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 Natasha Foote’s story “2,500 scientists urge EU to reform environmentally ‘damaging’ CAP” as well as Alexandra Brzozowski’s take on the EU top court ruling that Poland’s change to the retirement age of its judges breaks EU law. Also, feel free to read the latest about Facebook’s Libra, as well as a story on how the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement could impact the EU.
Tusk is not running for president. Donald Tusk has announced that he will not run for Poland’s presidency in the elections due to take place in May 2020. For months, the possibility of his comeback to Polish politics had been one of the most widely discussed topics in Poland. However, Tusk decided that the country needs “a candidate, who has not been burdened with a bag of difficult, unpopular decisions”. “I have been burdened with such baggage since I was the prime minister,” Tusk said.
Why did Tusk make this decision? First, his popularity rate is still low. According to the latest polls, it’s even lower than Jarosław Kaczyński’s – his old nemesis and Poland’s current de facto ruler.
EURACTIV Poland commented that according to the public, Tusk’s time as prime minister is still considered to be either marred with scandals or to have lacked any vision other than the development of EU-funded large-scale infrastructure projects.
Second, Tusk was said to have commissioned internal polls, which indicated that Poles did not want his comeback, not giving him much of a chance against Andrzej Duda, the incumbent president.
Therefore, Tusk did not intend to come back only to fail and expose himself and his family to brutal attacks from PiS and PiS-owned public television. Last but not least, he might have decided that a politician who is not burdened with past decisions and considered to be more moderate and thus acceptable for the centre and right-wing electorate might have a better chance against Duda.
What is next for an opposition, which has counted on his comeback for a long time?
For his old party PO (EPP), this means that it will most probably conduct its own so-called ‘primaries’, a plan pushed forward by the party’s leader Grzegorz Schetyna but opposed by many in the party. If the party does decide to carry them out, the favourite to win will be Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska.
But there is also another proposal on the table put forward by Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (PSL/EPP), who already started his campaign. He suggested that his party could conduct primaries together with PO and in this way, the centrist will have one candidate for elections. The risk is high for Kosiniak-Kamysz, as he is less known than Kidawa-Błońska, but if he won, most of the opposition would have no other option but to stand behind him.
Interestingly, a few months ago, Donald Tusk was said to be tacitly supporting his steady rise in Polish politics and even the presidential candidacy.
On the Left, the popular progressive leader of Wiosna (S&D) Robert Biedrońa published a tweet hinting at Tusk’s readiness to run. Officially, though, the Left (of which Wiosna is a part) has not yet made any decision about its candidate.
EPP sources told EURACTIV that “it’s more than sure” that Tusk will run for the Presidency of the European People’s Party in Brussels. Rumours suggest that Manfred Weber was also interested in the post, but he was advised not to run against Tusk.
EURACTIV has also learnt that there is an ongoing fight in the EPP, between Weber and the team of current EPP chief Joseph Daul. Reportedly, Weber believes that Daul’s team was not supportive enough during his campaign for the Presidency of the European Commission. Besides, there are ongoing fights over the post of the Secretary-General currently held by Spanish Antonio López.
(Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl– Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
Death threats against Green politicians Cem Özdemir and Claudia Roth have prompted strong reactions across all political parties in Germany. The country’s ministry of justice rejected the accusation that the government’s action plan against right-wing extremism does not adequately cover such cases.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU) spoke to the Bavarian newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, of a “highly problematic brutalisation of our society”. Dietmar Bartsch, the leader of the leftist party Die Linke, described the threats as a “consequence of a poisoned social climate” in Monday’s edition of Die Welt.
Over the weekend, Özdemir and Roth received death threats from a right-wing extremist network. Last June, Kassel’s District President Walter Lübcke (CDU) was found on the terrace of his house at the beginning of June with a gunshot wound to his head. The police arrested a suspect two weeks after the crime, while the Federal Prosecutor’s Office classified the offence as a “political assassination attempt”. (Claire Stam | EURACTIV.de)
Migration quotas are back. France will announce on Wednesday (6 November) a series of new measures on immigration, a sensitive issue that Macron aims to monopolise to position himself as the leading candidate against Marine Le Pen going into the presidential elections of 2022.
Following a rather superficial debate in the National Assembly, the government announced its intention to discourage aspiring migrants, especially from the so-called “safe” countries such as Albania or Georgia. Macron’s LREM party also wants to increase the number of economic migrants, who currently represent only 33,000 people in France each year, by introducing quotas per sector of activity.
Le Parisien quoted a lawmaker as saying that the sectors concerned are construction, hotels, restaurants and commercial functions, as well as highly skilled professions such as computer engineering. France’s right-wing parties have long defended the idea of quotas according to origin countries.
“We are facing great hypocrisy: the restaurant and construction sectors do not function without migration. To claim the opposite is false,” Macron said in a recent interview with Valeurs actuelles. “I would rather have legal, registered, quota-based migration for x years than hidden seconded work,” the French president added. (EURACTIV.FR)
5th time lucky? The Belgian government formation has been taken down a peg once again given that two informers, Rudy Demotte (PS) and Geert Bourgeois (N-VA), who were both tasked by the Belgian King to form a governing coalition, have been requested to be relieved of their duties. After two days of talks with all party leaders, the King has appointed Socialist leader Paul Magnette (PS) as the fifth politician to take up the task of coalition talks, giving him time until 18 November. Magnette’s appointment opens the door ajar for a purple-green coalition of Liberals, Socialists and Greens (possibly supplemented by CD&V), without the Flemish nationalist party N-VA. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
A Postcard from Russia. Downing Street has refuted claims it is holding back a report on alleged Russian interference in UK democracy until after the general election.
The report will be released in “due course” Foreign Minister Christopher Pincher said, adding that the Government “cannot rush this process at the risk of undermining our national security.” His comments followed calls from the former head of MI5, Lord Evans of Weardale, to publish the document as soon as possible.
The report, conducted by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, was completed in March and sent to No 10 on 17 October. Still, critics have accused the Government of holding publication of the document back. (Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com)
Climate change, one hour a week. Climate change will become a subject in all Italian classrooms starting from the next school year, Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti told Reuters. “I want to make the Italian education system the first one that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn at school,” he said.
Other traditional subjects related to sustainable development will also be studied. Fioramonti, who’s a Five Star Movement affiliate, released in September a non-binding memo to school administrations asking them to justify the absence of schoolchildren who intend to attend global climate strike. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
New refugee plan. To ease the burden on Greek islands, the conservative government is preparing a new plan to transfer 4,000 refugees to the country’s inland by the end of November, as well as 10,000 returns to Turkey by the end of 2020. The inland local communities have reacted negatively to these plans, but Stelios Petsas, the government spokesperson, said all Greeks should give a hand and help the islands’ residents.
Smoking ban. The government seems to be determined to finally implement a law to ban smoking in enclosed public places after many years of inaction. Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias said that the Greek executive is even considering to subsidise the installation of heaters outside bars and restaurants to incentivise smokers to smoke outside. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)
The Friends of Cohesion
A group of 16 EU member states, the so-called “Friends of Cohesion”, gathered in Prague yesterday (5 November) and issued a joint declaration stating that the funding of the Cohesion Policy in the European Union’s next multiannual financial framework (MFF) should not be lower than in the present one.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said there are several points of the long-term budget framework that could be used as a source of funding for the cohesion policy, specifically the European Defence Fund, the funds used for the planned Frontex strengthening and the operational costs of European institutions.
Slovak PM Peter Pellegrini said the decisions on cohesion policy should not be political. “The continuation of cohesion policy should not be decided based on political moods […] but on real numbers and facts,” the PM said. Since cohesion policy aims at eliminating regional differences, the policy should continue until these inequalities “are eradicated”, which, according to Pellegrini, is the position of 16 EU member states, meaning there is a majority.
In light of new challenges such as migration and Brexit, in the new programming period (2021-2027), the European Commission has proposed to slash funds for the cohesion policy. But the EU Council seems divided on the issue.
“The problem is in the Council. There, I expect that, first of all, France and President Macron will defend cohesion. Germany should too, with at least the same energy as they defend the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Because as much as we need a strong CAP, we also need a strong Cohesion Policy: these two are related,” MEP Younous Omarjee told EURACTIV.com in an interview.
Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov called for adequate financing of the EU cohesion policy and the Common Agricultural Policy, as well as for a fair distribution of EU funds. He said that the necessary resources should support the EU’s ambition to be a global leader. “It is important for the cohesion policy to ensure not only sufficient funding but also a fair distribution of resources to overcome the inequalities between the different regions”, Borissov said.
Budapest Assembly’s first meeting sends political messages. Budapest’s General Assembly accepted the 15-element package proposed by the new mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, at the first meeting since Budapest held its municipal elections in October when the governing Fidesz party lost its majority.
The Assembly declared a climate emergency in Budapest, adopted a transparency package proposed by local NGOs and Transparency International and stopped the construction of new buildings in the Városliget Park. The Park’s controversial development project was criticised by UNESCO, which threatened to inscribe the site on its ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list if its recommendations were to be ignored by February 2020.
The Assembly also refused to apply the Overtime Act, commonly referred to as the ‘slave law’ that sparked protests last winter. This amendment to the Labour Act raised the possible overtime hours from 250/year to 400/year based on individual agreements with employees, tripling the period for calculating overtime and allowing employers to pay for overtime in one lump sum after three years.
(Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr, Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
EU tourism fund. More than 13 EU member states have backed Croatia’s initiative to strengthen cooperation between EU countries so that tourism becomes more visible in EU committees and funds. “Launching such an initiative in Sofia last year, I was confident that many countries would become involved, especially since tourism has not been represented in EU bodies and funds so far, nor financing for tourism projects,’” said Croatian Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli.
“We expect that during Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the EU, possibly already in January 2020, we could publish a declaration on cooperation to launch an EU tourism fund which would be used to finance development projects, as well as help countries whose tourism is suffering because of war, migrants, natural disasters and other crises,” the minister added. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
More to revoke Kosovo’s recognition. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić has said that “four to five” countries will revoke their recognition of Kosovo by the end of the year. Commenting on US Special Representative Matthew Palmer’s statement about the possible imposition of sanctions against Serbia over the procurement of Russian arms, Dačić told TV Happy that there is no ground for sanctions: “We are not stupid not to know what is allowed,” he said.
V4 disappointed. The PMs of the Visegrad Group (V4) said they were disappointed by the fact that the EU sent a negative signal to the Western Balkans when it did not allow the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. They said that this negative signal might be mitigated by the acceleration of negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro. (EURACTIV.rs)
Read also: Sassoli in Skopje: ‘Don’t lose hope’
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]