News from the Europe in the second week of December 2020

News from the Europe in the second week of December 2020

Paris Anti-police unrest: There have been renewed protests in cities across France against police violence, and a highly controversial new security bill. In Paris, a demonstration turned violent, when dozens of hooded protesters smashed windows and threw Molotov cocktails at police. Anger about the law, which would increase the surveillance tools available to police, and restrict people’s right to circulate images of police officers, has intensified since footage emerged of police beating up a black music producer last month. The government has promised to rewrite the bill, but that has not been enough to stop the protests.

Copenhagen End of an era: Denmark has announced an immediate end to all oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, as part of its plan to phase out the extraction of fossil fuels by 2050. The 55 oil and gas drilling platforms already constructed in Danish waters will remain in operation, but no new prospecting will be permitted, and the government has cancelled a forthcoming licensing round. Denmark produced around 103,000 barrels of oil per day last year, making it the EU’s biggest producer, and its oil wealth has transformed its economy since the 1970s. However, its output is small compared to that of Norway (1.7 million barrels/day) and the UK (1.1m). Countries including France and New Zealand have already announced bans on oil and gas exploration, but Denmark is the first sizeable fossil fuel producer to do so. Greenpeace hailed the move as a “watershed moment”, and called on the UK to follow suit.

Moscow Vaccine roll-out: Russia has started rolling out its Sputnik V vaccine, though it has yet to complete final-stage trials. The vaccine is being given first to Muscovites aged 18 to 60 who work in health, education and social services. A conventional vaccine, Sputnik V delivers molecules from the coronavirus into the body in order to stimulate an immune response. Two doses must be given, 21 days apart. They differ slightly, and currently there are reported to be problems in producing the second dose in sufficient quantity. Moscow’s mayor has had the jab as part of a PR drive to encourage take-up. However, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin said it would be inappropriate for the president himself to be given an “uncertified vaccine”.

Madrid Ex-generals talk about a “coup”: Spain’s defence minister, Margarita Robles, has asked prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into a group of retired senior military officers who discussed inciting a coup in private WhatsApp messages. In the exchange, leaked to the press, they praised Spain’s late military dictator General Franco – “the irreplaceable one” – and talked about “annihilating 26 million” leftists and Catalan separatists. Robles said the group had tarnished “the neutrality of the armed forces”; prosecutors will now consider whether their chat actually constituted a crime. Some of the members of the group – who had all graduated during Franco’s dictatorship – were among the scores of retired armed forces officers who wrote to King Felipe last month, to express their concern about Pedro Sánchez’s “social-communist” government, and the deals it has made with separatist parties in Spain.

Munich, Germany Christmas restrictions: Bavaria has declared a state of emergency, issued a stay-at-home order, and closed its borders with Austria and the Czech Republic, in response to a surge in Covid cases. It is the first German state to adopt such a stringent lockdown since the spring – but with cases rising rapidly in other areas, it may not be the last. This week, Germany reported a record daily death toll of 590, and Angela Merkel’s government is coming under pressure from doctors’ associations to scrap the planned relaxing of restrictions over Christmas. These would allow up to ten people to gather indoors during the festive period (up from five). In Italy, the government has imposed a ban on people leaving their home regions between 20 December and 6 January. On 25 and 26 December and 1 January, Italians aren’t even allowed to leave their home towns. PM Giuseppe Conte announced the ban last week after Italy registered 993 deaths, its worst daily death toll of the pandemic. In France, new cases are still hovering around 10,000 a day – far above the 5,000-a-day target for lifting the current lockdown on 15 December. Italy, Germany and France have agreed to force ski resorts to close their lifts over Christmas, in an effort to keep traveller numbers down. France is also introducing border checks to stop its residents going skiing in neighbouring Switzerland.

Budapest Veto row: The mayors of Budapest and Warsaw have written a letter to the president of the European Commission, in which they attack their national governments for blocking the EU’s budget. The right-wing nationalist governments of both Poland and Hungary have vetoed the EU’s seven-year budget plan, and a pandemic recovery fund, because they object to a clause linking EU funding to respect for the rule of law, democratic norms and a free press. The mayors referred to their governments’ “utter disregard for the core values” of the EU. Separately, Hungary’s PM, Viktor Orbán, felt obliged to distance himself from one of his Fidesz party’s MEPs, after the man was caught attending an all-male sex party in Brussels, in defiance of lockdown rules. József Szájer, whose party takes a highly conservative stance on “family values”, had tried to flee by climbing out of a window.