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 article “European Parliament to wave through Brexit trade deal“.
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In today’s news from the Capitals:
Head of Chinese institute writes threatening letter to Slovak expert. The Slovak director of the Chinese Confucius Institute in Bratislava, Ľuboslav Štora, sent threatening mail to Matej Šimalčík, one of the key experts on China in CEE countries and the executive director of the Central European Institute of Asian Studies (CEIAS). It reads: “Are you sleeping well? You should be under a lot of stress when you’re walking down the street…” Read more.
Convicted Greek MEP to flee Belgium? Greek MEP Giannis Lagos, who was convicted in October for directing the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party as a “criminal organisation”, is planning to travel to Norway one day after the European Parliament is to lift his immunity, news website TVXS has reported. More
French proposal to reform press aid access conditions gets mixed reception. After the culture ministry last week unveiled its proposals to revise the conditions of access to press subsidies, proposing among other things, that aid to the press should be more conditional on the presence of at least one professional journalist in all editorial offices, representatives of the press have reacted to the proposals, with mixed feelings. Read more.
Germany to present ‘optimistic’ economic forecast. Berlin is poised to upgrade its economic growth forecast for 2021 on Tuesday, offering a glimpse of light at the end of the coronavirus pandemic tunnel. Europe’s biggest economy contracted by 4.9% in 2020 as the pandemic idled entire sectors and upended hundreds of thousands of businesses.
“There are reasons to be optimistic,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said. “In January, we forecast growth of 3.0%. Current data show that it will even be slightly higher,” he said in an interview with the Funke media group. In a symbolic move, Germany and France will present their respective national recovery plans together. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
Belgium wants vaccine patents to be lifted. The Belgian government will urge the European Commission to release the patents on COVID-19 vaccines, so poorer countries should be given the opportunity to produce the jabs themselves, the country’s minister for development cooperation, Meryame Kitir (Vooruit), told VRT Nieuws.
“The government will defend this position,” she added. “Belgium has indicated that we want that knowledge to be released, at least for poor countries. If we don’t have that debate now, in a global pandemic, when?”(Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
Switzerland at crossroads over agreement with EU. After the unsuccessful meeting between Swiss President Guy Parmelin and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Swiss Federal Council opened domestic policy consultations on Monday with the three options – sign, cancel or continue consultations. The country’s Foreign Policy Commission (APK) of the National Council had spoken out against breaking off the talks with 17 to 8 votes and asked the Federal Council to submit new proposals to the EU as soon as possible.
The Commission has linked Swiss access to European research cooperation with the payment of cohesion money, which would be an expression of the hardened fronts between the two countries, reports Neue Zürcher Zeitung. (EURACTIV.com)
Luxembourg debates vaccination of police officers, teachers. The General Confederation of the Public Service (CGFP) is demanding that police officers and teachers be given priority status for the COVID-19 vaccination because it considers them to be front-line workers.
The CGFP is calling for the vaccination of “professionals who maintain public life” to be faster though the government has so far refused to establish a profession-based priority list. The idea of a parallel list with those aged 30-54 to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca is insufficient, the group added. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.fr)
UK AND IRELAND
UK imposes sanctions on 22 individuals in grand corruption cases. The UK used its version of the Magnitsky human rights law on Monday to impose sanctions on 22 individuals involved in grand corruption cases in Russia, South Africa, South Sudan and Latin America.
The sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans on 14 Russians involved in a massive tax fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer whose death in custody, having been beaten and denied medical treatment, has inspired legislation in the United States, UK and, potentially, in Europe. Also on the list are the three Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – accused of ‘state capture’ and grand corruption in South Africa during former President Jacob Zuma’s rule. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said the sanctions would provide “an additional powerful tool to hold the corrupt to account”. (Benjamin Fox | EURACTIV.com)
DUBLIN | LONDON
Northern Ireland calls on Johnson to take ‘urgent action’. Former Northern Ireland secretaries Peter Hain, Peter Mandelson, Paul Murphy and Shaun Woodward and the North’s ex-police chief Huge Orde are calling for “urgent action” and for the UK government “to take interest” in Northern Ireland in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as Brexit continues to fuel tensions in the region. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Finland looks into imposing tougher restrictions on smokers. The social affairs ministry on Monday proposed to revise the country’s Tobacco Act, focusing in particular on branding and imposing limits on outdoor smoking. Read more.
In other news, the future of Finland’s five-party left-wing government continued to remain unclear as of late Monday evening.
The political cost of its break-up would presumably be too high for the parties involved, but cannot be ruled out. According to media reports, the main arguments around the budget for 2023 include all the elements of the financial framework – taxes, cuts and employment. Also, the use of peat for energy, and how to compensate for its reduced production, is at least a symbolically significant issue waiting to be solved. (Pekka Vänttinen | EURACTIV.com)
Italian PM Draghi presents national recovery plan. Prime Minister Mario Draghi presented the country’s national recovery and resilience plan to deputies on Monday, calling it “transversal” in achieving gender equality, supporting young people and the growth of southern Italy. Read more.
Spain’s COVID-19 cases on downward trend as pressure in ICUs remains high. Spain has reported a decline in COVID-19 infections as of Monday, however, pressure remains high in hospitals and Intensive Care Units (ICU) despite a tangible increase in the vaccination pace, the Spanish Health Ministry has warned. Read the full story.
WARSAW | PRAGUE | BRATISLAVA | BUDAPEST
Orban blocks harsh V4 declaration on Russia, accepts softer version. Visegrad countries – Czechia, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary – approved an official statement on Monday condemning the recently revealed Russian military intelligence activities in Czechia, namely a blast of ammunition depot in 2014. However, they rejected a harsher version of the statement, which was deemed unacceptable by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Read the full story.
Hungary battles with pandemic as vaccine registration remains low. The Szent György teaching hospital in Fejér country received 7,100 doses of the vaccine for mass vaccination on Saturday, but the number of registrants is less than 3,000, said the hospital’s director, Bucsi László, adding that his hospital had to rent two refrigerators because the corpses could no longer fit elsewhere, according to fmc.hu, Telex reported. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Romania will ask Commission to postpone filing of national recovery plan. Romania will ask the European Commission to postpone by one month the official filing of its national recovery and resilience plan, EU Investment Minister Cristian Ghinea said on Monday. Read more.
Bulgaria offers assistance in investigating Czech military depot explosion. The Bulgarian government has announced its “full support for the Czech Republic over Russia’s illegal actions”, including a proposal to involve Bulgarian investigators in the case. Read more.
Croatian social policy minister backs ministry report on death of 2-year old girl. Social Policy Minister Josip Aladrović said on Monday he supports a ministry report that identified omissions by welfare services in Nova Gradiška regarding the case of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl who died as a consequence of domestic violence, a report which contradicts previous expert reports. Read more.
Rule of law, foreign policy, dialogue are key areas, Borrell tells Vučić. The authorities in Belgrade need to make progress in the rule of law, media freedom, the dialogue with Priština, and alignment with the EU’s foreign policy, for Serbia to advance towards membership of the EU, High Representative Josep Borrell said on Monday after meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in Brussels. Read more.
Peace Council condemns calls for peaceful dissolution of BiH, blaming Republika Srpska. The Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB), made up of the most influential Western countries, Turkey and Russia, condemned on Monday “in the strongest possible terms” calls for a “peaceful dissolution” of Bosnia and Herzegovina, underscoring that the authorities of the Republika Srpska entity were responsible for the tensions. Read more.
Over 1 million votes counted, Prime Minister Rama close to third mandate. As of Monday evening (22:30), the Central Electoral Committee had the following results after 3,379 electoral boxes of a total 5,199 were counted. Ruling Socialist Party (SP), led by prime minister Edi Rama, had 48,82% of the votes with which it will have 73 of 140 seats in parliament. Their biggest opposition the Democratic Party (DP) had 39,27% (60 seats). Read more.
- France: Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and Public Accounts Minister Olivier Dussopt will present the National Recovery and Resilience Plan before the National Assembly’s European affairs committee.
- Germany: Economy minister Peter Altmaier presents new economic forecast, together with his French colleague Bruno Le Maire
- Italy: The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate will vote on the country’s recovery plan on Tuesday.
- Spain: Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera will speak about the challenge of the energy transition on Wednesday at a seminar organised by EURACTIV’s partner EFE and the consultancy firm KPMG.
- Portugal: President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will listen to parties on Tuesday to discuss the possible end-date for the country’s state of emergency in force since November.
- Greece: Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is heading to Geneva on Tuesday to attend the informal 5+1 meeting on the Cyprus issue.
- Poland: Health Minister Adam Niedzielski will hold a press conference Wednesday regarding changes in COVID-19 restrictions in May and possible loosening of the current rules.
- Czech Republic: Czech opposition parties will announce further steps towards the government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Call for a non-confidence vote is expected.
- Hungary: Hungarian Parliament votes on bill with which the management of 70% of higher education will be passed from the state on to foundations, often led by Fidesz-allies.
- Slovakia: New Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger will visit Brussels Tuesday to meet Charles Michel, Ursula von der Leyen, and other EU officials, including Manfred Weber, as his party, OĽaNO, intends to join the EPP.
- Bulgaria: Parliament is set to begging discussions on the country’s recovery plan, which has not yet been submitted to the European Commission.
- Romania: European Investments and Projects Minister Cristian Ghinea will discuss updates on the national recovery and resilience programme with European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager during a videoconference.
- Croatia: Foreign and European Minister Gordan Grlić Radman will meet with the Prime Minister of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina (Serbia) Igor Mirović Petrinja, on the occasion of handing over the donation to the earthquake-affected Sisak-Moslavina County.
- Albania: The final parliamentary election results are expected to be announced.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Paula Kenny, Zoran Radosavljevic]