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In today’s news from the Capitals:
BERLIN | DUBLIN | THE HAGUE
EU leaders are puzzled over how to handle delays in the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines produced by Anglo-Swedish pharma company AstraZeneca. The issue will be discussed at a teleconference later this week. But whatever path the EU follows will have its consequences.
According to the draft conclusions seen by EURACTIV, “The European Council underlines the importance of transparency and welcomes the extension of the export authorisation scheme.” Read more.
COVID-positive French labour minister admitted to hospital. French Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne has been hospitalised after she tweeted on 14 March that she had tested positive for COVID-19, her ministry confirmed on Monday. Read more.
Belgian experts call for more drastic measures. With rising infections numbers, Belgian health experts have warned that current restrictions will not be enough to keep the virus under control. Read more.
Luxembourg is looking for its European prosecutors. The Grand Duchy, which hosts the new European institution in charge of handling EU budget fraud cases, announced on Friday that they are now looking for two magistrates who specialise in financial crimes.
The criteria for these positions have been so specific, the government changed the legislation in order to find the right people. The EU prosecutor’s office needs 140 deputy European public prosecutors to start operations, and 33 have so far been appointed. (Anne Damani | EURACTIV.fr)
UK AND IRELAND
UK food exports drop 75% in first month of post-Brexit trade. UK food and drink exports to the EU dropped by 75% in January, the first month of life outside the EU’s single market, according to data published on Monday by the UK’s Food and Drink Federation. Exports to the bloc fell from £1bn in January 2020 to £256.4 million, and by more than 80% to Ireland, Germany and Italy. Read the full story.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Estonian presidential bids announced six months before elections. The Estonian presidential race has begun six months early with Tarmo Soomere, president of the Estonian Academy, announcing his bid for the presidency on Sunday. Read more.
Greece orders private doctors to join battle against COVID. The Greek government has decided to order private doctors to join the fight against COVID-19 as the situation in the region of Athens is getting out of control. More.
Italian government reassessing opening of schools after Easter. After the school protests on Sunday, Equal Opportunities Minister Elena Bonetti said in a television interview on Monday that “after Easter, with the increase in vaccinations, we must reassess the possibility of reopening kindergarten and, at least, the primary school”. Schools and kindergartens are currently closed across Italy in a bid to slow down the increase in COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, while hundreds of AstraZeneca jab waivers are being registered across the country by people who had already booked the vaccination, COVID-19 emergency commissioner Francesco Figliuolo has announced that one million Pfizer vaccines will be delivered to health facilities across the country in the next 24 hours. (Daniele Lettig | EURACTIV.it)
Hungary approves CanSino Chinese jab. China’s CanSino Biologics announced that its COVID-19 vaccine has received an emergency license in Hungary from the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI), Reuters reported on Monday, which was later confirmed by Hungary’s chief medical officer, Cecília Müller. Read more.
Survey shows changes are on the horizon for Polish politics. The Poland 2050 party, which was recently established by journalist Szymon Hołownia, has been gaining an increasing number of voters, nearly enough to rival the current ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), according to a recent survey conducted by Kantar for OKO.press and Wyborcza and published on Friday.
Some 26% of respondents indicated they would vote for the candidate representing the Law and Justice party (PiS), with Poland 2050 a close second with 23%. The Civic Coalition was chosen by 16% of voters, leaving it in third position. The survey shows that PiS is still unable to make up for the 10% loss in support that started in autumn. However, a key change that can significantly reshape the Polish political scene is Poland 2050 overtaking the Civic Coalition in popular support. (Joanna Jakubowska | EURACTIV.pl)
Auditors report finds Czech state was ill-prepared for pandemic. The Czech Supreme Audit Office published a report on Monday saying the Czech health ministry had made numerous mistakes while tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.
Slovak government bans recreational travel for five weeks. Slovakia’s government has imposed a ban on recreational travel abroad from 20 March until 28 April in response to the criticism the government has received due to COVID-19 measures banning travel within the country, but not abroad. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Bulgaria expels two more Russian diplomats. The Bulgarian foreign ministry has declared two Russian diplomats persona non grata and has given them 72 hours to leave the country, the ministry announced on Monday. Read more.
PM wants harsher punishments for people flouting COVID-19 rules. Romanian Prime Minister Florin Citu is calling for tougher measures against those who flout coronavirus rules.
“I don’t want Romanians who observe the rules for more than a year to suffer because of [the ones that do not abide by the restrictions],” the PM said, adding that without people’s collaboration, Romania will not be able to successfully navigate the third pandemic wave regardless of the measures and setting up of new hospital beds. “If we respect the protection measures, the economy will stay open and the hospitals won’t overflow,” Citu added. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)
New tender for Zagreb Deep Sea container terminal in Rijeka. Following a decision on Monday by the Rijeka Port Authority Steering Board, a tender was advertised for a concession for the development and operations at the Zagreb Deep Sea container terminal at the Rijeka Port, the port authorities said on Monday. Read more.
Stopping pandemic in first half of year: key priority for Slovenian government. The government wants to make Slovenia, and especially the health system and other subsystems, resilient for the future, RTV Slovenia reported. Read more.
Serbia’s shopping and food facilities remain closed. The Serbian government decided on Monday to keep the service industry closed, while businesses such as grocery stores, hair salons, cinemas, theatres, libraries, and other cultural institutions may open but must ensure they have at least nine square metres per customer, while fitness, wellness and sports facilities will have to guarantee a minimum of 16. Read more.
SARAJEVO | BERLIN
Germany ‘closely following’ electoral reform debate in BiH. The German “government is closely following the debate on the reform of the electoral law in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the view of the federal government, there is a need to amend the legal basis in order to eliminate existing discrimination”, said state secretary of the German foreign office, Miguel Berger. Read more.
PODGORICA | MOSCOW
Russia hopes relations with Montenegro lean towards centuries-old traditions of friendship, unity. “This year marks 310 years since the establishment of official contacts between Russia and Montenegro and 15 years of Russia’s diplomatic relations with modern Montenegro. As President Vladimir Putin recently stated, the people of our countries are connected by centuries-old traditions of friendship and spiritual unity, and we hope that our interstate relations will develop in this direction”, the Russian Ambassador to Podgorica, Vladislav Maslenikov told daily Vijesti.
“Montenegro’s NATO accession could not but have a negative impact on relations with our country, while in the background, the long-term Russophobic campaign has multiplied this negative effect,” said the ambassador, adding that there have been “positive changes” since the elections in August and the formation of Montenegro’s new government. “The new government stated its desire to ‘turn a new leaf’ to improve relations with Russia,” he added, wondering, however, whether the new authorities were serious about taking concrete steps.(Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
PRISTINA | BELGRADE
Kosovo parliament approves new Kurti-led government. The Kosovo parliament on Monday approved a new government led by Vetëvendosje leader and now Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who has already confirmed that his new government will file a case against Serbia before the International Court of Justice. Read more.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Paula Kenny, Zoran Radosavljevic]