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.
Today, we celebrate World Food Day. Before you start reading The Capitals, take a look at the Special Report on the role of biotechnology in making food production systems more sustainable, with the exclusive interviews with EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and leading industry and civil society stakeholders.
“We warned the Kurds that the Americans would abandon them. And here in Rhodes, I can personally warn the Greeks to think about whether a similar fate awaits them,” said Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU.
Speaking at the International Forum of Dialogues of Culture in the Greek island of Rhodes, Chizhov criticised the extended defence agreement signed between the US and Greece during a visit in the region of US State Secretary Mike Pompeo earlier this month.
During that visit, Pompeo also slammed Turkey for its drilling for hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean, calling the country’s actions “illegal” and “unacceptable”.
“I think it was a mistake, but this is my personal opinion. Of course, you should ask the Greeks about the reasons why such a decision was made. But I do not rule out that they did so amid tensions between the United States and Turkey. However, this does not mean that this decision is well weighed from a perspective point of view,” he told TASS news agency, according to Greek media reports.
Regarding the Syrian crisis, he backed the idea of dialogue saying Moscow stands ready to mediate between Ankara and the Kurds and between the Kurds and Damascus. He also said the EU had not included the government in Damascus as partners in these negotiations.
Chizhov is knowledgeable of the region: he has served as a diplomat and as Ambassador to Cyprus, and as a Russian Special representative in the Balkans.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria has asked neighbouring Turkey to halt its military offensive in northeast Syria, saying the violence could lead to rising numbers of migrants crossing the border. The Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov reiterated his support for the deal that the EU struck with Turkey on refugees in 2016. “I want the deal with Turkey to be respected […] If 50,000 or 100,000 or 200,000 migrants enter Bulgaria, I do not know what will happen with the country,” Borissov said.
The UK and Spain joined other major powers on Tuesday (15 October) in suspending military exports to Turkey following its incursion into northeastern Syria. But it seems that the EU is not fully united.
Quoting Hungarian media, EURACTIV’s senior editor Georgi Gotev wrote yesterday that Turkish President Erdoğan thanked Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán for his support at the international stage. The two leaders met in Baku on Tuesday (15 October), on the fringes of a summit of the Turkic Council, a group of countries speaking the same family of languages, which Hungary wants to join.
“Recently Hungary has been instrumental in “removing the teeth” of an EU statement criticising the Turkish incursion in Syria, in which the word ‘Kurds’ does not appear. The main goal of the Turkish operation is to cleanse the territory along its border with Syria of Kurds and re-settle 2 million of the Syrian refugees currently on Turkish soil.”
While Europe is struggling to deal with its “spoiled child”, Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry called on Brussels during a visit in Croatia to do more against Turkey.
In light of Ankara’s actions in the region, especially regarding drilling off-Cyprus, Cairo, Athens and Nicosia have significantly come closer in recent years. Earlier this month, they held their seventh trilateral summit, which raised eyebrows in neighbouring Turkey.
“We consider the condemnation by the EU to be just the beginning. The EU should take real steps to prevent Turkey’s further presence in Syria and the continuation of the military operation in the north of Syria”, he said.
“Turkey is not only present in Syria, but it is present also in Iraq, and it does contribute to this area’s destabilisation”, the Egyptian minister said.
His Croatian counterpart Gordan Grlić Radman also condemned Turkey and warned about a possible new wave of refugees. “This year, Croatia has been witnessing a 211% increase in illegal migration on its border with Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he said.
PARIS | BERLIN
Franco-German copyright alliance. France and Germany are preparing to jointly address Google’s recent announcement that it won’t pay online French publisher’s to display their content, despite the EU copyright directive coming into force in October.
>>So far, France is the only country that has transposed the right for press publishers to seek remuneration, from copyright reforms, into national legislation. The move has provoked a heated response from the platform industry with Google recently announcing technical changes to their news-display service. The giant aims to avoid the legal obligation to pay press publishers for the content they create under the new rules. Read more on the Capitals Special Edition: The Copyright Directive
Paris called on Berlin to force Google to respect the spirit of the EU copyright law, which aims to better share profits between online platforms and content creators. “With Germany, we share the idea that something must be done at a bilateral or European level, particularly in terms of competition,” said a French source close to Macron.
French and German political leaders are meeting on 16 October in Toulouse for a joint minister meeting, where they are expected to take joint action against the American giant. “The French market isn’t unimportant for Google. And it is not in Google’s interest to alienate all European cultural and political stakeholders,” the same source added.
France’s Competition Authority is currently looking at the legal aspect of Google’s announcement. At the EU level, France and Germany will ask EU Competition chief Margrethe Vestager to examine whether legal action is also possible. “There is a need to grant online platforms a specific status in order to be able to launch sanctions more quickly than is currently possible under the current competition rules,” the French source said. (EURACTIV.FR)
Paris and Berlin on a collision course. Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte met in Tirana with his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama. “At the European Council, I will firmly defend a position in favour of opening EU accession negotiations as the best instrument to ensure Albania’s development and in the interest of Italy and the EU,” Conte said. He added that Albania has already been asked to enact bold reforms and believed the country had not yet taken advantage of its economic potential. Conte also confirmed his support to North Macedonia: “Together with Albania, they did their homework and now they both deserve the opening of negotiations without conditions.”
However, at a meeting of EU general affairs ministers on Tuesday (15 October), France refused to give the two countries a target date next year to start entry talks.
Amélie de Montchalin, France’s Minister for European Affairs, said there was no opposition from France with regard to Balkan countries in general, but that “things had to be done in a credible way”. She also described the accession negotiations process as “ineffective” and “disappointing” and emphasised the need for reform. EU media reported that the Netherlands also partly agreed with Paris on Albania. The unanimous backing of all EU member states is needed to greenlight the launch of accession talks. The French move will likely put Paris in a collision course with Berlin, which has advocated for opening EU accession talks with the two countries.
“I regret very much that member states could not make a decision,” EU enlargement chief Johannes Hahn said.
The US has repeatedly called on member states to speed up the EU accession of both countries in light of Russian rising influence in the region as well as increased Chinese investments.
Read also the op-ed of Sergei Stanishev, MEP and the president of PES (Party of European Socialists): Leaders must take action, giving signals is not enough.
Also have a look at Georgi Gotev’s story: France halts EU enlargement.
In other news from the capitals…
Berlin does not expect a complete breakthrough in Brexit before the EU summit this week. A German government representative said in Berlin on Tuesday (15 October) that he was “sceptical that it would be possible to have a complete agreement on a legal text by tomorrow”. This could only be the basis for decisions by the heads of state and government at their meeting on Thursday. Nevertheless, it was “undeniable that progress had been made,” he added. (Claire Stam | EURACTIV.de)
Read also EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox Special Report on Brexit: Status Anxiety. The 6 million people at the heart of Brexit
What’s next for the Senate? Despite losing in the Sejm, the lower chamber of the parliament, opposition forces beat the ruling PiS in the Senate. The margin is minimal, as the united opposition has 51 seats compared to PiS’s 49. However, the Civic Coalition (43 seats) opposition needs representatives of smaller parties as allies in order to outnumber PiS. And it goes without saying that junior partners will also have something to say.
Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, the leader of the centrist PSL (EPP) who obtained 3 seats in the Senate, said the shape of the chamber would not be decided before PSL would participate in negotiations. Therefore, the battle for the Senate is still ongoing. Despite the opposition’s celebrations, PiS will also try to reach smaller parties to get the majority and the biggest challenge for the Civic Coalition (KO) to keep all potential allies in its team (from the left to the centre-right) remains. The first test will be with the selection of the Speaker of the Senate, where smaller parties will be keen to force concessions from the KO party. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
Cannot comment on authenticity. Former prosecutor general Dobroslav Trnka took a day off following the release of the leaked recording of a conversation between him and Marian Kočner that has shed light on high-level corruption in the country. The Council of Prosecutors and a number of politicians have called on Trnka to suspend his current activity as a prosecutor at the Office of the General Prosecutor, something that he is considering. “I will make a statement on what my next steps will be soon. According to my information, experts are examining the recording. I cannot comment on its authenticity,” Trnka said, who was quoted by the TASR agency. (Zuzana Gabrižová |EURACTIV.sk)
No taxation on financial restitution for churches. The Czech Constitutional Court has rejected legislation that would impose a 19% tax on the financial compensation that churches get for their property confiscated by the Communist regime in 1948-1990. In 2013, it has been decided that property worth €3 billion will be returned to the churches. However, as it is impossible for some of the assets to be handed back, the churches will be receiving financial compensation worth €2.2 billion in the next 30 years. The governing coalition (ANO-RE and ČSSD-S&D) and the Communist Party pushed for the taxation of compensations, but according to the Constitutional Court, “additional reduction of the financial sum compensating for the wrongdoings caused by the criminal communist regime oppose the basic principles of a democratic law-abiding state”. (Aneta Zachová |EURACTIV.cz)
Iohannis designates centre-right party leader to form the government. Ludovic Orban, the president of the National Liberal Party (PNL, part of EPP), will try to form a new government after the socialist cabinet was toppled last week following a no-confidence vote in the parliament. However, PNL has only about 20% of votes in the parliament and it would need to gather large support from several parties as the socialists have already said they won’t vote for the PNL government. The new government will also have to propose a candidate for the next European Commission. Bucharest holds the transport portfolio but it’s not entirely ruled out a scenario to have an exchange with Hungary and get the enlargement, EURACTIV.com has learnt. (EURACTIV.ro)
Better be silent over Catalonia. Miro Cerar, Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that dialogue was needed to fix relations between Madrid and Barcelona. The day before, he said the convictions for Catalonian politicians are an internal issue of Spain, drawing the criticism of other politicians including MEP Milan Brglez (S&D), who said that it would be better for Cerar to keep silent. The former Slovenian President Milan Kukčan (social democrat), who is still very influential in Slovenian politics, has formed a group to support Catalonian politicians who are in jail. (Željko Trkanjec |EURACTIV.hr)
Read also EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero Brief on “A new dialogue with Catalonia”
Small but big victory. President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić has said that Kosovo’s decision to give up on its request to join Interpol is a “small, tactical victory” for Serbia, but the problem “has not been resolved strategically”. In the meantime, Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović said at the Interpol assembly in Chile that the withdrawal of Priština’s application represented a “big victory” for Serbia and international law. Previously, outgoing Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj sent a letter to the Interpol General Assembly saying that Pristina had withdrawn its application for membership in the international law enforcement organisation. (EURACTIV.rs)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]