Flemish PM’s meeting with Orban causes turmoil in Belgian politics

Flemish PM: "I don't understand the fuss about that. It does not make sense to establish in the European Parliament that there has been no improvement since the launch of Article 7 and then not to mention it if you are here on the spot." [EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET]

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 a fact-check written by EURACTIV Germany journalist Florence Schulz, which answers all your questions regarding Germany’s excess nitrate levels and the pending ECJ case against it.

Also, feel free to read Jorge Valero’s story ‘Too early to assess’ the impact of coronavirus, Commission says as well as the article “What to expect as world leaders meet in Munich for ‘Davos of global security’” by Alexandra Brzozowski.


BRUSSELS. “It goes without saying that I will raise criticism of the rule of law and freedom of the press in my discussions,” Flemish Prime Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA) said regarding his controversial visit to Budapest, where he is set to meet Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski has the story.


In other news, King Philippe of Belgium urged the UN Security Council to “better protect children to make lasting peace possible”. “One in five children worldwide suffers from the negative impact of armed conflict – this figure cannot leave you indifferent,” the Belgian King said during his speech in New York as part of the country’s chairmanship of the UN Security Council. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

Read more: Israel summons Belgian envoy over UN invite to children rights activist



An earlier vote for the CDU? After Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stepped down as party leader, the CDU is considering advancing their timeline to choose the next party leader and future Chancellor candidate after party politicians voiced their concerns. The original plan was to choose the candidate by the summer and confirm them at the annual party conference in December. But are all party members in favour of such change? EURACTIV Germany’s Sarah Lawton digs deeper.



Possible link between France and Daphne Caruana Galizia murder? France’s National Financial Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into the activities of some people suspected to have played a role in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist from Malta murdered by a car bomb in 2017 after digging into her country’s corruption issues.

The Financial Prosecutor’s Office is looking into links between economic activities in France and the possible corruption of foreign agents and intends to send the results of its investigation to Maltese authorities. The constitutional and political crisis that ensued from her death led to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stepping down in January. (EURACTIV.FR)



Boris to reshuffle the pack. Ministers are bracing themselves for a radical government reshuffle before the end of this week that could involve a string of sackings and departmental restructuring. The Exiting the EU department has already been axed, and may be followed by International Trade, which could be subsumed into the Business department. Johnson’s chief lieutenant, Michael Gove, is expected to be formally put in charge of managing the Brexit negotiations. (Benjamin Fox, EURACTIV).


Justice minister ‘backpedals’ on timeline for indictment against Airbus. One day after Austrian Justice Minister Alma Zadić (Greens) told public broadcaster ORF that she expects Austria’s indictment against Airbus to happen “very soon” due to alleged corruption in connection with the states’ purchase of 18 Eurofighter jets in 2003, the minister backpedalled. 

In a press statement, Zadić clarified that she did not want to preempt a decision by the public prosecutor, who would have the sole competence of the timing of this indictment. Soon after, the social democrats criticised her for “creating confusion” with these mixed messages, saying that taxpayers expect clarity in the Eurofighter affair. In 2017, Austria sued Airbus for bribing officials into buying their Eurofighter jets, for which Airbus recently admitted there had been “political contributions”. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)



Nokia and Ericsson bound for Berlin. The CEOS of Nokia and Ericsson will be meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday (13 February).

EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen looks into what this could mean for the shareholders of these two Nordic telecommunications and networking companies.



Sánchez describes Guaidó as ‘opposition leader’ in Venezuela. Spain’s socialist PM Pedro Sánchez described on Wednesday (12 February) Venezuela’s interim president Juan Guaidó as “opposition leader” of the Latin American country. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.



Salvini to face trial. The Italian Senate has lifted Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini immunity, authorising the investigation over allegations of kidnapping migrants who weren’t disembarked from the Italian coast guard ship Gregoretti last July. After the vote, Salvini said he remains calm and proud of what he did. “I’ll do it again as soon as I’m back in government,” he added. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)


The European Commission is bringing a case against Portugal to the EU Court of Justice because its used vehicles imported from other EU member states are still subject to higher taxes than those applied to ‘used’ vehicles purchased on the Portuguese market.

The import of used cars in Portugal increased 2.9% and represented 35% of total car sales in 2019, the year in which, for the first time, more petrol cars were sold than diesel in the country. These figures are a cause of environmental concern for the Portuguese Automobile Trade Association (ACAP). (André Campos and Vanda Proença, Lusa.pt)



Greek 10-year bond yield falls below 1%. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has hailed the record-breaking yield for the 10-year benchmark bond, which on Wednesday’s domestic electronic secondary bond market fell below 1%. Read more on Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

Also read an interview with Apostolos Tzitzikostas (EPP), the governor of Central Macedonia (Greece), who has been elected as the new president of the European Committee of the Regions. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Beatriz Rios.



Meeting of mayors. Rafał Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw, attended a meeting in Brussels alongside mayors of Budapest, Bratislava and Prague. After having convened a “Pact of Free Cities” a few months ago in order to act together in defence of European values as opposed to their central governments, the four mayors gathered in Brussels to lobby for EU funds to fight climate change among other things. 

“Cities can be the EU’s most important alliances in combating climate change,” said Gergely Karacsony, Budapest’s mayor, emphasising that the two most important challenges for the bloc are the fight against global warming and the crisis of Central European democracies. They also want to “build resistance against populism by introducing positive example to the public sphere”. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl, Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)



Electoral corruption. The Slovakian government has approved doubling the child allowance and the introduction of the third pension on Monday (10 February) just over three weeks before the elections. In a move considered by the opposition as “electoral corruption”, parliament will have to vote on these measures in a fast-track legislative procedure, meaning no impact-assessments have been carried out for these proposals. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)



Controversies surrounding ombudsman election. The Czech parliament voted in Stanislav Křeček on Wednesday (12 February) to become the country’s new ombudsman after being nominated by Czech President Miloš Zeman.

Although Křeček currently occupies the post of deputy ombudsman, he has become well-known for his controversial statements about minorities’ rights, especially LGBT and Roma communities. His predecessor, Anna Šabatová, said before the parliament’s vote that “he is not ready to stand up for everybody without distinction”. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)



Winning over youth’s hearts and minds in summer camps. The government plans to establish a programme of free summer camps for youngsters aged between 16 and 18 to “deepen their healthy, Christian, national values” and “reach out to the soul of young people,” reports Magyar Hang. The programme, with the working title “Wandering Scholar 10,000,” the number referring to the number of planned participants, would start this year and run until 2022, coinciding with next parliamentary elections in Hungary with a budget of about €1,300 per student. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)

‘Jealous’ of West-Russia close ties. “We are jealous of the close relations that Western European countries have established with Russia”, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told the Austrian News Agency, APA. Szijjártó also assessed that Austria has closer economic ties with Russia than Hungary. “Undercover, of course. Something critical is said occasionally, but huge deals are made under wraps”, Szijjártó emphasised. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec has more.



Freedom of press under attack? The Croatian government has submitted a controversial draft for new media legislation media, as it foresees severe penalties for publishing so-called “biased news”. EURACTIV Croatia’s Tea Trubić Macan reports.


In other news, the European Commission has officially opened an infringement procedure against Croatia due to Zagreb’s failure to submit a report on progress towards national energy efficiency targets. Croatia has still not submitted its 2019 annual progress report, as required by the Energy Efficiency Directive. (Tea Trubić Macan | EURACTIV.hr)



Marine Le Pen’s Bulgarian Partner wants a referendum on the Euro. In an attempt to impede the government’s efforts towards a common European currency, the leader of the Eurosceptic pro-Russian party Volya (Will) Vesselin Mareshki, has started a campaign for a referendum on the adoption of the euro in Bulgaria. EURACTIV Bulgaria’s Krassen Nikolov looks into what the proposed referendum has in store.



EU urges Romania to stop illegal logging. The European Commission asked Romania to properly implement timber legislation to prevent the production and placing on the EU market of products made from illegally harvested wood. The Commission says Romania is unable to effectively check and sanction operators, adding that authorities manage forests, including by authorising logging, without evaluating the impacts on protected habitats beforehand. (EURACTIV.ro

In other news, the Commission urged Romania to speed up the implementation of its environmental legislation. The EU Executive also urged Romania (alongside Greece and Malta) to adopt a control programme for air pollution. It said that this programme should have been adopted and provided to the Commission by 1 April 2019. Moreover, the EU Commission urged Romania to fully implement its legislation on ship recycling, noting that Bucharest had failed to address penalties for breaches of regulations regarding the fluorinated greenhouse gases. (EURACTIV.ro)

Also, Romania’s Constitutional Court said the adoption of the 2020 budget did not infringe the Constitution. The government took responsibility for the budget in parliament, a procedure that speeds up the adoption because it avoids parliamentary debates on a draft law. However, the Constitutional Court said another law the government tried to passed through the same procedure – that aimed at changing various tax levels – is unlawful, because the parliament had already been debating a similar issue. (EURACTIV.ro)



Saying goodbye calls for resuming talks with Croatia. After Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović chose Slovenia for her last visit, Slovenian President Borut Pahor called for the resumption of talks between Croatia and Slovenia to reach a solution to all outstanding issues, especially regarding the border between both the two EU member states.

Pahor thanked Grabar-Kitarovic for having been “a bridge for maintaining dialogue” between the two countries after the Croatian parliament pulled out of the border arbitration in July 2015. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

In other news, following the hospitalisation of 700 patients, nine died from the flu, while five died from a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). “More than 700 people are hospitalised, in intensive care units were 450 patients with influenza and 300 patients infected with a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV),” said Tatjana Mrvić of the University Clinical Centre (UKC) in Ljubljana. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)



No Interpol membership. Kosovo will “have to notify the competent institutions that Kosovo will not be applying for Interpol this year. That was suggested to us by our foreign partners”, Foreign Minister Glauk Konjufca has said, Kosovo media reported. While it had withdrawn from a debate regarding membership in 2019 in Chile, it had failed to secure support from two-thirds of the members in 2018 in Dubai. (EURACTIV.rs)



Serbs want to expel foreign judges. Representatives of BiH’s Serb-majority entity, Republika Srpska, will suspend their work in the country’s state institutions until foreign judges are expelled from the country’s Constitutional Court following a decision by the Constitutional Court determining that public land law in that entity was – unconstitutional and that BiH, not entities are the owner of the land. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec has more.


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

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