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News from the Capitals

News from the Capitals #49


France and strikes: a love story episode 2023
The new year 2023 promises to be explosive in France. After a major strike of railway workers during the Christmas holidays, preventing several families from meeting during the holidays. The government decided to move faster on its pension reform aimed at raising the retirement age from 62 to 65. The various workers’ unions are warning the government that demonstrations will take place throughout the country if this bill is passed. The former “yellow vest” protesters also announced on social networks a demonstration this Saturday, January 7 in Paris. However, the government does not believe in carrying out large demonstrations throughout the country. The government remains determined to adopt its pension law in order to balance its budget, which is in deficit. 

At the same time, liberal doctors continue their strike and close their practices this Saturday. They ask for an increase in the price of the consultation which is currently 25€ to 50 € desired for 2023. Negotiations with health insurance are very complicated and both sides do not intend to give in to the other. This strike is to the detriment of patients who already have problems accessing care in remote areas of the country. 

During the televised wishes of the new year 2023 by Emmanuel Macron a sentence was the subject of several controversies. Indeed, the president said, “Who could have predicted the climate crisis?” This phrase was received with a lot of criticism from scientists and researchers fighting global warming for more than 40 years. The French media are now questioning the “climate skepticism” of the president who used to say for years that he was committed against global warming.


The Christmas and New Year period across the UK was dominated by further strike action carried out by nurses and ambulance drivers, railway and bus workers and Royal Mail employees. The strikes have been very disruptive and have renewed pressures on the Conservative’s to address pay concerns and put an end to the strikes. This week, Sunak responded to calls for action by introducing new legislation that will bring in minimum service requirements for striking unions and make it harder to initiate strikes from the outset. The legislation is likely to face opposition in the Lords and may struggle to pass through in its current form.

The strikes had a major impact on the NHS over Christmas, with patients facing very long waits and a lack of bed space for emergency care. Reports of people sleeping on hospital floors initiated calls for action from the government and an early return to parliament. In response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gave a speech to address key concerns. He laid out several key priorities for the year and promised that the NHS waiting list will fall, with more NHS patients directed to private hospitals. He noted that elective surgical hubs and community centers will be established to ensure better primary care, with services for scans, tests or routine electives being separate from the hospital.


Happy New Year. Or Not?
The new year is already starting with intense debates. During the pandemic, the sale of fireworks was largely prohibited. The argument at the time was that the intensive care units, which were already working to capacity, should not be put under additional strain by the high numbers of casualties that experience has shown to occur on New Year’s Eve. However, since the pandemic seems to be abating in Germany, sales were resumed as normal. With serious consequences. 

In Berlin, in particular, many people took New Year’s Eve as an opportunity to give free rein to their destructive frenzy. The Berlin fire department reported over 1700 missions during the night and multiple attacks on rescue workers. Streets were partially blocked, and cars were set on fire to deny access to security forces. 

The unrestrained use of fireworks and the unprecedented hostility towards rescue forces now triggered a debate about whether pyrotechnics should continue to be freely available for purchase in the future. There were similar incidents in some other cities in Germany, but the majority celebrated peacefully into the new year.


Political Situation
Concern about the Covid-19 situation grows as the EU warns the Member States to make tests for Chinese flight passengers entering the EU. 

The Government has already imposed the national authorities to test passengers entering the two major international airports in Italy, the health authorities are asked to track specifically possible new variants that are not yet circulating in Italy and that might create serious disruption to an already weak healthcare sector. The specific variant that the epidemiologists are trying to find is the XBB.1.5 of SARS-COV-2, but until now the variants detected in the Chinese patients are the same that are circulating in Italy. 

The new government is exercising the possibility of changing various figures in top roles of the Public Administration, the so-called “Spoil System”. 

The Minister of Health, Orazio Schillaci has decided to apply the spoil system towards the Director General of Aifa, Nicola Magrini who will soon leave his office. In his place, a new DG will probably be appointed who will steer the Agency until the recently approved reform path is operational. Other apical positions both in healthcare and other institutions will see a change in the DGs, the same will probably happen to different public companies that are going to change the Managers in the next few months and where the new Executive will apply the Spoil System as well. 


Welcome 2023, an election year
The year 2023 has arrived and it comes loaded with elections in Spain. At the end of May, elections both at the regional and local level will take place, and national ones will be held at the end of 2023. The PSOE is playing to maintain the presidency of 9 autonomous regions and the continuity in the Executive. Meanwhile, the Popular Party seeks to retain its stronghold in the Community of Madrid and to snatch La Moncloa from the coalition Government.

New appointments in the Spanish Constitutional Court
Spain’s judicial institutions are still blocked. The inability of the Government (PSOE) and opposition (PP) to reach an agreement regarding the appointment of new judges, strongly divided between progressives and conservatives has driven the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), to be still functioning with a mandate expired for 4 years. 

To put an end to this situation, the Government decided to modify the law through which the new magistrates are chosen, decreasing the weight of Parliamentary Chambers in the election, but a wake-up call from Brussels made the Executive withdraw the proposal.  

However, it is not all bad news, after four months with four magistrates of the Constitutional Court with an expired mandate who were to be appointed by the General Council of the Judiciary (2) and by the Government (2), an agreement has been reached between conservative and progressive judges, appointing two new members: the conservative César Tolosa and the progressive María Luisa Segoviano. 

Covid… Again? 
While we have had a quiet holiday period in the Iberian Peninsula due to covid-19, it seems that the alarms are ringing in China. There has been a dramatic rise in the number of cases in the Asian country, and, for this reason, the Spanish Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, announced on Friday 30th that a negative diagnostic test or vaccination certificate will be requested again from travelers coming from China. The Spanish Government is thus following in the footsteps of Italy, the United States, and neighboring Asian countries such as Japan and Taiwan.


General news

  • Belgian SMEs affected by a severe wave of bankruptcies
  • According to the Belgian statistics department Statbel, a record-breaking number of 570 construction companies declared bankruptcy in the last three months of 2022. The total number of closings in the sector tallies at 1.900, with the rise of energy and material costs being the main reason. 
  • In 2022, the transport services reported the largest number of bankruptcies in the last decade. The lion’s share of the 233 closing businesses comes from small enterprises based in Brussels or Antwerp. 
  • Belgian aid worker arrested and accused of spying and treason in Iran 
  • 28-year-old Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who has recently been arrested in Iran by the Mullah regime, has now been officially accused of spying and endangering Iran’s national security. Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib has officially declared her conviction that Vandecasteele is innocent and requested his release. 
  • A late white Christmas at the port of Antwerp
  • On the third day of the new year, Belgian authorities seized the first big drug import at the port of Antwerp: More than 1.250 kilograms of cocaine were discovered, hidden between a container of tomato paste. 

Health-related news 

Belgium augments list of operations in day clinics 
With the new year, the Belgian state almost doubled the number of operations that can be undertaken in day clinics without the need to spend a night at the hospital. The previous number of 246 has now been increased to 551, with appendix removals, and hip and knee transplantations among the new interventions. However, the new regulation only offers the opportunity, there is no duty to have the intervention taken without a night’s stay. 

Belgium officially affected by the influenza epidemic 
Celebrity virologist Steven Van Gucht told Belgian media outlets that the peak of the current influenza wave is expected in a month. He urged people to still get vaccinated against this year’s seasonal influenza.  


The lack of numerous medicines in pharmacies and hospitals distresses the government. During an interview on 3 January, the Minister of Health Thanos Plevris underlined that currently, hospitals experience no shortage of medicines and only pharmacies face a serious lack of drugs. However, this shortage is a global phenomenon due to the gravely reduced production worldwide and the alarming outbreak of infections. To this end, the Minister sent a letter to the European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, asking the Commission “to ensure the availability of all pharmaceutical products for Europeans, and in the long term, to strengthen the production of medicines in the EU”.

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