Chinese spies in Malta’s embassy? News to me, says EU’s Borrell

Malta denies newspaper report that China was involved in the renovation of its Brussels base.

Chinese spies in Malta’s embassy? News to me, says EU’s Borrell

If China has infiltrated the Maltese embassy in Brussels, then the EU hasn’t been told about it, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said.

On Friday, a report in the French daily Le Monde said that Belgian intelligence sources believed Malta’s embassy in Brussels could have been bugged by Chinese spies. The Maltese government said that wasn’t true.

“I have been informed of this news but I only have the news from the press,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, said at the end of an online meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers.

“I don’t have any more information about it, so it’s difficult for me to pronounce about something that I just knew via a press release and if the Belgians have something to tell us, they will, but for the time being [that] hasn’t happened,” he added.

According to the French newspaper, “since the early 2010s” Belgian state security suspected that Chinese secret services used the embassy — located directly opposite from the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters — to spy on the European institutions.

Borrell may not know anything about the latest report, but plenty of people are intrigued.

The spying “could, according to Belgian intelligence, still last today,” said the report.

According to Le Monde, the alarm was sounded by British intelligence who said they believed Chinese secret services were involved in renovation work on the building ahead of its opening in 2007.

Borrell’s relaxed reaction — suggesting the EU would wait to hear from Belgium rather than undertake its own urgent inquiry — could prove risky given recent criticism of the EU’s diplomatic arm for being too soft on China and overly accommodating of Beijing’s wishes.

Last week, the EU’s ambassador to China came under fire for allowing the Chinese government to redact part of an op-ed that was signed by all 27 EU ambassadors in the Chinese capital. The European External Action Service was also accused of softening a report on disinformation at the behest of Chinese diplomats.

Borrell may not know anything about the latest report, but plenty of people are intrigued. Bart Groothuis, a Dutch liberal MEP, tweeted that he’d asked Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis about “the problem of the Chinese state renovating the Maltese embassy” and the response was “it’s on our agenda.”

However, it remains unclear whether the EU will open an independent investigation. The European External Action Service didn’t reply to a question about what, if any, action has been taken. And diplomats stressed that is crucial to understand who was in charge of the critical ICT infrastructure in the embassy, a task that is usually carried out by national agencies or by certified contractors.

In a statement, the Maltese government said it “takes note” of the Le Monde story, stressing that “renovation works carried out in 2007, under a different administration … were carried out at the expense of the Government of Malta” and that “it was only furniture which was donated” by Beijing “in line with the relevant security procedures.”

The article “makes various incorrect allegations that such equipment is being used for illicit purposes,” Valletta said, adding that “the Permanent Representation has been the subject of internal and external audits and found the building to be in the clear” and that “80% of the mentioned furniture has over the past 2 years been disposed of and replaced by new furniture procured from Malta.”

“The Permanent Representation’s security system has been overhauled and improved over the past two years,” the government added.

Source : Politico EU More   

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MEPs back €2T coronavirus recovery plan

European Parliament seeks greater role in drawing up fund to help with fallout from the pandemic.

MEPs back €2T coronavirus recovery plan

The European Parliament on Friday urged the European Commission to set up a €2 trillion investment package to tackle the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic that would provide “mostly” grants and be financed through recovery bonds.

A total of 505 MEPs voted in favor and 119 against a nonbinding resolution that calls for a recovery fund to be on top of the EU’s long-term budget, financed “through the issuance of long-dated recovery bonds” and “disbursed through loans and, mostly, through grants, direct payments for investment and equity.”

It also warns the Commission against the use of “financial wizardry and dubious multipliers” when coming up with figures for the plan. Nevertheless, the Parliament’s own €2 trillion figure includes both EU spending and an estimated private sector participation.

The Parliament is not formally part of the negotiations on the EU’s recovery plan, but MEPs will have to give their consent to any legislation that is linked to the EU’s long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework. Friday’s vote therefore puts additional pressure on the Commission, which has delayed the release of its recovery plan and is now due to issue its proposal May 27.

Parliament’s text also pushes the Commission to support a greater role for MEPs in the process, with regular meetings between the presidents of the Parliament, Council and Commission to reach a common position on budgetary issues.

“It shows the Parliament’s great will to be a protagonist in this phase,” the assembly’s president, David Sassoli, told journalists after the vote. “It is a good and powerful message to the institutions and the countries.”

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has outlined a recovery plan that is not far from what MEPs are seeking. Earlier this week, she told MEPs that the plan would have three parts and would be financed by raising money on financial markets, and “all funding would be channeled through EU budget programs and thus subject to parliamentary oversight.” The plan would include grants and “the possibility to front-load part of the investment still this year,” von der Leyen added.

The Commission president also reassured MEPs that she would grant them a crucial role in the negotiations.

“It is essential that the European Parliament plays its full role,” von der Leyen said Wednesday. “For me, it goes without saying that this Parliament must provide the democratic accountability and have its say on the entire recovery package just as it does on the European budget.”

MEPs from the five major political groups voted in favor of the resolution. However, others said the text was too vague and not ambitious enough.

“The European Parliament needs clearly defined red lines from which to walk away from EU long-term budget negotiations with the Council, which the resolution approved today has failed to establish,” according to a statement issued by the far-left GUE group.

Lili Bayer contributed to this article. 

Source : Politico EU More   

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