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 an interview with Professor John Nolan who says the new European Commission should focus on the outcomes of diabetes. Today, we celebrate World Diabetes Day (14 November).
The European Commission should consider lessons learned for when they set up any future “voluntary” relocation mechanism, as the current emergency relocation schemes did not reach their targets, the EU Court of Auditors (ECA) said diplomatically in a report.
“They only partially achieved their main objective of alleviating pressure on Greece and Italy,” the auditors added.
Leo Brincat, the ECA member responsible for the report, told EURACTIV that now is the ideal time to step up action and put the house in order. “There is no room for complacency, but there is much room for improvement.”
Concerning the initial target of 160,000 migrants, the ECA said that EU countries legally agreed to relocate 98,256 but ultimately only 34,705 (21,999 from Greece and 12,706 from Italy) were relocated. Read also: Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland ‘breached EU law’ by refusing refugees
“On the positive side, the European Commission and the EU asylum support and coast guard agencies have addressed the needs identified in both Greece and Italy as regards the hotspots, as well as relocation, return and asylum of migrants. EU support was relevant,” Brincat added.
ECA also had a few words to say on the EU coast guard agency (Frontex). The auditors noted that Frontex had actually deployed more staff than needed to the Italian hotspots, which were found to be empty or almost empty. The EU Parliament mandated ECA to follow-up on a 2017 report focused on hotspots.
Meanwhile, the Belgian parliament’s foreign relations committee approved a resolution, put forward by the Greens (Ecolo-Groen) and supported by a broad range of political parties, which calls on the Belgian government to participate in the distribution mechanism of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.
The resolution urges Belgium to support the Italian plan of distribution of rescued migrants and the so-called ‘Malta’ agreement. Belgium’s interior minister, Maggie De Block (Flemish Liberals, VLD), sidelined by the non-binding resolution, said after its passing that “it will be up to the next government to take such a decision if any”. The previous Michel government fell after the exit of Flemish nationalist N-VA over the PM’s approval of the UN migration pact in December 2018. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
Read the full story: Asylum-seekers in Greece, Italy hotspots face ‘years of limbo’
Parliament dismisses AfD chairman. For the first time in its history, the German Bundestag has dismissed one of its members as committee chair. Far-right AfD politician Stephan Brandner was voted out on Wednesday (13 November) by a majority of the members of the Committee on Legal Affairs due to accusations of anti-Semitism. Brandner is a known controversial figure and has repeatedly caused resentment among his committee fellows.
The latest incident occurred when Udo Lindenberg, a renowned musician in Germany, received the Federal Cross of Merit, which Brandner described as “Judaslohn” (a very negative German expression literally translating into “judas wage”).
“Brandner’s dismissal is a clear sign against agitation and hatred – we are giving the office back its dignity”, said Jan-Marco Luczak, deputy spokesman for the legal policy department of the CDU parliamentary group. Brandner commented: “I said my opinion once and the job was gone”.
Tesla is coming to Berlin. On Tuesday night (12 November), the company’s founder, Elon Musk, announced that Tesla would be building its first European Gigafactory just outside Berlin near the still-to-be-completed Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. The factory is set to produce batteries, powertrains, and vehicles, and Bild estimates that it will create around 10,000 jobs. Read more
(Sarah Lawton and Florence Schulz | EURACTIV.de)
A resoundingly progressive government. Spain’s acting socialist PM Pedro Sánchez (PSOE, socialist party) and the leader of leftist Unidas Podemos (United We Can), Pablo Iglesias, disclosed on Wednesday (13 November) details of the future progressive joint executive, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
The future socialist-leftist government will have three vice-presidencies: one on social affairs for Iglesias; an economic one for acting Economy Minister, Nadia Calviño, and one on equality, for acting vice-president, Carmen Calvo.
Socialist sources told EFE that the structure of the new progressive executive has been proposed by PSOE and continues to be conditioned to ongoing negotiations between Sánchez and Iglesias but should allow Sánchez’s investiture to be in place before Christmas.
The two parties signed on Tuesday (12 November) a memorandum proposing what would be Spain’s first-ever coalition government following a repeat general election that failed to end a political deadlock and bolstered the far-right.
Sánchez and Iglesias set out the preliminary stages of a four-year deal to run a “progressive” government. “It will be a resoundingly progressive government,” Sánchez said in a joint televised speech after signing the memorandum. “Spain needs a stable government, not an interim one”, both said. (EUROEFE.EURACTIV.es)
Smooth sailing for French Commissioner candidate. French President Emmanuel Macron’s new pick, Thierry Breton, will have to convince MEPs that he is fit to take on the industry market and defence industry portfolio during the hearings scheduled for this afternoon (14 November).
After MEPs rejected Macron’s previous pick on ethical grounds, the Atos CEO could just obtain enough votes. As a former conservative minister under the Chirac government, Breton would bode well with the conservatives (EPP). Besides, the demands of the EU Parliament’s other big group, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), have already been met, as the Commission approved the group’s request to scrap the title of the controversial “protection of the European way of life” portfolio, and replace it with “promotion of the European way of life”.
In preparation for today’s hearings, MEPs have already obtained Breton’s responses to their questions, in which the candidate did not reveal much about his programme, insisted on integrity and ensured that he had cut all ties with associations or companies. What is left is for the French candidate to convince the radical left, the Greens and the far-right. (EURACTIV.FR
EURACTIV France’s Aline Robert has the story.
EU, Italy’s problem solver. Italian politicians are trying to fix two issues currently affecting the country by asking for the EU’s direct intervention. Minister of South Giuseppe Provenzano addressed the problem of troubled steelmaker Ilva in Taranto in two meetings he had with Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans and incoming Cohesion Commissioner Elisa Ferreira.
Steel giant ArcelorMittal called off the purchase of Ilva, putting at risk the environmental conversion of the pollutant plant in Taranto that the Franco-Indian group promised. Italy’s government is willing to propose to Ursula von der Leyen to also include the steel sector in the EU regional fund, which the Commission president-elect wants to allocate for the environmental conversion of coal plants in Eastern Europe, Huffpost Italy reported.
Meanwhile, Venice is still struggling with the worst flooding the city has seen since 1966. The iconic Lagoon was hit by tides up to roughly 2 metres high, a phenomenon commonly known as ‘acqua alta’. According to the mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, hundreds of millions of euros will be needed to fix the city. Right-wing Lega MEPs called on the Commission to make rapidly available extraordinary funds, triggering the new disaster management mechanism called RescEu. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
New title for Schinas. Greek Commissioner Margaritis Schinas will now be responsible for the “promotion” and not the “protection” of the European Way of Life. The progressive political forces (Renew Europe, socialists, Left and Greens) strongly opposed the initial title, accusing the EU executive of an ultra-conservative turn.
“The title still states a deeply conservative, far-right conception, a reactive conception of cultural superiority that we oppose,” leftist Syriza MEP Kostas Arvanitis commented. (Sarantis Michalopoulos, EURACTIV.com)
Intimidation in the Senate? After the opposition narrowly defeated the ruling PiS in the Senate (51 to 48) and elected the Speaker of the chamber from among its ranks, Senator Bogdan Klich (PO) said some opposition senators were tempted, and even intimidated by the ruling party to change sides. According to him, “there were some instances where those senators were threatened that something unfortunate could happen to their businesses or other undertakings”. However, he abstained from giving any names, saying that he leaves any legal action up to particular senators.
Until election night, PiS tried to convince some opposition and independent senators to change party affiliation and secure majority for PiS. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
Former Slovak EIB VP on crucial vote. The EIB ́s board meeting is set to decide today (November 14) on whether to stop financing fossil-fuel projects. There is a risk that the decision will be postponed for December, EIB’s former vice president, Vazil Hudák, told EURACTIV.sk in an interview. “The aim is not to only have a qualified majority but also a sufficiently strong qualified majority. Given the possible Brexit, it would be unpleasant to have this qualified majority reached only thanks to the support of the United Kingdom”, Hudák said. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
On Russian blacklist. Russian Justice Ministry put one of the most popular Czech NGO’s “People in Need”, which is supporting civil society around the world, on the “blacklist” of undesirable organisations. This means that it faces the risk of being sentenced to jail or sanctioned by Russian authorities in case they continue operating in the country.
“For the safety of our Russian partners, we have decided to suspend all activities in Russia temporarily. At the same time, we will continue to stand up for human rights and democratic values in Russia,” said People in Need in a statement.
Foreign Affairs Minister Tomáš Petříček (S&D) said the decision of Russian authorities was absurd and that he would ask the Russian ambassador for an explanation. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
EU aviation tax. Bulgaria has signed the Dutch declaration on aviation. Still, it is too early to say whether it will ultimately lead to an increase in the cost of airline tickets, the Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov said. The minister said this following Bulgarian MEP Radan Kanev’s announcement that Bulgaria is one of the nine EU countries asking for an aviation tax and that such actions “will almost certainly increase the cost of tickets for this type of travel”.
“Bulgaria joined a declaration initiated by the Dutch government stating that aviation, as a business in Europe and globally, generates a huge amount of carbon emissions. The declaration itself appeals to the European Commission to draw up an analysis and propose to the Parliament and to the Council a possible decision to limit or tax the activities of aviation operators in relation to the emissions that this business generates”, the finance minister explained. He added that it was too early for evaluations, especially since it was not known whether the Commission would propose such a decision. (Dnevnik.bg)
One step closer to dictatorship. Amendments to the law governing parliamentary business submitted by ruling party lawmakers “is another step towards ending the parliamentary system and establishing a dictatorship”, the opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) said. Under the proposals, MPs may be banned from the parliament building and the block that houses lawmakers’ offices for several months, making it impossible for them to carry out their work, DK deputy parliamentary group leader Gergely Arató said.
The banned MPs would be able to pass on their right to vote to another lawmaker or, in the case of secret votes, vote in a location designated by the Speaker. MPs may also be deprived of obtaining their salary for a period of up to 12 months. According to ruling Fidesz-Christian Democrats alliance, some lawmakers violated the order of parliamentary sessions. Group leader Máté Kocsis said some from the “wilder” opposition MPs had recently committed “unprecedentedly boorish acts” in parliament, such as preventing the chairman of the session to occupy his seat and disturbing the session.
The amendments also considerably limit the supervisory right of MPs over public institutions. Whereas previously lawmakers could freely inspect or visit any administrative authority or public institution, under the proposed legislation such visits would have to be agreed upon in advance with the government. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr, Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
Unhappy with CVM differentiation. President Klaus Iohannis acknowledged that the criticism in the latest Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report was warranted, after the “catastrophic governing” of the PSD cabinet, which was “clearly against the judiciary and for the politicisation of the justice system”.
The president told journalists that the new justice minister will try to correct the dysfunctionalities, but it will not be easy, and there is a small chance that the CVM will be lifted next year. However, although he admitted Romania’s lack of progress in implementing justice reforms, Iohannis said he was not happy with the differentiation between Romania and Bulgaria, for which the EU Commission said it made enough progress to consider discounting the operations of the CVM.
The CVM is an EU Commission-led mechanism to monitor reforms made with regards to the justice sector and corruption. Although it’s not linked to accession to Schengen, several EU member states including the Netherlands, have indeed linked Schengen accession to major progress under CVM. (EURACTIV.ro)
LJUBLJANA / BUDAPEST
Largest heroin seizure. Police officers in Hungary have seized one of the largest amounts (69.1 kg) of heroin shipment in Budapest. Within the framework of cooperation, Slovenian authorities already seized 661 kg out of the total amount of 730 kg. A police dog found the heroin, whose black-market worth exceeds €87 million.
The cooperation of the two countries’ police authorities found that a criminal group from Hungary had organised the transport of drug containers from Iran via the UAE to the port of Koper. The container was intended for a Hungarian company. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Backing ‘mini Schengen’. Slovenia supports the integration of countries in the Balkans, such as the recent “mini Schengen” deal among North Macedonia, Serbia and Albania. The key for even better cooperation and success is the integration of these countries into the EU as well, said Foreign Minister Miro Cerar. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Croatia asks €586 million from Serbia. When the succession agreement among states of former Yugoslavia was signed in 2001 in Vienna, it was stated that there is €586 million in bank accounts of the former state across the world. According to IMF method of distribution, Croatia was supposed to get €134 million. Serbia later said there was no money. Andrea Metelko Zgombić, Croatian State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, said: “Croatia will insist on detecting how these funds have disappeared”. Serbia had access to those funds. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Serbia’s military neutrality not in question. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said cooperation with NATO is important for Serbia and that Serbia wants it to be even better, but the country’s military neutrality is absolutely not in question. Dačić also said the situation in Kosovo is an important part of cooperation with NATO and that Kosovo is the biggest political and security challenge for Serbia. (EURACTIV.rs)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]