Czech PM slams EU Commission auditors as ‘mafia’

The auditors found that Babiš still controls Agrofert, meaning Czechia should pay back subsidies worth more than €10 million. [EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK]

The Capitals brings you the latest news from across Europe, through on-the-ground reporting by EURACTIV’s media network. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at the article “MEP: EU Council is ‘obliged’ to introduce democracy conditionality with Turkey,” by Alexandra Brzozowski.

Also read the story “EU Parliament to lift immunity of convicted Greek neo-Nazi MEP“, by Sarantis Michalopoulos.

**NOTE: Check out our new service “The Agenda”, at the bottom of the newsletter keeping you updated about developments across Europe.


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In today’s news from the Capitals:

PRAGUE

Babiš calls EU Commission auditors ‘mafia’ for confirming conflict of interest. The European Commission’s final audit report regarding the conflict of interest allegations levelled against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš on Friday has triggered a heated reaction from the PM himself. Read more.


EU PRESIDENCY 

EU leaders urged to commit to ending homelessness by 2030 at Porto Social summit. More than a hundred European personalities urged several European leaders in an open letter published Friday to commit to ending homelessness in the EU by 2030 when they meet at the Porto Social Summit which is set to take place on 7 May. Read more.


BERLIN

German election campaign heats up with attacks and accusations. Germany’s finance minister and Social Democrat chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz has attacked the Green candidate Annalena Baerbock for lacking political experience, describing himself as better placed to lead Europe’s largest economy. Read more.

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BRUSSELS

Belgium eases lockdown. From Monday, outdoor gatherings of a maximum of 10 people are allowed in Belgium, shops will again be accessible without an appointment, non-medical contact professions will be allowed to resume their activities and the event and culture sector will be able to run test events. An overview of the relaxations agreed for the next few weeks can be found here. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)

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PARIS

French justice minister to present bill to address ‘legal vacuum’. French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti has said his government will present a bill aimed at filling the “legal vacuum” that was left by France’s highest judicial court when it ruled that the alleged killer of 65-year-old Jewish woman Sarah Halimi was not criminally responsible and therefore could not go on trial.

The alleged perpetrator, who had also consumed cannabis at the time of the events, is now in a psychiatric hospital. While Halimi’s family is seeking to bring the case before the courts in Israel, more than 26,000 people took to the streets on Sunday, demanding justice for the victim. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.fr)

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LUXEMBOURG | EU INSTITUTIONS

Luxembourg picks candidate for European Public Prosecutor’s Office job. The Grand Duchy’s judicial authorities will be able to present “a first candidate for the post of Deputy Prosecutor” of the two it has committed to appointing, the authorities officially announced on Friday, just a few hours after the deadline for applications had expired. 

The announcement for the second position has been extended again, until 14 May. The country is still looking for a Luxembourg magistrate who is fluent in English and has knowledge of “cross-border crime” and “mutual legal assistance”. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.fr)

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VIENNA

Austria to open up in mid-May. For the first time during this current lockdown, the government gave a concrete date for opening up much of the country. On 19 May, restaurants and bars are supposed to be back in business, until 10 pm. Events will be allowed with up to 1.500 people indoors and 3.000 outdoors. 

The tourism sector, an essential branch of the Austrian economy, will open up. Students will return to schools on 17 May. Business associations have welcomed these steps. The city of Vienna has not yet decided whether they will implement all these steps. (Phillip Grüll, EURACTIV.com)


UK AND IRELAND

LONDON 

UK, Australia on ‘brink’ of agreeing a new trade deal. The UK and Australian trade ministers say that they are on the brink of agreeing a new trade deal. Read more.

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DUBLIN 

Irish PM accuses Sinn Fein of ‘flailing about’ with voter database. Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin has accused Sinn Féin of “covering their tracks” and “flailing about” after party leader Mary Lou McDonald admitted it was in breach of privacy legislation. Read more.


NORDICS AND BALTICS

HELSINKI

Finland’s centre-left coalition on brink of collapse. The future of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s (SDP) five-party government was hanging in the balance Sunday evening, after last week’s mid-term policy review session and negotiations on the 2022–2025 budget brought the centre-left coalition to the brink of collapse. Read more.


EUROPE’S SOUTH

ATHENS

Another Greek journalist under death threat. The publisher of the newspaper Documento, Costas Vaxevanis, has said on social media there is a death contract out against him. More.

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ROME

Italy celebrates Liberation day. “In honouring the memory of those who fought for freedom, we must also remember that we, Italians, were not all ‘good people’,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Sunday, the day Italy celebrated its 76th anniversary since 1946, the year it the Italian Civil War and Nazi occupation ended. More

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MADRID

Spain to send draft national recovery plan to Brussels this week. The Spanish government has said it expects to send the draft of its national recovery plan to the European Commission this week ahead of the official Friday deadline, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports. Read the full story. 

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NICOSIA

‘Common ground’ elusive as Cyprus rivals head to Geneva. Four years after their last peace talks failed, rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders meet in Geneva next week to explore elusive “common ground” on the divided Mediterranean island. Read more.


VISEGRAD

WARSAW

Main opposition party wants to fix Polish foreign policy. Poland’s largest opposition party Civic Platform (PO) has presented a foreign policy programme called ‘Safe Poland’ at a Warsaw conference by PO leader Borys Budka and former Foreign Minister and now-MEP Radosław Sikorski. Read more.

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BRATISLAVA

Almost one million Slovaks already got their first COVID-19 shot. Almost one million people in Slovakia are now vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one shot, though only 56% of people over 70 are currently vaccinated, which put Slovakia as one of the EU’s worst performers. According to experts, Slovakia should improve the way it advertises the vaccination process to better target the elderly by using leaflets or TV, for example. To help with the vaccination, the government should also deploy mobile vaccination centres and involve general practitioners. New Health Minister Vladimír Lengvarský already said that his ministry is working with groups representing the pensioners to improve the situation.

 

The news comes just before the planned easing of restrictions are set to come into force. After months of closures, terraces of bars and restaurants, as well as fitness centres that will have to observe strict hygiene measures, will be allowed to open. Conditions for crossing the borders will also change. The government expanded its list of people having to quarantine upon arriving in the country. Cross-border commuters with permanent or temporary residence in the neighbouring state travelling into Slovakia for work will not have to quarantine if they live up to 100 kilometres rather than the previous 30. (Michal Hudec | EURACTIV.sk)


NEWS FROM THE BALKANS

LJUBLJANA 

Blow for Slovenian government as merger of regulators rejected. The Slovenian government has suffered a major defeat in parliament as a much-maligned merger of eight regulators into two mega-agencies was rejected by MPs, raising fresh doubts about its ability to push through tough new laws. Read more.

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SOFIA

Borissov’s party refuses to form a government. The GERB party of Bulgaria’s former prime minister, Boyko Borissov, has refused to form a government, meaning Bulgarian President Rumen Radev must now make a proposal to the second political party in line, the “There is Such a People” party led by former TV presenter Slavi Trifonov. Read more.

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ZAGREB

Croatian President deems national recovery plan ‘insufficiently transparent’. “The recent presentation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan was insufficiently transparent and that is problematic,” Croatian President Zoran Milanović said on Saturday, adding that the public lacks precise information about how the EU funds will be spent.  Read more.

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BELGRADE 

Vučić meets with Lajčak in Brussels. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić began a two-day visit to Brussels on Sunday with a meeting with Miroslav Lajčak, the European Union’s special representative for the Belgrade-Priština dialogue. Read more.

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BELGRADE | PRIŠTINA

Von Cramon: Complaints of interference from Vučić as Kurti votes in Albania. MEP Viola von Cramon said on Sunday that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti voting in Albania’s parliamentary election was unacceptable. “On the one hand, everyone in Kosovo complains about interference from Serbia or from President [Aleksandar Vučić] himself but on the other hand, the prime minister of Kosovo even votes in a neighbouring state. Not acceptable. At least not for me,” tweeted Von Cramon, who is the Parliament’s rapporteur for Kosovo.

Earlier, Kurti Tweeted that he had exercised his right as a dual citizen to vote in Albania, and urged people to vote. “As prime minister, I will increase and intensify cooperation with whoever wins the elections,” Kurti tweeted. (EURACTIV.rs | betabriefing.com)

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PODGORICA 

Montenegro opens borders for tourists from Eastern Europe. Following a further drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases, Montenegrin health authorities decided on Friday to additionally relax pandemic measures and let tourists from Eastern Europe enter the country without any restrictions. Nationals of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have been allowed to enter Montenegro as of Saturday without a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination, and the same conditions will apply to citizens from countries in the region. 

Visitors from other countries will have to have a negative PCR test or proof that they have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at least seven days before entering Montenegro. After the collapse of last year’s tourist season, Montenegro’s government this year expects €600 million in tourism revenue, which is 60% of the revenue earned in 2019, the country’s most successful tourist season so far. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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TIRANA

Albania’s Socialist Party an election winner, exit polls show. Albania’s Socialist Party (PS) is projected to have won the country’s parliamentary election with 46.9% of the vote, translating to 71 seats in parliament. The opposition Democratic Party (DP) has won 43,5% of the vote, translating to 63 seats, according to the exit polls published by Top Channel TVRead more.


CALENDAR

  • FRANCE: French President Emmanuel Macron will have lunch with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
  • ITALY: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to explain contents of the Italian recovery plan to the Chamber of Deputies.
  • SPAIN: Tone and “political temperature” keeps rising in the campaign for Madrid’s regional election to be held on 4 May after poll said a left-wing alliance between governing parties PSOE and Unidas Podemos together with Mas Madrid could defeat Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Madrid’s current regional leader and candidate for centre-right Popular Party (PP).
  • PORTUGAL: Portuguese EU Council presidency to hold another CAP debate on Monday to reach a political agreement with the Parliament in May, for which a ‘super-trilogue’ has, according to a parliamentary source, been scheduled for 25-26 May.
  • POLAND: Polish President Andrzej Duda is set to receive Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine
  • CZECHIA: Czechia to launch the Modernisation Fund, a new EU instrument that has been developed to help the decarbonisation of the bloc’s 10 lower-income countries. 
  • BULGARIA: Bulgarian parliament continues to debate electoral reform in view of expanding opportunities for Bulgarians voting from abroad 
  • CROATIA: While Croatian Sea, Transport and Infrastructure Minister, Oleg Butković will visit the works on modernisation and reconstruction of ports in Dubrovnik-Neretva County, Labour, Pension, Family and Social Policy Minister Josip Aladrović, together with Justice and Administration Minister Ivan Malenica will present a plan for improving the country’s social welfare system. 
  • SLOVENIA: Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde will meet with Foreign Minister Anže Logar and President Borut Pahor in Ljubljana and are expected to discuss Slovenia’s upcoming EU Council presidency.

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Paula Kenny, Zoran Radosavljevic, Josie Le Blond]

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