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News from the Capitals

News from the Capitals #50

France

Pensions reform: Strikes incoming
This week begins the serious things at the political level. Indeed, this Tuesday the Government of Elisabeth Borne presented its controversial bill on pensions. This bill provides for raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2027 with 43 years of contributions. It is planned the increase in retirement pensions which would be 1200 € gross. This announcement of the government was awaited by the population, it was part of the promises of Emmanuel Macron during his electoral campaign last April. Several polls have shown that most French people are against this reform. Young workers feel aggrieved by having to work longer to fund the retirement of seniors.

Trade unions from across the political spectrum came together after the Prime Minister’s announcement and called for a national strike on Thursday 19 January across all professions. The union of employees working in oil refineries decided to strike also on 19, 26 January, and 6 February. The strike in this sector could block the country since drivers would no longer find gas for their cars. It is therefore likely that France will be paralyzed in the coming weeks. Emmanuel Macron had called on his ministers to “be bold” and “not to be afraid of future reforms to come”. The left-wing opposition decided to join the unions while the Conservatives were ready to vote on the bill. The far-right has decided to abstain in order not to further block the country according to Marine Le Pen

It is certain that this law is and will be the most controversial and contested of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency since 2017.

At the same time, First Lady Brigitte Macron announced that she was in favor of the obligation of the uniform at school. A bill tabled by MPs from the far-right on this topic has been discussed in Parliament and got rejected this Thursday. However, this bill is also discussed internally by the majority who could table it in the next months and would find several political supports on both the left and the right. This would be a novelty in France however it is not certain that this text will be approved by schoolchildren.

UK 

The Conservative Party released its first party political broadcast of 2023 this week with Rishi Sunak reiterating his 5 key priorities for the year laid out in response to a difficult Christmas period dominated by strike action across a range of public sector professions. Sunak once again focussed on the economy and small boat crossings and the need to tackle illegal immigration, an increasingly popular policy amongst Tory voters and his backbenchers.

Sunak has also been under increasing pressure with regards to the NHS and healthcare after facing criticism for his comments on the NHS, suggesting that current pressures were normal for this time of the year, and after refusing to reveal whether he received private or NHS healthcare. Concerns around the NHS have continued into the new year as nurses, paramedics and now doctors threaten further strikes in the coming weeks. With reports suggesting the UK is facing around 500 excess deaths a week when compared to pre-pandemic statistics and stories of people dying after waiting 12 hours for an ambulance to arrive, the government is being called on to act immediately and address the ever-growing elective care backlogs and failing emergency care services.

Germany 

A new year – A new chairmanship for the National Health Ministers’ Conference in Germany

On January 1, 2023, Baden-Württemberg took over the chairmanship of the Conference of Health Ministers from Saxony-Anhalt. 

Hospital reform, digitalization, and the outpatient process are among the priorities of chairmanship. To achieve successful reforms and changes, it is important the „Länder” and all necessary stakeholders cooperate.

Lützerath – a small village in North Rhine-Westphalia becomes subject to national news coverage 
Lützerath is a small village located in an area with a lignite deposit in Nord Rhine-Westphalia. Due to a lignite deposit in and around Lützerath, the village is owned by the German energy company RWE. The citizens of Lützerath sold their property and moved away a long time ago. To access the lignite, the deposit of the village needs to be removed. Around two years ago, RWE started its clearing and demolition work in the surrounding area. Since then, climate activists have occupied the place and want to prevent the clearing of Lützerath. 

However, on January 11, the police started the evacuation. Not an easy task, as climate activists try to stay in Lützerath. The police expect around 6.000 participants for a planned demonstration during the weekend. Rumor has it that Greta Thunberg will be present. 

The case of Lützerath is politically controversial because ministers at the federal and state level, both members of the Green Party, negotiated the agreement with RWE. 

RWE and the NRW state government argue that the ignite is needed to secure the energy supply. Climate activist Luisa Neubauer (Fridays for Future) and the German Institute for Economic Research say that energy supply can be guaranteed without the lignite lying below Lützerath.

Italy

Political Situation 
The NHS risks cracking. The Regions issue a new alarm to the Government: “Insufficient resources for healthcare, sustainability of budgets at risk and staff shortages create daily disservices”:  

The economic and financial sustainability of health budgets is being strongly compromised by the insufficient level of funding of the National Health Service, this is due to the significant portion of expenses incurred for the implementation of measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and for the implementation of the vaccination campaign, as well as by the considerable increase in energy costs incurred by accredited public and private health and social care facilities, the continuous increase in the prices of raw materials and services due to the inflation trend”. These are the main issues presented by the President of the Regions Commission – Raffaele Donini, who is asking for a meeting with the government representatives, mainly Orazio Schillaci – MoH and Giancarlo Giorgetti – MoF, to propose solutions, readily feasible and suitable for immediately addressing the shortage of healthcare personnel and the financial crisis that has been affecting the Regional Healthcare Systems for the past three years.  

Ministry of Health, Schillaci calls the former undersecretary Andrea Costa as an expert for NRRP – Recovery Fund implementation in the healthcare settings:  

Andrea Costa (Noi Moderati), former Undersecretary for Health during the Draghi government, was called by Minister Orazio Schillaci to take on the role of “expert in implementation strategies of the NRRP – Mission 6 Health, regarding interventions at a territorial level, in particular, those regarding the Community House and the re-organization of the territorial healthcare”. – In the meantime, as reported in the above section, there is great concern about whether the regions will be able to set up projects and implement the targets reported on the NRRP since there is a shortage of medical professionals able to develop those projects.  

Spain

Water Wars
Thousands of irrigators gathered on Wednesday in Madrid for nearly three hours in defense of the Tagus-Segura transfer and against the cut that the Sánchez government is preparing for the infrastructure. During the march, which brought together 15,000 people according to the organizers and 7,000 according to the National Police, there were chants against the Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, demanding her resignation.

The Ministry is preparing the reduction through the Tagus Hydrological Plan where it plans to increase the river flows, which will lead to a decrease in water for transfer. Directly affecting agricultural production. 

The irrigators protested because they estimate that this cut in irrigation water transfers will cause the loss of 15,000 jobs and a reduction in asset value of 5,692 million euros and defended that there is no alternative to reducing the volume of available water.

The three provinces that use the water from the transfer, Alicante, Murcia, and Almería, account for 71% of national exports of vegetables and 25% of the fruit. All of them contribute 3,000 million to the gross domestic product. The transfer also allows the generation of 106,000 jobs.

Hospitals Collapse after Christmas Break
Doctors, nurses, and unions have denounced hospital emergency rooms are on the verge of “collapse” in various parts of the country due to the rise in respiratory infections after the Christmas holidays. This has been made public by different videos shared by doctors and patients on social media and it’s an effect that is shared by most hospitals in the Country. 

Experts have said that this is due to three major effects: 1) the primary care crises (that has been in the public debate for months), 2) the usual seasonal pick of the winter months, and 3) an increasingly aged population. 

Syndicates and health professionals have been calling for a better public response to this issue that will only get worse as time goes by… time, which most surely patients in the emergency response units don’t have. 

Controversial Change
The reform of the crime of fraud and the repeal of sedition promoted by the Government entered into force on Thursday. With the new reform, the crime of sedition will disappear and become an aggravated crime of public disorder, and the maximum sentence of 15 years will become 5 years.

Meanwhile, the maximum punishment for a non-profit scam will be reduced to 4 years, when now up to 8 years could be imposed and it could reach 12 years if the amount stolen exceeded 250,000 euros.

This has been a controversial issue in Spain because those convicted of the independence referendum held in Catalonia on October 1, 2017, will request the Supreme Court (TS) to acquit them of the crimes of sedition and corruption, sparking fears of a new referendum in the region soon.

Belgium

Drug violence in Antwerp demands the first innocent death
After record-breaking cocaine confiscations in the port of Antwerp, the city is in shock following the death of an 11-year-old girl, the first innocent victim of drug criminality. The girl was in the garage of her home, when the building’s facade came under gunfire, with several bullets wounding the child deadly. Allegedly, the victim’s uncle is a main figure in Belgian drug smuggling and trafficking, although he has no earlier convictions and no proven record of criminality and lives in Dubai for more than 10 years.  

The shooting and grenade bombardment of house facades is not uncommon as a means of intimidation in Antwerp, with more than 200 cases being reported over the last five years. The child’s death marks however a sad peak of the spiral of aggression in connection with narco-crime in Antwerp.  

Although sharing the shock, political reactions to the tragedy differ significantly: With the right-wing mayor of Antwerp Bart de Wever (N-VA) urging the federal state to employ the army to support the port controlling, the federal defence minister, interior minister, and justice minister all declined the possibility of Belgian armed forces intervening in the own country, mainly due to their lack of education for this type of actions.  

Vandecasteele sentenced to prison arrest and whippings  
Meanwhile, the in Iran arrested Belgian aid worker Oliver Vandecasteele has been sentenced to 28 years in prison and 74 whip strokes by the revolutionary court in Teheran. Vandecasteele has been under arrest since February 2022, under the allegation of spying for the US and money laundering. He has been in Iran as an aid worker since 2016. In December, Belgium’s federal justice declined Teheran’s offer of a prisoner exchange with the in Belgium arrested terrorist Assadi.  

Striking prison guards 
Prison guards went on a 24 hours strike action from Tuesday to Wednesday to underline their demand for better payment. There has not been a salary increase for prison guards for more than 20 years now, disregarding inflation rates during this period. The competent minister for civil servants, Flemish green politician Petra De Sutter stated her openness for discussion while assuring her understanding of the legitimacy of the guard’s requests. The atmosphere is thus cooperative, although the protesters called for reoccurring actions to take place every Wednesday until a deal is struck.  

Ryanair leaves Brussels Zaventem 
Ryanair leaves Brussels Zaventem airport, causing the loss of 59 workplaces. The airline is relocating its services to Charleroi, profiting from the unique competition the Belgian state inflicts on its airports.

Greece

Health
During an interview on 10 January, the Minister of Health Thanos Plevris underlined that currently, the lack of numerous medicines in pharmacies, mainly inhalants, and paracetamol, constitutes a European problem that demands a European solution. However, he also added that the situation will normalise after the Christmas holiday break, as the production of the Greek pharmaceutical industry will cover the demand.

Politics
The death of the last king of Greece, Constantine, on 10 January, sparked a controversy between the political parties, regarding his funeral in Greece. After an intense governmental meeting, it was finally decided that the former king, who was ousted after a referendum in 1974, would be buried as a citizen and not as a former head of state, as many from the right-wing leading party supported.

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