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Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at the interview Europeans are better protected with ‘EU licensed’ COVID-19 vaccine, says EMA director by EURACTIV’s media partner EFE.
Leaders to decide on compromise to unblock EU budget package. EU leaders will discuss on Thursday whether to approve the compromise negotiated by the German presidency to drop Hungary and Poland’s vetoes to the EU budget deal, postponing of the Rule of Law mechanism until EU judges validate it. Read the full story here.
EU sets out plan to expand Europol’s counter-terror mandate. The European Commission proposed to expand the mandate of the European police agency Europol and reinforce external border controls as part of the bloc’s broader counter-terrorism strategy. Read more.
The European news you deserve to read. Welcome to The Capitals by EURACTIV.
In today’s news from the Capitals:
STOCKHOLM | HELSINKI
For the first time in Sweden’s history the so-called “NATO-option” has obtained a majority in parliament, meaning that while the country edges closer to Finland’s defence and security policy which has the ‘NATO-option’ as its cornerstone, it is also keeping the possibility of NATO membership alive. Read more.
Merkel’s emotional appeal for caution over Christmas. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pleaded for people in Germany to reduce their contacts and urged caution ahead of the holidays in a rare emotional speech during Wednesday’s general debate in the Bundestag. Read more.
French government launches fight against ‘separatism’. The very dense and controversial government bill of around 50 articles aiming to “guarantee respect for the laws and principles of the Republic” by targeting the financing of associations and places of worship, education and gender equality was presented on Wednesday to the Council of Ministers. Read more.
Extreme-right party pulls selling stunt. Belgium’s extreme-right party, Vlaams Belang, put the Belgian Senate up for sale for €1 on a second-hand website. The party claimed that the upper chamber of the federal parliament had stopped being useful and had become a “completely superfluous assembly”. The listing was removed quickly. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)
COVID-19 restrictions to be extended until mid-January. “It’s difficult to keep the limitations in place during the Christmas period, but it is a price we must pay if we don’t want to suffer later,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a press conference on Wednesday.
Under the country’s current restrictions, restaurants cafes and bars remain closed, a night curfew runs from 11pm to 6am and up to two guests from the same household are allowed to visit another home. When adjusted to population, Luxembourg has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Europe. (Anne Damiani | EURACTIV.com)
UK AND IRELAND
Ireland’s Varadkar speaks to EPP on Brexit. Ireland’s Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, touched base with EPP members of the European Parliament on Wednesday, as part of a video call on the ongoing trade negotiations between the UK and the EU. Read more.
Exiled opposition leader urges Europe to probe into torture in Belarus. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled leader of the Belarusian opposition, has called on European countries to follow Lithuania in investigating crimes committed by the regime in Belarus. Read more.
Estonia doubles down on EU climate goals. Tallinn supports the EU target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, but would require additional investment to achieve this, Mart Volmer, deputy secretary-general for European affairs at the foreign ministry, said on Tuesday.
“The plans of the multi-annual financial framework and the NextGenerationEU (NGEU) are not sufficient to fund all additional investments needed for meeting the 2030 goals in their entirety. This means we should plan a transition that takes into account the situation and possibilities of all member states,” Volmer said. (EURACTIV.com)
Conte calls to speed up EU recovery fund approval. Europe needs to approve the EU Recovery Fund in the shortest possible time, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the Chamber of Deputies, adding that “citizens will not forgive a contradiction of the historical agreement, which signals a deep and irrevocable change in EU policies”. Read more.
About one in two Portuguese hotels to close by end of year. Almost half of the hotels in Portugal plan to close by the end of the year and groups with several hotels admit to closing 56% of them due to the pandemic’s impact, the Portuguese Hotel Association (AHP) said on Wednesday. Read more.
ATHENS | BERLIN
German and Greek MEPs call on Merkel to suspend arms exports. In a joint letter on Tuesday, 53 German and Greek MEPs urged Angela Merkel to suspend a planned export of submarines, their components and spare parts – largely produced by German Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems and assembled in Turkey.
“We are extremely concerned about Turkey’s threats of military action against EU member states in the eastern Mediterranean and fear that Turkey could employ submarines produced in Germany in this conflict,” they wrote. However, no German Christian Democrat politicians signed the letter, despite being in the same political family with Greek ruling New Democracy.
The call comes as the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell dodged questions over a Turkey arms embargo earlier this week. Read the story here.
Poland may not use its veto after all. Representatives of the Polish government confirmed Warsaw is willing to give up its veto at Thursday’s European Council in Brussels. Read more.
Czech President backs Poland and Hungary over EU budget dispute. Visegrad countries should be united in supporting Poland and Hungary “in their dispute with the European Commission over the EU budget” said Czech President Miloš Zeman after meeting his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda in Prague on Thursday.
According to Zeman, unity among Visegrad Group members had previously ensured ‘success’ in resisting the relocation of immigrants, meaning such an approach should also be adopted for the EU budget dispute. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš remains silent on the issue. (Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)
Hungarian justice minister claims victory in EU budget row. “Victory! We succeeded in separating ideological expectations from financial aid during a pandemic and prevented political blackmail,” Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga tweeted on Wednesday night. “We will never give up and will always fight for Hungarians,” said Varga, adding that this was “another triumph” for the Hungarian-Polish friendship. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
Slovak parliament adopts reform of the judiciary and record-deficit budget. Slovak MPs adopted a constitutional amendment on Wednesday, paving the way for a complex reform of the country’s judiciary. “All changes included in the approved law legitimately respond to the situation in the judiciary. We cannot just watch and wait for the self-cleaning mechanisms to be activated,” said Justice Minister Mária Kolíková of the For the people party. That day, parliament also approved the state budget for 2021, including a deficit worth 7.4 % of the GDP (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Sofia accuses Skopje of totalitarian narrative. The Bulgarian government accused the North Macedonian government on Wednesday of waging a diplomatic and media campaign to discredit Bulgaria’s positions, warning Macedonians that if they do not change their “totalitarian narrative”, they will not receive support for the start of the negotiations with the EU. Read more.
State commission for public procurement dismisses China’s railway project complaint. Chinese company China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which is building the Pelješac Bridge, has stopped the tender for the reconstruction and construction of two tracks on the railway section from Hrvatsko Leskovac to Karlovac.
Although CRBC appealed to the State Commission for Control of Public Procurement Procedures (Dkom) on 4 December, as vecernji.hr reported, Dkom reacted quickly on Tuesday and dismissed CRBC’s appeal because it was out of date. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
President Pahor calls for end to political uncertainty. Politicians in Slovenia should end political uncertainty as soon as possible and enhance trust, Slovenian President Borut Pahor told public broadcaster Radio Slovenija. It should be made clear whether the government still has majority support in parliament, after which all energy should go towards fighting the pandemic, the president added. Pahor also urged coalition and opposition parties to sit down to try and find solutions – even before the Christmas holidays – to the current challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In other news, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović wrote a letter to Prime Minister Janez Janša urging him to immediately reintroduce funding to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA). She expressed concern that the suspension of public funding could jeopardise the agency’s future. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
In search of a prime minister. Ludovic Orban resigned as prime minister but he is still president of the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL, a part of EPP) and proposed a new name for the head of the government. Read more.
EU expects Serbia not to undermine European prospects. The EU expects Serbia, as a country determined to join the EU, to harmonise its foreign policy with that of the bloc, an EU spokesperson told BETA on Wednesday after Serbia backed Russia in a UN vote on Crimea. Read more.
Preparing for the third phase of international policy toward BiH. “I hope the foreigners will take charge again. The gates are opening with the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House. He knows the region and we still remember his speech in the Senate when Bosnia wasn’t allowed to defend itself. I feel a new mood and readiness is coming from countries like the Netherlands, France, and especially Germany to open a new chapter with the US. I call it the third phase, the first was the international force, the second was the domestic responsibility and this is the third phase,” High Representative Valentin Inzko said.
In other news, BiH’s Central Bank economists project the country’s real GDP to drop by 4.6% this year, to grow by 2.7% at most in 2021 and by 3% in 2022. Due to the pandemic, BiH will see a drop of at least 13.3% in investments and 17% in exports this year. Next year, both are expected to grow by 10% each. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Already €750 million in debt. On the third day in office, Montenegro’s new government led by Zdravko Krivokapić decided to borrow €750 million. The country’s finance ministry issued government bonds on the international market, which will compensate for the deficit in the state treasury next year. The bonds were issued for seven years with an interest rate of 2.95% and were all sold. The deficit is one of Montenegro’s biggest problems. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Police killing fuels violent protests in centre of Tirana. Hundreds of protesters have gathered in front of the interior ministry, calling for the resignation of Minister Sander Lleshaj after a police officer shot dead 25-year-old Klodian Rasha, Exit reported. Protests later escalated in the centre of Tirana and a Christmas tree in front of the prime minister’s office was set on fire.
After the media reported that at least eight police officers and two protesters had been injured, the police said three officers had been badly injured, while another six had been injured lightly. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Towards another snap election. The failure to elect Kosovo’s new president in the first quarter of 2021 might cause the troubled ruling coalition to collapse and trigger an early election. “The persistence of certain parties that only their leaders become presidents and not other candidates might trigger an early election,” said Isa Mustafa, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) – a leading coalition partner in Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti’s government. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
***[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski, Daniel Eck, Sam Morgan]