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In today’s news from the Capitals:
Hungary’s top EU court nominee chosen unilaterally without formal selection, sources say. Neither a public application nor any other formal selection procedure preceded the nomination of Zoltán Csehi as the country’s new member of the European Court of Justice by Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga. According to Telex sources, Csehi had been a lawyer in the law firm of Varga’s predecessor until 2016 and had little experience in European law prior to being appointed to the European General Court that same year. Read more.
Commission wants to ‘explore options’ for India trade, investment. The European Commission said on Thursday it wants to “explore options” for expanding the EU’s trade and investment with India, notably ahead of a summit scheduled for May in Porto as part of Portugal’s presidency of the Council of the EU. Read the full story.
Biontech and Pfizer demanded €54 per vaccine dose in June. Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Biontech had requested EU €54.08 per vaccine dose last June, which was then lowered though negotiations to €15.50 per dose. Read more.
Germany’s fight against Nazis on many levels. A year after the racist terrorist attack in Hanau took the lives of nine people of colour, as well as the shooter and his mother, some in Germany are reflecting on efforts to address racism and right-wing extremism in the country. Read more.
French court allows Paris to continue supervising Airbnb rentals. A French court confirmed on Thursday that the regulations put in place by the city of Paris were in conformity with European law and justified to fight the scarcity of Parisian accommodation for long-term rentals, which means that the 120-day-rent-limit per year for the main residence will remain.
“This decision is a historic victory for the city of Paris. It brings five years of legal proceedings to a close. It confirms our decision to regulate these platforms and gives effective legal tools to all French local authorities wishing to regulate the tourist rental market,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. (Mathieu Pollet | EURACTIV.fr)
Interior ministry threatens to sue activist. Austria’s interior ministry is threatening to launch a defamation case against lawyer and political consultant Rudolf Fussi, who regularly criticises the government on YouTube, and particularly the police and Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP). For instance, after police dogs were used to control a protest in Vienna, he said that these animals may be more intelligent than the officers. The opposition sees this move as an attempt at silencing a critical voice. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
Belgium goes from worst impacted to European average. Belgium ranks 16th out of 30 European countries in terms of the number of corona infections with 240 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the course of the past two weeks, according to new figures of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Almost all neighbouring countries – with the exception of Germany – are currently doing worse. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
UK AND IRELAND
UK’s Johnson to urge G7 to back pandemic preparedness treaty. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge G7 leaders to support a treaty on pandemic preparedness through the World Health Organisation at a virtual summit on Friday. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
New coronavirus variant appears in Finland. Researchers at the Vita Laboratories in Helsinki have discovered a new coronavirus variant dubbed Fin-796H, which displayed mutations formerly discovered in the British and South African in a “unique” combination. Read more.
Estonia shows willingness to ratify border treaty with Russia. The new Estonian government and its foreign minister, Eva-Maria Liimets, have shown willingness to move towards formally solving the country’s border dispute with Russia and ensure it no longer remains the only EU country without a border treaty with Russia. Read more.
Sexual harassment of artists exposes Greece’s well-hidden secret. An increasing number of Greek artists have for days been reporting cases of sexual harassment in the world of sports, TV and theatre, exposing Greece’s well-hidden secret. More
Italy seizes assets of eight accused of profiting from government PPE contracts. Italy’s financial police seized on Wednesday assets worth about €70 million from eight people who allegedly used their influence and personal relationships as intermediaries to pocket illegal commissions worth “tens of millions of euros” off of €1.25 billion worth government contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE).
The eight accused – who organised the import of 800 million masks from China during the first months of the pandemic – have been accused of influence peddling, trading in stolen goods, and money laundering. According to the magistrates, their privileged access to the purchase procedure was made possible by the personal relationship between one of the suspects and the extraordinary commissioner for the emergency, Domenico Arcuri.
In other news, the new government, led by Mario Draghi, obtained support from the lower Chamber of Deputies in a confidence vote on Thursday, after the Senate gave its ‘ok’ on Wednesday. In his speech, Draghi said the government’s commitment to protecting Italian industries “from unfair competition will be total”, and announced the will to “improve civil and criminal justice” to guarantee the right to “a trial that is fair and of reasonable duration, in line with the duration of other European countries”.
(Daniele Lettig | EURACTIV.it)
Spain’s debt reaches highest level in more than a century. Spain increased its debt in 2020 by €112,438 million – almost the equivalent of the annual cost of pensions in the country – due to the heavy impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the full story.
Cypriot MEP calls for an EU ban on Turkey’s Grey Wolves. Cypriot MEP Costas Mavrides (S&D) has sent a letter to EU top diplomat Josep Borrell calling for an EU ban on Turkey’s extremist organisation “Grey Wolves” and its umbrella organisations across the bloc.
The MEP has also launched a petition for an “Immediate ban of the Grey Wolves at the EU level” aiming to raise awareness around the issue. More.
German border restrictions threaten Slovak industry. Slovakia’s major employers fear that Germany’s new border restrictions, which require truck drivers as of Sunday to present a negative COVID-19 test no older than 48 hours upon entering Germany from Austria or the Czech Republic, could “create major disruptions”, including for Slovak truck drivers coming from ‘high-risk’ country. Read more.
PiS’ Commissioner for Human Rights candidate rejected by Senate. The upper house of the Polish parliament rejected on Thursday the candidacy of Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk (Law and Justice) for the position of Commissioner for Human Rights, who was already appointed on 22 January.
This means that the procedure for selecting a new Ombudsman needs to start afresh, as the five-year term of current Commissioner for Human Rights, Adam Bodnar, expired in September 2020. Read more
Germany’s new border restrictions ‘put spanner’ in Czech FM’s Brussels trip. Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (Social Democrats), who had planned to travel to Belgium by car to attend consultations with Czech representatives to the EU on 2 March will have trouble crossing the German border as Germany’s entry and transit ban came into force on Saturday and will last until 7 March. More
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Possible new COVID-variant found in Croatia. “We may be looking at the new, Croatian variant, of virus,” said Dr Oliver Vugrek, leader of the team of experts at the Ruđer Bošković Institute, who are still waiting for more data. Read more.
EU condemns Slovenia PM’s online attack on journalists. Brussels on Thursday (18 February) condemned Slovenia’s prime minister for online personal attacks against journalists reporting on the deterioration of rule of law in his country, which will take on the rotating EU presidency in July. Full story here
16% of Bulgarians say they had COVID-19. About 800,000 or 16% of adult Bulgarians say they have been infected with COVID-19 although – since they did not disclose the information to their GPs – they are not listed in official statistics, according to data from the Gallup International polling agency. Read more.
Chief prosecutor of Romania’s anti-corruption body in talks with US embassy. A delegation of the US embassy to Bucharest held talks with the chief prosecutor of Romania’s anti-corruption directorate, where the two discussed the anti-graft fight in Romania and the directorate’s role in the process. Read more.
Bishop Porfirije elected new patriarch of Serbian Orthodox Church. The Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana was elected the new patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church on Thursday, the Church has announced. Read more.
EU commissioner tells Bosnia to manage migration better. The European Union’s migration commissioner Ylva Johansson urged Bosnia on Thursday (18 February) to manage migration properly and share the burden of its migrant crisis equally across the country if it is to stay on course for EU membership. More
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]