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Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, we invite you to read the story “Schmit to unveil EU minimum wage proposal in January“, as well as “Corteva signs first major gene editing deal with European company“.
LJUBLJANA/ZAGREB. The opinion of the advocate general of the EU’s top court over the Slovenia-Croatia border dispute is a step toward an agreement between the two countries on the issue dating back to Yugoslavia’s break-up, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković has said.
In his opinion, Advocate General Pikamäe said the Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction to rule on an international boundary dispute that falls outside the scope of EU law. The infringements of the EU law which Slovenia accuses Croatia of, are ancillary to the issue of determining the boundary between those two States, which is a matter of public international law.
Slovenia was almost shocked by the opinion, which almost fully confirmed Croatia’s position. The Slovenian Foreign Minister, Miro Cerar, said that “the opinion of an independent lawyer is poorly argued, as our lawyers believe. The Luxembourg court has so far ruled only in five such cases in which one EU member sued another. In three cases, the Court followed the opinion of an independent lawyer, but in two cases, it did not. So the procedure from this point of view is also quite uncertain”.
“The arbitration court has determined the border between Slovenia and Croatia, which cannot be changed by the opinion of an independent court lawyer,” Slovenian President Borut Pahor said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and Parliament Speaker Dejan Židan. PM Šarec said Slovenia “wants to discuss the implementation of the arbitration decision with Croatia. We are patiently waiting for them to recognise our efforts in Zagreb as well.”
The Slovenian opposition lashed out against the government because Cerar was a PM when Ljubljana opened a case against Croatia at the EU court. Opposition leader Janez Janša (SDS-EPP) said Cerar should pay the €7 million in expenses from his own pocket.
Croatia and Slovenia started the arbitration process signing the agreement in Stockholm in November 2009. In July 2015, Croatian media published an audio file which unveiled talks between a Slovenian agent at the Court and a judge detailing their illegal acts trying to get the ruling that Slovenia expected. The Croatian parliament then unanimously voted to leave the arbitration process.
[Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr]
**Read more details about the story here
Read also an interview of EURACTIV Croatia’s Tea Trubić Macan with Andrea Sangiovanni from the European University Institute in Florence. Sangiovanni said accepting migrant quotas “should become a precondition for entering Schengen”.
Mixed reactions to Green Deal. German politicians and industry leaders lost no time in providing their reactions to President Ursula von der Leyen’s Green Deal.
The Greens heralded it as far more ambitious than the climate package recently put forth by the grand coalition government. They called upon the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to make a clearer commitment to higher climate targets. However, Green politicians demanded that the plan go further still, criticising the start date of autumn next year and calling for reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
CDU politicians also acknowledged the great opportunity for the EU to restructure itself but said politicians should also take European economic interests into account.
The president of the Federation of German Industry (BDI), Dieter Kempf, warned of increasing climate targets, which could lead to uncertainty for business and consumers, emphasising that the “constant increases in the target level are poisonous for long-lasting investments.” (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
‘Historic opportunity’ for Catalan separatists. The leader of the Catalan separatist group (ERC) in the Catalan parliament, Sergi Sabrià, said on Wednesday (11 December) that his party now has a “historic opportunity” to subdue the Spanish government in obtaining concessions towards finding a solution to “the political conflict”, as they call it, over Spain’s autonomous community of Catalonia, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
But with ERC’s positive vote -or abstention- being essential in allowing the formation of Sanchez’s “progressive” government coalition between his socialist party, PSOE, and leftist Unidas Podemos, it appears clear that ERC is ‘not in a hurry’ and will continue banking on their political demands to be fulfilled. According to ERC sources, the government will likely be formed after Christmas, in the first days of January.
With ERC’s negotiators meeting this week with key members of the PSOE this week in a move to seek an agreement, Catalonia’s right to self-determination and amnesty for their ‘political prisoners’, among other demands, will definitely be featuring at the negotiating table. (EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)
Strikes to continue in France. Following a week of ‘France’s biggest strike in decades’ against the government’s proposal to reform the pension system, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced his plans for the country’s future pension law yesterday (11 December), but failed to calm spirits.
Although the government made a few amendments to its initial plan, several unions have expressed their strong disagreement with the PM’s proposed changes and announced that they would reinforce the ongoing strikes in the coming days.
The bill will be ready “at the end of the year”, said Edouard Philippe. “We will submit it to the Council of Ministers on 22 January, and it will be discussed in Parliament at the end of February”, the prime minister added. (EURACTIV.FR)
Insufficient Flemish climate plan. The federal Belgian climate minister and the three regional climate ministers met on the sidelines of the COP25 climate summit in Madrid for a working meeting on the National Energy-Climate Plan for the period of 2021-2030. Although Belgium is due to submit the plan to the European Commission by the end of the year, it remains in danger of not achieving its climate target due to the weak Flemish climate plans.
The Flemish government reached an agreement on Monday (9 December) on the Flemish Energy and Climate Plan, a package of 350 measures which should ensure that by 2030, Flanders will reduce 32.6% of its CO2 emissions. This number, however, will keep Flanders under the European target of 35%. While Flemish Prime Minister Jambon said that the Flemish plans are “ambitious, achievable and affordable”, the opposition is less merciful. According to MP Bruno Tobback (SP.A), “it is all the more painful at a time when the European Commission wants to raise the target to 50%. Flanders makes a fool of itself by lowering the ambition”. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
UK voters head to the ballot boxes today as polls suggest that the Conservatives look set to emerge as the largest party. However, the opposition Labour party has closed the gap on the reigning Tories, with estimates suggesting that the distance between the two is now around 8 points.
Meanwhile, in Brussels on Wednesday, Michel Barnier, the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, conducted a private meeting with MEPs in which he reportedly told them that Johnson’s Brexit plans are “unrealistic,” according to The Independent.
“With regards to this agreement, we will not get everything done in 11 months. We will do all we can – we won’t do it all,” he said.
“It is unrealistic that a global negotiation can be done in 11 months, so we can’t do it all. We will do all we can to get what I call the ‘vital minimum’ to establish a relationship with the UK if that is the time scale.” (Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com)
Sustainable debt. The Italian parliament mandated the government to conclude a deal on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), as long as the deal will be framed by a ‘package’ of reform that also includes the Banking Union. According to PM Giuseppe Conte, Italy has nothing to fear on the ESM, as it doesn’t introduce any automatic mechanism on debt restructuring. “Italy’s debt is fully sustainable,” the PM said.
Whys and Hows in Italy. Google provided figures about what Italians have been ‘googling’ the most on its search engine in 2019. The most searched “Why” question was ‘why the government fell’, hinting that Italians were caught off guard when Matteo Salvini triggered the crisis in the middle of August. The most common “How” question was ‘how to apply for navigator’, which is the professional role tasked with finding job offers for those who receive a grant within the universal citizens’ income, Five Star Movement’s flagship measure. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Upgrading relations with Serbia. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met with PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and announced that the two countries will proceed to a Strategic Partnership Agreement and that Serbia is willing to accept a number of unaccompanied refugee children residing in Greece, even though the country is just a candidate for EU accession and not yet a member. Serbian Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović also met with migration minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos to discuss cooperation in preventing irregular migration. (EURACTIV.gr | EURACTIV.rs)
Both leaders also expressed their intention to work together on natural gas trade. Specific reference was made about Serbia’s prospect of joining the Vertical Gas Corridor through the completion of the Bulgaria-Serbia Interconnector pipeline, which could be fed with LNG from both the existing main Greek terminal in Revythousa and the planned FSRU in Alexandroupolis port in the future.
Diplomatic fever. Just before the EUCO meeting, where Greece hopes to get a clear statement on Turkey’s provocations, the American Ambassador in Athens met with both PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and opposition leader Alexis Tsipras. While Greek sources said all the matters were discussed, including especially Turkey’s moves, the US official was more cautious saying the discussion focused on Mitsotakis’s visit to the US, defence matters, energy projects and especially the EastMed.
Russia’s Ambassador was also asked about the Turkey-Libya MoU, to which he replied that international law should be respected and expressed certainty that a Greece-Turkey conflict is not possible within NATO, because the US “would never allow” it. In the aftermath of Turkey-Libya MoU on maritime borders, the president of the Libyan House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh Eissa, who renounced the MoU with a letter to the UN, will be visiting Athens today. (Theodore Karaoulanis | EURACTIV.gr)
Carbon tax. Slovakia supports the introduction of a carbon border adjustment tax, confirmed Slovak Finance Minister Ladislav Kamenický after a period of ambiguity. “It would be beneficial for those who comply with the environmental standards”, he said. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
EU Space centre in Prague. The future EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA), which will be based on the existing European GNSS Agency (GSA), will be headquartered in Czechia as of 2021 and will hire between 600 and 700 new employees, transport ministry representatives confirmed yesterday (11 December).
Based in Prague, the GSA has been managing Europe’s global satellite navigation system Galileo. The new agency will be in charge of Copernicus which, along with Galileo, have become global references in satellite positioning and earth observation, among other things, the Czech News Agency reports. (Ondřej Plevák |EURACTIV.cz)
The benefits of “Turkish Stream” are doubtful. “Bulgaria’s ambition should be to remain on the gas map of Europe as a gas transit country after the failure of South Stream”, said Bulgarian President Rumen Radev on Wednesday in an interview with bTV. He explained that the country should not take into account Vladimir Putin’s threats, but look at its own interest in the new pipeline – Turkish stream.
“With our (Bulgarian) money, we are paying for Russian gas to reach Western Europe, and it is not clear what our benefits from this investment will be”, the Bulgarian president added. Bulgaria is investing about €1.5 billion to continue the Turkish Stream route to Serbia, Hungary and Austria.
“There has to be a very clear appreciation for pricing because we pay that bill and don’t see the risks being analysed”, Radev commented. “I hear we will be able to get the money back in 15 years. This is a very long period. Many LNG terminals will be built by that time. I hope finally to build the interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria and to be able to diversify [the gas supplies].” (Krassen Nikolov| EURACTIV.bg)
Hungarian theatres under threat. The Hungarian National Assembly passed a controversial law affecting Hungarian theatres and cultural life. The adopted bill did not differ much from the version published on the Parliament’s website on Monday (9 December) but was softened considerably compared to the version leaked earlier in December.
Municipalities will have a choice whether to accept central government funding or finance theatres out of their own budget. Institutions jointly financed by the state and municipalities will have to follow the rules agreed upon by the local and central government. This may give the government a say in appointing theatre director appointments, as well as in institutional management. The law also provides for a new National Cultural Council, which will be responsible for the “unified strategic direction of various segments of culture”. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
To find out more, read Hungarian culture: Orban’s next target
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]