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 story on EU court ruling that products from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories must be labelled to avoid confusion with products that come from Israel itself, as well as EU defence ministers decided to expand military cooperation with 13 new joint projects.
Also, feel free to read an interview with the leader of the British conservatives in the European Parliament who said: “Orban is not an extremist and it would be ‘interesting’ to have him in ECR”.
Erdoğan is determined to send back ISIS fighters
Four Belgian nationals are affected so far by Turkey’s decision to expel foreign jihadists who had gone to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State (IS) and are being held on Turkish soil, according to foreign minister Didier Reynders. The Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office has sent a request for extradition for one of the terrorist fighters.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned on Saturday (9 November) that his country was “not a hotel for ISIS members” and accused Europe of leaving the Turkish authorities to deal with the prisoners alone. Although European powers have launched talks with Iraqi officials to enable jihadists being held in Syria to face trial in Iraq, the US’ withdrawal from Syria has forced Turkish authorities to rethink their strategy over concerns of raising the risk of jihadists escaping or returning home.
“Turkey will continue to expel ISIS fighters regardless of whether the other countries accept them. Some countries have started to panic after we started to deport ISIS foreign terrorists. Turkey has been worried about this issue for years. It is time for others to worry too,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday (12 November).
An American ISIS fighter is currently trapped in no-mans-land at the Greek-Turkish border, and Greece is refusing to take him in. See the video here.
Turkey’s Anadolu agency reported that a German and a Danish man were to be deported to their respective countries yesterday, while 11 French jihadists, who had been arrested in Syria, are still going through the legal process. Two Irish jihadists, who have also been arrested in Syria, will soon be deported.
In Germany, around 170 police officers raided three apartments in Offenbach, a city next to Frankfurt, yesterday (12 November). The raid has led to the arrest of three suspected members of ISIS, who are accused of plotting a terrorist attack in the heavily populated Rhein-Main area. The Frankfurt Public Prosecutor’s Office disclosed that the suspects aimed to kill as many people as possible with explosives or firearms.
In Rome, twelve far-right extremists have been investigated for having allegedly planned to blow up a mosque near Siena by igniting a gas pipe. Two people have been arrested for illegal possession of explosive materials. Although the terrorists were ready to put the plan in place, it ended up in smoke when they feared police would have found them out.
Left power shift. On Tuesday (12 November), Germany’s The Left (Die Linke), chose a new party leader, thereby ending the tenure of Sahra Wagenknecht, a famously controversial figure in German left-wing politics. Once a Communist hardliner, Wagenknecht tempered her positions over the years and frequently surprised many across her party. Besides, the party was paralysed during her tenure because of a power struggle between her and Katja Kipping, another left-wing figure. When she announced she would not seek reelection as head of the party in the spring, she cited burnout as being the reason for her decision and continues to decry this bitter party in-fighting in current statements.
Like the Greens and the SPD, the Left has two party leaders, a man and a woman. It is considered relatively certain that Wagenknecht’s co-leader, Dietmar Bartsch, will be reelected. However, two women are vying for Wagenknecht’s old seat: Amira Mohamed Ali from the party’s left flank and Caren Lay, who is considered more pragmatic. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
Also, feel free to read EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan story: “Germany to sit out decisive EIB vote amid fossil fuel row”
Iberians show the way of a “progressive” Europe. Spain’s ruling Socialists and leftist Unidas Podemos have reached an agreement for a “progressive” government after Sunday’s general elections, acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the leader of Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, announced on Tuesday (12 November).
Although in the minority, this could be the first coalition executive in the history of the country’s democracy, if it gets the support of the parliament. The Socialists and Unidas Podemos are counting on only 155 seats and are 21 seats short of a majority.
Greece’s Syriza, the largest party in the EU’s left, issued a statement saying that “it was Portugal yesterday, today it is Spain. The Iberian Peninsula shows the way toward another Europe, far from the devastating neoliberal policies, nationalism, racism and intolerance”.
EURACTIV’s Beatriz Rios has the story
Controversial “self-determination” motion. The parliament of Catalonia adopted on Tuesday (12 November) a motion expressing its “will to exercise, in a concrete way, the right to self-determination”, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
The strongest separatists and pro-independence forces represented in the regional parliament (JxCat, ERC and the CUP) voted in favour but the motion was opposed by the conservative camp, mainly by the Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP) and centre-liberal Ciudadanos (Citizens), who suffered a severe blow in last Sunday’s election, as well as by the Catalan socialists (PSC). According to Spain’s Constitutional Court, the motion is unlawful, EFE reported.
Will France ever manage to send a commissioner in Brussels? With 12 votes in favour and 11 votes against, Thierry Breton narrowly crossed the hurdle of the European Parliament’s JURI Committee on Tuesday (12 November). MEPs cornered him with questions of conflict of interest because of his past career, particularly about the French IT company Atos.
The fiercest criticism came from France and the leftist MEP Manon Aubry, who listed a number of subjects such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence or defence that placed the candidate in a situation of potential conflict of interest.
“While he is departing from any decisions that concern Atos or its subsidiaries, he will probably have to do so on an incalculable number of cases over the next five years,” the socialist delegation said. The Renew Europe MEPs, on the other hand, defended his candidacy while EPP members didn’t say much. Breton will have a hearing before three EU House committees on Thursday (14 November). (EURACTIV.FR)
In the run-up to UK general election set for 12 December, the Labour Party have been subject to several “sophisticated and large-scale” cyber-attacks across its digital platforms emanating from an unknown source, the party have revealed. After one attack occurred on Monday (11 November) and the other on Tuesday (12 November), Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday (12 November) that the party’s cybersecurity system managed to fend off the “very serious” attacks, and that no personal data had been siphoned off as part of the attempted hack. The Labour leader nevertheless called the attack “suspicious”, especially as it happened in the run-up to a general election. (Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.COM)
EURACTIV’s Samuel Stolton has the story.
China backs return of Parthenon Sculptures from London. “Not only do I agree that the Parthenon Sculptures should be returned but you will have our support because we also have many of our own artefacts from Chinese civilisation that are outside the country and that we are trying to bring back home,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a visit in Athens. Read more
The beginning of the parliament’s new term. The Polish parliament began its new term by selecting speakers of both chambers. Elżbieta Witek, the ruling PiS politician, has been elected Speaker of the lower chamber, Sejm, while Tomasz Grodzki, an opposition candidate, has secured the post of Senate Speaker with a majority of 51 to 48. Until the very last minute, it was unclear what was going to happen in the Senate as PiS tried to pull some opposition senators to its side and the opposition tried to forge a coalition of three parties with the independents, which ultimately worked in their favour.
In Poland, the Senate does not have much power, but it can prolong the legislative process, which for the last four years has often been rushed to pass the bills of the ruling party. With the Senate in the hands of the opposition, it is expected that there more time will be dedicated for dialogue between parties, while the frequency of PIS reforms will be slowed. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
US helicopters. The Czech Defence Ministry approved the purchase of 12 helicopters (8 Venoms and 4 Vipers) from the US, and the contract should be concluded by the end of the year. The move is considered an important step in the modernisation of Czech air forces paving the way to be less dependent on military equipment made in Russia.
“The army needs new helicopters. The sooner we get rid of our dependence on Russian equipment, the better. That’s why we want to sign the agreement by the end of this year,” Defence Minister Lubomír Metnar said. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
Early elections? The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) expects coalition tensions in Bulgaria to lead to a snap election in 2020, but only after objectives for further EU integration are met (expected by the end of 2019). Although it expects direct EU monitoring to come to an end early in the forecast period (2020-24), wider inclusion in EU institutions will probably be linked to further reforms. However, these reforms will be implemented gradually, as political tensions will cause delays.
The greatest improvements in the business environment concern policies towards private enterprises and competition, taxes, the labour market and technological readiness. EIU expects gradual progress in streamlining bureaucracy and eliminating unnecessary regulations. The judiciary should improve slowly. (Dnevnik.bg)
New patrol ships. The Defence Minister Krassimis Karakachanov extended the deadline for the submission of offers for two patrol ships for the Bulgarian Navy until 6 December. Karakachanov said he wanted to make sure he was not accused of rushing the project in the interest of a specific company. Bulgaria will pay almost €500 million for the ships.
In June, offers were made by three companies, which include the German Fr. Lurssen Werft GmbH & Co.KG, the Bulgarian MTG Dolphin and Fincantieri from Italy. One of the offers will be part of modernising the Bulgarian army, while the others include the purchase of F-16 jet fighters for the Air Force and armoured vehicles for the Land Forces. Karakachanov expects that the contract will be ready to be signed in the spring of next year. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Fidesz leads the polls. The ruling alliance of Fidesz and Christian Democrats has maintained its lead after last month’s local elections. 52% of voters expressed their support, according to a poll published on Tuesday (12 November) by Nézőpont, a company considered to be close to the government. The support for the liberal opposition Momentum Movement was 13%, while the leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) stood at 11%, followed by the conservative Jobbik party with 9%. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Harassment and cyberattacks against local opposition leaders. Unknown perpetrators have put up racist posters around Budapest’s Józsefváros district of Camara-Bereczki Ferenc, depicting an opposition member of the local municipal council of partially Bissau-Guinean descent. The culprits attempted to implicate the joke Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party by placing its logo on the poster, but the party has denied and condemned the aggression. On Monday (11 November), the website of Erzsébetváros’s (Budapest 7th district) municipal government was subjected to multiple cyberattacks, with hackers posting obscenities about the newly elected opposition mayor. The attacks come after Budapest held its municipal elections in October when the governing Fidesz party lost its majority. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
Connecting Russia and the EU. Croatia’s EU presidency can facilitate efforts to upgrade relations and dialogue between Brussels and Moscow, Russian Ambassador to Zagreb Anvar Azimov has said. He added that both Europe and Russia suffered losses due to sanctions imposed on Moscow over the issue of Crimea.
The diplomat suggested that the Croatian EU Presidency should organise an energy conference bringing together European and Russian experts to reconnect the two sides.
The Russian ambassador claimed that the United States strongly lobbied for as little Russian gas as possible in Europe. He added that although it was a disciplined member of the European Union, Croatia should also take care of its interests. And that Russian gas will always be cheaper than LNG from the terminal on the Croatian island of Krk that is supposed to be constructed. Azimov also said that Russia had never used gas provision as a political instrument to exert pressure against any country. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Non-paper on Macron’s new EU membership plans
At a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said he still has no clear answer to the question whether the EU could guarantee Serbia’s membership by 2025 if Belgrade settled the Kosovo issue.
Referring to Macron’s interview in The Economist where he called Bosnia a “ticking time-bomb”, Željko Komšić, Chairman of the Presidency of BiH, told Macron: “Your statement on Bosnia is incorrect […] and caused a lot of upset in BiH.”
Meanwhile, Stevo Pendarovski, President of North Macedonia, said Macron is readying a new methodology regarding EU membership negotiations. It’s in the form of a non-paper and is already being circulated among member states. Pendarovski said it should be adopted by March next year so that negotiations with Skoplje and Tirana can open at the May EU Council in Zagreb.
The President of North Macedonia reiterated that he does not agree with any alternative to full membership, and, according to his words, Macron said his intention was not to provide an alternative to full membership.
For Montenegro’s Minister of Economy Dragica Sekulić, joining the Mini Schengen would be a “waste of time”. “These are the countries that, because of the different trade barriers that set up against each other, may need a new initiative to promise again that they will do what we did a long time ago,” Sekulić said.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]