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.
This is the last edition of The Capitals for 2021. EURACTIV Media Network would like to thank you all for your trust and support in our efforts to bridge the communication gap among EU capitals. Informed citizens make well-informed choices, and the EU integration process moves on more transparently and constructively. In 2022, we will expand further, and more innovative ideas are coming up. Stay tuned!
We wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
EDITOR’S TAKE: ECDC’s latest map raises questions. The only two “green’ spots of ECDC’s latest map regarding Europe’s epidemiological situation belong to Romania, the second worst-performing country when it comes to vaccinations. We asked ECDC why, but no reply was provided. Read more.
The European news you deserve to read. Welcome to The Capitals by EURACTIV.
In today’s news from the Capitals:
The Greek minister of health is likely to fire health workers in the national health system who insist on not getting vaccinated. The move was criticised by the opposition parties while a study on the lack of ICUs has caused political turmoil in the country. Read more.
Deals reached on carcinogens and TEN-E as Slovenia presidency draws to close. Just before Slovenia hands over the presidency of the Council of the EU to France, member countries have reached final political agreements to update the carcinogens and mutagens directive and to revise the Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E) regulation but disagreed on a proposal to update rules for social security coordination. Read more.
German navy to send more ships into Indo-Pacific. The German navy wants to send warships into the South China Sea, pending a decision by the new government, said vice-admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach in Singapore. Read more.
France opens COVID-19 vaccination for children aged 5-11. Children above the age of five can now officially receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Health Minister Olivier Véran announced on Wednesday. “Appointments can begin without delay,” he said, adding that 145 children are currently hospitalised for severe forms of the virus.
The vaccination of children in France is not compulsory. Children will receive one dose of the Pfizer vaccine equivalent to one-third of the adult dose.
(Clara Bauer-Babef | EURACTIV.fr)
Christmas shoppers flock to Belgium and Germany amid hard lockdown. Dutch Christmas shoppers have responded to the strict lockdown imposed by their government over the weekend by shopping and going to bars and restaurants in Germany and Belgium. Although crossing the borders is allowed under the current rules, the Dutch border-hoppers have been criticised by authorities in all three countries. Read more.
Belgium’s COVID-19 measures to tighten right after Christmas. The government’s consultation committee decided on Wednesday to adopt new measures to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant in Belgium, which will come into effect from 26 December. Read more.
Austria is playing with time before Omicron takes hold. Austria will take additional measures to fend off the spread of Omicron until more intensive care units are free and more data about the new variant is available. Read more.
UK AND IRELAND
Hogmanay at risk amid Omicron uncertainty. New Year’s Eve parties could be over before they started as the government weighs up whether to impose restrictions after Christmas amid uncertainty over the impact of the Omicron variant. Read more.
Irish government expands pandemic business supports. Dublin has announced a series of updates to the pandemic support schemes available, as businesses face continuing restrictions amid the surge of the Omicron variant. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Santa Claus travels in a sustainable way. In the parliament’s plenary session preceding the holiday season, the honour of asking the traditional Christmas question was given to the Chair of Finns Party, Riikka Purra. Purra shared her party’s concern over Santa’s ability to deliver presents in these exceptional times in her question to the government. What measures is the government planning to adopt to secure Santa’s working conditions, she asked? Read more.
Sweden ‘firmly rejects’ Russia’s call for safeguards against NATO’s eastward expansion. Sweden rejects Russia’s demand that NATO should not take on new members, said Foreign Minister Ann Linde, who also expressed concerns about the Russian military escalation on the border with Ukraine. Read more.
‘Then I understood what they want’: Unmasking the Belarus border attack. Belarusian officers used migrants as pawns to attack the EU border, handing out axes and pelting Polish guards with stones. The investigation team of EURACTIV’s media partner LRT.lt has pieced together a chronology of events with exclusive witness testimonies revealing the scale of the Belarusian regime’s involvement. Read the full story here.
Italy’s Draghi signals he’s willing to become president. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi signalled on Wednesday he would be willing to become head of state when the position falls free early next year, saying his unity government had already completed much of its agenda. Read more.
Spain imposes outdoor facemask mandate, again. The government on Tuesday approved a measure mandating the use of facemasks outdoors even if social distancing can be respected, in a new move to curb the fast increase in cases of COVID-19’s Omicron variant. Read more.
Commission approves further aid to state airline TAP. On Wednesday, the European Commission approved a further €71.4 million of Portuguese state aid to TAP, one day after approving the restructuring plan and €107.1 million of aid due to the pandemic. Read more.
Pegasus scandal may open another front in Poland’s conflict with Brussels. MEPs want the European Commission to investigate the recent revelations concerning the use by Polish government entities of the Pegasus software against a prominent lawyer and a prosecutor. The spying scandal may add fuel to the country’s ongoing conflict with the EU over the rule of law. Read more.
Commissioner Jourova: journalism a risky profession in some EU states. In some EU member states, journalism is a “genuinely risky profession”, European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová told EURACTIV.cz in an interview, adding that she “will negotiate with these states bilaterally”. Read more.
Slovak National Bank: Green transition could cause high inflation in 2022. The main reasons for the predicted average yearly inflation to double in 2022 include the green transition, forcing companies to discard part of their transport fleet, the Slovak National Bank has estimated. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Defence Minister’s NATO stance creates new tensions. Defence Minister Stefan Yanev’s stance that there is no need to deploy additional NATO troops has created serious political tensions in Sofia. Prime Minister Kiril Petkov reacted immediately by saying the minister had expressed his personal position, which should not have been expressed in this way. Read more.
Zoran Zaev officially resigns as Prime Minister. Zoran Zaev has officially resigned as Prime Minister of North Macedonia, sending his resignation letter to the Speaker of parliament. Dimitar Kovačevski, a 47-year-old Harvard-trained economist and the ruling SDM’s newly elected leader, will replace Zaev as acting Prime Minister until mid-January. Read more.
BUCHAREST | OSLO
Romanian parliament OKs acquisition of F-16 fighter jets from Norway. Parliament has allowed the defence ministry to start the acquisition procedure for 32 fighter jets from Norway. The planes should be used for at least 10 years as a transition period towards acquiring fifth-generation fighters, such as F-35s. Read more.
Croatia offers up to €26,000 for returning expats to start a business. Croatians opting to return from other EU countries and start their own business in Croatia will receive grants up to 200,000 kuna (€26,000) as part of the new “I choose Croatia” scheme, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković has announced. Read more.
Slovenia opts for moderate pre-Christmas tightening of restrictions. Slovenia has opted for only a moderate tightening of coronavirus restrictions before the Christmas holidays amid a persistent fall in cases that contrasts with the surge of the Omicron variant in many other European countries. Read more.
Putin counts on continued constructive dialogue and cooperation with Vucic. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in a letter to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić that he was counting on the “continued constructive dialogue (with him) and close joint work on the current issues on the bilateral, regional and international agenda.”
“This is in line with the fundamental interests of our brotherly peoples and contributes to the stability and security of the European continent,” Putin wrote in the letter to Vučić, which was presented on Wednesday by the Russian ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, and announced by the Serb president’s press office. Putin added that their “recent negotiations in Sochi have fully confirmed the strength of the strategic partnership between Russia and Serbia and allowed the laying down of new perspectives of mutually beneficial cooperation in several directions.” (EURACTIV.rs | betabriefing.com)
Belgrade University annuls finance minister’s doctorate. The Senate of the University in Belgrade on Wednesday annulled the doctorate of Finance Minister Siniša Mali, which he obtained in 2013 at the Faculty of Organisational Studies, because of plagiarism. Read more.
Discrimination in BiH still alive, says appellant in 12-year-old ECHR case. Discrimination has “not been eliminated” in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to Dervo Sejdić, president of the Roman information centre Kali Sara, and appellant in the Sejdić-Finci case at the European Court of Human Rights 12 years ago. Read more.
Dodik associates and EU mission reject media reports on Várhelyi. Top officials of the ruling party in BiH’s Serb-majority Republika Srpska (RS) entity rejected media reports that implied EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi agreed on the entity holding the recent session where it supported an initiative for the RS to withdraw from BiH state institutions.
The EU Delegation to BiH confirmed that Milorad Dodik, Serb member of the tripartite BiH Presidency, informed the Commissioner about his intentions to call the session but that “this does not in any way imply assent or acceptance of these plans.” “Indeed, Commissioner Várhelyi argued against these plans,” read the statement. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Legality of hydropower plants called into question following North Macedonia state audit. Serious violations in the issuance of concessions for small hydropower plants, which calls into question the plants’ legality were found in a North Macedonia State Audit Office report published Monday. Read more.
Personal data including salaries of over 600,000 Albanians leaked. The personal data, including the name and salary of some 637,138 Albanian citizens, was leaked in the second significant data breach of the year. Read more.
Next up in 2022:
- 1 January: France takes over EU Council Presidency from Slovenia
- 6-7 January: College of European Commissioners visit to Paris, France
- early January: NATO-Russia Council to meet on European security (tbc)
- 12-14 January: Informal Foreign Affairs Council (Gymnich) in Brest, France
- mid-January: European Commission to present EU sustainable finance taxonomy proposal
- 17 January: Agriculture and Fisheries Council / Eurogroup
- 18 January: Economic and Financial Affairs Council
- 17-19 January: European Parliament Plenary Session in Strasbourg, France, including European Parliament president election
- 20-22 January: Informal Meeting of Energy/Environment ministers in Amiens, France.
- 24 January: Foreign Affairs Council
- 26 January: European Commission to unveil Digital Decade principles (tbc)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Alexandra Brzozowski, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox, Zoran Radosavljevic, Alice Taylor]