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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 approves more military aid to Ukraine, EU calls on Ukraine to take further measures against corruption, Finland’s top diplomat hints at joining NATO without Sweden
European Circle in week 04, 2023
curated by Nina von Schweinitz

EUROPE

EU approves more military aid to Ukraine: European Union foreign ministers agreed to allocate another 500 million euros for military aid for Ukraine, officials said. The ministers approved the package along with a further 45 million for non-lethal equipment for the EU’s military training mission for Ukraine, Swedish and Czech officials said. „We remain steadfast in our support for the Ukrainian Armed Forces,“ Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, tweeted. reuters.com

Germany set to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine: Germany is set to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help bolster the country’s war effort, German media reported on Tuesday evening, following months of debate. Sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine would provide Kyiv’s forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a potential Russian spring offensive. Germany had previously resisted a growing drumbeat of Western pressure to ship some of the tanks to Ukraine. cnn.com

  • Netherlands may provide Ukraine with 18 Leopard 2 tanks. kyivindependent.com
  • US poised to provide Abrams tanks to Ukraine. wsj.com
  • Swiss body proposes removing barriers to re-export arms to Ukraine. reuters.com

Series of resignations in Ukraine: Several senior Ukrainian officials announced their resignations on Tuesday amid a damaging corruption scandal. Deputy Defence Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov submitted his resignation a day after a news report accused his office of corruption. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a top Zelensky aide also submitted a hand-written resignation note to the president late Monday. Tymoshenko’s resignation comes days after another popular Zelensky adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, resigned from his post for spreading misinformation about who was responsible for an airstrike on an apartment building collapse that killed 46 civilians in the city of Dnipro. npr.org, euronews.com

EU calls on Ukraine to take further measures against corruption: A spokeswoman for the EU Commission welcomed the measures already taken. However, further progress had to be made and there had to be guarantees for donors that funds would be used wisely. Anti-corruption measures were part of the political conditions for further EU loans and also played a key role in Ukraine’s EU accession process.

Finland’s top diplomat hints at joining NATO without Sweden: Finland’s foreign minister suggested that the country may consider joining NATO without neighbouring Sweden if Turkey continues to block their joint bid to enter the military alliance. Sweden and Finland rushed to apply for NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden again not to expect support for its application following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups. apnews.com

Germany and France pledge to strengthen EU: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris on Sunday to mark 60 years since the signing of the Elysee Treaty. They pledged to strengthen the European Union in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in a joint article for a German newspaper. “It is now our task once again to ensure that the coming generations of Europeans can live on a continent of peace, prosperity and freedom,” they wrote. “We are providing Ukraine with political, financial and humanitarian support, have supplied weapons and ammunition on an unprecedented scale, and have trained Ukrainian soldiers.” The Elysee Treaty between France and Germany, sealed in 1963, laid the foundation for close bilateral collaboration between the two former enemies. dw.com, bloomberg.com

Iran threatens retaliation over sanctions imposed by EU and UK: Iran strongly condemned new sanctions imposed by the European Union and Britain and said it would retaliate, after the West stepped up pressure on Iran over its crackdown on protests. The EU had imposed sanctions on more than 30 Iranian officials and organisations, including units of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, blaming them for a brutal crackdown on unrest and other human rights abuses. The United States and Britain also issued new sanctions against Iran, reflecting a deterioration in the West’s already dire relations with Tehran. reuters.com

EU response to US subsidy programme takes shape: The EU plans to push back against the clean-tech tax breaks in the US Inflation Reduction Act by easing its subsidy rules and creating a new pot of money to help member states with limited fiscal firepower compete. Officials in Europe worry that “Buy American” provisions attached to the US subsidies will lure European companies away from the EU and harm the continent’s clean-tech and manufacturing industries. EU Council President Charles Michel said European companies should be able to receive state aid more easily, for example for investments in the energy transition. He also proposed to relaunch the EU short-time work programme from the pandemic. wsj.com, handelsblatt.com

EU approves two insects for human consumption: The maggot-like larvae of lesser mealworms — a type of shiny black beetle — and house crickets will become the third and fourth insects that can be sold as food for people in the EU. The new rules clarify that lesser mealworm larvae and house crickets are safe to eat for those without allergies. They have also ruled that foods containing them must be labelled. dw.com

EU eyes more help for shrinking bee populations: The EU announced proposals to try to reverse an alarming decline in the number of bees—and other insects that pollinate the bloc’s crops—including by rewarding organic farming. The proposal calls for promoting farming—organic or otherwise—that protects pollinating insects, cutting back on pesticides, better monitoring of pollinator populations, and better conservation of habitats including in urban areas. phys.org

EU Parliament calls for changes over spyware: The Parliament’s Pegasus spyware committee will adopt recommendations to address the EU’s fundamental inadequacy in dealing with surveillance technology. In Poland and Hungary, the recommendations say institutional safeguards and oversight mechanisms should be restored and their independence ensured. In Poland, the document also notes judges should be randomly allocated to cases to avoid the selection of those friendly to the intelligence services. In Greece, where the wiretapping scandal has caused widespread political upheaval, it is recommended that authorities be permitted to investigate alleged incidences of surveillance freely. euractiv.com

EU Commission calls for more deportations: Migrants who are not entitled to stay in the EU must be sent back to their countries of origin, said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson. Together with EU Commissioner Mari Juritsch, she presented a strategy that should lead to more repatriations. Juritsch said especially people from countries where there are no major political hurdles or problems with fundamental rights should be sent back. She also called for more speedy decisions in order to protect the credibility of the asylum system and to prevent unwanted border crossings. zeit.de

Morocco votes to reconsider ties with EU: Moroccan lawmakers on Monday voted unanimously to review ties with the European Parliament, accusing it of meddling after an EU Parliament resolution that urged Morocco to respect freedom of expression and media freedom and to guarantee imprisoned journalists a fair trial. france24.com

European Chips Act: Clearing the way for billions in state aid for new semiconductor factories faz.net
Energy supply: EU Commission launches electricity market reform energate-messenger.com
Qatargate: Lawyer alleges Panzeri will name MEPs from Germany, France euractiv.com
Balkans: Serbian President hints at acceptance of Kosovo compromise spiegel.de
European Court of Human Rights: LGBTQ stories not harmful to children tagesschau.de
Youth Action Plan: EU steps up efforts to boost young people’s political participation worldwide euractiv.com

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

„We are closely observing the impact of [agricultural] imports from Ukraine. They do not have a negative impact on the whole EU, but they do lead to regional difficulties.“

The Common Agricultural Policy’s crisis reserve could be used to aid farmers in countries like Poland or Romania that are struggling with an influx of grain from neighbouring Ukraine, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski. euractiv.com

NATION

EU greenlights Armenia mission to ease border tensions: The EU has agreed to dispatch a civilian mission to Armenia to help boost security around its border and improve relations with neighbouring Azerbaijan, amid tensions over a transport corridor to the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The mission, which was requested by Armenia and has a mandate for two years, will conduct routine patrolling in border areas to strengthen the EU’s understanding of the situation on the ground. apnews.com

Bulgaria elects new parliament on 2 April: Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said the country would hold early elections on 2 April after inconclusive October vote failed to produce a government. Radev’s announcement came hours after Bulgaria’s Socialist Party said it had failed to form a government and had returned the unfulfilled mandate to the president. It was the third and final opportunity for a government to be formed under the current legislature that resulted after the 2 October elections. rferl.org

Czech presidential candidate Babis cancels appointments due to alleged death threat: Andrej Babis cancelled his planned trip to Hradec Králové and announced that he would not make any more public appearances until the elections runoff after having received an anonymous death threat. He said he had reported the matter to the police. Last week, Babis said his wife has received an envelope with a bullet and an anonymous note full of insults. english.radio.cz

French Senate votes to speed up construction of nuclear power plants: The senators also nixed France’s official goal of reducing the share of nuclear power from the current 70% to 50% by 2035 and stipulated that a decree on the planned closure of twelve reactors should be reviewed. In the future, permits from the municipal level will no longer be necessary for the construction of new reactors, as the state is to supervise compliance with standards. Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher reiterated that this does not mean that safety, the protection of biodiversity or public participation will be restricted. welt.de

Arson forces Paris’s Gare de l’Est train station to shut for day: French rail operator SNCF has filed a legal complaint over vandalism and arson after a fire broke out at a signals point, forcing Paris’s busy Gare de l’Est station to cancel all trains on Tuesday. The commuter station, which also serves long-distance trains to eastern France, Germany and Luxembourg, was brought to a standstill during early rush hour after an incident that was at first thought to be accidental. theguardian.com

Ryanair flight lands safely in Athens after bomb scare: A scheduled flight from Katowice, Poland, arrived safely at Athens International Airport on Sunday after an alert was issued about a possible bomb onboard. The plane and the passengers were searched and no bomb was found, police said in a statement. apnews.com

Petrol stations in Italy plan 48-hour strike: They are protesting against what they see as the government’s poor measures in the energy crisis, according to three trade unions. Premier Giorgia Meloni said Monday that her government has no intention of backing down on a decree designed to boost fuel-price transparency that has angered Italy’s petrol station operations. The decree includes an obligation for petrol stations to give the national average price for petrol and diesel alongside their own prices in a bid to stop speculative hikes, with fines for those that do not comply. ansa.it

Ambulance staff on strike in England and Wales: Life-threatening 999 calls were attended to but not other emergencies. Health Secretary Steve Barclay said Monday’s industrial action affecting some parts of England and Wales was hugely disappointing and despite contingency plans to mitigate risks to patient safety, there would inevitably be further disruption. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: „None of those people who are out on strike want to be there. They want to be doing the jobs that they love and those jobs are just being compromised on a day-to-day basis.“ bbc.com

French government to press ahead with pension reform despite protests: While the government has refused any substantial concessions to those who contest the reform legislation, the unions have had their position strengthened by the huge turnout at last Thursday’s nationwide demonstrations against the changes. The labour organisations claim to have mobilised at least one million protesters against the reform during last week’s 24-hour strike. President Emmanuel Macron has already shown flexibility, reducing the age limit from 65 to 64. At the weekend he refused any further adaptations, saying he did not want to anticipate the work of parliament. rfi.fr

New probe into Estonia ferry sinking reveals construction flaws-officials: A new investigation into the sinking of ferry Estonia that claimed 852 lives in 1994 revealed flaws in its bow visor construction missed during its certification, officials said on Monday. If necessary examination was carried out, the Estonia-registered ship would not be approved as seaworthy to serve the Tallin-Stockholm route it operated, investigators from Estonia, Finland and Sweden told a news conference in Tallinn. reuters.com

Hungary: Teachers and pupils strike against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s school policy handelsblatt.com
Sweden: More police forces ordered to capital after series of violence in Stockholm derstandard.at
Olympic Games 2024: France wants to expand intelligent video surveillance politico.eu
Swiss hacker succeeds in gaining access to US government’s no-fly list cnn.com

NUMERS

Belgium registered a budget deficit that amounted to 5.1% of its GDP in the third quarter of 2022, the largest in the Eurozone countries in that period, Eurostat data from Monday reads. euractiv.com

AT LEAST

Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight than ever: Humanity is closer than ever to the end of the world, largely but not exclusively because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the increased risk of nuclear escalation. That was the dire warning this week from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which, since 1947, has been estimating how close the world is to ending by stating starkly how many minutes to midnight remain on its signature Doomsday Clock. nytimes.com