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In today’s news from the Capitals:
Czech agricultural organisations representing large farmers – such as Agrofert Holding, whose beneficial owner is Andrej Babiš – oppose planned changes in the national CAP Strategic plan, particularly capping the EU’s direct payments for large farms. If the modifications are passed, organisations plan to file a constitutional lawsuit. Read more.
Germany could cut quarantine for ‘critical’ workers, vaccinated. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach proposed shorter mandatory quarantine for the vaccinated and those employed in the so-called “critical infrastructure” like health and the police. The proposals are set to be formally adopted by regional health ministers on Friday. More.
Former PM backs Macron’s presidential candidacy, gives advice. After President Emmanuel Macron declared again that he ‘wanted to’ run for reelection in April, former PM Edouard Phillippe told public channel France 2 on Wednesday morning he was delighted and advised him to “be in a logic of rally and […] of enlargement”. Candidates from Philippe’s party, Horizons, will present themselves at the legislative elections of June 2022, as he wants to “weigh on the public debate”.
In particular, Philippe wishes the debate on the digital and technological revolution to be at the centre of the presidential elections. According to him, it cannot be neglected and requires serious preparation. France needs to double the number of engineers trained each year to shape “a Nation of builders”, he added. Philippe confirmed he would remain “loyal” yet “free” regarding President Macron. (Davide Basso | EURACTIV.fr)
Austria’s COVID-19 infection rate triples due to Omicron. Austria is witnessing a 77% surge in COVID-19 infections due to the spread of the Omicron variant between Tuesday and Wednesday. The number of infections – which reached almost 10,000 on Wednesday alone – has tripled compared to Monday. Read more.
Netherlands gripped by wave of anti-lockdown protests. Multiple protests will be held across the country this week, a Dutch activist group called “Netherlands in Resistance” (Nederland in Verzet) announced as the country faces its third week of a hard lockdown. Read more.
UK AND IRELAND
Borders staff threaten strike over Channel ‘pushbacks’. UK Border Force staff could go on strike over the government’s “morally reprehensible” plans to turn back dinghies carrying migrants crossing the Channel, a leading trade union warned on Wednesday. More.
Test no longer required for vaccinated travellers entering Ireland. Vaccinated travellers will no longer be required to present a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in Ireland under new rules agreed by the cabinet on Tuesday. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Norway bought rapid COVID-19 tests for €53 million without a tender. The week before Christmas, Sykehusinnkjøp, the public health department responsible for health purchases, bought 15 million quick tests without a tender for NOK 532 million (€53 million). This could result in the filing of complaints, experts say. Read more.
Low turnout expected in Finland’s first-ever county elections. Finland will organise its first-ever county elections in January, but public indifference and confusion about the process, as well as the pandemic, will likely result in a low turnout. Read more.
Italy introduces mandatory vaccination for over-50s. The government has introduced mandatory vaccination for people over 50 until 15 June as a compromise solution as not all coalition parties favoured mandatory vaccines for all. Read more.
Paid PCR tests causes political turmoil in Greece. The opposition and medical associations have mounted pressure on the Greek government to distribute free PCR tests for people, as Greeks seem to be the only EU citizens who still pay to get a molecular test. Read more.
Spanish minister faces calls to resign over comments targeting megafarms. The Spanish association of agri-food cooperatives on Wednesday asked Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón to resign over his “unacceptable” comments on megafarms in a recent interview with The Guardian, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. Read more.
Portuguese government: Can COVID-19 isolation be waived for voting purposes? The government has requested an opinion from the Advisory Council of the Prosecutor General (PGR) on whether COVID-19 isolation prevents people from exercising their right to vote, or whether it could be suspended. The question comes ahead of the parliamentary elections set for 30 January. Read more.
Slovak Prosecutor General rejects defence agreement with US, plans trip to Russia. Prosecutor General Maroš Žilinka will attend celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, days after speaking out against the Defence Cooperation Agreement with the US. Read more.
Polish miners threaten energy crisis if wage demands go unmet. Polish miners established a schedule for further protests, announcing a two-day strike referendum on 12-13 January and a blockade of coal shipping from 17 January until further notice. Read more.
Leaked tapes: government commissioner accused of bribing Roma for electoral gain. Attila Sztojka, the commissioner for Roma relations within the interior ministry, was allegedly recorded saying he would offer contracts and subsidies to Roma representatives if the ethnic minorities’ self-government put forward candidates to the government’s liking, Telex reported via Népszava. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Bulgarian PM to open discussion on the admission of NATO troops. The new Bulgarian government has not yet discussed the deployment of NATO troops in the country, but such talks will undoubtedly take place, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has announced. Read more.
Romania wants new electric power plants. The top priority is creating new facilities for electricity production in Romania, Energy Minister Virgil Popescu told a TV news station. The minister said new project calls will be launched in a few months. “We want to launch in March a call for solar and wind projects – €460 million for 950 megawatts,” he said.
Romania has set aside €1.6 billion in its recovery and resilience plan for energy projects, but a larger amount of around €10 billion will be available through the Modernisation Fund, Popescu added. The minister also mentioned that many other projects, including natural gas and hydrogen distribution networks, hydrogen production, battery making facilities, would be launched this year. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)
Croatian president: US offer for Bradley vehicles has strategic, political significance. The US offer for Bradley armoured fighting vehicles has again entered political discourse with President Zoran Milanović saying it is strategically and politically significant for Croatia. He has also criticised the government for being slow in the decision-making process. Read more.
Antivaxxer attacks on health professionals escalate in Slovenia. One of Slovenia’s most prominent medical experts has withdrawn from public life after falling victim to one of a spate of attacks on health professionals by opponents of vaccination and COVID-19 restrictions. Read more.
Kremlin: Serbia’s defence capability largely depends on Russia. Serbia’s defence capability largely depends on Russia, Kremlin foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday. Read more.
Western Balkans, Croatia lose potential for economic growth due to youth emigration. The Western Balkans and Croatia are losing long-term potential for economic growth due to youth emigration, and the fact that employable people are leaving the region is not good for the EU either, the Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences said in a study published on Wednesday. Read more.
US sanctions Dodik for corruption, threatening BiH stability. The US has sanctioned Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik and his associated media channel Alternativna Televizija (ATV) for “corrupt activities and continued threats to the stability and territorial integrity of BiH”. Read more.
Skopje receives record-breaking shipment of medicinal cannabis. Instadose Pharma Corp delivered a record-breaking shipment of high-quality Medicinal Cannabis Flower, the company said in an announcement on Wednesday. The delivery of 2.125 metric tonnes from Johannesburg, South Africa to Skopje was completed on 25 December 2021.
Medical cannabis cultivation in North Macedonia was allowed in 2016 by modifying the Law on Control on Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Since then, there has been an ongoing debate on allowing for recreational use of this criminalised substance. Currently, the government has issued close to 60 licences to companies for the production of medical cannabis. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Escobar: Some political actors do not share Euro-Atlantic values. The US will not hesitate to use sanctions to send a strong message to corrupt and destabilising actors in the region, Gabriel Escobar, the US special envoy for the Western Balkans told the Montenegro agency MINA. Read more.
Russia accuses Kosovo of aggression following expulsion of diplomat. Russia has accused Kosovo of being provocative and “aggravating interethnic relations” following the designation of a Russian UN diplomat as persona non grata. Read more.
Albanian hydropower plant gets Chinese backing. A stalled hydropower plant project has received Chinese backing, signalling that work could soon be underway in an area of outstanding natural beauty popular with tourists. Read more.
- EU/France: College of Commissioners travels to Paris to kick off EU Council Presidency, President Emmanuel Macron hosts a working dinner with members of the EU Commission.
- Top German and French aides travel to Moscow for Normandy Format talks on Ukraine.
- UK: Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney travels to London to meet UK counterpart Liz Truss for the first time since her appointment.
- Cyprus: Restrictions on gatherings in homes and churches to combat Covid-19 come into force.
- Serbia: Followers of the Serbian Orthodox church who observe the Julian calendar are celebrating Christmas Eve.
- Romania: Prime minister Nicolae Ciuca leads a meeting on EU funding absorption.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Alexandra Brzozowski, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox, Zoran Radosavljevic, Alice Taylor]