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 the story “‘Agri-tech’ spreading like wildfire across French farms” by EURACTIV France’s Aline Robert.
ROME. With the number of cases topping 150, Italy is facing the worst coronavirus outbreak outside Asia. Entire towns in the Northern part of the country were locked down, while schools were closed and public events, such as the iconic Venice Carnival, were cancelled.
However, Italy’s government is reluctant to suspend the Schengen borderless system.
“There’s no ground for an initiative of this kind, at the moment,” said PM Giuseppe Conte, adding that a temporary reintroduction of border control will have a devastating impact on the country’s economy. “What are we going to do with Italy, a lazaretto?” he added.
Meanwhile, Greek Education Minister Nikis Kerameos has decided to suspend all planned educational excursions to Italy.
EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna looks at how Italy has been dealing with what is the biggest outbreak on European soil.
SPD and Greens win big in Hamburg. Sunday’s (23 February) elections in Hamburg showed big gains for the city’s governing coalition of the Social Democrats and Greens. With 38% of the vote, the SPD’s Peter Tschentscher will continue to serve as the city’s first mayor, while the Greens doubled their support. Given that their partnership continues, the Greens will have a stronger position in the governing coalition.
After the crisis in Thuringia, the election delivered a crushing blow to the CDU, as the Conservative party received its worst electoral results ever in Hamburg. Both the FDP and AfD barely reached the 5% threshold to be in the parliament. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
For a more detailed analysis, read: Crisis-ridden SPD wins state parliamentary elections in Hamburg
Partyless Strache announces comeback. The former vice-chancellor and leader of far-right (FPÖ), Heinz-Christian Strache, announced his return to the political scene as candidate for the Viennese elections in October 2020 with his own – as yet unnamed – party.
EURACTIV Germany’s Philipp Grüll looks at what this could mean for the FPÖ.
The important thing is to believe in it. “I have a good chance of being president of the Republic because I think the French are fed up with the situation,” Marine Le Pen told the “Grand Jury RTL-LCI-Le Figaro” on Sunday (23 February). The French “have now understood that we must stop with the ultraliberalism of unfair competition, mass immigration, insecurity, laxity, nonsense, the inter-self of our elites, international finance,” she said. .
However the ex MEP is not yet officially a candidate as she would need to first step down as president of her party, the Rassemblement National (RN). (EURACTIV.FR)
Belgian PM reacts to Aalst Carnival controversy. A year after having sparked controversy, the Aalst Carnival organisers brought back anti-Semitic caricatures that led to an international storm of protest after the 2019 edition of the event. For the first time, Belgium’s PM stepped into the discussion as well. Alexandra Brzozowski has the story.
Refugees from the Mediterranean. Finland will receive some 175 refugees from the camps and reception centres in Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Italy, most of whom are children and single-parent families originating from countries where the humanitarian situation is the most severe like Afghanistan and Syria. Thus far, France and Portugal are among the EU member states that have made similar decisions.
Meanwhile, in Greece, the government is determined to proceed with its decision for the construction of closed hosting facilities for refugees and migrants despite strong reactions from local communities.
EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen and Sarantis Michalopoulos have the story.
Sinn Féin & IRA. Irish nationalists Sinn Féin have defended themselves over claims that the Provisional Irish Republication Army (IRA), still holds an influence over the political direction of the party. Speaking to RTÉ’s The Week in Politics on Sunday, Donegal TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said that the IRA were no longer a functioning group. “The IRA has gone and they are not coming back. That’s the reality,” he added.
Meanwhile, mainstream parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are set to meet this week in a bid to hammer out a possible deal on forming a government following the recent general election, which saw Sinn Féin make considerable gains. EURACTIV’S Samuel Stolton has more.
France stands by Greece. France will stand by Greece and Cyprus, supporting both in their disputes with Turkey over maritime zones in the Mediterranean, French Defence Minister Florence Parly told Greek newspaper To Vima in an interview.
EFE interviews North Macedonia FM. Almost 20 years after signing the partnership agreement between North Macedonia and the EU, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov acknowledges that his country has no “other strategic alternative than the EU”. He also told EFE that Europe must already recognize the progress that will allow the accession negotiations to begin and “bring the European standard of living home”. Read more.
Duda is vulnerable? Ahead of May presidential elections set to take place in May, the polls have started to deteriorate for the incumbent, Pis-backed, Andrzej Duda. EURACTIV Poland’s Łukasz Gadzała has a closer look at the polls.
“We do not support either Soros or Orban”, says US ambassador to Hungary. “The campaign against American-Hungarian financier George Soros was not due to anti-Semitism,” US ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein whose maternal grandparents emigrated from Hungary told 24.hu. It was “…an anti-liberal campaign in a conservative-friendly environment. The point is not that Soros is Jewish, but that he is very liberal and the Hungarian government is very conservative”, he added. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec has more.
In other news, more than 2,000 Hungarians, including Roma families and civil groups, marched before parliament on Sunday (23 February) in protest of the government’s refusal to compensate Roma children who had been unlawfully segregated in a school in eastern Hungary, Reuters reported.
(Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
No EU budget deal sold as a victory. With negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget having failed, Slovakia will not lose €2 billion, said Slovak PM Peter Pellegrini (Smer-SD). “For Slovakia this state of affairs is a success,” maintained the PM a week before elections, adding that he could not have accepted the proposal that had been put on the table.
In other news, Friday (21 February) marked the second anniversary of the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée. Asked about his take on the consequences of the murder, ex-PM Robert Fico (Smer-SD) said the murder was used against the Smer-SD party and against him personally. “If there was no murder, I stand in front of you as the PM with 30% of the support,” he said, without offering his condolences to the affected families. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
MEPs on Budgetary Control Committee to check up on Czechia. A European Parliament delegation led by Monika Hohlmeier, the chair of the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT), will be visiting the Czech Republic from 27 to 28 February, following reports about possible misuse of EU finances. MEPs want to personally look into the management and distribution of EU funds and meet directly with the Czech stakeholders. They plan to talk to PM Andrej Babiš, ministries representatives, farmers, investigative reporters and civil society representatives. (Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Bulgarians warned not to travel to northern Italy. The Bulgarian foreign ministry has issued a communiqué warning Bulgarians who live in or travel to Italy not to visit the areas affected by the coronavirus. Tens of thousands of Bulgarians live permanently in Italy and the Bulgarian TV stations are airing series of testimonies of the worries of this community after an outbreak in Italy. (Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV.com)
Slim chances of having new government. Parliament is holding a vote Monday (24 February) to appoint a new government but the chances that the meeting obtains the needed quorum are very low as several parties have announced they would not participate.
President Klaus Iohannis designated Ludovic Orban, the head of the centre-right National Liberal Party (EPP), to form a new government the day after his government was dismissed. Orban then proposed the exact same cabinet, aiming to trigger a Parliament rejection, which will be a first step to snap elections. But socialists (PSD) and their former allies from ALDE and Pro Romania said they would not take part in has been termed a ”masquerade.” (EURACTIV.ro)
Extra effort needed to reach compromise on EU budget. “EU member states will have to put in an extra effort to reach a compromise on the Multiannual Financial Framework, and at this summit, the time was not ripe for that, “ said Croatian PM Andrej Plenković after a marathon summit in Brussels, which ended on Friday. EURACTIV Croatia’s Tea Trubić Macan has more.
> Read more about the outcome of the summit: “EU leaders fail to agree on first post-Brexit budget as divisions grow“.
Slovenians urged to take care when travelling to Italy amid coronavirus situation. “Slovenian citizens in Italy are advised to be cautious when returning home,” the Slovenian foreign ministry wrote in a press release, adding that citizens travelling to Italy are advised to check their destination’s status. “The situation and measures to curb the virus are changing rapidly, so we recommend that you check with your hosts, travel agency or hotels before travelling,” the ministry wrote. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Vucic: Serbia won’t be able to accept the Kosovo solution about to be proposed. An offer that will be proposed to Serbia concerning the status of Kosovo this year will be difficult to reject but impossible to accept, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday (23 February) . “They will tell Serbia ‘your EU membership will be guaranteed but you have to grant Kosovo recognition and you will get special status for the Serbs here and there’,” Vucic told Prva TV. He said that the solution will be worse than his previous proposal and that he will not accept any ultimatums, even if he will have to resign because of it.
In other news, Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin confirmed that the first two of a total of six Russian anti-aircraft defence systems Pantsir-S1 Serbia ordered from Moscow arrived on Saturday (22 February) at the military Airport near Belgrade. On its way from Moscow, the plane that carried the equipment avoided the Ukrainian airspace and flew over the Black Sea and Bulgaria to Serbia. Pantsir is a rapid-fire missile system with a range of about 20 kilometres. EURACTIV Serbia digs deeper.
Dodik: Threatening Serbs is a continuity of US politics. US Special envoy for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmers said that Serb member of BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik is a threat that needs to be taken very seriously. Dodik quickly reacted saying that this statement reflects the continuity of US policy in BiH, which threatens Serbs and openly supports Bosniaks, thinking it can solve the problem in BiH in that manner. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
President: Secession of Republika Srpska would lead to war. Any attempts by Bosnia’s Serb-majority region to secede would lead to war, according to Montenegro’s President Milo Đukanović. “This is an issue which Europe and America are involved in, and not just the Serb representative in BiH’s Presidency Milorad Dodik and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić,” Đukanović said, adding that if the international community does not react to such moves, “the situation will escalate.”
In other news, the EU needs to be more actively involved in resolving the political crisis in Montenegro, as it did in solving the crisis in Northern Macedonia, said independent MP Aleksandar Damjanović. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
President Thaci in the USA. Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said he was pleased that the US is committed to Kosovo, as well as peace, stability and prosperity throughout the region. “The leadership of President Trump, the support of Secretary Pompeo and the direct involvement of Special Envoy Richard Grenell encourage us,” Thaci said before he is set to meet the US president in Washington. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]