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Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at how Mediterranean fishermen are exploring new ways to improve their income via tourism, as well as Denmark’s decision to clear a major hurdle for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
PRAGUE. EURACTIV.cz’s partner Aktuálně.cz has reported that the Chinese embassy in Prague financed a study course at the most prestigious university of the country, the Charles University.
The aim of the course was to inform the students about the Belt and Road Initiative, but external experts criticised it for being propaganda.
Milos Balaban, who was in charge of the university’s Czech-Chinese centre, and taught the course describing the benefits of the New Silk Road, said that the course was initially planned for social sciences students and had fewer places on offer.
“But the interest of the Czech youth in understanding China exceeded my expectations. The students were very excited and eventually, we raised the number to 30,” Balaban said last year, adding that the Chinese project does not only belong to China, but it’s a “symphony” of many countries.
The Chinese embassy also paid for a trip to China for those students who achieved the best results on the course.
The information comes just a few days after Aktuálně.cz reported that the Chinese embassy provided €50.000 for a conference organised by Balaban under the patronage of Tomáš Zima, rector of the Charles University.
Balaban resigned from his position after Aktuálně.cz revealed this information.
The relations between China and the Czech Republic escalated after the mayor of Prague opposed the inclusion in a sister-city deal of a “One China” provision, stating that Taiwan is part of China. Beijing then cancelled the sister-city agreement, as well as a Prague Philharmonic tour.
Zdeněk Hřib is Prague’s first mayor to come from the Pirate Party. And due to his opposition to the growing Chinese influence in the country, he has already drawn the attention of international media.
During his term in office, Czech President Miloš Zeman, who is well known for his positive attitude towards China, has deepened relations with Beijing.
Nevertheless, his pro-China attitude is constantly raising concerns among politicians and society, and the media report about scandals related to Czech-China relations almost on a daily basis.
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Meanwhile, AFP reported yesterday that Belgium denied a Chinese academic a visa and banned him from the EU’s passport-free travel area for eight years after identifying him as a potential threat to national security.
Sources told AFP that Song Xinning, the head of the Confucius Institute at the VUB university in Brussels, which is backed by the Chinese government, came to the attention of Belgium’s VSSE intelligence agency for “damaging national security”, the sources said.
“The expulsion of Song comes amid growing concerns about Beijing’s clandestine activities in Europe, with debate raging about the role of Chinese tech firm Huawei in future 5G telecoms infrastructure,” AFP commented.
(Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz, AFP)
The federal government can expect €4 billion more in tax revenues this year than initially expected, according to forecast figures published of the Federal Ministry of Finance in Berlin. In the coming years, however, the federal, state and local governments will have less money available than predicted in the previous forecast in May, the ministry said. This year’s tax surplus results from a so-called estimate deviation of €1.4 billion due to a solid domestic economy. Following this surplus, Germany’s EU contribution is now expected to be at €2.6 billion. (Claire Stam | EURACTIV.de)
A broad range of coalition options. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) would clearly win the 10 November elections with 32.2% of the votes and obtain between 133 and 150 seats in the parliament), according to a poll conducted by the public Center for Sociological Research (CIS). This will allow it to reach an agreement with leftist Unidas Podemos (United We Can, UP) on a hypothetical “coalition” PSOE-UP executive, EFE reported.
However, the poll was conducted before Spain’s Supreme Court ruling (14 October), which sentenced nine Catalan pro-independence politicians and separatists to between nine to thirteen years in jail for their role in the banned 2017 independence referendum.
Opposition parties, mainly the conservative Partido Popular (Popular Party), centrist-liberal Ciudadanos (Citizens) and far-right VOX, fiercely criticised the outcome of the CIS-poll saying it was “too optimistic” when it comes to the predictions for PSOE, compared to other polls.
In the most favourable scenario for caretaker socialist PM Pedro Sánchez, PSOE would be forced to forge an absolute majority with Podemos, but the CIS leaves other options open for Sánchez to form a coalition government, including with Citizens, with which it could reach the required minimum level of 176 seats to have an absolute majority. (EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)
Rudd: Johnson ‘asked me’ to stand. Exiled ex-Conservative MP Amber Rudd said on Wednesday (30 October) that Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked her to stand in the upcoming UK general election, contradicting claims made by Downing Street. Following Rudd’s statement on Wednesday morning that she would not be defending her Hastings and Rye seat in forthcoming December election, an earlier letter from the Chief Whip Mark Spencer to Rudd was leaked to the press. Rudd had previously stood down from the Conservative Party in September.
“When you surrendered the Conservative Party whip and resigned from the Cabinet just eight weeks ago, you were clear that you did not support the approach of the Prime Minister and did not have confidence in him”, the letter read. “You have failed to provide me with assurances that you will not change your mind once more.” (Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com)
Italian WeChat. Luigi Marattin, a lawmaker from Renzi’s party Italia Viva, is preparing a draft law requiring a valid ID in order to open a social media account. The proposal is meant to reduce hate speech and fake news but stirred debate across Italy.
Marattin said he’s in contact with the best experts in the sector to draft the law and that an external certification mechanism will guarantee that personal data would not be transferred to the social platform. “Through the internet, democracies are constantly manipulated and distorted,” he said.
But the idea baffled some specialists, who branded the proposal as useless since it is already possible to find out who people are online through their IP address. Besides, such a measure will affect the right to anonymity and freedom of expression, as well as create imbalances with users from different countries, according to the experts. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Tusk for president? The largest opposition Civic Platform (PO/EPP) party, will have primaries to select its candidate for president in the elections due in May 2020.
According to Civic Platform’s leader, Grzegorz Schetyna, current EU Council President and former Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, would be most welcome to run for president if he decided to return to Polish politics. “I think there will be nobody in the party standing against him,” Schetyna said, adding that Tusk will have to decide in November.
But Tusk will probably become the head of the EPP in late November, which is a position that cannot be held while being Poland’s president. Besides, before Tusk left Poland to become the president of the EU Council, Schetyna was his rival, and now it’s uncertain whether Tusk will be willing to come back and become the head of the opposition in Poland, which would mean diminishing Schetyna’s role.
That is why, Schetyna has promoted Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska to play a leading role in the electoral campaign and now signals that she could run for president, too. Analysts see her as Schetyna’s proxy candidate against Tusk. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
Mečiar’s comeback. Former Slovak PM Vladimír Mečiar has announced his comeback into politics with a party called Slovak league. Mečiar was Slovak PM for most of the 1990s, and was, together with Czech PM Václav Klaus, behind the breakup of Czechoslovakia. It was under his leadership that the country had been almost left out from the big EU Eastern enlargement, which took place in 2004.
Madeleine Albright, former US State Secretary, has called Slovakia under Mečiar the “black hole” of Europe. After the 1998 elections, Mečiar was ousted as PM. “We will do everything to stop the breakdown of society and return dignity to its life,” the 77 years old ex-PM was quoted as saying referring to his current activities. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
The Eurozone waiting room. The European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) gives a positive assessment of Bulgaria’s accession to the Banking Union and the so-called Eurozone waiting room (ERM II). In a letter to the European Commission, it gives a positive assessment of the fulfilment of Bulgaria’s commitments regarding the nonbank financial sector, while pointing out that concerns about the sustainability of the Bulgarian insurance sector remain.
Bulgaria’s application has to be approved by the European Central Bank, which has to evaluate the implementation of the follow-up measures after its assessment of the banking sector. It took place in the first half of the year when capital shortages in two banks were identified.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov announced on Wednesday (30 October) that Bulgaria’s accession to the EU Banking Union and the Eurozone waiting room should take place on the same day. There is a chance that this will happen on 30 April.
In June 2018, the Bulgarian government agreed to fulfil several requirements before the admission to the ERMII. A month later, Bulgaria received a promise from EU leaders to join ERMII and the EU Banking Union if it fulfilled the conditions. According to the timetable, which Bulgaria then set for itself, this should happen by July 2019, but now there is a new deadline.
The six conditions for Bulgaria are accession to the Banking Union, strengthening banking supervision, strengthening control over the entire financial sector, combating money laundering, improving the management of state-owned enterprises and regulating bankruptcy procedures. (Dnevnik.bg)
Hungary vetoes NATO declaration on Ukraine. Hours before a Russian state visit to Budapest on Wednesday (30 October), Hungary vetoed a joint NATO statement about Ukraine because it did not mention the “deprivation of rights” of the Hungarian minority in the neighbouring country’s Transcarpathia region.
“Hungary won’t surrender the Transcarpathian Hungarian community to geopolitics,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó announced after Budapest refused to approve the NATO Ambassadors statement.
EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski has the story: Hungary blocks NATO statement on Ukraine over minority rights row
Defending cooperation with Putin. Hungary’s nationalist PM Viktor Orbán defended his cooperation with Russia after trade and energy talks with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (30 October). He said that cooperation with Russia would be a win-win for all, including for the EU and NATO. “Hungary is a NATO and EU member and will stay so, but that does not exclude that in certain questions we engage in cooperation with Russia,” AFP quoted him as saying.
Opposition raid. While Putin and Orbán were celebrating the deepening of relations between their countries, the Hungarian National Tax and Customs Administration raided Momentum Movement’s headquarters looking for evidence of illegal campaign finance practices. Momentum Movement is a member of the Renew Europe group and obtained two seats in the European Parliament in the May elections. Although details of the ongoing investigation are currently unavailable, it is probably linked to the audit issues the party had been facing last year, which resulted in a temporary suspension of state budgetary support. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com )
Romania commemorates nightclub fire victims: Wednesday (30 October) was an emotional day in Romania, as the country commemorated four years since the deadly blaze that killed 64 people and injured 147 others in the Colectiv nightclub. Four years after the tragedy, no one was found guilty for the fire that broke out during a rock concert, as the trial faced repeated delays, and the country is still ill-equipped for a similar disaster.
Budget deficit widens. Romania’s consolidated budget posted a GDP deficit of 2.6% in the first nine months of 2019, compared to the 1.8% deficit in the same period of 2018. The European Commission warned that Romania could see its budget gap slipping above the 3% GDP limit this year, but the current government pledged it would keep it under control. However, that government was dismissed following a no-confidence vote, and the new cabinet might have a challenging task ahead of a pension increase due in September. (EURACTIV.ro)
The crisis with meat from Austria impacted Slovenia. The number of Slovenian companies, which, after a recommendation of the Food Safety Agency, withdrew their meat products from the market for preventive reasons, suspecting that they may have come from a controversial slaughterhouse near Leibnitz in Austria, is increasing.
Janez Posedi, director of the Food Safety Agency, said some meat products are withdrawn in Slovenia for preventive reasons, but that this does not mean that they are dangerous to health. In doing so, the Slovenian authorities rely on the opinion of their Austrian counterparts, Posedi said. The problem is that all the meat from the controversial Austrian slaughterhouse delivered in the period from 17 September to 22 October, some of which ended in Slovenia. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Croatia’s EU Presidency priorities. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković unveiled the trappings of his country’s debut EU presidency on Wednesday (30 October), confirming what priorities will feature during the youngest EU member’s six months at the helm of the European Council. At a conference in Zagreb, Plenković (EPP) said that Croatia’s presidency stint would focus on a “Europe that develops, Europe that connects, Europe that protects and Europe that is influential”.
Dubravka Šuica, elected vice president of EU Commission for Democracy and Demography, said that in the first six months of her term she intends to detect the main reasons for emigration from rural areas to urban centres. “A long-term vision for rural areas is necessary,” she said.
EURACTIV Croatia’s Zeljko Trkanjec has the story: Croatia unveils look and feel of next year’s EU presidency
Rise of renewables. In the course of 2018 and 2019, Serbia saw the launch of facilities generating 400 MW of electricity from renewable sources, which, according to Energy Minister Aleksandar Antić, makes Serbia a leader in the region. Antić said renewable sources yield 500 MW in total and that Serbia is close to achieving the goal of obtaining 27% of electricity from those sources by 2020. (EURACTIV.rs)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]