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In today’s news from the Capitals:
As registration with the nationwide census will start on Tuesday in Slovakia, the number of people confirming their affiliation to a given religious society in the census will, according to a new law, determine how much funding the church receives from the state. Read more.
EU adopts temporary measures to help transport sector. The Council of the European Union on Monday (16 February) adopted temporary measures to help the transport sector, which has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the relaxation of rules regarding airport slots and the extension of the validity of driving licences. More.
CDU chair: ‘We can’t measure our whole lives by incidence rates’. CDU chair and North Rhine-Westphalian leader Armin Laschet criticised the current caution shown in the German government’s coronavirus strategy at a digital event on Monday, putting him at odds with other major Conservative figures like Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavarian leader Markus Söder (CSU), who have long called for a stricter approach to fighting the pandemic. Read more.
Belgian government mulls new financial COVID-19 measures. Belgium’s federal government recently announced a new package of financial support measures for the sectors most affected by the health crisis. Some aid will be extended until the end of June, while specific target groups like students and artists will be taken more into account. Read more.
Google agrees to pay €1.1 million fine for misleading hotel ranking. Google Ireland and Google France have agreed to pay a €1.1 million fine after the French fraud authority found that the US giant had established a classification of French hotels according to its own criteria and that it did not respect the official star classification. According to a press release, the investigation has “demonstrated the misleading nature of Google’s classification of hotels, particularly on its search engine.” (Mathieu Pollet | EURACTIV.fr)
Austrian finance minister to face no-confidence vote. After Austria’s anti-corruption authorities raided the home of Finance Minister Gernot Blümel (ÖVP) on Thursday, the right-wing FPÖ has confirmed it will table a vote of no-confidence against him.
The social democrats (SPÖ) have confirmed their support for the motion meaning that all will depend on the Greens, the ÖVP’s partner in government. The case against Blümel is based on a text he received from the country’s main gambling company, Novomatic, asking for support in an Italian tax evasion case while offering his party a donation. Though the phrasing does not make it clear whether one would depend on the other, it was sufficient for the prosecutors to order the raid. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
UK AND IRELAND
UK PM: Britons to be ‘optimistic but patient’ about easing of restrictions. People should be “optimistic but patient” about the easing of restrictions, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday as infection and death rates from COVID-19 continue to fall. Read more.
Ireland to establish 37 new coronavirus centres. 37 new coronavirus vaccination centres will be established across the Republic of Ireland, in a bid to drive down infection rates in the country. Read more.
Each county will house at least one centre, while five will be based in Cork and four in Dublin. So far, just under 2% of the Irish public have received a vaccination. “People can expect to see these vaccination centres ready and waiting in their county,” Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on Monday.
“In the coming months, supply will increase substantially and we will see these centres operating to full capacity and administering vaccines to the general population, following the government priority list,” he added. (Samuel Stolton | EURACTIV.com)
HELSINKI | MOSCOW
EU-Russia gap widening, foreign ministers’ talks reveal. As Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov on Monday, current relations between Russia and the bloc appear to have reached their nadir. Read more.
Tough negotiations for a likely pro-independence government in Catalonia begin. After the narrow win of socialist party candidate Salvador Illa (PSC) in the regional elections in Catalonia on Sunday, the first round of complex negotiations began on Monday to build a new -likely pro-independence – government in the region. Read the full story.
Italy worried about spread of UK COVID-strain. Among Italy’s total COVID-19 cases, 20% are infected with the UK variant of the coronavirus, the Italian Higher Institute of Health (ISS) affirmed in a technical report released on Monday. Read more.
Greek PM: Many EU states interested in digital vaccine certificate. Many EU countries are interested in exploring the Greek proposal of a digital certificate that would allow people who have received the vaccine to travel “without the need to show a negative COVID-test or undergo quarantine restrictions,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Bloomberg in an interview on Monday. Read more.
Poland’s foreign trade surplus in goods hits record high. Poland recorded a record surplus in foreign trade in goods in 2020, according to data presented by the Central Statistical Office (GUS) on Monday. Read more.
PRAGUE | BERLIN
Czechia will ask Germany to ease border restrictions. “We will ask for an easing of restrictions imposed against truck drivers,” Czech Industry, Trade, and Transport Minister Karel Havlíček told the Czech News Agency after truck drivers attempting to cross the German border from the Czech side on Monday were forced to wait in queues longer than 20 kilometres, following Germany’s decision to impose new border restrictions. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Russia offers Croatia Sputnik V vaccine. Croatia is still mulling the procurement of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, said Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, adding that Croatian drug agency HALMED is trying to find a way of procuring that drug in compliance with the EU acquis. Read more.
Reporters Without Borders to inform Commission about police beating of journalist. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will inform the European Commission and the Council of Europe on the case of Bulgarian freelance journalist Dimiter Kenarov, who was beaten by the police, and the subsequent ineffective investigation by the prosecutor’s office, announced Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk, quoted by EURACTIV partner Dnevnik. Read more.
Romania’s foreign debt grew by €15 billion in 2020. Romania’s total external debt stood at €125.4 billion by the end of 2020, up from the previous year’s €109.8 billion. The more than €15.6 billion increase was exclusively the result of a rise in public debt.
In 2020, direct public debt rose by €18 billion to €57.1 billion, according to central bank data. Last year, the Romanian government issued bonds denominated in both euros and US dollars, totalling about €11.5 billion, and borrowed from foreign entities to cover its increasing budget deficit. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)
BELGRADE | PRISTINA
Serb List wins all 10 seats reserved for Serb minority in Kosovo. The Belgrade-backed Serb List party – a minority party in Kosovo – won all 10 parliament seats reserved for the Kosovo Serbs during the early elections on Sunday, Serb List leader Goran Rakić said on Monday. Read more.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]