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 interview with the Ambassador of Russia to the EU Vladimir Chizhov “Discussing Navalny is pointless” conducted by Georgi Gotev.
Also read a EURACTIV network story “Russia’s vaccine and the political side-effects for Europe” as well as the interview “Romania’s recovery plan further sidelines left-led poor regions” with Marcel Ciolacu, the leader of Romania’s main opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD).
The European news you deserve to read. Welcome to The Capitals by EURACTIV.
In today’s news from the Capitals:
Four EU member states were offered to sign separate COVID-19 vaccine agreements, outside of the EU deals framework, with British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in order to get vaccines faster than others, Czech PM Andrej Babiš unveiled on Thursday (11 February).
Babiš’s statement raises questions regarding the company’s tactics in the aftermath of the row with the EU over delayed deliveries of doses, which have considerably derailed vaccination programs across the bloc. Read more.
Anti-graft units raid finance minister’s home. Austrian anti-corruption authorities raided the home of Finance Minister Gernot Blümel (ÖVP), a party ally of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, as he is a suspect in a current investigation against the ruling conservative ÖVP party.
Kurz’s party is being probed for having allegedly accepted donations from gambling company Novomatic in exchange for political favours. As nothing has yet been proven, investigators are acting based on hints gathered by journalists and a parliamentary inquiry on corruption in politics, triggered by the infamous “Ibiza”-videotape.
Recorded with a hidden camera, it showed then leading Austrian politician from the far-right FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache, today without party affiliation, openly discussing political corruption in Austria, naming Novomatic as one big player. “Novomatic pays everyone”, Strache famously said. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
Germany prepares further entry restrictions. Given the spread of the more-contagious coronavirus mutations in the Czech Republic and Tyrol, Germany will be implementing further entry restrictions and temporary border controls, a spokesperson for the interior ministry said on Thursday. The measures, the first entry ban for Germany’s neighbouring countries, will go into effect on Sunday. Read more.
Google challenges French data watchdog’s €100 million fine in court. France’s administrative court known as the Council of State considered on Thursday an application for interim measures filed by Google LLC and Google Ireland after the French Data Protection Authority known as the CNIL fined the digital giant €100 million last December for its cookie collection policy. Read the full story.
OECD critical of Luxembourg’s tax practices. The OpenLux investigation has brought to light a number of questionable tax practices in Luxembourg that require more international cooperation despite formally being legal, Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the centre for tax policy and administration at the OECD, has said.
The investigation led by more than 12 newspapers has raised the issue of how much new insight is provided in the Grand Duchy about owners of complex business networks known as beneficial owners. “The issue of beneficial owners is the new frontier. Beneficial owners aren’t well known and there are few, or none, registers of their details. Luxembourg has a register but there are gaps. All countries have progress to make,” Saint-Amans told Luxembourg’s Radio 100.7 on Thursday. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)
UK AND IRELAND
London no longer Europe’s largest share trading centre. London has lost its place as Europe’s largest share trading centre to Amsterdam in the first sign that new EU-UK trade relations will hurt the UK’s financial services industry. Read more.
Italy’s Five Star Movement back Draghi. Members of the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the largest party in the Italian parliament – decided via an online vote on Thursday to support the new government of prime-minister designate and former European Central Bank chief, Mario Draghi. Read more.
New Spanish law to make food delivery workers ‘permanent staff’, not self-employed. Spain’s labour ministry, trade unions, and employer’s associations have agreed this week in principle to a law that would improve the rights of food delivery workers – working mainly for global platforms like Deliveroo – which could grant them the status of “permanent workers” or permanent staff, instead of self-employed. However, the legal initiative would still have to be adopted in parliament. Read the full story.
Greece passes controversial university surveillance law. With the support of the right-wing populist Greek Solution party, the ruling conservative New Democracy party (EPP) passed a law on Thursday (11 February) establishing a special police force for the surveillance of universities. Read the full story.
Polish government announces new health recovery plan. There will be a recovery plan for the health of Poles, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski announced during a Patients Organisations Forum on Thursday, noting that it will cover five areas. Read more.
Czech parliament puts end to state of emergency. The Czech parliament has rejected the extension of the state of emergency proposed by the government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO, Renew). This means that the state of emergency, which is the legal basis for all restrictive measures applied by the government, will end this Sunday. Read more.
Statistics on active COVID-19 cases in Slovakia might be distorted. Slovakia’s number of active cases could fall below zero on the Worldometer due to the way the authorities report the number of recovered patients, The Slovak Spectator reports. More
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Pro and anti-Russian nationalists form strange coalition in Bulgaria. Pro-Russian businessman and politician Vesselin Mareshki, and anti-Russian nationalist Valeri Simeonov have signed an agreement to run together in Bulgaria’s upcoming parliamentary elections set for 4 April. Read more.
Croatia’s female opposition MPs call for reducing ‘women’s tax’ to 5%. Female opposition MPs said on Thursday that they had collected signatures for an amendment to the Value Added Tax Act which proposes that VAT on sanitary pads and tampons, the so-called women’s tax, be reduced from 25 to 5%. Read more.
Stores to reopening in Slovenia as curfew remains. Following a gradual but persistent decrease in coronavirus infections and hospitalisations, Slovenia has entered the orange tier, with the government deciding on Thursday for a sweeping easing of restrictions, including the reopening of all stores and primary schools as of Monday. Read more.
BELGRADE | SARAJEVO | SKOPJE
Serbia secures 5,000 vaccines for Republika Srpska, postpones donation to North Macedonia. The Serbian government has secured 5,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses for the immunisation of medical staff in Republika Srpska (RS), the office of the Serb member and president of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, announced Thursday. Read more.
ZAGREB | SARAJEVO
Croatian FM rejects diplomatic note from BiH FM on Exclusive Economic Zone. Croatia’s ministry of foreign and European affairs has rejected as unfounded a diplomatic note sent at the end of January by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s foreign ministry related to the announcement of plans to declare an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in Croatia’s part of the Adriatic Sea, the national news agency Hina confirmed on Thursday. Read more.
Council of Europe officials to discuss ‘Sejdić-Finci’ verdict. The Head of the Human Rights Directorate of the Council of Europe, Christophe Poirel, and representatives of the European Court of Human Rights will hold talks next week with government officials and senior diplomatic officials in Bosnia on the implementation of the so-called ‘Sejdić-Finci’ ruling and related groups of cases, the Council of Europe told Fena news agency on Thursday, N1 reported. Dervo Sejdić, a Roma, and Jakob Finci, a Jew, have sued Bosnia because the Constitution does not allow them to run for president or as a member of the parliament’s upper house, as those positions are open only for Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. Read more.
SARAJEVO | PODGORICA
Top members of Montenegrin organised crime gang arrested in BiH. Police in BiH’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity arrested three high-ranking members of Montenegrin organised crime gang, the ‘Škaljari clan’, and handed them over to BiH’s service for foreigners’ affairs, which later deported them back to their country.
The three Montenegrin nationals were arrested on mount Jahorina, near the capital, on Wednesday evening, according to RS police. Montenegrin security services, however, said that the three are connected to another organised crime gang known as the ‘Kavač clan’. One of them had an international arrest warrant against him. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
New air routes established over Kosovo with NATO support. Civilian airlines can now use new south-west air routes in the lower airspace over Kosovo – an important achievement in the normalisation of the country’s lower airspace.
This will significantly improve the civil air traffic routing to and from Pristina airport, with multiple benefits including faster travel, lower fuel consumption, and reduced pollution, NATO announced. Iceland’s Transport Safety Agency (ICETRA) is now acting as a safety oversight function in support of the KFOR [NATO’s Kosovo force] Commander, who retains primary authority for the use of the airspace over Kosovo. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]