Sassoli calls for investigation over Bulgarian MEP’s xenophobic remarks




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, we invite you to read Natasha Foote’s story “EU doctors condemn ‘harmful’ novel tobacco and nicotine products”, as well as Frédéric Simon’s article “EU seals deal on green finance in breakthrough for climate goals”.

Also check out Jorge Valero’s story on China’s call for opening free trade talks with the EU, Sarantis Michalopoulos’s article on how the push for electric cars intensifies but cost question remains unanswered, and Samuel Stolton’s article on how the recent allegations over Italy’s Five Star Movement data protection standards could dog their chances of entering the Green group in the European Parliament.

Worth reading: Serbian politicians bicker over upcoming elections. publishes today an op-ed of Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić which came in response to another op-ed written by Serbian opposition leaders of the Alliance for Serbia coalition yesterday.



Nationalist MEP causes outrage – but not at home. The President of the European Parliament David Sassoli has requested an investigation over reported remarks by Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki from the nationalist VMRO party (ECR), Bulgarian media report.

Commenting on recent decision-making over the Mobility package Bulgaria considers as unfair, Dzhambazki blamed the chair of the Transport Committee Karima Delli (Greens), whom he called “a Frenchwoman of Algerian origin”, helped by “the German of Turkish origin Ismail Ertug”, (S&D).

His statement appeared first on his Facebook page 12 December and was quoted in on 13 December. It was re-published with on 16 December, which was the source for the MEPs.

Both Delli and Ertug reacted and asked Dzhambazki to face the ramifications. Philippe Lamberts, co-President of the group of the Greens, lambasted the Bulgarian MEP for his statement. Iratxe García Pérez, the Chair of the group of the Socialists and Democrats, stated that the European Parliament was the home of all Europeans, and that racist statements were inadmissible.

No Bulgarian politician commented Dzhambazki’s remarks, which are not the first of their kind. The Bulgarian press took over the issue only after foreign MEPs reacted.

Dzhambazki has had a bad week. The same day he posted his xenophobic remarks on Facebook, he was caught drunk driving in Bulgaria and his license was taken away. At the EU summit on Friday, Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov voiced his disappointment. VMRO is a coalition partner to Borissov’s GERB party (EPP-affiliated).

A year ago, Dzhambazki tried to pass the controls at Sofia airport with a handgun and bullets. He explained that he carried the gun, for which he has a permit, in Bulgaria, and forgot to leave it home before boarding the plane.

(Krassen Nikolov,

EU INSTITUTIONS | Three religion-related intergroups in new EU House. 3 out of 27 intergroups of the new European Parliament will be related to religion issues, according to a document seen by EURACTIV. We were informed that a big number of consultancies in Brussels have been heavily lobbying in the last months in favor of these three intergroups. Read more here. (Sarantis Michalopoulos |



EPP’s Dara Murphy scandal in the Oireachtas. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has put pressure on Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to disclose what action he is undertaking with regards to a proposed investigation into the the former Fine Gael member of parliament Dara Murphy. The Irishman is now a member of Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel’s cabinet. Sam Stolton has the story.



Pension reform talks heat up. Following the 13th day of demonstrations against the proposed pension reform, French PM Edouard Philippe is once again receiving the unions in Matignon on Wednesday, in an attempt to find a way out of the crisis, under the threat of further blockages in transport during the Christmas holidays. Read more. (



How Brexit spoiled Christmas. A lack of EU seasonal workers is set to deny many Britons their seasonal staple: sausages wrapped in blankets (ie bacon), that forms part of the typical Christmas lunch in the UK. Customers at JD Wetherspoon’s pubs, whose chairman Tim Martin is, ironically, a staunch Brexiteer, have been warned by the chain that the treat will be in short supply this Christmas.

The British Meat Association warned in October that ‘pigs in blankets’, which are wrapped by hand, would be in short supply because of fewer EU workers at meat plants, a problem that is likely to re-emerge after the UK leaves the bloc in January. (Benjamin Fox,



The ‘party’ temporarily suspended. The Bank of Finland dumped a bucket of ice water over the government on Tuesday. Headed by former Commissioner, Olli Rehn, the bank predicts weaker economic growth than expected for 2020. The growth will slow to under one per cent (0.9%). The forecast for exports and investments is very moderate. Pekka Vanttinen has the story.



Demands for a credible investigation in Saxony-Anhalt: The future of the ruling coalition of the Christian Democrats (CDU), Social Democrats (SPD), and the Greens in the former East German state of Saxony-Anhalt is still in question. The CDU’s continued support of local CDU politician with a neo-Nazi past, Robert Möritz, has drawn intense criticism from the SPD and Greens. On 17 December, the SPD called for a credible investigation of the scandal as a condition for continuing the coalition. Read more

(Sarah Lawton |



Constitutional court overrules right-wing government’s welfare reform. The government’s welfare reforms would have entailed linking benefits to language levels, reducing cash support to families for every additional child, and an obligation of social public agencies to share personal client data with authorities. According to the court, the changes would have discriminated against migrants as well as multi-child families. In addition, it would have breached Austrian data protection law. Philipp Grüll has the story.



No to a “new Central Europe”. Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis has rejected Viktor Orban’s proposal to build “a new Central Europe”. “I am supporting the EU, not another entity built in a smaller, closer area,” Iohannis told reporters in Bucharest. “I don’t think we should open new fault lines inside the EU, but on the contrary, we should engage to close the existing ones,” the Romanian president added. Read the story of Bogdan Neagu from here.



The International Investment Bank (IIB) will buy a building for its new headquarters for €26.8 million, in a prime location on the Danube promenade, 444 reports. The government has supported the project with €10 million. The bank is described as “Putin’s Trojan Horse” by the opposition, and has raised concerns domestically and internationally, especially in the United States. CUT

Nine Democrat US senators, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, in September wrote a letter expressing their reservations about IIB, which “is widely seen as an arm of the Russian secret service.”

The bank is expected to employ more than 100 people with diplomatic immunity through its multilateral and intergovernmental status when it becomes fully operational next year.

The Hungarian government believes that IIB’s move will bring its shareholders, and among them Hungary, new economic opportunities. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov |



Catalan president insists on “right to self-determination”. Quim Torra, the president of Catalonia, on Tuesday insisted on the “right to self-determination” for that prosperous Spanish region (northeast), before giving his support –and that of Catalan separatist political forces- to the investiture of acting socialist PM Pedro Sánchez, Spanish media reported.

Fernando Heller from has the story: Catalan president insists on ‘right to self-determination’ to unlock political stalemate



Not zen anymore. The Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) has decided to cut short its collaboration with the Confucius Institute, a Chinese government-funded facility promoting the dissemination of Chinese language and culture, the management of the university has confirmed. The institution has been criticised of giving rise to concerns related to breaches of academic freedom and rising Chinese political influence in the countries in which it operates.

The decision of the ULB follows last week’s decision taken by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) to terminate the collaboration with the institute as of June 2020, after the director of the Confucius-affiliated Xinning Song institute was accused by Belgium of espionage for Beijing and banned from the Schengen zone for a period of eight years.

“Collaborations are only an option for the VUB when the actions of partners concerned meet our basic principle of free research,” VUB Rector Caroline Pauwels wrote in an online statement, adding that the CI no longer met “current policy objectives.” (Alexandra Brzozowski |



Back in Libya. Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio has flown to Libya, to meet both contenders for the control of the country, the head of UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj and General of Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar.

“Italy has lost ground in the country, we cannot deny it, but the time has come to regain our natural role as the main interlocutor, always a friend of Libyan people,” he said. Di Maio added that he would like to work on a second mission to Libya together with the EU chief of diplomacy Josep Borrell.

The escalating crisis with Turkey in light of the MoU recently signed between Ankara and Tripoli on maritime zones, has forced the Greek government to step up its efforts to give defense equipment a boost. Particularly, Athens is planning to upgrade the F-16s, as well as acquire Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia opposed the MoU and Egypt asked the UN not to register it. (Gerardo Fortuna | Sarantis Michalopoulos,



Polexit? According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, Poles are almost the most Eurosceptic nation in the EU. 47% of Poles think that they could face future better outside the EU, while 45% think otherwise and 8% has no opinion on the issue. The tendency is the worst in the EU as a year ago, Eurosceptics were 36%, while euro-enthusiasts 55%.

EURACTIV Poland explains the reasons why here (in English)

This downward trend is being bolstered by the ruling PiS which since 2015 has confronted the EU on numerous occasions. For instance, the judiciary reforms it enacted caused a reaction from the EU which resulted in the activation of the Article 7 “nuclear option” against Warsaw.

The Polish Supreme Court recently decided that many of the judiciary reforms are against European and Polish law. PiS responded with its own bill that aims to discipline the judges. The European Commission wants to examine the bill even before it is approved by the parliament, which is not a standard procedure.

In addition, last week, Poland didn’t sign up the Green Deal for climate neutrality by 2050, which caused a backlash from French president Emmanuel Macron saying that in such case Poland may lose funding for green transition.

These developments, according to, fuel PiS’s “sovereignty campaign”. As the Eurobarometer poll shows, it is convincing for many people in Poland.  (Łukasz Gadzała |



Minister of Health Andrea Kalavská hands in resignation to the president Zuzana Čaputová. In the meantime, until the elections, the ministry will be led by the PM Peter Pellegrini (Smer-SD). “What else is there to do?” was his answer to the question if he would have enough time to manage both the government and the ministry.

A Jewish cemetery in the town of Námestovo in northern Slovakia has been destroyed. More than 75 gravestones were broken or knocked over. The police are searching for the perpetrators. “Such a raid of vandalism was not seen even during the second world war,” local activist commented. (Zuzana Gabrižová |



Cyber security service chief dismissed. The Czech government has dismissed the head of National Cyber and Information Security Service (NÚKIB). Dušan Navrátil has led the office since its foundation in 2017 but according to PM Andrej Babiš, he lacks managerial and communication skills.

In December 2018, NÚKIB released a warning against software and hardware products made by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. After that, the office faced criticism both from Babiš and Czech President Miloš Zeman.

However, the government claims that Navrátil’s dismissal is not related to this matter. Navrátil declined to comment on the government’s decision.

(Aneta Zachová |



Shaky seat. Only four days before the elections, the future does not seem so bright and shiny for the current president Kolinda Grabar Kitarović (HDZ, EPP). Her numbers keep dropping and she is making things worse by going viral with controversial statements. At the same time, the popularity of her main opponents keeps rising, especially her main competitor Miroslav Škoro (independent), who is “stealing” her right-wing voters. Read more here

According to all polls, if Grabar Kitarović does not win in the first round- which is highly unlikely- and if Škoro gets to the second round, which is very likely, she will surely lose.

Such an event would be a second defeat for Plenković’s HDZ, a party that has zero tolerance to defeats.

One of the most influential politicians in Europe is currently fighting for his political career which seems very shaky only 20 days before the official start of the Croatian EU Presidency. When asked what Kolinda’s defeat would mean for his destiny, Plenković responded: “We will win”.

(Tea Trubić Macan |



Šarec in Serbia. Slovenian PM Marjan Šarec said in Novi Sad on 17 December that the stalemate in the EU’s enlargement policy was unproductive and did not contribute to the stability of the region. CUT

“A proactive approach must exist on the part of the EU. We are convinced that the entire region belongs to the EU and that there is no alternative. We would like enlargement along with honouring the rule of law and recall that this is an economically and socially important process, and this is why we will continue to offer support to Serbia,” Šarec said.(


[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Samuel Stolton]

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