Lukashenko calls Orbán ‘my friend’

Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Monday that he will present a “Marshall Plan for Belarus” at the next special European Council on behalf of the Visegrád 4 countries. [Shutterstock / Drop of Light]

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 “Seventy-one MEPs ask EU member states to finally break silos in COVID-19 crisis“.

Also read the article “EU, China make progress on investment deal despite human rights tensions“, by Alexandra Brzozowski.

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The EURACTIV Network is back from the summer holidays to keep you up-to-date with how Europe’s capitals are dealing with the new school year, changing travel restrictions and varying epidemiological situations. Click here to find out more about what’s going on in your capital.


In today’s news from the Capitals:

BUDAPEST

In talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his Belarussian counterpart, Aleksandr Lukashenko, said after pointing out the close economic ties between the two countries: “I once asked my friend Viktor Orban about cooperation with other countries, especially in the EU, because of his special position. I think he said that Germany accounted for up to 90% of Hungary’s trade. Here is your answer, he told me,” 444.hu reported via Belarussian state media belta.by.

Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Monday that he will present a “Marshall Plan for Belarus” at the next European Council on behalf of the Visegrád 4 countries, according to Hungarian state news agency MTI.

EU foreign ministers have agreed on a framework of sanctions against physical and legal entities from Belarus but official adoption is expected at the next EU summit on 24 September.

However, it is not clear yet that this will be the case. Cyprus and Greece are likely to block sanctions unless the EU does the same against Turkey in response to Ankara’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean. The German Presidency has said there is no connection between these two issues but at the diplomatic level, Nicosia and Athens view it as their only tool to pressure the rest of Europe to sanction Ankara.

After Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was among the first national leaders who congratulated Lukashenko for his ‘re-election’ in August’s disputed polls.

(Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)

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BERLIN | EU INSTITUTIONS

Social Democrats ramp up pressure over Moria. German Social Democrats (SPD) threw down an ultimatum to their Christian Democrat (CDU/CSU) coalition partners yesterday (14 September) after Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) announced on Friday (11 September) that Germany will take between 100 and 150 unaccompanied minors from the now-destroyed Moria camp, adding that this would be a first step.

However, while the SPD wants an agreement to admit more refugees in the next 48 hours and the government is aiming to decide on Wednesday (16 September), many conservatives are still demanding a ‘European solution’. Read more.

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PARIS

Macron asks Putin to ‘clarify’ involvement in Navalny affair. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on the phone with the Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday (14 September) and asked him that “all the light be shed without delay” on the “assassination attempt” of his main opponent, which he said amounted to “poisoning”. “France shares, on the basis of its own analyses, the conclusions of several of its European partners on the facts of poisoning with a nerve agent Novichok,” said Macron. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.FR)

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BRUSSELS
Second ‘mini-coronavirus wave’. Belgium is about to start the second “mini” coronavirus wave of the summer, which can still be contained if authorities take appropriate measures, Yves Van Laethem of public health institute Sciensano told RTBF. “We are undoubtedly in a dynamic which shows that we are at the threshold of the second mini-wave of the summer,” he added.
An average of 680 people per day tested positive in Belgium during the past week, according to the latest figures by Sciensano presented on Monday. According to the numbers, the trend of new infections per day increased by 42% between 4 and 10 September. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
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VIENNA

Health minister presents new draft for COVID-19 law. Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) presented the revised version of the country’s new COVID-19 law, which would give the government the power to order citizens to only leave their homes for certain reasons, such as grocery shopping or sports. Now, it needs to pass parliament.

This comes after the Austrian constitutional court declared in July that the government’s COVID-19 regulations such as the closure of shops were illegal, and Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) then promised to revise the underlying law. The judges’ main issue was that the law only allowed Anschober to restrict access to “certain places”, while his proposed law affected public spaces in general. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)

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HELSINKI

Test negative and meet Santa Claus. Starting from next Saturday (19 September), travellers from countries where the number of diagnosed coronavirus infections has been less than 25 per 100,000 inhabitants during the last two weeks are free to enter, while travellers from countries where the number exceeds 25, are free to enter if they take a coronavirus test within three days of arriving in Finland, the government decided on 11 September.

If the government continues lifting travel restrictions, this could be a blessing for the tourism industry in Finnish Lapland. This year at Christmas, just like every Christmas, the region is hoping to welcome some 50,000 tourists, many of them from the UK and Asia. Read more.

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LUXEMBOURG

More flexible travel restrictions. EU citizens will be allowed to travel to the Grand-Duchy again if they want to visit relatives as long as they are the spouse, registered partner, children (under 21), a direct descendant of an EU citizen or their spouse, Luxembourg’s foreign ministry has announced.

Third-country nationals who can prove the existence of a long-term relationship and regular contacts can now enter the country on short-stay without having to undergo travel restrictions.(Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)


UK AND IRELAND

DUBLIN

Ireland open to Huawei. Irish telecommunications firm Eir have said that they remain open to working with Chinese giant Huawei, and have warned against other EU countries dropping the Shenzhen-based outfit. Read more.

“The majority of telcos in Europe use Huawei equipment so that would absolutely slow down deployment of these fast networks just at a time when consumers and businesses need them the most and absolutely drive extra cost to the operators to do that and obviously increase the prices as well,” Eir Chief Executive Carolan Lennon told CNBC. (Samuel Stolton | EURACTIV.com)

Also read: Irish High court freezes probe into Facebook’s EU-U.S. data flows

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LONDON

Johnson’s Irish bill survives rebellion. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a rebellion by over 30 Conservative lawmakers on Tuesday night as his controversial Internal Market bill moved a step closer to becoming law.

30 Tory MPs abstained and 2 voted against the bill which would override the Irish Protocol, part of the Withdrawal Agreement which took the UK out of the EU in January. The Democratic Unionist party, which opposed the Withdrawal Agreement because of the inclusion of the Northern Ireland protocol, also backed the government. Read the full story here (Benjamin Fox | EURACTIV.com)


EUROPE’S SOUTH

ROME

Decarbonisation of Taranto steelworks to be prioritised. The decarbonisation of Taranto’s controversial Ilva steelworks, the property of French-Luxembourgish steel company ArcelorMittal, will be a “priority” for Italy’s recovery plan, Italian Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri has revealed. In reference to the plant’s environmental restoration, the minister noted that “it is a long and bumpy road, but it’s the only one we can take.” Read more.

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ATHENS

ESM chief green lights stimulus package. The head of European Stability Mechanism, Klaus Regling, visited Athens, less than 48 hours after the announcement by the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of a €10 billion stimulus package. The ESM chief acknowledged the state financial burdens of the last months but noted that “fiscal efforts will be required at some point.”
Surprising many, Regling agreed with the government’s stimulus plan which is based on tax cuts. But the real questions will follow the 7th post-programme review of the Greek economy, which is due in the coming weeks. (Theodore Karaoulanis, EURACTIV.gr)
Greece-Turkey meeting in NATO. Military representatives from Greece, Turkey and NATO will meet today to discuss the proposal of NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg to de-escalate tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has not submitted yet its comments on the draft text, which focuses on de-escalation based on the international sea law, which Turkey has not ratified.
Diplomatic sources said yesterday that many EU countries that are also NATO members have taken a strange stance on the Greek-Turkish row. While at the EU level they are supportive of Greece claims, as NATO members they adopt a neutral stance. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)

VISEGRAD

WARSAW

EU Parliament focuses on Polish rule of law and ‘LGBT-free zones’. Poland is moving away from European values, MEP and chair of the Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, told the plenary during a debate on the draft report on the rule of law in Poland, which is critical of the activities of the Law and Justice Commission in the area of law and justice. Read more.

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PRAGUE

Irrational Commission. With the European Commission set to argue this week in favour of a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Czech Trade, Energy and Transport Minister Karel Havlíček is already saying he doesn’t consider the plan to be realistic for his country, adding, as quoted by Info.cz, that “we don’t want to make undeliverable pledges.” Rather, the Czech Republic could cut emissions by 40-45% by 2030, according to the minister. Read more.

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BRATISLAVA

Secret preparations of national reform plan. “Just like the public, I am very much eager to know what the content of these documents will bring,“ said Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová in reference to the national reform plan for which there is still no specific public information on what to expect despite being due in less than a month. The president has confirmed that she has not been involved in the process.

Despite earlier promises of the government, the document is being prepared behind closed doors and the list of possible reform plans is to be submitted for a closed discussion among coalition parties before being made public.

In other news, Bratislava has become a so-called “red zone” following a spike of cases of COVID-19. In response to the rise in cases, the regional Public Health Authority office issued a series of new restrictive measures concerning mass events, including weddings, which further threaten the culture sector, already hard hit during the first wave. From 14 September, a maximum of 100 people will be allowed to attend outdoor events, while no more than 50 will be permitted to take part in interior events. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)


NEWS FROM THE BALKANS

BUCHAREST

State of alert extended. The Romanian government extended its state of alert by a further 30 days from 15 September, but also eased some of the restrictions which are in place to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and lifted the prohibition on contact sports, according to local officials. As Romania will hold local elections on 27 September, meetings, but also protests, can be organised, but they should not have more than 100 attendees. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

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SOFIA

High-profile politician sentenced. The deputy speaker of parliament, businessman and leader of the Volia party, Veselin Mareshki, received a four-year jail sentence from the Varna Court of Appeal, which found him guilty of extortion, marking the prosecution’s office first serious conviction against a high-ranking politician.

Mareshki has said he will be acquitted from his sentence on appeal before the Supreme Court of Cassation because in the end “good will win over evil”. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)

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ZAGREB

An ally to its people. Croatia remains an advocate for Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as for the rights of Croats in that country and expects the Dayton Peace Accords to be fully respected, announced the Prime Minister Andrej Plenković during his official visit to Mostar this week, where he attended the inauguration of Petar Palić as the new Bishop of Mostar-Duvno. Find out more here.

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BELGRADE 

A visit from China? At a meeting with Chinese ambassador to Serbia, Chen Bo yesterday (14 September), Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin invited his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, to visit Serbia. Read more.

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In other news, the Social and Economic Council reported on yesterday (14 September) that the minimum monthly wage in Serbia would go up 6.6% as of 2021, rising from RSD30,000 to RSD 32,156 (€273.50). Representative trade unions had suggested earlier that the minimum wage should be increased to RSD 34,000, but the Union of Employers argued that it should be raised by a maximum of 4-6%, and the Serbian government, the third party to the Council, put the raise at 6.6%.

Some 350,000 workers in Serbia receive the minimum wage. The wage has been increased eight times since 2010, with this year’s addition of 11.1%. (€1 = 117.6 Serbian dinars)(EURACTIV.rs  betabriefing.com)

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]

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