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***NOTE: EURACTIV is happy to announce further growth of its Media Network for Europe, thanks to a new partnership with Telex, a leading Hungarian publication and beacon of fact-based, quality journalism. Telex was launched in 2020 by journalists, editors and product staff who collectively resigned from Index.hu after the ousting of the market-leading site’s editor-in-chief. In a continuously shrinking space for free and responsible media in Europe, Telex represents hope, and EURACTIV is proud to carry their voice throughout its Network.
Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at the story “Under pressure, Borrell hardens towards Russia sanctions” by Alexandra Brzozowski.
The European news you deserve to read. Welcome to The Capitals by EURACTIV.
In today’s news from the Capitals:
China lures CEE countries with trade, vaccine promises. In the next five years, China intends to import more than €140 billion of goods from Central and Eastern European countries (CEE) countries, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday during the “17+1” summit of China and Eastern European countries.
“We need to deepen agricultural cooperation in a bid to double CEE countries’ agricultural exports to China and raise two-way agricultural trade by 50% over the next five years,” he added. Read more.
China is an economic partner but US is an ally, Portuguese FM insists. Portugal’s foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said on Tuesday (10 February) that China is no substitute for the United States, emphasising that Beijing is an economic partner while Washington is an ally. Read the full story.
Eight EU countries have not yet submitted recovery plans to Brussels. Eight EU member states have yet to submit their national recovery and resilience plans to the European Commission to access EU post-crisis funds for COVID-19, while 19 countries have already done so, including Portugal. More
German defence minister lobbies for ‘Bundeswehr of the future’. German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, together with the Bundeswehr’s General Inspector Eberhard Zorn, has presented a report to MPs outlining a proposal to modernise the country’s military. Read more.
French health minister suggests country may never have to lockdown again. “It is possible and desirable that we would never go into lockdown again,” said French Health Minister Olivier Véran, adding that “every week that we go without lockdown is an additional week of freedom for the French.” “For three weeks we have had (on average) 20,000 new cases per day and 3,000 to 3,200 patients in intensive care units. It’s high but stable,” said Véran, noting that “this does not call for national lockdown measures.”
For now, France has refrained from imposing a third lockdown and has relied on a nationwide curfew, which was brought from 8 to 6 pm as of 16 January. (Mathieu Pollet | EURACTIV.fr)
Belgium mulls review of threshold to relax measures. In order to possibly begin to relax COVID-19 measures, Belgian authorities set in December the thresholds of 800 contaminations per day for at least three weeks and 75 hospitalisations per day for one week. Belgium’s federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke has said he is now considering a review of those targets.
“We could perhaps consider reviewing the threshold of 800 contaminations per day. But I remain convinced that the threshold of 75 daily hospitalisations remains an important safety benchmark,” Vandenbroucke said in the Belgian parliament, adding that the advance in the national vaccination campaign has contributed to a more positive assessment. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
UK AND IRELAND
EU likely to request extension to ratify post-Brexit trade deal. The UK expects the EU to ask for a two-month extension to ratify the new post-Brexit trade deal, David Frost, the chief negotiator on the pact, told UK lawmakers on Tuesday. Read more.
Irish DPA under fire over IT delays. The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has come under criticism for consecutive delays in overhauling its IT systems which would allow for more effective GDPR enforcement. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Russia may be tempted to again invent external threat, says Finnish MP. The Kremlin might again be tempted to invent an external threat in an attempt to steer the public’s attention away from societal discontent, Kai Mykkänen, the former foreign minister and current chair of the National Coalition Party’s parliamentary group who worked as a banker in St. Petersburg, told Uusi Suomi in an interview on Monday. Read more.
Italian health institute examines spread of new COVID-variants. The Italian Superior Health Institute (ISS) launched an investigation to estimate the spread in Italy of the new COVID-variants dubbed as the English, Brazilian and South African variants. So far, only 169 positive cases of the English variant or B.1.1.7 have been reported in the country, mostly detected during research initiatives and not through a sweeping analysis.
In other news, the northern region of Veneto has started two negotiations to purchase an additional one million vaccine doses beyond those promised by the national vaccination plan. It is not clear whether these negotiations are allowed by the agreements made with the EU, nor who should materially provide the extra doses. “We must take note that the health of the Venetians comes first,” the region’s president, Luca Zaia, told a press conference.
In other news, prime minister-designate Mario Draghi will conclude his consultations to form a government on Wednesday. For now, all parties but for the right-wing nationalist Brothers of Italy have confirmed their support for the new PM. (Daniele Lettig | EURACTIV.it)
Spanish government mulls new measures to prevent bankruptcies. The Spanish government is mulling additional economic measures to ease the difficult situation facing thousands of companies badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the hotel, restaurant, and catering (HORECA) sectors. Read the full story.
Portugal to support business and employment from COVID-effects at whatever cost. The measures to support business and employment from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue for as long as the pandemic lasts, “whatever the cost”, Finance Minister João Leão told parliament on Tuesday. Read more.
Athens to go into stricter lockdown, announced Greek PM. Athens and the wider area of Attica, where half of the country’s population lives, will go into a stricter lockdown, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday night. Read more.
V4 as a catalyst of regional cooperation. The V4 is “a significant, if not the most significant, catalyst of regional cooperation in Central Europe,” which “has contributed to cooperation and processes concerning EU and NATO policies,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told V4 heads of state who gathered in Jurata, Poland to celebrate the bloc’s 30th anniversary. Together with his counterparts Miloš Zeman, Zuzana Čaputová, and János Áder, he unveiled a monument commemorating the foundation of the Visegrad Group.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated the V4 “on 30 years of partnership that has strengthened security in the heart of Europe and beyond,” called his country and V4 states “unwavering allies”, and expressed hope for good cooperation. (Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl)
Czech drug expert criticises Commission’s tobacco-free Europe plan. The European Commission’s plan for a tobacco-free Europe by 2040, which envisages a stricter regulation of e-cigarettes and other alternatives, has been criticised by Czech anti-drug policy expert and founder of the Institute for Rational Addiction Policies, Jindřich Vobořil. Read more.
Hungarian minister calls Commission reports pushing procurement reform fake news. Gergely Gulyás, the minister in charge of the prime minister’s office, dismissed as fake news press reports based on documents seen by Reuters, according to which the European Commission has told Hungary to reform its public procurement laws to curb “systemic fraud” before billions of euros from the EU pandemic recovery fund become available, state news agency MTI reported on Tuesday. Read more.
BRATISLAVA | SKOPJE
Slovak FM praises Skopje for reforms needed to start EU access talks. North Macedonia has made extraordinary progress in good neighbourly relations, as well as in the reforms needed to start EU accession talks, visiting Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Ivan Korčok told his hosts, President Stevo Pendarovski and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, in Skopje. The visit is part of his Western Balkan tour of Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Many Bulgarian parents against their children being tested for COVID-19. Parents of children in schools and kindergartens have opposed the idea of testing their kids for COVID-19 using antigen tests after they were asked by the Bulgarian authorities to fill in a questionnaire checking their attitude towards testing. Read more.
Extracting Black Sea gas cannot start sooner than 2024. Romania needs to change the offshore law before operators can start exploiting the natural gas resources found in the Black Sea, said energy minister Virgil Popescu. ”Extracting gas from the Black Sea cannot start earlier than 2024-2025,” Popescu told a TV news station. He said the government coalition aims to modify the legislation on offshore exploitation to make investments more attractive, but operators could only start planning after the law change. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)
Macron accepts Pahor’s invitation to Brdo-Brijuni summit. French President Emmanuel Macron officially accepted an invitation to the Brdo-Brijuni process summit to be hosted by the Slovenian and Croatian presidents in Slovenia this spring, and confirmed this in a letter to Slovenian President Borut Pahor. While the summit’s exact date has not yet been set due to the pandemic, Pahor said he plans to convene the summit as soon as the opportunity arises, which would probably be in March or April. The Brdo-Brijuni process is a joint Slovenian-Croatian initiative that Pahor, who was prime minister in 2010, designed to strengthen mutual trust and help Western Balkan countries on their European path. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
The UK and Serbia are still discussing a bilateral trade agreement, which was postponed due to the the coronavirus pandemic and parliamentary elections in Serbia, British Ambassador to Serbia Sian MacLeod said on Tuesday, adding that her country wanted a fast partnership agreement with Serbia in this area.
The agreement’s draft version is based on the existing Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Serbia and the EU. According to MacLeod, the draft agreement contained no surprises and Serbia has not been asked to take on any new obligations, the British Embassy has said. However, a fast agreement on a future trade partnership with Serbia is in the interest of businesses, companies, and consumers in both countries, said the UK Ambassador, adding that after Brexit, the UK had acted quickly to set up bilateral agreements with partner countries, where trade was previously regulated through agreements between these countries and the EU. (EURACTIV.rs | betabriefing.com)
BiH High Representative, EU, US, UK, OSCE urge repeat of Mostar Mayor vote. The voting process for the mayor of the southern Bosnian City of Mostar must be secret, meaning the City Council needs to repeat the vote, the OSCE Mission to BiH, the EU Delegation/EU Special Representative, the UK, and US Embassies, and the Office of the High Representative said Tuesday in a joint statement, N1 reported. This comes after High Representative Valentin Inzko decided that the process of electing the mayor in Mostar’s City Council should be conducted through a secret vote and the first round of voting annulled.
The Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) does not share that opinion and informed N1 that the High Representative’s decision on secret voting “is problematic and a cause for concern”. A Serb member of Mostar City Council said that “it was in the highest interest of the Serbian community to support Mario Kordić (Croatian candidate) and be part of the newly formed city government.” (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Erdogan: You betrayed me! Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes Kosovo has betrayed both him and the Muslim world by promising Israel it would open an embassy in Israel – an issue which has been fiercely criticised in Turkey – Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported. Kosovo is the first Muslim-majority country that has announced plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]