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News from the Capitals

News from the Capitals #53


French pension reform: The need for a serious debate in Parliament
The conflict triggered by the pension reform entered a new phase this week. The unions are still united on the objective of the protest but must now fight against the risk of the movement running out of steam. On Tuesday, February 7, the number of demonstrators was less significant than on January 19 and 31. Unions anticipated a drop in participation during the school holiday period, and they are counting on Saturday for a new demonstration of strength. But to hold on for the long-term, in the face of a government that does not want to budge on the only demand of the inter-union – to give up on raising the legal retirement age to 64 – looks complicated.

So far, the CFDT (the large, more reformist union) has succeeded in imposing the idea that a popular and peaceful show of force is better than blocking actions. Opinion polls show that it is right, but the government’s firmness is likely to push other unions to opt for more radical actions.

A serious debate in Parliament on pension reform would require that all these contradictions be resolved. If this is not done, the left risks being caught in a trap of one-upmanship.

François Braun details 15 measures to “give time back to doctors
3 measures are particularly interesting: 

  • The medical certificate will become an exception in the various fields targeted (such day care centers, schools, sports federations, employers, and obtaining a right for people with disabilities or loss of autonomy).
  • Transmission of supporting documents by private doctors to the Assurance Maladie: “towards zero paper” will be implemented before the end of the year
  • The health card on smartphone” (ApCV) application will be progressively deployed starting this year to limit the number of patients who forget their card and thus avoid all transmissions of supporting documents in paper format.


In London and Paris, Zelensky urges European allies to provide aircraft to Ukraine
The Ukrainian president said that France and Germany can be ‘game changers,’ but his relations with the countries have often been strained since the beginning of the war. The Ukrainian president reiterated his calls to receive “as soon as possible” fighter planes and heavy armaments to resist any new Russian offensive and recover the occupied territories.

No concrete announcement was made on his tour, which was to continue Thursday in Brussels. After visiting Washington two months ago, Zelensky is on his second trip outside his country since the Russian invasion began on February 24, 2022. The main purpose is to encourage European leaders to increase their support, far less than Washington’s, in trying to win the war. 


United Kingdom-Ukraine further strengthens ties in the wake of war with Russia
Ukrainian President Volodymyr visited London, this week meeting both Prime Minster Rishi Sunak and King Charles during this visit. He urged Britain to deliver warplanes and better air support. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in response said that 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers will receive training from the British government which later would be extended to Ukrainian marines and fighter jet pilots. Rishi Sunak says “nothing is off the table” when it comes to the provision of military assistance to Ukraine. The announcement to train the Ukrainian air force on NATO-standard planes is a first step in being able to provide advanced aircraft which currently is still not in the picture as part of the help the UK is giving to Ukraine. The UK’s military, humanitarian, and economic support to Ukraine since the invasion has reached nearly £4bn second as the largest supplier of military aid after the United States. 

Following this visit, Sunak announced further sanctions on Russia. In total the UK’s sanction package hits 6 entities providing military equipment such as drones for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as 8 individuals and 1 entity connected to nefarious financial networks that help maintain wealth and power amongst Kremlin elites.

Prime Minister Sunak announces cabinet reshuffle  
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced yesterday a mini cabinet re-shuffle. The prime minister’s loyal ally Greg Hands has been named as successor for Mr. Nadhim Zahawi, sacked recently for breaching the ministerial code over his tax affairs. The Prime Minister divided the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) into separate ministries, creating a new energy department and merging trade into business. As part of this shakeup, the previous business secretary Grant Shapps has been moved to become the new energy and net zero secretary, while Kemi Badenoch has been promoted to business and trade secretary. 

From the health department, Maria Caulfield has been appointed Under Secretary of State for Mental Health and Women’s Health Strategy and Under Secretary for Business and Trade. Apart from this, the Health Department was escaped unscathed from the reshuffle.  


Double trouble for Nancy Faeser?
For the state elections on October 8th, 2023, Hesse’s SPD wants to put up the Federal Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, as its top candidate. Critics from the opposition say her candidacy could lead to a “Röttgen scenario.” The CDU politician sought to become prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2012 from his post as federal environment minister and lost. He was subsequently dismissed from office due to growing public pressure. However, this scenario does not threaten Nancy Faeser, according to Chancellor Scholz.

Nevertheless, Faeser’s personnel situation is already having an impact on the mood in the traffic light coalition. The Greens in particular are asking whether Faeser will be able to manage both the election campaign and the administration at the same time. Green members of parliament criticize that the leadership of the Federal Ministry of the Interior is not a part-time job, especially not in these times.

Fight against Cancer
The National Center for Tumor Diseases will receive four new sites to promote cancer research in Germany. The two sites in Heidelberg and Dresden will be joined by others in Berlin, Essen, Cologne, Tübingen, and Würzburg. The work there is to be funded with 100 million euros a year in the future. After cardiovascular diseases, cancer is the second most common cause of death in Germany. Every year, more than 230,000 people die as a result. 

Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) is seeking to promote innovative research so that fewer people will fall ill in the future and better treatment options will be available for patients. This is to be helped by 1,000 additional researchers who will work at the new centers. This ambitious program is expected to prevent 3 out of 4 deaths from cancer in the future.


Regional Elections in Lombardy and Latium, Brothers of Italy ready to gain the scene and capitalize the governmental consensus
Between Sunday 12 and Monday 13 February the regional elections will be held in Lazio and Lombardy, the two most important regions of Italy, which see different coalitions, the government one with Lega, Fratelli d’Italia and the opposition one which in Lombardy runs together but not in Lazio, clash for the conquest of the two regions that hold the economic capital (Milan) and the political capital (Rome) of Italy. Brothers of Italy are ready to capitalize on the consensus resulting from the great victory in the national elections and the popularity of their guide, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. In fact, if these managed to reach a substantial share in Lombardy too, they could seriously endanger the Northern League leadership in a region that has always been a stronghold of the Transpadano party. On the other hand, the PD suffocated by the internal discussions for the congress and the primaries to choose the new national secretary is unable to get back on track and does not present, even with the alliance with the M5S (Movimento 5 Stelle), a serious threat to the right-wing coalition led by Attilio Fontana (Lega). In Lazio things are a bit different, here the PD does not have an alliance with the M5S and runs with another alliance than the one created in Lombardy. This already benefits the right-wing candidate, Francesco Rocca (Brothers of Italy), a pupil of Giorgia Meloni ready to take over the reins of the regional government after the five-year leadership of the former national secretary of the PD Zingaretti. 

Exploring the Proposed Reform of Differentiated Autonomy in Italy 
The reform for differentiated autonomy proposed by Roberto Calderoli (Lega), aims to change the way in which resources and powers are distributed within the Italian state structure. Today there are already some contexts that benefit from autonomy, see Valle d’Aosta, Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Sicily, and Sardinia, but this reform is going to propose the possibility for all the regions to ask for more autonomy on 23 different competencies. This has been a workhorse of the majority party Legue since its inception when proposed as a secessionist party. After 30 years, things have changed a bit but the will for autonomy remains strong and pushes and so those with the desire to see this policy achieved. The idea behind differentiated autonomy is that Regions with ordinary statutes can ask to have exclusive jurisdiction over certain matters. Among these: education, enhancement of cultural and environmental heritage, foreign trade, management of ports and airports, and transport networks. In the past, Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna had already tried through individual agreements with the government without success. The Essential Levels of Performance (Lep) are also a crucial factor in the approval of the law, representing the minimum standards of services that must be guaranteed to all citizens across the country. The Lep must be decided within a year of the law’s implementation through special decrees from the Prime Minister, with a special control room established to identify the Lep for each sector. However, the opposition has called for the Lep to be decided by technical and non-political bodies, which the government has not agreed to. 


Again, violence against women is at the center of the political turmoil. 
An issue that should be, in our general view, a political consensus, is now again at the center of the political turmoil in Spain. With Congress having had its first Control Session to the Government on Wednesday, the “Only Yes is Yes” Law (La Ley del Solo Sí es Sí) received all the spotlight with general political discrepancies taking the floor in a very hot discussion in the Chamber. It takes the main stage again, because of a major dispute within the coalition Government (PSOE and Podemos), as after all, we are in an electoral year, and the PSOE wants to punt an end to the controversy of the reduction of sentences to the man that have been convicted for rape and sexual violence in previous years. 

The revisiting of the law will most likely take out what Podemos considers crucial to the reform of the same, which is the issue of demonstrating physical violence with only the physician rather than in trial. Their representatives argue that asking the victim to revisit this traumatic event in public several times is also a violent act against women, justifying it with the famous Hispanic motto of many protests: “I do believe you, sister”. 

However, the opposition says that the newly passed law does not protect women and takes rapists to the streets more quickly. PSOE thinks that it is generally a matter of a technical issue of the law, instead of a political discrepancy showing the cracks of the coalition government that is slowly failing to remain united. 

Moreover, during the control session, other things were discussed, like the proposed law on Animal protection and the price of food and groceries, where Nadia Calviño, vice-president of the government said that the situation is getting better and that (quote) “she already sees an impact over her daily grocery shop”. For most of the public opinion, this is simply not true, on the contrary, things seem to be getting worse.  

Is Spain becoming France? 
In general, it is well known that the health of a democracy is measured by the activity of its civil society. Yet again, another strike has added up to the never-ending list of collectives that have been pushing for changes and better conditions for themselves and their profession. This time is the turn of the Judicial sector. 

The lawyers of the Administration of Justice have been on an indefinite strike for almost 2 weeks, which is leading to the cancellation of thousands of court hearings and the blocking of more than 30 million euros a day from the accounts and consignment deposits that are no longer managed. 

An important sector of this group of officials announced that they were supporting the protests that are directed against the Ministry of Justice: or the court clerks (as they are also known by their previous name) of the Supreme Court, which could aggravate the situation of collapse that the highest Spanish judicial body is going through due to the impossibility of filling the twenty vacant positions for magistrates due to the lack of renewal of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ).

The High Court has denounced on several occasions that the legal limit that prohibits the governing body of judges from making appointments to the judicial leadership while it is in office -a situation that has been in place since December 2018- is causing delays in the processing of the cases, as well as the issuance of more than 1,200 sentences a year.

The end of face masks is here! 
On a positive note, on Wednesday with the publication of the modification of the Royal Decree in the Official State Gazette (BOE), the mask on public transport goes from being mandatory to a decision of the passengers, who as of today will decide whether to wear it or not. Precisely, in the users of public transport, the measure has generated opinions of all kinds: from those who will continue to maintain it for prevention against other diseases, to those who waited for this moment like “rain in May” (Like the Spanish saying goes).

The mask will continue to be mandatory in health and specialized care centers, hospitals, pharmacies, and elderly care residences, by workers and visitors in shared areas.


35 Million Euro: Wallonia’s health system receives a financial boost through EU funds
32 hospitals and 313 care facilities in Wallonia will benefit from European funds accumulating to 35 million Euros to address the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been agreed upon by the Walloon Parliament in Namur. The money shall be invested in materials to be better prepared for future health emergencies and potential pandemics.

Political Power Play: The Government’s U-Turn and recent split over nuclear energy
At the start of the term, there was a universal consensus on exiting nuclear power production by 2025. But following the Russian war against Ukraine and the rise in energy prices, in mid-2022 a consensus was reached to extend the running time of the two youngest power plants by ten years, indicating the first signs of an “exit from the exit of nuclear power production”

Now, electricity infrastructure giant Elia has presented a report that indicated that Belgium risks being unable to meet consumer demands during the winters of 2025 and 2026. The only solution, so Vice-Prime Minister Petra de Sutter from the Flemish Greens, lays in the continued use of nuclear energy. A short-term solution, also acceptable for the Greens, is prolonging the duration of additional power plants until 2027. In the long term, there appears to build a consensus in conservative parties to re-enter more into nuclear energy, possibly also with building new plants. This however gets sharply rejected by the greens and socialist parties, at least for the time being. 

Red Devils welcome Domenico Tedesco as new coach: 
On Wednesday, the rumour that Domenico Tedesco will become the new trainer of Belgium’s national football team has been officially confirmed. 37-year-old Tedesco, who has previously trained Schalke 04, RB Leipzig, and Spartak Moscow receives a contract until 2024. He will give his debut on 24 March, in a qualification game against Sweden. Four days later, the Red Devils will face the German national team in a test game in Cologne. 

Queen Mathilde visits Bangladesh
Her majesty’s agenda includes inter alia visits to sweatshops, schools, and Rohingya refugee camps, as well as discussions around climate change and crisis prevention. 

Police raid blows up Chinese prostitution and human trafficking network 
Across Belgium, there have been police raids on Tuesday, leading to the arrest of 25 persons suspected to be involved in human trafficking related to prostitution circles in China. 

The arrests have been conducted in Antwerp, Charleroi, Leuven, Neufchâteau, and Brussels. While three of the arrested persons have Belgian citizenship, the remaining 22 are Chinese. In total, 20 Chinese women that were abused and forced into prostitution have been liberated following the raid.


The pressure on Dutch Prime Minister Rutte is increasing after measures to decrease the influx of migrants coming to the Netherlands failed. The proposal by the cabinet entailed that family members of Asylum seekers would be expected to wait 6 months longer to travel to the Netherlands. He is expected to solve the problem by deliberating with the European Union. 

Published minutes of Parliamentary meetings published between the end of March 2019 and December 2022 have sparked debate on the political position of the party ‘Forum for Democracy’. This is a Dutch political party that sees itself as liberal-conservative but is usually regarded as a right-wing populist party. They had a win in the 1st chamber back in 2019 when they won 86 seats for the party. However, due to the many sick days and inner conflict, this number has been reduced to 23.


The pressure on Dutch Prime Minister Rutte is increasing after measures to decrease the influx of migrants coming to the Netherlands failed. The proposal by the cabinet entailed that family members of Asylum seekers would be expected to wait 6 months longer to travel to the Netherlands. He is expected to solve the problem by deliberating with the European Union. 

Published minutes of Parliamentary meetings published between the end of March 2019 and December 2022 have sparked debate on the political position of the party ‘Forum for Democracy’. This is a Dutch political party that sees itself as liberal-conservative but is usually regarded as a right-wing populist. They had a win in the 1st chamber back in 2019 when they won 86 seats for the party. However, due to the many sick days and inner conflict, this number has been reduced to 23.

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