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News from the Capitals

News from the Capitals #55

France

A recent study brought to light some worrying news about the health status of the people in France. Indeed, 47.3% of French adults are obese or overweight. The survey has been conducted every three years since 1997. 

It shows that 17% of French people are obese, whereas the prevalence was 8.5% in 1997 and 15% in 2012. The prevalence of morbid obesity has increased sevenfold since 1997. The researchers also studied the prevalence according to sex and age, region, and socio-professional category. In particular, they found that being overweight affects: 

  • 57.3% of those aged 65 and over 
  • 23.2% of 18–24-year-olds.

A worrying finding, however, is that the prevalence of obesity is increasing more and more among the youngest age groups over the course of the surveys; since 1997, it has increased fourfold. 

The study also shows that the prevalence of obesity is highest in the north and north-east of the country where it exceeds 20% but not in the Paris region. 

Finally, it confirms that being overweight and obesity are more common among people from disadvantaged social groups. The prevalence of the overweight population is  :

  • 51.1% of blue-collar workers
  • 45.3% of employees
  • 43% among intermediate professions
  • 35% among executives.

As for obesity, it affects 18% of blue-collar workers, 17.8% of employees, 14.4% of intermediate professions, and 9.9% of managers. Whatever the professional category, the statistics are on the rise. Last month the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) published a guide to care for overweight and obese adults with a series of recommendations that should be implemented on the national level as soon as possible.

It also proves that the several plans implemented by the Government for decades regarding nutrition and sport are not effective and need to be reviewed to have a better impact on the alimentation of the population. 

UK

The two candidates running to succeed Nicola Sturgeon have differences over LGBT+ rights.
The two top candidates running to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first minister have shown considerable divisions over social issues that prompted the resignation of their predecessor in the first place.

The finance minister, Kate Forbes – who returned early from maternity leave declared her bid for leadership of the SNP – mentioning that she would not challenge the UK government’s block on Holyrood’s gender recognition reform bill, did not support self-identification for trans people and would not have voted for same-sex marriage.

Forbes’ pronouncements stood in direct contrast to those of the health secretary, Humza Yousaf, who emerged as frontrunner to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first minister after pledging to uphold her socially progressive policy agenda.

Humza backed Sturgeon’s stances on same-sex marriage, abortion clinic buffer zones, banning conversion practices, and on gender recognition changes, and was against the UK government’s block on Holyrood’s gender recognition bill. Kate Forbes on the other hand says she does not support self-identification for trans people and would not have voted for same-sex marriage.

UK to hold further talks with EU on NI protocol
Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, and Rishi Sunak spoke, fuelling more speculations that the UK and the EU are close to an agreement with the Northern Ireland protocol. Sunak said the deal would meet the demands of the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) – which wants radical changes to ensure that Northern Ireland has a role in making the EU rules that apply to trade as part of the Brexit arrangements – but refused to say whether the deal would involve reopening the wider withdrawal agreement.

He also declined to confirm whether MPs would have a vote on any deal, during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons. what does the NI Protocol mean?

Under the protocol, the region has to follow EU rules for trade. The European Court of Justice, the bloc’s top court, has the final say in any disputes. However, this means that when regulations are changed, Belfast must follow suit. That could mean amending as many as 300 regulations that were still in force when the UK left the EU in 2020, and which still apply in Northern Ireland.

Germany

Budget drama between two buddies
The traffic light coalition continues to argue about the budget draft for 2024, with a focus on which projects should have priority and how they should be financed. The FDP with Finance Minister Lindner rejects higher taxes and more debt. The Greens fear that too little money will be left over for their projects.

When in public, Finance Minister Lindner and Economics Minister Habeck like to appear as friends, but for days they have been arguing about the new budget. In a letter, Minister Habeck demanded more revenue for the federal government and a reduction in environmentally harmful subsidies. Lindner responded with a no. He explained that he was concerned with being able to tell the citizens that there will be no higher taxes. Facing inflation and the enormous interest costs, he wants to reduce the contraction of debts and at the same time refers to his election campaign promise to continue to comply with the “debt brake”.

The SPD is open to tax increases and is calling for more money for defense on the one hand, but also for social projects. General Secretary Kühnert explains that the situation must not arise in which internal and external security on the one hand is set against social security on the other. There must be sufficient room for both in the federal budget.

The Greens warn that too little money is left for fighting child poverty in Germany. Omid Nouripour, the chairman of the Greens, refers to the basic security benefit for children agreed upon in the coalition contract. It must come as quickly as possible and be prioritized in the budget discussions. 

The traffic light wants to reach an agreement by mid-March because that is when the key points of the 2024 budget are to be decided, but the situation seems to have hardened. The public dispute shows that a quick solution is not in sight.

Italy

Giorgia Meloni’s visit to Kyiv opened the possibility for more advanced weapons to the Ukrainian Army. 
Giorgia Meloni’s visit to Ukraine, following that of US President Joe Biden, was a significant moment for the Italian Prime Minister, particularly after Italy’s absence from the meetings held in Munich, Bavaria. It provided an opportunity for Italy to reaffirm its support for Ukraine’s efforts to counter the Russian army, especially in the current difficult and strategic impasse where both armies continue to challenge each other for a handful of kilometers. Ukraine needs all the possible aid it can get, and President Meloni’s support, although possibly sincere and “disinterested,” is vital.

However, Meloni’s government allies, including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, do not agree with this political line that aligns with the American ally and other NATO countries. Berlusconi’s recent statements, in which he described President Zelensky as unreliable and warmongering, embarrassed Meloni during her press conference in Kyiv, where she received a firm response from President Zelenskiy stating that “Mr. Berlusconi has never had to escape from his house, and he never received missiles on his head”. 

Despite possible disagreements within the Italian government, the flow of military supplies arriving from Italy is unlikely to undergo significant changes. International commitments made during the electoral campaign by Meloni herself support Italy’s continued involvement in aiding Ukraine. Berlusconi’s comments, although grandiose, only serve as an inelegant way to differentiate himself from his allies and remind others of his interests and friendship with Vladimir Putin.

Political Will Versus Financial Reality: The Debate over Medical Device Payback in Italy. 
The Italian government has a rule in place that requires medical device companies to pay back the money they were paid in the past if the government spent more money on medical devices than it was supposed to. The companies owe a total of 2.2 billion euros for the years 2015-2018, which they are supposed to pay by April 30th. However, the companies are refusing to pay because they say it would cause them financial problems, and they argue that canceling the payback rule altogether would be a better solution.

The Italian government wants to cancel the payback rule, but it’s not that simple. The regions of Italy have already budgeted for the money they expect to receive from the companies, and canceling the rule would leave them short on funds. Some politicians have suggested raising the spending ceiling or postponing payments to the companies to help solve the issue. However, finding the money to cover the debt will still be a challenge.

There is a lot of back-and-forth happening, with different politicians and groups offering their opinions on what to do. Some suggest that a compromise will be reached where everyone does their part to help solve the issue, including the government, the regions, and the medical device companies. Ultimately, the situation is uncertain, and it’s unclear what the outcome will be.

Spain

Pedro Sánchez visits Kyiv for the second time to meet Zelenski a year after the start of the war. 
The President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, arrived early Thursday morning by train to Kyiv. He met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenski, and conveyed Spain’s support for Ukraine, just one day before the mark of the first year since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The visit also took place one day after Defense Minister, Margarita Robles, confirmed the shipment of the first six Leopard 2 A4 tanks to Ukraine.

This is Sánchez’s second visit to Ukraine during the war. The first visit took place on April 21, and then the president announced the largest shipment of Spanish weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, as well as the assistance of an expert and forensic teams to investigate and prosecute those responsible for war crimes.

Since then, there have been several telephone conversations between the President of the Government and Zelenski, with whom he met in Brussels on February 9 at the extraordinary meeting of the European Council which the Ukrainian leader attended in person.

The delegation of the European Parliament that has visited Spain to evaluate how the execution of the recovery funds already has a verdict. 
The mission, headed by the MEP of the European People’s Party (EPP), Monika Hohlmeier, wanted to send a reassuring message and assured that “there is no prospect of turning off the tap to Spain in any way”.

Hohlmeier, who chairs the Committee on Budgetary Control of the European Parliament, has called for improving co-governance with the Autonomous Communities in the management of the recovery plan and has highlighted that Spain is the country that received the funds first and the fastest one on trying to execute them. 

The delegation, made up of ten MEPs (seven of them Spanish) has reported that “no type of fraud” has been detected in the execution of the funds but has demanded more transparency from the Spanish authorities and that they publish execution data with more frequency. 

Regarding the absence of infractions, Hohlmeier has indicated that the only thing that has not been fulfilled so far is the pension reform, which should have been presented in December. The Executive should have approved the second leg of the reform at the end of December of last year, but as the European Commission recalled, these deadlines are indicative.

Gelocatil, Frenadol, Ibuprofen… Europe monitors 31 flu drugs sold in Spain for causing brain damage.
The Safety Committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has begun this February a review of hundreds of medicines, 31 of which are sold in Spain. Specifically, those containing pseudoephedrine. The announcement of this review follows the alert that has been generated by finding risks of suffering from reversible posterior encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) and reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS), two diseases that affect the blood vessels of the brain.  

This type of medication to stop the effects of the flu is the star product in pharmacies at this time of year. Hundreds of medicines appear on the list published by the EMA. Thirty-one products are sold in Spain, including some as well-known as Frenadol, Cinfatós, or Gelocatil.

The EMA has found cases where these medicines have caused the reduced blood supply to the brain and, in some cases, caused serious and life-threatening complications. Among the most common symptoms associated with PRES and RCVS are headache, nausea, and seizures. 

This review follows new data from a small number of PRES and RCVS cases in people using pseudoephedrine-containing medicines reported in pharmacovigilance databases. From the EMA they clarify that the information on the product already includes restrictions and warnings to reduce these risks.

Belgium

The drug brief
Drug violence continues in Antwerp. The daily update: a firebomb attack at a pizzeria in the morning.

Last Thursday, the security council held by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo adopted measures to fight narco-terrorism: reinforced police presence and checks in harbor zones, scrupulous examination of financial and criminal records of dock workers, a €1000 fine for cocaine users/ mandatory rehab and the possibility for local authorities to close business used to launder drug money. On top of that, Belgium appointed on 17 February Ine Van Wyermersch as the first drug commissioner. Politico says she will help coordinate efforts between the federal, regional, and local authorities. She will also make policy recommendations and cooperate with other countries, including the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.

Politics of energy: 
Tension arises between right-wing and ecologists. One specific issue at stake: energy. The crux of the issue: a statement last Wednesday by Engie excluding the prolongation of Doel 1, 2, and Tihange 1 nuclear power plants, for not respecting security norms.

Gilles Vanden Burre, leader of the Ecolo party stands firm. He states on 20 February that security in the supply of energy is important, but security itself is a must too.  He calls for diversifying the energy supply.

The right-wing (Mouvement Réformateur) answered on Twitter on 22 February: “5 plants as decided”.

Georges-Louis Bouchez, president of the Mouvement Réformateur, now accuses Tinne Van der Straeten, Minister of Energy, to sabotage nuclear deals with French company Engie.

Shortages:
Worse than expected: 1,239 medicines are unavailable in Belgium, as of 22 February, according to Febelco, the largest medicine supplier in Belgium. Febelco says that the Federal Medicines Agency (FAMPH) misestimated the shortages. FAMPH reported via PharmaStatut, an initiative of its own, that 363 medicines were unavailable in the last 30 days, says Euractiv. 

Febelco CEO explains that EU Member States negotiate prices individually, which causes larger countries to be privileged. Hence, Belgium now faces an artificial shortage. Febelco chief furthers that the royal decree issued in January, initially aimed at capping drug export to prevent national shortages, should not be seen as a miracle solution. He prefers to focus on an import-based solution. 

Squatting issues:
On 15 February, 163 asylum seekers, previously squatting at the Rue du Palais of Brussels, were put in a hotel in Sint-Pieters-Leuw, without informing local authorities.

Mayor Jan Desmeth (Flemish nationalist) got severely upset. He did not manage to get an answer from Brussels as to why the asylum seekers got displaced here.

Bitter statements:
On top of that, ex-far-right lawmaker Dries Van Langenhove — closely linked to the Vlaams Belang, a far-right political party — faces, starting from today, Holocaust denial charges…

Netherlands

Majority against the EU nitrogen policy
In 2019, the Dutch government decided to reduce nitrogen emissions from farming to meet European Union targets. As a result, farmers were asked to reduce the number of livestock and fertilizer usage, which they argue would significantly impact their livelihoods. Since then, farmers have been protesting against the new nitrogen policy, arguing that the government is not taking into account their interests and that the new regulations are too strict. In addition, they argue that other sectors, such as aviation and shipping, are not subject to the same regulations. The protests have taken various forms, including blocking highways, protesting at government buildings, and staging massive tractor rallies in the Hague. In recent years, the tensions have escalated with some farmers engaging in violent clashes with the police.

Farmers’ representatives have been in talks with the government to find a solution to the issue, but so far, there has been little progress. The government has offered financial compensation to help farmers transition to more sustainable practices, but many farmers argue that the amount is insufficient. The protests have gained widespread attention and support from the public, with many people sympathizing with the farmers’ plight. The issue has become a polarizing topic in Dutch politics, with some parties supporting the farmers’ demands, while others argue that reducing nitrogen emissions is necessary to protect the environment and public health. Today, the VVD and CDA coalition found that 9 of the 12 provinces are against the EU nitrogen policy. The results have been found by filling in the Kieskompas – a tool presented to see what party you align with for the current provincial elections

Greece

Addressing drug shortages: a complicated challenge
During his speech on 17 February in the Parliament, the Greek Health Minister, Thanos Plevris highlighted that the government has adequately addressed the problem of drug shortages by adopting a series of measures including inter alia rebates from the pharmaceutical industry, investments in the field of medicine within the country, extended the restrictions on medicine exports, extended inspections and larger imports of drugs. However, according to the Greek pharmaceutical association (EOF) on 24 October 2022, drug shortages amounted to 400 drugs, while on 16 February EOF stated that this number dropped to 135 drugs. Therefore, even though the measures of the government did tackle the problem to some extent, shortages of medicines are still tyrannizing the Greek healthcare system. 

Anthony Blinken in Athens: Reaffirming the strong bilateral relationship
The US Foreign Minister, Anthony Blinken visited Greece on 21 February and discussed various issues with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, varying from Ukraine, Western Balkans, and purchases of military equipment. However, Greek Turkish relationship was at the epicenter of the discussion, with the US envoy underlining the hope of Washington for a fresh start on the relations between the two neighbors. The Secretary of State reportedly noted that after the elections in Greece and Turkey, an effort should be made to resolve the existing disputes. However, both the Greek Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, underlined that the solidarity shown by Greece towards Turkey in the present phase is distinct from foreign policy issues and is a humanitarian obligation, rather than an investment in a certain direction.

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