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Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at the article “Major EU nations halt AstraZeneca while WHO insists the jab is safe“.
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In today’s news from the Capitals:
PRISTINA | MADRID
Kosovo’s men’s senior football team, which is set to play a series of international matches against Spain, Greece and Georgia, was referred to by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) as the “territory of Kosovo” in a public statement published on its website on 9 March. Spain is one of the five EU countries that do not recognise Kosovo. Read more.
In other news, the spokesperson of the Islamic radical group Hamas, Hazem Qassem, said the opening of the Kosovo embassy in Jerusalem is a violation of international laws and aimed at encouraging other countries to normalise ties with Israel. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Council meeting on migration ‘extremely constructive’. EU foreign and home affairs ministers had an “extremely constructive” joint meeting on Monday that gives confidence that progress can be made on the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, Portugal’s interior minister Eduardo Cabrita has said. More
‘Possible’ for EU drug agency to approve Sputnik. EU sources told EURACTIV.com that it is “possible” for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve Russia’s Sputnik vaccine. “Negotiations could start if at least four member states ask so,” the sources added. More
Scholz warms for ‘traffic light’ coalition on federal level. SPD’s chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz and the party leadership emphasised on Monday that a so-called ‘traffic light’ coalition with the Greens and the Liberals could be an option to form a federal government without the conservative CDU/CSU after the federal elections in autumn. Read more.
French government allows use of ‘intelligent video’ to assess mask-wearing on transport. The French government has allowed the “use of intelligent video to measure the rate of mask-wearing on transport” in a decree published last week, meaning that from now on, images captured on metros, buses and trains can be used to ensure the measures are being respected on public transport. Read the full story.
Belgium to stick with AstraZeneca despite EU concerns. Despite several countries temporarily stopping the use of the AstraZeneca vacine, Belgium’s health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (SP.A) said that “taking a break at this stage would irresponsible”. Read more.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged Luxembourg to raise its environmental tax. As part of the IMF’s report on Luxembourg’s economy, the IMF said on Monday the Grand-Duchy should consider increasing environmental levies to offset potential revenue losses stemming from a global taxation reform that targets corporate tax evasion. (Anne Damani | EURACTIV.fr)
Selmayr defends European vaccine distribution. Last week, chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) had suggested that the distribution of vaccines among member states was intransparent and flawed, as not all states received their fair share according to their population. Martin Selmayr, the European Commission’s former secretary-general and current representative in Austria, defended the mechanism in a TV interview on Monday.
“It is the result of a process which all states decided upon” and “all decisions had been sanctioned by everyone”, he emphasised. On Twitter, Selmayr reacted to the Chancellor’s words by writing that “When something goes wrong, it’s ‘the EU’s fault – even if governments don’t talk to their own civil servants.” (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
UK AND IRELAND
DUBLIN| BELFAST| LONDON
Dublin backs the EU infringement. The European Commission has formally taken legal action against the UK over their unilateral decision to extend the Brexit grace period on the border checks between Northern Ireland and the UK, to which Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney tweeted that “legal action is not a welcome development, but the approach of the UK government has given the EU no alternative.” Read more.
UK to increase nuclear stockpile. Britain is to announce an increase to its nuclear weapons stockpile as part of a wide-ranging review of security, defence and foreign policy, two newspapers said on Monday (15 March). More
NORDICS AND BALTICS
Finnish technology company to use ‘breath print’ for COVID-19 detection. Finnish healthcare technology company Deep Sensing Algorithms (DSA) has entered the production phase of their handheld device that measures exhaled breath, intended for healthcare professionals to screen large crowds outside hospitals. Read more.
Lithuanian town shuns AstraZeneca vaccine claiming safety fears. The predominantly Russian-speaking town of Visaginas, in Northeastern Lithuania, has shunned the 800 AstraZeneca jabs available, citing “conflicting information.” Read more.
Portugal optimistic CAP reform talks could see breakthrough soon. Portugal is optimistic an agreement can soon be reached on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the country’s Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Antunes told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview. More
Priests won’t be able to give any form of blessing to same-sex marriages. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the body of the Catholic Church that deals with doctrinal matters – has announced that its priests will not be able to give any form of blessing to same-sex marriages or civil unions after Pope Francis had recently commented favourably on the introduction of civil unions for same-sex couples on several occasions. According to the Congregation, the blessing cannot go ahead because same-sex marriages or civil unions do not have the same value as the sacraments and constitute a legitimacy that implies a positive judgment. (Daniele Lettig | EURACTIV.it)
Greece, Turkey, meet for fresh talks on maritime dispute. NATO members Greece and Turkey meet in Athens Tuesday (16 March) to try once more to settle their standoff over eastern Mediterranean borders and energy rights. More
Czech PM Babiš’ ANO party sees first loss in opinion poll. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’ governing party ANO (Renew) has faced its first defeat in opinion polls since the last general elections held in 2017. Read more.
Poland’s climate policy shows ‘disappointing lack of ambition’. “Poland’s Energy Policy until 2040 (PEP 2040) has a “disappointing lack of ambition,” according to climate change think-tank Ember. Read more.
Hungarian far-right party organises COVID-19 protest on national day. Despite police warnings on illegal gatherings, the far-right Our Homeland Movement party organised a demonstration against coronavirus measures on Monday, which marked the Hungarian national day commemorating the 1848 revolution, Telex reported. Read more.
Slovak broadcaster criticised for allegedly false AstraZeneca vaccine claims. Slovak public broadcaster RTVS is facing criticism for its recent report “Death after vaccination in Slovakia as well” which misled viewers into believing the death of a 38-year-old teacher and the AstraZeneca vaccine were linked. Read more.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Bulgaria – EU’s worst in supporting people and businesses during pandemic. Bulgaria ranked last in the EU in terms of support for businesses and employees affected by the pandemic, according to a report on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the labour market and employment in the EU prepared by the European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), as quoted by EURACTIV’s partner SegaBG. Read more.
First Romanian movie to get Oscar nomination. The Romanian documentary Colectiv (Collective) about the Bucharest nightclub fire that claimed 64 lives has been nominated for the “International feature film” and “Documentary feature” category at this year’s Academy Awards, commonly known as the Oscars. The nightclub fire was the starting point for journalist investigations into public healthcare fraud and widespread corruption. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)
Croatian medical agency inspecting Russian vaccine documentation. The Croatian agency for medicinal products and medical devices (HALMED) said on Monday that a preliminary inspection of the documentation on the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine was underway. Read more.
LJUBLJANA | ZAGREB
Slovenian interior minister sceptical about Croatia’s Schengen bid having support. “I am not optimistic about EU countries supporting Croatia joining the Schengen zone,” Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the press on Monday, adding that although he did not expect the Portuguese EU Council Presidency to put the matter on the agenda again, he had no issues adding it to the agenda during Slovenia’s EU presidency, the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) reported.
However, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković repeated in an interview with Politico published on Monday that it was reasonable to expect Croatia to join the eurozone and the Schengen area by the second half of 2024. “The idea is to do both – accession to Schengen and the eurozone – by the end of this government’s term, so the second half of 2024,” said Plenković, noting that “it’s tough but reasonable”. Plenković said in November Croatia aimed to adopt the euro at the beginning of 2023. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Coronavirus situation in BIH worsens. As Bosnia and Herzegovina confirmed on Monday confirmed nearly 600 new coronavirus cases and 63 COVID-19-related deaths in the last 24 hours, the current prime minister of the Sarajevo Canton, Edin Forto, likened Sarajevo’s situation to that of Bergamo at the start of the pandemic last year, noting that “Sarajevo is currently the largest hotspot in Europe.”
According to data provided by the country’s regional health authorities, the infection was confirmed in 582 persons after nearly 2,500 tests done in the last 24 hours, almost half the number of those normally performed on a weekday. Last week, about 4,000 to 4,500 people were tested each day, of whom more than 1,000 were tested positive each day. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Paula Kenny, Zoran Radosavljevic]