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Good morning. It’s a big week for Europe’s economy as the continent’s liberals face off against its big state interventionists in long-awaited Brussels proposals aimed at boosting green technology and matching US competitiveness, without breaking the single market.
Today, I explain why one court ruling against the EU’s Russia sanctions doesn’t mean the whole regime is in danger, while our EU environment correspondent previews today’s hastily-arranged meeting on the future of car combustion engines.
A Russian warlord’s mother wins a court case against her sanctions and two listed oligarchs move to cut their ties with their Moscow fortune: are the EU’s anti-Kremlin measures about to be picked apart by an army of lawyers?
The answer is nyet.
Context: Since Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the EU has sanctioned just under 1,500 Russian officials, oligarchs and military figures, freezing their assets and banning them from the bloc. The measures, which have dramatically expanded since Russia began its full-scale war last February, are designed to punish those who supported, enabled or financed the invasion.
If you’re on this list, you will struggle to operate outside of Russia. EU ministers are set to wave through another six-month extension of the restrictions today.
Overturning these sanctions is extremely rare. Only three people have definitively been struck off the list; one of those only managed it by dying.
But last week, the 83-year-old mother of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group who has recruited tens of thousands of Russian prisoners and sent them to die in Ukraine, won a reprieve when a judge ruled that simply being related to him wasn’t enough to warrant sanctions.
That ruling will probably spark copycat cases. An open letter sent to EU institutions last week by 16 lawyers representing sanctioned individuals claimed evidence against them includes “gross misrepresentations, false factual statements and inconsistencies.”
Two men who hope the Prigozhina ruling could open the delisting floodgates are billionaire business partners Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven. As my colleagues reported last week, they are set to sell their stakes in Alfa-Bank, Russia’s largest private lender, hoping the $2.3bn sale will get them off the list.
But legal experts and EU officials reckon the sanctions regime is relatively watertight, permitting the authorities to relist individuals under new justifications.
At the same time, the EU is aiming to increase the number of Russians on its sanctions list. Individual listings are seen as an easy way to keep pressure on the Kremlin as the war rages on, given that after ten sanctions packages since last February, there are few areas of Russia’s economy left that all 27 member states can agree to target.
Chart du jour: Buckle up
Yet another reason to cut carbon emissions: Plane passengers should prepare for increasingly bumpy rides due to climate change, explains the Lex column.
The Czechs have hastily pulled together a meeting of like-minded transport ministers in Strasbourg today to strategise regarding divisive EU plans to ban new combustion car engines from 2035, writes Alice Hancock.
The meeting is ostensibly to pore over limits for polluting car emissions under the so-called ‘Euro 7’ rules, but crucially includes the transport ministers of Germany and Italy — two countries that have made a late-play attempt to water down the more controversial combustion engine ban.
Context: Berlin and Rome announced earlier this month that they would vote against the 2035 phaseout, unless the European Commission proposes exemptions for engines that run on technically carbon-neutral e-fuels. The ban, part of the EU’s Green Deal climate package, had already been agreed by member states and only needed to be rubber-stamped.
Czechia’s transport minister Martin Kupka tweeted last week that Prague would also not support the measure “unless there will be a clear and binding exemption for synthetic fuels”. Officials in Brussels now fear that the contagion could spread further.
Eleven countries were invited to the Czech meeting: Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Finland.
But as of Sunday evening, only Germany, Italy, and Poland had confirmed, with Hungary and Romania “probably” attending, according to one Czech official.
Talks are continuing between the commission and German transport minister Volker Wissing, a member of the liberal FDP party, to find a compromise.
One option would be a more binding commitment to reconsider e-fuels at a later stage, but reopening the legal text itself is a red line, officials in Brussels say. Talks, however, were “constructive”, one said. But the end of the road is not quite yet in sight.
What to watch today
Euro-area finance ministers meet in Brussels.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Algeria for political talks.
European parliament president Roberta Metsola meets commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Strasbourg at the start of the chamber’s plenary session through Thursday.
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