Eyeing Biden, China organises summit with CEE countries

China intends to discuss a “successful fight against the pandemic” and offer its COVID-19 vaccines, reported Hospodářské noviny. [Shutterstock/ charnsitr]

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 exclusive op-ed “EU needs a strong partnership with the US to tackle global challenges” by Andrzej Sadoś, the permanent representative of Poland to the European Union.

Also read the article “Athens seeks explanation for German FM’s silence over Turkey’s threats“, by Sarantis Michalopoulos.

The European news you deserve to read. Welcome to The Capitals by EURACTIV.

In today’s news from the Capitals:


China is organising a “last minute” high-level summit with heads of Central and Eastern European states under the so-called 17+1 format, which should take place “at least online” in February, EURACTIV.cz’s media partner Hospodářské noviny reported. Read more.



Breton: Jab certificates not enough to ensure free movement. COVID-19 vaccination certificates are “important but not sufficient” to ensure the resumption of free movement within the EU during the pandemic, EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said on Tuesday (19 January), adding instead that rapid tests should also be introduced. Read the full interview here.



European Court of Auditors adds new member rejected by MEPs. Marek Opiola, a former member of the main party in Poland’s right-wing ruling coalition, has been appointed to the European Court of Auditors despite being rejected by MEPs last month. The Council of the EU, which is not bound by the European Parliament’s recommendations, said on Tuesday it had appointed Opiola to Poland’s seat on the Luxembourg-based EU budget watchdog. Opiola’s predecessor, Janusz Wojciechowski, had also been appointed despite being rejected by MEPs in 2016. Both Poles belonged to the conservative and populist Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) party. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)


Germany says new border controls are on the table. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on EU partners to agree on measures to halt new variants of coronavirus, otherwise, borders checks will have to be re-introduced. More.



Belgian hospitals asked to suspend vaccinations. The Belgian government is postponing the vaccinations of hospital staff as vaccine manufacturer Pfizer is delivering fewer vaccines to the country than anticipated. Read more.



France received €170 billion by 2020-end because of Brexit. “In spite of the pandemic, about 2,500 jobs have already been transferred and about fifty British entities have authorised the relocation of at least €170 billion in assets to France at the end of 2020,” Banque de France Governor, François Villeroy de Galhau, told the financial centre on Tuesday in reference to the UK withdrawing from the EU. Read more.



Luxembourg and Belgium push for faster trains. The two neighbouring countries want to improve the widely maligned railway link between their two capitals thanks to the EU’s pandemic recovery fund, as the bloc works to boost environmentally-friendly railway traffic across borders. Transport Ministers François Bausch and George Gilkinet requested the funds in a joint letter to European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans. Currently, the fastest train from Luxembourg to Brussels takes three hours, while driving is a little more than two hours. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)



Far-right FPÖ MP accuses health minister of abuse of office. Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) repeatedly issued regulations that were not covered by the underlying COVID-law passed by parliament, said the parliamentary leader of the opposition Freedom Party (FPÖ), Herbert Kickl, who also critised President Alexander van der Bellen for not stepping in. Although Anschober apologised in July and August for his regulations creating several legal issues and later adapted the COVID-measures accordingly, Kickl remains unconvinced. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)



COVID-19 measures threaten lifestyle of the North’s indigenous people. Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia should take into account and respect the rights and lifestyle of the indigenous Sámi people living in their northern territories when implementing COVID-19 measures and closing borders, according to a statement published on 15 January by the Sámi Council, an NGO founded in 1956. Read more.



UK government survives trade revolt. Boris Johnson’s government narrowly avoided defeat to its Trade Bill following a rebellion by 33 Tory MPs on Tuesday. Read more.



Irish hospitals see drop in COVID-patients. The number of patients in Irish hospitals being treated for coronavirus has fallen, new data shows. The news comes following a recent spike in cases in the country, largely attributed to the UK variant of the virus which was recently discovered in Ireland. 

“We’re coping but we are under very significant strain and we really need a very, very strong, sustained effort from the public. This level of transmission is still extremely high,” Paul Reid, the head of Ireland’s Health Service Executive, told national broadcaster RTE. (Samuel Stolton | EURACTIV.com)



Conte wins parliament’s confidence but government’s fate remains uncertain. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte won the no-confidence vote in the second branch of parliament, known as the Senate, late on Tuesday evening in what was a long and sometimes confusing session, after earning the trust of the Chamber of deputies on Monday. Read more.



Spain extends temporary lay-off schemes until end of May. The Spanish government will officially approve the extension of temporary lay-off schemes put in place March last year to protect jobs for around 800,000 workers affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.



Portugal urges EU to cooperate with other countries’ vaccination processes. The European Union has to cooperate with other countries on their vaccination processes because the bloc “will not be safe” as long as its neighbours “are sick”, Portugal’s Secretary of State for European Affairs Ana Paula Zacarias told a European Parliament plenary session on the “EU global strategy for COVID-19 vaccination”. Read more.

In other news, Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva set off to Mozambique on Tuesday as part of an EU mission in response to Maputo’s request for cooperation in the face of armed violence attributed to extremist Islamic groups. Read more.



Greece votes for the extension of its territorial waters. The Greek parliament will decide on the extension of its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian Sea on Wednesday, following discussions that lasted two days. Read more



Polish prosecutors to get priority vaccine access. Poland’s prosecutors will be included in the “first group” and receive priority access to the vaccines against COVID-19 under the national vaccination plan, according to which medical staff and the elderly who are part of the “zero group” received the vaccine first. Read more.



Authorities: LGBTQ, minority inclusive fairytales are ‘unfair business practice’. The Labrisz Lesbian Association, publisher of an inclusive fairytale book featuring LGBTQ and ethnically diverse characters, have engaged in unfair business practice, the government authorities of Budapest said, according to state news agency MTI on Tuesday. Read more.



UK trips of Slovak Deputy PM during COVID spark new controversy. Slovakia’s Public Health Authority claimed Deputy PM Štefan Holý had benefitted from a one-off exemption in December upon returning from his family trip in the UK, meaning that – coming from a non-EU state – he did not have to go into self-isolation and take a PCR test after five days or have a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours. Read more.



Unemployment in Bulgaria remains stable despite restrictions. Unemployment in Bulgaria maintained its level in December despite restrictions imposed by the government to contain the pandemic, as the country recorded a meagre 0.8% rise in unemployment compared to  December 2019. Read more.



Leave the kids behind. The vaccine against COVID-19 was supposed to make travel easier, but for families with children, problems will persist. Since the vaccines are currently available only for adults, kids still pose the risk of transmitting the disease, even if their parents are vaccinated. More.



Will the Biden administration solve Croatia’s issue with double taxation? I hope Joe Biden’s new administration “will enable stable and predictable EU-US relations and trade. That would certainly benefit Croatia and our companies operating internationally,” said the vice president for international affairs in Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK), Ivan Barbarić, adding that double-taxation is one of the burning issues in Croatia-US relations. Read more.



DeSUS leader Erjavec postpones no-confidence vote against government. Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) leader Karl Erjavec has withdrawn his bid to become PM-designate until all MPs can vote in person, after an opposition MP tested positive for the virus and several others continue to wait for their test results, sta reported. Read more.



US Admiral: NATO and Serbia are partners, Kosovo stability important. NATO and Serbia are “close friends,” said the commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, US Admiral Robert Burk ahead of his first visit to Belgrade, adding that a stable Kosovo is crucial for regional stability and security. Read more.



No nuclear landfill close to the border with BiH. Spatial Planning, Construction and Ecology Minister in the Serb entity Republika Srpska, Srebrenka Golić, pointed out that the earthquake in Croatia’s Banija region was the most important parameter to prove that a nuclear landfill could not be located in Trgovska Gora because the earthquake’s epicentre was measured only 25 to 28 kilometres from that location.

Croatia – which is searching for a location to dispose of its nuclear waste coming from the Krško nuclear power plant – has planned to put it on Trgovska Gora, which is close to the border with BiH. Minister Golić called on the Croatian authorities to reconsider their decision and accept Slovenia’s proposal to build a joint landfill, although that did not solve the problem of other Croatian nuclear waste, including from medical use. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)



State administration is country’s most corrupt institution. Montenegro’s state administration is the most corrupt institution in the country, according to a survey carried out by the Agency for Prevention of Corruption (ASK), bne INTELLINEWS reported.

According to the survey, 27% of the respondents said that corruption is present mainly in the state administration, while 14.9% named the healthcare system and 14.8% the municipal authorities. Moreover, 47.6% of those surveyed said they had heard from other people that they were ordered to pay a bribe to someone at the state administration, while one-seventh said they had been asked for a bribe or had proposed a bribe to execute their legal rights. Those giving bribes were mainly self-employed and farmers, people living on low incomes. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)



Italian lockdown results in drop for Albania’s exports. Albania’s year-on-year trade deficit  – which amounted to 333 billion leks (€2.7 billion) – decreased by 9.9% in 2020 as exports fell by 9% and imports decreased by 6.8%, the country’s statistical office (INSTAT) announced, SeeNews reported.

The decline in total exports was mostly due to the 5.3 percentage point drop in exports of textiles and footwear, the sales of which slumped globally due to lockdowns and the closure of non-essential shops across the globe. Aside from textiles and footwear, the export of minerals, fuels, electricity dropped by 3.5 percentage points, while construction materials and metals saw a 1.2 percentage point decline. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)


[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]

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