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 “Commission mulls new shield to protect companies against pandemic” by Jorge Valero.
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.
In today’s news from the Capitals:
COVID-19 Passport. Nine southern member states have called on the EU to come up with an “homogenous” plan to help tourism mitigate the catastrophic financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
At a videoconference yesterday (27 April), nine member states (Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania) issued a statement calling on the European Commission to include tourism in the upcoming EU Recovery Plan.
They said “homogenous” travel rules would be needed and warned that a disorderly relaxation of lockdown measures would further distort the tourism sector. They also said the newly established SURE programme, as well as fresh European Investment Funds, should support employment in the industry throughout the crisis.
The Commission is due to make recommendations on summer holidays this year, which according to President Ursula von der Leyen will have to be “smart”.
Croatian tourism minister Gari Cappelli has asked for a common protocol on travel, including the so-called “COVID-19 passport”. Read here how this “health passport” could work.
(Karla Junicic, EURACTIV.hr | Sarantis Michalopoulos)
More bailout strings. Coronavirus aid funding for corporations should come with additional conditions, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) told German radio on Monday. He wants companies that accept public money to cease paying out shareholder dividends and for management to take a pay cut. Given that Altmaier said this just as Germany gave budget airline Condor a €550 billion loan, what did he have to say about flag-carrier Lufthansa?
For more information about the airline situation in Germany, check out Sam Morgan’s latest story: “Germany divided over how to bail out flyers” and read up on the country’s measures since the virus outbreak in Germany.
Meanwhile, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) has advocated for a green economic recovery while speaking at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue. “The question of how the international community restarts the economy is crucial for climate protection,” she said in her opening speech. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de) “
Austria’s Kurz pledges less tax for workers, more for multinationals. In a televised address to honour the 75th anniversary of the country’s Second Republic, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) promised an Austrian “comeback”, vowing to restore freedoms as soon as possible. In the future, he said, he intends to make it easier for companies to maintain and create jobs, as well as create a more equitable society for the essential and frequently underpaid workers the country is currently relying on by cutting taxes for workers while raising them for multinational corporations and combatting tax evasion. Read the full story.
For more on how the country is dealing with the crisis, read on here.
Will everyone get a mask? According to the National Security Council’s new measures for relaxing the current lockdown, passengers on public transport would be required to wear a mask from 4 May, while it will become mandatory in companies that cannot guarantee sufficient social distance between its employees. However, providing everyone in Belgium with a face mask by 4 May will not be possible, confirmed justice minister Koen Geens’ cabinet on Monday. Alexandra Brzozowski has the details.
EU’s ‘farm to fork’ strategy establishes itself in France due to COVID-19 crisis. The highly anticipated EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F), which was intended to favour short distribution routes, has been postponed to a later date. However, the current COVID-19 crisis is speeding up the agricultural sector’s shift towards food self-sufficiency. EURACTIV France reports.
Dead man walking? In November 2019, the European Court of Human Rights found that Finland was in breach of the Human Rights Convention, for the first time in the country’s history. However, in light of new evidence, it appears the Court may have been wrong. EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen has the story.
UK AND IRELAND
UK rejects EU plan for Belfast office. Boris Johnson’s government has refused to allow the Commission to set up an EU delegation office in Belfast. In a letter published on 27 April to the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and External Action Service chief Helga Schmid, UK minister Penny Mordaunt said that an EU office would be “divisive in political and community terms” in Northern Ireland. The Commission had planned to set up the office to help oversee the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol after the post-Brexit transition period ends in December. (Benjamin Fox | EURACTIV.com)
COVID should ‘concentrate EU minds’. The UK minister in charge of post-Brexit trade with the EU insisted on Monday that it is “entirely possible” to have a deal by end of December 2020 and that the tight timeline should ‘concentrate’ minds, brushing aside a recent critical assessment from Brussels. Read more.
Google donations in Ireland. US tech giant Google is to donate €1 million to Irish charities and community organisations to help them mitigate the economic fallout from the current public health crisis.
Half the €1 million outlay will be dished out to local development organisations and charities, while the other half will go to NGOs “focused on supporting job seekers and SMEs across Ireland”, according to the company. “We want to ensure that the vital services provided by many Irish NGOs can continue during a time when they are needed more than ever,” said Nick Leeder, head of Google in Ireland. (Samuel Stolton | EURACTIV.com)
Back to the normal? Not now. In his first visit to the Lombardy region – the most hit by the pandemic – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte reacted to disappointed public opinion over the mild relaxation of restrictive measures after 50 days in lockdown.
“There are no conditions to returning to normal, we have to say that loud and clear,” the PM stressed, adding that people are making so many sacrifices that it is not the time to give up COVID-19 measures. However, according to Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana, waiting so long for the resumption of economic activities risks creating major problems for many sectors. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Parents should act responsibly. Spanish authorities have warned parents to act responsibly when taking their children out for a walk in order to ensure that the first major easing of the lockdown does not become a public health risk.
While the majority followed the rules – one adult can take out children for a maximum of one hour per day and walks need to be within one kilometre of the house – Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told a press briefing Monday that 157 people had been arrested the day before for allegedly breaching the rules, a number that was in line with the daily average. “Failure to follow the rules would to put your children’s health at risk,” the minister added. EURACTIV’s partner EFE has the story.
To stay up-to-date on the COVID-19 situation in Spain, check here.
Distance voting found unconstitutional. Poland’s Supreme Court found the amendment to the electoral law proposed by the Law and Justice party (PiS) to be inconsistent with the constitution and fundamental electoral rights. In its ruling, the country’s highest court drew attention to how the legislative process is conducted, which in the opinion of the judges violated the constitution, which states that Poland is a democratic state under the rule of law. (Wiktor Siewierski | EURACTIV.pl)
Alone against the Green Deal. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has repeatedly made it clear that he does not support the European Green Deal as he proposes to focus on fighting the coronavirus and supporting “traditional industry”. With no other country voicing criticism against a green recovery, however, the Czech PM appears to be alone in this fight. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Health minister asked to resign. 17,691 people have signed a petition asking for the resignation of Health Minister Kiril Ananiev and the cancellation of the contract for reconstructing a 12-floor ruin – built during the last years of communism and abandoned ever since – into a children’s hospital. The petition was submitted to the government on Monday and is signed by parents, paediatricians, architects and engineers. They warn that the old construction is outdated and dangerous.
The €47.7 million contract is for designing and constructing the National Children’s Multipurpose Hospital. Sofia is the only European capital without a children’s hospital, where seriously ill children can receive adequate and immediate care. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Big budget gap. The budget deficit widened by a whopping 10 billion lei (around €2 billion), which is about 1% of GDP, in just a month. The general government deficit reached 1.67% of GDP at the end of March, up from 0.73% of GDP a month before. Read more.
In other news, Romania announced the easing of the restrictions as of 15 May, but students will not return to schools, with a few exceptions. Only students in final years (the eighth and twelfth grade) will, for two weeks, have to go back in June to prepare for their exams. But social distancing measures will still need to be observed so students will wear masks and there will be no more than ten in the same classroom. The rest of the students will continue online courses or, in case this is not possible, authorities will provide educational resources. (EURACTIV.ro)
To stay up to date with the coronavirus situation in Romania, have a look here.
More on the COVID-19 situation in Croatia can be found here.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković spoke about Croatia’s economic strategy for the crisis and told Euronews in an interview over the weekend that “our measures were swift and very forthcoming and efficient and have made excellent economic results so far. What we intend to do with these measures is to alleviate the pressure on our economy and the estimation that our GDP is going to drop by several percent.” EURACTIV Croatia digs deeper.
First parliamentary session set for 28 April. Speaker Maja Gojkovic scheduled for 28 April the first session of the Serbian parliament since a state of emergency was introduced on 15 March. EURACTIV Serbia takes a closer look.
See what else has been happening in Serbia since the state of emergency, here.
In other news, of all the Western Balkan countries Serbia had the highest military expenditure in 2019, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The data shows that Serbia invested $1.14 billion in its military in 2019, which is $326 million (43%) more than the year before. Read more.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Sam Morgan]