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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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Devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, Zelensky tipped to visit Brussels, China probably also has spy balloons flying over Europe
European Circle in week 06, 2023
curated by Nina von Schweinitz

EUROPE

Devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria kills thousands: Authorities in both countries now estimate that more than 8,100 people have died. According to information so far, more than 30,000 people have been injured. Many people are still missing. Aftershocks, destroyed infrastructure and cold winter weather are complicating the rescue work. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a state of emergency for three months in ten affected Turkish cities. According to him, 70 countries have now offered their help. The EU sent almost 1,200 search and rescue workers to the Turkish earthquake areas. Aid organisations and politicians called for the Syrian disaster areas not to be forgotten. nbcnews.com, reuters.com

  • WHO: 23 million people could be affected by earthquake.
  • Turkey continues to bomb Kurdish areas in northern Syria despite earthquake.
  • NATO flags at half-mast.
  • Syrian Arab Red Crescent calls on EU and US to lift sanctions.
  • Baby survives under rubble – and is connected to dead mother by umbilical cord. npr.org

Zelensky tipped to visit Brussels this week for EU leaders‘ summit: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to be in Brussels on Thursday as EU leaders gather for a summit although security reasons could yet thwart the visit, a senior EU official confirmed to Euronews. The official added that Zelensky’s trip to the Belgian capital would likely start with an address to an extraordinary plenary session of the EU Parliament. The potential visit would be Zekensky’s second official trip outside Ukraine since the Russian onslaught started on 24 February. He visited Washington in late December to deliver a speech at Congress and hold a meeting with US President Joe Biden. euronews.com

Germany approves over 100 tanks to Ukraine: In a joint statement, the German economy and defence ministries announced the approval of up to 178 German-made Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine. It comes as part of a joint pledge with Denmark and the Netherlands. The defence ministers of the three countries said the tanks were part of an effort to support Ukraine in their endeavour to withstand Russian aggression. dw.com

Russia distributed fake covers of European satirical magazines: The Russian government is supporting operations that impersonate international media outlets as part of its disinformation campaigns, which have become more sophisticated and active since its invasion of Ukraine, according to an EU study. Print and TV media are the most frequent targets of Moscow’s impersonation, with magazines seeing their entire style copied by Russian actors to give legitimacy to the content, in particular when targeting Ukraine, said a report on foreign information manipulation published by the EU’s External Action Service. bloomberg.com

  • Patriarch Kirill worked for the KGB in the 1970s, Swiss media reports. euronews.com

G7 and EU announce price cap on Russian diesel: The Group of Seven (G7) industrialised countries, the European Union and Australia agreed to limit the price of Russian diesel on Friday. The price of diesel will be capped at $100 (€92) per barrel, while lower-quality products such as fuel oil will be capped at $45 per barrel. dw.com

China probably also has spy balloons flying over Europe: The US has shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon. China expert Saskia Hieber said in an interview that Beijing was likely also spying on Europe. US President Joe Biden said Monday the US did the right thing when it shot down the balloon on Saturday and maintained that he always wanted to bring it down as soon as it was appropriate. Meanwhile, the Chinese government confirmed that another balloon discovered over Colombia also came from China, adding that it was for civilian purposes and was being used for flight tests. China also apologised to Costa Rica for a balloon that flew over its territory. merkur.de, cnn.com, nytimes.com, reuters.com

US agrees to transparency with EU on green subsidies: US officials and the French and German economy ministers have agreed on the need for full transparency on green subsidies, following high-stakes talks in Washington over President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate action plan. The aim of the visit by French economy minister Bruno Le Maire and his German counterpart Robert Habeck was to discuss the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on European industry. While the United States is keen to reduce dependence on Chinese imports, the EU is concerned about collateral damage if companies are enticed by US subsidies to relocate outside the bloc. france24.com

  • German Economy Minister Robert Habeck: „My understanding and interpretation of the talks is that there is a great willingness to find forms of cooperation without reopening the IRA.“
  • France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire: „It is not our intention and it has never been our intention to change American law.“

EU considers ban on „forever chemicals“: The EU has started to consider a proposal to ban widely used, potentially harmful substances known as PFAS or „forever chemicals“ in what could become the bloc’s most extensive piece of regulation of the chemical industry. The chemicals have been used in tens of thousands of products, including cars, textiles, medical gear, wind mills and non-stick pans due to their long-term resistance to extreme temperatures and corrosion. The five countries – Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and non-EU state Norway – which have been collaborating on the proposal said that, if passed, it would become one of the largest bans on chemical substances ever in Europe. reuters.com

Eight EU countries push for higher barriers to immigration: In a letter to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Latvia, Slovakia, Malta, Estonia and Lithuania called for more EU-funded measures to protect external borders, faster deportations and new repatriation agreements with third countries. They pointed out that some states, such as Austria, were currently recording the same number or new arrivals and asylum applications as in 2015/16. A two-day EU summit begins on Thursday. welt.de

Researchers call for migration partnerships instead of visa leverage mechanisms: The European Council wants to tighten migration policy and force deportations. Countries of origin are to be put under pressure by selectively issuing visas. Migration partnerships would make more sense, argue researchers Steffen Angenendt and Raphael Bossong. They point out that the resurgence of refugees coming to Europe via the Mediterranean and the Western Balkans is primarily due to conflicts and emergency situations such as in Afghanistan. swp-berlin.org

Sea rescuers bring more than 100 people ashore in Naples: The migrants had been stuck on the ship „Sea-Eye 4“ for days, now they were allowed to land in Italy. Two bodies were also recovered when the rescue ship landed in Naples, the German aid organisation „Sea-Eye“ announced. The group said a Sicilian port could have been reached much faster than Naples, criticising the Italian government for making the work of sea rescue organisations more difficult and thus prolonging the suffering of people seeking protection. zeit.de

  • ‚It’s a shame‘: NGOs blast Italy’s compulsory code of conduct for rescue ships in the Mediterranean. euronews.com

Brexit: Negotiators make breakthrough in Northern Irish protocol dispute theguardian.com
Aid money goes unused: EU states hardly make use of Covid aid spiegel.de
Digital governance and green tech: EU and India launch Trade and Technology Council politico.eu
Dublin: European Parliament President thanks Ireland for welcoming Ukrainians euronews.com

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

„They try not only to control what is happening at home – as any authoritarian dictatorship regime – but they [also] try to destabilise others.“

With regard to Russian war propaganda, the EU wants to take stronger action against disinformation on the internet. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell warned that Russia is not afraid to create fake websites to pose as trustworthy media. eeas.europa.eu

NATION

Italy warns hackers targeting known server vulnerability: Thousands of computer servers have been targeted by a global ransomware hacking attack targeting VMware ESXi servers, Italy’s National Cybersecurity Agency (ACN) said on Sunday, warning organisations to take action to protect their systems. France, Finland and Italy were the most affected countries in Europe, while the US and Canada also have a high number of targets, the ACN warned. France was the first country to detect the attack. reuters.com, politico.eu

Hundreds of thousands in France are again protesting raising the retirement age: On Tuesday, for the third time, tens of thousands of workers walked off the job and onto the streets of France. They’re protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to overhaul the pension system, most notably his plans to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, which the government says is necessary to keep the system solvent. npr.org

France adopts law aimed at boosting renewables: The French parliament approved the government-endorsed legislation, which was presented last year as a way to quickly lower France’s dependence on fossil fuels after Russia reduced gas shipments to Europe. It was also aimed at addressing concern over possible energy shortages after nuclear reactors faced lengthy shutdowns for maintenance and repairs. bloomberg.com

Workers stage largest strike in history of Britain’s health service: Tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance service staff walked off the job on Monday in a pay dispute, putting further strain on Britain’s state-run National Health Service with their largest ever strike. Nurses also walked out on Tuesday, ambulance staff will on Friday, and physiotherapists Thursday, making the week probably the most disruptive in NHS history, its Medical Director Stephen Powis said. Health workers are demanding a pay rise that reflects the worst inflation in Britain in four decades. reuters.com

Sunak shuffles cabinet: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has reshuffled his cabinet, breaking up two departments to better suit his pledges to spur the economy, reduce energy prices and turn around his party’s fortunes before an election expected next year. Sunak created a new energy security and net zero department, led by former business minister Grant Shapps, and three other departments, with one focusing on science and innovation, a personal passion for the British leader. reuters.com

  • Britcoin? UK gets closer to launching a digital currency. apnews.com

Cyprus presidential election goes to runoff: The race to become the eighth president of Cyprus will extend into a second week after the Mediterranean island’s former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides emerged as the frontrunner but failed to gain enough support to win outright. The 49-year-old independent will face Andreas Mavroyiannis, a veteran career diplomat backed by the leftist Akel party, in a runoff on 12 February. theguardian.com

Spanish coalition clashes over controversial sexual assault law: Tensions in Spain’s left-wing coalition have opened up with just four months to go before the municipal elections as the two coalition parties disagree on a bill which, if approved by parliament, would seriously change the way the law punishes sexual offences. After the law on the comprehensive guarantee of sexual freedom was approved on 7 October, following two years of work led by the Spanish Equality Minister Irene Montero of Unidas Podemos, the two parties in coalition failed to agree to the “only yes means yes” proposal, intended to reform the criminal code. euractiv.com

UNESCO honors Angela Merkel with Peace Prize: For her „open door“ refugee policy in 2015, the former German chancellor will be awarded the Felix Houphouet-Boigny UNESCO Peace Prize in Ivory Coast. „The entire jury was touched by her courageous decision in 2015 to take in more than 1.2 million refugees, especially from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea,“ jury president and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege said. dw.com

Denmark awards first CO2 storage licences in the North Sea: Denmark has awarded its first licences to capture and store carbon in the North Sea to Wintershall Dea, INEOS Energy and TotalEnergies. Denmark has set a target of reaching net zero carbon emissions in 2045 and sees carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which removes CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and stores them underground, as key to reaching that target. reuters.com

Lubomir Strougal, Czechoslovak communist leader, dies at 98: Lubomir Strougal, who led Czechoslovakia for 18 years during the Cold War and in later years faced prosecution twice on charges related to abuse of power but was never convicted, died 6 February at 98. washingtonpost.com

Serbia: MP resigns after watching porn during Kosovo debate politico.eu
„It is torture“: Protest against conditions of jailed Italian anarchist Alfredo Cospito euronews.com
Less migration: Czech Republic ends border controls with Slovakia de.euronews.com

NUMERS

The Belgian government has been helping citizens cope with high energy prices for several months but at the cost of registering the largest budget deficit in the eurozone (5.1% of its GDP) in the third quarter of 2022. euractiv.com

AT LEAST

Venice Carnival recovers former glory: Every year in February, the streets, squares and canals of Venice become the setting for one of the world’s most magnificent carnivals. One of the world’s oldest carnivals, it started in the 11th century as a celebration before Lent. The two-week event now attracts tourists from all over the globe, with dancers, costumes and music lighting up the city. It was scaled down during the pandemic, but got back to normal this year. euronews.com, bbc.com