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The European news you deserve to read. Welcome to The Capitals by EURACTIV.
In today’s news from the Capitals:
German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock will visit Ukraine and Russia on Monday to defuse rising tensions at the Ukrainian border and revitalise the Normandy format in an attempt to ensure that the EU is not sidelined in the negotiations. Read more.
French lawmakers give vaccine pass final OK. The French National Assembly has adopted the bill introducing the vaccine pass on Sunday evening. The pass will come into force by the end of the week, replacing the sanitary pass, and granting access to restaurants, transport, venues that will no longer be accessible with PCR or antigen tests. Read more.
Austria presents February mandatory vaccination law amid protests. Vaccination against the COVID-19 could be mandatory starting in February as per a new law presented Sunday as large-scale protests rocked several Austrian cities. Read more.
UK AND IRELAND
Irish government pledges ‘zero-tolerance’ to gender violence after woman’s murder. Ireland’s Justice Minister has promised a zero-tolerance approach to gender violence following the murder of 23-year-old teacher Ashling Murphy last week. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Swedish police hunting down drone spotted at nuclear plant. Police in Sweden deployed patrols and helicopters at the Forsmark nuclear power plant to hunt for a large drone seen flying over the site late on Friday. So far, they have been unable to identify the unmanned device. Read more.
Finnish NATO debate kept alive by Russia tensions. The North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) could decide overnight if Finland and Sweden applied for membership, former NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told broadcaster YLE in an interview on 15 January. “You could be a member the very next day because you meet all the necessary membership criteria,” Rasmussen added.
Political leadership in Finland and Sweden has been busy trying to convince others that there has been no change to their neutrality stance, that non-alignment still holds and that NATO applications are not being prepared. (Pekka Vänttinen | EURACTIV.com)
Sanchez and Scholz want to take lead on EU social policy. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – both socialists – intend to lead European social democracy together, Sanchez announced on the eve of Scholz’s first official visit to Spain, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. Read more.
Close to half of Spain’s children already have their first COVID-19 jab. More than 1.3 million children aged 5-12 have received their first jab of Pfizer’s paediatric COVID-19 vaccine, although health authorities expressed moderate optimism about the situation as infections with the Omicron variant are rising. Read more.
Italian parliament’s president: next president needs to be of ‘high morality’. The next president has to be a “profile of high morality, adhering to our Constitution, principles and strong values, which can represent Italy in all its aspects” the Italian Chamber of Deputies’ President Roberto Fico told Rai3 on Sunday. Read more.
Greece starts to fine unvaccinated over 60s. Greeks over 60 who have not been vaccinated yet will begin receiving a €100 monthly penalty, as of Monday. However, the government ruled out the scenario of extending mandatory vaccination to other age groups. Read more.
WARSAW | PRAGUE
Poland refuses to pay fines for Turów mine, agrees to reduced payments from EU funds. The Polish government has rejected the European Commission’s order to pay outstanding fines for not complying with the EU Court of Justice’s ruling to stop the activity of the lignite mine in Turów, which was the subject of the clash between Poland and the Czech Republic. However, the government did agree to receive reduced payments from the EU budget. Read more.
Czech President criticises Beijing Olympics boycott. Czech President Miloš Zeman, well-known for his good ties with Chinese and Russian leaders, criticises the diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in China. Read more.
Hungary’s opposition plans to spend an extra €3.4 billion on healthcare. In the run-up to the elections in April, the opposition prime ministerial candidate Péter Márki-Zay promised to spend an extra 1,200 billion forints to reform Hungarian healthcare in line with European countries, Hungary Today reported. Read more.
Slovak General Prosecutor to fight international crime with sanctioned Russian counterpart. General Prosecutor Maroš Žilinka, who went to Moscow last week and took part in celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Russian Office of General Prosecutor, signed a programme of cooperation with his Russian counterpart Igor Krasnov, that focuses on international crime and cybercrime. Krasnov is facing EU sanctions for his role in the imprisonment of Alexey Navalny, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
The Bulgarian State Gas Company is under investigation. Bulgaria’s state-owned gas company, Bugargaz is under investigation for a series of potential abuses, according to new Prime Minister Kiril Petkov on Sunday. Read more.
SKOPJE | SOFIA
North Macedonia’s new PM to meet Bulgarian counterpart. North Macedonia’s parliament late Sunday (16 January) elected Social Democrat technocrat Dimitar Kovacevski as prime minister after more than two months of political turmoil in the country. Read more.
Croatian minister: No one asked for extended Solidarity Fund deadline. Interior Minister Davor Božinović denied Croatian media’s reports that the European Commission refused to extend the deadline for Croatia to utilise funding from the Solidarity Fund, saying he did not know what all this drama was about because no one had asked for an extension. Read more.
Illegal migration down 31% in Slovenia last year. Slovenian police recorded 10,067 attempts at unlawful border crossing last year, a decrease of 31.2% on the year before. Asylum applications, however rose substantially, official police statistics show. Read more.
Serbia votes in favour of judicial constitutional amendments. Serbian citizens on Sunday voted in a referendum to make changes to sectionS of the Constitution dealing with the judicial system. Read more.
Vucic denounces Australian court ruling against Đoković as witch hunt. Australia revoking its visa to tennis player Novak Đoković was a political decision and witch hunt, and Canberra had degraded itself by doing so, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said on Sunday. Read more.
Vucic asks Dodik and Republika Srpska to participate in state institutions. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić called on the Serb member of tripartite Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Presidency, Milorad Dodik, and authorities in the Republika Srpska (RS, Serb entity) to participate in the work of joint state institutions in BiH and protect the interests of the Serbs. Read more.
YouTube blocks Alternativna TV. YouTube has blocked the account of Alternativna TV, Banja Luka-based media outlet Alternativna TV, days after the US administration imposed sanctions on this business entity over the ties with Milorad Dodik.
Igor Dodik, Milorad Dodik’s son who has business interests in Alternativna TV, has announced hiring a team of lawyers to launch legal proceedings against Eric Nelson, US Ambassador to BiH, for what he called “false allegations”.
Speaking to Nezavisne novine daily, Nelson commented on recently introduced US sanctions on the private media outlet Alternativna TV due to close links to Milorad Dodik, a subject of the US sanctions. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Another 67 Afghan citizens arrived at Skopje airport. A group of 67 Afghan citizens, employees of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and their family members, arrived at the Skopje International Airport on Sunday. Read more.
Kosovo parliament opposes Serbian constitutional referendum in Kosovo. Kosovo’s parliament passed a resolution against allowing a Serbian constitutional referendum to take place in Kosovo, despite pressure from the EU to allow it. Read more.
Albania seeks to restart thermal power plant amid energy crisis. Albania’s state-owned electricity-producing company is planning to lease a thermal power plant from a third party in the hopes of combatting the energy emergency declared back in October. Read more.
- EU: European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg with ceremony to mark death of late President David Sassoli / EU agriculture and fisheries ministers meet in Brussels / Eurozone finance ministers (Eurogroup) meet / Commission VP Valdis Dombrovskis meets new finance ministers of Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg meets with Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia David Zalkaliani in Brussels.
- Germany: Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock travels to Kyiv, before traveling to Moscow on Tuesday.
- France: Verdict in trial of far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, accused of inciting racial hatred.
- Switzerland: World Economic Forum hosts the ‘Davos Agenda’ virtual sessions / International Labour Organization (ILO) report on pandemic impact.
- Czech Republic: Employees to start mandatory twice-weekly antigen tests in fight against Covid-19.
- Spain: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on inaugural visit in Madrid, will meet with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
- Croatia: Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman visits Russia announcing he would use the meeting with Sergey Lavrov to defuse tensions, promote dialogue and convey the EU’s common position.
- Montenegro: Dritan Abazović, Deputy Prime Minister and URA President, to announce forming a minority government as a solution to the political crisis.
- Albania: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit Albania and officially address parliament.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Alexandra Brzozowski, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox, Zoran Radosavljevic, Alice Taylor]