News from the Capitals #5
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.
In Italy, the European country most impacted by the spread of the coronavirus, the number of contaminations continues to rise, with more than 3000 cases. The north of Italy has seen the most cases, most occurring 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 in several regions, and many citizens are being advised to work from home. Given the significant impact on tourism and the entire economy, a Decree-law was adopted on 2 March calling for urgent economic support measures for families, workers and businesses, including the postponement of deadlines for payments and other obligations and the implementation of measures to support families, employees and the self-employed in the 'red zone'. The government is also expected to increase the number of intensive care posts in Italy as a response to the increasing number of patients affected by the virus.
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The UK had its first death from the coronavirus, and the total number of cases has reached 53. Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated that the widespread transmission of the virus across the UK is likely and a fifth of UK workers could be off sick if the virus continues to spread. Measures to ensure protection against the economic impacts of the virus continue to be refined. The Prime Minister chaired a government committee (COBR) meeting on 2 March to approve the action plan proposed by the Health and Social Care Secretary. The government hopes to postpone progress of the virus to allow for testing of drugs and initial development of vaccines/therapies, as well as reduce the overloading on the health system.
The UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has come under fire over her conduct during her time in the Department for International Development, Department for Work and Pensions, and most recently, in the Home Office. Advisers and civil servants have accused her of presiding over an atmosphere of fear. On Saturday, senior civil servant, Sir Philip Rutnam resigned as Patel’s permanent secretary, announcing that he would begin legal action against the government for constructive dismissal. The Cabinet Office has launched a formal investigation into the Minister’s conduct over suspected breaches of the Ministerial Code. The Labour opposition had been calling for a full inquiry, while other MPs called on her to resign.
In Germany, a risk assessment calculation performed by the Robert Koch Institute on the coronavirus was upgraded from low to moderate on 2 March. Currently, all German federal states are affected. The total number of patients infected with COVID-19 in Germany is over 260. Federal Minister Jens Spahn explained that all relevant measures have been taken to support involved actors of the health sector. Mr. Spahn recommends people with symptoms to stay home and consult a medical doctor, an official hotline. Mr. Spahn stressed the need to avoid unnecessary panic, especially on social media.
Regarding the Greek Turkish border, Federal Minister for Interior Horst Seehofer is aiming to persuade partners in Europe to take in children from refugee camps on the Greek islands. According to Mr. Seehofer, the humanitarian situation must be addressed through a European alliance of countries that agree to accept refugees. On 3 March, the Christian Democrats neglected the demands tabled by the Greens to accept 5000 refugees. The chairwomen of the parliamentary group of the Green Party, Kathrin Göring-Eckhardt referred to German cities that declared themselves as “safe harbours” and signalled their willingness to accept refugees, while the leader of the CSU MPs in Bundestag, Alexander Dobrindt explained that this would be irresponsible as it would lead to false hopes. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) had previously criticised the rigid actions of the security forces at the Greek-Turkish border. Moreover, the government's announcement to not accept any asylum applications for one month was criticised.
Like most countries, the French media is marked by the coronavirus epidemic. The focus of the media and the population on the subject allowed the Government to adopt the draft law on pension reform without too much media coverage. To do so, they used Article 49.3 of the Constitution on 29 February, which allows the government to adopt a text without a vote. The draft law on pension reform was thus adopted in the National Assembly despite two motions of censure which were both rejected. The two "camps", the Government and the parliamentarians, blame each other for the lack of a vote. However, although the parliamentarians are opposed to the text, they are not doing so for the same reasons and do not form a united front. However, they are aware that the use of Article 49.3 so close to the municipal elections is likely to be detrimental to the “En Marche” candidates and could have a long-term political cost. The text will now go to the Senate, and the Government has made no secret of its intention to use the controversial article again in case of parliamentary obstruction. It should be noted that Article 49.3 applies only to the "ordinary" bill and not to the organic bill, which has only five articles and organises the financial steering of the universal pension system.
Following the Turkish declaration claiming they cannot deal with the amount of people fleeing Syria's war, Turkey has opened the doors for migrants to travel to the EU through Greece and Bulgaria. As a response to this, on 1 March, Greece announced the block of any new asylum applications for the next month, to “ensure full European support”. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece had increased the level of deterrence at its borders to the maximum. Greek deputy defence minister Alkiviadis Stefanis accused Turkey of encouraging migrants to make the trip.
Separately, Greek police say at least 500 people on seven boats reached the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios, where camps for migrants are already severely overcrowded.
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.