The Capitals brings you the latest news from across Europe, through on-the-ground reporting by EURACTIV’s media network.
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Weber considers Macron an ally: The arrival of Macron’s En Marche into the European Parliament will finally strengthen the central political landscape, no matter which faction it will join, Manfred Weber, European People’s Party (EPP) Spitzenkandidat for the EU elections told EURACTIV.cz in an interview.
“We have for the moment no indication that En Marche is considering this [joining ALDE]. So, we really don’t know what they want. We are centre-right, Christian Democrats, and we are always ready and open to cooperate with all pro-European movements that share our values,” Weber said.
He added that En Marche was strongly pro-European and that’s why “wherever it arrives, it will be a partner for us because we want a stronger EU, too.” “A stronger Europe is only possible with clear pro-European parties, whether it is Social, Liberal, Greens or the EPP. That is the area where I look for readiness of cooperation and to work together.”
About Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, Weber said criticising the EU was okay but the attack against EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker was unacceptable. “When an EPP party member is attacking an EPP Commission President, then it is enough”.
Asked if the EPP is discussing the possibility to expel Fidesz party from its ranks, he replied, “We are in an ongoing process of discussion inside of the EPP family. So, there are talks going on about the situation.” (Aneta Zachová, EURACTIV.cz)
Expel Orbán: Two centre-right Belgian parties, the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V) and the Walloon Humanist Democratic Center (cdH), together with Luxembourg’s Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) sent a joint letter to EPP chief Joseph Daul, calling him to finally expel Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz party. “Anyone, who continually goes against Christian Democratic ideology and values, has no place with us,” Wouter Beke, CD&V leader tweeted.
Fighting plastic waste. The Walloon government decided to ban plasticized packaging from advertising and free paper publications, small plastic cards slipped under the windshields of cars for commercial purposes and plastic confetti. According to the plan, the reduction is meant to reach 20% in 2019, 30% in 2020, 50% in 2021 before a complete phase-out could take effect in 2022. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
No GAFA tax in March for now: French finance minister Le Maire said no agreement would be found about an EU GAFA tax, new EU-wide tax on big technology companies, at a finance ministers meeting on 12 March. However, he does not lose his hope. Following a meeting with his Irish counterpart and the US treasury secretary, Le Maire is optimistic about finding an international agreement at the OECD level.
How expensive a hard Brexit would be? : Around 7% of the UK GDP, according to a French diplomatic source. But the same source said the weakening of a strategic defence partner would deal a bigger blow. (Aline Robert, EURACTIV.fr)
UK migration rises: The number of people coming to settle in the UK from outside the EU has hit a 15-year record high, government figures show. Home Office research revealed on 28 February that in the year ending September 2018, 261,000 more non-EU citizens came to the UK than those who left.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said that the UK is “committed to controlled and sustainable migration”. (Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com)
‘Huge’ amounts of natural gas: The results of the exploration drilling in section 10 of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone are positive, the Cypriot government and ExxonMobil, an American oil and gas multinational, have said. Particularly, Cyprus estimates the amount of natural gas at 142-227 billion cubic meters, one of the world’s greatest discoveries over the last three years.
Russians abandon Cypriot banks: Russian capital outflow from the Cypriot banking system keeps on increasing. According to Cyprus’ Central Bank data, there has been a steady decline in deposits from Russia. Compared to two years ago, the decline has been greater reaching €2.44 billion. Local media reported that this trend seems to be related to the international effort to combat money laundering within the EU. (Sarantis Michalopoulos, EURACTIV.com)
Socialists lead the polls: PM Pedro Sanchez’s socialist party (PSOE) will win the general elections due on 28 April, according to a new poll published on Wednesday by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS).
If the elections were to be held today, PSOE would score 33.3% while the centre-right People’s Party (PP-EPP) 16.7%. The liberal Ciudadanos (ALDE) would suffer a strong backlash, scoring 15.3% compared to 17.7% in January followed by leftist Podemos with 14,5%. Far-right Vox would obtain 5.9% of the votes (6.5% in January).
A PSOE-Podemos bloc would get 47.8% but experts do not exclude a PP-led alliance together with Ciudadanos and Vox. (EuroEFE.EA.es)
Shot in the knees: Following a visit to Washington, German socialist Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) still sees chances to halt Donald Trump’s planned tariffs on EU car imports.
“Both sides would shoot themselves into the knee should they take the trade dispute to the extreme”, he told Redaktionsnetzwerks Deutschland(RND). “German companies provide more than 700,000 jobs in the US, including 120,000 in the automotive industry,” he added.
Weber compares EU elections to Brexit: Manfred Weber (CSU) has warned about severe consequences of low turnout. “The Brexit referendum showed a low turnout especially among young people – then they complained about the result,” he told Nürnberger Nachrichten.”That’s why I am appealing to take these elections seriously,” he added.
Surplus in January: Despite rising social expenditures, Poland’s finance ministry said there was a €1.53 billion budgetary surplus in January. The revenues were higher than expected, especially from VAT and personal income taxes. However, some experts warned that the surplus would be hard to sustain in the coming months due to new social spending and an economic downturn looming on the horizon. (EURACTIV.pl)
Love & Betrayal: As a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, lawmaker Giulia Sarti was expected to partially allocate her salary to a party’s fund for financing micro-credit firms. However, she did not do so claiming that her ex-boyfriend stole her money and filed a lawsuit against him. But a prosecutor rejected her lawsuit and she was forced to quit the party as well as her chair in the Italian parliament justice committee. (Gerardo Fortuna, EURACTIV.com)
Moscovici questions surpluses: Future surpluses of Greece’s economy are not realistic and at some point will have to be reduced in mutual agreement with the country’s lenders, EU Commissioner Moscovici said yesterday. He also hinted that the IMF and former German finance boss Wolfgang Schäuble, not the Commission, imposed these surpluses.
New polls: Centre-right New Democracy party (ND-EPP) leads two new polls against ruling Syriza (European Left). According to Skai news poll, if the elections were to be held this week, 30% would vote for ND while 20.5% for Syriza. However, another poll for Open TV found that ND would get 26.9% while Syriza 20.4%. In both polls, far-right Golden Dawn comes third. (Theodore Karaoulanis, EURACTIV.gr).
Hogan satisfied with agri-digitisation: “Greece is among the leading countries in the digitisation of the farming sector,” EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan told EURACTIV.gr’s partner Ypaithros.gr in an interview. Last week, the government launched a smart farming tender, which aims to cover millions of acres in the 13 Greek regions. (Sarantis Michalopoulos, EURACTIV.com)
Perception of Russian threat: The B9 meeting, a platform for the coordination of the so-called eastern flank of NATO, has taken place in eastern Slovakia. “We reiterate our support to NATO’s approach on Russia based on strong deterrence and defence, and openness to dialogue as agreed since Wales Summit with a view to avoiding misunderstanding, miscalculation, and unintended escalation,” the common declaration reads.
However, the perception of threat varies, Slovak president Andrej Kiska said. While 70% of the Estonian population perceives Russia as an existential threat, this number in Hungary is at 26%. (Zuzana Gabrižová, EURACTIV.sk).
Neck and neck: The social democrats (PSD) and the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL, EPP) would roughly get the same score (22.7% and 22.6% respectively) if the EU elections would be held next week, according to a poll.
The pro-EU 2020 Alliance, composed of the Save Romania Union (USR) party and PLUS (founded by former PM and EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos) would come third with 17.9%. PRO Romania (the party of ex-PM Victor Ponta) is expected to win 13.4%, while liberals (ALDE) would score 12.5%. (Bogdan Neagu, EURACTIV.ro)
UK Bulgarians want changes to the Electoral Code after Brexit: The Millennium Club Bulgaria, a think tank of Bulgarians born after 1 January 1981 who studied or are still studying abroad, insists on changes to the Electoral Code in order to abolish the restrictions on the participation of citizens living outside the EU in elections.
In an open letter to the President, the PM and the Ombudsman said after Brexit around 200,000 Bulgarians in the UK wouldn’t be able to vote. (Dnevnik.bg)
Parties’ financing: Slovenian Democratic Party (EPP) wants the parliament to investigate the financing of the party of former PM Miro Cerar (ALDE), as well as Social Democrats (S&D). The request comes in response to the resignation of the environment minister who allegedly switched €130,000 into the treasury of party. (Željko Trkanjec, EURACTIV.hr)
The ‘Most’ Party (Bridge) seeks referendum on entry into Eurozone. All parliamentary parties have accepted the Eurozone entry plan over the next four years if key reforms will be implemented. Far-right members of Most, though, oppose it, saying that citizens are against it. (Željko Trkanjec, EURACTIV.hr)
Public call for ‘Corruption Fighters’: According to a new anti-corruption law, the members of the Council of the Anti-Corruption agency will be chosen publicly. The government says the new law includes the Council of Europe’s GRECO recommendations and that the goal is to have the best candidates regardless of their profession. (Julija Simić, Beta-EURACTIV.rs)
(Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos and Samuel Stolton)