Good morning. In EU corruption news, the European parliament has complied with a police request to lift the immunity of Italian socialist Andrea Cozzolino and his Belgian comrade Marc Tarabella, who is accused of accepting cash payments of around €130,000 from foreign governments.
In Kyiv, the EU’s top brass made proclamations of unity that don’t fully reflect the reality back in the member states, as our man on the ground explains below. And our Athens correspondent previews Sunday’s presidential election in Cyprus, where everyone is a continuity candidate.
I got EU, babe
Ukraine’s meetings with a visiting phalanx of top EU officials in Kyiv were as technocratic as you’d expect from any get-together with the European Commission, writes Sam Fleming.
Context: Ukraine is an official EU candidate country and wants a rapid accession. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described yesterday’s meetings as a “European integration day”. But many existing member states are not enthusiastic about imminent membership.
While officials repeatedly stressed the symbolism of holding talks in Kyiv, the actual policy details that the two sides grappled with were down to earth: Ukrainian participation in joint EU gas purchases, mobile phone roaming charges, and ways of boosting insurance coverage in the war-torn country.
Not to understate the significance of efforts to deeper integrate Ukraine into the single market and to ease cross-border trade irritants, but much of this can be achieved through regular bureaucratic exchanges.
Ubiquitous throughout was Ukraine’s accession to the EU, which will also feature prominently during more talks today.
Ahead of the visit, European capitals privately warned Brussels that Ukrainian expectations regarding EU integration — notably the idea that accession could happen in 2026 — were getting well out of hand.
But while EU officials see talk of explicit accession timetables as unhelpful, that doesn’t mean they came determined to dampen Ukrainian hopes of ever joining at all.
Far from it. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen could hardly have been more fervent on the topic.
“Europe is with you for as long as it takes until the day when the Ukrainian flag will be raised where it belongs: in Brussels, in front of the Berlaymont, at the heart of the European Union,” she said, referring to the commission’s headquarters in the Belgian capital.
Back home, away from the sandbags and fatigues, the reality is a deeply divided group of existing member states, many of whom see Ukrainian membership as a very distant prospect indeed.
For some, it is more realistic to pursue a gradual project of deepening integration, than stoking up hopes of full-blown accession.
But judging by von der Leyen’s public rhetoric, she is a firm believer. Expect the push from the top of the commission to be unremitting.
Chart du jour: A long hike
The European Central Bank raised interest rates by half a percentage point yesterday and promised to do the same next month, diverging from its British and American counterparts who this week signalled that their tightening cycles were close to peaking.
As you were
If you’re hoping for a sea-change in Cypriot politics from this Sunday’s presidential election, Eleni Varvitsioti has news for you.
The three leading candidates are no strangers. They all have close ties with the current rightwing president, Nicos Anastasiades, who has been in charge since 2013 and managed to take the country out of the eurozone financial crisis and revive the island’s banking system.
Context: Anastasiades’ tenure was stained by a corruption scandal where Cyprus granted passports to thousands of wealthy foreigners, including criminals, before the programme was discontinued. No clear winner is expected in Sunday’s first round, with a runoff scheduled for February 12.
The leading candidate in the polls, Nikos Christodoulides, had a meteoric rise in his career, starting as a government spokesman — the EU bubble might remember his briefings during the Cypriot council presidency — before serving as foreign minister from 2018 to 2022 under Anastasiades.
Christodoulides decided to run as an independent candidate, in a blow to his centre-right DYSI party, whose voters are now split between him and its leader, Averof Neofytou, who is now running second in the polls.
The third candidate is Andreas Mavroyiannis, a seasoned diplomat backed by the leftwing party Akel, well known as the chief negotiator during the reunification talks of the island since 2013.
So no one is expecting a fresh start, not least the incumbent. As Anastasiades has been heard saying in social gatherings, whoever is elected will be “my guy . . . One was my foreign affairs minister, the other the leader of my party, and the third my negotiator.”
What to watch today
German chancellor Olaf Scholz hosts Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni in Berlin for talks this afternoon. Press conference follows.
Prime ministers from the three Baltic states meet in Tallinn, from 10am.
European parliament president Roberta Metsola visits Irish president Michael Higgins.
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