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 “EU official: Member states’ reports on COVID-19 still insufficient“.
Also take a look at the story “Croatia’s ‘secret club’ scandal exposes cronyism, corruption“.
The EURACTIV Network is keeping you up-to-date with how Europe’s capitals are dealing with the new school year, changing travel restrictions and varying epidemiological situations. Click here to find out more about what’s going on in your capital.
In today’s news from the Capitals:
LJUBLJANA | PRAGUE
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša (SDS-EPP) has criticised the European Parliament’s recent call for EU leaders to determine at the European Council whether there is a danger of violating the rule of law as a fundamental European value in Hungary. Read more.
“The rule of law is the foundation of the EU and no state can be a member if it does not recognise it. I do not know any member that renounces this principle. This will not pass at the Council”, said the Slovenian leader.
“The rule of law is over when it is decided politically. The European Parliament is a political body, made up of political groups. If decisions are made in this way about the rule of law in one country or another, it would be a way to disintegrate the EU,” he added.
Meanwhile, Czech PM Andrej Babiš has remained quiet on the matter for now. His Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán has called for Czech EU Commissioner Vera Jourova’s resignation following her comments on Hungarian democracy which she called “sick”.
Though Jourova was nominated by Babiš’ government and, like the Czech prime minister, is also member of the liberal Renew Europe group, the Czech and Hungarian PMs remain close allies, especially when it comes to criticising EU proposals.
(Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)
‘Substantive agreement’ on government coalition. Negotiators of the seven parties trying to form a new federal government (SP.A, Open VLD, CD&V, Groen, PS, MR and Ecolo) have reached a substantive agreement, Belgian media reported early Wednesday morning. The final point for party leaders to discuss was the division of powers, the names of the ministers and the prime minister. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
German states agree to new coronavirus measures. As coronavirus cases continue to rise, Germany’s leaders adopted a new set of measures following a meeting of the federal government and states yesterday (29 September). “We want to act regionally specific, targeted,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters following the meeting.
Keeping the economy running and having as many children attending school are among the chancellor’s main priorities while avoiding a second lockdown. “For the rest, we have to see what we can afford,” she said. Read more.
French state and regions to jointly lead recovery plan. In the presence of leaders of local authorities, French Prime Minister Jean Castex sealed the “method agreement” on Tuesday (29 September) signed on 30 July with the president of the French Regions, Renaud Muselier, a plan which should unlock €20 billion in investments. While the president confirmed they were “finalising an extremely important stage, aimed at uniting forces in the face of the crisis,” the president of the regions called it “a real return to political confidence between the government and the regions.
In other news, France’s social security system is expected to have a €44.4 billion deficit in 2020, a record for health insurance and the old-age solidarity fund. However, the Social Security financing bill for 2021, presented on Tuesday (29 September), shows a smaller deficit than expected in June thanks to a better than expected recovery of the economy during the summer. The forecasts announced a financing requirement of nearly €52 billion for the current year. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.FR)
Bill breaching Withdrawal Agreement passes. UK lawmakers on Tuesday evening (29 September) passed the controversial Internal Market Bill by a comfortable 340 to 256 majority. The law, which is designed to govern trade arrangements within the UK and Northern Ireland, would also give ministers the power to unilaterally rewrite elements of the withdrawal agreement with the EU, prompting the European Commission to threaten legal action if the bill is not withdrawn. Read more.
Austrian humanitarian aid has not yet reached Lesbos. Austria’s humanitarian aid package for the Greek island of Lesbos, which was sent two weeks ago, has not yet reached the island, said Austrian Ambassador to Greece, Hermine Poppeller. While the goods are stored away together with aid from other states, the ground is currently being prepared so that the new camp will be fit for winter conditions, she added.(Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
Refugees from Greece in Luxembourg. A refugee family and some minors from the destroyed Moria camp in Greece will soon be arriving in Luxembourg after the Grand Duchy agreed to take in some 15 former inhabitants of the camp as a first step, the country’s foreign ministry announced in a press release. Since the start of the year, Luxembourg has helped 125 refugees who were in Greece find a new home. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)
NORDICS AND BALTICS
New restrictions as COVID-19 situation worsens. Following the marathon-like negotiations on the coronavirus situation, the Finnish government came out late on Tuesday evening (29 September) with a set of new restrictive measures. Read about them here.
Macron vows ‘pragmatic’ European support for Belarus. French President Emmanuel Macron met Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Vilnius on Tuesday (29 September), the second day of a visit to Baltic countries intended to reassure them about French commitment to their security. Read more here.
Recovery is a must-win challenge. “The recovery from this pandemic situation is a must-win challenge, which we can succeed at only if we work together”, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italian industry representatives during the Confindustria Assembly on Tuesday (29 September). Read more.
Government and Madrid authorities in search of a solution. Spain’s central government and Madrid’s regional authorities continued on Tuesday (29 September) to search for a solution on how to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Spain’s capital which has Europe’s worst infection rate, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
While negotiations between Madrid’s health authorities and Spain’s central government continued on Tuesday afternoon, Madrid’s regional conservative president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, has refused to act on the national government’s advice to extend a partial lockdown currently in place for 45 of the hardest-hit districts to all areas with an incidence rate of more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Read more.
Portugal to use only grants from Recovery Fund. Portugal would “make full use” of the €15.3 billion in grants it could receive from the European Union Recovery Fund, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said on Tuesday at a session titled ‘Portugal and the European Union, Recovery and Resilience Programme’ in Lisbon after a keynote speech by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. However, Portugal would not use its share of loans from the programme, the prime minister added.
The PM confirmed that Portugal is eager to be one of the first countries to agree on its Recovery and Resilience Plan with the European Commission as it “must be in the front line”, while the Commission chief said that “Portugal is well placed to make the most of” the EU recovery fund. (Pedro Morais Fonseca and Maria de Deus Rodrigues, Lusa.pt)
Russians react to Pompeo’s visit. The Russian embassy issued an aggressive statement against US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who paid a visit to Greece this week.
“This is not the first time that American officials have tried in their public statements to draw Greece to the anti-Russian front. This kind of anti-Russian hysteria can hardly find a response in the friendly Greek people,” the Russian embassy said. Critics suggest that Pompeo’s visit was not to discuss Turkey – despite this being in the headlines of most pro-government media – but only focus on Russia and China. Read more.
Bishops won’t accept church closures without a fight. Slovakia’s Conference of Bishops has criticised the government’s new COVID-19 measures according which forbid public masses from 1 October. In a statement, the group says it hadn’t been consulted on the matter which it described as disproportionate. Read more.
Unemployment rate hits 4.6%. The average number of unemployed people in Hungary from June to August 2020 was 214,000, while the unemployment rate stood at 4.6% during the same period, according to data published by the Central Statistical Office (KSH). Compared to same period for 2019, the unemployment rate increased by 1.2% while the number of unemployed rose by 58,000. Read more.
In other news, a Szeged court held the first hearing in a case involving five suspects charged with the abuse of EU and domestic funds totalling 550 million forints (€1.5 million). Defendants applied for EU funding to set up a model park exhibiting small replicas of 50 major Hungarian monuments from the pre-World War I period. However, while the defendants reported that the project had been completed by March 2014, the park was not suitable to receive visitors. The project company was then obliged to repay the grant, but only 50 million forints could be recovered by the bailiffs.
Meanwhile, Chinese tech company Lenovo Group will build a manufacturing facility in Hungary, Foreign Affairs and Trade minister, Péter Szijjártó, has said. The 8.2-billion-Hungarian-forint ($26.3 million) plant will be built in Üllő on the outskirts of the capital, with a two-billion-forint government grant, the minister confirmed.
According to Szijjártó, Lenovo’s decision to have a manufacturing plant in Hungary confirmed that leading technology companies trust Hungary and justified the country’s “Eastern Opening” policy. The foreign minister added that global competition for Chinese investment was fierce. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
New government composition to be presented. The Coalition Council met on Tuesday (29 September) to discuss the division of ministries and the functioning of the government after the reconstruction. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Slow preparation. Bulgaria is late in preparing its National Recovery and Sustainability Plan to access the €13 billion offered by the European Recovery fund, the leader of one of the two largest trade unions in the country, Plamen Dimitrov, has warned. Two weeks ago, the Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev explained that Bulgaria will propose its national plan by the end of this year or at the start of 2021.
In other news, Bulgarian Health Minister Kostadin Angelov warned the country’s citizens not to believe disinformation regarding COVID-19 and called on Bulgarians to obtain information only from state health authorities. “We want people to get the truth, not speculation or manipulative allegations. There should be no rumours that cities will be blocked, that Russian vaccines will be bought. Let people hear the truth from us. Something that has not been said by us, it’s not true”, the minister has said. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Vote fraud accusations. The local elections in Romania have been marred by accusations of fraud in the capital city Bucharest, while authorities are slowly reacting to the charges. Clotilde Armand (USR-PLUS), an MEP who is running to become mayor of the 1st District of Bucharest, claimed that the team of the incumbent mayor, Dan Tudorache (PSD), tried to forge the vote. More.
LJUBLJANA | ROME
Hamburg in Trieste. Hamburger Hafen – und Logistik Aktiengesellschaft (HHLA), which is owned by the Hamburg municipality and operates three of the four container terminals in the port of Hamburg, has formally arrives in the port of Trieste, the main competitor to Slovenian port Koper.
As of Tuesday, the Port of Hamburg has taken over a 50.1% ownership stake in the company that built the new Trieste logistics platform. €150 million is set to be invested in the first phase of the programme, €100 to 300 million in the second, and a total of €1 billion will be invested in the implementation of all plans set by the spatial act for the port. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
No emergency phone line for six hours. Due to technical glitches, the Hrvatski Telekom (HT, majority-owned by Deutsche Telekom AG) telecommunications provider experienced technical problems from 10:30 to 16:30 yesterday with its landline and mobile phone networks, which prevented access to the 112 emergency line. Even during the war at the beginning of 1990s emergency numbers were always available. Read more.
In other news, F-16 aircraft are the world’s best fighter, according to US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst, who has expressed the hope that Croatia would choose the US bid when deciding on the procurement of the aircraft for its defence forces. Other bidders are France, Sweden and Israel. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
ZAGREB | SARAJEVO
Croatia and Bosnia to repair and maintain 10 bridges. Croatian Transport Minister Oleg Butković and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Transport Minister, Vojin Mitrović, have both signed an agreement on the maintenance and repairs of 10 bridges in cross-border areas, with a cost-sharing ratio of 50:50 between these two neighbouring countries. The document signed in Zagreb regulates the maintenance and reconstruction of bridges across the River Sava, as well as across the Una and Korana rivers. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
President calls for Brussels agreements to be implemented. The agreements reached in Brussels during the dialogue with Pristina, such as the establishment of a Community of Serb Municipalities, would have to be implemented, said Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. The president did admit, however, that these agreements were, understandably, not fully “in line” with the Kosovo regulations, because if they were, negotiations would not be necessary. Read more.
In other news, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić denied allegations yesterday (29 September) that weapons made in Serbia had been used in the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The president admitted, however, that both sides were using ammunition produced in Serbia. Read more.
An unofficial visit to Montenegro. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama paid an unofficial and unannounced visit to Montenegro, daily Vijesti has learned. In the city Tuzi, close to Lake Skadar and the Albanian border, Rama met with Niko Djelosaj, the leader of the Albanian List in the last parliamentary elections. What was discussed during the impromptu visit has not been disclosed, however. Read more.
Albanian economy to contract by 7.5%, says IMF. Contrary to its first projection published earlier this year in April, according to which the economy was expected to drop by 5%, the IMF now projects a 7.5% economic slowdown by the end of 2020. Following its latest mission to Albania, IMF staff further stated that the country’s fiscal deficit is projected to rise to about 7% of the GDP by 2020, while public debt should increase to slightly more than 80% of the country’s GDP. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Possible ‘Bosnianization’ of Kosovo. “KFOR’s presence is of great importance as a deterrent force against Serbia’s use of conventional and non-conventional forces in Kosovo,” said Major General Michele Risi, commander of KFOR (Kosovo Force, NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo), during the “Balkan Perspectives 2020” conference, organised by the NATO Foundation in Rome. Read more.
In other news, Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti met with representatives of Albanians from Preševo Valley as the government had decided to set up an office to help Albanians who are in the majority in that part of Serbia. When talks regarding the “correction of borders” had reached its peak, Preševo Valley was supposed to become a part of Kosovo and Northern Kosovo part of Serbia. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]