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In today’s news from the Capitals:
HELSINKI | TALLINN
Finland and Estonia have made a joint decision to lease a large LNG terminal ship in their pursuit of ending the use of Russian gas.
The project announced on 7 April is apparently underway, though few details or specifics have been made public at this stage. Read more.
Macron and Le Pen exchange barbs over Russia. The two presidential candidates confronted each other on the topic of Russian sanctions, while the incumbent President Emmanuel Macron called Marine Le Pen out on her financial dependence on Moscow. Read more.
THE HAGUE | BERLIN
Netherlands, Germany to begin drilling for natural gas in Wadden Islands. Germany will work with the Dutch exploration and production company, ONE-Dyas, to operate a gas field in the North Sea above Schiermonnikoog and the German Wadden island of Borkum, Dutch broadcaster NOS reported on Wednesday. Read more.
Delivery of heavy weapons no longer ‘taboo’, foreign minister says. With German Chancellor Olaf Scholz increasingly caught in a crossfire over his hesitancy to assist Ukraine, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed on Wednesday that the delivery of heavy weaponry would be on the table but that the weak condition of the Bundeswehr would not allow for immediate shipments. Read more.
Austrian schools to scrap compulsory masks. Face masks will no longer have to be worn in schools from next week in Austria, Education Minister Martin Polascheck from the conservative ÖVP confirmed on Wednesday. Read more.
UK AND IRELAND
Brexit minister: UK ready to unilaterally rewrite NI protocol. The UK government is ready to unilaterally change the Northern Ireland protocol even if it does not reach an agreement with the EU, Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees Mogg told lawmakers on Wednesday. Read more.
Refugees housed in arenas amid accommodation shortage in Ireland. Accommodation for refugees from Ukraine is running short in Ireland, forcing authorities to prepare arenas to house incoming refugees temporarily. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Swedish lawmakers row over pensions. The Swedish government’s flagship reform in the country’s spring budget, which promises a hefty boost for the country’s pensioners ahead of the autumn elections, could be derailed by the opposition. Read more.
Denmark to seek Rwanda cash-for-migrants pact following UK lead. Denmark is seeking its own cash-for-migrants agreement with Rwanda a week after the UK signed its own asylum pact with the East African country. Read more.
Norway to donate air defence system to Ukraine. The Norwegian government decided to donate a Mistral air defence system to Ukraine, Defence Minister Bjørn Arild Gram announced on Wednesday. Read more.
Espionage scandal poisons relations between Spain and Catalonia. Spain’s secret services fully comply with the relevant legislation, defence minister Margarita Robles said after it was revealed by Citizen Lab that dozens of pro-independence Catalan politicians had been targeted with the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware between 2015 and 2020. Read more.
Greece increases minimum wage amid soaring prices. Greece’s conservative New Democracy government has decided to increase the minimum wage to €713 before taxes from €663. However, opposition and labour unions said it was “peanuts” unable to cover rising prices. Read more.
NGO Mediterranea slams Italian collaboration with Libya’s coastal authorities. Mediterranea, the civil society organisation that reports on migrants at sea, has criticised Italian authorities for handing over two boats to Commander Youssef Bishi of the Libyan General Administration for Coastal Security (GACS) on Wednesday. Read more.
Costa rules out compulsory military service. Prime Minister António Costa on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of mandatory military service making a comeback, adding that Ukraine must deepen its association agreement with the EU. Read more.
Diesel production in Sines at risk due to Russian invasion. Diesel production at Galp’s refinery in Sines could be affected in May if alternatives are not found to ensure the supply of vacuum gas oil the company used to buy from Russia, Andy Brown, the refinery’s chief executive, said on Wednesday. Read more.
Prague pushes for joint EU purchases of orphan drugs. Czech Health Minister Vlastimil Válek is calling for joint EU purchases of orphan medicines used against rare diseases as potential EU contracts could reduce the price of drugs and increase their accessibility for patients. Read more.
Hungarians support reducing Russian gas use but want to avoid war. Over three-quarters of Hungarians want local energy production and zero dependence on Russian gas but want to remain firmly out of the war, according to polls published on Wednesday, Telex reported. Read more.
Slovak police arrest former interior minister charges former PM Fico. Former Prime Minister Robert Fico was charged on Tuesday for establishing and leading a criminal group under his three governments. His interior minister at the time, Róbert Kaliňák, had already been arrested on the same charges. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Bulgarian president urged not to call Ukrainians and Russians ‘brothers’. Ukrainians and Russians should not be referred to as “fraternal peoples” in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in response to Bulgarian President Rumen Radev’s call for the war to end between “fraternal Slavic peoples such as the Ukrainian and Russian” on Wednesday. Read more.
Croatian PM says he will boycott president. President Zoran Milanović’s “vulgar and outrageous” attack against the HDZ and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković reflected Milanović’s nervousness, Plenković said, adding he would cut all contact with him. Read more.
Agriculture minister resigns over hotel bill. Slovenian agriculture minister Jože Podgoršek resigned just four days before the general election after he became the target of media scrutiny over a bill for a weekend stay in an upmarket hotel. Read more.
Borrell says Serbia should support freedom of expression, human rights. Serbia should make an additional effort to support freedom of expression and strengthen human rights institutions, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell said in his Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World, suggesting that all Serbian politicians need to fight against hate speech. Read more.
Republika Srpska residents protest Schmidt’s immovable property decision. Thousands of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS) took to the streets to protest the decision of High Representative Christian Schmidt to suspend the Law on Immovable Property in RS. Read more.
Zero tolerance for Serbian ‘illegal structures’ in Kosovo, says PM. There will be zero tolerance for Serbia’s illegal structures in the north of Kosovo, said Prime Minister Albin Kurti following what the government called “terrorist attacks” against the police last week. Read more.
Albania remains ‘hybrid democracy’ without credible political opposition. Albania’s progress toward a fully-fledged liberal democracy is trapped in the “grey zone” of hybrid democracy according to Freedom House’s 2021 report. Read more.
- EU: Commissioners Valdis Dombrovskis and Paolo Gentiloni in Washington DC / Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans continues visit to Ankara for the EU-Turkey High-Level Climate Dialogue.
- UK: British PM Boris Johnson visits India / Queen Elizabeth II turns 96.
- Italy: Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani on a gas mission in Congo, together with Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi, after visiting Angola.
- Vatican: Pope Francis meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on his first trip since the election.
- Portugal: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Portuguese parliament by video-link.
- Czech Republic: Czech Defence Minister Jana Černochová visits Washington to discuss a potential agreement on defence cooperation between the Czech Republic and the US.
- Croatia: Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman meets Bulgarian Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski, Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox, Zoran Radosavljevic, Alice Taylor, Sofia Stuart Leeson]