Orbán puts new CDU leadership to the test

"Everyone in the EPP appreciates the patience and persistence of the CDU, but when it comes to defending "our common values" difficult decisions await the EPP", said Tusk, without naming Viktor Orban's party. [EPA/CHRISTIAN MARQUARDT]

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 “Brussels postponed green finance rules after 10 EU states wielded veto“, by Frédéric Simon.

Editor’s take: Dangerous incident at sea just before Greece-Turkey talks (VIDEO) – The Turkish coastguard harassed a Greek fishing boat close to the island of Imia escalating tensions a few days before the launch of “exploratory talks” between Ankara and Athens. More.

The European news you deserve to read. Welcome to The Capitals by EURACTIV.

In today’s news from the Capitals:


In a run-off election with arch-conservative Friedrich Merz, North Rhine-Westphalian leader Armin Laschet won the race for CDU chair. Laschet – considered to be the moderate in the race and ran largely on a platform of continuing Merkel’s legacy – now has the best chance of becoming the country’s next chancellor after the Bundestag election set for 26 September. 

In the meantime at the EU level, Laschet will have to deal with the headache of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, which is part of the European People’s Party (EPP). EPP chief Donald Tusk briefly welcomed delegates during Saturday’s CDU virtual congress and called on the CDU to take a clear position regarding the dispute with Fidesz. Read more.



Dombrovskis: Continued suspension of EU Stability Pact will depend on spring assessment. European Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told EURACTIV’s partner Lusa that the suspension of the Stability and Growth Pact in 2022 would depend on economic developments, pointing to a possible decision in the spring. See the interview here.

The ‘Presidency for Africa’. Josep Borrell, the head of EU diplomacy, expressed his hope in an interview with Lusa that Portugal’s EU presidency “will be the presidency for Africa”.

He regretted that the COVID-19 pandemic had caused the EU to “lose a lot of time in its relationship with Africa this yeay […] when a very intensive work programme was planned, with meetings at all political levels, which could not take place”. He added that the EU does not just want to continue helping Africa but to move forward together. “The future of Europe is with Africa,” he said. (Maria de Deus Rodrigues | Lusa.pt)



French government says no to vaccination passport for now. The creation of a vaccination passport to travel to Europe is a “very premature” debate, Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune told Franceinfo on Sunday, adding that “when access to the vaccine will be generalised, it will be a different matter”. Read more.



Lockdown extended and intensified. The current lockdown where shops and restaurants are closed will remain in place until at least 7 February, the Austrian government announced on Sunday. New measures include an obligation to wear FFP2-masks in stores and on public transport due to the dangers posed by the virus mutation B.1.1.7, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) told a press conference. I see a “light at the end of the tunnel”, he said, adding that normality would only slowly be reached by April or May. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)



Pfizer to deliver vaccine doses this week. Belgium will receive 86,500 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 this week, which is only 7,000 fewer than planned, the task force responsible for the vaccination strategy is quoted as saying across Belgian media. “Compared to the initial estimate, the impact is, therefore, more limited”, the task force said in response to fears that a smaller delivery would jeopardise vaccinations in hospitals.

If everything goes according to the government’s vaccination plan, hospitals are hoping to be able to accelerate the first vaccinations of healthcare professionals early next week. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)



Eurostar faces ‘real risk of survival’ as passenger numbers plummet. Eurostar faces an existential threat to its future without major government support, the firm warned on Sunday. Read more.



European companies withdraw from Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – which has received the green light from German authorities to restart construction work – is seeing a few companies withdraw from the project, including three this month alone. Read more.



Baltic foreign ministers call for sanctions over Navalny detention. Foreign Ministers Urmas Reinsalu of Estonia, Edgars Rinkēvičs of Latvia, and Gabrielius Landsbergis of Lithuania issued a joint statement condemning the detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, calling for “restrictive measures” against Moscow.

“Detaining Alexei Navalny by the Russian authorities is completely unacceptable. We demand his immediate release. EU should act swiftly and if he is not released, we need to consider the imposition of restrictive measures in response to this blatant act,” they wrote in a joint statement. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)



Conte to face confidence vote amid rumours about a new ‘back-up’ party. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will ask MPs in the Chamber of Deputies on Monday to vote in favour of his government’s confidence after Matteo Renzi’s Italy Alive ministers resigned from the government and plunged the country into a political crisis. Read more.



Spanish government expects collection of €968 million with ‘Google and Tobin taxes’. Spain’s new taxes on digital and financial services, the so-called “Spanish Google and Tobin taxes” approved last year, came into force last Saturday. The Spanish coalition executive Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s socialist PSOE and left-wing Unidas Podemos (United We Can) expect to collect  €968 million in 2021. Read the full story.



Greek #metoo case gets politicians involved. Prominent female athlete and multiple Olympic Games medallist in sailing, Sofia Bekatorou, has spoken out about being sexually abused by a sports official during her preparations for the Sydney Olympic Games (2000). Read more.



Czech FM to propose EU sanctions over Navalny detention. Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (S&D) wants to discuss possible sanctions at EU level against Russia over the detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Read more.



Hungarian experts travel to China to inspect vaccine. The production processes of Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturer Sinopharm’s coronavirus vaccines were inspected in Beijing by experts from Hungary’s National Institute of Pharmacy and Food and Health (OGYÉI), state news agency MTI reported on Saturday. Read more.



Slovakia has nine days to test its entire population. All Slovaks will receive an antigen test between Monday and 26 January, following which a negative antigen or PCR test will be required to go to work or on trips into nature, according to a compromise solution between Prime Minister Igor Matovič – who continues to insist on having mass COVID-19 testing – and his coalition partners. Read more.



Bulgaria issues VIP passports for Chief Mufti and astrologists. Employees of sports federations, the Hotel and Restaurant Association, the Chief Mufti, the Association of Tour Operators, and the Bulgarian Astrological Association are among the organisations that have valid Bulgarian service passports usually issued to government employees. Read more.



Central bank lowers key rate. Romania’s central bank lowered its key interest rate following an unannounced board meeting on Friday – the third rate cut since the start of the pandemic. The main monetary policy rate now stands at 1.25%, down from 1.5% before Friday’s announcement. The central bank noted the inflation rate’s decrease and expects lower interest rates to support economic recovery and safeguard financial stability. The annual inflation rate stood at 2.1% at the end of December, the lowest level in three years. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)



Croatia’s national bank issues decision on dividend payments. The Croatian National Bank (HNB) issued a decision on the temporary restriction of distributions, requesting banks not to pay dividends – including in 2021 – to boost the resilience of credit institutions and maintain the financial system’s stability amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more.



No-confidence vote against PM Janša possibly postponed. The no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Janez Janša’s government, filed by an informal centre-left opposition coalition known as the Constitutional Arch Coalition, will probably not take place Wednesday as initially planned. Ream more.



Serbian authorities await licensing of China vaccine Sinopharm. A batch of one million doses of the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine reached Serbia on Saturday, announced Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić at Belgrade’s Surčin airport. Read more.



Italian Red Cross delivers aid to Camp Lipa. “The Italian Red Cross arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina to help Bosnian colleagues with clothes, blankets, and other first-aid items in Una-Sana Canton’s Lipa Camp,” according to the country’s official Embassy Twitter account. The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) pulled out of the camp because the migrants staying there had no access to electricity, running water, or sewage. The camp also did not provide shelter from extreme weather conditions during winter, which will only deteriorate as the weather conditions become even worse.  (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)



Paris sends protest note to Albanian PM. The Embassy of France in Tirana has issued a protest note to Albania’s Europe and Foreign Minister Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania against Prime Minister Rama. Read more.


[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]

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