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In today’s news from the Capitals:
BERLIN | BUCHAREST
Blame game ensues after COVID-19 outbreak in meat plant. Following news of a massive COVID-19 outbreak in a meat-packing plant in North Rhine-Westphalia, state leader Armin Laschet (CDU) defended the state’s easing of coronavirus restrictions, claiming they had not been responsible for the incident. Instead, he pointed the finger at the factory’s Romanian and Bulgarian workers, as well as working conditions and accommodation.
In response, the Romanian embassy in Berlin asked the state leader to clarify his position. Moreover, Romania’s foreign ministry contacted the German embassy in Bucharest to point out how these “unclear” statements had been perceived.
EURACTIV Germany’s Sarah Lawton and EURACTIV Romania’s Bogdan Neagu look into the diplomatic spat that unfolded.
In other German news, Chancellor Angela Merkel presented Germany’s priorities for its upcoming EU Council Presidency to the Bundestag on Thursday (18 June). Read more here.
Digital tax war continues. After Washington confirmed Wednesday (17 June) that the US had pulled out of talks on global rules for taxing the digital economy, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire told radio station France Inter on Thursday (18 June) that it was “a provocation to all OECD partners as we were just a few centimetres away from an agreement on taxing digital giants.” Le Maire also stated the move had provoked US allies. EURACTIV France has the details.
Belgium bottom of the class in COVID-19 response. Belgium was ranked worst out of 21 OECD members, with a score of 2.11 out of 4, lower than Italy, Spain and UK, who all recorded a score of 2.22, according to a new international study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Alexandra Brzozowski has the details.
Labour’s electoral mountain. Britain’s Labour party has a mountain to climb if it wants to win power from Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, according to an inquest into the party’s heavy defeat in last December’s election. The report by the Labour Together project published on Thursday (18 June) interviewed 11,000 party members, as well as MPs and pollsters. Benjamin Fox has more.
Number of COVID-patients on the rise again. While Austria has seen a steady decline of known COVID-19 infections in the past few weeks, the number of cases increased again on Thursday evening (18 June).
Austria’s health ministry reported 434 COVID-19 patients as being actively sick, which is 45 more than last Thursday. At the same time, 72 patients were in hospital beds and eight remained in intensive care. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
For more on the situation in Austria, check here.
Worst-hit should benefit most from EU Recovery Fund. While Finland approves of the European Commission’s proposal for a €750 billion EU Recovery Fund in principle, it would like to see its criteria altered so that the money would be allocated to those who have suffered most from the coronavirus pandemic. EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen digs deeper.
‘Quick and concrete answers’ on the use of EU funds. The need to give quick and decisive answers on the use of European funds for the country’s economic recovery was a key point of a meeting between Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio, Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri and European Affairs Minister Enzo Amendola ahead of the EU summit today (19 June).
While they acknowledged the difficulties of future negotiations on Next Generation EU, they were nevertheless satisfied that Italy’s initial position on the EU Recovery Fund has now become “common heritage” in the EU. The meeting was criticised by the opposition, which accused the government of acting against the law by preventing parliament from voting on its political direction. (Alessandro Follis | EURACTIV.it)
For more details on how Italy dealt with the pandemic, read here.
New “recovery package” to boost battered tourism sector. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Thursday (18 June) that an extra €4.2 billion package will be offered to boost the national tourism sector, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
When presenting the “rescue plan” for the tourism sector, along with six ministers and key representatives of trade unions, businesses, and regional administrations, Sánchez stressed that this extra money will be added to other social protection mechanisms already in place by the government. EFE takes a closer look.
EEZ negotiations restarted. Greece and Egypt are picking up negotiations for an agreement on exclusive economic zones between the two countries where they last left off, Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias said on Thursday, following the conclusion of a visit to Cairo. EURACTIV’s partner Athens News Agency reports.
British Tesco supermarket chain exits Poland. Tesco has pulled out of Poland, its largest European market. According to Dave Lewis, chief executive, said “market challenges” in Poland had meant business in the country lagged behind the “stronger market positions with good growth prospects” in neighbouring Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, on which the company intends to focus in the future. The country’s conservative government tightened rules on Sunday trading two years ago. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
Masks no more from July. The obligation to wear face masks indoors or on public transport will be cancelled at the beginning of July, Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtěch announced on Thursday (18 June). Also, restaurants and pubs will now be allowed to open beyond 11 pm.
However, the regions in which the number of COVID-19 cases remains high will have to keep restrictions, with face masks to be worn in cinemas, theatres or on public transport. “We want to move away from national restrictions to recommendations, local restrictions and the individual responsibility of everyone,” Vojtěch said. (Lukáš Hendrych| EURACTIV.cz)
Stay in the loop on everything COVID-related in the Czech Republic, here.
Justice minister responds to ECJ ruling. The Hungarian government is committed to ensuring the transparency of civil organisations, justice minister Judit Varga told state news agency MTI in response to an European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on NGO financing. “The government’s position remains that the registration and disclosure obligations prescribed by Hungarian regulation have not made it more difficult to fund or operate supported organisations,” the minister added.
EU’s top court ruled on Thursday (18 June) that the restrictions imposed on the financing of civil organisations by foreigners in Hungary were “discriminatory and unjustified” and breached EU law. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov has the full story here.
Limits of V4 solidarity. During last week’s Visegrad Four meeting, Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovovič appeared to agree with Hungarian and Czech PM’s who had criticised the distribution key for the €750 billion EU recovery plan as being unjust. “We need to be fair”, Matovič said in Budapest, adding that Slovakia should show solidarity with V4 partners, even if the key is favourable to Slovakia.
However, on Wednesday (17 June), when explaining Slovakia’s negotiating position ahead of today’s EU summit to MEPs, Matovič opted for a different narrative. He said it was important that the distribution criteria would not be renegotiated to the detriment of Slovakia.
(Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Tourist industry could take a huge hit. Bulgaria’s tourism industry, which is worth about 12% of the country’s GDP, could see its income fall by 50% due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the worst-case scenario. In a more positive outlook, it could, however, see a decrease in revenues between 30-40%, tourism minister Nikolina Angelkova announced.
To attract tourists to the country, €6 million has been set aside in this year’s budget for TV advertisements. As of next week, adverts promoting Bulgaria will be broadcast in all neighbouring countries, Scandinavia, Germany, the Visegrad Four and Israel. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
Corona-App to keep tourists safe. Interior Minister and head of the National Civil Protection, Davor Bozinovic, advised citizens not to travel abroad but guaranteed “safe stay in Croatia’s tourist destinations’’.
The COVID-19 mobile app will be ready for use in July, Jutarnji list daily was told on Thursday by the company APIS, whose experts are developing the app to trace contacts for the Croatian market. According to unofficial information, the country’s health ministry had already sent a request to Apple and Google to register the application in Croatia. (Karla Junicic, EURACTIV.hr)
To stay up-to-date on Croatia’s COVID-19 approach, see here.
Slovenia wants one of EU’s new PPE storage units. Slovenia has applied for a European tender for the establishment of storage facilities for personal protective equipment under the rescEU mechanism, defence minister Matej Tonin said on Thursday (18 June). For now, the equipment is stored in Romania and Germany, but the European Commission has said that it wants to set up around six such logistics centres across the bloc.
In other news, Slovenia will from Friday impose stricter rules, including a 14-day quarantine, for travellers coming from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo, following a spike in coronavirus infections. (Zoran Radosavljević | EURACTIV.com)
Russia only supports a Kosovo solution that would suit Serbia. Moscow would continue to support all contacts and initiatives that would help Belgrade and Pristina reach a mutually acceptable solution to the Kosovo issue based on UN Security-Council Resolution 1244, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated during a visit in Belgrade on Thursday (18 June).
Lavrov said the 1999 resolution confirmed the territorial integrity of Serbia, with the provision having been included on Russia’s proposal, and added that a solution to the Kosovo issue should be sought in accordance with international law and approved by the UN Security Council. EURACTIV Serbia has all the details.
However, People’s Party president and one of the leaders of the opposition coalition, Alliance for Serbia, Vuk Jeremić, said on Thursday (18 June) that President Aleksandar Vučić would surrender another piece of Serbia’s sovereignty in Kosovo on 27 June in Washington. And in return, he would receive Washington’s blessings for the country’s elections scheduled for 21 June which will “be everything but regular.” Read more.
Meanwhile, EU special envoy for the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia Miroslav Lajcak has said on Thursday (18 June) that the conditions now existed for continuing the dialogue and that he will assist the two sides in reaching a “stable and acceptable agreement” that will normalize their relations. Find out more here.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski, Daniel Eck, Benjamin Fox]