GOOD MORNING. Eddy Wax with you this morning — I’m holding the Playbook quill Friday too.

It’s been a difficult 24 hours for men named Eric. Eric Ciotti, head of the French center-right Les Républicains (LR), was forcibly removed from his job after proposing an alliance with the far right. Meanwhile, Eric Zemmour is battling Marion Maréchal to control his Reconquest party. Will European Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer be changing his name? “No,” he tells Playbook. “You need one good Eric to make up for the others.”


PLAN TO DOMINATE EUROPE: With the shockwaves radiating from the radical right’s advances in the EU election, far-right leaders including France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders met in a hotel conference room 25 floors above Brussels on Wednesday to discuss expanding their influence on the EU stage.

The three-hour meeting at The Hotel on Boulevard de Waterloo also brought together politicians aligned with the European Parliament’s Identity & Democracy group from Austria, Czechia, Denmark, Portugal and Flanders. No journalists were allowed into the talks.

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All smiles: Salvini tweeted a picture of himself with his arm around Le Pen, saying: “We want to revolutionize Europe.” Wilders posted grinning selfies with Le PenSalvini, Belgium’s Tom Van Grieken and Portugal’s André Ventura — featuring sarcastic heart emojis directed at Brussels.

It’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it: My colleague Elisa Braün waded through the wreckage of a buffet for clues about what the far-right big-wigs talked about. She stumbled across handwritten notes that one participant had left lying around, on which the following tantalizing words could be made out: “Pressure ECR,” “work in block/Hungarians,” “AfD —> after French elections,” and “Viktor Orbán —> New group.”

“Would Viktor have time to [?] new group,” was another intriguing sentence fragment Elisa found — presumably in reference to the Hungarian prime minister who is trying to find a new home for his MEPs after his Fidesz party was forced out of the EPP. Could Fidesz find a new home in ID?

What about the AfD? For all the bravado, ID’s influence in the new Parliament suffers from the decision to boot out Alternative for Germany (AfD) midway through the election after Le Pen ran out of patience with lead candidate Maximilian Krah’s scandals, which included claiming that members of the Nazi SS weren’t necessarily criminals. But with Krah expelled from the AfD, there’s now talk of allowing the German party back into the group — though it wasn’t invited to Wednesday’s gathering.

Not just yet … A party source told Berlin Playbook’s Pauline von Pezold that the ID leaders decided not to allow AfD MEPs back into the fold for the time being, even without Krah. It seems Le Pen doesn’t want to take any risks before the snap French election … although the door could reopen to AfD after that.

“Bollox”: That was the one-word answer that ID chief Gerolf Annemans gave when asked if the politicians at the meeting discussed working with Orbán and letting the AfD back into the group after the French election. (Before the EU ballot, Annemans told Playbook the AfD could be allowed back into the fold.) Another participant told Playbook the talk at the meeting was “mostly about other new parties.” 

G7 IN ITALY        

THE G STANDS FOR GIORGIA: The G7 kicks off in Italy today, with POLITICO’s Chief EU Correspondent Barbara Moens, Global Playbook’s Suzanne Lynch and a host of other reporters keeping track of leaders’ discussions on Ukraine, China — and top EU jobs. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who is hosting the meeting, is riding a post-EU election high — in contrast to most of her guests.

Six lame ducks — and Meloni: France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Rishi Sunak are both fighting tough snap election campaigns … Olaf Scholz has cemented his status as one of the most unpopular German leaders in history … Canadian PM Justin Trudeau thinks about quitting daily … Japan’s Fumio Kishida is enduring his lowest personal ratings ahead of a leadership contest later this year … and U.S. President Joe Biden’s son has just been found guilty of gun charges. All of which is to say it’s a pretty weak G7 meeting in general, as my colleagues point out in this scene-setter.

FROZEN ASSETS: But while the leaders sitting around the G7 table may be weakened, the problems they are trying to resolve are anything but. The big focus will be on the plan to issue a loan to Ukraine, to be repaid with the interest generated by frozen Russian assets — an idea Europe isn’t keen on.

TALKING CHINA: Beijing is also high on the G7’s agenda, after the trade relationship between China and the EU hit another low point Wednesday when the European Commission slapped duties of up to 38.1 percent on imports of Chinese electric vehicles — much higher than expected. My Pro Trade colleagues have a top write-up this morning, reporting on signs that Beijing will respond by coming after the EU’s prized agriculture and aviation sectors.



MEET THE PARLIAMENT’S MOST COLORFUL NEW MEMBERS: Clare Daly, one of the more striking and downright, er, different MEPs, lost her seat in Ireland. But fear not. There are plenty of other outlandish characters to gawp at in the new hemicycle. 

Notable newbies: Following a strict interpretation of the Parliament’s rules of procedure, under which you need 23 members from seven countries to form a group, my colleague Hanne Cokelaere and I are officially constituting our own group of particularly wild members. We’ll give you 11 this morning, with the full group to be revealed in an article coming soon. Keep your eyes peeled!

  1. Fidias Panayiotou— Cypriot YouTube pranksterwho’s vlogged about his break-up.
  2. Galato AlexandrakiGreek nationalist butcher with no online presence.
  3. Ilaria Salis— Antifa activist imprisoned in Hungary for brawling in Budapest, whose Parliament badge is aget-out-jail-free card.
  4. Petras Gražulis— Lithuanian homophobewho breached the constitution. 
  5. Grzegorz Braun— Polish antisemite whoextinguished a menorah in the Sejm. 
  6. Sarah Knafo— 31-year-old far-right French politician. Oh andEric Zemmour’s girlfriend
  7. Alvise Pérez— Anti-system and anti-abortion Spanish influencer who wants to buildEurope’s largest prison.
  8. Afroditi Latinopoulou— Greek ultra-conservative whobody-shamed a TV presenter.
  9. Filip Turek— Racist driver, sorry racing driver, from Czech “Motorists for Themselves” party, with a penchant forNazi salutes.
  10. Sibylle Berg— A new German MEP for Martin Sonneborn’s satirical The Party who’s a playwright and uses they/them pronouns.
  11. Roberto Vannacci— ItalianLeague star and ex-general who wrote an anti-woke bestseller and calls Mussolini a “statesman.”


COSTA AIN’T SAFE: Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa is far and away Europe’s Socialists’ top choice to run the European Council. But could his legal woes derail his chances of succeeding Charles Michel? Costa’s government fell in a corruption scandal last year, and while his allies in Brussels claim he’s been personally cleared, my colleague Aitor Hernández-Morales reports Costa might not be out of the woods yet.

THE MAN WHO WANTED TO BREAK UP BELGIUM: He’s a Flemish nationalist who rose to power promising to rip his region away from the rest of Belgium. Now, Bart De Wever is in pole position to become the country’s next prime minister. After the New Flemish Alliance swept into first place in Sunday’s national and regional elections, the Belgian king asked the N-VA leader to start exploring how to form a ruling coalition, Pieter Haeck reports.

BELGIUM’S NEXT COMMISSIONER: Because Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders is a French speaker, it should fall to a Flemish-speaking party to nominate Belgium’s next EU commissioner, my colleagues Barbara Moens and Camille Gijs write in to report.

Runners and riders: With outgoing liberal Prime Minister Alexander De Croo humbled by his party’s dire EU election results, other names now circulating include those of Socialist Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, nationalist MEP Johan Van Overtveldt and liberal former PM Sophie Wilmès — although the latter is also being touted as a future head of Renew Europe in the European Parliament. Or maybe Reynders will return, if he fails to get the top job at the Council of Europe?

EESC RAISE POSTPONED: They’ve waited a decade, what’s seven more days? A decision to increase the daily allowance that members of the European Economic and Social Committee receive for attending meetings has been postponed for a week.

What’s the holdup? EU ambassadors were expected to essentially rubberstamp a plan to raise the allowance from from €290 to €367 for in-person meetings (the first pay bump since 2013) and the virtual meeting per diem from €145 to €149. However, a key capital asked for more time, diplomatic sources tell Playbook, following complaints from some countries about extra costs for the institution, which produces non-binding opinions on EU initiatives based on feedback from civil society and employers.

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STOP RUSSIAN SPIES MOVING FREELY: Revoking freedom-of-movement rights for Russian diplomats in EU countries should be part of the next sanction package against Moscow, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO’s Stuart Lau, sent Wednesday by eight foreign ministers to the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell. 

Travel agents: “We believe the EU should strictly … restrict the movement of members of Russian diplomatic missions and their family members to [the] territory of a state of their accreditation only,” according to the letter. “This measure will significantly narrow operational space for Russian agents.”

Baggage handlers: The Czech Republic, which leads the initiative, backed by the Baltics, Denmark, Poland, Romania and the Netherlands, has faced sabotage operations conducted by Russian agents. NATO issued a statement last month condemning Russian hybrid activities in Central and Eastern EU countries. But Stuart heard that not all countries are on board with the Czech proposal — Germany, Austria, France and Italy are said to be skeptical.

Germany blocks Russian sanctions: At a meeting of ambassadors on Wednesday, Berlin opposed EU efforts to impose a new set of sanctions against Moscow, three diplomats said, according to my trade team colleagues Antonia Zimmermann, Koen Verhelst and Camille Gijs. The package mainly aims to prevent EU countries from reexporting Russian liquefied natural gas through European terminals.

No Russia clause: Berlin is worried about the so-called No Russia clause. This refers to requirements that the package would put on EU exporters to block customers in third countries from reexporting to Russia. Currently, these restrictions only apply to firearms, items found on the battlefield in Ukraine, and goods that have dual military and civilian applications.


PRIDE OF THE BRUGES CAMPUS: “Join our Pride Parade in Bruges,” the College of Europe’s LGBTQI+ student society wrote in an email to fellow students this week. “It is going to be a wonderful way to end the year with the best vibes!” 

The worst vibes: “Dear Students,” wrote the College’s 89-year-old treasurer, Norbert Vanhove, in response. “The city and the population of Bruges will not appreciate your initiative. It does not benefit the reputation of the College.”

Rector Federica Mogherini then stepped in, emailing students: “I want to thank you for organizing this important event and wish you all the best for its success!” 

Who can argue with that? “There are so many problems in the world that are so much more important,” said Vanhove when reached by Playbook’s Sarah Wheaton on his mobile phone. A protest against Vladimir Putin, who is “killing tens of thousands of people in Ukraine,” he said by way of example. “That was my message.” 

Hello? Asked about complaints that his message could be perceived as homophobic, Vanhove stopped replying, though he did not hang up. Only feedback noises could be heard over the line. The College said: “The College and its administration, including the Rector, are supportive of this initiative of our student societies, led by the LGBTQI+ student society.” 


— G7 summit in Italy. Official welcome by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at 10:30 a.m. … session on Africa at 11:15 a.m. … session on Middle East at 12:45 p.m. … session on Ukraine at 2:15 p.m. … official dinner hosted by the Italian President Sergio Mattarella at 9 p.m. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Council President Charles Michel, G7 leaders and leaders of Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania also participate. Full agenda. Watch.

— Meeting of NATO defense ministers. Doorstep by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at 9 a.m. … arrivals and doorsteps from 9:15 am. … meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at 11 a.m. … remarks by Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov at 2:45 p.m. … remarks by Stoltenberg and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at 3:35 p.m. … meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council at 4 p.m. … Stoltenberg’s press conference at 6 p.m. Full agenda. Watch.

— Justice and Home Affairs Council (Home Affairs). Arrivals at 8 a.m. … doorstep by Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden and Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor at 8:15 a.m. … meeting of the Schengen Mixed Committee at 9 a.m. … press conference around 6:30 p.m. Full agenda. Watch.

— Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager is in Bornholm, Denmark, where she will participate in a political democracy festival.

— Commission Executive Vice President Maroš Šefčovič is in Antwerp, Belgium, where he will meet the President of Eurochambres Vladimír Dlouhý … deliver a keynote speech at the Eurochambres Congress 2024 … and participate in the closing session of European Sustainable Energy Week 2024.

— Commission Vice President Věra Jourová is in Prague, Czechia; meets with Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová … meets President of Radio Free Europe Stephen Capus … speaks at the Prague European Summit.

— Commission Vice President Dubravka Šuica delivers a keynote speech at the Commission’s Citizen Participation and Deliberative Democracy Festival … participates in the closing session of European Sustainable Energy Week 2024 … delivers opening remarks at the opening of a photo exhibition about Ukrainian children.

— The inaugural Forum of the Global Coalition for Social Justice takes place in Geneva, Switzerland. Opening at 9:30 a.m. Among those participating are the EU’s Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the European Economic and Social Committee President Oliver Röpke, World Trade Organization Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and International Labour Organization Director General Gilbert Houngbo. Full agenda.

**Dive into the EU Parliament election results with POLITICO. Follow the latest news on the election that could lead to significant shifts in political dynamics in Brussels and across the continent. Stay up to date here.** 


WEATHER: Highs of 19C, sunny.

FORMING THE NEXT BRUSSELS GOVERNMENT: Coalition talks have only just started, but forming the region’s next administration is already shaping up to be a difficult task. One issue at stake: the Good Move, a major plan which aims to slash car traffic in the center of Brussels. After a year in operation, it has reduced car traffic by 27 percent but provoked multiple protests by angry drivers.

Not backing down: Brussels’ Mobility Minister Elke Van den Brandt, the lead candidate of the Greens — the winners among the Dutch-speaking parties — refused to abandon the plan she was largely responsible for passing, even though the liberal MR party, which is in the driver’s seat to form a government on the French-speaking side, campaigned against it.

NEW JOB: Inmaculada Placencia Porrero, senior expert on disability at the Commission, was elected as the first EU candidate to the U.N. Disability Rights Committee on Tuesday.

BIRTHDAYS: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis; former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov; European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness; former European Commissioner Tibor Navracsics; MEPs György Hölvényi and Janusz Lewandowski; European Parliament’s Antti TimonenJean-Marie Dedecker, ex-judo champion turned Flemish politician; Finnish MP Aura Salla; former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

THANKS TO: Elisa BraünSarah WheatonNicholas VinocurGabriel GavinBarbara MoensTommaso LeccaHanne CokelaereKhushbu ShahStuart LauKoen VerhelstSuzanne Lynch, Playbook editor Alex Spence, reporter Ketrin Jochecová and producer Dato Parulava.

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