EU warns Belgrade over free trade deal with Russia’s Eurasia

EU Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told EURACTIV.com: “Serbia is expected to progressively align with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy”. [EPA/ANDREJ CUKIC]

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 The Capitals, take a look at an interview of EURACTIV.hr’s Željko Trkanjec with the German Federal Economy Minister Peter Altmaier: There is no crisis, we expect growth in 2020, says Germany’s Altmaier.

See also: Six million fewer chickens slaughtered weekly in EU after Mercosur pact

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BELGRADE

The European Commission is closely following the talks about a free trade deal between Serbia and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and expects Belgrade to align with EU foreign policy, EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told EURACTIV.com and EURACTIV Serbia.

“Serbia is expected to progressively align with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy,” Kocijancic said. “We follow the situation closely and discuss these issues in our regular political and trade dialogues with the Serbian authorities,” she added.

During a visit to Belgrade on 19 October, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow and Belgrade would sign a free trade agreement on 25 October with the EAEU, whose members are Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. The free trade agreement with the EAEU would give Serbia access to a market of 180 million consumers.

The EU official said Serbia could enter into agreements with other countries or organisations before the country’s EU accession. “In the context of its EU accession negotiations, Serbia committed to withdrawing from all bilateral free trade agreements on the day of its accession to the EU. Serbia’s withdrawal from trade deals with third parties is not a new condition but a general rule applying to all candidate countries wishing to join the EU,” Kocijancic said.

She added that the EU remains Serbia’s most important trade partner, as the trade between them amounts to 63% of Serbia’s total trade, with very good dynamics of growth.

“Trade with Russia is less than 10% of Serbia’s total trade. In addition, European investments in Serbia are more than 10 times higher than Russia’s,” the EU spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, EURACTIV Serbia reported that according to the findings of the Bureau for Social Research (BIRODI), 45.5% of Serbian citizens find EU membership to be the most acceptable foreign policy priority, while 17.6% think that Serbia should join the Eurasian Economic Union. A little over a third of those surveyed believe that Serbia should not join the EU, NATO, or the Eurasian union.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com, Julija Simić | EURACTIV.rs)

 

In Prague, the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) in cooperation with the National Centre for Combating Organised Crime had busted an intelligence network run by Russian security service (FSB). According to the head of the BIS, Michal Koudelka, who spoke about the issue to the lower chamber on 21 October, the aim of the network was to attack targets in the Czech Republic but also other states through a variety of servers. He also said that the network was financed by Russia and the Russian embassy located in Prague, but the embassy dismissed such an allegation.

In Sofia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has announced that Russia wants to participate in the construction of the second Bulgarian nuclear power plant in Belene. Lavrov told his Bulgarian counterpart, Ekaterina Zaharieva, that Russia’s nuclear corporation Rosatom intended to participate in the procedures for selecting a constructor.

“Our state corporation is a manufacturer of nuclear reactors and creator of technology for this project. We hope we have a good chance,” Lavrov said following a meeting with Zaharieva in Moscow. This is the first official visit of a Bulgarian foreign minister to Moscow in eight years.

Rosatom, through its subsidiary Atomenergoprom, is one of seven companies that have declared a strategic investor interest in the nuclear project. The three main candidates from Russia, China and Korea are likely to unite, and Rosatom has announced that an international consortium was the way to accomplish the project.

(Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz, Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)

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PARIS

A new EU Commission candidate to be announced this week. After the European Parliament rejected French President Emmanuel Macron’s first choice for the Commissioner post, France is now due to propose a new candidate. “We’ll probably know by the end of the week,” Amélie de Montchalin, Secretary of State for European Affairs, told French TV.

It is still unknown who the new French candidate might be, but Michel Barnier, the EU Brexit chief negotiator, has been quoted in several French media. Barnier has said that he has not been contacted by the French presidency. (EURACTIV.FR)

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BERLIN

Politicians face violence. Thuringia’s leftist PM Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke), CDU top candidate Mike Mohring, as well as the top candidate and faction leader of the Green party, Dirk Adams, have received severe death threats ahead of the 27 October state elections, to which the German government expressed “great concern”. The threatening letter against Adams was received by e-mail in his constituency office in Nordhausen. The sender, a so-called “Cyber-Reichswehr” made the threat of attacking with knives or letting off a car bomb if Adams did not leave the Green Party. (Claire Stam | EURACTIV.de)

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MADRID

Sánchez praises Spanish Police, as far-right rises. Caretaker socialist PM Pedro Sánchez has praised the deployment of the Spanish National Police in Catalonia on Monday (21 October), saying it was “an example of professionalism and vocation of the public service”, after last week’s violent protests in response to the ruling that sentenced nine Catalan pro-independence politicians to jail for their role in the banned 2017 independence referendum.

Meanwhile, a new poll for El Mundo projected that the clashes in Catalonia would mainly “benefit” the conservatives of Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP) and the far-right VOX while ruling socialists of the PSOE would lose between one to two seats in the parliament in Madrid.

EuroEFE’s Fernando Heller has the story: Sanchez praises Spanish police, as far-right rises in polls.

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LONDON / LJUBLJANA 

Trigger-happy Withdrawal Agreement. MPs have reacted angrily after being informed that they will have just three days to scrutinise Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said yesterday (21 October) that the second reading of the Withdrawal Bill will take place at 7 pm on Tuesday (22 October), on which day the draft law will also be opened to amendments from MPs before completing its passage through Parliament on Thursday (24 October).

Opposition parties are expected to table amendments including the option of holding a second referendum and keeping the UK inside the EU’s customs union. “At every stage, the Government has been running scared of this House and democracy, and it is now attempting to force through a flawed Brexit deal which sells out people’s jobs, rights and our communities,” Shadow Commons Leader Valerie Vaz said.

Tory father of the house Ken Clarke said that while he would be backing the bill, he believes that MPs should have more time to examine it.

The rush to pass the legislation comes after Commons Speaker John Bercow put a thorn in Johnson’s plans by blocking a vote on the Prime Minister’s motion for a Brexit deal on Monday. While MPs are under pressure to pass the legislation by Thursday, the bill will then proceed to the House of Lords, where peers are likely to sit over the weekend to examine the legislation in order to meet the final deadline of 31 October.

Meanwhile, in Ljubljana, Slovenian PM Marjan Šarec (LMŠ-RE) has said that Slovenia will accept any solution that is acceptable especially for Ireland, which is most affected by Brexit, but also for the benefit of the EU. “I hope we will find the solution that we all somehow expect, and that there will be no Brexit without a deal because that would be the worst,” he said.

(Samuel Stolton | EURACTIV.com, Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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ROME

Clarifications on the budget. In a letter sent last night, the European Commission asked Italy to submit further information on its draft budget before Wednesday. A source from Italy’s government said the letter was “a due act” and that the Commission is not questioning the overall structure or balances of the budget law.

Meanwhile last night, PM Giuseppe Conte tried to bring the positions of coalition parties closer regarding the pending controversial points, namely cutting bank fees on card payments, imprisonment for tax dodgers and continuation of quota 100, the early retirement system which was the previous government’s flagship measure. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

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ATHENS 

Political turmoil over the ‘Joker’. Greek politicians have been bickering for two days over a police raid at a cinema to remove almost 20 underage children, who were watching the film ‘Joker’.

The incident triggered outrage on Greek social media with thousands of users firmly condemning the raid, describing it as “fascist” and “authoritarian”. The leftist opposition said that the ruling New Democracy had brought the country back to the “Dark Ages”. In an effort to appease tensions, Minister of Civil Protection Michalis Chrysochoidis said he’d watch the movie yesterday together with his 15-year-old son.

EURACTIV Greece’s Theodore Karaoulanis has the story: Joker movie opens Pandora’s box in Greek politics

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WARSAW

PiS appeals. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS/ECR) has made an appeal to the Supreme Court questioning the results of the Senate elections in 6 districts, where the difference between the candidates was small and some ballot papers were invalid. Conservative PiS won 49 seats, while the opposition parties obtained the majority (51). The candidates of the opposition say they trust the commissions that counted the ballots and do not fear a recounting. Some, however, have voiced the concern that a recounting of the ballot papers is PiS’s way to try to influence the elections.

This is because, according to the judicial reforms that PiS had adopted, the newly established chamber of the Supreme Court is in charge of validating the elections, which is not in accordance with the constitution.  (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)

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BRATISLAVA 

Charges officially filled in Kuciak´s murder. As expected, the Special Prosecutor’s Office filed charges against Marián Kočner and another three people in the murder case of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová on Monday (21 October). Besides Kočner, who stands accused of ordering the murder, the charges were also brought against a woman, who reportedly acted as an intermediary, as well as two men who carried out the murder. Some of them will have to face 25 years in prison, while others will be facing life sentences. A fourth person, who was also involved in the killing, has cooperated with the investigators since the beginning and has just made a deal with the prosecutor. He is also willing to testify against two ministers of the current government on corruption charges, the lawyer of Kušnírová´s family told media. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)

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SOFIA

Lagging behind in gender equality. With 58.8 out of 100 points, Bulgaria ranks 19th on the Gender Equality Index. Bulgaria’s score is 8.6 points lower than the EU’s score. Between 2005 and 2017, Bulgaria’s score increased by only 2.8 points (+ 0.8 points since 2015). Bulgaria has been progressing towards gender equality at a slower pace than other EU member states. Bulgaria’s ranking has dropped five places since 2005. (Dnevnik.bg)

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BUCHAREST

Weakened anti-corruption fight. The European Commission has drafted a very critical progress report under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), according to EURACTIV Romania’s media partner HotNews. HotNews reported that the Commission experts have emphasised a considerable reduction in the activity of the anti-graft directorate DNA, resulting in a weakening of the fight against corruption.

The report notes that Romania did not implement many of the Commission’s recommendations made in the last report (in November 2018) and expressed its dissatisfaction with the political involvement in the appointment of top prosecutors. The EU executive has criticised many occasions the changes to the judicial system and the criminal legislation adopted by the socialist government in the past three years. The College of Commissioners should approve on Tuesday the CVM report and the EU executive will publish it afterwards.

Fighting the president. Interim PM Viorica Dăncilă said the PSD socialist party should request a suspension of President Klaus Iohannis for breaking the Constitutional rules, but she acknowledged that this is not possible six months before the presidential elections. Dăncilă will be running against Iohannis in the elections that will be held on 10 November, with a second-round scheduled on 24 November.

Dancila accuses the president of causing a political crisis for actively requesting the dismissal of the socialist government and being one of the leaders who were rooting for the success of the no-confidence vote. The center-right opposition (PNL, a member of EPP) got the call to form a new government (Iohannis was the president of PNL before getting elected as the chief of state in 2014), but they are struggling to get the majority required to pass a new government.

In this context, Dăncilă said that PSD is ready to try to build a majority if it gets the call from president Iohannis, but the socialists would not propose a PM candidate even if Ludovic Orban, the head of PNL, fails in getting enough support for his government. (EURACTIV.ro)

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ZAGREB

Croatia enters Volkswagen competition. Jutarnji list, EURACTIV’s partner Jutarnji list has learnt that Croatia has also entered the competition for a new Volkswagen factory that was initially planned in Turkey. Bulgaria and Serbia are also more than interested in that investment.

Read EURACTIV Bulgaria’s story: VW puts on hold plan for €1 bln car factory in Turkey over Syria incursion

European Battery Alliance. Following a meeting with German Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier, Croatian Economy Minister Darko Horvat (HDZ-EPP) described Germany as the most important bilateral economic partner and said that in 2018, trade between Croatia and Germany trade was €5.4 billion. The Croatian minister also underscored that Germany was at the helm of the European Battery Alliance (EBA) and that Croatia would soon become a full member of that alliance. The European Commission has put €5 billion at the disposal of that initiative.

Europe must keep its technological sovereignty in the future, Altmaier said. Speaking of areas of cooperation between Croatia and Germany, he highlighted industry 4.0, innovations, the use of hydrogen in transport, and the production of batteries for the auto industry. If all batteries came from Asia, one-third of our added value would disappear, he said. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]

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