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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 struggles to agree on Russian oil price cap, British PM Sunak sees China as a systematic challenge, Meta fined €265m over data protection breach
European Circle in week 48, 2022
curated by Nina von Schweinitz

EUROPE

EU struggles to agree on Russian oil price cap: The EU is set to ban almost all Russian oil imports into the bloc on 5 December, which is meant to be combined with an international price cap on shipments, but just days away from these coming into force, member states are struggling to agree on the potential cap. Unlike the gas price cap currently being negotiated by EU countries, the price cap on oil would only be applied to Russian supplies, and it would come as another sanction in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. euractiv.com

G7 justice ministers agree to coordinate Ukraine war crime probes: The G7 together with the International Criminal Court and the European Commission discussed strategies on how to tighten war crime probes into atrocities committed on Ukrainian soil by Russia. The goal is to avoid duplicating work and better secure evidence. German Justice minister Marco Buschmann has said that the systemic destruction of energy infrastructure by Russia in Ukraine is a war crime. euronews.com

  • European companies asked to urgently donate spare parts to repair Ukraine’s power grid. euronews.com
  • EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders urges EU states to impose tougher sanctions on Russia.
  • United States to grant $53 million to Ukraine for power transmission. rferl.org
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promises troop build-up on Nato’s eastern flank.
  • Estonia issues a special euro coin for Ukraine.
  • Italian MPs withdraw request for arms deliveries.
  • Slovakia hands over 30 armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine in a ring exchange.
  • Son of former Putin confidant on trial in Norway.

NATO reaffirms commitment to Ukraine: NATO allies reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine on Tuesday saying that the war-torn nation will one day become a member of the world’s largest security alliance, and promising more help — from winter aid to artillery — to help Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces to fight off Russia. pbs.org

  • Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska addresses UK Parliament during visit. euronews.com
  • European Investment Bank to help modernise Kyiv metro system. reuters.com

Call for more European solidarity in refugee distribution: According to the UNHCR, around 7.9 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began. Of these, 1,027,789 people are registered in Germany, according to the interior ministry. France (about 119,000), Italy (about 173,000) or Spain (about 154,000) have counted considerably fewer, according to the UNHCR. Poland has taken in the most Ukrainian refugees, with more than 1.5 million. EPP leader Manfred Weber called for more European solidarity in housing refugees. tagesschau.de

Council of Europe criticises the conditions of Navalny’s imprisonment: The Russian opposition activist has said that he is consistently held in solitary confinement, said Council of Europe member Thorhildur Sunna Aevarsdottir. Family members are not allowed to visit him. He can only speak to his lawyers through a frosted glass window, so they could not get a picture of his state of health. zeit.de

British PM Sunak sees China as a systematic challenge: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the so-called golden era of relations with China was over, warning that Beijing’s move toward even greater authoritarianism posed a systemic challenge to Britain’s values and interests. Sunak said it had been naive to believe that closer economic ties over the previous decade could lead to social and political reform and accused Beijing of conspicuously competing for global influence using all of the levers of state power. cnbc.com

  • UK backs giant nuclear plant, squeezing out China. nytimes.com
  • European Council President Charles Michel will travel to China this week. euronews.com
  • Protests in China: Government in push to boost Covid-19 vaccination among elderly. scmp.com
  • Britain summons China’s ambassador over treatment of BBC journalist. reuters.com
  • Chinese universities send students home in an effort to prevent more protests. npr.org

Pentagon: China to more than triple its nuclear arsenal by 2035. politico.com

EU defence against foreign takeovers: The EU states have adopted a law to protect the economy from competition-distorting competition from countries like China. According to the law, it will be possible in future to prohibit state-subsidised companies from third countries from taking over EU firms. In addition, companies supported with state money can be excluded from public contracts. Companies that do not comply with the new rules on reporting obligations can be punished with fines. orf.at

Meta fined €265m over data protection breach: Meta has been fined roughly $275 million by Ireland’s data privacy regulator for failing to prevent hackers from siphoning off personal information from more than 500 million Facebook users in a 2019 data leak. The probe began last April after Business Insider reported that more than half a billion Facebook users’ details had been posted on an underground hacker website. cnn.com

Police authorities in the EU to cooperate more easily: Negotiators from the EU Parliament and EU states agreed on a better exchange of information between law enforcement agencies. Among other things, a central contact point is to be set up that will be staffed around the clock. EU member states and the EU Parliament still have to formally approve the proposal. The background to the measures is that criminal groups often operate in several countries and the gang members often have different nationalities. consilium.europa.eu

EU promises investment in African energy in post-summit meeting: At the gathering in Brussels on Monday, the first since an EU-Africa summit in February, the EU agreed to launch an €750 million programme in support of infrastructure investments in transport, digitalisation and energy connectivity in Africa under the Global Gateway programme, seen as the EU’s answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. euractiv.com

Deal on EU rules to better protect online shoppers: The agreed rules aim to ensure that all kinds of products in the EU, whether sold online or in traditional shops, comply with the highest safety requirements. europarl.europa.eu

Brussels set to propose watered down EU packaging law after industry outcry: The European Commission is due to propose a new law to tackle packaging waste on Wednesday (30 November) with watered down reuse targets after an outcry from industry, according to a leaked draft of the new regulation. euractiv.com

Protests in Iran: Iranian general acknowledges over 300 dead in unrest apnews.com
EU Commission’s global health strategy to expand EU’s role worldwide euractiv.com
Raids in 14 countries: EU uncovers billion-dollar tax fraud n-tv.de
Law enforcement: Police smash European cocaine ‘super cartel,’ arrest 49 apnews.com
Brexit has worsened shortage of NHS doctors, analysis shows theguardian.com

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“We recognise China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism.“

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pronounced the end of the so-called “golden era” of relations with China in his first foreign policy speech since taking power last month. euractiv.com

NATION

All questions and no answers, as Spanish spy chief stays mute on Pegasus hacking scandal: Spain’s spy chief failed to answer any of the questions posed to her by MEPs related to the Spanish spyware scandal, as the expectations for revelations were dampened. In Spain there are two separate cases. One is the surveillance of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and two Spanish ministers by a third country – which some attribute to Morocco – and on the other hand, there is the case of at least 65 Catalan pro-independence leaders, among them some MEPs, that were also infected by the Pegasus spyware. euronews.com

Qatar to supply Germany with LNG: Qatar has agreed to supply Germany with liquefied natural gas under a long-term deal that will go a small way to helping the European country replace piped flows from Russia. State-owned Qatar Energy and ConocoPhillips have signed agreements that will see the Persian Gulf state send up to 2 million tons of LNG a year to Germany from 2026. The deals will last at least 15 years, Qatar’s energy minister, Saad al Kaabi, told reporters in Doha alongside Ryan Lance, ConocoPhillips’ chief executive offer. bloomberg.com

Qatar drastically revises number of dead migrant workers: World Cup chief Hassan Al-Thawadi said that between 400 and 500 migrant workers have died as a result of work done on projects connected to the tournament – a greater figure than Qatari officials have cited previously. In November 2022, a government official told CNN there had been three work-related deaths on World Cup stadiums and 37 non-work-related deaths. cnn.com

  • Twelve detained after Belgium-Morocco World Cup riots in Brussels. euractiv.com

Berlin to hold referendum on 2030 climate neutrality: A citizens‘ initiative has collected enough signatures for a vote to move Berlin’s target date for climate neutrality up 15 years to 2030. Proponents are calling for the vote to be staged on 12 February, when Berlin will be repeating district parliamentary and the state’s House of Representative elections, which were found to have been poorly organized and extremely flawed when they were staged in September 2021. But politicians are pumping the brakes. dw.com

Polish judge critical of government can return to work: A Polish judge fiercely critical of the nationalist government’s judicial reforms was reinstated in his job on Tuesday by a new disciplinary body after being suspended for two years. Changes to the Polish judiciary have led Brussels to withhold some European Union funds for Poland. It says Warsaw must fulfil milestones related to judicial independence, reinstate unlawfully dismissed judges and reform its disciplinary system before funds can start flowing. Judge Igor Tuleya has become a symbol of lawyers’ resistance to the changes introduced by the ruling Law and Justice party since 2015. reuters.com

Former Austrian minister charged with fraud: According to the indictment, former family minister Sophie Karmasin unlawfully received money from the state worth more than 78,000 euros following her ministerial career from late 2017 to mid-2018. She had claimed to earn nothing, but in reality she had immediately started working again in her former job as an opinion researcher. Karmasin is also under additional investigation in connection with government advertisements and allegedly embellished opinion polls. The public prosecutor’s office is investigating the suspicion that a group around former chancellor Sebastian Kurz illegally diverted taxpayers‘ money for this purpose. zeit.de

Brussels to decide if EU funds for Hungary should be blocked: The European Commission will decide on Wednesday whether Hungary’s new anti-corruption measures are sufficient to escape the freezing of European funds. This follows a recommendation by the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament in September to vote against the allocation of €7.5 billion in cohesion funds, due to „systemic irregularities“ observed in public procurement in Hungary. euronews.com

Czech organisations warn of homelessness surge amid energy crisis: Homelessness organisations have warned that more Czech citizens are seeking refuge in homeless shelters as they face financial difficulties linked to the energy crisis. euractiv.com

Possible e-scooter ban in Paris: E-scooter rental companies in the French capital are tightening their rules to avoid an impending ban. Users will have to scan their ID when registering. This is to ensure that only adults use the scooters and to make it easier to identify those who break the rules and exclude them from renting, the newspaper „Le Parisien“ reported. tagesschau.de

Far-right Vox leads mass protests against Spanish govt: Police said 25,000 people gathered in central Madrid’s Colon Square, where protesters unfurled flags and called on Sanchez to go, while demonstrations also took place in cities across Spain. Vox leader Santiago Abascal denounced a „government of treason, insecurity and ruin“ after recent changes to the criminal code and the approval of a new law against sexual violence. france24.com

Landslide on Italian island of Ischia kills at least 8: At least eight people have been confirmed dead after a landslide hit the Italian island of Ischia on Saturday, damaging buildings and obliterating transport infrastructure in its wake. Five people are still missing, the governor of the Campania Prefecture office in southwest Italy told CNN Monday. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni declared a state of emergency on Sunday due to what she called “exceptional flood and landslide events,” following torrential rain in the Gulf of Naples. cnn.com

Italy applies 50% windfall tax on energy companies reuters.com
Poland to keep zero VAT on food in H1 2023, says PM reuters.com
Hungary: Lights go out on stadiums, theatres as energy crisis bites france24.com
Malta ploughs ahead with project in protected marine area euractiv.com
Dutch to strengthen approach to foreign threats euractiv.com
Belgian government offers one-off tax-free bonus euractiv.com
Slovenian government victorious in opposition-led referendum vote euractiv.com

NUMERS

Over 15,300 Albanians have sought asylum in the UK and EU in 2022 alone, although the number remains lower than before the pandemic. euractiv.com

AT LEAST

Former British health secretary Matt Hancock reached final on I’m A Celebrity: Footballer Jill Scott has won ITV reality series I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! while actor Owen Warner came second and former health secretary Matt Hancock finished third. Hancock’s participation in the show has been controversial and led to him having the Tory whip suspended. Hancock is still being paid as an independent MP and is rumoured to have been paid £400,000 to appear on the programme. bbc.com, theguardian.com