Corruption: European Parliament lifts immunity of two MEPs

Brussels (AFP) – On Thursday, the European Parliament lifted the immunity of two MEPs targeted by the Belgian judiciary in the scandal over alleged corruption benefiting Qatar and Morocco, paving the way for further inquiry by investigators.

Voting by show of hands, MEPs in Brussels gave the green light to the lifting of the immunity of Belgian Marc Tarabella and Italian Andrea Cozzolino.

The two MEPs, who were temporarily excluded from the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, deny any wrongdoing. Tarabella, who was present in the chamber, voted to lift his own immunity.

“It is to the justice system that I will give information on the questions that [the investigators] want to ask me. I want the justice system to do its job,” said the Belgian MEP as he left the chamber.

From now on, “everything will be possible, (…) this does not necessarily mean that there will be coercive measures, but the justice system is giving itself all the means to be able to work as it would for any person subject to trial,” Eric Van Duyse, spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, told AFP. (February 2)

Calls for funding of border fences in EU parliament

Brussels (BTA) – The European Parliament has debated the issue of migration, with several political groups backing a call to the European Commission to allocate funds for a fence between Bulgaria and Turkey.

According to the European People’s Party group, fences and walls should no longer be taboo. The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group takes the opposite view, saying that building walls is supported by the right and the far right, but does not solve the problems.

The Renew Europe group demanded immediate easing of the situation at the external borders. The Greens accused Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of proposing a plan to turn Europe into a fortress.

The Identity and Democracy group said the Commission’s proposals were realistic, because efforts needed to be focused on protecting external borders.

The European Conservatives and Reformists slammed the Commission for claiming that there is no money in the European budget for border walls. The left accused the far right of inciting xenophobia over a “non-existent migration wave.” (February 2)

Von der Leyen puts green industry plan on the table

Brussels (Belga) – On Wednesday, the European Commission presented its long-awaited green industry plan. The “Green Deal Industrial Plan” is Europe’s answer to US billions in subsidies for green industry and against unfair competition from China. In the short term, member states will have the prospect of 250 billion euros in European loans and subsidies, although little new money is included.

With its green industry plan, the Commission wants to safeguard the lead that European industry currently has in green technology. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s proposals are not explicitly directed against other countries or power blocs, but it is no secret that Europe is concerned about its competitiveness and industrial development. In the Commission’s view, there appear to be well-founded fears that the United States, with its Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), is luring or inducing European companies to invest there, rather than in the EU.

The European plan should primarily facilitate investment in and financing of homegrown clean tech. To this end, the Commission is pursuing several avenues. As has been known for some time, it wants to relax state aid rules. That should make it possible for member states to invest money into the production of batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, electrochemical cells, CO2 capture and storage, and into the raw materials needed to produce such goods. It should also be possible to support the financing of all renewable energy sources.

The new state aid framework will already be launched in the coming weeks and remain in force until the end of 2025. In addition, the Commission wants to raise the ceiling for the notification of state aid, known as the “block exemption”. The roll-out of cross-border projects of common European interest involving several countries will be simplified.

Because all member states will be able to operate in the same way, the Commission hopes to minimize distortion of the single market in the context of the global subsidy race. But of course, not all member states have the financial capabilities of countries like Germany and France to support their industries. Therefore, access to European support for the green industry will be facilitated. Specifically, member states will be able to set up the new REPowerEU chapter (which allows them to get investment support from the Covid recovery fund) in their national recovery plan in such a way that it allows them to subsidize their green industry. Among other things, the Commission advises them to grant tax credits and other tax breaks, as well as invest into retraining workers for jobs in in clean tech.

The Commission is holding out 250 billion euros to member states. Of this, 20 billion euros is new money, made available in the form of grants. The 5.4 billion euros from the fund to mitigate the impact of Brexit could also be used for green investments, the Commission suggests. The remaining 225 billion euros are loans still available under the Covid fund. To unlock European funding quickly – considering that Washington will come up with new guidelines for tapping IRA grants in March – the Commission wants to tap other sources, such as the Innovation Fund. In the medium term, member states should also benefit from a new investment fund – a sovereignty fund, in the Commission’s words. When the European multiannual budget is revised in summer, the Commission will announce more details on this.

Besides more funding, the green industry will also benefit from a simpler and more predictable regulatory framework, the Commission believes. To this end, it elaborated a ‘Net-Zero Industry Act’. Speeding up authorization procedures for industrial projects is one of the main objectives. There will also be a critical raw materials act, to help the EU gain access to strategic raw materials for its industry – for example, lithium.

The plan will be discussed at the European Summit of heads of state and government on 9 and 10 February. (February 1)

EU to train another 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers

Brussels (dpa) – The extent of the current EU training mission for the Ukrainian armed forces is to be doubled. The new target is to train 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers in EU countries, several EU officials said in Brussels on February 1. Previously, the goal had been to train around 15 000 soldiers.

The launch of the EU training mission had been decided by the foreign ministers of the Member States in November. At that time, it was said that up to 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers would be trained in Germany, Poland and other EU countries. With this deployment, the EU wants to help Ukrainian troops to better defend themselves against Russian attacks.

Within the framework of the EU mission, the German Bundeswehr offers, among other things, combat training for companies as well as tactical exercises for brigade and subordinate battalion staff. In addition, the German offer includes training for trainers, medical training and weapon systems training in close cooperation with industry. According to original plans, Germany wanted to train a brigade of up to 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers in the first few months. (February 1)

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.