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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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Wednesday, 23 March 2022: EU to establish rapid reaction force, Zelensky addresses Italian parliament, Boris Johnson sparks fury after comparing Brexit to Ukraine
23. März 2022


EU to establish rapid reaction force: EU foreign and defence ministers on Monday agreed a security strategy meant to boost the bloc’s military clout when war has returned to Europe, establishing a rapid reaction force with up to 5,000 of troops to be swiftly deployed in a crisis.

Zelensky addresses Italian parliament: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says 117 children have now been killed since Russia began its invasion of his country. Zelenskyy made the revelation as he was addressing Italy’s parliament – his latest attempt at trying to drum up support for Kyiv. He reminded Italian politicians of Ukraine’s help to Italy at the start of the Covid pandemic and used it to call for tougher sanctions on Russia. Following rapturous applause, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi thanked Zelenskyy for his “extraordinary” speech, praising the “courage and determination“ of Ukrainians.

  • Not neutral enough – Austria won’t let Zelensky speak in parliament
  • Zelensky urges Italy to seize mysterious yacht
  • More Finns ready to take up arms since Ukraine war
  • Poland could amend constitution to confiscate Russian oligarchs’ assets

New sanctions against Russia: US President Joe Biden and his European counterparts will announce new sanctions against Russia and new measures to tighten existing sanctions during his trip to Brussels this week, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday. Biden leaves on Wednesday for Brussels, where NATO and the European Union are based, for meetings on Thursday with fellow leaders. He will attend an emergency NATO summit, meet with G7 leaders, and address European Union leaders at a meeting of the European Council, Sullivan said. Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday and discussed peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, Interfax news agency said.,

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ECB warns crypto firms against sanctions busting: European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde said there are signs that some Russians are attempting to bypass sanctions over the war in Ukraine by converting rubles into cryptocurrencies and stablecoins. „We have taken steps to clearly signal to all those who are exchanging, transacting, offering services in relation to crypto assets that they are being accomplices to circumvent sanctions,“ Lagarde said at an online event.,

EU proposes to create solidarity fund for Ukraine’s basic needs: The European Union is considering creating a solidarity fund for Ukraine to help provide basic services in the country and meet citizens‘ immediate needs, European Council President Charles Michel said on Friday. Meanwhile, the United States and its Western allies are assessing whether Russia should remain within the Group of Twenty (G20) grouping of major economies following its invasion of Ukraine, sources involved in the discussions told Reuters on Tuesday.,

EU and US criticise Russia’s sentencing of opposition leader Navalny: A Russian court on Tuesday sentenced opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to nine years in a maximum-security prison after finding him guilty on fraud charges. “The European Union deplores the systematic crackdown on civil society, independent media, individual journalists and human rights defenders in Russia,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a statement. “We reiterate our call on the Russian authorities for his immediate and unconditional release.”,

City of Paris gives Kyiv honorary citizenship: In an unusual move, the City Council of Paris has granted honorary citizenship to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. „With this distinction, awarded for the first time to a city, Paris renews its friendship and support for the Ukrainian capital which is currently fighting for its freedom,“ said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Putin gave Austria’s former foreign minister expensive jewellery: At her wedding celebration in August 2018, the former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl not only danced with her guest of honour Vladimir Putin – she also received valuable earrings as a gift from the Russian President, Austrian media revealed on Thursday.

Boris Johnson sparks fury after comparing Brexit to Ukraine: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for comparing the struggle of Ukrainians fighting Russia’s invasion to people in Britain voting for Brexit. In a speech he said Britons, like Ukrainians, had the instinct „to choose freedom“ and cited the 2016 vote to leave the EU as a „recent example“. The comments have caused anger among politicians both in the UK and Europe. Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council, called the comments offensive.

WHO criticises end of Covid measures in some countries: The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised several European countries for „abruptly“ easing COVID-19 restrictions. According to the WHO, the number of new COVID-19 cases is still on the rise in 18 of the region’s 53 countries. Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO Director for Europe, said he was „vigilant“ about the current pandemic situation on the continent, but remained „optimistic“.

  • Spain to enter new era without isolation for mild COVID-19
  • Ireland will not reintroduce restrictions despite new wave
  • Orban asks for EU funds to help Hungary amid refugee crisis

EU countries agree on new limits for certain chemicals: Environment ministers endorsed the Council’s mandate to negotiate an agreement with the European Parliament on a regulation that aims to further restrict the presence of persistent organic pollutants in waste. The negotiating mandate was formally approved by the Permanent Representatives Committee on Friday 11 March.

EU investment transparency platform leaves anti-graft watchers wanting: The European Commission has presented a new online tool that gives citizens an overview of big structural investment projects backed by the EU, as the next big step in Brussels’ transparency efforts. However, leading anti-graft politicians in the European Parliament ask for more.

Erdogan wants to resume negotiations on Turkey’s EU accession: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on the EU to resume „accession negotiations“.

European Space Agency: ESA suspends joint Mars rover mission with Russia
Nature protection package: EU holds pesticide reduction, biodiversity preservation proposals amid Ukraine war
Party funding: Council of the EU takes steps towards more transparent funding of European political parties
Artificial intelligence: The EU needs to act as a global standard-setter
Council of Europa: Venice Commission criticises changes in the Romanian judiciary, again


It’s really high time to get Brexit done.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic has expressed hope that the Ukraine crisis could inject fresh momentum into the EU’s relationship with post-Brexit Britain, but said it’s time for the UK to fulfill all the international obligations it signed up to under the Brexit deals.


Calls for calm after Corsican nationalist dies from prison attack: The French government called for calm in Corsica on Tuesday after the death of jailed nationalist figure Yvan Colonna raised fears of fresh violence on the Mediterranean island. Colonna was attacked by a fellow inmate at a prison in southern France where he was being held over the 1998 assassination of a senior French government official. News of his death risks inflaming tensions after some of the worst rioting for years earlier this month in Corsica, where some see Colonna as a hero in the fight for independence.

Tesla’s first European Gigafactory opens near Berlin: Tesla’s plant was officially opened Tuesday in the presence of CEO Elon Musk and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Musk ceremoniously handed over the first Model Y cars to customers. Tesla started construction work at the site in Grünheide near Berlin in May 2020, meaning that only around 22 months have passed since then. Germans felt the project had advanced with lightning speed. For some, it had progressed way too fast as they felt — despite several rounds of public hearings — that their environmental concerns, especially fears about excessive water consumption at the plant, had not been dealt with properly.

Algeria recalls ambassador to Spain: Algeria has summoned its ambassador to Spain back for consultations over Madrid’s recent comments on Western Sahara, the foreign affairs ministry said on Saturday. Spain appeared to shift its policy on the Western Sahara which Morocco considers its own, but where an Algeria-backed independence movement demands a sovereign state. Morocco said it had a letter saying Spain considered the autonomy initiative it presented in 2007, as „the most serious, realistic and credible basis for selling the dispute“. Spain’s new position towards the Western Sahara is an „unexpected“ shift from its previous neutral stance, which was supportive of a United Nations plan that includes a self determination referendum, an Algerian diplomatic source told Reuters.

Former Czech PM Babis to face trial in EU subsidy fraud case: Former Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, will face trial after the prosecution indicted him in a fraud case involving European Union subsidies. The allegations involve a farm that received EU subsidies after its ownership was transferred from the Babis-owned Agrofert conglomerate of about 250 companies to Babis family members. Later, Agrofert again took ownership of the farm.

Bulgaria’s former PM Borissov detained after EU probes: Boyko Borissov, the former prime minister of Bulgaria, was detained late Thursday amid a wide-sweeping police investigation linked to probes by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Borisov, who is currently the leader of the opposition center-right GERB party, and several other members of his party were detained in probes related to misuse of EU aid funds. Police have since released Borisov. He said he had not been charged. Prosecutors have yet to comment on the outcome of his detention.,

Trucker protest in Spain: Three Spanish truckers unions on Tuesday dismissed a government aid package and joined a spontaneous one-week strike against rising fuel prices that is likely to aggravate a shortage of food products in supermarkets across the country.

Far-right presidential candidate Zemmour wants to deport 1 million foreigners: In France, a run-off between incumbent Emmanuel Macron and right-wing populist Marine Le Pen is emerging just three weeks before the presidential election. Macron slipped 3.5 points to 27.5% in a recent poll. This still puts him in the lead ahead of Le Pen, who gained two points to 20%. Meanwhile, far-right candidate Éric Zemmour has declared the deportation of one million foreigners as his goal.,

Minister admits Ukrainian refugees arriving in UK illegally would risk jail under nationality bill plan: MPs in the UK have debated the Lords amendments to the nationality and borders bill. Tom Pursglove, the Home Office minister, denied reports claiming asylum seekers hoping to reach the UK could be sent to Ascension Island under new immigration changes. The government wants the bill to include provisions allowing people seeking asylum to have their applications processed offshore, but Pursglove said reports that people were meant to be sent to the Ascension Island for this purpose were untrue.

Freeing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe took too long, Jeremy Hunt says: It took too long to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori from prison in Iran, former UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has said. Hunt told the BBC the British-Iranian pair’s return to the UK last week was an „extraordinary achievement“ but it should have happened faster.

Two women killed after violent attack at Swedish school: Two teachers in their 50s have died after a violent attack at a secondary school in the southern Swedish city of Malmö, police say. An 18-year-old student at the school has been arrested on suspicion of murder. Local media report that the victims were stabbed, but no firearms were used in the attack.

Four US marines killed in Norway plane crash during Nato exercise: Four US marines were killed when their Osprey aircraft crashed in a Norwegian town in the Arctic Circle during a Nato exercise unrelated to the Ukraine war, authorities said on Saturday.

Pope releases Vatican reform: Pope Francis released his long-awaited reform program of the Holy See bureaucracy on Saturday that envisages greater decision-making roles for the laity and gives new institutional weight to efforts to fight clerical sex abuse.

Switzerland: Bicycle restrictions proposed
Belgium: At least 6 people were killed when a driver slammed into Carnival revelers
Italy: Thousands march against Mafia in Naples
Italy: Parliament to raise defence spending to 2% of GDP
Czech Republic: Tender for new nuclear reactor


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Hoax caller claiming to be Ukrainian PM got through to UK defence secretary: An inquiry has been launched after an apparent hoax caller claiming to be the Ukrainian prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, was able to get through and speak directly to the defence secretary, Ben Wallace. After Wallace revealed news of the call on Thursday, Priti Patel said something similar had happened to her earlier in the week. Both government ministers expressed solidarity with Ukraine.