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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 to push for worldwide phaseout of fossil fuels, Police in Moldova uncover pro-Russian network, Parisian streets littered with trash after wave of strikes
European Circle in week 11, 2023
curated by Nina von Schweinitz


EU parliament backs law aimed at saving energy by renovating buildings: Buildings across Europe could be renovated to cut emissions and save energy after the European Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill that aims to lower households‘ energy bills and wean EU countries off Russian gas faster. Buildings account for roughly 40% of the European Union’s energy use, and most are heated by fossil fuels. The proposed new rules could require millions of buildings to be upgraded using methods such as insulation or efficient heating systems.

EU proposes energy market reforms to prevent price spikes: The European Commission on Tuesday proposed changes to EU electricity market rules. The goal of the change is to expand the use of long-term contracts to protect consumers from severe price spikes and to make energy bills „less dependent on volatile fossil fuel prices.“ Last year, energy prices in the bloc soared amid reduced oil and gas supplies from Russia.

EU agrees to push for worldwide phaseout of fossil fuels at COP28: European Union countries have agreed to push for the global phaseout of fossil fuels at COP28. It is part of the bloc’s promise to support and accelerate the energy transition ahead of the climate summit in Dubai this November. Faced with climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the fallout of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the EU says that our dependence on fossil fuels leaves us vulnerable.

New law raises EU carbon sinks target for land use and forestry sector: The EU Parliament adopted the revision of the regulation on the land use, land use change and forestry sector (LULUCF) which seeks to improve natural carbon sinks to make the EU the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and improve biodiversity in line with the European Green Deal. The EU 2030 target for net greenhouse gas (GHG) removals in the land, land use change and forestry sector will be set at 310 million tonnes CO2 equivalent, which is around 15% more than today.

UK calls out Russia, China in updated foreign policy review: Britain published an update to its foreign policy framework on Monday, which announced increases in defence spending and labelled China as a challenge while citing Russia as the most acute threat to Britain’s security. Britain named Russia as the top regional threat and said the most immediate security priority is finding ways to support Ukraine in Europe’s biggest conflict since World War Two. Britain said Russia’s growing cooperation with China and Iran following the invasion of Ukraine are developments of particular concern.

  • What is the AUKUS submarines pact between the UK, US and Australia – and why does China think it’s ‚highly irresponsible‘?
  • British PM Rishi Sunak hints at TikTok ban from UK government devices.
  • Belgium bans TikTok from government phones after US, EU.

Moldova police arrest members of Russian-backed network over unrest plot: Police in Moldova have said they foiled a plot by groups of Russia-backed actors who were trained to cause mass unrest during a protest against the country’s new pro-western government. The head of Moldova’s police, Viorel Cernauteanu, said in a news conference that an undercover agent had infiltrated groups of“diversionists, some Russian citizens, who allegedly were promised $10,000 to organise mass disorder during the protest in the capital, Chisinau, on Sunday. Seven people were detained, he said.

  • Thousands in Chisinau protest against Moldova’s pro-Western government.

Finland likely to join NATO before Sweden: Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson acknowledged that it is increasingly likely that neighbour Finland will join NATO before his country does, due to Turkey’s opposition to the Swedish bid. Kristersson said that it has been clear since NATO’s Madrid summit in June that Finland’s road into membership has been smoother than Sweden’s, and that it is now increasingly likely that Finland will enter NATO first.

  • Lithuania’s parliament classifies Russian mercenary group Wagner as a terrorist organisation.
  • Netherlands provides Ukraine with minesweeping boats and radar systems.
  • Slovakia wants to earn money from rebuilding Ukraine.
  • Swiss president against arms deliveries to Ukraine.
  • Thousands protest against Czech military aid to Ukraine.

Fuelled by Ukraine, European arms imports double in 2022.

Nuclear pact between France and Hungary: Following a meeting with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, France’s President Emmanuel Macron emphasised Europe’s unity in the face of the Ukraine war. Budapest and Paris also want to cooperate more closely on energy supply.

EU lawmakers call for global tax on ultra-rich: A group of more than 130 EU Parliament members are calling for a progressive tax on the ultra-rich to reduce inequalities while helping financial investments needed for green and social change.

EU states position themselves on EU debt rules: EU finance ministers agreed on a common position for reforming European fiscal rules, closely aligning themselves with the European Commission’s approach of focusing on medium-term country-specific fiscal plans. While the reference values from the EU treaties remain unchanged – at a maximum public deficit of 3% of GDP and a debt level of 60% of GDP – the 60% rule will be less relevant and the rules will be accompanied by medium-term plans that should enable more investments.

Global trade union leader sacked over Qatargate: The general secretary of the international union ITUC has been dismissed from his post, the confederation said, over his links to a European Parliament graft scandal implicating Qatar. Luca Visentini was arrested in December as part of the investigation into suspected corruption among MEPs involving Qatar and Morocco.

  • EU launches inquiry into transport chief’s free flights to Qatar.

UK organisations without EU funds: Aid organisations in the UK received billions from the EU Social Fund. But because of Brexit, the funding will end in April – and London will not fill the gap. Many organisations will probably go out of business.

Data Act: EU Parliament votes for right to access user data
US subsidies for green technologies: US and EU try to defuse subsidies dispute to focus on Russia and China
Avoiding waste and saving money: EU wants right to repair by law
New strategy: EU wants better protection against threats from space


„Consumers are at the heart of our electricity market reform.“

Electricity prices have risen dramatically in the past year. This is probably one of the reasons why EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised that consumers will be the main beneficiaries of the planned reform of the European electricity market.


Italy blames Russia’s Wagner group for surge in migration: Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto said on Monday that the rising number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is part of „hybrid warfare“ waged by Russia using mercenaries as proxies on countries supporting Ukraine. „I think it is now safe to say that the exponential increase in the migratory phenomenon departing from African shores is also, to a not insignificant extent, part of a clear strategy of hybrid warfare that the Wagner division is implementing, using its considerable weight in some African countries,“ Crosetto said in a statement.

Greece to send more migrants back to their home countries: According to a cooperation deal between the Italian ministry of citizen protection and the migration ministry with Frontex, the plan is to also support migrants in voluntarily returning to their home countries. Italy called on the EU to address the issue of repatriations and increase their number. The migration ministry said the low number of repatriations of those who are not entitled to asylum undermines credibility and the asylum system as a whole.

  • EU Commission calls on member states to cooperate more closely in returning rejected asylum seekers.
  • EU Commission denies Irini’s operation presence in Mediterranean migration routes.
  • Germany wants to take surviving refugees from Italy.
  • Italy’s Prime Minister Meloni rejects criticism after numerous shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

UK House of Commons approves controversial Illegal Immigration Bill: Government plans to tackle small boat crossings will not solve the issue of illegal migration, former Prime Minister Theresa May has warned. Under the proposals, modern slavery victims would be „collateral damage“ and denied support, she told MPs. Several other Tories also called for changes to the Illegal Migration Bill.

  • ‘Stop the boats’: Sunak’s anti-asylum slogan echoes Australia’s harsh policy.
  • UK will give France nearly half a billion pounds in major push to solve small boats crisis.

Greece, EU lost in Babel of train safety deals: The EU and Greece have been trying to put in place modern safety systems and improve Greek railways’ cross-border interoperability to connect with the rest of Europe for more than twenty years. But a series of delays, grey contracts and zero accountability have exposed both Greece’s insufficient investment planning as well as the EU’s lax monitoring mechanisms and the train tragedy that cost the lives of 57 people has opened Pandora’s Box.

  • Former Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis attacked in central Athens.

Parisian streets littered with trash after wave of strikes: Massive strikes in Paris against pension reform this week are affecting trash pickup services in the French capital, with piles of waste sitting on many of the city’s normally picturesque streets, including those just steps from monuments like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Municipal services like trash collection in Paris have been affected since Tuesday, when strikes saw flights and trains canceled and delayed; oil refiners blockaded; schools shuttered; and left thousands without electricity. The French capital was the most affected, with nearly 60% of its primary school teachers walking out and the local metro forced to cut service to all but the busiest times.

Germany forms alliance against phase-out of internal combustion engines by 2035: Germany has formed an alliance with Italy and some Eastern European countries opposing the planned phase-out of internal combustion engines from 2035, and they want to make their own proposal. „The proposal needs changes urgently,“ German transport minister Volker Wissing said on Monday. Wissing said the scepticism about phasing out internal combustion vehicles was shared by Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic, among others. He added that the group of countries wants a separate category of combustion-engine cars that could run on synthetic, carbon-neutral fuels, after 2035.

  • France attacks ‘dangerous’ German effort to change EU car engine rules.

Polish activist convicted for helping obtain abortion pills: A Polish woman has been sentenced to eight months of community service for illegally helping another woman to have an abortion. Abortion has been almost completely banned in Poland and Justyna Wydrzynska is thought to be the first activist to be tried for aiding a pregnant woman. Wydrzynska, who will appeal against the verdict, told the court she had sent a package of abortion pills to the pregnant woman when she found out that she was in an abusive relationship.

Poland’s justice minister seen carrying pistol in his belt: Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has drawn surprised comments after a gust of wind revealed that he carries a gun tucked in his belt. Ziobro was laying a wreath at a monument to victims of mining disasters in central Poland on Monday when the Glock pistol came into view. Poland, like most European Union countries, have strict rules about acquiring guns and very few people are allowed to own them or carry them in public.

French Senate votes in favour of Macron’s pension reform: France’s senate has voted to approve a deeply unpopular reform to pensions, hours after demonstrators took to the streets again to oppose the cornerstone policy of Emmanuel Macron’s second presidential term. Senators passed the reforms by 195 votes to 112, bringing the package another step closer to becoming law. A committee will hammer out a final draft, to be submitted to the senate and national assembly for a final vote.

BBC reinstates star soccer host Gary Lineker after UK refugee policy criticism: Lineker will resume his duties on the BBC’s flagship soccer show after an impartiality storm over his criticism of the government’s asylum policy that plunged Britain’s public broadcaster into scheduling chaos over the weekend. The row began when Lineker tweeted comments comparing the language used by the UK government to that used in 1930s Germany, when the Nazis came to power. The BBC deemed the tweet had broken its editorial guidelines on impartiality.,

Voting on successor to Scottish leader Sturgeon underway: Voting has begun in the contest to succeed Nicola Sturgeon and become Scotland’s next first minister. Polling began at noon on Monday with Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s health secretary, vying to become the country’s first minority ethnic first minister, against Kate Forbes, the finance secretary, and Ash Regan, a former community safety minister and the outlier candidate.

Greece: Nationwide strike causes flight cancellations
Netherlands: Farmers-led party set to prosper in key Dutch regional elections
France reports moderate to very low groundwater levels in many places
Switzerland detects case of atypical mad cow disease
Extreme weather in Spain: First snow chaos, now heat record


2,117 notifications were made to Safety Gate – the EU’s rapid alert system for dangerous non-food products – in 2022. Consumer organisations noted that 23% of notifications concerned toys, while 35% of notifications involved chemical risks.


Sunaks told to put dog on leash in Hyde Park: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife were spoken to by a police officer after they allowed their dog off the lead in Hyde Park in central London. The officer involved was one of the prime minister’s close protection team, the BBC has been told. He reminded the couple of the law that requires dogs to be kept on a lead when on the edge of the Serpentine Lake.