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 “Navalny arrest could prompt inauguration of EU-Magnitsky sanctions regime“, by Alexandra Brzozowski.
The European news you deserve to read. Welcome to The Capitals by EURACTIV.
In today’s news from the Capitals:
The owners of Bulgarian restaurants and nightclubs – which were forced to close months ago because of the pandemic – have threatened with civil disobedience and unauthorised openings of their businesses after police and health inspectors surprised a series of ‘illegal’ parties in restaurants. Read more.
THE EU PRESIDENCY
Portugal tries to overcome ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’ deadlock. European institutions must find a “rapid and pragmatic solution” to overcome the “deadlock” which is preventing the Conference on the Future of Europe from being held, Portuguese State Secretary for European Affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, told a press conference on Monday. Read more.
New CDU chief not particularly popular in chancellorship race. Although the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) elected North Rhine-Westphalian premier Armin Laschet to be the party’s chair over the weekend, recent opinion polls show that he is not particularly popular, meaning he could face challengers in the chancellorship race. Read more.
Belgium calls for harmonised EU rules on non-essential travel. Belgium has not yet taken a decision on stricter travel rules, despite the appearance of the UK COVID-mutation in the country, as it is hoping for a joint European approach. Read more.
France’s controversial draft ‘separatism’ bill to cause heated debate. The French parliament’s debate on the draft bill “reinforcing respect for the principles of the Republic” – which began on Monday – is already promising to be heated. Read more.
In other news, the French presidency assured on Monday that China’s human rights “commitments” would be “very scrupulously checked” as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) agreed in principle between the EU and China on 30 December. Read more about this in an interview with MEP Raphaël Glucksmann (S&D).
Austrian chancellor expects delays in Pfizer vaccine delivery. The projected availability of vaccine doses in Austria will decrease by 20% for a short period of time, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) announced on Monday, adding that “we will have to adapt our strategy” since the missing doses are to be delivered in February. The issue – which is also affecting other EU member states – is due to Pfizer’s plant in Belgium facing production issues. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
LUXEMBOURG | EU INSTITUTIONS
Luxembourgish MEP suspended. Monica Semedo (Renew Europe) has been suspended for a period of 15 days over allegations of “psychological harassment” by her assistants. More.
UK AND IRELAND
UK pledges £23 million to help fishing businesses affected by Brexit. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged on on Monday £23 million to help fishing businesses affected by Brexit delays after fishing firms brought their protests to central London. Read more.
NORDICS AND BALTICS
HELSINKI | TALLINN
Finland, Estonia eager to attract high skilled workers from abroad. In order to attract experts and highly skilled employees from abroad, the Confederation of Finnish Industries has proposed to revise the country’s residency procedures by having highly skilled foreign workers work immediately upon arrival while waiting for their residency permit to be approved. Meanwhile, Estonia’s likely new Prime Minister Kaja Kallas – who has been in negotiations regarding the new government – has said that the so-called Aliens Act cannot continue in its current form, the news service ERR reported. Read more.
Conte wins first confidence vote. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte won the no-confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies on Monday evening, meaning the PM only has to convince the second branch of the Italian parliament, known as the Senate, which is expected to have the results of the confidence vote late on Tuesday. Read more.
Spain to receive more EU money than initially planned. Spain will receive €69.5 billion in non-refundable transfers from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, a “statistical increase” of €10.36 billion or 17% more than initially planned, making Spain the first beneficiary of EU recovery money, followed by Italy. Read more.
Portuguese health system very close to limit. Portugal’s entire health system, including the National Health Service (SNS), private and third sectors and all back-office structures, is close to its limit as it struggles to cope with a surge in coronavirus cases, Health Minister Marta Temido has warned. Read more.
Sassoli under fire for unarrested Greek Nazi MEP. EU lawmakers of the Greek communist party (KKE) have sent a letter to EU Parliament chief David Sassoli complaining about the “unjustified” delay to lift the immunity of a Greek MEP who has been convicted for having joined a criminal Nazi organisation. More.
Frosty night covers Poland in smog. Sunday’s frosty night has caused extremely high air pollution across Poland, placing Wroclaw and Warsaw in the world’s top ten most polluted cities according to IQAir’s air quality index which calculates the dose of pollution on the basis of dust concentrations and average air quality results. Read more.
Stop coal mining as soon as possible, says Czech health minister. The Czech government is expected to discuss and make a final decision on the country’s coal phase-out next week but remains divided on the issue, and Health Minister Jan Blatný told EURACTIV.cz that “personally, I am in favour of a coal mining phase-out as soon as possible”. Read the full story.
European Commission investigating EU grant rejection that ran counter to top EU court ruling. The European Commission is investigating the rejection of a human rights civil society organisation’s grant application on the grounds that it did not comply with the transparency requirements of Hungarian legislation the EU’s top court found last summer to run against EU law, the EU executive’s Vice-President responsible for values and transparency, Vera Jourova, informed the head of the NGO in a letter. Read more.
Slovakia suddenly a frontrunner in renewable energies, new data shows. Slovakia suddenly became one of the EU’s leading countries when it comes to green energy consumption, according to new figures published by Eurostat based on 2019 data regarding household biomass consumption provided by Slovakia. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Vaccination faces online problems in Romania. The anti-COVID vaccination campaign entered the second phase in Romania, but its rollout has been plagued by problems with appointment bookings. As of Friday (15 January), elders, chronic patients, but also essential workers may receive an inoculation, but users reported multiple failings on the online platform that is used for appointments. More.
Croatian government decides to support independent artists. The government decided on Monday to financially support independent artists, the self-employed and independent culture professionals, tasking the finance and culture ministries with setting aside an additional €3 million this year as direct support to the culture sector. Read more.
No-confidence vote against PM Janša to take place on Wednesday. Slovenian parliament Speaker Igor Zorčič has rejected calls to postpone the vote on the no-confidence motion against the government of Prime Minister Janez Janša due to possible coronavirus infections. Read more.
Serbia’s economic achievements in 2020 are unfounded – former national bank governor. Serbia’s economic achievements in 2020 are unfounded and are more in the domain of political propaganda than reality, Belgrade School of Economics Professor and former Serbian National bank governor Dejan Šoškić told the Nezavisnost (Independence) trade union’s web portal on Monday. Read more.
‘Electoral engineering’ in Mostar elections, says Bosnian Croat party leader. There was “electoral engineering” during the elections in Mostar and it allegedly involved the Central Election Commission (CEC) of BiH, Dragan Čović, the leader of the biggest Croatian party in BiH, HDZ BiH, tweeted on Monday. Read more.
TIRANA | ATHENS
Tirana and Athens agree on preventing border illegalities. US Ambassador to Albania, Yuri Kim, welcomed the agreement between Albania and Greece to jointly fight illegalities at their border crossing points, saying it was “good to see our friends working together to solve shared problems.” Read more.
Kosovo unveils rule of law strategy. The US Embassy in Pristina has welcomed the unveiling of the strategy and action plan for the Functional Review of the Rule of Law and urged the new government, once formed, to adopt the final documents and implement all recommendations deriving from this draft, Gazeta Express wrote. More.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]