Brussels (Belga) – European rules oblige member states to keep their budget deficit below 3 percent of their gross domestic product and their debt ratio below 60 percent. That rule has been on hold since the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, but this so-called general escape clause expires at the end of this year. European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis warned that the European Commission would propose to reopen excessive budget deficit procedures, based on the budget outcomes for 2023 in the spring of next year.

For Belgium, the Commission expects a deficit of 5.8 percent this year, and many other member states also have a high deficit. Is an avalanche of procedures to be expected then? “We are not going to anticipate that now,” Dombrovskis said at a press conference on March 8. “The forecasts will be updated several more times in the period up to spring of next year. We are providing clarity so that member states can prepare,” Dombrovskis added.

Next spring will also see European and, in Belgium, federal and regional elections. The exact date has not been fixed yet, nor has the timing of the launch of any procedures. The vice-president did note that in case of the 2019 European elections, such politically delicate decisions had only been taken after the ballot.

“Our focus should now be on improving debt sustainability,”

stressed the European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis.

For the Commission, it is already clear that the times of broad government support are coming to an end. Dombrovskis is thinking primarily about phasing out measures to compensate for high energy prices, starting with the least targeted and broadest measures. However, investments in the green and digital transition should remain intact. (March 8)

Ukraine urges more money for ammunition supplies at EU meeting

Stockholm (dpa) – Ukrainian Defence Minister Olexiy Resnikov has described EU plans for new ammunition deliveries to his country as insufficient. Ukraine needs one million artillery shells and around 4 billion euros would probably have to be made available to acquire them, Resnikov said at an informal meeting with EU defence ministers in Sweden on March 8. The point, he said, was being able to launch further counteroffensives against the aggressors from Russia.

In a discussion paper for the defence ministers’ meeting near Stockholm, the EU Commission and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell had previously proposed providing an additional approximately 1 billion euros for rapid ammunition deliveries to Ukraine. The money should make it possible to reimburse member states willing to deliver ammunition a significantly higher share of the costs from EU funds than has been the case to date. A reimbursement rate of up to 90 percent is under discussion; so far, it amounted to less than 50 percent in some cases. In addition, according to Borrell, another 1 billion euros could be made available for a project by EU states wanting to jointly procure ammunition through the EU.

Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius stressed at the meeting that money was “not the main problem.” For example, he said, there are many technical requirements for ammunition that no one can override, “Therefore, the production of ammunition will always take time.” In the coming weeks and months, bottlenecks will have to be overcome. That’s why the current focus must be on “gathering and delivering stocks – whatever we can deliver, given our own defence and alliance capabilities,” Pistorius said.

Russian forces fire an average of between 600,000 and 1.8 million rounds of artillery ammunition per month, according to figures from an Estonian government background paper, while Ukraine fires only 60,000 to 210,000 rounds per month. The current production capacity of the European defence industry reportedly only amounts to 20,000 to 25,000 rounds per month. However, it is possible to expand to as many as 175,000 rounds per month, according to the report. Borrell stressed he was sorry to say this, but a war mentality had to be adopted. We are in a time of war, he said. (March 8)

Austria to deploy up to ten soldiers for EU mission in Niger

Vienna (APA) – Austria will deploy up to ten members of its armed forces for the EU military partnership mission in Niger. In addition, the Council of Ministers decided on March 8 to provide up to 30 more soldiers for preparation and up to 20 more for air transport. The EU wants to provide stronger support to the West African country in its fight against terrorists, and thus stabilize the Sahel region.

According to the EU, the mission, called EUMPM Niger, will, among other things, help set up a training center and a new communications and command support battalion. The mission is initially scheduled to last three years. Total EU costs are estimated at 27.3 million euros. Austria’s participation in the EU mission is initially limited until 31 December 2024.

Austrian Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner said in a statement: “If we want to avert flight and illegal migration, we have to work preventively. And this is where Austria can make a valuable contribution in Niger to sustainably prevent terrorism and thus contain the danger to Europe and make a positive contribution to increased stability and resilience in the Sahel region.”

According to the statement, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said the geopolitical environment had become harsher with the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. “As the EU, we must not leave the field to other actors, but continue to show our colors. Austria’s participation strengthens security in Niger, which at the same time means more security for Europe.” (March 8)

Bulgarian journalists are increasingly being sued for defamation, Council of Europe reports

Brussels/Strasbourg (BTA) – Journalists and media representatives in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Italy, Poland and Serbia are increasingly being sued for defamation, according to a report by the Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists.

“At least 20 defamation and other types of legal proceedings were documented against journalists in 2022, with hundreds of thousands of Euros sought in damages in the name of reputational harm,” said the report. More and more similar proceedings have been initiated at the request of politicians, including government members, the document notes. Among the examples given are fines imposed for distributing a report, such as the decision against the Bulgarian site “Mediapool”.

“The 2022 Media Pluralism Monitor (…) identified eleven of 32 European countries where media pluralism is at ‘high risk’”. According to the 2022 Media Pluralism Monitor, published by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, there are, in addition, 28 out of 32 countries where news media concentration constitutes a high risk. Turkey has the highest media concentration in Europe at 82 percent, followed by Albania (70 percent), Poland (67 percent), Hungary (66 percent) and Bulgaria (also 66 percent), the data show. (March 7)

French official: Bosnia and Herzegovina should join the European Union as soon as possible

Sarajevo (FENA) – The French Secretary of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs Laurence Boone paid an official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). During her meetings with BiH officials, Boone stressed that BiH was part of the European family and it was very important for the country to join the EU as soon as possible.

Boone’s visit represents the continuity of French involvement in the Western Balkans in the context of the EU’s approach and the granting of candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. She pointed out that there was an active civil society in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and citizens were working to promote democracy and the rule of law.

During her visit, Boone encouraged the politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement fundamental reforms on the European road, as the goal of her visit was to remind of France’s support in that process.

Boone pointed out that France unequivocally gave full support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that it was committed to further assistance in all areas, especially in terms of EU integration. (March 8)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Tuesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.