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 interview conducted by Ben Fox with Iratxe García, the leader of the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament:”Close EU-Africa relations more important than ever”
In today’s news from the Capitals:
‘We will not be blackmailed by money’. While the European Parliament and the EU Council are failing to agree on a rule of law control mechanism, leader of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jarosław Kaczyński, is threatening to veto the EU budget and the Recovery Fund if Brussels were to impose rule of law conditions. Read more.
In other news, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has gone into self-quarantine after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus. EURACTIV Poland has more details.
European Parliament caught in Strasbourg trap. European Parliament President Davide Sassoli is on Thursday (14 October) set to look at revising the travel decision to Strasbourg for the plenary next week, according to an EU source. The move comes as the pandemic situation in Brussels has deteriorated, French President Emmanuel Macron insists on the location of Strasbourg, while Sassoli asked, in a letter seen by EURACTIV, asked for the introduction of stricter measures for the EU institution. Read more.
Another two Commissioners quarantined. EU top diplomat Josep Borrell and Commissioner for humanitarian aid Janez Lenarcic have been in quarantine after they came in contact with people tested positive for COVID-19. So far, only Bulgaria’s Mariya Gabriel has tested positive for the virus. Read more.
Belgium to launch ‘Coronavirus barometer’. The “Coronavirus barometer” announced at the end of September is set to be launched this week on Friday (16 October) as Belgium battles one of the highest infection rates per capita across the EU. Read more.
The Netherlands going into ‘partial lockdown’. The Netherlands is going into a “partial lockdown, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on Tuesday, closing bars and restaurants as the country battles the rapid rise in COVID-19 infections. Read more.
Söder calls for national coronavirus rules. Ahead of today’s virtual meeting of state leaders, Bavarian premier Markus Söder (CSU) has called for the implementation of national COVID-19 restrictions, warning that “a second lockdown is imminent.” Not only has Söder claimed he will advocate for “clearer rules for all” in today’s meeting, but also he intends to expand the country’s mask requirements to apply in public buildings and elevators, for example. Bavaria’s leader also called for imposing limits on private gatherings. Read more.
US, Germany warn Turkey not to squander trust in Mediterranean. After the United States on Tuesday (13 October) used strong language slamming Turkey’s renewed push to send a vessel to carry out seismic surveys in the eastern Mediterranean, Germany urged Ankara not to dispel the “climate of trust” needed to de-escalate tensions with Greece. Read the full story.
Could do better. A group of independent experts commissioned by the Elysée Palace denounced the government’s “failure to anticipate and manage” the COVID-19 health crisis but placed France “in an intermediate position compared to its European neighbours” in terms of mortality in a progress report published on Tuesday. The independent experts also noted “a clumsy deployment of crisis management processes at inter-ministerial level”.
Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron will speak to the nation in a televised address on Wednesday as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to intensify. (Louise Rozès Moscovenko | EURACTIV.FR)
Labour demands ‘circuit breaker’. The UK needs a three-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to curb the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Labour party leader Keir Starmer argued on Tuesday. The proposal marks the first time that Starmer’s party has flatly opposed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government’s plan to control the pandemic. Benjamin Fox reports from London.
Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned that the capital is likely to be placed into the middle tier of restrictions within the coming days. (Benjamin Fox | EURACTIV.com)
Opposition criticises budget ahead of presentation. After newspaper Der Standard leaked the government’s budget plan for 2021, which was supposed to be presented today (14 October) by Finance Minister Gernot Blümel (ÖVP), opposition parties took aim at the budget which will run a deficit of more than 6% next year. While the Social Democrats (SPÖ) had expected to see lower taxes for low-income households, both SPÖ and liberal party NEOS criticised the lack of investment in the job market and climate protection. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
COVID-19 brings Finns back home. After brain drain figures increased year after year in Finland since 2010, some 40% of new Helsinki residents this year are Finns returning from abroad, according to Statistics Finland.
While some of the reasons for this “return influx” include burning forests in California and Brexit, the COVID-19 health crisis is what is pushing many Finns to come back following the country’s brain drain trend since 2010. Even pensioners on the sunny beaches of Spain and Portugal have been returning to the Finnish cold. Read more.
New infection spike puts worries on hospital capacity. While hospitals would be able to sustain the current rate of new daily COVID-19 infections – which reached 5,901 on Tuesday – “the hospital system could not sustain it for more than 2 months,” if the situation were to worsen like in France, warned Carlo Palermo, secretary of the biggest Italian trade union for hospital doctors (Anaao-Assomed). In the event that infection rates were to double, hospitals would struggle to cope with the situation as “some difficulties are already starting to emerge”, Palermo added.
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged Italian citizens to act responsibly and follow the rules and recommendations featured in the new decree issued yesterday (13 October). Read more.
Spanish economy takes biggest hit among euro economies. The Spanish economy, which has been severely hit by the COVID-19 crisis, will shrink by 12.8% this year, predicted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its newest forecast released yesterday (13 October), EUROEFE reported. The Spanish government predicted that the country’s GDP would fall by 11.2% this year. More.
TAP may need more than €500 million. National flag-carrier TAP may need more than the €500 million in the proposed 2021 state budget, said Portuguese Finance Minister João Leão on Tuesday, adding that the company’s restructuring plan will be submitted to the European Commission in November, before the mid-December deadline. (Jorge Eusébio and Alexandra Noronha, Lusa.pt)
In other news, the Portuguese economy is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022 and in that year the budget deficit is expected to stay below 3% of the country’s GDP, complying with the Brussels rules that are currently suspended.
In the proposed State Budget for 2021 (OE2021) presented yesterday, the government expects the economy to drop 8.5%, a more pessimistic figure than the 6.9% drop forecast in the 2020 budget. While the economy is expected to grow 5.4% by 2021 and 3.4% by 2022, the deficit is expected to reach 7.3% of GDP in 2020, 4.3% in 2021 and 2.8% in 2022. (Vítor Costa and Paulo Nogueira, Lusa.pt)
Heavy sentences for Greek neo-Nazis. A prosecutor has proposed to impose 13-year sentences against seven leading members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which was recently branded as a criminal organisation. In total, 57 people are expected to be sentenced. The question that will be answered today is who among them will go to jail and who will receive suspended sentences. Usually, the court’s final decision is always stricter than the prosecutor’s proposal. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
Cyprus scraps ‘golden passport’ scheme after journalistic investigation. Cyprus said on Tuesday (13 October) it will scrap its controversial “golden passports” scheme for foreign investors next month over alleged abuses uncovered in a television programme. Read the story.
Czech schools not prepared for children with special educational needs. The Czech Republic’s education ministry has not prepared Czech schools and teachers for the inclusion of children with special educational needs, the Supreme Audit Office has found. Read more.
Theatre university row escalates. The new management of Budapest’s University of Theatre and Film Arts said it considers the blockade and the student “teaching republic – the alternative educational and governance model established by striking teachers and students – “to be over”, 444 reported. The management said it will seek out all students and employees of the university in the coming days to discuss their willingness to cooperate with the new administration and has forbidden all cooperation with those supporting the blockade. Besides, it appears that internet access in the occupied buildings was shut off after 6 pm on Tuesday. Read more.
In other news, a Chinese list containing the personal information of 2.4 million people was leaked in September from Shenzhen company Zhenhua Data. The list includes the names, portrait photos, links to social media, status (active or inactive), gender and in some cases a summary of the professional backgrounds of 710 Hungarians and their relatives, of which Szabad Európa was able to identify 393. Among the influential people on the list, including judges, office captains and clergymen, was one of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s children, as well as several state-owned companies, including The Central Hungarian Bank, The Hungarian National Asset Management Inc., and MÁV-START Ltd.
Meanwhile, the new blocks currently under construction for Hungary’s sole nuclear power station in Paks will result in 17 million tonnes less carbon dioxide emissions each year, a government official has said. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Far-right leader sentenced to prison. The court of first instance has sentenced Marián Kotleba, the leader of the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), to four years and four months in prison on Monday. Kotleba was found guilty of supporting and propagating sympathies towards movements oppressing fundamental human rights. More.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
State of alert gets 30 day-extension and weddings are banned. The special committee for emergency situations proposed to extend the state of alert in the whole territory of Romania by 30 days as of 15 October due to higher number of COVID-19 cases. The government will approve the extension in today’s meeting. Read more.
A nuclear power plant with a US reactor. “The VII reactor of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant will be built here on this meadow,” Prime Minister Boyko Borissov announced on Tuesday during his visit to the area of the only functioning nuclear power plant in the country. The plant currently operates with only two reactors, until Bulgaria announced a plan for the construction of a second nuclear power plant with a Russian nuclear reactor, which has already been purchased. Two weeks ago, US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis Fannon was in Sofia and criticised the Russian nuclear reactor project and the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project, which will carry mainly Russian gas.
In other news, Bulgaria recorded 23 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours on Tuesday – the highest daily death tally since the start of the pandemic, according to health authorities. In total, the country recorded 24,899 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 915 COVID-related deaths. Currently, there are 8,099 active cases, while 1,221 patients are hospitalised and 65 are in intensive care units. Since the start of the pandemic, 1,384 medical staff have been infected by the virus. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Janša attacks judiciary. At the meeting of top representatives of all three branches of power at the presidential palace, Supreme Court President Damjan Florijančič pointed to the executive’s inappropriate behaviour towards the judiciary. Read more.
In other news, the Slovenian and Austrian police conducted a joint border control exercise on the Austrian side of the Šentilj/Spielfeld border crossing, using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), of which Slovenia already has 24 and intends to buy 50 more. Interior ministers of both countries met on the occasion to stress the importance of effective cooperation and discuss the current COVID-19 situation. “We are facing great challenges because there are 20,000 migrants in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer has said. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Shooter’s father has illegal weapons. Police found two rifles with optical sights and silencers as well as 1,169 pieces of ammunition when searching the home of the young man who on Monday (12 October) shot and wounded a police officer working as a security guard for the government, after which he committed suicide. Following the search, the attacker’s father was arrested for the illegal possession, making and procurement of weapons and explosives, the local prosecutor confirmed. Read more.
Judges and prosecutors increasingly pressured by tabloids and politicians. The manner in which the executive branch has been exerting pressure on independent work of the judiciary is no longer classical, said Lidija Komlen Nikolić, the president of the Association of Public Prosecutors and Deputy Public Prosecutors of Serbia. The pressure through formal acts like “calls by politicians threatening to call your boss,” has not been applied for a long time, she added.
According to Komlen Nikolić, who spoke to Belgrade daily Danas yesterday, the attempts to influence the work of judicial bodies had been increasingly performed through media outlets and tabloids and also public statements by politicians that prosecutors and deputy prosecutors are expected to act in a particular manner. Read more.
Albanians and Bosniaks to decide to enter the government. Representatives of the Albanian list “Genci Nimanbegu – Nik Djelosaj” will meet on Thursday with Prime Minister-designate Zdravko Krivokapić to negotiate the formation of a new government, Nick Djelosaj confirmed to “Vijesti”. Read more.
UN Secretary-General attacks Thaci and Veseli. Radio Television of Serbia published on its website parts of the alleged report of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, which will be presented to the UN Security Council on 21 October.
“The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (for the war crimes on Kosovo from 1998-2000) stated that charges against (Kosovo) President (Hashim) Thaci and Kadri Veseli (former speaker of the Parliament) … were being disclosed in advance owing to ‘repeated efforts by both Hashim Thaci and Kadri Veseli to obstruct and undermine the work of the KSC [Kosovo Specialist Chambers]”, the report reads. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Reforms to speed up EU accession. “Important reforms that will determine the speed of negotiations (with the EU) relate primarily to the judiciary and the fight against organised crime and corruption, announced German government spokesman Steffen Seibert in a press statement published by the German Embassy in Albania, following a meeting between Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
Simultaneously, the EU and US Ambassadors to Tirana urged the new justice institutions to crack down on corruption in Albania. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]