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 ECDC chief “Low risk for coronavirus but EU pandemic prep should be reviewed” conducted by Gerardo Fortuna.
Also, feel free to have a look at the article “In snap parliamentary elections, Azeris put hopes in young candidates“, written by Georgi Gotev from Baku.
Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National is looking for money. Rassemblement National is seeking to raise funds from its supporters to finance its election campaigns as it’s currently facing financial difficulties, party leader Marine Le Pen announced during a trip to Gironde. RN had already raised €4 million this way for the European elections campaign.
Minister-President election do-over. Thuringia’s freshly-elected Minister-President, Thomas Kemmerich of the liberal FDP stepped down on Saturday (8 February). Given that he had relied on votes from far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), his win had set off a firestorm of controversy around the country.
Could the conservatives form an unlikely alliance with the left, just to avoid another election debacle like the one that just forced Kemmerich to resign? EURACTIV Germany’s Sarah Lawton looks into it.
Airbus’ admission of bribery brings fresh momentum into a long-lasting investigation. The affair surrounding Austria’s purchase of 18 “Eurofighter” jets from Airbus in 2003 has been the subject of investigation for many years, as it was suspected that Airbus bribed officials into buying their jets even though Saab had offered a better deal. Although a Viennese court opened a case against the aviation giant in 2017, the evidence only appears to be strong enough as of now. EURACTIV Germany’s Philipp Grüll has more.
Complaint letter. Turkey’s justice minister Abdulhamit Gül sent a strongly worded letter to his Belgian counterpart Koen Geens (CD&V) before the weekend, complaining about a judgment of the Court of Cassation which does not consider the PKK as a terrorist organisation. “The verdict is unacceptable and causes deep injuries in Turkey,” it was written in the letter, which added the case is “a big blow” for Turkey. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
UK – IRELAND
Sinn Féin largest party. Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has hailed her party’s performance in the Irish general election as “something of a revolution in the ballot box,” as the Republican group won 24.5% of all first preferential votes. EURACTIV’s Samuel Stolton has the detail.
Government to back down on migrant wages. Boris Johnson’s government is expected to agree to drop the income threshold for migrants wanting to move to the UK. Freedom of movement to and from the UK will end at the end of 2020, and the UK’s new immigration rules will also apply to EU nationals. That is now set to include a minimum income of £25,600, a drop from the current minimum of £30,000, after business leaders and public service unions complained that they would face labour shortages. (Benjamin Fox | EURACTIV.com)
Fathers to get longer parental leave. In transposing the EU directive requiring member states to give each parent a minimum of four months’ parental leave, the Finnish government decided to take it one step further, announcing that each parent would have an equal quota of five months, one week and three days (164 days). The plan also envisages that each parent will be allowed to transfer 69 days to the other and that paid allowance will increase to a combined 14 months. EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen looks into why the government is proposing such long parental leave.
Faster military aid between neighbours. The Swedish government is proposing a legislative reform to enable faster decisions on providing and receiving military support between Sweden and Finland. EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen digs deeper.
Italy and Egypt at odds, again. Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio said he has been closely following the case of 27-year-old Egyptian researcher studying in Italy, who was arrested in Cairo on Friday (7 February). Italian authorities want to avoid a repeat of the Gulio Regeni case, the Italian doctoral student murdered in early 2016, which drove a wedge between Italy and Egypt. EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna has more.
Spanish leftist coalition executive meets to showcase “unity” of action. All 22 ministers of Spain’s progressive coalition executive, forged by the socialist party (PSOE) and leftist Unidas Podemos (United We Can) met on Saturday in Quintos de Mora (Toledo,150 km south of Madrid) to showcase the newly appointed government’s “unity”, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. Read more in English here.
Attorney General accused of “major attack” on magistrates in democracy. In a decision regarded by public prosecutors’ trade union as “the greatest attack on the autonomy of magistrates” since the country became a democracy, Portugal’s attorney general has determined that the hierarchy of the Public Prosecutor’s Office may intervene in criminal cases, by “modifying or revoking previous decisions”. Lusa.pt’s Cristina Cardoso has the story.
Meanwhile, on Friday (7 February), the Polish judges’ association Iustitia Polska considered the directive of the Portuguese Attorney General’s Office on hierarchical intervention in judicial cases to be scandalous and warned of violations of the rule of law. Pedro Sousa Pereira reports.
EIB’s €15m losses in Crete. The first failure of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in Greece comes with high losses, as EU bankers approved an investment loan of €15m to an innovative agri-food industry, Creta Farms, in 2016. But now, after a year-long management battle between shareholders, under court decision, the once prospering company is now being sold to the highest bidder. All the creditors face some cuts, but EIB will lose 97% of its capital, compared to only 65% cut to Greek banks, as EURACTIV.gr unveiled late last Friday. Still, no official comment came from the Bank’s side. (Theodore Karaoulanis | EURACTIV.gr)
Judges criticise the president. After signing into law the bill that limits judges’ freedoms and sanctions them for insubordination, Andrzej Duda was criticised by many judges and lawyers. EURACTIV Poland’s Łukasz Gadzała gives a rundown of what judges had to say.
Interior Minister warns against Slovaks voting from abroad. “Most of the people voting from abroad are mobilised by the opposition,“ according to Interior Minister Denisa Saková (Smer-SD), explaining an earlier leaked recording where she appears to be warning a crowd about the risks linked to 60,000 Slovaks who will vote by post. Saková’s ministry is responsible for the proper handling of the election process. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
Babiš on the rise. Governing party ANO (Renew Europe) of Czech PM Andrej Babiš would win the parliamentary elections with 30% (1.5 percentage points up compared to November 2019), according to the latest survey conducted by Kantar agency published on Sunday (9 February) by Czech Television. ANO has been leading the Czech opinion polls for a long time despite PM Babiš having been embroiled in several scandals linked to his alleged conflicts of interests. Trailing behind, according to the survey, are the Czech Pirate Party (Greens/EFA) at16.5% and civil democrats ODS (ECR) at 12.5 %. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
Now it is LMP – Hungary’s Green Party. Opposition LMP (Politics Can Be Different) has changed its name to LMP – Hungary’s Green Party, co-leader Erzsébet Schmuck said. Schmuck said the new name was aimed at sending the message that “there is a green party fighting for a liveable environment, one which is worth voting for”.
The Greens are ready to cooperate with other opposition parties to replace the government in 2022 “so the country can go forward with green policies”, she said, adding that negotiations with the other parties may be launched in the summer. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
In other news, about 500 far-right supporters commemorated the attempt of the Hungarian and German forces to break out during the Soviet blockade of Budapest at the end of WWII at Városmajor park in Budapest on Saturday (8 February). About the same number of people simultaneously held an antifascist protest nearby, yet no violent clashes between the two groups were reported. Both groups had foreign citizen participants, Index reports. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
The lottery becomes a State monopoly. The Bulgarian parliament banned privately operated lotteries on Friday (7th of February) when controversial amendments to the Gambling Act were passed with no debate. EURACTIV Bulgaria’s Krassen Nikolov provides a brief analysis of the situation.
The first prayer in the first mosque. Several thousand Muslim believers gathered in Ljubljana on Friday (7 February) in the newly-constructed Islamic cultural centre, the first built in Slovenia after decades of requests, mostly with donations from abroad. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec has more.
In other news, Slovenia has completed the requirements for adherence to the IMF’s Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) Plus—the highest tier of the Data Standards Initiatives, meaning the country’s SDSS Plus data is now posted on the Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board. IMF’s chief statistician and data officer, Marc Ducharme, welcomed the move, noting the dissemination of data would promote a deeper understanding and more informed assessments of the performance of Slovenia’s financial sector, the cross-border-financial linkages, and the vulnerabilities of the economy to shocks. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Croatia is defending cohesion. PM Andrej Plenković is willing to do everything in his power to preserve appropriate cohesion funds in the next Multiannual Financial Framework, which is going to be the focus of the European Council summit on 20 February. “Apart from Portugal, we are one of the member states that are dependent on EU funds. My colleagues should acknowledge the fact that Croatia has been in the EU for only seven years, thus we are in a special position,” Plenković said at a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel this weekend.
The PM added that when his government took office in 2016, only 9% of the financial envelope for Croatia had been contracted and only 1% had been paid. The two also discussed enlargement, future relations with the UK, European Green Deal and the Conference on the Future of Europe. (Tea Trubić Macan | EURACTIV.hr)
Foreign Affairs Minister: ‘Serbia not prepared to do no matter what just to join EU’. Serbian Foreign Minister and leader of the Socialist Party, Ivica Dačić, has said that Serbia “is not prepared to do no matter what just join the EU”. Speaking in Novi Sad, at the first in a series of meetings marking the Socialists’ 30th birthday, Dačić said that being a leftist “must never mean that you are betraying your people.”
“Not a single Socialist has ever betrayed their people. Serbia always comes first, it is most important to us, which is why the Socialists speak about patriotism today, and no one can forbid that. It has to be clear, Serbia would not do no matter what to join the EU, it won’t do anything that would be to its own detriment,” Dačić was quoted as saying by his party.
In other news, the threshold will be reduced from 5% to 3% in Serbia’s forthcoming elections, which are set to be held on 26 April. Besides, women will be represented on local and parliamentary lists by 40%, the Serbian Assembly decided. (EURACTIV.rs)
Green MEPs say the entire EU is responsible for the migrant situation on the Croatia-BiH border. MEPS of a delegation of the Greens/EFA Group, who visited Croatia and BiH, said that all EU member states tacitly accept the violation of migrants’ rights at the Croatian border, yet German Green MEP Erik Marquardt added that the situation at the border was the result of the pressure from the EU as a whole.
EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec looks into it.
In other news, the trend of renouncing Bosnian citizenship continued in 2019, as the BiH’s Civil Affairs Ministry reported that 4,059 people had applied to renounce their citizenship in 2019. Although the trend had started in 1995, since when more than 80,000 people relinquished their Bosnian citizenship mostly to permanently settle their status in the countries to which they had relocated, in the last three years, it was reported that about 4,000 people gave it up each year, with the record of 4,494 in 2017. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Welcome to the new methodology, but… The European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, met with President Milo Đukanović, who welcomed the efforts to consolidate Europe, as well as steps in the new accession methodology, saying “Montenegro is encouraging the ambition of the new Commission and allowing candidate countries to be part of the effort to enhance Europe’s global competitiveness even before becoming members.”
EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec reports.
Reciprocity for taxes. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that the “100% tax on Serbian goods will be removed as soon as reciprocity is applied. For example, we think that it is not right that, when our goods go to Serbia, no documents are recognised because it is declared as the Republic of Kosovo”. Priština also expects Serbia to stop holding political talks around the talk to stop countries from recognising Kosovo ‘s independence. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]