing she had spoken to the British home secretary and had denounced the move. The story, which quickly led London PM Playbook, was picked up by most U.K. media outlets including BBC Newsnight and was a front-page story in the Guardian, among others. Read the story.

Who is the EU Quarter’s pro-Putin cyclist?

A great get — and perfect for our Brussels bubble audience, as evidenced by the huge number of readers who flocked to read it. Excellent detail, written with panache, about a colorful character many around town were wondering about. Read the story.

MEPs hold ethically slippery side jobs — but they’re perfectly legal

“Everybody knows” that MEPs have side gigs but this piece makes it public and points out potential conflicts of interest. A great example of slaughtering a Brussels sacred cow — and one that also deserves to trigger real changes in the mess that is the European Parliament. Read the story.  


Who blew up Nord Stream?

It’s been almost six months since the dramatic bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipelines finally terminated Europe’s main supply route for receiving Russian gas. And yet the world is no closer to knowing for sure who was to blame. This week, a new theory emerged, with reports that a mysterious crew of pro-Ukrainian saboteurs were responsible. The U.S. has already denied another rival claim that it was all an American plot. Read the story

EU transport chief signed off on his own free flights to Qatar

After POLITICO’s scoop last week revealed that the European Commission’s transport chief Henrik Hololei took free flights from Qatar Airways during delicate negotiations with Doha, EU officials insisted he had acted within the rules. The Commission told us any potential conflict of interest had been weighed up and Hololei’s trips were signed off on. What we learned this week was that the person who approved them was … Hololei himself! The Commission then moved to rewrite the rules to stop this happening in future. Read the story


EU Confidential: Viktor Orbán’s political director — Sponsored flight flap — VDL meets Biden

Host Suzanne Lynch is joined by POLITICO’s Mari Eccles and Karl Mathiesen to discuss a big story dominating the Brussels bubble involving paid travel by a top EU bureaucrat to Qatar while negotiating a critical aviation deal with the Gulf state. We dive into why this conflict-of-interest flap matters for EU politics — and to European citizens. Also, we reveal what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hopes to get out of visits this week to Canada and with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington. And POLITICO’s Lili Bayer speaks to Balázs Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s political director, who plays a key role in Budapest’s international efforts to build relationships with conservative communities around the globe. They also talk about rule-of-law concerns and decode Hungary’s rhetoric surrounding Russia’s war in Ukraine. Finally, Mari helps our listeners better understand what it means when people in Brussels talk about a “DG.” Listen to the episode.

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Westminster Insider: Meet Fiona Hill: Inside the collapse of Theresa May’s government

Co-host Aggie Chambre sits down for a rare interview with former Downing Street Chief of Staff Fiona Hill to talk about her central role in Theresa May’s first government, the astonishing highs and disastrous lows of life in No. 10, and the devastating impact of being fired after the failed 2017 general election. Hill reveals the years of secret plotting behind Theresa May’s successful bid to become prime minister; the inner workings of May’s dysfunctional Downing Street operation; and the surprising politician who helped her when she was floored by her departure from No. 10. Listen to the episode.

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The worst haircut in politics? Trump? Johnson? Nope, think again. Declassified has the terrifying winner of this prestigious award.

Caption competition


Allegations of vote-rigging have overshadowed this year’s Russia’s Best Artist competition.

 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.

“Who are you and where is Liz?”

“She couldn’t make it: she tripped on a mini-budget,” by Manuel Aleixo.

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Jamil Anderlini

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