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In today’s news from the Capitals:
The Office of Czech President Miloš Zeman, who faces domestic challenges over his ties to Russia, will stop providing information to several investigative media outlets, including public broadcaster Czech Television, Respekt, server Seznam Zprávy and daily Deník N. Read more.
Belarus ‘state terrorism’ suddenly tops the agenda as EU leaders meet. Belarus forced a passenger plane carrying a wanted opposition activist to divert and land in its capital, provoking a furious outcry from world leaders who described it as an “act of state terrorism” ahead of an EU summit Monday (24 May) expected to toughen sanctions on Minsk. More.
Laschet not considered a promising candidate ‘even within own ranks’. Chancellor candidate for the German Conservative bloc, Armin Laschet, does not enjoy the confidence of his own party, a high ranking member of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) told EURACTIV Germany. Read more.
Germany’s Scholz proposes ‘climate club’ to avoid trade friction. Germany wants the European Union to create a “climate club” with other countries like the United States, Japan and possibly even China to avoid trade friction linked to green tariffs such as a planned carbon border levy. Read the full story.
French Constitutional Court strikes down part of regional languages bill. France’s highest legal entity on Friday struck down two key articles of the regional languages bill one month before regional elections are set to start. The two articles concerned immersive teaching in regional languages in public schools and the use of diacritical marks in civil status documents, such as the tilde (“ñ”) used in the Basque language.
The bill, which has been dubbed historic, was approved by the National Assembly on 8 April and referred to the Constitutional Court a few hours before its promulgation on 22 April by 61 majority MPs, most of whom had voted in favour of the text and against the group’s and government’s official position. The Association of French Regions wrote in a press release that it considers the court’s decision to be “incomprehensible”, adding that “they will support all initiatives to change our Constitution”. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.fr)
Austria’s coalition partners disagree on lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Following the announcement of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Friday to “lower the security standards that are still in place right now”, its coalition partner, the Greens criticised the move for not being in line with agreed-upon procedures and for not have been informed of such plans. “I wonder who is benefiting from additional steps to ease restrictions after we have just made a big step in easing them 48 hours ago.” Green Health Minister Mückstein tweeted on Saturday. Mückstein also contradicted the chancellor’s plan to end the obligation to wear masks in public transport by June, announcing in an interview that it will remain mandatory until spring 2022.
Frictions between the two unlikely coalition partners have steadily increased after the conservative ÖVP was hit by a series of scandals in recent month, tensions political observers have speculated could lead to snap elections. (Oliver Noyan | EURACTIV.de)
UK AND IRELAND
UK set to offer unfettered access to meat imports in Australia trade pact. The United Kingdom is expected to sign an ambitious liberalising trade pact with Australia, its first major new trade deal since leaving the EU, following a row between ministers on whether to open up the UK market to meat imports. Read more.
France warns UK not to ‘play’ with Northern Ireland Brexit deal. France’s European affairs minister warned Britain not to play games with special post-Brexit trading rules for Northern Ireland, as fears rise of a summer of violence in the province. More.
Future DUP leader offers solution to NI protocol. Incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots has proposed a solution to the Northern Ireland protocol which has caused ongoing tension between Unionists and Republicans in Northern Ireland recently, the Irish Times has reported. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
HELSINKI | TALLINN | BUDAPEST| MOSCOW
World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples accused of criticising Russia. The eighth World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples set to be held from 16 to 18 June in Tartu, Estonia has been accused of unfounded criticism towards Russia, a patronising and arrogant attitude and interfering with Russia’s internal affairs by the Association of the Finno-Ugric Peoples of the Russian Federation, who have said they have withdrawn their participation in the event as a result. Read more.
Lithuania quits ‘divisive’ China 17+1 group. Lithuania said on Saturday (22 May) it was quitting China’s 17+1 cooperation forum with central and eastern European states that includes other EU members, calling it “divisive”. More.
Cable car accident in Piedmont causes 14 deaths. The cabin of a cable car connecting the city of Stresa with Mount Mottarone on Lake Maggiore, 90 kilometres northwest of Milan, plummeted to earth on Sunday, causing the death of 14 people, including a British tourist. Read more.
Spain lifts travel restrictions for UK, Japan hoping to salvage summer. Spain has from Monday (24 May) lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions for citizens of 10 low-risk countries, including the UK and Japan, in a bid to jump-start its pandemic-stricken tourism sector in time for the summer season. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.
Former PM: System of informers operating in Slovakia to eliminate opposition. The current governing coalition has created a system of informers to liquidate the opposition, former Prime Minister Robert Fico said at a press conference on Sunday, after revealing that this was the main topic of the secret meeting with top constitutional officials at the headquarters of the Slovak Secret Service (SIS) last week. Read more.
Hungary scores just under EU average in MNB Sustainability Index. Hungary scored just under the European Union average in the Sustainability Index of the National Bank of Hungary (MNB), a gauge of 108 objective indicators compiled for the central bank’s debut Sustainability Report published on its website this week. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Austria, Czechia, Slovenia support start of North Macedonia’s EU membership talks. The foreign ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia voiced unanimous support on Saturday for North Macedonia and Albania to start EU membership talks, arguing that bilateral issues should not block the EU’s enlargement into the Western Balkans. Read more.
Bulgarian finance minister suspects companies’ billions goes to corruption. Companies holding billions in cash rather than in banks are probably using this resource for “corruption and vote-buying”, caretaker Bulgarian Finance Minister Asen Vassilev told national radio in an interview on Sunday, adding that an investigation is currently being carried to see whether the cash companies have said they have is there. Read more.
In other news, caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev confirmed that opposition politicians including himself were wiretapped before the parliamentary elections in April.
This was denied by GERB, the party of ex-prime minister Boyko Borissov, and that this was an attempt at manipulating the early elections set for July. The former ruling party won a majority in parliament in the elections in April but were short of being able to form a government. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Romania to announce new COVID-19 relaxation measures. The Romanian government will soon announce new measures to relax COVID-19 measures, Prime Minister Florin Citu has announced.
Authorities said some more restrictions could be lifted on 1 June, after the loosening of measures were announced on 15 May. COVID-19 cases keep decreasing, but the vaccination rate has not picked up the way the government hoped. However, Citu said that new measures to boost the vaccination campaign will also be announced soon. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)
Credit agency gives positive economic growth projection to Croatia. Credit agency Fitch Ratings on Friday affirmed Croatia’s rating at ‘BBB-‘, with a stable outlook, highlighting big short-term risks related to the pandemic as well as the medium-term outlook for economic growth thanks to the EU’s financial support.
Fitch also upgraded the projection for Croatia’s economic growth in 2021 from 3.8% to 5.5%, forecasting GDP growth to accelerate to 6.1% in 2022. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Serbian president: Bulgarian minority is ‘bridge’ between Serbia, Bulgaria. The Bulgarian minority in Serbia should be “a bridge of friendship between Serbia and Bulgaria,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said in Dimitrovgrad in southeastern Serbia on Sunday. Read more.
BiH parties criticise Croatian Foreign Minister Grlić Radman. Croatian Foreign Minister Grlić Radman has come under fire from BiH party Naša Stranka (Our Party) for his comments in support of ethnic Croats in the country. Read more.
Kosovo officials want UNESCO to remove four orthodox monasteries from danger list. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, President Vjosa Osmani and Kosovo Assembly Speaker Glauk Konjufca have sent a letter to UNESCO asking for four Serbian Orthodox Church monasteries to be removed from its List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. Read more.
In other news, Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani tweeted that “while Kosovo & other countries in the region are participating in the joint military exercises with the US Army (#Defender21), Serbia is bolstering the Kremlin’s influence and destabilising the region by organising a joint exercise with the Russian military.”
Russia and Serbia are conducting joint exercises at the same time, while Moscow donated 30 tanks and as many armoured vehicles to Serbia. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
EU Ambassador urges Albanian prosecutors to ‘follow the money’. EU Ambassador to Albania, Luigi Soreca, has encouraged Albanian prosecutors and judges to “follow the money” in their investigations and cases, exit.al reported. Read more.
- Greece: Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will be in Sochi on Monday, where he will meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss bilateral issues. Kathimerini reported that in view of this, Mitsotakis met Dendias on Friday to coordinate their stance so as to avoid possible misunderstandings regarding the signal that Athens can send at this stage considering the fragile relations between the West and Russia.
- Spain: Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, and the newly elected pro-independence regional president of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, will restart the bilateral dialogue.
- Poland: President Andrzej Duda’s will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as part of his visit to Turkey.
- Croatia: The Society for Information, Communication and Electronic Technology (MIPRO) organising the “Blockchain Technology for Circular Economy” forum.
- Serbia: Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic to meet with Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, who is currently chairing the OSCE, at Serbia Palace.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Paula Kenny, Josie Le Blond]