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Violent protests in response to the ruling that sentenced nine Catalan pro-independence politicians and separatists to jail for their role in the banned 2017 independence referendum continued in Catalonia over the weekend and resulted in over 182 injuries, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
The largest protest took place in Barcelona, where 152 people were injured. In some central streets of Barcelona, the riots had intensified on Friday night with violent radicals and the police repeatedly clashing right up until dawn.
Over half a million Catalans gathered on Friday (18 October) for a general strike called by unions. Visitors were prevented from entering the Sagrada Familia – one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions – as protests blocked access to the landmark.
“This can’t go on, Barcelona does not deserve this”, said Ada Colau, the mayor of the Catalan capital.
Roads were blocked as demonstrators filled the streets following four days of violence that was triggered by Monday’s (14 October) court ruling in Madrid. Pro-independence demonstrators threw flares, stones, glass bottles and blunt objects, while the police retaliated by firing tear gas.
The clashes became so intense that a powerful water hose meant to disperse mobs was deployed by the Mossos d’Esquadra (the autonomous police force) for the first time. Despite the violence, the police did not use the tank against protesters, EFE reported.
The regional president of Catalonia, Quim Torra, did not expressly condemn the violence that had erupted as a result of the Supreme Court’s sentences and asked the central government in Madrid to open the door to dialogue.
“We have been asking for a long time for a political response to the conflict and it is more urgent than ever, today,” Torra said. Over the weekend, he has tried to discuss the issue with caretaker socialist PM Pedro Sánchez but Sánchez refused any dialogue with the Catalan regional government (“Generalitat”) until Torra –clearly- condemns the violence. “Violent people will never bend democracy”, Sánchez replied.
On 14 October, several politicians and grassroots activists were handed jail sentences for sedition and misuse of public funds linked to the banned independence referendum that took place in 2017.
Oriol Junqueras, the former deputy leader of the regional Catalan government, was given 13 years, the longest prison term.
Former Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain after the failed independence bid in 2017, is set to appear in court in Belgium on 29 October after Spain issued a European arrest warrant against him.
[Fernando Heller | EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es with EFE-EPA]
Second Referendum. The opposition Labour Party will table an amendment to Boris Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Bill next week, seeking to secure a confirmatory Brexit referendum, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keri Starmer has confirmed. Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday, Starmer said that Labour may back Johnson’s bill should there be the possibility of holding a confirmatory referendum on the plans.
“The position we have adopted is whatever the outcome, whether it’s Boris Johnson’s bad deal or a better one which could be secured, it has got to go to a referendum up against remain,” Starmer said, adding that Labour would be willing to engage in a dialogue with the Democratic Unionist Party after their opposition to Johnson’s deal was well publicised.
Starmer’s comments come following a vote in the Commons on Saturday, in which MPs backed measures to force Johnson to seek an extension to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. As a result, the Prime Minister sent EU Council President Donald Tusk an unsigned photocopy of the request by MPs for Article 50 to be extended beyond 31 October.
“The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react,” Tusk responded on Saturday evening. The government is expected to bring Johnson’s ‘meaningful vote’ on his Brexit deal back to the Commons on Monday. (Samuel Stolton | EURACTIV.com)
Macron: Renzi’s role model. Italia Viva, the new centrist party founded by former PM Matteo Renzi, is aiming to become Italy’s La République En Marche (LREM). “We want to do what Macron did,” said Renzi at the annual gathering of his trusted activists in Florence, referring to how the French president defeated the far-right and populism. Although born out from the strains of centre-left Democratic Party (PD), Italia Viva woes voters from the centre-right voters, particularly those who are disappointed by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Salvini’s Lega.
Tiziana Beghin, the head of the Five Star Movement delegation in the European Parliament, recently told EURACTIV in an interview that Renzi may want to be the “new Berlusconi”.
“I think that the natural position of Renzi is actually more centre-oriented, even in the EPP,” she added. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
ATHENS | SOFIA
Economic migrants are not welcomed. In light of the increased flows of illegal arrivals from Turkey in the last months, Stelios Petsas, a Greek government spokesman, said that no economic migrant is welcome to enter the country.
“Those who will invest money to come to Greece via traffickers will lose their money because they will be sent back. Until the end of 2020, 10,000 migrants not entitled to asylum will be returned to Turkey”, he told OPEN TV. He added that only 1,800 migrants were sent back to Turkey in the last four years.
He added that foreign nationals with a refugee profile will be transferred to hotels or other facilities in the mainland while economic migrants will be transferred to closed facilities and pre-departure centres.
As for unaccompanied children, the spokesperson said that there was a proposal for these children to be allocated to EU countries. So far, however, only two countries have accepted this proposal, with one of them being Ireland.
Meanwhile in Sofia, the conservative government does not fear increased migration flows from Turkey due to the Syrian crisis, according to Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov.
Karakachanov said the refugees were now fleeing to the interior of Syria and Iraq, and not towards Turkey and Europe. He added, though, that the problem would arise if the Kurds stopped protecting the detention camps where jihadists are being held, considering that some of them could renew military actions or secretly join migrant groups heading for Europe.
The situation along Bulgaria’s borders is currently calm and pressure is minimal, Karakachanov added. He also estimated that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will not let migrants enter Europe, as this would isolate him completely.
A ‘cultural change’. Since a stricter law on criminal offences of sexual nature came into force three years ago with the so-called “no means no” rule, the number of investigations into sexual offences has risen by more than a third nationwide, EURACTIV’s media partner Der Tagesspiegel reported.
According to data from the Federal Statistical Office, around 72,000 cases were conducted in 2018. In the years before the reform, the figure was still around 53,000. The Berlin State Criminal Police Office speaks of a “cultural change” that has affected all groups, regardless of age or social background. Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) told Tagesspiegel that the introduction of the “no means no” rule has been “a milestone for sexual self-determination”. (Claire Stam | EURACTIV.de)
Next job ahead. Outgoing EU Council President Donald Tusk has been nominated by his Polish party Civic Platform (PO) for the presidency of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). “Donald Tusk is a leading politician of the European Christian Democrats. Everyone in Europe was encouraging him to run to become EPP president, including the current EPP leader, Joseph Daul,” said Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna on POlish TV24 on Friday (18 October).
He said they agreed that Schetyna, as the leader of his party back home, will put forward his nomination for the election during EPP’s party congress in Zagreb on 21-22 November. Asked about his future plans during the EU summit last week, Tusk told reporters that “the EPP leadership will not stop him from getting involved in Polish affairs”. Whether Tusk might seek to become Poland’s next president is still within the realm of rumours.
(Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
Protests are back. Thousands of Slovaks took to the streets of Bratislava and other Slovak cities on Friday for another “For decent Slovakia” protest, a civic movement that emerged after the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancé Martin Kušnírová.
This time, protests followed leaks regarding widespread political corruption but also suspicions of corruption in Slovakia’s justice system.
Last Friday, Slovak PM Peter Pellegrini met in Brussels with EU Commissioner Věra Jourová to discuss the situation in Slovakia, especially the state of the judiciary. Jourová offered expertise, should any discussion on legislative changes in terms of the judiciary, prosecution or police takes place in Slovakia. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
Czech policewoman Interpol’s VP. Officer Šárka Havránková from the Czech Republic has been elected vice-president of Interpol’s European division. In a vote in the General Assembly, she obtained 133 out of 141 votes, Czech Radio reported. It is the first time that a Czech officer is appointed to a top Interpol post. Colonel Havránková is currently head of division for international cooperation. (Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)
Liviu Dragnea attacks his own party from jail. Liviu Dragnea, the former chief of the socialist PSD party, is contesting the appointment of new party leaders. Dragnea, who is currently serving a three and a half years jail sentence for corruption, asked a Romanian court to refer to the EU Court of Justice a case in which he asks even for the dissolution of PSD and the annulment of the Congress that elected the new party leadership.
In the documents submitted to the court, Dragnea even asks the judges to investigate the current PSD leader, Viorica Dăncilă, who allegedly did not pay the correct amounts to her assistants while she was an MEP, and could, therefore, be found guilty of fraud with EU funds. (EURACTIV.ro)
Equal opportunities. An amendment to the Equal Opportunities for Women and Men Act has entered into force, specifying exceptions when at least 40% of one sex cannot be guaranteed in the composition of government bodies, bodies of governing and control of public bodies.
How happy are Slovenians with the government? According to a Vox Populi poll, 49.2% of Slovenians believe that the government is successful (an 11.9% decrease) while 48.2% disagree. But PM Marjan Šarec’s party LMŠ (RE) still enjoys the biggest support (20.1%), followed by the main opposition party SDS (EPP) with 14.7% and SD (S&D) with 10.4%.
(Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
BalkanSmugg. In the countries of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia is estimated to have the highest level of annual tax evasion with over €1.8 billion. In the whole region tax evasion is estimated at €7.5 billion. These are the results of the BalkanSmugg research conducted by The Institute of Economics, Zagreb (EIZ) and funded by PMI IMPACT, a global initiative by Philip Morris International. Fake products of global brands and cigarette smuggling made the biggest cut of tax evasion: smugglers earn €32 million on tobacco products in Croatia in one year. The whole tax evasions in Croatia in 2017 would be enough to cover one-third of pensions this year.
Presidential elections. The second round of presidential elections is, as it seems, guaranteed for incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (29.8%, HDZ) and former PM Zoran Milanović (25.8%, SDP). (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
BELGRADE | SARAJEVO
Russians eye Belgrade, Sarajevo. Russia supports Serbia and is ready to provide any assistance in safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and integrity, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said during a visit to Belgrade on 19 October. He said Moscow was in favour of a peaceful solution regarding the issue of Kosovo which is in line with the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1244.
Medvedev also said that Russia highly appreciated that Serbia did not impose sanctions against Russia, despite great pressure.
The Russian PM also announced that Serbia’s Prime Minister will visit Moscow on 25 October to sign a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Union.
The Serb member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, said Russia was interested in building a gas pipeline in the country’s Serb entity of Republika Srpska, which he discussed with Medvedev during his visit to Belgrade.
Dodik said that lobby groups were wishing to prevent the supply of Russian gas and that the US business plans in the region are different from Russia’s.
“What we have to do is choose what is cheaper and more secure for us in the long run,” said the Bosnian Serb leader. Dodik also said that Russia has stabilised after the sanctions, which is clear to all, including those in the west, and that Russia is not “pursuing an aggressive policy in this region”. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr (EURACTIV.rs)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos and Daniel Eck | EURACTIV.com]