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In today’s news from the Capitals:
Leading figures in the Bulgarian government are looking for a way out of a 40-year project to build a second nuclear power plant near the Danube island of Belene. The Belene project, which is to be implemented with two Russian nuclear reactors, is creating serious political tensions between liberal pro-European ‘Change Continues’ and ‘Democratic Bulgaria’ and the pro-Russian Bulgarian Socialist Party, which are coalition partners. President Rumen Radev has also insisted on a swift decision on the nuclear project. Read more.
Austria establishes ‘crisis-cabinet’ on Ukraine. Amid the imminent threat of Russian invasion, Austria established a crisis cabinet on Sunday to enable the government to take swift action should the conflict in and around Ukraine spiral out of control. Read more.
Germany sharpens travel warning, halts Kyiv flights. The federal foreign office has urged Germans to leave Ukraine “immediately”, while airlines will halt flights to Kyiv and Odessa from Monday. Read more.
Putin, Biden agree in principle to summit as Ukraine tensions soar. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden have agreed to a summit — to be held only if Moscow does not invade Ukraine, France announced Monday (20 February) following a frantic new round of diplomacy to avert an all-out war. Read more.
Investigation exposes Credit Suisse, state of press freedom in Switzerland. Swiss bank Credit Suisse has served dubious clients, helping them store illicitly gained wealth in Swiss bank accounts, an international journalistic investigation called ‘Suisse Secrets’ revealed. Read more.
UK AND IRELAND
LONDON | BELFAST
Prepare for a united Ireland, says Sinn Fein. The Irish republican party Sinn Fein is “closer than we ever have been [to a united Ireland], and I think now is the time to plan,” the party’s former Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said in an interview with Sky on Sunday. Read more.
Irish opposition demands scrapping of carbon tax increase to fight cost of living crisis. Opposition party Sinn Féin will this week table a motion to scrap the increase in carbon tax scheduled for this spring in response to Ireland’s cost of living crisis. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Finland tightens laws against sex offenders. The Finnish government has proposed to tighten the country’s legislation on sex crimes, similar to reforms passed in Sweden and other European countries. With the five parties in government holding 117 of the 200 seats in parliament, the bill is likely to pass. Read more.
Madrid conservatives rally around regional chief amid party quarrel. Thousands of protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Spain’s Popular Party (PP) in Madrid on Sunday in a show of support for the capital’s regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso and to call on the conservative party leader Pablo Casado to step down. Read more.
Spaniards split over NATO support. Spain appears divided over a hypothetical intervention in a military conflict in Ukraine, including Spanish military forces. Read more.
Italy recommends fourth dose for immunocompromised patients. The fourth COVID-19 dose is recommended for immunocompromised patients 120 days after receiving their third booster dose, the Italian Agency of Medicine (AIFA) announced on Sunday. Read more.
Greek politicians bicker over expelled MEP who slammed government for press freedom. EU lawmaker Giorgios Kyrtsos, who was expelled last week from the ruling centre-right New Democracy party (European People’s Party), said Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis is more arrogant than Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. Read more.
Czech PM: Putin did not count on such a united attitude of the West. Europe is on the verge of war as Russia can attack Ukraine at any moment, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS, ECR) told Czech Television on Sunday, noting that the unity between the EU and NATO is not something Russian President Vladimir Putin expected. Read more.
Justice minister announces anti-EU offensive ‘in defence of Polish sovereignty’. Poland’s sovereignity is under threat from the EU’s conditionality mechanism – linking the disbursement of EU funds with the rule of law, and the bloc’s climate policies Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro of the Solidarity Poland party said on Saturday, proposing to block it. Read more.
Hungary prepares for budget hit after EU court’s rule of law decision. Hungary will temporarily rely on its own resources, said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who expects EU funds to be unblocked later this year, Hungary Today has reported. Read more.
Roma in Slovakia: chances of dying from COVID-19 two times higher. Roma people in Slovakia are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 when compared to the rest of the population, a new study conducted by the finance ministry’s value for money department has found. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Vucic: Serbian people don’t want NATO. The Serbian people “won’t have NATO,” President Aleksandar Vučić, who is also the Serbian Progressive Party’s (SNS) leader, said on 19 February. Read more.
Croatian minister arrested, relieved of duty. A Zagreb County Court judge on Saturday evening remanded Darko Horvat (HDZ-EPP), who was left his post as construction minister, to one month’s custody. He is suspected of having illegally disbursed 2.6 million kuna (€346,000) in grants in 2018 while he was Economy Minister to the four other suspects in the case. Read more.
Slovenia finally eases restrictions as Omicron wave recedes. Slovenia lifted many major COVID-19 restrictions over the weekend, bringing them broadly in line with countries that opted to start reopening public life several weeks ago. Read more.
BELGRADE | WESTERN BALKANS
Sarazzin appointed as Germany’s first Western Balkans envoy. The German government appointed Manuel Sarrazin as special envoy for the Western Balkans on 18 February. Sarazzin is Germany’s first envoy for the area, Radio Free Europe reported.
Sarazzin is a member of the Green Party and was a German MP from 2008 to 2021, playing an active role in the Bundestag’s committees on European and foreign affairs. Last May he underlined the importance of a coordinated German-French policy on the Western Balkans, voicing clear opposition to any border change in the region.
(EURACTIV.rs | betabriefing.com)
Croatian Assembly in BiH: Territorial reorganisation if no election law reform. The Croatian National Assembly (HNS), an umbrella organisation of most Croatian political parties and other organisations in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH), concluded that the conditions for the 2022 general elections have not been met. Read more.
North Macedonia National Bank: denar, banking system stable. The denar exchange rate is stable, the foreign reserves increased last year, and the banking system remains stable, the National Bank of the Republic of North Macedonia reported on Saturday. Read more.
NGOs urge authorities to stop praising Albania’s previous communist regime. An Albanian NGO has launched a petition calling for the authorities to stop praising the previous communist regime and ban the public use of communist-related symbols to align with EU states who have prohibited the glorification of fascist and totalitarian regimes. Read more.
- EU: EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Ukraine, climate diplomacy, Bosnia, will be briefed by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba / EU Commission VP Maros Sefcovic and UK’s FM Liz Truss attend EU-UK Joint Committee meeting / EU agriculture ministers meet in Brussels / European Parliament LIBE and AFCO delegations travel to Poland.
- NATO Secretary-General receives British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in Brussels.
- France: EU transport ministers meet in Le Bourget.
- Netherlands: ICJ hears Myanmar’s arguments in Rohingya genocide case.
- Italy: Tuesday, interview with the activist Marco Cappato on cannabis and euthanasia.
- Spain: Prime Minisdter Pedro Sanchez hosts Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen in Madrid.
- Slovenia: Prime Minister Janez Janša will host Hungary’s Viktor Orban to sign an agreement on cooperation in supporting the development of ethnically-mixed areas on both sides of the border.
- Montenegro: European Council President Charles Michel receives President of Montenegro Milo Đukanović in Brussels.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Alexandra Brzozowski, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox, Zoran Radosavljevic, Alice Taylor]