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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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EU outlines plan for clean tech future, EU provides Ukraine with three billion euros, EU Parliament corruption suspect cuts deal with prosecutors
European Circle in week 03, 2023
curated by Nina von Schweinitz

EUROPE

Focus on global crises at World Economic Forum in Davos: The war in Ukraine and its massive economic fallout is once again expected to dominate the agenda of the annual event in the Swiss Alpine resort. Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska on Tuesday pressed world leaders and corporate executives at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering to do more to help her country at a time when Russia’s invasion is leaving children dying and the world struggling with food insecurity. Her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, will be beamed in by video this Wednesday. dw.com, apnews.com

EU outlines plan for clean tech future: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the outlines for her “Green Deal Industrial Plan” that will make it much easier to push through subsidies for green industries and pool EU-wide projects that are boosted with major funding as the EU pursues the goal of being climate neutral by 2050. Von der Leyen used a speech at the World Economic Forum to say that on top of feeding its own industry, the EU will become much more forceful in countering unfair trading practices, if they come from Washington, or more importantly, Beijing. apnews.com

EU provides Ukraine with three billion euros: Ukraine has received the first 3-billion-euro tranche of an 18-billion-euro financial support package from the EU. „Today, Ukraine received the first 3 billion euro tranche of 18 billion euros for 2023. The funds are provided on unprecedentedly concessional terms for Ukraine. Grateful to EU partners for the support in ensuring financial stability of Ukraine,“ Finance Minister Sergiy Marchenko wrote on Twitter. reuters.com

Russia to withdraw from Council of Europe agreements: A Russian draft law provides that the international agreements concluded by Russia and the Council of Europe will be considered invalid from 16 March 2022. These include the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and the European Social Charter. Russia was already expelled from the Council of Europe months ago because of its war against Ukraine. n-tv.de

  • Council of Europe demands release of Russian Kremlin critic Navalny. welt.de
  • European Court of Justice condemns Russia for discrimination against homosexual couples. rnd.de
  • Netherlands to send Patriot system to Ukraine. reuters.com
  • Top generals of the US and Ukraine meet in Poland. rferl.org
  • Serbia outraged by Wagner recruitment attempts. zdf.de
  • EU sets up reserve in Finland to respond to nuclear and chemical threats. reuters.com

Former Wagner commander flees to Norway and seeks asylum: A former commander in Russia’s Wagner private military company has fled to Norway and is seeking asylum after crossing that country’s arctic border, according to Norwegian police and a Russian activist. Andrei Medvedev, in an interview with a Russian activist who helps people seek asylum abroad, said that he feared for his life after refusing to renew his service with Wagner. Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service, which takes part in the investigation of war crimes in Ukraine with the International Criminal Court, said it was in contact with Medvedev and his Norwegian lawyer. cnn.com, apnews.com

EU Parliament corruption suspect cuts deal with prosecutors: Former Italian lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri, who is at the heart of the European Parliament corruption scandal, has reached an agreement with the Belgian authorities to trade detailed information in return for a lighter sentence. Panzeri is one of four people who have been in the custody of the Belgian police since their arrests last month in the biggest corruption scandal ever to hit the EU institution. They are accused of taking payments from Qatar and Morocco. nytimes.com

Belgian MEP failed to declare expenses-paid trip to Qatar: Belgian Socialist MEP Marc Tarabella, a suspect in the EU Parliament’s Qatargate corruption scandal, failed to declare a working trip he made to Qatar in 2020, his lawyer said. Tarabella has not been charged in connection with the inquiry but he is close to Pier-Antonio Panzeri. Last week another Belgian MEP, Socialist Maria Arena, said she had forgotten to declare a similar expenses-paid trip to Qatar last year. euronews.com

EU Parliament votes for stricter rules on waste exports to third countries: The revised legislation should protect the environment and human health more effectively, while taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by waste to achieve the EU’s goals of a circular and zero-pollution economy. With the adopted text, MEPs support explicitly banning shipments of all wastes destined for disposal within the EU, except if authorised in limited and well-justified cases. EU exports of hazardous waste to non-OECD countries would also be prohibited. europarl.europa.eu

EU to amend pharmaceutical legislation due to medicine shortages: Proposed changes to an EU pharmaceuticals law will include stronger obligations for the supply of medicines and earlier notifications of shortages, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said. Kyriakides told a session of the European Parliament that shortages of antibiotics are a growing problem for many European countries. She said the European Commission’s proposal to revise the pharmaceuticals legislation is planned for March. reuters.com

Thousands protest against Iran in front of the EU Parliament in Strasbourg: Up to 12,000 people marched Monday to the EU Parliament in the eastern French city of Strasbourg in support of Iran’s anti-government protesters while the Eiffel Tower lit the night with the slogan “Woman. Life. Freedom,” which embodies the protest movement spilling beyond Iran. Protesters want the EU to take a firmer stance against Iran, declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organisation. france24.com

Iran arrests German for photographing oil facility: A German national was arrested in Iran Tuesday for allegedly taking photos of oil facilities in the southwestern Khuzestan province, several Iranian media outlets reported on Tuesday. Germany’s dpa news agency reported that the German Foreign Ministry attempted to clarify the situation. dw.com

Belarus opens trial of opposition leaders: The Belarusian regime put two of the country’s leading opposition politicians on trial in absentia on Tuesday. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, in exile in Lithuania, and Pavel Latushka, who has fled to Poland, both challenged authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko after he stole the 2020 presidential election. In response to the trial, the US government announced new visa restrictions for 25 individuals in Belarus. “These politically motivated trials are the latest examples of the Lukashenka regime’s efforts to intimidate and repress those who seek justice, respect for human rights, and a democratic Belarus,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. politico.eu, politico.com

Twitter: EU warns Elon Musk to comply with digital laws euractiv.com
US software company: Microsoft faces EU antitrust warning over Activision deal – sources reuters.com
Electricity: Need for speed as EU launches debate on electricity market reform euractiv.com

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

„Not even Russia’s relentless attacks on civilians or the spectre of a brutal winter have shaken your resolve. In this last year, your country has moved the world and inspired all of Europe. And I can assure you that Europe will always stand with you.“

The European Union will continue to support Ukraine for as long as necessary in the face of Russia’s war of aggression, said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. ec.europa.eu

NATION

France to speed up construction of nuclear power plants: The French government wants construction on adjoining buildings to a reactor to take place while the public debate on the construction of the reactor is still ongoing. This does not mean that safety, the protection of biodiversity or public participation would be restricted, emphasised Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher. According to a new draft law, permits from the municipal level will no longer be necessary for the construction of new reactors, as the federal government is to monitor compliance with standards. welt.de

  • French pensions reform: A problem that must be corrected? euractiv.com

Rishi Sunak blocks Nicola Sturgeon’s trans law: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has blocked Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s controversial gender reforms, the UK government has announced. The law is designed to make it easier for people in Scotland to change their legal gender. Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, told the First Minister that he will issue a Section 35 veto to prevent the law, which was passed at Holyrood in December, from coming into force. This is the first time this has happened since devolved powers were given to Scotland. telegraph.co.uk, cnn.com

Boris Pistorius appointed as new German defence minister: Boris Pistorius, the interior minister of Germany’s Lower Saxony state, was announced as Germany’s new defence minister on Tuesday following the resignation of Christine Lambrecht the previous day. Pistorius faces daunting tasks in his new office. The German armed forces are in a sad state and an announced sea change in German foreign and security policy, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s so-called „Zeitenwende“, is in the spotlight as Berlin lags behind on its defence spending targets. politico.eu

Climate protests in Germany continue, Greta Thunberg was detained by German police: Lützerath has been the focal point of climate protests in Germany since a court approved its destruction. Germany has promised to phase out coal-fired power by 2030, bringing forward the date from 2038, and Lützerath is expected to be the final village to be swallowed up by the Garzweiler opencast mine. During protests against the controversial expansion of the coal mine, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was briefly detained Tuesday by police. She was released shortly after. npr.org, bbc.com

Spain’s Supreme Court drops sedition charges against Puigdemont: This lowers the maximum sentence that Catalan secessionist leader Carles Puigdemont could receive from 15 years to 4. Puigdemont still faces charges of embezzlement and disobedience. The European Parliament lawmaker, who served as Catalonia’s president when the region organised an independence referendum from Spain, is living in exile in Belgium. dw.com

Record rare earth discovery in Sweden: Sweden has announced an unusual discovery – a deposit of rare earth elements. Those minerals can be used in a number of daily items, from phones to TVs and computers to batteries. And the specific metals found in Sweden are important to making electric vehicles and wind turbines. npr.org

Hanged Erdogan effigy protest in Sweden angers Turkey: Turkey summoned Sweden’s ambassador to Ankara last week over a protest in Stockholm in which a puppet of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hung from a lamppost. Images of the hanged effigy of Erdogan were published by a pro-Kurdish group called the Swedish Solidarity Committee for Rojava. The group implied it wanted to evoke the hanging of Italy’s wartime fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. bbc.com, reuters.com

  • NATO accession dispute: Turkey demands nearly 130 extraditions from Sweden. politico.eu

Dutch police arrest alleged Isis security chief for war crimes: The Dutch public prosecutor’s office said the 37-year-old man was said to have played an important role with two terrorist organisations — Jabhat al-Nusra and the so-called „Islamic State“ (Isis) — in the Syrian civil war. Police made the arrest in the southwestern village of Arkel, where the suspect, who is Syrian, was living after he was granted asylum, a prosecution service statement said. dw.com

Pavel and Babis to face off in Czech presidential vote: The Czech Republic completed the first round of voting for a new president on Saturday. With nearly all the votes counted, official results showed that none of the eight candidates running to replace President Milos Zeman had won a clear majority. A runoff election will be held in two weeks between the top two finishers: retired army Gen. Petr Pavel and populist billionaire Andrej Babis. nytimes.com, apnews.com

Italy’s most-wanted Mafia boss arrested in Sicily: Italy’s most-wanted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro has been arrested in Sicily after 30 years on the run. Messina Denaro was reportedly detained in a private clinic in Sicily’s capital, Palermo, where he was receiving treatment for cancer. bbc.com

Greece: Prime Minister Mitsotakis warns of turmoil ahead of elections euractiv.com
Italy: Petrol station operators threaten strike faz.net
Spain: Thousands of health care workers protest in Madrid dw.com
Portugal: Thousands of teachers strike, demanding better pay dw.com
France: World’s oldest known person, French nun Lucile Randon, dies at 118 theguardian.com

NUMERS

German consumers faced the fastest-rising prices, particularly for food and fuel, in the history of the post-war German republic in 2022, official figures showed. Inflation in Germany stood at an aggregate of 7.9% for 2022. In 2021, inflation was still at 3.1%. dw.com

AT LEAST

French city asks pop star Madonna to lend it painting believed lost in the war: The mayor of Amiens in northern France has asked pop superstar Madonna to lend the city the 19th-century painting „Diana and Endymion“ by Jerome-Martin Langlois. The painting was once in the city’s museum but was lost during World War I and is now believed to be owned by the “Like A Virgin” hitmaker. politico.eu, reuters.com