Finnish PM’s awkward meeting in Estonia

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.

Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, we invite you to read Georgi Gotev’s story from Zagreb “Von der Leyen fails to convince that her Commission is ‘geopolitical’”.

Also, take a look at the story “Agri-food exports to US spike ahead of tariffs storm“.



Finland and Estonia – a timeless friendship? Last week, the road show of the Finnish Prime minister Sanna Marin was taken first to Stockholm and then Tallinn. In Sweden, the meeting was a mere coffee break with fellow social democrats. But in Estonia, it was all about repairing the damage in front of an extremely attentive media.

Pekka Vänttinen has the details.



A friendly meeting in Moscow. Over the weekend, Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Moscow to discuss the US’s recent escalation with Iran, as well as the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya. In a surprise to many, the meeting was warm and friendly with the two heads of state emphasising commonalities. Some have speculated that with the recent vacuum left by the US stepping back from its usual role in foreign policy, this new tact may become the status quo.

Read the story of’s Sarah Lawton.



Von der Leyen seeks Austrian help with Eastern member states. By scheduling his obligatory meeting with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday (12 January) as the new head of government so swiftly after his inauguration, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) sought to signal that his government is engaged with Europe.

At the meeting, von der Leyen applauded Austria’s high climate ambitions and put high hopes in the country’s ability to build bridges between Eastern and Western member states.  

EURACTIV Germany’s Philipp Grüll reports.



Could a random citizen group save the environment? 150 randomly chosen citizens have been working on climate issues in France, supposedly to find a solution about how to reduce greenhouse gases. Although President Emmanuel Macron has promised that the results of their work should be taken into account, either by law or referendum, many are unhappy with the group.

But why is it causing such a stir? EURACTIV France reports.



With or without N-VA? There is still great uncertainty hanging over the Belgian federal government formation, as informers Joachim Coens (CD&V) and Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR) once again prepare to visit the King this Monday afternoon. After 232 days of coalition talks, which over time had shifted more towards the centre-right, it is still unclear, whether it will be possible to combine the two biggest parties, the Flemish nationalist N-VA and Socialist PS.

Alexandra Brzozowski has the latest update.




Labour field narrows. The field of candidates to replace Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition Labour party is set to narrow on Monday when the deadlines for nominations closes. So far, only four candidates: shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey have reached the threshold of 22 nominations from the party’s MPs and MEPs. Ben Fox reports.



General election date. Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made a decision on a General Election date, but is refusing to announce it, due to “protocol.”

EURACTIV’s Samuel Stolton explores why.




“I didn’t mean that” pt. 1. After progressives criticised centre-left leader Nicola Zingaretti following his interview with La Repubblica in which he announced his party (Democratic Party) was changing its name and opening up to the grassroots movement “sardines”, Zingaretti backpedalled the next day, saying he wants to modernise, not break up the party.

“I didn’t mean that” pt. 2. In a TV interview, Italy’s resigning education minister, Lorenzo Fioramonti, said that his resignation letter to PM Giuseppe Conte was only meant to convey a strong message to the government over his ministry’s lack of funding. However, he didn’t expect his resignation would be accepted so easily.

And what happened to Fioramonti’s replacement? EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna explains.



Eyeing Catalonia, Sánchez promises social and territorial dialogue. Newly re-elected socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, vowed “social, territorial and generational” dialogue to be at the core of his mandate, with an eye on the political conflict in Catalonia.  

Sánchez’s gender-balanced cabinet, which happens to also be the first coalition since the restoration of the country’s democracy, intends to “speak with one voice”, whilst drawing inspiration from different sources. Out of the cabinet’s four vice-presidencies, three will be female, while the fourth will be the far-left leader and former MEP Pablo Iglesias (Unidas Podemos). (Beatriz Rios |



Football ‘(anti)hero’ case sparks whistleblower debate. Seen as a ‘hero’ for some and a ‘villain’ for others, the creator of Football Leaks, Rui Pinto, will know this Monday how many crimes he will be tried for. The country’s whistleblower laws will be put to the test in what is an unparalleled case for Portugal.

Lusa‘s João Godinho and Jorge Afonso Silva have the story.



What Americans actually do? Greece has an open channel of communication with the US and this, especially in the present circumstances, is an incredibly large asset, Greek FM Nikos Dendias said in an interview with SKAI TV on Sunday.

But is Washington dealing with the Greece-Turkey spat or not? Sarantis Michalopoulos explains what happened over the weekend.




Eurosceptic Czechs want to stay in the EU. 54% of Czechs (55% in February 2019) reject a referendum on the country’s withdrawal from the EU, compared to 30% who would welcome one, according to a poll by the CVVM institute. Were such a referendum to take place in December 2019, 21% of Czechs would vote for the country to leave the Union, while 45% would want to remain a part of it. (Ondřej Plevák |



Prime minister Viktor Orbán will hold mid-term consultations with Fidesz-KDNP electoral district presidents, the ruling coalition announced. Two years into the four-year mandate, Fidesz will hold talks to evaluate its achievements and the government’s priorities for the year. Consultations with the 106 constituency presidents start next week. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov |



Thousand march against judicial reforms. In a show of solidarity for the country’s judges, the streets of Warsaw saw a march of close to 15,000 people in support of an independent judiciary. The march was organised in support of judges, whom the ruling party, the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, intends to subjugate and punish for non-compliance with its controversial reforms.  (Łukasz Gadzała |

>>Read also: EU judges join Polish colleagues to protest ‘muzzle law’



Extremists poll second ahead of elections. With general elections set for 29 February, most recent polls confirm that the country’s second most popular party, after the ruling SMER-SD, is  the neo-fascist ĽSNS (People’s Party Our Slovakia). (Zuzana Gabrižová |




‘We are running out of time’. Croatian MP and former Foreign Minister Miro Kovač (HDZ, EPP) have published a statement demanding Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to accept responsibility for a crushing defeat in last week’s elections.

EURACTIV Croatia‘s Tea Trubić Macan has more.



Cheating the system. Bulgarian foreign minister Ekaternia Zaharieva has proposed a bizarre scheme to help lift the US visa barrier for Bulgarian citizens. The US says the refusal rate of Bulgarians applying for visas is too high – 9%, the threshold for considering lifting the visa requirement being 3%. Zaharieva has proposed that Bulgarians with “good visa dossiers” apply for US visa even if they don’t need one, to be able to improve the record. The idea seems however unrealistic because people who don’t need visas would not spend time and money for the application. (Georgi Gotev,


(Edited by Daniel Eck, Sarantis Michalopoulos and Ben Fox)


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