US or China? Americans call on Portugal to choose

In response to these comments, Portuguese government and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa reminded the diplomat that the country's decisions are taken by the elected government.  [rawf8 / Shutterstock]

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Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at the article “EU teams up with South-East Asia to fight counterfeit medicines“, by Anne Damiani.


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.


Today’s news from the Capitals:

LISBON

In an interview with weekly newspaper Expresso, US Ambassador to Lisbon George Glass demanded that Portugal choose between the American “friends and allies” and the “economic partner” China, and threatened consequences linked with security and defence.

In response to these comments, the Portuguese government and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa reminded the diplomat that the country’s decisions are taken by the elected government.

There are Chinese companies with capital positions in Portuguese companies, such as China Three Gorges in electric companies EDP and CCCC – which recently invested in the construction company Mota-Engil – which “sold 30% of the company for 30 silver coins”.

According to the diplomat, this has hindered the relationship between Portugal and the US, adding that Mota-Engil could be the target of sanctions. (Patricia Cunha, Lusa.pt)

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EU INSTITUTIONS

EU prosecutor’s office finally operational. The head of the EU’s new judicial body and its European prosecutors who will now form part of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), were sworn in on Monday (28 September) at the European Court of Justice.

While Romanian Laura Codruta Kovesi was appointed as the new judicial body’s head despite initial opposition from Bucharest, the EPPO, first mentioned in 1997 and now based in Luxembourg, will fight financial crime and protect the EU taxpayer’s money. Each European public prosecutor is responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases before the competent courts in his or her own member state. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)

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BERLIN

19,000 new infections per day by Christmas. If the country does not do more to deal with local outbreaks, “we will have 19,200 infections a day by Christmas,” the newspaper Bild reported German Chancellor Angela Merkel as saying during a call with some of her party’s top officials on Monday (28 September). The chancellor’s comments come at a time when Germany is registering more than 1,000 new COVID-19 infections each day. Read more.

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VIENNA

Tourism and gastronomy hit hard by crisis. Between May and August, hotel bookings in Austria decreased by almost a third compared to last year with bookings in Vienna suffering the most with a 82% drop during the same period, new data shows. The gastronomy industry’s revenues dropped 61.1% between April and June compared to the same period in 2020.

Though both sectors could recoup their losses during the upcoming winter season, several European countries have recently designated Austria or some of its regions as risk zones and issued travel warnings. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)

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PARIS

Not in Strasbourg yet. Another EU Parliament plenary session will take place in Brussels and not in Strasbourg due to the increased rate of transmission of the virus in France, EU Parliament chief David Sassoli announced. On 23 September, French President Emmanuel Macron sent a letter to Sassoli, calling on him “to implement without delay the return to institutional normality and a resumption of plenary sessions in Strasbourg as of October”.

“The health situation is certainly difficult, but it is just as difficult in Brussels as in Strasbourg,” the French president also wrote. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.FR)

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BRUSSELS

Belgium inches towards ‘Vivaldi’ government. Sixteen months after the election, Belgium is closer to finally forming a government, following a day of talks on Monday (28 September) between all seven coalition negotiators for a potential ‘Vivaldi coalition’ government (PS, sp.a, MR, Open Vld, Ecolo, Groen and CD&V). EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski has more.

In other news, the US and Belgium said on Monday (28 September) they had reached a “preclearance” agreement which will allow US-bound passengers from Brussels to undergo US customs and immigration checks before departing Europe. More.

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THE HAGUE

New measures against COVID-19. The Dutch government on Monday (28 September) announced a raft of new measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus including limiting travel, closing bars and restaurants early and discouraging public gatherings, Reuters reports. The measures, which also include wider use of cloth masks for the public in Amsterdam and other big cities, came amid a second wave of cases that have passed the earlier peak in April in numbers of new infections.
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HELSINKI

Finland teams up with Sweden and Estonia to investigate horrific shipwreck. Finland, Sweden and Estonia will jointly assess new information concerning the disaster of M/S Estonia, the countries’ foreign ministers announced in a joint statement released on Monday (28 September). M/S Estonia shipwreck in 1994 is considered to be one of the worst to have happened in European waters since the Second World War. Read more.

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LUXEMBOURG

NATO to buy plane with Luxembourg money. Together with five other NATO members, Luxembourg will buy Airbus A330 aircraft that could be used for mid-air refuelling and troop transport for the transatlantic alliance, which is currently facing a lack of capacity to properly fulfil its missions. Earlier in July, the Grand Duchy confirmed it would spend an additional €425 million to increase NATO’s air transport capacity. With such spending, Luxembourg is inching closer to spending reach 2% of its GDP on defence. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)

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VILNIUS
Macron to meet Belarus opposition leader in Vilnius. France and Lithuania agreed that the EU should decide on sanctions against Belarus at the summit of the bloc’s leaders later this week, the Baltic country’s president said on Monday (28 September). More.

UK AND IRELAND

LONDON

Lib Dems put UK’s EU membership revival on the back burner. The Liberal Democrats have confirmed their acceptance of Brexit by ruling out campaigning for the UK to swiftly rejoin the EU. Read more about this here.

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DUBLIN

US backs GFA. US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland Mick Mulvaney has reiterated the Trump administration’s commitment to ensuring the Good Friday Agreement is not impacted negatively by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill.

Touching down in Dublin yesterday, Mulvaney reaffirmed previous messages from Washington that should a hard border return on the island of Ireland, a potential US-UK trade deal is off the cards. (Samuel Stolton | EURACTIV.com)


EUROPE’S SOUTH

ROME

PM assures the ‘Recovery Plan is on track’. The Italian plan on how to spend the resources of the EU Recovery Fund is on track to be presented to the European Commission on time, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italy’s farmers’ trade union Confagricoltura on Monday (28 September) during its centenary celebration. Read more.

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MADRID

Spain’s Supreme Court upholds ruling to ban Catalan leader from office. Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld a ruling to ban Quim Torra,  Catalonia’s regional president, from holding public office for 18-months over his refusal to remove slogans supporting jailed separatists on the run up to general elections last year.

While the regional high court of Catalonia made the initial ruling against Torra, who is in favour of Catalan independence, in December 2019, supreme court judges unanimously upheld the decision on Monday, meaning Torra will have to step down from office and pay a €30,000 fine for “disobedience.” Read more.

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ATHENS

Historic or not? Greece and US lost in translation over North Macedonia. A joint statement signed on Monday (28 September) between the US and Greece, during a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has sent confusing messages about whether Washington and Athens consider the North Macedonia name change deal (Prespa Agreement) historic or not. Sarantis Michalopoulos has the story.


VISEGRAD

BUDAPEST

Recommendations to support sustainable growth. The National Bank of Hungary (MNB) is making 50 recommendations – to be published in detail later this week – supporting government efforts to shape policy promoting sustainable growth, Deputy Governor Barnabás Virág told state news wire MTI. Virág said a shutdown of the economy like the one imposed on the country in spring is unlikely to be repeated, adding that the reassessments of companiesʼ business plans are the reason for the slow recovery. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

Meanwhile, Hungary and Poland will set up a joint institute for comparative law to help joint efforts against the “suppression of opinions by liberal ideology”, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said after meeting Polish counterpart Zbigniew Raut. Szijjártó added that the “patriotic” policies of both cabinets “based on Christian values with a focus on national interests” were often unacceptable to “the international liberal mainstream constantly attacking the two countries”. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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BRATISLAVA

Slovakia toughen measures as new COVID-19 cases increase. Slovakia’s Central Crisis Staff has cancelled all mass events unless all attendants test negative for the virus. Weddings, funerals and christenings will not be cancelled, however. Meanwhile, two major Slovak universities have announced their switch to distance learning only. “We cannot forbid family events. But since the situation is serious, we recommend not to organise them,” the country’s top hygienist said. The government will decide on the state of emergency on Wednesday. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)

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WARSAW
Call for ‘environment of tolerance’ for LGBT+ people. Fifty ambassadors to Poland have written an open letter calling on Warsaw to help forge “an environment of non-discrimination, tolerance and mutual acceptance” as international concerns grow over the treatment of LGBT+ people in the country. Read the full story here.

NEWS FROM THE BALKANS

BUCHAREST

Election aftermath. Both the socialist party PSD and the ruling PNL claimed victory after the local elections were held Sunday (27 September), with a view to mobilising their bases for the general elections scheduled for early December. Read more.

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SOFIA

Bulgarian President vetoed Election Code amendments. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev vetoed the Election Code amendments made earlier in September by the ruling parties. The president said in an address to the nation on Monday (28 September) that the Code revisions aim to secure a victory for the ruling party in the next parliamentary elections, saying it would “deal yet another blow on the legal groundwork of the State, step back from clear legal rules and make people doubt the fairness of elections.” The veto applies to parts of the revisions only, concerning machine voting and the scope of questions that can be decided in referendums. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)

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LJUBLJANA 

More stringent asylum rules. About a hundred people are currently detained in Slovenian jails on charges of organising transport for illegal migrants, said Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs (SDS-EPP), noting that the government has decided to tighten its asylum policy because of abuse. More here.

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ZAGREB

War crimes were insults for modern Croatia Prime Minister Andrej Plenković attended a commemoration for the nine Serb civilians who were killed in Varivode in the aftermath of 1995’s Operation Storm, expressing sympathy for those whose lives Croatia had failed to protect and describing the crime as an insult to modern Croatia and human dignity. Read more.

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ZAGREB/SARAJEVO

Bosniak and Croat leader from BiH in Zagreb. Plenković also met with vice-presidents of the Bosnian parliament’s upper house, Bakir Izetbegovic of the Bosniak SDA party and Dragan Čović of the HDZ BiH, a sister party of Croatian HDZ (EPP). Plenković said that it was essential to enable all three constituent peoples to exercise their equal rights and enjoy legitimate representation across BiH’s institutions. Read more.

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BELGRADE 

Former president’s son likeliest candidate for Ambassador to Beijing. Radomir Nikolić, a former Mayor of Kragujevac and the son of former Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić, is the likeliest candidate for the post of Serbian Ambassador to China, the Kurir daily reported on Monday (28 September). According to the newspaper, Nikolić is expected to replace Milan Bačević, who has recently returned to Serbia after his term in office expired. Read more.

In other news, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić and German Ambassador to Belgrade Thomas Schieb said yesterday (28 September) that relations between the two countries were at a high level and characterised by intensive cooperation both at a political and economic level, given that Germany is Serbia’s number one foreign trade partner, the Serbian foreign affairs ministry has stated. Read more.

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SARAJEVO

Bosniak leaders support Azerbaijan. BiH Presidency Chairman Šefik Džaferović sent a telegram of support to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, stressing that he condemned “the Armenian artillery attack that led to the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

President of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) Bakir Izetbegovic said in a separate statement that Azerbaijan “has every right to defend its territorial integrity and an obligation not to allow the recurrence of mass crimes against its civilian population by Armenian, occupying forces,” Izetbegovic added. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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PODGORICA 

Five people died of the virus. In the last 24 hours, there were 128 infections and five people died. Though Montenegro only has 620,000 inhabitants, a hospital announced that eight patients are in life-threatening conditions. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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PRIŠTINA 

First war crime suspect at court. Former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) Salih Mustafa is now the first person to be indicted by the Hague-based prosecutors and to appear before the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) judges. For now, Mustafa has not yet entered a plea, saying he would have to consult a defence lawyer.

Former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Agim Ceku appeared before war crime prosecutors where he  was questioned as a suspect. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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TIRANA

No hydropower plants. Albania’s government decided to cancel plans for the construction of hydropower plants (HPPs) on the Vjosa river, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said. This comes after the environment ministry refused to permit HPP projects on the river, as well as plans to integrate the area within the existing Vjosa national park, Rama tweeted.

Two weeks ago, the Energy Community, which is an organisation promoting the establishment of an integrated European energy market, said it opened a dispute settlement procedure against Albania over the environmental impact assessment of the HPP Pocem project on the Vjosa river. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Sam Morgan]

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