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Every Wednesday, the European Circle delivers an overview of the most important topics from the European Union and the European nations.

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NATO and EU pledge further assistance to Ukraine, EU plans new sanctions against Belarus, Iran sentences Belgian aid worker to 40 years imprisonment
European Circle in week 02, 2023
curated by Nina von Schweinitz

EUROPE

NATO and EU pledge further assistance to Ukraine: Almost one year after the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, NATO and the EU have pledged further aid to Ukraine – including military assistance. „We stand together to support Ukraine,“ said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. He welcomed the announcement by the US, Germany and France to provide Ukraine with new types of armoured vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles and other types of tanks. nato.int

NATO and EU sign declaration on closer cooperation: In the face of the Russian war against Ukraine and China’s power politics, NATO and the EU want to cooperate even more closely. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel signed a declaration to this effect on Tuesday. Among other things, it aims to improve cooperation in the protection of critical infrastructure, such as energy and water supplies. nato.int

Von der Leyen in favour of tank deliveries to Ukraine: Germany last week announced it was sending Marder fighting vehicles to Kyiv, answering calls for more heavy weapons to repel Russian forces. But a government spokesman reiterated that Germany has no current plans to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, however, joined calls to supply Ukraine with Leopard tanks. Ukraine should get all the necessary military equipment they need, von der Leyen said. reuters.com, zeit.de

  • German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visits Eastern Ukraine. dw.com

EU plans new sanctions against Belarus over support for Russia: The EU will impose new sanctions on Belarus as it keeps up the pressure on Russia to end its war in Ukraine and extends measures to those countries that militarily support Russia’s war such as Belarus or Iran, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday. reuters.com

Iran sentences Belgian aid worker to 40 years imprisonment: Iran said that Belgian national Olivier Vandecasteele was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes over charges of espionage, coordinating with the US government, money laundering, and currency smuggling. Belgium’s Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne in December said Vandecasteele was imprisoned on February 24, 2022 for a fabricated series of crimes and had been sentenced as retribution for a 20-year jail sentence the Belgian courts imposed on Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi in 2021. politico.eu, dw.com

TikTok battles privacy concerns and espionage fears in Europe: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew met with a series of EU Commission politicians on Tuesday. EU officials warned him to respect EU laws and work on regaining the trust of European regulators. Western regulators suspect TikTok, whose parent company, ByteDance, is headquartered in Beijing, has the potential to bring sensitive data from private citizens into the hands of the Chinese government and exploit its algorithm of content recommendation to spread communist propaganda. euronews.com, politico.eu

Europe and Japan lead boom in low carbon hydrogen patents: Innovation across the hydrogen industry is shifting in favour of low-emission solutions, according to a new joint study of hydrogen technology patents by the European Patent Office and the International Energy Agency. It found that patents are increasingly focused on low carbon and green solutions, with Europe and Japan leading the market and the United States losing ground. businessgreen.com

Europe doesn’t just have a cocaine problem: The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction says the continent is increasingly becoming a centre for cocaine production. The concern is that increased drug seizures indicate that even more illicit substances are in circulation. euronews.com

Von der Leyen visits Italy: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met in Rome to discuss the burning topics of migration, the war in Ukraine and the national recovery plan. Meloni has long been calling for the recovery plan to be revised to better reflect inflation as well as the energy crisis that the war in Ukraine has aggravated. euractiv.com

Brazil: EU, UK leaders condemn Bolsonaro-backers’ assault on government buildings in Brasília politico.eu
Copernicus report: Europe just had its hottest summer and hottest August on record public.wmo.int
US tariffs on Spanish black olives: EU-US battle over tariffs at standstill euractiv.com
AI Act: MEPs want fundamental rights assessments, obligations for high-risk users euractiv.com

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

„I count on TikTok to fully execute its commitments to go the extra mile in respecting EU law and regaining trust of European regulators.“

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson tweeted after a meeting with TiKTok CEO Shou Zi Chew that there could not be any doubt that data of users in Europe are safe and not exposed to illegal access from third-country authorities. rfi.fr

NATION

German police prepare for coal mine protest clearance: Police on Tuesday began breaking down barricades and forcibly removing climate activists staging a sit-in protest against the expansion of a coal mine. Tensions at the site have increased in recent weeks. Authorities reached a deal last year with energy firm RWE to bring forward Germany’s coal phaseout in the region by eight years to 2030, with the company agreeing to save five villages planned for demolition and already cleared of people, but to destroy the village of Lützerath as part of its expansion plans. dw.com, politico.eu

Belgium to extend life of two nuclear reactors by 10 years: Belgium has reached an agreement with French utility Engie to extend the life of two nuclear reactors by 10 years, overturning a plan to exit nuclear power in 2025 as the war in Ukraine has changed energy strategy. „The extension of these two nuclear reactors is crucial to guarantee our energy security,“ Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference after meeting cabinet members. reuters.com

France plans to raise retirement age to 64: The French government on Tuesday said it would increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne defended the reform as a way to fiscally balance the country’s pension system. The French government has argued that people live longer than they used to, meaning citizens will need to work longer in order to keep the pension financially afloat. dw.com

  • Nationwide strikes set for 19 January.

Charlie Hebdo doubles down on Iran leader cartoons: French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has doubled down on its ridicule of Iran’s religious rulers, with fresh cartoons of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei despite protests from Iran and its allies. The paper was hit by a cyber attack after publishing cartoons of Khamenei in last week’s special edition, which marked the anniversary of the 2015 attack on its Paris offices that left 12 dead. Iran issued an official warning to France over the cartoons in last week’s Charlie Hebdo. france24.com

Trial of migrant rescuers resumes in Greece: A trial in Greece of 24 migrant rescue workers accused of espionage resumed Tuesday after more than a year. The trial was branded as the largest case of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe in a European Parliament report. „The charges are based on a Greek police report that contains blatant factual errors, including claims that some of the accused participated in rescue missions on multiple dates when they were not in Greece,“ Human Rights Watch said. france24.com

Austrian court acquits far-right leader in corruption retrial: A Vienna court found Austria’s ex-vice chancellor and former far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache not guilty in a retrial of a corruption case relating to party donations by the owner of a private clinic. Strache, who resigned from government in 2019 in a separate corruption scandal, was originally handed a 15-month jail sentence in 2021 for graft, only for a higher court to order retrial because text message exchanges that suggested he was innocent had not sufficiently been taken into account. He did not serve jail time while his appeal was pending. reuters.com

Czech court acquits Babis in EU subsidy fraud case: In a ruling on Monday, the Prague Court ruled that former prime minister Andrej Babis and his former advisor Jana Nagyová did not commit a crime, though the state attorney can still appeal the ruling. The court’s ruling comes a few days before the first round of the Czech presidential elections set to take place on Friday and Saturday. Babis is even among the favourites, with the latest opinion poll conducted by Ipsos and Median pointing to him possibly reaching 26.5% and making it to the second round. euractiv.com

EU and UK make progress on Northern Ireland dispute: The EU is poised to start using a live information system detailing goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is seen as key to unlocking a wider agreement on physical checks under the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit deal. In a joint statement, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said work on the database was a critical prerequisite to building trust and providing assurance, and provided a new basis for EU-UK discussions. politico.eu

Germany pushes to end gay blood donor discrimination: Currently, gay men cannot donate blood for a period of four months if they either had a new sexual partner or more than one sexual partner in that time. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that in the future gay blood donors would be assessed only on their individual risk behaviour. „Whether one can be a blood donor is a question of risk behaviour rather than sexual orientation,“ Lauterbach said. „There must be no hidden discrimination on this issue.“ dw.com

Spain bans factory farming of cows spiegel.de
Greece: Former King Constantine II dies at 82 dw.com
Denmark: Hackers hit websites of Danish banks handelsblatt.com
Human trafficking allegations: Misogynist Andrew Tate loses legal appeal to end detention in Romania theguardian.com
Germany: Uniper chief to step down following government bailout ft.com

NUMERS

European Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said an economic contraction expected in the euro zone around the start of this year may be less deep than was feared in November, Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore reported. In November, the EU Commission forecast the euro zone economy would slow down sharply to post growth of 0.3% this year, well below a July forecast of 1.4%, before rebounding 1.5% in 2024. nasdaq.com

AT LEAST

UK business secretary photoshops Boris Johnson out of picture: Business Secretary Grant Shapps posted a picture of a ministerial visit to Spaceport Cornwall, as he hailed the first rocket launch from UK soil. Social media users spotted that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who also went on the trip in 2021, had disappeared from the picture. A Twitter user pointed out that part of Johnson’s elbow appeared to have been left behind in the image. Shapps said he was not aware it had been edited and has now deleted it. bbc.com