Rule of law kills Serbia-EU talks for this year

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (front) and European Council President Charles Michel (R) the EU and the leaders of the Western Balkans nations (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) at the EC headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 16 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

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


EU INSTITUTIONS

EU Democracy Action Plan. The European Commission unveiled the first piece of a digital agenda package that aims to fight disinformation, enforce rules on fair competition in online public debates, and protect the integrity of elections. As part of it, the EU is also charting the establishment of sanctions to capacity to counter disinformation.

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Michel seeks global treaty on pandemics. At a virtual UN summit on COVID-19, European Council President Charles Michel called for an international treaty on pandemics that would help coordination on research, information-sharing and equitable access to health care. Read more.

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EIB grants €20 million to Spire Global. The European Investment Bank announced at the Web Summit that it would lend up to €20 million to Spire Global, a start-up that specialises in the tracking of global data sets powered by a large constellation of nanosatellites. This is the first time the EIB has allowed a player to benefit from its “venture debt” mechanism, which allows the financial institution to keep control of its activity as much as possible. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)


In today’s news from the Capitals:

BELGRADE 

The EU will not open a single new chapter in Serbia’s EU membership negotiations this year. This is because several EU member states believe that, despite all promises, Belgrade has not conducted essential reforms in the key area of rule of law, such as the judiciary’s independence and freedom of expression, sources in Brussels told Beta on Thursday.

The news comes at a time when the EU itself is struggling with at least two of its own members who are in the spotlight for violating the bloc’s rule of law principles. Read more. 

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BERLIN

Germany’s COVID-19 restrictions extended to 10 January, but debate an ‘ethical capitulation’. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state leaders agreed on Wednesday evening to extend the coronavirus measures until 10 January in the face of a persistently high level of new infections. Read more.

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PARIS

Paris Court rejects appeals by far-right in fictitious jobs case. The Paris Court of Appeal rejected on Thursday two last-ditch appeals filed by lawyers for Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (RN) as part of the ongoing investigation into the alleged fictitious jobs of MEPs’ assistants. Read more.

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BRUSSELS

Belgium announces vaccination strategy. Belgium’s health ministers announced the country’s COVID-19 vaccination plans, including the order of priority groups to receive the vaccine on Thursday. However, health experts warn that this does not mean a quick return to business-as-usual. Read more.

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VIENNA

Coalition conflict over chancellor’s statements. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has defended his decision to impose travel restrictions for home-comers over Christmas, saying that in Summer, infections had been brought into Austria “by home-comers and especially by people who had spent the Summer in their home countries”.
This sparked criticism from vice-chancellor Werner Kogler, who called these statements “one-sided and lacking sensitivity”. (Phillipp Grüll, EURACTIV.de)

UK AND IRELAND

LONDON

US-UK meat imports raised with antibiotics risk undermining EU farmers. Trade of meat from animals raised with antibiotics between the United Kingdom and the United States threatens the progress recently made on antibiotic resistance and risks adversely affecting both British and EU meat producers, warns a new report. Read the full story here.

Read also: UK announces 68% emissions goal by 2030 ahead of UN summit

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DUBLIN

Final decision in first major cross-border GDPR case to go public. The EU’s first major cross-border GDPR case is due to be published on 17 December despite the “very divergent views” between EU data protection authorities with regards to a probe into potential data breaches by Twitter, according to Irish Data Commissioner Helen Dixon. Read the full story.


NORDICS

HELSINKI

Populist Finns Party takes lead in the polls. The populist Finns Party has increased its support among voters by 1.4% since last month, meaning it is now the most popular party in Finland with 20.9% of pollsters supporting it, according to the latest monthly political poll by the Finnish Broadcasting Company released on Thursday. Read more.

Read also: Populist Finns Party most popular among young voters


EUROPE’S SOUTH

ROME

Italy’s M5S condemns MEPs who left, says no risk of instability. After the so-called “ecologist” group of four MEPs left the M5S group at the European Parliament, members of the party in Italy condemned their decision. Read more.

Read also: Four 5 Star MEPs go solo, eyeing ‘green’ future

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MADRID

Spain’s parliament approves ‘historical’ State budget for 2021. The Spanish parliament approved on Thursday by a large majority Spain’s new state budget bill for 2021, which gathered the support of 11 political parties, including Catalan and Basque separatists. Read the full story here.

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LISBON

Portugal aims to vaccinate nearly 10% of population. Portugal’s government announced on Thursday a nationwide plan to vaccinate people against the coronavirus voluntarily and free of charge, and said it hoped to inoculate nearly 10% of the population during the first phase that will kick off next month. Read more.

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ATHENS

Greek health expert questions EMA’s delay in approving COVID-19 vaccine. Greek public health professor Elias Mosialos has questioned the delay of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve Pfizer’s vaccine against COVID-19 considering that the UK and the US have already sped up the processes. He even called on the European Commission to intervene. Read more.


VISEGRAD 

WARSAW

Poland ready for EU budget veto trade-off. A compromise for the EU budget is possible, said Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin, who recently admitted that Poland should not have vetoed the EU budget. Read more.

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PRAGUE

Czech Republic lifts some of its COVID-19 restrictions. As of Thursday, shops, restaurants and services were allowed to reopen in the Czech Republic, while the night curfew was lifted. Meanwhile, museums and galleries were only allowed to open with limited capacity.

Restaurants and bars will be able to have their doors open to the public until 10 pm but will only be allowed to sit a maximum of four people per table and have half the usual capacity. As for gatherings, up to 50 people are allowed to gather outdoors, while a maximum of 10 can meet indoors. (Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)

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BRATISLAVA

Slovak parliament elects new prosecutor general. Prosecutor Maroš Žilinka was elected to be the new Prosecutor General by the Slovak parliament on Thursday after the governing coalition struggled to agree on a common candidate for days.

Businessman Marián Kočner – who was acquitted in the notorious murder case of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee earlier this year – was found to have given the order in 2018 to murder Žilinka, who at the time was overseeing one of Kočner´s cases of economic criminality. The appeal is pending before the Supreme Court. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)


NEWS FROM THE BALKANS

SOFIA | ATHENS

Commission takes Bulgaria, Greece to EU Court over toxic air. The European Commission has decided on Thursday to refer Bulgaria and Greece to the EU Court of Justice for failing to ensure full compliance with the Court’s 2017 judgement which found Bulgaria to be in breach of its obligations under the EU’s ambient air quality legislation. Read more.

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BUCHAREST

Romania adopts new rules for burn patients’ transfer. Romania’s health ministry adopted new rules for speeding up the transfer of patients with severe burns to foreign clinics. As of now, Romania lacks the capacity for treating burn patients. The authorities have often been blamed for the slow reaction in treating patients and the possible transfer of casualties of massive fires. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

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ZAGREB

Croatia to regularise residency status for Brits. Croatia’s government has sent a bill to parliament using the fast track procedure, in which it lays out the proposed amendments regarding citizens from countries in the European Economic Area and their families, which will regulate residency status for UK citizens and their families.

The law, which will enter into force at the start of next year, provides instructions for UK citizens how to regularise their residency depending on whether they were registered before 31 December. There are 1,103 UK citizens in Croatia, of whom 747 have temporary residence, while 356 have permanent residency status. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

Read also: Thousands of EU citizens risk exclusion from UK after Brexit

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LJUBLJANA 

Czech billionaire Kellner to meet PM Janša? Czech billionaire Petr Kellner – the new owner of the media house PRO Plus, the broadcaster of POP TV and Kanal A – arrived in Slovenia on Thursday afternoon, according to the portal Necenzurirano. Read more.

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In other news, after defending PM Janša’s foreign policy in parliament, Foreign Minister Anže Logar,  announced that he will pay a visit to the US on Monday, during which he plans to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Slovenian government still has not congratulated Joe Biden on his election victory, and Janša will be visiting Israel from 7-8 December. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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SARAJEVO 

BiH’s top judicial body asks its president to ‘consider resigning’. BiH’s top judicial institution concluded on Thursday that its president “should consider resigning” after local media published a recording that appears to confirm his involvement in influence-peddling.

The allegations have “damaged relations with all international partners.” The Istraga.ba investigative journalism portal released an audio recording last week which it said features the head of Bosnia’s High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJCP), Milan Tegeltija, discussing the possibility of naming the sister of former HJCP member, Miljana Buha, as a judge in a Banja Luka court. The HJPC is the institution that appoints judicial officials in BiH. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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TIRANA

Albania’s constitutional changes are ‘extremely hasty’, says Venice Commission. The ruling Socialists in Albania and their parliamentary allies ‘hurried’ through legal changes that critics say are designed to benefit them in the next parliamentary elections, due in April 2021, according to the Venice Commission, an advisory board to the Council of Europe. Read more.

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[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]

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