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 recovery funds will come with strings attached” by Jorge Valero.
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In today’s news from the Capitals:
BND surveillance abroad ruled unconstitutional. Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled yesterday (19 May) that Germany’s intelligence service (BND) violated the constitution by monitoring non-Germans abroad. The Court disagreed with the BND’s long-held argument that Germany’s Basic Law (Grundgesetz) does not protect everyone and found that the agency’s core activities require a major overhaul.
While the court agreed that “the protection of individual fundamental rights may differ at home and abroad,” they claimed that “the Basic Law does not allow global and blanket surveillance, even for the purpose of foreign intelligence.”
Meanwhile, the criminal proceedings in the Dieselgate scandal against VW management have ended following an agreement. CEO Herbert Diess and supervisory board chair Hans Dieter Pötsch will pay €9 million, according to an agreement between defence counsel and the judiciary. Investigators charged the duo last September, accusing them of failing to inform investigators in a timely manner about the extent of the financial damage and penalties in connection with the emissions scandal. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
Number of bleach-related incidents up due to COVID-19 fears. Belgium’s poison control centre has recorded an increase of 15% in the number of calls it receives since the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-March, as people have started experimenting with hazardous substances. Alexandra Brzozowski has the story.
Schools’ still out. The question of whether schools will begin to re-open on June 1 remains unclear after a group of local authorities and teachers’ unions stated their opposition. Boris Johnson’s government is keen to reopen schools as part of the next stage of relaxing the confinement measures, starting with primary schools for children aged 4-11, before the summer holidays begin in late July. Benjamin Fox reports from London.
Counter-proposal to Merkel-Macron-plan. After the Franco-German duo presented their €500 billion recovery programme that seeks to bring Europe out of the crisis “united and in solidarity”, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) announced a “proposal with our own ideas” coordinated by the so-called ‘frugal four’ (Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands), which would “stimulate the European economy while avoiding mutualisation of debt”.
The Austrian chancellor had already voiced his discontent with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s and French President Emmanuel Macron’s joint proposal as it would allow for grants, which the frugal states oppose, insisting on loans instead. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
Suicide spikes amid COVID-19. The number of suicides in Finland has risen by 15% compared to March and April the year before, according to the national police board’s latest numbers. EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen looks into the data.
Majority to the test. Italian Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede could face a no-confidence vote before the Senate this evening (20 May) as the centre-right opposition filed a motion of no-confidence. In recent months, Bonafede has come under fire for releasing 376 Mafiosi from prison for reasons related to ill health. EURACTIV Italy’s Valentina Iorio has the story.
MEP: Macron led Germany to decisions previously ‘unthinkable’. The recent Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion Recovery Fund is the result of French President Emmanuel Macron’s “turning point” last April, MEP Sandro Gozi told EURACTIV.it in an interview.
Carrying masks in narrow urban spaces. Spaniards will have to wear masks on public transport, in closed spaces, on city streets, and particularly in narrow urban spaces, if a minimum safety distance of two metres between citizens can’t be guaranteed. From Wednesday (20 May), the use of masks will be mandatory, Health Minister Salvador Illa announced on Tuesday. EURACTIV’s partner EFE takes a closer look.
In other news, Spain’s Agriculture Minister Luis Planas told EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro in an exclusive interview that the EU’s new “farm to fork” strategy, which will be presented today (20 May) cannot be implemented overnight because it would represent a turning point in the productive orientation of Europe’s agricultural sector and has very challenging targets. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.
Have a look at the full interview in Spanish here.
Banks borrow cheap money from ECB. Greek banks are borrowing heavily from the European Central Bank, further strengthening their liquidity as deposits are up 8% in the last 12 months, and facilitating their efforts to support the restart of the Greek economy and enterprises, Athens-Macedonian News Agency has quoted banking officials as saying.
Sale of menthol cigarettes banned. On Wednesday (20 May), an EU directive will enter into force prohibiting the sale of menthol cigarettes and those with a special capsule to change their taste to mint. However, the ban does not apply to electronic cigarettes.
Menthol cigarettes or those with a special capsule that changes taste when pressed are an important part of the Polish market. According to the Polish Chambers of Commerce (PIH), their sales constitute as much as 30% of the market, while the Consumer Forum estimates that these are used by as much as 42% of smokers. (Anna Wolska | EURACTIV.pl)
LGBTQ+ and Budapest-Belgrade railway. The Hungarian parliament passed an omnibus bill that will bar citizens from legally changing their gender, in a move decried by critics as violating trans rights.
During the same plenary session on Tuesday (19 May), the parliament has classified agreement details for ten years regarding the Budapest-Belgrade railway link construction, which is financed in 85% by China and 15% by Hungary. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov has the full story.
Meanwhile, the Hungarian government will not accept the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) decision that holding migrants and asylum seekers in a transit zone amounts to detention, the PM’s top internal security advisor, György Bakondi, told public broadcaster M1 on Tuesday (19 May). “The Hungarian government cannot in any way accept the ECJ decision. We are currently analysing the circumstances and possibilities in which this goes against the Hungarian constitutionality, and what further procedural possibilities we have,” Bakondi added.
While the ECJ found the existence of a transit zone for those seeking to enter the country lawfully, it said that the maximum time individuals can be held there is four weeks, failing which they must be let into the state’s territory. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
Solidarity has its limits. Like his Austrian counterpart, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš raised objections to the Franco-German proposal laying out a €500 billion recovery programme to bring Europe out of the COVID-19 crisis. “We have husbanded responsibly, other states were not responsible. Even after a videoconference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday (19 May), Babiš said he does not see why he should give the duo a guarantee, adding that “even solidarity has its limits.”
“In principle, I do not like the idea of Europe putting itself into debt,” he added.
According to the PM, the money from the recovery programme should be channelled to the member states in the form of direct grants and the Czech Republic should also benefit despite having well managed the crisis so far. “It would be unjust if we were penalised for having been successful,” said Babiš. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
Leading feminist pushed out of public office. The director of the Department of gender equality and equality of opportunities at the country’s labour, family and social affairs ministry left her post voluntarily after nine years, she wrote on Facebook. EURACTIV Slovakia’s Zuzana Gabrižová examines the case.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Travel without quarantine. Travel between Bulgaria and its neighbouring countries Greece, Serbia and Romania will be without quarantine as of 1 June for business and family reasons and as of 15 June for tourism.
The decision was made during a video conference between country leaders initiated by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The people who want to travel will have to fill out declarations stating that they have no COVID-19 symptoms, are not quarantined in their own country, agree to travel at their own risk and leave their phone numbers so they can be contacted. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Two rounds of elections by the end of the year. The National Liberal Party (EPP) does not want to delay elections to next year. Ludovic Orban, the prime minister of Romania and president of PNL, told party leaders that local elections could be held at the end of September or the start of October, while the general elections could be held in December. The local elections were initially scheduled for June, but they were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. PNL, which is running a minority government, wants to profit from its good polling figures while guiding the country through the post-pandemic situation. (Bogdan Neagu, EURACTIV.ro)
Grants to cover cost of rent. The state assets ministry on Tuesday (19 May) invited applications for grants to cover the cost of rent for people whose homes were made unfit to live in by the Zagreb earthquake of 22 March, Hina reported. All people left without a roof over their heads would have appropriate accommodation, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said. EURACTIV Croatia’s Karla Junicic has the details.
Slovenia allows Croats across border. The Slovenian government has decided that Croatians are free to cross the border into Slovenia without having to undergo mandatory quarantine as both neighbouring countries have similar epidemiological situations.
Slovenian Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto discussed on Monday (18 May) plans for reopening the borders between EU member states with similar situations. Slovenia has also launched talks with Austria on this topic. (Karla Junicic | EURACTIV.hr)
In other news, Prime Minister Janez Janša has welcomed the €500 billion Franco-German recovery package proposal but stressed that an even more ambitious approach would be needed to address a crisis of such proportions. “We now need a quick agreement on the multiannual financial framework and on the recovery fund, in one package,” Janša tweeted. He also said he had discussed the recovery fund, MFF and the reopening of borders with his Italian and Austrian counterparts. (Zoran Radosavljević | EURACTIV.com)
Opening borders with Bulgaria, Greece, Romania. In an online meeting with leaders of Bulgaria, Greece and Romania on Tuesday (19 May) President Aleksandar Vučić said Belgrade agreed to open its borders on 1 June with the application of appropriate protective measures, according to a release from Vučić’s office. Read more.
In other news, Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said on Tuesday (19 May) that the pandemic had shown how important cooperation was for the region, according to a release from his ministry. EURACTIV Serbia has more.
Border to open in the beginning of June. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s border will open to foreigners at the start of June, however, passengers will be treated according to the country they are coming from, Assistant Federation Health Minister Goran Čerkez said on Tuesday (19 May). Čerkez underscored that anyone coming from abroad would still have to self-quarantine for two weeks until 30 May because the aim is to maintain stability until the start of summer. (Karla Junicic | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]