Belarusian diplomat who backed opposition returns home

Meanwhile, the Czech government approved a proposal tabled by Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (S&D) allocating an additional €380,000 to Belarusian civil society. [EPA/BELTA]

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In today’s edition of the Capitals:

BRATISLAVA. Belarusian Ambassador to Slovakia and President Alexander Lukashenko’s former foreign policy assistant, Igor Lescena, will return to Belarus as the only senior diplomat who publicly supported the opposition protests.

This decision earned him “great respect“ in Slovakia and abroad, said Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok after meeting with Lescena before his departure.

Meanwhile, the Czech government approved a proposal tabled by Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (S&D) allocating an additional €380,000 to Belarusian civil society and creating a special fund aimed at supporting independent Belarusian media, including journalists who were forced to leave their jobs. Funds should be also used in order to provide assistance to wrongly arrested people.

In Berlin, the doctors treating Russian anti-corruption activist, Alexei Navalny, issued a statement on Monday (24 August) saying that clinical evidence points to poisoning, but did not list the exact substance. Following a transfer from a Siberian hospital over the weekend, Navalny remains in a coma at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, but his life is not in serious danger.

The EU has not recognised the results of the Belarus elections and is set to impose targeted sanctions on those who were involved in electoral fraud and repression of the protests that followed.

A legal process was started by EU foreign ministers on 14 August to draw up a list of targets in Belarus for a new round of sanctions in response to Lukashenko’s post-election crackdown, likely to be further discussed in the Gymnich meeting in Berlin.

(Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk, Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz, Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de, Alexandra Brzozowski)

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VILNIUS

Lithuanian balloons versus Belarusian military helicopters. On Monday (24 August), the Belarusian defence ministry claimed it used Mi-24 military helicopters to stop eight air balloons “with anti-state slogans” from crossing the border during the Freedom Way demonstration in Lithuania. LRT’s Benas Gerdžiūnas reports from Vilnius.

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BERLIN

Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) plans to do away with mandatory COVID-19 tests for those coming back from risk areas. Instead, Germany will be changing course in its testing strategy, introducing a mandatory quarantine for those coming from high-infection countries which can “only be terminated by a negative test result in a test at the earliest five days after entry.”

Previously, the health ministry mandated that all holidaymakers returning from high-risk areas needed to be tested for the virus. However, this requirement combined with rising case levels has put a strain on German labs. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

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VIENNA

Long delays at the Austrian-Slovenian border. Over the weekend, motorists waited in traffic for hours (in some cases up to 12 hours) at the border between Austria and Slovenia, .after a regulation that took effect on Saturday (22 August) required travellers to either sign a declaration that they will drive through the country without stopping or, if they intend to stay in Austria, fill out a longer form with personal information. Despite the delays, Austrian officials intend to hold firm on the new border control policy. Read more.

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PARIS

€106 million in back taxes for Facebook. The French subsidiary of the digital giant which had been subject to an in-depth tax audit covering the years  between 2009 and 2018, has agreed to pay €106 million in back taxes and penalties. In 2019, Facebook France’s revenues nearly doubled to €747 million, and now include advertising revenues from French advertisers in the local subsidiary’s accounts. 137 countries are negotiating to reach an agreement on the taxation of multinationals by the end of 2020, under the aegis of the OECD. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.FR)

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BRUSSELS

Brussels in the top ten of Europe. Belgium’s capital is one of ten European regions recording the fastest-growing surge of new coronavirus cases in past weeks, Belgium’s top state virologist Marc Van Ranst said, urging authorities not to let their guard down against the virus. “The politicians of the Brussels-Capital Region should consider how they can either better enforce or tighten up the corona measures,” Van Ranst said. EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski has more.

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HELSINKI

Border controls tightened again. Finland has restored its border controls with a number of countries within and outside the Schengen Area due to the worsening coronavirus situation abroad. EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen looks into what new measures the Finns have adopted.


EUROPE’S SOUTH

ROME

Italian COVID-19 vaccine enters human testing phase. On Monday (24 August), an Italian-developed coronavirus vaccine began its first clinical trial as the first volunteer, a woman who said she hopes “to be useful to our country”, received a jab at Rome’s infectious disease hospital known as Spallanzani. The vaccine’s first tester will now be monitored for 12 weeks to check whether it causes any side effects or produces antibodies. EURACTIV Italy’s Valentina Iorio digs deeper.

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MADRID

Spain’s coronavirus numbers continue to rise. Spanish health authorities confirmed that some 37,064 new COVID-19 cases had been recorded in the last week, a figure that has prompted hotspot regions to enforce new restrictions just over two weeks before school children are scheduled to return to the classroom. Read in English the full story by EFE.

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ATHENS

Greece says Turkey is unreliable for dialogue ahead of German FM visit. The Greek government dismissed on Monday (24 august) Turkey’s stated intention to start a dialogue and de-escalate tensions over gas drillings activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Ankara is not reliable. Read the full story by Sarantis Michalopoulos.


VISEGRAD

WARSAW

COVID-19, a ‘modern-day world war’? The COVID-19 pandemic is “a modern-day world war that completely changes the balance of power.” Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki said during an event speech on Monday (24 August). “We are living in breakthrough times because of what the pandemic has done to the world.
“At the same time, we have the duty to pose very difficult questions in the current economic, social and political circumstances, as this is the responsibility that we’ve been burdened with,” Morawiecki said. As of Monday morning, a total of 62,310 cases were confirmed in Poland, and the death toll reached 1,960. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)

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BUDAPEST

New Chinese investment Chemical company Wanhua is planning to invest HUF300 billion (€853.8 million) in Hungary over the next five years, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has said. Moreover, cooperation between the two countries’ national banks will be expanded to boost financial stability as the Chinese development bank is set to become the fourth Chinese bank to open a representation in Hungary.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Szijjártó was the first foreign minister to visit China after the lockdowns due to the pandemic and that the visit is of great importance in restoring cooperation. China is Hungary’s second most important source of imports, and Chinese companies have invested over $5 billion in the country so far, the minister added.

In other news, Hungary’s budget deficit could reach 7% to 9% of GDP this year due to a deeper-than-expected recession, the country’s finance ministry announced. Though Hungary’s economy shrank by 13.6% in this year’s second quarter, analysts emphasised that financing the deficit was unlikely to be a problem given that bond auctions have been going well, and the central bank also has room to increase its bond purchases. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)


NEWS FROM THE BALKANS

SOFIA

Gas deal. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis have finalised a deal in Athens in which Bulgaria bought a 20% stake in the LNG terminal near Alexandroupoli. EURACTIV Bulgaria’s Krassen Nikolov has the details.

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LJUBLJANA 

Important meeting. The leadership of the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS-RE), will meet today following a split between party president Aleksandra Pivec and the party’s five MPs. The party is a key part of the governing coalition. Though it is expected that Pivec will leave and MPs choose an interim leader ahead of a party congress, Prime Minister Janez Janša is remaining calm because MPs have told him they will continue to support the coalition.

Meanwhile, the radical left party Levica wants a consultative referendum on the government’s plans to make military investments worth €780 million in the next six years given that the country is not endangered militarily, but the health sector and economy are. “We will, at last, have a real discussion about Slovenian Army”, said Defence Minister Matej Tonin (NSi-EPP) . (Željko Trkanjec,| EURACTIV.hr)

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ZAGREB

Back to school. With the school period starting on 7 September in Croatia, pupils will have to keep their distances and not mix with pupils from other classes and hygiene measures will have to be stepped up, the education ministry has said. And facemasks will only be mandatory for pupils in higher grades if there is not enough space for them to keep their distance, the ministry added. Teachers have already criticised the proposed measures, calling the whole plan untenable and highlighting the lack of space in classrooms.

In other news, social-democrat mayor Ivan Vrkić of the city of Osijek – which is on the river Drava in the eastern part of the country – has rejected as untrue the claims of County Prefect Ivan Anušić (HDZ-EPP) about the city’s responsibility for a recent mosquito invasion. (Željko Trkanjec, EURACTIV.hr)

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BELGRADE 

Serbia to procure three COVID-19 vaccines. Serbia will procure three COVID-19 vaccines, with the Chinese one to arrive as early as November, the Srpski Telegraf daily reported yesterday (24 August).

Quoting sources from the government’s Crisis Headquarters, the paper added that Serbian physicians are already “studying documentation on the Russian and Chinese vaccines, as well as the one jointly produced by AstraZeneca and Oxford.” EURACTIV Serbia has more.

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In other news, the president of the Independent Democratic Serb Party of Croatia, Milorad Pupovac, said on Monday (24 August) that Serbs in Croatia didn’t need Belgrade’s mentorship or Zagreb’s patronage, as the party had developed its own, independent platform. Read more.

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Moreover, infrastructure projects worth hundreds of millions of euros will be discussed at a Belgrade-Pristina meeting hosted by the White House on 4 September, the Politika newspaper reported yesterday, adding that it’s quite possible that US Special Envoy for the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations, Richard Grenell, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti woulc sign a letter of intent “that might set solid foundations for the continuation of the dialogue.”

“The agreement might be a step towards an economic union, a follow-up to a ‘mini-Schengen’ initiative, based on the idea to create a regional economic zone, as agreed within the Berlin Process,” the Belgrade-based newspaper reported. (EURACTIV.rs  betabriefing.com)

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SARAJEVO 

The Bosniak party wants an army at the border. The Party of Democratic Action (SDA), a leading Bosniak party, demanded the deployment of army troops along the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia, to lessen the influx of illegal migrants coming from the country’s eastern neighbour. The party insists on the deployment of unarmed service-people of the Armed Forces and construction of barriers.

In the meantime, illegal migrants are no longer allowed entry by the authorities of Una-Sana Canton, part of Federation of BiH on the northwest part of the country. The other entity, Republika Srpska, does not allow them to stay on its territory, meaning that as of Monday, illegal migrants find themselves in a so-called no man’s land between two entities. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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PODGORICA 

The most important elections in Montenegrin history! The elections set for 30 August are perhaps the most important in the country’s history given that it will decide whether Montenegro will continue to move towards a European future, as a free state of all citizens with equal rights, or whether a theocratic, retrograde concept will prevail, says Democratic Party of Socialists (MPS) and Montenegrin President, Milo Đukanović.

These are also the first elections in which victory is not even expected for Đukanović’s party, which has named its list “Decisive for Montenegro!” DPS – Milo Đukanović” but did not feature Đukanović on its list. A similar pattern was observed during Serbia’s parliamentary elections at the beginning of the summer. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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PRIŠTINA 

Weapons in the hands of civilians. Kosovo’s interior ministry estimates that its citizens possess about  250,000 pieces of illegal weapons, the daily Koha reported.

Back in December 2018, the ministry, responsible for the destruction or legalisation of illegal weapons, launched a campaign for the legalisation of weapons. In the nine months of the campaign, only 2,000 weapons registration applications had been filed, while Kosovo police had seized about 1,500 weapons, according to Koha. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]

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