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 “Brussels warns Erdogan not to hinder efforts to solve EU-Turkey crisis” by Sarantis Michalopoulos.
Also, feel free to have a look at the story “Trump suspends travel from Schengen area to US in coronavirus crisis” as well as the article “Norway cancels exercise, Pentagon cuts troops for Europe war games“.
To stay up-to-date on everything to do with the coronavirus across the capitals, feel free to check out EURACTIV’s comprehensive overview, which is regularly updated with the help of our network of offices and media partners.
The very latest Coronavirus updates from the Capitals
****EU INSTITUTIONS. The European Commission has warned its staff not to use public transport but to “walk or bike or, as a last resort, use your private car”, according to a document seen by EURACTIV. “The risk of transmission of COVID 19 in public transport is much high,” the EU executive warned.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first statement about coronavirus yesterday (11 March). Noting the country’s financial reserves and emergency mechanism, she was confident that Germany is well-prepared to handle the epidemic. As for further steps to contain the virus’ spread, Merkel said “we will do what is necessary.” (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
Read more of EURACTIV Germany’s coverage of the press conference: Merkel: Germany well-equipped against COVID-19.
In Belgium, the number of confirmed cases has reached 314 as of Tuesday, with the first three deaths. “Once again we see an increase in the number of new cases. Our hospitals are also seeing more people with lower respiratory tract infections. This may indicate the start of a real epidemic in our country,” the health ministry warned on its website. Alexandra Brzozowski has more.
In the UK, Chancellor Rishi Sunak put a £30 billion (€35 billion) package at the heart of the UK’s first post-Brexit budget on Wednesday in a bid to support the country’s economy and contend with the effects of the coronavirus. The measures include suspending business rates for many firms in England, an additional £5 billion in NHS funding and extending statutory sick pay for all workers who are advised to self-isolate as a result of the pandemic. Read more.
In Ireland, the first victim of the disease has been recorded after the infection count rose by nine on Wednesday, bringing the total to 43 known infections. An elderly woman in the east of Ireland who already had an underlying health issue, passed away. EURACTIV’s Samuel Stolton has more.
In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced new restrictive measures to halt the spread of coronavirus. Bars, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, beauty salons and canteen services will stay closed over the next two weeks. As of Wednesday, the number of COVID-19 cases topped 12,462, while the number of deaths reached 827, which translates to a 196 increase compared to the day before. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez sent out a clear message of “unity, serenity and stability” to overcome the “difficult days and weeks” until the situation gets back to normal. As of yesterday, all educational institutions have been closed. EURACTIV’s partner EFE has more: “Spain’s Sánchez warns about ‘difficult weeks’ to contain coronavirus”
In Greece, the first death from coronavirus was reported early this morning. A 66-year-old man died after being hospitalised on 4 March. The government has taken strict measures such as closing all educational institutions for two weeks while PM Mitsotakis has sent a clear message to Greek Orthodox Church to listen to science when it comes to public gatherings. Sarantis Michalopoulos has more.
In Austria, the education ministry has announced it will begin closing schools, and headteachers have already been directed to cancel all field trips and events until further notice. The closure will take place in stages, as the classes of older students will be suspended first beginning next Tuesday (17 March) without schools being completely shut down and locked, the education ministry has announced. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš was shocked by Merkel’s statement, saying that up to 70% of the German population could be infected in the worst-case scenario. “I was shocked by what Chancellor Merkel said,” the Czech PM revealed, adding: “We do not say anything like that.” Babiš believes that Europeans will ultimately decide to stay within their home countries, to help contain the spread of the virus. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
In Hungary, there are 13 registered cases with 69 people in quarantine, as of Wednesday. In response, the government has now ordered a state of emergency, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the prime minister’s office, said. A ban on travellers (non-citizens) from Italy, China, South Korea, and Iran has been issued by the government. Hungarian citizens coming from those countries will have to stay in isolation at home for two weeks upon arrival. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec has more.
In Bulgaria, a 66-year-old woman became the country’s first victim on Wednesday as the seventh case was recorded. After having been admitted to hospital in extremely serious condition on Tuesday, she died the following day. Her husband, who checked into the hospital with her, is also in serious condition. EURACTIV Bulgaria’s Krassen Nikolov has more on the new case.
In Romania, 18 new cases were reported since Tuesday, bringing the total number of persons infected to 47. In response, Romania closed schools and many other public activities have already been cancelled. On top of that, most universities are starting to switch to online courses, theatres are cancelling performances or announcing web-only shows, and several public services are preparing to operate only online.
EURACTIV Romania reports: “Romania suspends exports of medicines as coronavirus cases reach 47”
Slovenia reported 23 new infections, meaning that as of Wednesday, the total count is 57. The government announced that “Slovenia has not closed its border with Italy but is to impose health checks of passengers to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Six checkpoints will be set up yet Slovenian citizens will not face any restrictions. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec has the story.
In Croatia, three new infections were confirmed as of Wednesday, bringing the total number to 19. While the defence ministry and military headquarters have decided that Croatian soldiers will no longer participate in a military exercise in Germany, Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli has said that the number of tourists in Croatia in the first ten days of March was 30% lower than in the corresponding period in 2019. After the finance ministry meeting yesterday, reporters were told that it is essential to preserve jobs and business, and specific measures to help firms affected by the outbreak will be known in the coming days. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
In Serbia, events of over 100 people in confined spaces have been banned, while rallies that take place in the open can still be carried out, President Aleksandar Vučić said on Wednesday, adding that for the moment there is no reason to close schools, despite there already being “hysteria” surrounding that idea. But what about the upcoming general elections, which are to be held on 26 April? EURACTIV Serbia has more.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was decided that schools should be closed for two weeks, as seven cases of coronavirus were confirmed as of Wednesday. Those carrying the virus had previously resided in Italy. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
The Montenegrin government said that reports it would declare a state of emergency today were ‘fake news’. Some news websites in Serbia said the alleged government plan was a pretext to stop mass protests organised by the Serbian Orthodox Church twice a week against the new law on religious freedoms that regulates church assets in the country. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Albania recorded its first death related to COVID-19 on Wednesday. As the number of confirmed infections rose to 12, a 73-year-old woman in Durres succumbed to the virus. She returned from Bologna on 3 March and was hospitalised a few days later, as she had been suffering from a range of medical ailments but had not admitted being in Italy. Police have closed over 500 cafes, nightclubs, gyms and live music venues on orders of the government. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
In other news from the Capitals
The French left calls to drop unemployment insurance reform. Politicians from the socialist party and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s radical leftist party, La France Insoumise, alongside worker unions have called on the government to “abandon” unemployment insurance reform, amid a looming economic crisis linked to the coronavirus. EURACTIV France takes a closer look.
No budget for the next few months. The Belgian parliament’s budget committee failed to vote on a bill on provisional appropriations for the months of April, May and June 2020, after all political groups, with the exception of the parties in government (MR, Open Vld and CD&V) and the PS, tabled amendments yesterday. Despite coronavirus fears, the plenary vote remains scheduled for 19 March.
Since the fall of the Michel government in December 2018, the country has operated on the continuation of the 2018 budget in monthly installments. These credits must be voted in before 31 March, in order to avoid a potential shut-down of services in Belgium. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
Operation Storm – 13 detained judges. Slovakia’s National Criminal Agency arrested 13 high-profile judges, including a former deputy minister of justice, in an operation called “Storm”. Charges of corruption, interference with the independence of courts and obstruction of justice were brought. All of them had links with Marián Kočner, accused of ordering the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée. EURACTIV Slovakia’s Zuzana Gabrižová digs deeper.
Unacceptable Turkey. When Turkey ceased to observe the 2016 EU-Turkey migrant deal, the EU showed unity and clearly let Turkey know that this is unacceptable, Czech ambassador to the EU Jakub Durr has told Czech News Agency. The EU’s decision to hold a donor conference for Syria in reaction to the new migrant wave will allow Europe to get involved in Syria and not let the interests of Russia and Turkey decide for the country, Durr added. (Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Janša’s SDS sues former PM Šarec. SDS, an anti-immigrant party that is closely-affiliated to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and led by Janez Janša, has filed a suit against former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, as it is currently in the process of forming a new government. In February, the former PM said that it was difficult to work with SDS, as it was implementing “methods such as hate speech” and is “funded by Hungary”. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
The state employs almost 30% of workers. Almost every third person employed in Croatia receives a salary from the state or county, city, and municipal budgets, as 369,781 people work in these institutions, which represents 27.7% of country’s labour force. In contrast, 939,954 workers or 70.5% of all employees work in the private sector. The average number of employees per entrepreneur in Croatia is 7.2 workers, while this amounts to 98.9 employees in the public sector. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
The proposal by the GLAS party (RE) to introduce compulsory paternity leave because only 7% of fathers take paternity leave received support from the parliamentary opposition but not from the ruling majority and government. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Montenegrin PM: Serbian orthodox metropolitanate owes €2 million in taxes. Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said that the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral owed Montenegro over €2 million in taxes and social transfers for 62 workers. EURACTIV Serbia has the story.
Express loyalty by saying a party leader is God. High Representative Valentin Inzko once said to Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), that he is like Tito to him. Dodik is the leader of SNSD party and during a vehement discussion in the BiH Parliament, some opposition MPs attacked Dodik. Sanja Vulić, MP from SNSD, stood up for Dodik and said: “For me, Milorad Dodik is not Tito, but God”. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Montenegro helped to break a drug trafficking network. A large Balkan criminal network trafficking drugs, mainly cocaine, into Europe has been dismantled in a large international operation. The operation severely disrupted one of the smuggling routes from Central America to Europe, Europol reported. This complex international investigation was led by Montenegro and supported by Europol, and law enforcement authorities from Austria, Croatia, France, Portugal, Serbia and Slovenia. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Against Lajčak, Borrell and border change. Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Glauk Konjufca has said that EU High Representative Josep Borrell and Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčak are not the “right EU combination” to engage in a dialogue with Kosovo, as they come from countries that still oppose the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. “While Washington is ready to exert additional pressure and accept any two-party agreement that would end the Kosovo issue, the idea of a possible border change as part of the solution remains unacceptable for the EU and Germany, respectively,” the Serbian agency, Tanjug, reported from Brussels. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Bids for the reconstruction of earthquake-damaged houses. The Albanian Development Fund (ADF) is inviting bids in the form of a 6.3 billion leks (€50.6 million) tender for the reconstruction of houses damaged by a devastating earthquake that hit the country in November 2019. The assignment, to be financed from the state budget, is to be completed within 24 months, ADF said in a tender notice. The EU and international donors have pledged to provide a total of €1.15 billion in grants and loans to help Albania recover from the natural disaster, the European Commission said last month. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Sam Morgan]