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News from the Capitals

News from the Capitals #61


French riots, too much violence, and little respect for human rights? 
On the 1st of May, France celebrates national labor day. But with the pension reform, the climate is highly tense. According to the CGT, one of the most powerful union, 2.3 million people, including 550,000 in Paris, were protesting. In the capital, hundreds of black blocks fired fireworks at the police, who responded with tear gas, defensive grenades, and water cannons. The Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin announced that 406 police officers and gendarmes had been injured. 

Throughout France, 540 people were arrested, and, 350 in Paris. But nearly three-quarters of those taken into police custody on the sidelines of Monday’s May Day demonstration in Paris have been released without charge, according to a report released to AFP on Wednesday by the Paris prosecutor’s office. The Controller General of Places of Detention and Imprisonment, states “serious violations of fundamental rights” and police custody “without legal basis.” Its authors express “serious concern” about this “normalization of police detention.” 

In a letter sent to Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who received the report on April 17, Controller General Dominique Simonnot not only noted the “alarming failings” in the work of the officers who carried out the arrests. She also attributed much of the responsibility to “instructions” given by the Paris Prefecture of Police and the prosecutor’s office, encouraging the mass use of police stops “as a preventive measure.”

The comeback of unvaccinated Healthcare professionals in the healthcare establishments 
Following the advice of the High Health Authority (HAS), the French Health Minister announced the reintegration of the medical staff that hadn’t been vaccinated against covid. Indeed, during the sanitary crises, the French government mandated compulsory vaccination for Covid, excluding 0.3% of medical professionals from their functions. 

The suspension of this compulsory vaccination did not include its abrogation. François Braun was clear about it, the scientific authorities agree on the efficacity and still highly recommend covid vaccination, and so, particularly for Health professionals. But some deputies from the NUPES (Union of the left parties) wanted to go further by proposing a law, abrogating this obligation – not only suspending it. Surprisingly enough this proposition which had been highly condemned in the past years has been lectured for the first time and adopted at the National Assembly on the 4th of May. Letting the senator decide if either or not, this abrogation stands. 

This decision will not resolve the problem of the needs in healthcare, as it represents such little percentage of the workers. It though, raises concern regarding the political message it outgives. The vaccination coverage in France already suffers from conspiratorial actions and fake news spread in social media; with this law, credit seems to be given to Antivax. However, the author of the law proposition, Jean-Victor Castor, refutes this idea explaining that the health professionals that refused to be vaccinated against Covid aren’t opposed to mandatory vaccination, only they did not wish to turn away from all the deontology they had been taught and did not want to make a medical act, based on a politically unstable commandment. 


England votes at local elections 
People in England will vote today (4th May) for their local representatives in the council. A recent opinion poll revealed that the Labour Party is leading with confidence, increasing its votes from 32% in 2019 to 44% of the votes in 2023. The Conservative party is behind with 29%, a decrease from 26% in 2019. Aware of the opinion polls and the public opinion against the Conservatives, Prime Minister Sunak argued that ‘good councilors are paying for the mistakes done by the Conservative party’. 

Another interesting revelation in the opinion polls is the dramatic decrease in support for the UK Brexit parties (UKIP, Brexit, Reform UK). The UK has experienced a severe energy crisis following Brexit compared to EU countries, impacting the prices of fuel, electricity, and gas. Moreover, according to the IMF, the UK is showing the lowest growth among G7 countries and major EU economies since COVID-19. These have been felt strongly by households at local levels in England, demonstrated in the public opinion towards strictly pro-Brexit parties. 


Pharmacists want national antibiotics reserve 
Since December 2022, the shortage of antibiotics for children has been an ongoing issue. In April, the German health minister, Karl Lauterbach, responded with the Drug Supply Shortage Control and Improvement Act (Arzneimittel-Lieferengpassbekämpfungs- und Versorgungsverbesserungsgesetz) which has already been approved by the Cabinet but must still pass Bundestag and Bundesrat. The bill proposes to incentivize a greater import of antibiotics from abroad to address the abovementioned shortages. In addition, pharmacists will be allowed to produce antibiotic juices themselves. 

The German pharmacist federation (Apothekerverband) criticizes those measures by arguing that antibiotics, and especially the raw materials in tablet form, are not only in short supply in Germany but also in other EU countries. Thus, importing antibiotics from abroad may not be possible, which could therefore make the proposed legislation useless. Instead, Thomas Preis from the pharmacist federation suggests building a national antibiotics reserve by committing to firm purchase quantities.

Palmer’s resignation from the Green Party
The mayor of Tübingen, Boris Palmer, has resigned from the Green Party. This was welcomed by the Green Party leadership, as Palmer has come under massive criticism. After being called a racist at a migration conference in Frankfurt, he responded by commenting on the N-word and insisting on his right to use it. Palmer was then confronted with shouts of “Nazis out,” whereupon he compared himself to Jews persecuted during the Holocaust. In a personal statement on Monday, Palmer stressed that he should never have made such remarks as mayor and announced a sabbatical from office for June. He said he would use that time to seek professional help.


What are Spaniards worried about?
In April, prices rose by 4.1% compared to last year in Spain, eight-tenths of a percentage point more than in March, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE). This rise in the cost of living, according to a recent study, is what worries Spanish people most: 70.5% say it worries them “a lot”, and 24.3% say it worries them “quite a lot”.

Inflation is followed by social inequalities (88% are very or fairly concerned), followed by the cost of housing (85.5%), and unemployment (85%). Climate change ranked fifth (79.7%), the war in Ukraine is sixth (75.5%), and immigration seventh (62.7%).

A clash between the central government and the Madrid government.
Every May 2nd, the people of Madrid enjoy a public holiday full of festivities and institutional ceremonies in celebration of the popular uprising that took place in 1808 against the French occupation of Madrid.

This year, the celebration has been fraught with controversy, as the Government of the Community of Madrid has not allowed the Minister of the Presidency, Felix Bolaños, to access the tribune reserved for the authorities to witness the celebrations, citing protocol issues, leaving images of chaos and scuffles that perfectly reflect the state of relations between the Spanish Government and the Community of Madrid.

The Minister of Health, José Miñones, and the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, meet in Madrid to discuss the Spanish Presidency of the European Commission.
The Minister of Health, José Miñones, and the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, have held a meeting at the Spanish Ministry of Health, where both agreed on the opportunity provided by the Spanish Presidency of the European Union to make progress in building a “Europe of Health”.

Both affirmed their willingness to “work side by side” with the aim of “fulfilling important priorities in the field of health, including the digitalisation of our health systems thanks to the European Health Data Space”.

Kyriakides said he counted on Spain’s “support and guidance” to “advance discussions on the new rules that the Commission adopted this week intending to improve access, affordability, and availability of medicines for all EU citizens”.


PM De Croo pledges military aid to Ukraine. 
During a press conference in The Hague, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced that Belgium is in the process of preparing a new military aid package for Ukraine. This announcement followed the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Zelenskyy. Although he did not provide any specific details, the aid is likely to be military equipment to replenish Ukrainian reserves, with a decision expected by the end of May or early June, in time for the long-awaited Ukrainian ‘Spring Offensive’.  

Belgium is also working on a legal framework with the European Commission to use the taxation on interest earned from the frozen Russian assets, which is expected to be approximately €180 billion, to support Ukraine’s war effort and reconstruction. The Prime Minister expressed his desire to use all of the interest for this purpose and stated that Belgium wants to play a leading role in this initiative from both an economic and moral point of view. 


The sale of the vaccine producers Intravacc for sale 
Yesterday, May 3, the NOS reported that the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport announced the sale of Intravacc, the vaccine research and development institute, despite criticism from various quarters. The institute, which has been in existence for over 100 years, does not produce vaccines but helps in their development, in their office in Bilthoven the Netherlands. The role of production is performed in India where the company Serum Institute India took over the production of vaccines against Polio and measles in 2012.  

The Dutch State currently owns all the shares of Intravacc, but the shares will be sold through a public sale process. EY Strategy and Transactions, the State’s financial adviser, will manage the process, and interested parties can submit their proposals until 2 June.

This is not the first time that the sale of Intravacc has been proposed. In 2015, the then Minister of Public Health decided to sell it, but the sales were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The current Minister of Public Health, Kuipers, wants to sell the institute to promote vaccine development self-sufficiency at the EU level. Intravacc has been criticized for being sold to a commercial party and leaving public interests unprotected.

Intravacc remains after the privatization of the production branch of the Netherlands Vaccine Institute in 2012. However, the institute has fallen behind compared to market parties and cannot meet the quality criteria. Currently, the institute is already somewhat more distant from the government, as it is a ‘policy participation’ in 2021. The sales plan has been criticized for not taking into account the protection against future pandemics and safeguarding public interests in the long term. During a parliamentary debate last February, concerns were raised about the plan to sell Intravacc, but the proposal to abandon the sale was not heeded.

Zelensky visits the Netherlands
On May 3, the NOS reported that Ukrainian President Zelensky arrived in the Netherlands on a Dutch government plane. The visit is his first to the Netherlands as Ukrainian head of state and is also one of his few trips outside of Ukraine since the outbreak of war in Ukraine in February 2022. The Ukrainian president is expected to give a speech today entitled ‘No peace without justice’ in The Hague and visit the International Criminal Court to discuss crimes committed during the war in Ukraine. Zelensky will also likely ask for more military support from his allies, including long-range weapons and fighter jets. Additionally, Zelensky will lobby for NATO membership during his visit.

Zelensky’s arrival was preceded by the movements of the Dutch government aircraft, which flew from a Polish airport to Helsinki, where the Ukrainian president made an unexpected appearance before flying to the Netherlands. During his visit to Finland, Zelensky spoke with Northern European leaders about the course of the war in Ukraine and indicated that the long-awaited spring offensive of the Ukrainian armed forces is coming “soon.” Zelensky denied Russia’s allegation that Ukraine carried out a drone attack on Putin in the Kremlin, stating that they only fight on their territory to defend their towns and cities.

Zelensky’s visit to the Netherlands coincides with Remembrance Day on May 4, although there are no indications that he will speak at the event on Dam Square in Amsterdam. The Ukrainian president’s first visit outside of Ukraine since the invasion began in February 2022 was to Washington in December 2022. Since then, he has visited Poland, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and Finland.


Neo-nazis Cannot Run in the Elections
With a vote of nine to one, the party founded by the convicted, ex-member of the Neo Nazi Golden Dawn party, Ilias Kasidiaris , was banned from the upcoming elections, as announced by the Supreme Court, which conducted a legality check on the parties’ participation in the parliamentary elections.

The 400-page decision highlights that Ilias Kasidiaris has been convicted of the offense of criminal organization, which prohibits him from participating in the electoral process, while at the same time emphasizing with arguments that Kasidiaris himself is the real leader of his party.

After the decision was issued, Ilias Kasidiaris from inside the prison said: “Tonight the democratic state has been finally overthrown and half a million Greeks are deprived of the supreme right to vote for the party of their choice. The Greek National Party was illegally targeted because it is the most honest and clean party in domestic politics scene.”


Canada braces with natural disasters 
This week, Canada has been faced with extreme weather conditions that have caused hundreds to evacuate their homes throughout the country. Around Edmonton (Alberta), firefighters continue to battle wildfires. The situation seems under control as residents in some areas have been allowed to return home. Wildfires grew rapidly amid unseasonably warm temperatures and low humidity. Around Ottawa (Ontario and Québec), residents are preparing for floods expected to strike later this week as the Ottawa River’s level should rise by 30cm compared to usual levels is rising following. The Charlevoix region is also hit by seasonal floodings which have washed away roads and cut off access to homes. 

 While some of these phenomena are yearly occurrences, the accumulation of these natural disasters makes Canadians fear for the future. The severity of these issues seems to only increase year after year as snow melts faster and the lack of rain in some parts of the country offers the right breeding ground for wildfires. 


Taiwan wants to set a precedent in Asia by banning single-use plastics and becoming more sustainable. 
The Environmental Protection Administration in Taiwan has announced a ban on single-use plastic drink cups, effective from May 2023. Instead, convenience stores and fast-food franchises will be required to offer paper cups and provide borrowing or rental services for reusable cups. 

However, a recent report has found that 60% of the public is unwilling to use reusable cups due to a range of concerns, including sanitary issues such as COVID-19. 

In addition, this reluctance to move away from single-use cups has been linked to factors such as forgetfulness, inconvenience, and cleanliness, according to the environmental advocacy group RE-THINK. 

Family Mart has already introduced a rental service for reusable cups in 700 stores, but a survey found that only 31.4% of the public was aware of this service, and only 40% were willing to try it. To ensure the cleanliness of the cups, one supplier has established a system that includes washing, air drying, and quality inspection. The EPA is also promoting eco-friendly lunch boxes and tableware and reminding the public that the use of reusable cups and tableware is just as clean as items provided by local restaurants offering dine-in service, and hygiene should not be a concern.

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