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Good morning. Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni is the latest EU leader to be warming up relations with the British government, praising her hosts on a visit to London yesterday for their controversial policy of detaining and deporting asylum seekers. “I absolutely agree with your work,” she said
Today, our agriculture correspondent previews a vote on extending EU single market access for Ukrainian goods, and our Paris bureau chief explains why Emmanuel Macron can’t go anywhere right now without the din of kitchenware being banged.
Kyiv will find out who its true friends are today as EU member states vote on whether to extend tariff-free access for Ukrainian grain imports, writes Andy Bounds.
Context: A year ago, Brussels lifted restrictions on Ukrainian foodstuffs to help the economy and prevent shortages in many developing countries relying on those imports. But much of the goods landed in nearby Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. The glut crashed prices, and Poland and three others have imposed import bans.
EU ambassadors are meeting today to discuss extending the measures, which expire in early June, for another year. This is seen as the last chance for a deal after Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, delayed the vote following a heated debate on Wednesday.
Pro-deal states say that there is enough support to get it through. “There is a qualified majority today and there was a qualified majority on Wednesday,” one diplomat said. “This is about the integrity of the single market.”
But the five countries which are affected by the higher prices — which include some of Ukraine’s staunchest allies — are holding out for more reassurances from Brussels.
Last week, the European Commission offered to stop imports from Ukraine to those countries until June 30, except for goods transiting to other destinations. It also promised €100mn support from a €450mn emergency fund, adding to €56mn already given.
Diplomats warn that money could be at risk if fighting continues. “Patience is wearing thin. They should remember that money has to be approved and other countries might need it,” said one.
Yesterday, the European parliament’s trade committee voted on the extension proposal.
Seven MEPs from states neighbouring Ukraine abstained. “Our countries support Ukraine but not at the cost of our farmers,” tweeted Hungary’s Enikő Győri.
Nonetheless, the extension was approved. Expect the same result today.
Chart du jour: Hitting the ceiling
EU finance ministers meet today to discuss an overhaul of the bloc’s debt rules. In a new report, the New Economics Foundation argues that the proposed reform would still prevent many EU countries from investing enough to limit climate change.
Pots and pans
Emmanuel Macron may have hoped that things would quiet down once his unpopular pension reform became law. Instead, things have got much louder, writes Leila Abboud.
Context: The French have been protesting for months against Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The reform, which was pushed through without a vote in parliament, cleared the last constitutional hurdle earlier this month.
The newest protesting tactic is la casserolade — also known in English as banging on pots and pans whenever and wherever Macron or his ministers show up.
The hardline CGT labour union, pressure group Attac, and far-left France Unbowed party have spearheaded the campaign that has seen protesters armed with kitchenware literally seek to drown out the government’s messaging as it tries to turn the page on the pensions battle.
Macron’s visits to Vendôme in western France and last week to northeastern Alsace and Herault in the south were marred by the cacophony while several ministers have had their trips derailed. The government has started withholding the details of Macron’s trips until hours before to try to flatfoot the kitchenware-wielding protesters.
It’s an absurd but humorous phenomenon, and a welcome change from the more dangerous protests that flared up in March and at times included massive garbage fires in Paris and heavy-handed police tactics.
But there is also a darker side: Using France’s stringent anti-terrorism laws, prefects have begun issuing bans on people bringing “sound devices” or “sound amplifiers” to towns where Macron is appearing, allowing the police to confiscate pots and pans.
Unions are planning big marches on May 1 for Labor Day in what Macron and his allies hope will be the last gasp of the protests.
His prime minister this week promised 100 days of government action to improve public services. Will that restore quiet?
What to watch today
EU finance ministers meet for an informal council in Stockholm.
Pope Francis travels to Budapest, meets premier Viktor Orbán.
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