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 an interview of EURACTIV Germany’s Claire Stam with Danish energy minister Dan Jørgensen at COP25 as well as Sam Stolton’s story “Malta murder scandal exposes EU reluctance to force Muscat out”.
Also, feel free to have a look at the interview conducted by Sarantis Michalopoulos with the boss of the World Bioenergy Association (WBA): “Biofuel expert calls on EU to revisit RED II to avoid ‘impetus of oil’.
Follow also our liveblog of the EU Council.
MADRID. Former US Vice-President Al Gore described the United Nations climate summit in Madrid as a crucial opportunity to boost ambitions in the fight against the climate crisis but warned that a current lack of consensus in the international community could lead to failure.
“The fossil fuel companies are using their political power and campaign contributions and lobbying and revolving door system to slow down the changes that are desperately needed,” Al Gore said.
In an interview with EURACTIV’s partner Efe, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner said he nonetheless held on to some hope that an agreement would be landed in the final crunch hours of the COP25, as is usually the case in his experience.
“There is always danger in the final week of these conferences, so that’s not unusual. But I would say it’s a bit more this year than usual,” he said, adding that countries like Saudi Arabia are trying to block progress. “They will not even endorse science. And they’re demanding to be paid for any reduction in their oil output,” he said.
“Brazil is demanding dishonest accounting, double-counting of emissions reductions, they’re the only country making such a demand,” he added.
He described an “absurd” situation, saying we’re trapping as much extra heat in the Earth’s system every day as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding every day.
Al Gore urged Europe and other parts of the world to stop subsidising fossil fuels and back a rapid transition to renewable electricity, electric cars and trucks.
Referring to the intention of Donald Trump’s administration to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, he said that under the agreement, this can only be done starting from the first day after the next US presidential election,11 months from now.
“So, this decision is in the hands of the American voters and if a new president is elected, that president could give 30-days notice and the US would re-enter the Paris Agreement,” he said. Al Gore also said he was a “big admirer” of Greta Thunberg, saying her movement is not a “passing fashion”.
[Amaya Quincoces | EFE]
WARSAW. EU leaders claimed to have sealed a deal on an ambitious climate plan for 2050 early Friday morning (13 December) but Poland still maintained its objections and refused to endorse the climate-neutral target. During the European Council summit, Poland set some conditions regarding the approval of the climate objective.
According to sources of the Polish Press Agency, Poland is willing to support the goal of neutrality by 2050, but wants to reach it at its own pace on the path towards neutrality.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki lauded the “very good solution” and said that his country had “been exempted from the principle of applying climate neutrality policy. We will reach it at our own pace.” Besides Poland wants more specific arrangements for financing of transition to neutrality. In this, Warsaw may be supported by the Czech Republic and Hungary.
“It is acceptable for a country that has come a long way and has many coal-dependent regions, that it needs more time to go through the details. But it will not change the timeframe of the Commission,” EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
Slovakia supports the EU target of carbon neutrality by 2050, on condition that the principle of technological neutrality and freedom of energy mix will be upheld, Slovak PM Peter Pellegrini said at the margin of the European Council in Brussels. In other words, nuclear energy should play a big role in emission cutting efforts. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan has the full story: Poland snubs climate-neutrality deal but EU leaders claim victory
Brexit confirmed. The United Kingdom will leave the EU by the end of January after Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won a decisive victory in Thursday’s (12 December) general election.
The Conservatives are on track to win a 70 seat majority, with around 360 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons on 44% of the vote. A victory on that scale would make it certain that the UK will leave the EU on or before 31 January.
EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox has the story: Brexit confirmed as Johnson secures decisive election win
Russia expels German diplomats. Tensions continue between Germany and Russia after the suspected contract killing of Georgian asylum-seeker, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten in August.
Yesterday morning (12 December), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that the country would be expelling two German diplomats. This action comes in response to the German expulsion of two Russian diplomats on 4 December, after German prosecutors announced that they believed that the murder was carried out at the Kremlin’s behest.
This move was expected, after President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Foreign Ministry had already announced an identical reaction, but this kind of escalation is a rare step for German-Russian relations. The German government has said it reserves the right to take further actions in response to the killing.
Khangoshvili was a Georgian national who fought for Chechnyan separatists in the Second Chechen War (1999-2009) and afterward worked to counter Russian influence in both Georgia and Ukraine. In 2016, he fled to Berlin to claim asylum after surviving multiple assassination attempts in Georgia. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
Accepting 400 asylum-seekers. France will relieve Greece from its ongoing migration challenge that has put overwhelming pressure on its infrastructure by accepting 400 asylum-seekers, the French interior ministry confirmed on Thursday (12 December). “We offered to relocate 400 refugees to France,” the ministry told AFP, adding that they would arrive “in the coming months”.
Repatriation of IS children. A Brussels court ordered the Belgian government to repatriate ten children, aged between seven months and seven years, born in Syria to Islamic State fighters of Belgian nationality and currently based in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, which continues to be under Kurdish control, within six weeks.
If the government does not comply by providing consular assistance and administrative documents for the children, it will be fined €5,000 per child per day, the court ruled. Belgium’s justice minister, Koen Geens (CD&V) told Belgian media the government was ready to take back the children as long as it did not have to take in their mothers as well, a comment that generated public backlash.
(Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
Salvini probed over state flights. League leader Matteo Salvini said he had done nothing wrong after newspapers reported that he is currently under investigation in Rome over his use of state flights while he was the interior minister and deputy PM in the previous government, EURACTIV’s partner ANSA reported.
The case regards 35 state flights that the Audit Court considered illegitimate. But since the court did not find that any significant harm was done the state coffers, the case was shelved. The case documents, however, were handed over to criminal prosecutors, according to the reports. “All my flights were done in the role as minister, to inaugurate (police) barracks, not to go on holiday,” Salvini said. (ANSA)
Greece gets EU-US support over row with Turkey. The EU Council concluded last night that the Memorandum of Understanding between Turkey and Libya on maritime zones is illegal.
“The Turkey-Libya Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions in the Mediterranean Sea infringes upon the sovereign rights of third states, does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third states,” the Council conclusions read.
In Athens, the US Ambassador in Greece Geoffrey Pyatt slammed the “unhelpful and escalating nature” of the MoU. “The US legal judgment is that the Turkish government, in its assertions regarding maritime claims and specifically continental shelves, differs with our legal analysis and also with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in terms of islands,” he said. “Inhabited islands, as a matter of customary international law, are entitled to the same treatment as continental territory,” he noted.
The Turkish-Libyan deal ignores the existence of a number of Greek islands, including the island of Crete. (Theodore Karaoulanis | EURACTIV.gr)
Far-right on the rise. According to the latest opinion poll, two and a half months before elections, the far-right, neofascist LSNS party was polling at almost 12%, coming second after the ruling Smer-SD. This may well be one of the latest polls unless the Constitution Court decides to suspend the 50-day long moratorium recently adopted by the parliament.
(Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
Cyberattack. A cyberattack on a hospital in Benešov, Central Bohemian Region, disabled the local computer system. The hospital had to postpone all the scheduled operations and plans to reopen and be fully operational on Monday.
The National Cyber and Information Security Agency informed that the hospital was attacked by ransomware, a type of malware that locks victim’s data unless the victim pays for access. It is not yet known who is responsible for the attack. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
Romania, “totally unhappy” with the Finnish proposal. Romania completely disagrees with the proposal of the Finnish Council Presidency regarding the next Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), president Klaus Iohannis said before the EU Summit in Brussels. “The compromise is totally unsatisfactory, there are essential things missing, such as the funding flexibility. The funds for the cohesion policy are too low, and the same goes for the Common Agricultural Policy, and we cannot agree with the budget sharing and conditionalities,” Iohannis said. (EURACTIV.ro)
The European Council handed over negotiation duties for the next EU long-term budget to its president, Charles Michel.
Read also: Santa Claus got stuck in Finland
Bulgaria will take the ‘Macron package’ to the EU Court of Justice. On Wednesday (11 December) night, EU institutions have reached a preliminary agreement on the so-called Mobility package which will introduce new rules for posted drivers, including a higher minimum wage and regulation of their stay in hotels. In Bulgaria, the Mobility package is called “the Macron package” as it is seen as an attempt by Paris and other Western countries to counter the competitive advantage of truck transporters from Eastern Europe. Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania oppose part of the changes.
As EURACTIV Bulgaria reports, according to the preliminary agreement, obligations are imposed on truck drivers to sleep in hotels instead of truck cabins, their stay out of the country of origin being limited to 28 days, while the trucks will need to return to the country where their company is based at least once every eight weeks.
“We will take the case in front of the EU Court of Justice”, transport minister Rossen Jelyazkov stated, as quoted by Capital.bg. Bulgaria and other like-minded countries have taken the view that the Finnish Presidency has overstepped its mandate. It is expected that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will raise the issue at the EU summit.
Borissov, who usually likes to talk to the press, avoided such an opportunity on the first day of the summit. (Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV.com)
Year of Europe for China starts in Slovenia. Slovenian FM Miro Cerar will host his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on an official visit to Slovenia on Saturday (14 December) after which Wang will visit Brussels.
“Next year will be the year of Europe for China”, said Feng Zhongping, Vice president of the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations.
In his talks with EU Council President Charles Michel, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China considers its relations with the EU from a strategic and long-term perspective. Xi stressed that both are partners for mutually beneficial cooperation rather than competitors in a zero-sum game, and China’s development means opportunities for the EU instead of challenges.
The strategic view is perceived through five concentric circles. First: the fundamental principle of multilateralism, a new phase of globalisation and the maintenance of international institutions (WTO). Second: attract as many EU states as possible in the “One road, one belt project”. Third: convince the EU that Beijing is taking care of human rights. Forth: 5G through Huawei in Europe. Fifth: special projects in each country. In the case of Slovenia, it is the construction of a second railway track from port Koper to railway hub Divača on the way to Ljubljana. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
One-third of students plan to leave Serbia. A survey on a sample of more than 11,000 Serbian students has found that a third of the respondents plan to leave the country after graduation. More than 90% have the full support of their parents to go abroad, while 70% of the students have relatives and friends already living abroad. Germany is the most desirable state for students from all fields of study, except for ICT students, who largely plan to go to the US when they graduate. (EURACTIV.rs)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]