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In today’s news from the Capitals:
HELSINKI. Increased levels of radioactive isotopes of cobalt, ruthenium and caesium in the atmosphere were recorded during the week, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) reported on Friday (26 June). Soon after, similar findings were recorded in Sweden and Norway.
EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen has the details.
Lockdown extended. Yesterday (29 June), North Rhine-Westphalian premier Armin Laschet announced a week-long extension to restrictions in Gütersloh, one of the districts put into lockdown last week following a massive outbreak at a meatpacking plant. The other district involved will see their restrictions expire today. In Gütersloh, there were 112.6 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 over the previous seven days, which is well above the upper limit of 50 per 100,000, the Robert Koch Institute said.
Meanwhile, the Bundestag and Bundesrat reached an agreement on the government’s billion-euro stimulus package, which includes VAT reductions and a €300 bonus for every child. The measures will come into effect on Wednesday (1 July). (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
Fessenheim power plant closes down. After 43 years of activity, the oldest nuclear power plant in France was definitively shut down last night (29 June) and will be dismantled from 2025 to at least 2040. While its safety was declared “very satisfactory” in 2018 by France’s independent nuclear safety authority, despite its seismic risk, former French President François Hollande made a campaign promise to shut it down. Hollande’s pledge was ultimately carried out by his successor, Emmanuel Macron, whose objective is to reduce France’s nuclear share of electricity production to 50% by 2035. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.fr)
Council of Europe slams pay inequality. Belgium is in violation of two articles of the European Social Charter by not ensuring wage transparency, which is decisive in equal pay for work of equal value between the sexes, the Council of Europe body responsible for the implementation of the charter stated in a report rating the situation in 15 European countries.
Although a 2012 law to combat the pay gap between women and men has increased the visibility of this gap and has proved useful in reducing it, the principle of salary transparency is not enshrined in Belgian law and according to the findings Belgium has not yet taken the necessary measures to incorporate a 2014 European Commission recommendation on this matter. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
UK sets September deadline. The UK has ear-marked September as its deadline for agreeing on a new trade deal with the EU after negotiators held their first face-to-face meetings since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The EU’s Michel Barnier and UK counterpart David Frost met on Monday (29 June) in Brussels, marking the start of their first in-person negotiating rounds as the two sides seek to intensify the pace of talks. Read the full story.
Austrian health minister ‘worried’ about new COVID-19 clusters. In Austria, the number of people with a confirmed active case of COVID-19 rose to over 600 on Monday (29 June), which is a new record for June. It is likely that the number of cases rose by 124 between Friday and Monday because of new clusters that formed in both Upper Austria and Salzburg.
“The recent local outbreaks have me worried”, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) told public broadcasting news portal orf.at. There is a “decrease in risk awareness among the public,” he added. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
Spain to close half its coal-fired power stations. Spain is set to become a coal-free country in record time as all its remaining coal-fired thermal power plants will start shutting down on Tuesday, a year-and-a-half after the closure of the coal mines, which became unprofitable without injections of state aid. Read more on El País.
New ‘Italexit’ party. Former Five Star Movement Senator Gianluigi Paragone told Bloomberg in an interview that he is launching a new party in mid-July with the aim of pulling Italy out of the EU. “The EU and the euro were imposed from on high […] They’ve hurt the real economy, families and workers and small and medium-sized businesses,” he said.
€2.5 billion by September to help schools reopen. Italian Public Education Minister Lucia Azzolina confirmed on Monday (29 June) that €2.5 billion are available to help the reopening of schools in September.
“We have €1.5 billion from the ‘Recovery decree’ and an additional billion coming from unused funds from the national operative programme of the public education ministry,” Azzolina confirmed in an interview. EURACTIV Italy’s Alessandro Follis takes a closer look.
Government restricts demonstrations. Opposition party Syriza has reacted strongly to a bill aimed to restrict demonstrations. Particularly, the bill provides one year in prison for those involved in a rally banned by the police and two years for those who enter protests and commit violent acts, as well as civil sanctions against the organisers who will be responsible to repair potential damages.
“In Greece, the last time there was a law on rallies and marches was during the junta in 1971.
A law that has remained dead throughout the post-junta period but is now being revived by Mitsotakis’s government,” Syriza lawmaker Giannis Ragkousis said. (Sarantis Michalopoulos)
UNHCR concerned about asylum seekers. The UN’s refugee agency called on the Hungarian government to withdraw a law that will turn away asylum-seekers arriving at the border of Hungary and directed them to declare their intent to seek asylum at a designated Hungarian embassy.
The UNHCR said that such practice may expose asylum-seekers to the risk of refoulement and urged the government to review its asylum system to bring it into conformity with international refugee and human rights law, as well as EU law. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
Parliament resolution against PM breaches presumption of innocence. According to the Czech government, the European Parliament’s resolution attacking Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’ continued involvement in implementing the EU budget while still controlling agrochemical holding Agrofert breaches the presumption of innocence.
The government claims that the resolution anticipates the results of ongoing EU auditing procedures run by the Commission on Babiš’ conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, 304 new COVID-19 cases were detected on Sunday (28 June) in the Czech Republic, which is the highest number of new daily cases reported since 8 April.
Health Minister Adam Vojtěch reassured citizens that it is not a second wave of coronavirus but the outcome of massive testing in the coal-mining region of Karviná where hundreds of miners were infected. Restrictive measures will thus only remain in place in the region, while the rest of the country will continue its “back to normal” path. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
Berlin murder accomplice had Slovak Schengen visa. The Slovak Consulate in St Petersburg issued a multiple-entry Schengen visa to the accomplice of the 2019 Berlin Tiergarten murder of a former Chechen rebel of Georgian origin, investigative website Bellingcat reported. So far, Slovakia’s foreign affairs ministry has not yet explained how it was possible for the visas to be granted given that, according to Bellingcat, all of the information in his visa application was false.
While the alleged killer currently sits in custody as Germany’s federal prosecutors are persuaded the killing was ordered by Russian authorities, the accomplice fled back to Russia.
In other news, former president Andrej Kiska has announced he will not run for the chairmanship of his party (For the People) which is currently part of the ruling four-party coalition during the congress scheduled in August and had already said he would leave politics after the February elections due to health reasons. “My health doesn’t allow me to stay active in politics,” Kiska wrote on Facebook Friday (26 June).
Meanwhile, the new party launched by former Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini after his break from Smer-SD (Direction-social democracy) has a name. It will be called Voice-Social democracy. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Relaxation delayed. A new round of restrictions that were planned to be lifted on 1 July will stay in place as the number of COVID-19 cases grew in the past few weeks, Moreover, authorities announced new restrictions could be introduced if new outbreaks crop up in touristic areas such as the Prahova Valley in the Carpathians or the Black Sea coast.
As of Monday (29 June), the number of new daily COVID-19 cases increased by 269 after this figure reached a two-month high last week. Since the start of the pandemic, Romania registered a total of 26,500 coronavirus cases and 1,634 deaths.
To stay in the loop about the COVID-19 situation in Romania, check here.
In other news, the country’s right-wing political parties should designate common candidates for the elections of the Bucharest district mayors, said Prime Minister and leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL) Ludovic Orban. Romania’s capital city is divided into six districts, each with their own mayor. All the current six mayors, including Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea, come from the socialist party PSD.
However, while Centre-right PNL (EPP) and the Alliance USR-PLUS (RE) have talked of supporting a sole candidate in the local elections, discussions had not reached a conclusion so far. EURACTIV Romania’s Bogdan Neagu has more.
‘Everything that was possible was achieved’. Croatia’s first EU presidency, which ends on Tuesday (30 June), did not go as planned due to the pandemic but everything that was possible was achieved given the circumstances, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday (29 June). EURACTIV Croatia’s Karla Juničić reports from Zagreb.
In other news, Croatia is in the final phase of entering the US Visa Waiver Programme and foreign policy priorities have not been put on hold despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Interior Minister Davor Božinović has said. US Ambassador Robert Kohorst said Croatia’s entry, planned for the end of this year, could be postponed for a few months due to the health crisis. (Karla Juničić, EURACTIV.hr)
Slovenia airport workers to protest against layoffs. Trade union Aerodrom Ljubljana is preparing a protest rally on Thursday against announced layoffs, news website 24ur reported. “The company, which has made multi-million profits on a regular basis in recent years – more than €20 million in the last two years alone – has almost immediately started laying off employees because of the problems caused by the epidemic,” the union wrote. Read more.
In other news, Slovenia will be forced to strike Croatia off the list of corona-free countries, a government spokesman said. “It is likely that tomorrow Croatia will exceed the required cumulative value of ten infected per 100,000 in 14 days. Slovenia has set high criteria here and no country that does not meet the criteria can be on the green list,” he added. (Zoran Radosavljević | EURACTIV.com)
Serbia reports jump in new cases, endorses tougher measures. While 242 new COVID-19 cases have been registered within the past 24 hours in Serbia and another four people have died from the disease, 36 patients continue to be on ventilators, the health ministry reported on Monday (29 June).
Due to the spike in new cases, masks will be made compulsory on public transport and in all enclosed public places and people visiting shopping malls, cafes, restaurants, night clubs, beauty salons, gyms and similar place must always wear masks, the national Crisis Team dealing with the pandemic decided on Monday. “Given the variations in the epidemiological situation across Serbia, the Crisis Team will gradually endorse measures in individual cities and they may be tightened any time if disrespected or proven ineffective,” the Crisis Team said in a release.
In other news, 210 students attending university in Belgrade, of which a quarter had lived in student dorms, have been infected with the virus, the Director of the Belgrade Institute for Student Health Care, Marija Obradovic, said on Monday (29 June). EURACTIV Serbia reports from Belgrade.
Meanwhile, the Bosniak National Council warned on Monday (29 June) that the health system of the northwestern city of Novi Pazar, located in the Bosniak dominant region of Sandžak, was in crisis due to the increase of new COVID-19 cases which prompted authorities to immediately send medical staff and equipment to the city hospital. EURACTIV Serbia digs deeper.
Moreover, the EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans will resume after Germany takes over the rotating presidency from Croatia despite the extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic, said participants in an online conference on the EU presidency yesterday (29 June). However, the dynamic of the negotiations will primarily depend on reforms in the rule of law, they added. Read more.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Sam Morgan]