Aug 01, 2023

Dutch ‘bond villain’ heads to Brussels

POLITICO’s must-read briefing on what's driving the day in Brussels, by Jakob Hanke Vela.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Press play to listen to this article

Voiced by artificial intelligence.

What’s driving the day in Brussels.



Send tips here | Tweet @NicholasVinocur | Listen to Playbook and view in your browser

Good Friday morning. Before we get on to Brussels news …

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING: Former U.S. President Donald Trump surrendered to an Atlanta jail, and was booked on charges relating to attempts to overturn the result of the 2020 election in the state of Georgia. The booking delivered a much-anticipated first — the only mug shot taken of a former U.S. president, here in all its orange glory:

Fulton County Sheriff’s Office via Getty Images

Weight, what? Trump’s weight and height were pre-reported before he arrived at the jail. For those wondering: 215 pounds/97.5 kilograms and 6 feet 3 inches/190.5 centimeters. The internet is having a field day with those stats. More on the mug shot here.

X factor: After spending 20 minutes at the Fulton County Jail, Trump boarded his plane and jetted back to his New Jersey golf club. Mid-flight, Trump returned to X/Twitter for the first time in more than two years — with a post featuring his mug shot. Safe to say he likes it, then — no doubt there will be some mug shot mugs in the merch store soon. Read the full report of the booking here.

RUTTE PICKS FOREIGN MINISTER FOR EU ROLE: It’s official — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said late Thursday that his government has picked Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra as its candidate to be the country’s next European commissioner. The move confirms reporting by POLITICO and other media outlets earlier on Thursday.

In Rutte’s words: “I have consulted widely with all factions within the cabinet and with the European Commission president,” Rutte said through a spokesperson, according to Dutch media. “I have come to the conclusion that I will nominate Wopke Hoekstra as Commissioner-designate for the European Commission.”

Meet Mr. No: In case you’re not familiar, Hoekstra — previously a finance minister — made a name for himself in Brussels as a staunch opponent of sharing the financial burden of the coronavirus crisis among EU nations via jointly issued “corona bonds.”

‘Bond villain’: His attitude earned him a reputation as the bloc’s “bond villain,” with EU leaders from French President Emmanuel Macron to then-Italian PM Giuseppe Conte warning that Hoekstra’s blunt opposition could unravel the EU as we know it. Get reacquainted with Hoekstra via Ali Walker’s and Eline Schaart’s 2020 profile here.

Stepping into Frans’ shoes: Brussels survived Hoekstra, but now he’s back in the heart of EU affairs, pending confirmation by the European Parliament, taking the place vacated by former climate czar Frans Timmermans.

Cat among pigeons: While Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič will handle much of Timmermans’ green portfolio, EU officials said climate action could be broken out into a separate role. That could open the way for Hoekstra, a Christian Democrat who belongs to the same conservative EPP group as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to inherit a key plank of the EU’s climate agenda, potentially including attending international gatherings.

Ursula’s choice: Von der Leyen will ultimately choose Hoekstra’s portfolio. She could approve him as commissioner, but give the climate role to someone else.

Een harde grilling: But critics are already warning Hoekstra won’t get an easy pass in Parliament.

First blood: Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld came out swinging in a series of posts on X, writing: “Hoekstra will not automatically ‘become’ the new European Commissioner, he has been nominated as a candidate. He must first get the approval of the @europarl_NL after a tough hearing.” She also warned that Hoekstra would not “automatically receive the climate portfolio,” as the Parliament could block the move. “It has happened before,” she wrote.

Why so much anger? The EPP group has waged war against Timmermans’ green agenda in recent months, including by staging a rebellion against the Commission’s nature restoration law in the European Parliament.

Conservatives joy: The idea of having the conservative Hoekstra, who’s not known for his climate diplomacy, in charge of any climate files is stirring fears that the EPP could seek to further water down the EU’s green agenda, this time from within.

Call is coming from inside the house: An EPP official who was granted anonymity to discuss the situation said the Dutch minister’s arrival offered a “real possibility for a restart of political conversation around the green agenda.”

Gender balance: Another possible point of tension has to do with the choice of a man to fill Timmermans’ slot, given the gender balance inside the Commission now leans in favor of men. Sigrid Kaag, a former Dutch finance minister, had also been in contention for the commissioner’s role.

Prelude to the storm: The late-summer job action is just a taste of wrangling to come amid other departures — digital chief Margrethe Vestager is headed for the door, bidding to take over as head of the European Investment Bank — and feverish speculation about who could take over key roles in the next Commission.

**Save your spot! Is Europe on track with its digital transformation in view of the 2024 European election? Join us to discover this at POLITICO Live’s event “Halfway through the Digital Decade: how far along is Europe’s digital transformation?” happening on September 25. Apply today for onsite participation**

PUTIN STRENGTHENED, SAY WESTERN OFFICIALS: U.S. and European officials say Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s demise strengthens Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hand, at least in the short term, by sending a chilling message to other would-be rebels, report Nahal Toosi, Lili Bayer and Alexander Ward.

Beyond reach: “Putin has a pretty clear track record of at least operating within his own country with impunity,” a U.S. official familiar with Russia policy said. “I don’t get the sense there’s any mechanism under which he’ll be held accountable … Just because people hate you doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be out of power.”

Baltic take: Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur wrote in a text message that, in taking out his opponents “one by one,” the Russian leader is forcing his top officials to “walk the line” he sets.

Tightening grip: “The society of fear is growing rapidly in Russia, and people are more afraid than ever to come out for demonstrations or something similar,” he added. “So all in all, dictatorship in [the] mafia state is growing.”

IS PRIGOZHIN REALLY DEAD? THE KREMLIN DEFINITELY WANTS YOU TO THINK SO! In normal times, Russia revels in strategic ambiguity about its covert action. But in the case of Prigozhin, the Kremlin appears intent on proving that the Wagner chief is, indeed, dead — despite purporting to have no leads on how his aircraft fell out of the sky, reports Eva Hartog.

The unconvinced: The problem for Putin, who spoke out on Prigozhin’s death Thursday, offering condolences to his family, is that many people don’t believe his account. “I understand that Russia is claiming that Prigozhin has died,” Krišjānis Kariņš, outgoing Latvian prime minister, told POLITICO on Thursday. “I’ll let the facts establish themselves … Either he has been killed or he has not been killed.”

SHOOTING DOWN THE MISSILE THEORY: The Pentagon “doesn’t have any information to indicate right now” that Prigozhin’s plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said Thursday. CNN has the details.

ALL OF THE TAKES: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied Kyiv was behind the crash, saying “everyone understands who is involved.” … Ukrainians met the news with dark humor and jubilation … Wagner allies shared their grief on social media.

UKRAINE’S DARING RAID: Away from the Prigozhin circus, Ukrainian forces on Thursday carried out a bold operation in Russian-occupied Crimea, landing on the peninsula by sea and inflicting casualties on Russian forces and damage to military equipment, according to Ukraine’s military intelligence. Veronika Melkozerova has the details.

F-16 UPDATE: Adding to Russians’ fear of planes, Norway said it will join the Netherlands and Denmark in providing F-16 jets to Kyiv. In a statement following a visit to Ukraine, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said the country “will provide further details about the donation, numbers and time frame for delivery, in due course.” It comes as the Pentagon announced the U.S. will start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in Arizona in October. More from Reuters.

ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS: As Putin continues to create history, he’s also been busy rewriting it, POLITICO’s Jamie Dettmer writes. Russia’s new official history textbooks, a decade in the making, have finally arrived. Putin ordered the rewrite himself, and it was overseen by presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky. The resulting books “advance the Kremlin’s dreary weaponization of memory,” Jamie says.

EUROPE STARTS ENFORCING CONTENT LAW ON X, META, TIKTOK: Starting today, the world’s biggest and Musk-iest tech platforms — most of them American, but not all — will be on the hook for punishing fines if they fail to comply with Europe’s rulebook for all things content-related, the Digital Services Act.

Global impact: Platforms from Elon Musk’s X to Facebook, Google, Amazon, TikTok and even Europe’s own Zalando (though it disagrees with its inclusion) will need to march to the tune of Thierry Breton, the EU’s floppy-haired industry commissioner in charge of enforcement, who “stress-tested” the platforms in July — and found some wanting.

Getting real: “They have had time to adapt to their new obligations,” Breton said in an emailed statement, speaking of the platforms. “The real test begins now.”

What this means: Platforms will have to prove they can rapidly remove illegal content like terrorist propaganda; clamp down on disinformation and bullying; and clarify their terms and conditions, among other obligations. Read Clothilde Goujard’s full account here.

If they fall short, the Commission has powers to investigate and, if necessary, impose fines of up to 6 percent of global turnover. Ouch!

Heard that before? If the threat of the EU bashing Silicon Valley with fines over bad digital behavior sounds familiar, it’s because we heard it when the bloc introduced the GDPR, its privacy rulebook.

Memory lane: As a former tech editor, your Playbook author recalls the sturm und drang around the GDPR and its supposedly debilitating effects on the targeted ad business model — only to see enforcement get tangled up in Dublin amid endless in-fighting among the bloc’s 27 privacy regulators.

Slowly doesn’t do it: The irony is that GDPR enforcement did eventually toughen up, delivering a €1.2 billion wallop to Meta over privacy violations. But by that time the world had largely moved on.

Ready to rumble: This won’t be the case with the DSA, insists Breton. Rather than outsource oversight of the world’s richest firms to Dublin, where many tech companies have their HQs, the Commission itself will be in charge of enforcing content rules for the biggest platforms. This will be backed by an expected 124 staff by 2024, including “top legal experts, data scientists [and] policy officers with expertise in digital regulation and disinformation,” Breton’s office said in an email.

Champagne time: Christel Schaldemose, the Danish lawmaker who shepherded the DSA through the European Parliament, told Playbook she will be “celebrating” the start of DSA enforcement, and fully expects it to pack a punch early on.

Moment of truth: The platforms “will probably realize very soon that, ‘oh my god,’ the DSA will hit them,” she said. “I really truly believe it will be different” from the GDPR because “we have used the knowledge and experience of the GDPR to say we need to do it differently.”

Skeptics: Johnny Ryan, senior fellow at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, has his doubts. “The question is whether the European Commission is serious about enforcement,” he said. “The experience of the GDPR indicates that it is not.”

So, who’s getting bopped first? There are 19 large platforms to choose from, but the one that keeps coming up is X, which gutted its compliance department and the very functions that the DSA considers paramount to a platform’s healthy functioning. “My guess is that X will be looked at, also taking into account what Elon Musk has said,” said Schaldemose, of the Socialists and Democrats group in Parliament.

NOW READ THIS: A full rundown on what platforms could face the first probes, also by Clothilde.

**Enter the “room where it happens,” where global power players shape policy and politics, with Power Play. POLITICO’s brand-new global podcast will host conversations with the leaders shaping today’s and tomorrow’s ideas, moderated by award-winning journalist Anne McElvoy. Sign up today to be notified of the first episodes in September — click here.**

INFLATION KING: As central bankers gather in Jackson Hole for the U.S. Federal Reserve’s annual shindig, Geoff Smith and Carlo Boffa preview Chair Jerome Powell’s big speech, and ask whether he’s ready to perform a major shift on interest rates.

BRITAIN’S TORIES PLOT EXIT FROM ECHR: Right-wing MPs in Britain’s Conservative Party want to pull the country out of the European Convention on Human Rights. But, as my colleague Annabelle Dickson writes, such a seismic step could backfire.

RED CARD FOR RUBIALES: Spanish football federation boss Luis Rubiales will resign today, a senior official confirmed to POLITICO. Rubiales has been under fire since Sunday when he gave a nonconsensual kiss on the lips to one of Spain’s victorious women’s World Cup squad. During a tumultuous week, Rubiales was condemned by Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez. Now he’s out. Adiós!

HOW (NOT) TO BE A DIPLOMAT: After Josep Borrell’s latest blunder this week, we compiled a list of lessons for whoever follows the Spanish motormouth as EU foreign policy chief: Don’t let Russia walk all over you; don’t patronize women footballers; and definitely don’t publicly reveal secret fighter jet plans. Read more here about the world’s most gaffe-prone diplomat.

BRICING IT: Leaders of the BRICS group decided to invite six more countries to join their alliance at their summit in South Africa: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are expected to join on January 1. More here.

— High Representative Josep Borrell in Santander, Spain. Attends the Quo Vadis Europa? event at the Menéndez Pelayo International University.

— European Commission Vice President Dubravka Šuica in Croatia. Participates in the Orlando Award organized by Croatian Radio Television … and the Expatriate gathering organized by The Croatian Heritage Foundation.

— Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis participates in a meeting of G20 trade ministers in Jaipur, India.

BRUSSELS IS (NOT) A WONDERLAND: On a warm summer afternoon, Brussels Midi — Belgium’s main railway hub for domestic and international journeys — seems safe enough, alive with tourists rushing to catch their trains, locals flocking underground to the metro and retailers selling everything from food to colorful décor to expensive bags. But by night, one local worker paints a hellish scene: broken car windows, persistent pickpocketing, stolen bicycles, drunken and narcotic-induced fights.

Communities sound alarm: The area is seeing a disturbing trend of increased crack cocaine use. As reported in Thursday’s Playbook, 40 Brussels neighborhood committees and associations have sounded the alarm about drug use and decreasing safety in an open letter to politicians, distributed by local press. Read more by my colleagues Claudia Chiappa and Nicolas Camut here.

SAINT-GILLES ROBBERY: Two armed men attempted to rob a bank in Saint-Gilles on Thursday morning. One surrendered immediately after police arrived, while the other escaped and hid in a basement, amid speculation of a hostage situation. The man turned out to be alone and was arrested shortly after. More from BRUZZ.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: BOZAR’s rooftop terrace has been transformed into a lively public space. From this week until September 17, you can enjoy concerts, movies, workshops and various other events. Full program here.

2023 WOMEN’S EUROPEAN VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: Belgium, Italy, Germany and Estonia are organizing the Women’s European volleyball championship from August 27 to September 3. The final rounds and finals will take place in Palais 12 in Brussels. You can get your tickets here.


FOR GAMES ENTHUSIASTS: If you like board games, you might enjoy the Brussels Game Festival with a fair and a game night in Anderlecht. Tickets.

FOR TOMATO ENTHUSIASTS: There’s a tomato festival with fancy and less fancy tomatoes of all sorts this weekend at the Nos Pilifs farm. Find out more.

FOR BAT ENTHUSIASTS: European Bat Night, an event intended to draw public awareness to threatened bat populations in Europe, is on today and Saturday. You can find all the bat-related events taking place in Belgium here.DRUM LOVERS: Percusounds festival, focusing on percussion instruments, starts today and runs through the weekend on Place de la Monnaie. Program.

BIRTHDAYS: MEP Francesca Donato; Former MEP Barbara Ann Gibson; POLITICO’s Christian Oliver; Finnish Forest Industries Federation’s Kaisu Karvala; ORF’s Raffaela Schaidreiter.

CELEBRATING SATURDAY: Former MEPs David Martin and Renato Soru; U.K. politician and POLITICO 28 alum Michael Gove; Christian Schmidt, U.N. high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina; Agence Europe’s Camille-Cerise Gessant; AFP’s Arthur MacMillan; Playbook alum Miles Herszenhorn; Journalist Jamal Halaby.

CELEBRATING SUNDAY: Former Austrian Chancellor and POLITICO 28 alum Sebastian Kurz; Former MEPs Jane Brophy, Thomas Händel and Dario Tamburrano; ARTE’s Nora Hamadi.

THANKS TO: Veronika Melkozerova, Claudia Chiappa, Gabriel Gavin, Ali Walker, Playbook reporter Ketrin Jochecová, editor Jack Lahart and producer Seb Starcevic.

SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: Brussels Playbook | London Playbook | London Playbook PM | Playbook Paris | POLITICO Confidential | Sunday Crunch | EU Influence | London Influence | Digital Bridge | China Watcher | Berlin Bulletin | D.C. Playbook | D.C. Influence | Global Insider | All our POLITICO Pro policy morning newsletters

By NICHOLAS VINOCURwith ZOYA SHEFTALOVICHGood Friday morningWHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING: Weight, what?X factor:RUTTE PICKS FOREIGN MINISTER FOR EU ROLE:In Rutte’s words:Meet Mr. No:‘Bond villain’:Stepping into Frans’ shoes: Cat among pigeons: Ursula’s choice:Een harde grilling: First blood: Why so much anger? Conservatives joy:Call is coming from inside the house:Gender balance: Prelude to the storm: **Save your spot!Apply today for onsite participation**PUTIN STRENGTHENED, SAY WESTERN OFFICIALS:Beyond reach: Baltic take: Tightening grip:IS PRIGOZHIN REALLY DEAD? THE KREMLIN DEFINITELY WANTS YOU TO THINK SO!The unconvinced: SHOOTING DOWN THE MISSILE THEORY:ALL OF THE TAKES:UKRAINE’S DARING RAID:F-16 UPDATE: ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS: EUROPE STARTS ENFORCING CONTENT LAW ON X, META, TIKTOK: Global impact:Getting real:What this means: If they fall shortHeard that before?Memory lane: Slowly doesn’t do it: Ready to rumble:Champagne time:Moment of truth: Skeptics:So, who’s getting bopped first?NOW READ THIS:**Enter the “room where it happens,” where global power players shape policy and politics, with Power Play** INFLATION KING:BRITAIN’S TORIES PLOT EXIT FROM ECHR:RED CARD FOR RUBIALES:HOW (NOT) TO BE A DIPLOMAT:BRICING IT:Josep BorrellDubravka ŠuicaValdis DombrovskisBRUSSELS IS (NOT) A WONDERLAND:Communities sound alarm: SAINT-GILLES ROBBERY: ON TOP OF THE WORLD: 2023 WOMEN’S EUROPEAN VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: WHAT’S ON THIS WEEKEND …FOR GAMES ENTHUSIASTS: FOR TOMATO ENTHUSIASTS:FOR BAT ENTHUSIASTS:DRUM LOVERS:BIRTHDAYS:Francesca DonatoBarbara Ann GibsonChristian OliverKaisu KarvalaRaffaela Schaidreiter.CELEBRATING SATURDAY:David MartinRenato SoruMichael GoveChristian SchmidtCamille-Cerise GessantArthur MacMillanMiles HerszenhornJamal HalabyCELEBRATING SUNDAY:Sebastian KurzJane BrophyThomas Händel Dario TamburranoNora Hamadi.THANKS TO: Veronika MelkozerovaClaudia ChiappaGabriel GavinAli WalkerKetrin Jochecová Jack Lahart Seb StarcevicSUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: