Finland-Russia border: the next refugee crisis?

A 26km long line of trucks stand on the road leading to the border crossing point of Vaalimaa between Finland and Russia. [EPA/SEPPO SIRKKA]

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, we invite you to read about the EU to deploy new military mission to enforce Libya arms embargo by EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski.

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HELSINKI

All quiet on the Eastern front? With organised and systematic efforts to enter the EU across the 1,340-kilometre-border between Russia and Finland steadily increasing since 2016, there could be a refugee crisis waiting to happen. And although all eyes are on the Balkans and southern regions, this time it may well come from up north.

EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen has more.

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BERLIN

A potential solution to the Thuringian crisis? Die Linke (The Left), the Greens, and the Social Democrats (SPD) met with the Christian Democrats (CDU) in Thuringia’s state capital on Monday (17 February) to discuss a way forward after the state’s recent political crisis. Former Minister-President Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke) suggested Christine Lieberknecht (CDU), who served before him from 2009-2014, to be the transitional head of the state’s government until new elections are held. EURACTIV Germany’s Sarah Lawton has the story.

Read more: “Thuringia election debacle causes turmoil in the European Parliament“.

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LONDON

A Brexiteers’ journey. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Europe adviser explained his journey from pro-EU diplomat to eurosceptic on Monday (18 February) in a lecture at the ULB. Quoting heavily from 18th century conservative philosopher Edmund Burke, Frost argued that the UK had never fully agreed with the EU’s pace of political integration and found itself “more like a guest who has had enough of a party and wants to find a way of slipping out”.

Frost also repeated the government’s preference to agree a Canada-Free Trade Agreement-type relationship with the EU but insisted that if EU ‘doubts remain’.. “we are ready to trade on Australia-style terms if we can’t agree a Canada type FTA”. (Benjamin Fox, EURACTIV.com)

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VIENNA 

Ruling parties’ MEPs oppose EU-budget rebates for Austria. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) had demanded that existing rebates for Austria’s contributions to the EU budget be upheld for the multiannual financial framework (MFF) that is currently being negotiated. 

However, MEPs from Austria’s ruling coalition, Othmar Karas (ÖVP) and Monika Vana (Greens), as well as Andreas Schieder (SPÖ), told a press conference that they are in favour of abolishing such rebates. Karas argued that the rebates obtained by the British back in the 1980s “were the beginning of Brexit”, while Vana stated that such rebates “are unfair, lacking in solidarity and reduce the budget’s transparency.” (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)

Read also: “Austria and Germany: a harmonious couple at odds on EU issues“.

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BRUSSELS

The Belgian King is mixing the cards in the country’s political crisis once again in search for a new federal coalition builder. After speaking to the Flemish nationalist N-VA and Groen, Tuesday’s hearing agenda includes the Socialist SP.A, liberal MR and Ecolo. According to pundits, the role it is likely to go once again to the Liberals. Meanwhile, previous informer Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR) rejected the idea of holding new elections as a “form of cowardice”. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)


EUROPE’S SOUTH

MADRID

Spain to pass ‘Google’ and ‘Tobin’ national taxes. The left-wing coalition government of PSOE and Unidas Podemos/United We Can will approve today (18 February) a tax on financial transactions, as well as one on digital services, government sources told EURACTIV’s partner EFE on Monday.

Read more here.

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ROME

Getting rid of Salvini’s ghost. Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte hasn’t managed yet to bring all ruling parties together to overhaul the two controversial anti-migration ‘Salvini decrees’, adopted by the past government, despite a dedicated 3-hour-long-coalition meeting on the matter. Parties are still far from making changes, as the anti-establishment Five Star Movement doesn’t want a radical revision.

In other news, Italy’s highest court of appeal ruled that transgender people can freely choose their new name, as they have no obligation to use the one they had before the gender reassignment. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

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ATHENS 

Giga solar investment in Western Macedonia. Greek Hellenic Petroleum and German JUWI CEOs signed yesterday the biggest ever solar energy investment in Greece which, at 204 MW, also happens to be the fourth largest in Europe, in an attempt to differentiate the energy mix of Greece. EURACTIV Greece’s Theodore Karaoulanis digs deeper.

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LISBON

EU budget proposal ‘not a good sign for Europe’, says former Commissioner.  The European Council’s new proposal for the European Union’s multiannual budget (2021-2027) is “not a good sign for Europe”, former European Commissioner for Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas said in an interview with Lusa’s Maria de Deus Rodrigues.

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In other news, for the first time in Portugal, a football player had refused to stay on the pitch after he allegedly had been the target of racist insults, following which political and judicial authorities promised to punish racism in football. FC Porto’s Moussa Marega from Mali walked off a pitch in northern Portugal, after allegedly having been the target of racist insults.

While the Portuguese Football Federation and the country’s League of Clubs have also spoken out about the case and promised to investigate the situation thoroughly, public prosecutors announced the opening of a criminal investigation. (Lusa.pt)


VISEGRAD

WARSAW

Smolensk crash anniversary. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki confirmed that he will be in the Russian city of Smolensk on 10 April to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the plane crash that killed former Polish president Lech Kaczynski together with 95 other people, including high-ranking politicians and military commanders. As the visit will not have the status of a bilateral meeting, it is not yet certain whether Morawiecki will meet his counterpart. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already declared that he will not be present. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)

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PRAGUE

Warning against digital tax. US ambassador to Czech Republic Stephen B. King officially warned Czech MPs against adopting the government’s proposal introducing a 7% digital tax and urged the Czech Republic to wait for a common OECD regulation.

“As I already said to PM Andrej Babiš and other officials, the US keeps its right to adopt appropriate measures to defend our innovative companies. This might also include countermeasures,” wrote the ambassador in his letter addressed to the Czech parliament’s budget committee obtained by EURACTIV.cz’s media partner, Hospodářské noviny. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)

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BUDAPEST

Orbán and Trump on illegal migration and border protection. “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump,” in which the two discussed the importance of combating illegal migration and supporting border protection, the situation in the Middle East”, the PM’s Press Office announced. Trump also asked Orbán to express his appreciation to the ‘successful and great’ Hungarian people. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

In other news, the opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) has hailed the victory of joint opposition candidate from the far-right Jobbik, Gergely Kállő, in Sunday’s by-election in the city of Dunaújváros, saying it had helped unify the opposition parties. Željko Trkanjec and Vlagyiszlav Makszimov report.

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BRATISLAVA 

Unlikely frontrunner. The latest opinion polls ahead of the parliamentary election set to take place on 29 February have revealed that the Movement OĽaNO (Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party, a member of the ECR group, is now the second strongest party and may nominate the next prime minister in a scenario where opposition parties will be able to form a government. OĽaNO leader Igor Matovič remains coy on whether he would be the one to take the job. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)


NEWS FROM THE BALKANS

SOFIA

Police violence and inefficiency of investigative bodies. 48% of the key decisions of the European Court of Human Rights delivered in cases against Bulgaria since 2009 are still pending. These are 79 cases that highlight serious problems in Bulgarian law and practice but have not yet been addressed, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, а non-governmental organisation for human rights, said citing data from a new international platform. The example, highlighted for Bulgaria in the new platform, draws attention to the largest group of key cases that have not yet been addressed, which are linked to police violence, misuse of force and inefficiency of investigative bodies. (dnevnik.bg)

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BUCHAREST

Hearings, again. Parliamentary hearings are ongoing in Romania, continuing the masquerade of naming a government that is unwanted by the party setting it up. Designated Prime Minister Ludovic Orban proposed the same list of ministers as in the previous cabinet, which was sacked by the Parliament two weeks ago, and said his own party would not vote for the new government. The centre-right PNL wants early elections, and the only way to get that is by forcing the Parliament to refuse two prime minister proposals in less than 60 days. (EURACTIV.ro)
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LJUBLJANA 

Slovenia rejects Michel’s proposal. “Charles Michel’s proposal for the MFF is still inadequate for Slovenia,” Foreign Minister Miro Cerar warned, adding that “it is not enough”even if it makes slight improvements on cohesion policy compared to the Finnish Presidency’s proposal. Although the European Commission’s initial proposal of May 2018 foresaw a 9% reduction for Slovenia to around € 3.1 billion, which was still acceptable, the Finnish proposal, according to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, foresaw a 28% drop compared to what Slovenia is currently receiving under the seven-year budget. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

In other news, a manifesto signed by 75 Slovenian intellectuals wrote that a government headed by SDS (EPP) leader Janez Janša would be unacceptable because the leader of the current opposition would “pose a great danger to democratic culture and political processes”, and would promote authoritarianism, the subjugation of social systems, ‘Orbanization’ and nationalist populism. Janša would take Slovenia and its “sensitive” democracy into the circle of those EU members blacklisted as violators of the fundamental principles of protecting the principles of democracy, the rule of law, media independence and human rights today, according to the manifesto, of which Delo has a list of signatories. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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ZAGREB       

Croatia reasserts EU enlargement policy. Croatia has managed to reassert the EU’s enlargement policy at the start of the new European Commission term, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said, adding that our “our goal was to put this topic on the agenda and we have succeeded in it”.

“Today we can see that France’s position is essentially different than in October, and I wouldn’t ignore the effect of the arguments that we presented in our talks with President Emmanuel Macron. Judging by the mood in the EU, I think the decision on North Macedonia is not questionable,” Plenković said, noting that “the decision will certainly be positive before the Zagreb summit” and that there would be consensus with regard to Albania. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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BELGRADE

Vulin, Shoygu Prepared to Develop Serbian-Russian Ties. The Serbian and Russian defence ministers, Aleksandar Vulin and Sergey Shoygu committed to permanently develop defence ties between their countries during a meeting in Belgrade on Monday (17 February) where the two discussed cooperation in the defence sector, Serbia’s defence ministry reported. EURACTIV Serbia looks into the Serbian-Russian cooperation agenda and its progress thus far.

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SARAJEVO 

“Goodbye BiH, welcome RS-exit”. Milorad Dodik, a Serb member of the BiH Presidency, began his speech in the National Assembly of Republika Srpska, one of two BiH entities,  with the words: “Goodbye BiH, welcome RS-exit”. He stressed that Republika Srpska (RS) and the Serb people have no chance in BiH because they are viewed as a category that Sarajevo and Bosniaks do not accept, hate and want to destroy. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

In other news, the European force in charge of preserving peace in Bosnia (EUFOR) is carefully monitoring the country’s situation and recent events have not threatened peace and stability in the region, EUFOR told N1 television, responding to announcements from RS that they would block the state-level decision-making process. “The EUFOR will continue to monitor the situation in the country in line with its mandate, which implies supporting the safe and stable environment in Bosnia. So far, the political events in the country have had no security or stability effects,” the EUFOR said. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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PODGORICA 

Balkans battleground between pro-European, retrograde forces. The issues that followed the adoption of Montenegro’s freedom of confession law are not solely Montenegrin but should be viewed in the context of the fight between pro- and anti-European forces in the Western Balkans, according to President Milo Đukanović.

In Montenegro, Đukanović emphasised, there is a proposal to retract to “the status of a national, specifically Serbian state, the status of a state which would be governed by the Serbian Orthodox Church on the model of a medieval state,” as opposed to attempts to develop a civic state and multi-ethnic society which would be part of the Euro-Atlantic community. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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PRIŠTINA

Kosovo’s independence critical to Western Balkans’ stability. “Kosovo’s sovereignty and independence remain critical to the security and stability of the Western Balkans.  The United States supports Kosovo on your journey toward integration into Transatlantic institutions and will continue to work to bolster the rule of law, stamp out corruption, and foster economic prosperity for all of Kosovo’s citizens”, announced the US State Department on the occasion of 12th year of Kosovo independence. “We are encouraged by recent events that signal a move toward facilitating investment, tourism, and commercial and people-to-people ties with Serbia, which lay the groundwork for further progress on the comprehensive normalization of relations in the near future”, the statement added. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]

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