US Secretary Pompeo in crucial visit to Greece

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is paying a crucial visit today (28 September) to Thessaloniki in northern Greece and Chania in the island of Crete, two places not picked by chance, Greek media reported. [EPA/FLORIAN WIESER]

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In today’s news from the Capitals:

ATHENS

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is paying a crucial visit today to Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, and Chania in the island of Crete, two places not picked by chance, Greek media reported. The visit comes amid tensions with Turkey over gas drillings in the Eastern Mediterranean and the upcoming “exploratory” talks the two countries due to start this week.

The places that Pompeo chose to visit are symbolic: Thessaloniki confirms the US’s interest in northern Greece in the context of their competition with Russia for the Balkan region. Russian oligarchs have been influential in Greece’s north and did not attempt to block the name-change deal with North Macedonia a couple of years ago.

In Crete, the US has a strong naval base which it is willing to upgrade. This also coincides with talks in Washington on the relocation of the US base in Turkey’s Incirlik. Ankara has warned that it could kick out the US from Incirlik nuclear base. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a letter last week to 25 EU member states except Greece and Cyprus. Read more.

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BERLIN

Push for unified, tougher coronavirus measures. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) is set to meet with Germany’s 16 state leaders on Tuesday (29 September) to discuss the country’s coronavirus response. As cases continue to rise in some regions, some want to see stricter measures across the country.

One such leader is Bavarian state premier Markus Söder (CSU), who called for a standardised nationwide traffic light system on Sunday (27 September) as states currently have no uniform response to high levels of infections. Read more.

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PARIS

France’s right and centre parties obtain Senate majority. France’s elected representatives in charge of nominating senators re-elected this Sunday (27 September) the right-centre alliance to the upper house of the French parliament, where half of the seats were up for election. The elections were also marked by the return of an environmentalist group and the retention of the sole seat of the Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, Rassemblement National. French President Emmanuel Macron’s party LREM, for its part, managed to maintain its position in the Senate. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.FR)

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VIENNA

Bregenz gets first social democratic mayor in 30 years. In the local election in Voralberg capital Bregenz – Austria’s most western state – Michael Ritsch was elected mayor, becoming the first social democrat in the post since 1990 and ending the ÖVP’s 25-year winning streak. That is a coup for Austria’s Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), which has found itself in crisis since former Chancellor Christian Kern was pushed out in 2017 by current Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) who first formed a coalition with the far-right FPÖ and has governed with the Greens since January 2020.  (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)

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HELSINKI

PM and businesses at loggerheads. After weeks of worrying economic news about factory closures and rising employment, Prime Minister Sanna Marin told business magazine Talouselämä on Friday (25 September) that it is now time for companies to prove they “really have that sense of social responsibility,” adding that “to me, it looks like there is still need for a welfare state and a strong public sector also in the future.”

During the interview, the young prime minister criticised the business community, saying that its message over the years had been “that regulation can be eased since companies are willing to carry a responsibility for their actions.”

Read more about how the PM’s comments stirred up a hornet’s nest as what ensued on Twitter showed deepening mistrust between the leftist coalition government and the country’s industrial and business cluster.

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LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg ranks as world’s 12th largest financial centre. Luxembourg’s financial centre ranks 12th among the world’s largest financial centres and has now become the EU’s leading financial centre because of Brexit, according the Global Financial Centres Index. Though the city of London continues to be the second largest financial centre globally, Luxembourg ranks behind New York, London and Hong Kong on human capital and comes second in the investment fund sector.

Since the 2016 Brexit referendum around 70 financial institutions have chosen the Grand Duchy as their base to access the EU market, according to Luxembourg for Finance. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)


UK AND IRELAND

DUBLIN | LONDON

US visit among Northern Ireland fears. US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, Mick Mulvaney, is set to touch down in Ireland and the UK this week, as Brexit fears grow stateside.

Mulvaney is due to travel to Dublin, Belfast and London over the coming days. He will sit down with senior figures in the Irish government to “advance US policy priorities and affirm the longstanding US commitment to peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland,” according to the US State Department statement. Read more.


EUROPE’S SOUTH

ROME

Focus Recovery Fund on education. Bank of Italy governor Ignazio Visco said that “operating on the level of education” and “improving the resources and infrastructures of education” are essential to decrease the gap in the field of research, as the country’s “research spending is half the OECD average”. According to him, the EU Recovery Fund would be an ideal means to bolster the country’s education rather than the EU bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Read more.

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MADRID

Madrid urged to extend lockdown. Spain’s leftist coalition government urged local authorities in Madrid (Comunidad de Madrid, ruled by the conservative Popular Party, PP) to place the entire capital, rather than selected districts, in a form of lockdown to curb the fast spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spanish capital, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.

Restrictions in place in Madrid since the start of the week to curb a surge of infections will be extended to a further eight health districts as of today (28 September), city health officials have said, ruling out a city-wide lockdown despite constant pleas from the Spanish health ministry. Read more.

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LISBON

Portugal on the ‘right track’. Portugal is on the “right track” to achieve cleaner energy and greater digitisation, and should now seize the “unique opportunity” it will have with post-crisis European funds to consolidate this track, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Lusa in an interview, adding that the European Commission had “published detailed guidelines to help member states prepare their national recovery plans” with a “clear focus on future issues of climate protection, digitisation and a more resilient economy.” Read more.


VISEGRAD

BUDAPEST

No quarantine after voting in Romania. Dual Hungarian-Romanian nationals and Romanians living in Hungary that voted in Romania’s local elections will not have to quarantine upon their return to Hungary, State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, Tamás Menczer, has said, noting the importance for all voters to participate in elections. Though Hungary closed its borders on 1 September, voters and children travelling with them would be allowed to return to Hungary at any crossing point between 8 am on Sunday and 9 am on Monday.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mihály Varga said that Hungary’s Baa3 sovereign rating to “positive” from “stable” in rating agency Moody’s sovereign rating list was “unique” in the EU as no other member state’s outlook had improved in the past six months. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)


NEWS FROM THE BALKANS

SOFIA

Bulgaria supports EU future of Northern Macedonia. Bulgaria supports the European future of the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov assured his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in a telephone conversation on Sunday (27 September). Borissov said he believes that the two countries would remain committed to the implementation of the 2017 Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation.(Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)

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BUCHAREST

Ruling centre right party claims victory in local elections. The ruling National Liberal Party (EPP) gained its highest score in history in the local elections held Sunday (27 September) in Romania, in a prequel of the December parliamentary elections. Read more.

Also read: Romania’s Social Democrats lose ground in municipal vote

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LJUBLJANA 

Party wants its minister to step down. In response to the decision by the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS- RE) requesting Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša to dismiss her from the post, Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec wrote that the request was not based on the quality of her work. Pivec was a DeSUS president from the beginning of this year, but DeSUS removed her from that position last month.

In other news, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek (SMC-RE) was close to getting killed by a hornet at home, the Slovenian Reporter posted. Počivalšek suffered an allergic reaction from being stabbed in the hand, but was help by his neighbours who rushed to his aid. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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ZAGREB

When the president and prime minister quarrel. “The president of the Republic apologises in good faith to all those, primarily ministers, whom the prime minister and some of his associates have exposed, through their indolence and inaction, to undeserved humiliation,” said Croatian President Zoran Milanović in a Facebook post on Sunday.

The president’s words are a response to the JANAF (Adriatic pipeline) corruption affair whereby MPs saw their immunities stripped by parliament at the request of the State Prosecutor’s Office. However, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (HDZ-EPP) called on the president to “first apologise to all those he has been insulting, and then stabilise.”

Meanwhile, SDP had the first round of elections for the president. MP Peđa Grbin and Zagorje county prefect Željko Kolar entered the second round that will be held next Sunday. Grbin is known as one of “Milanović’s boys”. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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BELGRADE 

Belgrade-Priština meeting postponed. Representatives of the Belgrade-Priština talks scheduled today (28 September) will not meet due the COVID-19 pandemic, Miroslav Lajčak, the European Union’s special envoy for the dialogue, has said. “Out of abundance of caution related to COVID-19, the (Belgrade-Priština) Dialogue meeting scheduled for Monday will be postponed,” Lajčak tweeted.

Earlier, Lajčak announced that the two delegations would meet in Brussels on 28 September to continue talks on financial claims and property, and that the Community of Serb Municipalities would not be on the agenda. For now, however, there is no information on when the meeting might be held.

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In other news, the Western Balkans have agreed to work on a joint border-crossing protocol, North Macedonia’s Health Minister Venko Filipče confirmed yesterday in a Facebook post (27 September).

Meanwhile, all Balkan countries are still discussing a plan to reopen their borders simultaneously, after they align their entry requirements with the idea of opening the region’s borders to travellers without requiring them to take a COVID-19 PCR test, the health minister added. Read more.

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SARAJEVO 

BiH is unstable and rule of law does not exist. The Dayton peace agreement, which was signed two and a half decades ago, has made Bosnia and Herzegovina a country that is impossible to govern, thus paving the way to dangerous forces that have not abandoned plans to break it up, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, a conservative German politician and a former representative of the international community in BiH, told Deutsche Welle. More.

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PODGORICA

Public debt at 80% GDP. The government of Montenegro’s total debt, excluding deposits, stood at €3.66 billion or 79.54% of the country’s GDP by the end of June, the finance ministry has said. Compared to the end of March, debt increased by €321 million.

In other news, stricter epidemiological measures will be applied in Montenegro starting midnight as the number of new COVID-19 cases saw an sharp increase. Some cities have to introduce curfews, while restaurants and coffee bars will also have some restrictions. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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PRIŠTINA 

Have you head of ‘Lake Trump’? During the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo at the White House, the US president’s special envoy for the Pristina-Belgrade Dialogue Richard Grenell proposed to name the lake known to Albanians from Kosovo as Ujman and to Serbs as Gazivode, after US President Donald Trump.

Although this was first seen as a joke, Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti had expressed his readiness to support Grenell’s idea at a meeting with him, Gazeta Express reported. Serbian Preisdent Aleksandar Vučić also backed the idea at another meeting. This comes after Israel agreed to name a planned Israeli settlement in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights Trump Heights (Hebrew: רמת טראמפ‎, Ramat Trump). (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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TIRANA

School closings managed by Fetullah Gülen movement. Albania announced that it will be closing three schools – Memorial International School of Tirana, Haffix Abdulla Zembaku madrasah in Korce and Ali Korca madrasah in Kavaje- run by the faith-inspired Hizmet movement founded by Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fetullah Gülen now living in exile in the US, the Turkish media reported during the weekend.

The decision comes after Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made a personal visit to Erdogan’s summer residence, ExitNews reported. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]

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