Bulgarian PM calls on Russia to cease espionage activity

Commentators say that the Bulgarian spy scandal has repercussions in NATO and could weigh in terms of further EU  and US sanctions. [EPA-EFE/ALEXEI DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL]

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In today’s news from the Capitals:


Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has called on Russia to stop conducting espionage activities in Sofia after six Bulgarian citizens were arrested in Sofia for allegedly participating in a Russian spy network on Friday. Commentators say the Bulgarian spy scandal has repercussions in NATO and could weigh in terms of further EU and US sanctions.

Read more.



EU’s Vestager has ‘reservations’ about online privacy proposals. Margrethe Vestager, the executive vice-president of the European Commission, said on Friday (19 March) that she has “reservations” about a proposal from the Portuguese EU Presidency to unblock negotiations on the ePrivacy regulation. More.


Belgium extends travel ban until 18 April. Belgium’s ban on non-essential travel has been extended after the Easter holidays until 18 April. Read more.

In other news, Belgium will commemorate the victims of the Brussels terrorist attacks on March 22, 2016, when 35 people – including three Islamist bombers – were killed and more than 300 injured in bomb attacks at Brussels’ Zaventem Airport and in the Maelbeek metro station in the EU quarter.

At the beginning of this year, the Belgian judiciary decided to bring ten men before a jury for direct involvement in the Brussels attacks or their preparation. A new ‘Justitia’ court has been set up on the site of the old NATO headquarters for one of the biggest Belgian trials in history.(Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)



Germany poised to tighten COVID-19 restrictions amid case surge. Germany on Monday is set to to tighten lockdown measures into mid-April, after it had progressively began easing restrictions, first reopening schools in late February, before allowing some shops to resume business in March. Read more.



Ten regional presidents oppose postponement of French regional elections. Ten French regional presidents from a range of political backgrounds have voiced their opposition to another postponement of regional elections due to the coronavirus pandemic in an article published by Le Figaro on Sunday. “All elections are essential. It is not up to the Scientific Council to confine democracy! “they said. 

Initially scheduled for March, the first and second rounds of the regional elections are now scheduled for 13 and 20 June respectively. (Anne Damiani  | EURACTIV.fr)



UK warns EU vaccine export ban would be ‘counter-productive’. Britain on Sunday (21 March) warned the European Union against halting exports of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccines if the bloc does not receive promised deliveries, saying such a move would be “counter-productive”. More

International travel to UK could be delayed further. UK ministers have hinted that international travel may not resume from 17 May as previously mentioned, because of fears that travellers could bring new COVID-variants into the UK and rising cases across much of Europe. Read more.



Irish PM: ‘I would happily take AstraZeneca Vaccine’. Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin has declared he “would indeed” take the AstraZeneca vaccine amid confirmation from the European Medical Agency (EMA) that it is safe and not associated with a higher risk of developing blood clots. Read more.



Chinese hacker group responsible for cyber-attack on Finnish parliament. The Finnish Security and Intelligence Service (Supo) has identified the group behind the cyber-attack against the Finnish parliament’s IT systems last autumn. Read more.



Thirty Spanish companies ask government for COVID-19 bailout. Approximately thirty Spanish companies hit economically by the COVID-19 crisis have asked for bailouts between €3 and €3.3 billion from the government in order to survive and remain competitive. Read the full story



Italian schools ask to reopen amid COVID-19 lockdown. While the COVID-19 situation in Italy remains critical, with an average of 20,000 infections per day, restrictions on travel and schools closed in most of the country, teachers, pupils, parents and associations held protests in 34 Italian cities, calling for the resumption of face-to-face lessons, EURACTIV.it’s partner, Corriere della Sera, reported. 

According to the Italian association of principals, about a quarter of Italian students are finding it difficult to follow lessons from home, while 8% have been excluded from any form of distance learning “due to poor quality internet connections”. Schools were closed “only because the English variant has endangered the little ones. But school never stopped,” said Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi in a televised speech on Saturday.

In other news, Italy’s trade unions have called for a strike on Monday of the entire Amazon supply chain, which could affect up to 40,000 warehouse and delivery workers across the country. While it is difficult to predict whether deliveries will encounter blocks or delays, the unions have requested the opening of negotiations on timetables and work rhythms of logistics employees and drivers, the stabilisation of temporary employees, and compliance with health and safety regulations. (Daniele Lettig | EURACTIV.it)



Greece to provide free COVID-19 tests in April. Greece will provide free antigen Covid-19 self-testing kits as the government announced that pharmacies will distribute them from the first week of April. More



Russia uses Hungarian foreign minister to advertise Sputnik jab. The Russian foreign ministry used Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó’s interview with Russian state television channel RT to promote their Sputnik V jab on social media with the hashtag “Russia Helps” on Saturday. Read more.



Polish medics to vaccinate NATO staff. Over 20 Polish medics will fly to Brussels on Thursday to vaccinate 3,500 employees of the NATO Headquarters using the newly resumed AstraZeneca vaccine. Poland received an official invitation from NATO to carry COVID-19 vaccinations at the military bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Sunday. Read more.



Czech public broadcaster’s independence threatened ahead of elections. Popular public service broadcaster Czech Television has been under threat since the broadcaster’s supervisory commission – which controls the TV’s activities, appoints the director-general and approves the budget – was suddenly removed in November, and last week’s vote in parliament hints at the broadcaster’s current director-general Petr Dvořák being replaced soon. Read more.



Slovak PM urges critics to resign along with him.  The Slovak government crisis finally came to head over the weekend with Prime Minister Igor Matovič (Ordinary People and Independent Personalities) announcing his resignation, provided the ministers and senior lawmakers who criticised him do the same. Read more.



Six member states urge EU to re-focus on Bosnia. Six southern and eastern EU countries are asking the bloc’s foreign ministers to focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina and help the struggling Western Balkan country implement key reforms that should boost its dwindling EU membership bid and ease simmering tensions in the region. More.


Lockdown in Bucharest? With the number of COVID cases on a sharp rise over the past days, Romania’s capital city is nearing the threshold of 6 per 1,000 coronavirus cases over the past 14 days that is needed to call a lockdown. Read more.



45% of Croatia’s citizens want euro adopted, says National Bank. In February this year, 45% of Croatian citizens supported the adoption of the euro, up from the 41% recorded last year, according to a survey conducted by the Croatian National Bank (HNB). Read more.



NATO, US to stage large-scale military exercises around Serbia until summer. A large-scale military exercise led by the US, NATO and its allies, dubbed Defender-Europe 21, began in mid-March and will last until the second half of June, while most of the activities will unfold in the Balkans and in Serbia’s immediate neighbourhood. Read more.



Civic, unitary model only acceptable solution for BiH, says Bosniak party leader. “A unitary and civic model” can be the only one BiH is based on, said Bakir Izetbegović, leader of the biggest Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), dismissing that it be defined – according to the Dayton Accords – as a union of three constituent peoples. Read more.


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

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