Juncker: Delays in agreeing the EU budget would cost 5,000 research jobs for every single month
Maria Koleva, Brussels
Talks on the next EU budged for 2021-2027, how the gap of 10+ billion euro, that the UK will leave if it exits the Union, will be filled, and what priority policies will be funded by the common cash, were held on 23 February in Brussels during the informal meeting of the 27 heads of state and government. The other topics on the menu were the new composition of the European Parliament after Brexit, appointment procedures for the president of the Commission and other top job positions, and also the situation in Syria and relations with Turkey. A week ago, the Commission published its contribution to the debate with proposals on ideas for a more efficient European Union and options for a new, modernised, long-term EU budget, where the executive set a lot of new ideas as a basis of the summit's debate.
The Fake News Factory concocted a French manipulation with Belgrade flavour
A veritable avalanche of fake news about De­lyan Peevski has been produced by the oligar­chy's media outlets over the past several days. Frightened by the pros­pect of the secondary plundering of CorpBank assets being stopped, once the amendment drawn up by Peevski and his fellow MRF lawmakers Hamid Hamid and Yordan Tsonev is promulgated, Tsvetan Vassilev's media minions went into fits of hysteria. The former State Security agent Ognyan Stefanov even felt the need to revive the ancient talking point falsely crediting Peevski with owning various companies.
 
German Chancellor Merkel calls for EU pressure on Russia and Iran to stop violence
Syria's civil war, that raged the country for seven years, last week had two explosive names: Eastern Ghouta and Afrin. The Syrian regime continued to rain rockets and bombs on the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta outside the Syrian capital Damascus during the week, as international pressure mounted to stop the carnage there.
 
France speeds up deportations
French government presented its first big immigration bill last Wednesday, which is expected to face stormy debates in Parliament with migrant charities and left-wingers blasting the bill as repressive. Even some members of French President Emmanuel Macron's party are reluctant to back the law, observers believe. The bill will double the time for which undocumented migrants can be detained to 90 days and shorten the deadlines to apply for asylum, from 120 days to 90 days after a migrant's arrival in France. It will also make the illegal crossing of borders an offence punishable by one year in jail and fines. The new bill aims to cut the waiting time on asylum applications from 11 months to six, while providing help to those who want to go home.
New EU corporate tax plan approved
Firms would be taxed where they earn their profits under new proposals for a harmonised corporate tax system, agreed last Wednesday by the Economics Committee, the EP press service reported. The new approach for the first time considers in a fair and proper way companies' online activities in order to calculate their tax. The so-called Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) is a part of a wide-ranging proposal aimed at creating a single and clear EU corporate tax regime. It is complimented by a separate measure, which creates the basis for the harmonised corporate tax system.
Going circular puts industry, consumers in driver's seat
Maria Koleva, Brussels
The transition to a circular, resource-efficient and low-carbon economy is well on track, placing industry and consumers in the driver's seat. What's next in this field was debated at the Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference in Brussels on 20 and 21 February by more than 400 people from industry, EU institutions, public authorities, NGOs and citizens.
Banking scandal shatters Latvia
Latvia was shattered last week by a scandal involving Central Bank Governor Ilmars Rimsevics, who was arrested and questioned for several hours on corruption suspicion, news wires reported. His office and one of his private properties had been raided by the special Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB). No details from the questioning have emerged, but according to people close to the inquiry Rimsevics is suspected of demanding a huge bribe of no less than €100,000.
Direct payments: simplified and targeted at active farmers
European Agriculture Ministers meeting in Bulgaria on 19 February said direct payments could be more targeted at active farmers. During the debate, the ministers underlined the importance of direct payments and considered that their design could be further improved by making them fairer, more targeted and effective for farmers across the EU.
EU defence industry programme approved
The new European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP), with a budget of €500m for 2019-2020 period, was last Wednesday approved by the Industry and Research Committee, the EP press service reported. The main aim of the programme is to foster the EU's strategic autonomy in the field of defence. EU financial assistance will cover the development of new and upgraded products to make the EU enhance its defence capabilities. Under the programme, Member States will be able to work together to pool resources and spend defence budgets more efficiently.
Europe can double renewables
The European Union can boost the share of renewables to 34% of its energy mix by 2030, triggering hundreds of billions of euros in investment and accelerating reduction of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. This is one of the main findings from a new report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), on request from the European Commission. Lawmakers in the 28-nation bloc are currently discussing policies for the next decade.
Borisov and Orban promote reliable EU borders protection
The prime ministers of Bulgaria and Hungary, Boyko Borisov and Viktor Orban, promoted the idea of reliable protection of the European Union's borders and control over the migrant influx. This was a central topic of conversation during their meeting at Boyana Residence in Sofia on 19 February. The future of the bloc and the role of the countries of the Western Balkans in it were also discussed during Orban's official visit.
Why fears of civil society are on the rise
Shada Islam
They talked of war and conflict but most of the “strongmen” lashing out at each other at the recent security conference in Munich are more fearful of their own citizens than they are of each other. Civil society activists are under increasing pressure worldwide, their pursuit of dignity and equal rights-for-all clashing with governments' determination to silence dissent and “disobedience”.
Ukraine's Donbass law signed
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko last Tuesday signed the law on reintegration of Donbas, which makes no reference to the Minsk agreements, news wires reported. However, on his Facebook page Poroshenko insisted that the bill does not violate the international obligations of Ukraine, including Minsk deals. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it saw the law as “preparations for a new war” and accused Kiev of violating the Minsk peace process.
EU executive hands out big cartel fines
The European Commission imposes €546m ($673.49m) fines to car shipping groups and car parts suppliers for anti-competitive behaviour, the EU executive announced last Wednesday. “The three separate decisions taken today show that we will not tolerate anticompetitive behaviour affecting European consumers and industries,” Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said.
Four-nation alliance set to counter China
The US, Japan, India and Australia could soon join forces to set up an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative in an attempt to counter Beijing's growing influence.
Italy to get new national carrier
Meridiana, an airline based in Sardinia, launched its bid last Monday to become Italy's leading carrier with a new name: Air Italy, news wires reported. The new airline, which is part-owned by Qatar Airways, aims to replace Alitalia, the bankrupt flag carrier that is in the process of being auctioned off in parts to other European airlines.
Strong Viennese presence in The Csardas Princess
The only living heir of composer Emmerich Kalman, his daughter Yvonne Kalman, is set to visit Bulgaria at the end of the season for a new production of the operetta of all operettas - The Csardas Princess, staged at the Music Theatre in Sofia. She could not attend the premiere shows on 24 and 25 February but Blagovesta Rankova, a long-time personal secretary to the composer's wife, Vera Kalman, was watching from the box. The 80-year-old Yvonne, who lives in Munich and owns a hotel chain in Mexico, sent a congratulatory letter to the cast of the Bulgarian production of her famed father's most recognisable work.
Marta Petkova - pointe work to the top
Irina Gigova
Some days ago, she was caught off guard by her daughter's question: “Mother, do you consider yourself a happy person?” In such moments Marta Petkova, the premier danseuse of the Sofia Opera and Ballet, is made aware of how blessed she is. She is dancing in all sorts of places across the world - her latest projects include appearances as guest principal dancer in Dallas, Naples, etc.
Documentary retro journey shot across Bulgaria
Diana Varnikova
A crew of the German television channel SWR, including Hagen von Ortloff, the legendary host of Eisenbahn-Romantik, visited Bulgaria recently to make a documentary about the Septe­m­vri-Dobrinishte narrow-gauge railway and the old trains in the country.
Unearthed wonders
Adelina Lozanova
The Bulgarian Archaeology 2017 traditional exhibition, whose goal is to introduce the general public to the most significant and impressive finds of the past year, was officially opened on 16 February at the National Archaeological Institute and will welcome visitors until 1 April.
In Brief
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Radev meets with Vucic
 
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (L) paid an official visit to Sofia on 23 February at the invitation of President Rumen Radev. Photo: BTA 

Reforming Eurozone
 
New Eurogroup President Mario Centeno explained last week to Economy Committee MEPs his ideas on how the Eurozone reforms should be deepened. Photo: EPA

Romanians protest for justice
 
Romanians protested in front of the government building after Justice Minister Tudorel Toader requested the dismissal of the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi. Photo: EPA

Hahn: Macedonia, Albania may start accession talks very soon
 
Macedonia and Albania are being lined up for full membership of the EU after the Commission paved the way for talks with the two Western Balkan nations. Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told German daily newspaper Die Welt that the Commission “will soon recommend Member States - most likely in the summer - to open accession negotiations.” This week, President Jean-Claude Juncker, High Representative Federica Mogherini, and Johannes Hahn will embark on a visit to the two countries, as well as Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo. 

EU doubles its funding for joint African Sahel force
 
The EU will double its funding for a joint African force tackling jihadists in Sahel. The decision was announced in Brussels last Friday at a meeting of French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spain PM Mariano Rajoy and other EU leaders with heads of state from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The EU will give an extra €50m for the G5 Sahel force, adding to around €280m already pledged by international donors. 

Brussels prepared for a worst scenario after Italian elections
 
Brussels was prepared for a worst scenario of a “non-operational government” in Italy after the general election on 4 March, that could bring turbulence in the financial markets, the EC President Jean-Claude Juncker warned last Thursday. At an EPS think-tank's event in Brussels, Juncker noted he was more worried by the Italian results than by the outcome of the voting of Germany's Social Democrats on whether to join a coalition led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

EC readies timely response to possible US steel tariffs
 
The Commission is mulling concrete counter-measures, should the US impose high tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, considered by President Trump administration, newspaper reports have indicated. Should EU nations be affected by higher tariffs, the EC would “come up with an adequate response within days,” setting the focus on agricultural produce such as tomatoes and potatoes, but on motorcycles as well.

MEPs: Post-2020 budget must match future ambitions
 
Budget Committee MEPs expressed last week their view on the EU post-2020 budget stressing that it has to reflect the Union's long-term strategy for a stron­ger Europe. They demanded the current EU's expenditure ceiling to be increased in order to better support important policy areas such as agriculture and cohesion and to provide sufficient funding to deal with new challenges such as security, defence or migration.

Light the Heart of Europe
 
Musicians perform in front of a giant lantern in the shape of Temple of Heaven at the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium, 22 February. The exhibition Light the Heart of Europe with gigantic Chinese lanterns was held to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year and the year of tourism between the EU and China. Photo: Xinhua

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