The Capitals brings you the latest news from across Europe, through on-the-ground reporting by EURACTIV’s media network. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
BERLIN / WARSAW
In state elections on Sunday in eastern Germany, right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) achieved historical gains in Saxony and Brandenburg. AfD managed to tap into voter dissatisfaction in the former East Germany, with one poll in Saxony revealing that 66% believe themselves to be “second class citizens” in unified Germany. 78% of AfD voters believe in a two-track Germany. But Chancellor Merkel’s CDU and its coalition partner the SPD still managed to hold on to their position as the strongest political parties, allowing the current grand coalition to hold on until 2021. The Greens also continued their strong showing in the Bundesrepublik, increasing their share of the votes in both states. It puts them in a strong position for the looming coalition talks.
Meanwhile, further east still in Poland, the leaders of many countries commemorated the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion, which acted as the catalyst for WWII. Top Polish politicians were present, including Donald Trump’s deputy, Mike Pence, as well as Germany’s Merkel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, among others. The German president made an impassioned speech asking for the forgiveness of Poland but the issue of war reparations also reared its head again.
On the sidelines of the event, Merkel used the occasion to talk to Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki about the post of the next Polish EU Commissioner and energy and climate policy. Warsaw’s pick for the Brussels job, Janusz Wojciechowski, is set to serve as the bloc’s next agriculture Commissioner after the previous nominee took himself out of the running due to lack of experience with the job on offer. Western EU member states are waiting for elections in Poland to be done and dusted so talks on a landmark climate change plan can start again in earnest. Earlier in the year Poland was one of four countries to torpedo the agreement, with many in Brussels concluding that the PM could not afford to sign up to the pact before the October vote. (Claire Stam, EURACTIV.de, Łukasz Gadzała), EURACTIV.pl, Sam Morgan, EURACTIV.com)
Barnier says no.The EU will not compromise on the already agreed Brexit withdrawal agreement and scrap the Irish backstop, the bloc’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier has said.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Barnier said: “On the EU side, we had intense discussions with EU member states on the need to guarantee the integrity of the EU’s single market, while keeping that border fully open.
“In this sense, the backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.” Meanwhile, opposition MPs this week are set to put forward a bill that would “prevent leaving [the EU] without a deal,” according to Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer.
However, speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Conservative minister Michael Gove refused to confirm whether the executive would in fact agree to the notion of shelving a no-deal Brexit, should MPs back the plans this week. (Samuel Stolton, EURACTIV.com)
A knife attack in the suburbs of Lyon by an Afghan refugee visibly suffering from paranoid delirium left one dead and several wounded on Saturday. The courts have not charged the young man with terrorism. The refugee had applied for asylum in several European countries in recent years, including Sweden, Italy and Germany. A path that has prompted the far right, including Marine Le Pen, to denounce “France’s lax immigration policy”. Gilles Le Gendre, president of Macron’s LREM group, denied any link between refugee status and the probability of committing crimes, but admitted that “there is an immigration problem” in France. (EURACTIV.fr)
“Ignorant” French MPs. Spain’s foreign affairs minister and future EU high-representative, Josep Borrell, on Sunday lamented “the ignorance about the reality of Spain” that 52 French MPs voiced in an op-ed published Le Journal Du Dimanche, on what they call “the attack on fundamental freedoms” in the region of Catalonia, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
“These MPs ignore the reality of a neighbouring country and friend of France such as Spain, which is part like Spain of the European Union, a country united by the same respect for the rule of law,” Borrell said.
Former French PM and current Barcelona councillor Manuel Valls on Sunday also criticised the “ignorance and irresponsibility” of the 52 who, he said, “do not know that Spain is a democracy”. (EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)
Government update. Anti-establishment party Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) are still having a hard time finding a common programme to form a ruling coalition. M5S leader Luigi Di Maio explicitly raised the possibility of new elections on Friday causing havoc for negotiators.
The PD is now proposing to not appoint any deputy PM in order to avoid a clash on the top government jobs. Prime-Minister-in-waiting Giuseppe Conte is confident that he will present his team no later than Wednesday (4 September). Meanwhile, right-wing Lega leader Matteo Salvini said Di Maio is “a victim” of Conte. (Gerardo Fortuna, EURACTIV.com)
Losing your Brexit marbles. Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called on his British counterpart Boris Johnson to return the Parthenon marbles to Athens in 2021, when Greece celebrates 200 years of independence. Mitsotakis said in an interview with the Observer that he’d propose a loan move, which would see “important artefacts that have never left Greece” given to the British Museum on a temporary basis in return.
Athens, which accuses London of having stolen the Parthenon artefacts during the Ottoman Empire, has been pushing for over 30 years for their return. The opposition reacted though, saying that by only proposing to borrow the marbles, Greece recognises that the British Museum is the actual owner. (Theodore Karaoulanis, EURACTIV.gr)
Constitution Day. Slovakia celebrated the Day of the Constitution on 1 September. The leader of coalition party Smer-SD (PES) Robert Fico, an ex-PM, repeated his proposal to adopt a constitutional amendment preventing the adoption of children by same-sex couples. The idea behind this that it would prevent possible future liberal government from pushing though a legislative change allowing adoption by gay couples. “We still have other problems in this country,” current PM Peter Pellegrini (Smer-SD) said reacting to Fico’s proposal. Pellegrini might be on his way to leave Smer-SD party for a new political project according to rumours. (Zuzana Gabrižová,EURACTIV.sk)
The power plant lawsuit? Some of Austria’s lawmakers do not rule out a lawsuit being filed against the Czech Republic at the European Court of Justice over the financing of its nuclear power plant extension, Austrian daily Kurier reported. The two politicians criticise the fact that the two planned nuclear units obtained a positive environmental impact assessment. The Czech environment ministry claims it will have an acceptable impact on the environment and human health. A construction permit is still pending. (Ondřej Plevák, EURACTIV.cz)
Local election showdown. On 2 September the registration of candidates started for the local elections, to be held on 27 October. The daily Dnevnik writes that the country’s ombudsman, Maya Manolova, is on course to resign and run for mayor of Sofia. This would pit her against Yordanka Fandakova, who is expected to run for a third mandate as mayor of the capital on behalf of the GERB party of PM Boyko Borissov. According to recent opinion polls the popular ombudsman is likely to beat Fandakova at the 3 November runoff. Manolova’s background is from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, but she is also supported by centrist and centre-right forces opposed to GERB.(Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV.com)
Bled Strategic Forum starts. In recent years the Bled Strategic Forum has become one of the leading international conferences in the region. The title of this year’s event is “(Re)sources of (In)stability” and it will also address multilateralism, NATO’s future, protectionism as the root of global instability, human rights, and the challenges facing the new European Commission.
A good year. Slovenia’s five-party minority government finished its first year with high public support: between 51 and 59%. The number of unemployed is going down steadily and Slovenia is the only country in the EU and NATO with two women leading its security forces. (Željko Trkanjec,EURACTIV.hr)
On the defence. Closer cooperation in defence and security is necessary between EU member states given the challenges they face and this cooperation is an opportunity for the industry sector and economic development, European Defence Agency chief executive Jorge Domecq told Hina. He will be in Zagreb today. (Željko Trkanjec, EURACTIV.hr)
New sheriff in town. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has appointed deputy Matthew Palmer as his Special Representative for the Western Balkans. Palmer will lead efforts to strengthen US diplomatic engagement in support of peace, stability and prosperity in the region and focus on the integration of the Western Balkan countries into Western institutions. First up, Palmer will travel to Slovenia this week to attend the Bled Strategic Forum. (beta.rs, EURACTIV.rs)
Izetbegović will be president of SDA. Bakir Izetbegović will be the only candidate on the ballot for president of Bosniak party SDA on 14 September. A member of the Izetbegović family has been in charge almost constantly since the founding of the party in 1990. (Željko Trkanjec, EURACTIV.hr)