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 “Gas industry urged to ‘accelerate’ transition to hydrogen” by Frédéric Simon.
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Interview with Nicolas Schmit. The COVID-19 experience has shown that the social value of professions has to be re-assessed as in most EU member states, health workers have been underpaid and undervalued for too long compared to their social impact, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, told EURACTIV.com in an interview.
“This has to be revised. We have to look again at what the social value of professions is and not just having an hierarchy on wages that sometimes does not correspond to the social value,” Schmit said.
He added that COVID-19 has increased existent problems in Europe’s labour market.
Read here what Schmit said about the challenges of EU labour market after the pandemic as well as the much-awaited recovery plan. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
Replacement income for self-employed extended. The Belgian government has extended the date for replacement income to independents until 30 June, after the Council of Ministers approved a draft royal decree during the weekend. Alexandra Brzozowski has more.
Block Chinese takeovers. The European Union should impose a temporary ban on Chinese takeovers of companies that are currently undervalued or have business problems because of the coronavirus crisis, the leader of the bloc’s largest political alliance said on Sunday (17 May).
“We have to see that Chinese companies, partly with the support of state funds, are increasingly trying to buy up European companies that are cheap to acquire or that got into economic difficulties due to the coronavirus crisis,” Weber warned. Read more.
ECDC: We reached the peak…of the first wave. “What we are seeing now is the peak of the first wave that has a downward trend. The experience of the so-called second wave comes from influenza pandemics,” Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), told Greek MEGA TV.
Asked if the pandemic could come to an end by the end of the year, she replied: “It could take longer”. (Sarantis Michalopoulos)
In today’s news from the Capitals:
AfD expels right-wing nationalist. The leadership of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) voted on Friday (15 May) to expel Andreas Kalbitz, the head of the AfD in the Brandenburg state parliament, with seven in favour, five against and one abstention. EURACTIV Germany’s Sarah Lawton looks into what implications this could have in the ongoing struggle over the party’s ideological direction.
Journalists face ultimatum after publishing critical Ischgl-story. Last week, news magazine Profil published a story accusing the Tyrolean local government of ignoring a health ministry directive in February with regards to the former skiing resort of Ischgl, which became infamous for becoming a COVID-19 hotspot in March and for which local politicians are currently being investigated for alleged negligence by the public prosecutor. EURACTIV Germany’s Philipp Grüll has the story.
Nordics no, Baltics yes. After lifting restrictions on travelling for work and other essential trips on Thursday (14 May) between Finland, Estonia, Norway and Sweden, the Nordic countries decided on Friday (15 May) not to allow cross-border recreational travel because while they have managed to stabilise the spread of COVID-19, the situation in Sweden remains dire. Pekka Vantinnen reports from Helsinki.
UK AND IRELAND
‘Philosophical differences’. Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove urged the EU on Sunday (17 May) to show flexibility to bridge the “big philosophical differences” between the two sides, after the chief negotiators for the EU and the UK admitted that last week’s talks had done little to break the stalemate. EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox has the story.
First GDPR fine. The Irish Data Protection regulator, headed by Helen Dixon, has issued its first fine under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The child and family agency Tusla has accepted a €75,000 fine for three data breaches, The Times reports. The DPC’s first charge is relatively low, considering the fact that state bodies can be hit with fines of up to €1 million under the GDPR. (Samuel Stolton | EURACTIV.com)
U-turn on restrictions. Italy’s government has opted for a drastic easing of its restrictive COVID-19 lockdown measures, after having experienced Europe’s longest lockdown. Starting today (18 May), shops, restaurants and even hair salons will be allowed to resume their activities, although citizens will still be required to respect social distancing and wear facemasks in enclosed spaces.
The government will continue lifting its restrictions throughout May and June. From 25 May, gyms and swimming pools will be allowed to open their doors, while outdoor shows with up to 1,000 attendants, as well as cinemas and theatres with up to 200 attendants, can reopen from 15 June. From 3 June, travelling between EU countries will no longer be restricted, good news for the struggling tourism sector. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
One more month. The Spanish government will seek another month-long extension to the state of emergency decreed on 14 March and make it the last, the government said on Saturday (16 May), EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
“I want to announce that the Spanish government will ask the Congress of Deputies for a new extension of the state of emergency, although it will have very different characteristics from the previous ones because the situation in Spain has changed,” socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told reporters on Saturday (16 May). The PM also said that provided a second COVID-19 outbreak did not take place, the country could go back to normal by summer, reminding citizens that until a vaccine is found “we will have to continue living with the virus”. Read more.
Phase two. Today (18 May), Portugal will enter its second phase of easing its coronavirus lockdown measures. “The first containment measures which were taken 15 days ago and came into force at the beginning of this month, did not alter the trend of control” of the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Prime Minister António Costa said on Friday (15 May). While the country recorded 29,036 COVID-19 infections and 1,218 related deaths as of Sunday (17 May), the country’s cafes, restaurants, museums, nurseries and some of its schools will reopen today. Visits to old peoples’ homes will also be allowed. (Lusa.pt)
Electrification of transport. The Greek government is readying a state subsidy program for the electrification of transport already in June, Environment Minister Costis Chatzidakis has said. He said the program will concern not only electric cars but also electric scooters and bicycles. Considering that the current cycle paths and electric cars’ infrastructure in Greece is quite poor, if at all existent, this initiative may prove to be tricky. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
Schools open, borders stay closed. As there are fewer new cases of COVID-19 – only one detected on Saturday (16 May) – Prime Minister Igor Matovič and Health Minister Marek Krajčí (both OĽaNO) envisage the imminent opening of kindergartens and grammar schools. The decision is due on Monday (18 May). Besides, while the government is showing no signs of wanting to open its borders which the PM calls “defence wall”, Slovaks returning to Slovakia from abroad will no longer have to undergo mandatory quarantine in state facilities but will have to stay home as they are monitored by an app. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
Government could bail out Czech Airlines. Czech Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlíček told Czech Television in an interview on Saturday (16 May) that he is exploring viable ways of bailing out Smartwings Group, a majority owner of national flag carrier Czech Airlines. That is because “the company has strategic importance,” the minister said and added the government should decide on the bailout by the end of June. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Brand new state oil company. The Bulgarian government will set up a “state oil company” that will build its own gas stations, sell fuels at a minimal markup to ease market tensions and build charging stations for electric cars.
The goal of the new company is not to bring the state to its knees in fuel trade in crises like the current one, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said, adding that the crisis has demonstrated the state’s increasing role in the economy. However, the government still has no clear idea of how much it will cost to implement the idea. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Being ‘too relaxed’ could increase infections. Authorities warned that a too relaxed approach could lead to an increase in COVID-19 infections after people filled the streets over the weekend following the first easing of lockdown restrictions. And this despite there being a decline in active cases and fewer new cases in the past days.
Still, the government is imposing social distancing measures and protective masks continue to be mandatory in all indoor public spaces as of Friday (15 May). Besides, restaurants and cafes are still closed and public gatherings still banned. However, people can now leave their towns without restrictions and hotels are now open. (EURACTIV.ro)
Elections are coming. The centre-right Bridge opposition party will run in the coming parliamentary elections on its own, party leaders said on Sunday (17 May) after failed talks on a coalition with the party Homeland Movement, led by ex-presidential candidate and folk singer Miroslav Skoro, state news agency Hina reported. The Homeland Movement acknowledged the talks with Bridge had failed but said it was ready to take over responsibility for the country’s future and gather a large group of partners with whom they will bring down the ‘duopoly’ of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, EPP) and Socialdemocratic party (SDP).
President Zoran Milanovic stated on Friday (15 May) that he would call the election and proceed in accordance with the law after the parliament dissolves today (18 May). However, he stressed he would try to avoid holding the election at a time when many Croatians are abroad, as was the case for the presidential election held on 5 January. (Karla Junicic, EURACTIV.hr)
Subsidies, tourism vouchers in new anti-corona package. According to draft documents analysed by the leading local news website, www.24ur.com, the government is this week expected to prepare a third anti-corona package that should introduce subsidies for part-time workers and tourism vouchers. Zoran Radosavljević takes a closer look.
Army returns 18 migrants to camps. Following complaints from local residents, Serbian troops were deployed around three migrant centres in the northwestern city of Sid on Saturday (16 May) and later sent 18 migrants back to the camps, the Serbian state broadcaster RTS reported on Sunday (17 May). EURACTIV Serbia has the details.
In other news, the German ambassador to Belgrade, Thomas Schieb, said that conditions for a fair election campaign in Serbia had to be set up prior to parliamentary elections and that the media played a key role in the process. EURACTIV Serbia digs deeper.
Also, Serbian flag carrier Air Serbia, whose losses have been estimated at over €40 million, can count on state assistance, Construction Minister Zorana Mihajlovic told Prva TV station in an interview on Saturday (16 May), adding that compared to many large companies abroad facing bankruptcy, the national flag carrier is “resilient enough to adapt”. Read more.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]