News from the Capitals #4
Europe is a colourful continent in terms of policies and outcomes. It is essential to stay updated on how these policies may impact your work to build better regulatory frameworks, enhance your message and enhance communication with stakeholders.
Here you can find a summary of the major European political updates of this week.
Italy is the European country most impacted by the spread of the coronavirus and ranks worldwide as the third country with most cases after China, and South Korea. The number of contaminations has now risen to 1,694, with 34 deaths. The north of Italy sees the most cases, most of them in Lombardy, where some smaller communes have been put in quarantine and marked as red zones where entry or exit is not allowed. Italian authorities have also closed museums, theatres, restaurants and schools, and many are advised to work from home. Authorities are still looking for ‘patient zero’ as there are fears of further contamination. Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister, underlined there is no need to panic, but several shops are already running out of protective masks, sanitisers and food supplies. Conte referred to dysfunctions and the lack of serious procedures in an Italian hospital in Codogno, Lombardy, as one of the reasons for quick spread of the virus. The impact on the economy and tourism is significant, and many travellers cancelled their trips to the country. Some business organisations are calling for a state of emergency and ask for economic support from the government. The Italian government has invited health ministers from neighbouring countries (France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia Croatia and Germany) to Rome, to try to define common strategies to tackle the issue. On 25 February, Deputy Economy Minister Laura Castelli said that she wants the European Commission to give Italy more budgetary flexibility given the heavy impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the country’s economy.
In the UK, the government are issuing travel advice based on the spread of Coronavirus across Europe. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, advices that people who have been in Italy north of Pisa self-isolate if they develop flu-like symptoms. The Foreign Office advises against “all but essential travel” to the Italian towns that are currently in isolation. This has come after at least a dozen UK schools have put students and staff into isolation after returning from northern Italy and growing concern among British travellers.
A report commissioned by the Health Foundation has found that health inequalities are continuing to widen in the UK, with place of birth still determining quality of life. The report links the findings to the government’s austerity policies since 2010, particularly cuts to youth and community services and public health budgets. The North East has been most impacted by widening health inequalities, an area which saw the Conservatives take 7 seats from Labour in the general election, with this report potentially causing a challenge for the new government’s newly founded majority.
Following-up on Brexit, a policy statement has been released detailing the vision for future British agricultural policy outside of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. The statement entitled “Farming for the future” updates the government’s vision of agriculture and is aligned with commitments such as the net-zero emissions target and the 25 Year Environment Plan. This would place farmers and farming at the forefront of action on climate change and measures to reverse environmental and biodiversity loss, as well as core recognition of the importance of animal health in tackling endemic disease.
The state election on 23 February in Hamburg elected a new state Parliament. The temporary results imply a success of the Social Democrats (SPD) and its state party leader Peter Tschentscher. In contrast, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) noted its worst result in these elections in 70 years, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) failed to meet the five percent threshold. The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) lost votes in relative terms, but the absolute numbers remained comparable to the 2016 election. The Green Party experienced a successful election and almost doubled its voting percentage. According to top candidate Katharina Fegebank, the party aims to continue the coalition with the SPD. However, Mr. Tschentscher mentioned that he is ready to hold exploratory discussion with the CDU. The final result will be announced on 11 March.
In the development of finding a new CDU party leader and potential chancellor candidate, on 25 February the State Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet declared his candidacy as CDU party leader in an official press conference, declaring a joint ticket with current Minister of Health Jens Spahn. If elected, Mr. Laschet will become the party chair and Mr. Spahn will act as his deputy. Just a few minutes after this announcement, Friedrich Merz officially asserted his candidacy as well. The third official candidate is former Minister of the Environment Norbert Röttgen who tweeted on 25 February that he will stand with a woman candidate as his running mate. The new party leader will be elected on a special CDU federal party conference on 25 April in Berlin.
The Director General of Health announced new cases of coronavirus in France on 26 February. France reports to date 130 cases and 2 deaths. France has issued travel advice to its nationals to avoid the regions of Italy most affected. Health Minister Olivier Véran has reassured the public that France is “anticipating and adapting". The subject of the coronavirus inevitably entered the public debate in Paris, and more particularly in the municipal election that sees opposing candidates Agnès Buzyn, former Health Minister from the presidential party and Anne Hidalgo (Socialist and current mayor of Paris) debate the state’s response., Buzyn has criticised Hidalgo’s handling, claiming that her inactivity led to lack of preparedness in case of an epidemic. This has been described by some as "serious political misconduct" and was strongly rebutted by Hidalgo’s cabinet.
On 16 February, a parliamentary by-election was held in the city and region of Dunaújváros which has around 45,000 inhabitants. The by-election was held after the incumbent Member of the Parliament resigned due to a conflict of interest as he became mayor during the municipal election in October last year. The opposition parties formed an alliance to back Gergely Kálló as the candidate who later won with over 56% of the votes. This victory also had symbolic relevance, as the election took place on the same day as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered his annual State of the Nation speech.
Regarding coronavirus in Hungary, the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyás, along with the Minister of Human Capacities, Miklós Kásler, held an extraordinary press conference during which it was confirmed that 2 Hungarian citizens have contracted the COVID-19 virus, one aboard the Diamond Princess cruiser under quarantine, and another woman in Austria. Otherwise, no known cases exist in Hungary.
You can find more information on European news in our EU national elections heatmap, where we provide an overarching perspective with key political insight for individual countries. Make sure to check it here.