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 with an IATA official saying that incentives are needed for green alternatives in aviation.
Read also the Brief “Gender-washing at the Commission?” written by Natasha Foote and Gerardo Fortuna.
Also, feel free to have a look at the story about Finland electing its youngest-ever prime minister, as well as EURACTIV Bulgaria’s article on a €9-million report on the state of species and natural habitats in Bulgaria being a sham.
The grand coalition continues for now. For the time being, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) will continue being part of Germany’s grand coalition, alongside the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU). However, the results of this weekend’s party conference illustrate a clear leftward shift and demonstrate the continuing uncertainty around the grand coalition’s future.
The party has agreed upon a plan to reform the German welfare state. Crucially, they voted to abandon Hartz IV, a controversial set of reforms enacted during the tenure of the previous SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, which imposed more conditions to obtain unemployment or welfare benefits. Besides advocating to lift these restrictions, the SPD also proposed to implement a citizen’s income, increasing the minimum wage, and building 1.5 million low-income apartments in the next ten years.
The new party leadership has also proposed additional government investment of more than €45 billion per year over ten years to be poured into the environment, education, and infrastructure, despite the constitutional mandate for a balanced budget.
The SPD has called for a renegotiation of the coalition agreement with the CDU/CSU to discuss these developments. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) announced the plan, saying: “We will discuss these positions with our coalition partner. I want to know what the Union’s ideas are…This is an opportunity for this coalition to make the entire system more citizen-friendly and to reform it.”
CDU party leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, quickly rejected the idea of new talks, telling the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that she does not accept “conditions that follow the motto: ‘If that doesn’t come, then we go’”.
Regarding SPD’s proposal, CDU Vice-Chair, Thomas Strobl, had even harsher words to spare. “The SPD’s oversized post-negotiation fantasies are completely absurd…the SPD folklore must end now, and the grand coalition must go back to normal,” he said in an interview with the Stuttgarter Zeitung.
[Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de]
Read also EURACTIV Germany’s story: New SPD leadership on its way to challenge Germany’s Grand Coalition
Putin and Zelenskiy in Paris. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will meet in Paris today (9 December) under the so-called “Normandy format”, which includes both French and German heads of states. With the summit being the first between Ukraine and Russia since 2016, the Normandy-style summit also comes at a time when relations between the two countries have eased, and a new Ukrainian President has recently been elected.
According to a French government source, the summit is the result of a strong political involvement from both France and Germany, and the participation of the Russian head of state is a concrete indication that tensions between Moscow and Kyiv have eased.
The 5-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces has already caused over 13,000 victims, as the ceasefire agreement signed in February 2015 in Minsk has been repeatedly broken.
The Paris summit hopes to put back on track the Minsk agreement. “The summit’s major stake is trust. But Zelenskiy’s election has built a new momentum, and some progress has been observed on the ground,” according to the source. (EURACTIV.fr)
Fresh round of consultations. Spain’s King Felipe VI will begin a new round of consultations with representatives of all political parties on Tuesday and Wednesday. The monarch wants to know first-hand the positions of the parties to explore the possibilities for the prime minister’s investiture after the socialists (PSOE) won the November election without obtaining the required majority, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
Last week, acting socialist PM Pedro Sánchez promised that a political agreement between PSOE and Catalan separatists of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) would respect the country’s Constitution. The ERC’s positive vote – or abstention – is essential to allow the appointment of Sánchez and the formation of a “progressive” government coalition between the PSOE and leftist Unidas Podemos. (EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)
Third time unlucky. Socialist leader Paul Magnette (PS) will meet with the Belgian King this Monday (9 December) afternoon to give him his third report since being appointed to form a federal coalition. In what seemed like a last-ditch effort, Magnette met with Flemish nationalist leader Bart de Wever (N-VA) for talks on Saturday. Still, although six months have passed since the election, the parties are no step closer to reaching a common agreement, and Magnette is searching for ways to form a coalition without the N-VA. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Koen Geens, a federal negotiator for the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V), repeated that a majority in Flanders was necessary for the stability of the country, positioning his party as an alternative option. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
UK health data scare. Health data belonging to millions of UK National Health Service (NHS) patients has been sold under license to US companies and other global pharmaceutical firms, in a move that is likely to inflame tensions between the UK government and privacy campaigners in the run-up to the December 12 election.
Moreover, a freedom of information request made by the campaign group Privacy International has revealed the extent to which the US e-commerce giant Amazon is able to take advantage of NHS data. The request has resulted in the disclosure of the December 2018 contract agreement between the Department of Health and Amazon which reads that the company has been permitted access to all “healthcare information, including without limitation symptoms, causes, and definitions, and all related copyrightable content, data, information and other materials.”
Read more on this story.
(Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com)
Salvini goes nuts. During a rally in Ravenna, right-wing Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini revealed that he’d quit eating Nutella, as the manufacturer Ferrero makes its iconic hazelnut spread with Turkish nuts rather than Italian ones. Although it’s not the first time that Salvini publicly advocated for a ‘nationalist’ food policy, the attack against one of Italy’s most beloved foodstuffs drew so much criticism that he was forced to make a U-turn.
Read more about this story.
From Nutella to ESM. “If you can’t express yourself with competence over Nutella, it’s clear that the credibility of what you say about the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is rather poor,” said Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri, commenting on Lega’s petition to stop the approval of the eurozone bailout fund. According to Salvini, roughly 400,000 signatures were collected in two days. However, some video reporting showed that petitioners were not completely aware of what they were signing. For Gualtieri, Lega has built up, what he calls a ‘terrorist campaign’ on ESM to terrorise people. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Libya-Turkey deal causes headaches. The memorandum between Turkey and Libya is a product of blackmail on the Tripoli government, Greek FM Nikos Dendias told ANT1 TV in an interview. Turkey recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Libya to demarcate maritime zones in the region triggering strong reactions from Athens, Nicosia and Cairo. The Turkish-Libyan deal ignores the island of Crete, and Greece even stated that Turkey intends to set a legal precedent.
Today (9 December) Dendias will participate in the EU Foreign Affairs Council, during which the issue of Libya will be discussed. Read more on Athens-Macedonian News Agency: Greece ready to defend its national and sovereign rights
(Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
A new candidate. Szymon Hołownia, TV personality, author, journalist and humanitarian activist, has announced that he will run for president in the May 2020 elections.
Hołownia, with no previous experience in politics so far, has said that over 70% of Poles agree that the next Polish president doesn’t have to be a career politician. “I want a Poland where everyone plays by the rules and nobody, not even the president, is above the law. I want a Poland that shows solidarity,” he said.
After Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (PSL), Hołownia, who emphasised that he doesn’t belong to any political party, is another candidate eyeing a more centrist electorate. However, both of them hope that they will be able to gather support from voters from a more right-wing electorate, which currently supports incumbent Polish President Andrzej Duda. Moreover, Hołownia has even greater potential to appeal to left-wing voters, as he represents the so-called catholic left.
A poll from a week ago showed that in a potential run-off, Hołownia could obtain 28% of the votes, while Duda would receive 48% and 27% remained undecided. This was nonetheless very promising for Holownia, given that before the beginning of an electoral campaign, incumbent presidents usually have a bigger advantage in the polls. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
It’s a tie. Only one day after charging former PM Robert Fico (Smer-SD), the police also charged former President and Fico’s main political rival Andrej Kiska. Kiska, who is the leader of the new non-parliamentary Za ľudí (For People) party, is facing criminal prosecution in connection with what the police believe to be tax fraud linked to Kiska’s company, KTAG. Both Kiska and Fico’s party colleagues publicly denounced the charges as politically motivated, which was criticised by the police chief. “I was expecting the circus they had staged,” the police chief commented on Facebook. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
Czechia and France agree on EU strategic autonomy. The EU should strive for strategic autonomy in its defensive capabilities without negatively impacting NATO, Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian agreed in Prague last Friday. “The EU must be able to be more assertive while defending its interests,” Petricek said. Le Drian noted that Europe could not fully rely on the US’ willingness to engage in regions that are mainly of strategic importance to European countries. (Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)
Judicial reform again. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has announced that Bulgaria will continue its judicial reform and implement the latest recommendations of the Venice Commission. Authorities in Sofia have announced their intention to reduce the enormous power of the Prosecutor General, giving powers to a special prosecutor who can investigate him on suspicion of a crime.
Borisov said that he would immediately inform Ursula von der Leyen about continuing the judicial reform. Termination of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is a major goal for Bulgaria. The biggest problem with the latest proposals is that they do not meet all the requirements of the Venice Commission. There are fears that the government’s ideas are contrary to the constitution and will not achieve anything substantial. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Ukrainian language law infringes international law. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said that a new Venice Commission opinion suggested that Ukraine’s language law is stripping ethnic minorities of already acquired rights regarding the use of their mother tongue. Hungary will support Ukraine’s accession to NATO as soon as the rights of ethnic Hungarians there have been reinstated, “but no sooner than that”, Szijjártó added. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
The proportion of bad loans down to 6.03%. The proportion of bad loans in Croatia fell to 6.03% in September, their lowest level since June 2016 when the Croatian National Bank (HNB) started using a new methodology in analysing data on non-performing loans.
Negative interest rates a reality but not for Croatia. Negative interest rates are appearing in some EU money, and sovereign bond markets but not on Croatian bonds, the Croatian Banking Association (HUB) said in its latest analysis, noting that the necessary prerequisites must be created for negative interest on loans and that in Croatia’s case, this is not realistic for now. Prerequisite for them is that the country should be a member of the euro area or very closely tied to it and developed, like Denmark and Sweden, HUB says. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
New elections? Candidate to become Kosovo’s PM and the leader of the Vetevendosje, Albin Kurti, said that if there is no agreement on a coalition with the Democratic League of Kosovo, his party would ask for new elections. He told Radio Television Kosovo that a new election is not the party’s goal, but that it would suit Vetevendosje because support for the party has surged since the early parliamentary elections. (EURACTIV.rs)
Sarajevo hit by record-high air pollution. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital topped the international ranking of cities (AirVisual’s air quality index- AQI) on Saturday morning, coping with excessive air pollution together with Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia. There were 353 micrograms of dust per cubic metre in the air, while the EU standard limit is 25 micrograms per cubic meter. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]