Use frozen Russian billions for reconstruction of Ukraine, Charles Michel suggests

Brussels (Belga) – European Council President Charles Michel wants to transfer ownership of frozen Russian assets worth some 275 billion euros to Ukraine. The authorities in Kiev could then use that money to rebuild their country, Michel suggested in an interview with business newspaper Financial Times on Monday.

The president of the Council of the EU heads of government told the British newspaper he considered this to be “just and fair.” However, he did stress that it had to be legally feasible. He said he will actively insist on European government leaders to back the plan.

The money in question originally belonged to Russia’s central bank, but was lodged in the EU. The European Commission has long been looking for ways to use frozen Russian assets for Ukraine. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, for instance, also announced in November of last year that she wanted to “actively manage” the money.

Brussels argues that the billions do belong to their rightful owner. The money may be returned if sanctions are lifted. However, this will only be decided upon during final peace negotiations, as Russia must contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine, EU officials argue. (January 23)

Iran’s intelligence warns EU over its measures against Revolutionary Guard

Tehran/Strasbourg (EFE) – On Sunday, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said it reserved the right to take reciprocal measures, should the European Union carry out any act contrary to the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It also declared “full solidarity” with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as “the main pillar of the country’s defense forces” and condemned the resolution passed by the European Parliament to designate the group as terrorists, which it described as “a useless, hasty and reckless action.”

Last week, the EU Parliament passed a resolution calling on the Council of the European Union to consider the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its subsidiary forces, such as the paramilitary Basij militia and the Quds Force, as a terrorist organization. Parliament also called for sanctions against Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi and their families, as well as the punishment of the Prosecutor General, Mohamad Jafar Montazeri, as responsible for the repression of protests.

The demonstrations in question began last September over the death of a young Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini, but they have evolved and the young men and women who are leading them are calling for an end to the Islamic Republic. The Iranian authorities have responded with a heavy police crackdown that has resulted in almost 500 deaths and nearly 20,000 arrests, according to NGOs based outside Iran. In addition, four protesters were executed, one of them publicly, and at least 17 people have been sentenced to death by hanging.

On Monday, EU ministers decided on a fourth round of sanctions since the protests began in September. In total 37 targets – 18 individuals and 19 entities – were hit with an EU asset freeze and travel ban. Altogether, 164 individuals and 31 entities linked to human rights violations in Iran have now been targeted. Among them are people and entities linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). (January 23)

Scholz and Macron invoke Franco-German friendship

Paris (dpa) – After considerable tensions in recent months, Germany and France have reaffirmed the importance of their friendship for the future of Europe on the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty. During a ceremony at the Sorbonne University in Paris on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that Germany and France were like “two souls in one breast” to him. “For a Frenchman to talk about Germany is to talk about a part of himself,” he told more than 30 ministers from both governments, and around 200 parliamentarians.

“The Franco-German engine is a compromise machine”

In French, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz thanked the “French brothers and sisters” for their friendship. He assessed the differences of opinion between the two countries as normal in such close cooperation. “The Franco-German engine is a compromise machine – well oiled, but sometimes noisy and marked by hard work,” Scholz said. “It is not driven by sweet talk and empty symbolism, but by our firm will to transform controversies and differences of interest into unified action again and again.”

The ceremony was combined with a joint cabinet meeting, which produced few concrete results. In it, France and Germany pledged “unwavering support” for Ukraine, without mentioning details about specific weapons systems such as battle tanks.

At the joint press conference with Macron in the evening, Scholz praised the cooperation on energy issues. A year ago, he said, it would have been inconceivable to cope with a loss of Russian gas supplies without there being an economic crisis. “But we have succeeded in doing so, with European solidarity.” He pointed out that France helped Germany out with gas, while Germany helped France out with electricity.

Series of upsets in recent months

Since Chancellor Scholz took office a little over a year ago, there had been a series of upsets in Franco-German relations. Last autumn, for example, France disliked German opposition to a European gas price cap and the German government’s 200-billion-euro program to cushion the high energy costs. At the time, Macron accused Germany of isolating itself in Europe. The consultations between the two governments, which were actually planned for October, had to be postponed because they could not reach agreement on all points.

Most recently, the vote on arms deliveries to Ukraine did not go smoothly. At the beginning of January, Macron pushed ahead with the decision on armored reconnaissance and infantry fighting vehicles, announcing it one day ahead of Scholz and US President Joe Biden.

The final declaration of the joint cabinet meeting deals with a broad range of cooperation from defense to transport to climate protection. (January 22)

H2Med hydrogen pipeline between Barcelona and Marseille to be extended to Germany

Paris (AFP) – The European hydrogen pipeline project H2Med, which aims to develop the use of hydrogen on the continent, will be extended from southwestern European countries to Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron and the Spanish government announced on Sunday.

“We have decided to extend the H2Med project, which, thanks to European funding, links Portugal, Spain and France (…), to Germany, which will be a partner in this hydrogen infrastructure strategy,” said the French president at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the reconciliation treaty between Paris and Berlin.

In Madrid, the Spanish Energy Ministry confirmed Sunday’s agreement “for Germany to join H2Med”, which follows “discussions between the Spanish, German, French and Portuguese governments, fostered by their deeply European vision.” (January 23)

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.