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News from the Capitals

News from the Capitals #58


Emmanuel Macron believes that the “ideological battle over strategic autonomy has now been won”. Is he sure about it? 
On the plane returning from a failed trip to China on 9 April, Emmanuel Macron urged the European Union not to “follow” on the Taiwan issue and not to “adapt to the American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction”. For the French President, strategic autonomy was crucial to prevent European states from becoming “vassals” when Europe could be “the third power” facing the United States and China. He said that “France has no lessons to receive from anyone, neither on the Ukrainian crisis nor in the Sahel or Taiwanese themes”. Strategic autonomy is both the French president’s DNA and his most divisive ideology. The epidermal reactions to the remarks he made on his return from China on Saturday 8 April, to put the subject of Europe’s sovereignty back on the agenda, show how sensitive the issue remains. 

The Biden administration sought on Monday to play down the controversy, saying the United States had a “great bilateral relationship” with France. China, on the other hand, welcomed comments that were “clearly the result of longstanding observation and reflection”.

The “European King” having a bad time in the Netherlands
Emmanuel Macron continued his state visit to the Netherlands on Wednesday 12 April. During his speech on the future of Europe at a Dutch university, French students set up actions to disrupt the event. They are part of an environmental and anti-capitalist movement. And were protesting regarding the pension reform in France where the bill is now analysed by the Constitutional Council which will publish its decision this Friday 14 April. Macron promises to reunite the unions after the decision to prepare a new bill on wealth sharing in companies, but the trust is now gone. During his visit, The French President welcomed the strengthening of partnerships with the Netherlands on energy, transport, and innovation as well as agriculture. These are all areas that aim to strengthen Europe’s strategic autonomy. The Dutch Prime Minister thanked Emmanuel Macron and affirmed his desire to increase Europe’s independence.

Macron and Rutte can count on Charles Michel who said in an interview that he agrees with the opinion of Emmanuel Macron 


Biden pays visit to the UK and Ireland
This week President Biden visited the UK, meeting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday to discuss Northern Ireland and the war in Ukraine. Further details of the meeting have not been revealed yet, however, an important agenda point, the free-trade agreement between the USA and the UK, has not been discussed. Since Biden’s visit, several accusations towards has made headlines in the UK, arguing that Biden is anti-British given its Irish heritage and some of his discussion points raised in Ireland. These accusations were immediately refused by the White House.  

Scotland and England meet in court? 
The new Scottish Prime Minister Yousaf is already butting heads with Westminster. The English parliament rejected the legislation of the Scottish gender reforms bill based on the right given to Westminster via the devolution settlement agreement with Scotland. As a result, the Scottish government announced this week that it will take Westminster to court for rejecting the bill without proposing any amendments or warning British willingness to use power to block the gender reform.  

Diabetes reach a historical high in the UK 
It has been revealed recently that more than 5 million people in the UK have diabetes for the first time as a result of rising levels of obesity, with almost 2-3rds of adults in the UK overweight or obese. These numbers are expected to shape future NHS policies on diabetes and healthy lifestyle moving forward.


Germany turns its back on nuclear energy
In two days the last three remaining active atomic reactors Isar 2, Neckarwestheim, and Emsland will be shut down forever. The end of nuclear energy was a key demand of the greens in the “traffic light”-coalition and was strictly opposed by the liberal FDP. The shutdown was supposed to happen over New Year’s Eve, after a huge argument between the coalition, the retreat was shifted to April. 

Nevertheless, the FDP fraction in the Bundestag proposed to at least maintain the usability of the reactors for one year. FDP vice president Wolfgang Kubicki stated that the shutdown of the worldwide most modern and safest nuclear power reactors in Germany would be a dramatic error, that will have painful economic and ecological consequences. While the green minister for nuclear safety Steffi Lemke sticks to the plan calling the maintenance of the usability “a breach of law”. The chief of Greenpeace Germany Martin Kaiser expects “a real boost for renewable energies” after the shutdown. Germany is one of the few countries in the world to retreat from nuclear power, while European partners like Poland and Finland are investing in new reactors.  

Anti-war marches on Easter Monday
On Easter Monday there are traditionally anti-war demonstrations in several places in Germany. The annual demonstrations are rooted in the peace movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. Regarding Ukraine, the organizers demand an immediate ceasefire, a stop of the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, and peace negotiations without any pre-conditions. This year the initiators attracted a lot more people than in the years before. Many of the protesters waved Russian flags, others were holding banners that demanded “peace with China and Russia”. One of the networks behind the protest marches Friedenskooperative stated, that there would be differences within the movement in the perception of Russia and the war in Ukraine, even though there would be a consensus against military buildup and for peace negotiations. 

The demonstrations were criticized by several politicians, such as the conservative Thorsten Frei (CDU) saying “You have to be ready to defend our liberal democracy” or the green Minister of Economy Robert Habeck stating “There can only and will only be peace if Putin stops his aggressive war.”

The pandemic is over
According to the German Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach, the COVID-19 pandemic is over in Germany. He has drawn this conclusion by looking at virus variants, vaccination rates, and hospital cases.

Lauterbach, who is an epidemiologist by profession, was a member of parliament during the beginning of the pandemic but had a significant influence on the measures against the virus. He was known as a hardliner due to his very cautious and at times radical proposals. Looking back, he states that there are things he would have done differently.

On this Friday all protective government measures against the pandemic will come to an end.


The IMF raises Spain’s growth forecast for 2023 but lowers that of 2024
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has increased its growth forecast for Spain in 2023 to 5.5%, up from the 5.1% predicted in January. However, the organization has lowered its forecast for 2024 to 4.1%, down from the 4.4% predicted in January. The IMF also predicts a global economic growth rate of 4.4% in 2023 and 3.8% in 2024, with emerging markets and developing economies growing faster than advanced economies. The IMF has called on countries to work together to ensure a sustainable and inclusive recovery from the pandemic.

Spain’s Interannual Inflation Rate Drops to 3.3% in March, Mainly Driven by Lower Energy Prices
The interannual rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in Spain decreased to 3.3% in March, down from 3.6% in February, according to data released by the National Statistics Institute (INE). This is the first time that the interannual inflation rate has fallen since November 2021. The main reason for the decrease in inflation is due to the lower prices of electricity and gas, which had a significant impact on the inflation rate in the previous months. Despite this decrease, the inflation rate remains high, above the European Central Bank’s target of 2%.

Spanish Data Protection Agency Investigates ChatGPT for Possible Data Protection Violations.
The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) has announced the opening of an investigation into possible non-compliance with data protection regulations by ChatGPT, an artificial language model created by OpenAI. The investigation will focus on the possible collection and processing of personal data of Spanish citizens, as well as on transparency and the right of access to data by users.


Push to Lower the Voting Age to 16
Vooruit, the Flemish socialist party, submitted a draft decree last week to lower the legal voting age to 16 for municipal and provincial council elections. They argue that 16-year-olds understand and are affected enough by the political world to participate in the democratic process. Moreover, it will hopefully motivate young people to educate themselves about the (complicated) Belgian political system and participate more actively in the future. The proposal enables 16- and 17-year-olds to vote but does not make it mandatory as it is for Belgian adults. Vooruit hopes to push this through in time for the local elections happening in October 2024.

Currently, the Christian Democrat party, CD&V, and the liberal Open VLD parties are in favour of the proposal, while right-wing N-VA, the largest party in the Flemish parliament, strongly objects. Moreover, when forming the Flemish government one of the explicit requests from N-VA was to not allow the lowering of the voting age making CD&V and Open VLD’s support a tad awkward.


Climate scientists urge Jetten to make haste with policy and to involve citizens
Climate change scientists have advised the Climate & Energy Minister, Rob Jetten, to accelerate the green transition to climate neutrality by 2050 in the Netherlands. The board of scientists, consisting of energy experts, economists, climate, and social scientistscreated a 150-page report for Jetten. The report recommends that the country will endure desperate change including promoting the use of public transport over private cars and that all necessary provisions in villages should be accessible by walking.

The agricultural sector is also expected to undergo significant changes, including less livestock and a shift to other agricultural crops and natural resources. The energy transition will bear the most change, with an estimated 70% of electrical energy coming from offshore wind parks. Hydrogen will play a limited but indispensable role in industries, while biomass energy sources will also be used. However, this is considered a sensitive topic by some experts.

Other energy sources, including geothermal heating and other biofuels such as gas, will expand by 2050. Nuclear energy will not make up a significant part of the transition due to the expansion of renewable energy sources. Nuclear energy ultimately leads to reactors not fully fulfilling the energy need, which will be more cost-bearing. It is estimated that overburdening of the electrical power network will occur due to increased demand for electrical sources, leading to a prolonged need for biomass and gas energy sources.

Aniek Moonen, Chair of the Young Climate Movement, and co-author of a report emphasized the need to prioritize citizens’ participation in efforts to achieve climate goals. Moonen stressed the significance of involving citizens in the process to achieve sustainable and clean energy solutions.

The chair of the expert group, Bernard ter Haar, believes that directive policy is essential to achieving climate goals. Ter Haar stated that all work should focus on the world of 2050, and that difficult choices cannot be postponed any longer. Jetten has not yet taken action regarding the report.

Not enough attention of hospitals to doctors’ extra income
Journalist Anne Pruis research editor NOS/Nieuwsuur, Siebe Sietsma, research editor NOS/Nieuwsuur have published their investigation, on Tuesday, March 11th April, uncovering that the transparency registry, recording the payments to doctors by companies, that scandal has been uncovered due to the perception of conflict of interests.

Transparency register institute is there to ensure: paying doctors in the medical industry must register their transactions to avoid the risk of conflict of interest and bribery.

Ten years ago, the transparency register was established due to a scandal involving a top virologist who is also a shareholder of a company that is involved with the testing of vaccines. This led to the launching of a national campaign for transparency. 

The registry records all payments, and patients, insurance, and citizens can access it to see what their physician has spent. However, there are no entries for the entire year of 2018 for extra income, with transaction histories being far from complete. The journalists came to the main conclusion that the registry has a: complicated search method, a high rate of error codes, and a lack of payment registry participation.

Cardiologists appear to be the biggest group; profiting the most from the money spent by the industry. Dutch law does not forbid physicians from accepting money from companies. Currently, the sector itself is responsible for regulating the registry but Health Minister Kuipers wants to transfer this competency to the government and make it illegal to not comply. Doctors often bypass the system by registering private companies.

A recent investigation by the Health and Youth Care Inspectorate (IGJ) found that hospitals are not paying enough attention to additional income received by doctors from medical device suppliers, with hospital boards not having adequate control over this issue. A hospital owner anonymously commented: ‘If a physician does research in my hospital with the hospitals patients and facilities is there no right that the money would be kept by the doctor.’

The Minister of Public Health, Ernst Kuipers, plans to intervene and increase government regulation, supervision, and enforcement to prevent healthcare providers from prioritizing private interests over the social objective of healthcare. Before this was public knowledge he has been quoted in the chamber letters to the Dutch Parliament saying the registry is functioning well. The Dutch Association of Hospitals and the Federation of Medical Specialists have also created new guidelines to improve oversight of medical specialist companies and foundations.


Masks are no longer mandatory in health services in Portugal since last Thursday
The Government approved last Thursday the decree-law that ends the obligation to use masks in “health establishments, residential structures, home support services to vulnerable populations, elderly or disabled people and in the units of the National Network for Continued Care”.

The use of masks was still compulsory in these spaces under the Covid-19 pandemic countermeasures.

In Portugal, there are more private than public hospitals, but most care is provided by the NHS
To mark World Health Day, the National Statistics Institute of Portugal has released a report with data from 2020 and 2021 that outlines the reality of health in Portugal in numbers. 

The numbers show that in Portugal are more private than public hospitals.

However, it is interesting because the document highlights those hospitals in the National Health Service (NHS) or public-private partnerships continue to be the main providers of health services, providing 86.2 percent of complementary diagnostic and/or therapeutic procedures, 84.2 percent of emergency care, 72.3 percent of hospital admissions, 72.1 percent of surgeries and 63.2 percent of medical consultations.

In 21,3 million consultations, 61% were done in the NHS.


Shortages of Healthcare professionals hinder Public Health
During an interview on 7 April, the Minister of Health, Thanos Plevris, referred to the problem of shortages of healthcare professionals in the national health system (NHS).

The Minister highlighted that the shortages concern especially nurses and anesthesiologists who prefer working abroad or in the private sector, rather than joining the NHS, as the salaries are lower. The Minister also noted that “We have too many private doctors who do not want to become civil servants. Nor can we force them to become civil servants”.

However, according to his intervention, the National Health System, in 2019 there were 100,313 people, today there are 107,600, an increase of 7,500 people in the National Health System.

Greek Elections: The Neo-Nazi party saga continues
On 11 April, with the broad majority of 178 members of the national parliament, which includes New Democracy and PASOK, but also with the resounding abstention of SYRIZA, whose stance was criticized by almost all political forces, the Parliament approved new security measures to prevent participation in the parliamentary elections of criminal organizations under the guise of a political party, which is what Ilias Kasidiaris, convicted for participating in such an organization, is seeking.

The passing of the relevant legislation was planned as part of the last meeting of the Parliament before its dissolution in view of the election match on May 21.

After the passing of the amendment that provides for an increased composition of judges who will judge on the legality of the participation of political parties in the upcoming elections, the Supreme Court is now able to make its decision by 5 May.


Reforms of the health care system in Quebec 
On 31st of March, Quebec Health Minister, Christian Dubé presented Bill 15 to the National Assembly, announcing a deep reform of the provincial healthcare system and the creation of a new agency, Santé Québec. This plan hopes to answer the provinces’ health care systems inefficiencies, long wait times, and difficulties to access specialized care. Santé Québec would oversee the current 34 regional health agencies, while decentralizing the decision-making process to hospitals and medical facilities, providing more flexibility and a tailor-made answer to local problems. The proposed reform is, however, criticised by unions for its lack of consultation with workers and deemed to create an additional administrative layer without addressing the root of the problem. It remains unclear how this change will improve patients’ access to quality health and social services.  

Drug shortages caused by mass imports from the United States 
Canada has been grappling with drug shortages caused by online purchases by U.S. residents. This issue has been particularly prevalent in the case of Ozempic, primarily used to treat diabetes. The demand for this drug has, however, soared following social media and celebrity endorsement for its weight-loss benefits. U.S. residents have benefitted from a legislation loophole to acquire cheaper drugs from pharmacies in British Columbia. This situation has raised the need for Canada to collect data on this phenomenon to, in turn, propose legislation to protect Canada’s prescription drug supply. 

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