Good morning. The EU and Japan have pushed back against a US proposal for the G7 countries to ban all exports to Russia, officials told the Financial Times, arguing that the measure is unfeasible.
Today, I highlight the power of European unity on Sudan evacuations and condemnation of Chinese disrespect (but not on Ukrainian ammunition), and we explain why Spain’s water-guzzling strawberry farms are in Brussels’ bad books.
We take care of the EU
A good day for a united EU. More than 1,200 citizens were evacuated from Sudan in a flurry of hastily-arranged rescue flights, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said yesterday evening.
Context: After a week of fighting between the armed forces and a paramilitary group in Sudan, foreign powers over the weekend started emergency missions to evacuate their citizens, with some faring better than others.
EU member states executed 31 evacuation flights from Sudan in the past two days, according to Borrell. “It has exceeded all my expectations and predictions,” he said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers. “It is a good example of what European countries can do together.”
It was a significant joint effort: France’s five flights carried citizens of 12 EU member states. Germany flew out more than 400 people, including citizens from other EU countries.
That contrasted with the UK, where the government was under pressure to explain why only diplomats were rescued, leaving ordinary citizens stranded.
In other successes for the EU, China’s foreign ministry disavowed comments by its ambassador to France who said former Soviet republics — like the Baltic states — didn’t have “status as a sovereign country”.
Borrell said it was “good news” that Beijing had “distanced itself from the unacceptable remarks” after EU leaders lined up to condemn the diplomatic faux pas.
For the EU’s China hawks, it’s also a useful example for their calls to toughen the bloc’s policy towards Beijing in a summit of leaders in June.
But yesterday also brought examples of what the EU states, so far, can’t do together. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba dialled into the meeting to harangue the ministers and Borrell over a failure to agree on €1bn additional spending to manufacture ammunition for Ukraine.
Under a separate scheme to supply Kyiv from existing stocks, just 41,000 artillery shells have been pledged in the month since it was agreed, according to officials, and of that, only 13,000 have been delivered.
Ukraine is firing around 4,000 shells a day. It’s not hard to do the maths.
Chart du jour: Into the deep
European countries are among those sponsoring the exploration of deep-sea mining of metals which are key for the green transition. But scientists’ warnings and legal uncertainties are giving some governments pause.
Strawberry fields forever
Strawberry farmers in Spain who water their crops from illegal wells have put their country on a collision course with Brussels — and regional authorities are accelerating into the looming crash, write Barney Jopson and Ian Johnston.
Context: The survival of one of Europe’s most important wetlands, Doñana National Park, is under threat from rogue farmers who are draining its groundwater supply. The European Court of Justice already ordered Spain to take action in a 2021 ruling.
But things seem to be moving in the wrong direction.
Driving the problem is the regional government in Andalucía, led by the conservative People’s party, which has proposed a law that critics say would not eliminate the problematic unauthorised wells but do the opposite: legalise as many as 1,000 of them.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s environment commissioner, told the region’s top environment official Ramón Fernández-Pacheco in a meeting yesterday that the European Commission was “deeply concerned” the proposals could “degrade” Doñana, which sits in the berry-growing province of Huelva.
Spain’s efforts to protect the park since the ECJ ruling were also “not sufficient”, the commission warned. It can ask the court to impose hefty penalties if the situation continues and it is now assessing evidence from both Spain and Andalucía.
Teresa Ribera, environment minister for the socialist-led central government, yesterday called on Andalucía’s leaders to “stop putting Spain’s credibility at risk”. She warned the government would challenge the region’s plans in Spain’s constitutional court if they were not dropped.
Fernández-Pacheco said the proposed bill had been misunderstood and that it “in no way harms the Doñana aquifer”, but instead allowed for the collection of surface water.
The central government has rebuffed this argument. “Where there is no water . . . it is not possible to invent more water,” Ribera said, speaking as parts of Spain have been hit by a devastating drought.
The strawberry sector, meanwhile, laments it is being demonised for the actions of a few. José Luis García-Palacios, head of trade group Interfresa, blamed the storm on “political interests”.
What to watch today
EU agriculture and fisheries ministers meet in Luxembourg.
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez hosts Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
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