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Green MEPs criticize Verhofstadt for U-turn on #Spitzenkandidat process



For a long time, Guy Verhofstadt (pictured, centre) was one of the loudest voices in support of leading candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) of European political parties for European elections. Yesterday, he changed his position in an attempt to form an electoral alliance with Emmanuel Macron and his La Republique En Marche (LREM) for the upcoming European elections in May 2019. Macron always opposed the idea of leading candidates as his party did not join any European political party so far. Guy Verhofstadt, so far, is one of the Parliament’s most outspoken European Federalists.

MEP Sven Giegold, deputy member of the Constitutional Affairs committee and fellow Spinelli Board member, said: “Guy Verhofstadt’s rejection of the Spitzenkandidaten process is highly opportunistic. He gives up a major strengthening of European democracy only to be able to ally with Macron. This is a sad trade-off on the back of European voters. The Spitzenkandidaten process upgrades European elections by letting voters decide over the next Commission president. The Spitzenkandidaten process is strengthening the legitimacy of the European Commission which is deeply needed to counter citizens’ distrust and the allegations of populists. Verhofstadt’s excuse that leading candidates function only with transnational lists cannot convince.

"Five years ago, we had also had Spitzenkandidaten, but no transnational lists. At that time, being one of the Spitzenkandidaten, Verhofstadt was still in favour of the procedure. He should stop gambling with European democracy. Verhofstadt and Macron need a leading candidate for the European elections. The credibility of Liberals in defending the European Democracy depends on Verhofstadt to keep his word only to elect one of the Spitzenkandidaten as Commission president. Macron wants to keep his cards open for his ongoing negotiations with possible election campaign allies. Verhofstadt wants to save his Liberal group by joinings Macron’s momentum. Yet, the right of voters to scrutinize any new Commission president beforehand as leading candidate during European elections weights heavier than any party interests.

"Yet, Spitzenkandidaten are not enough, we also need transnational lists. They would allow leading candidates to be on the ballot paper in every EU member state. Moreover, they would allow any EU citizen to run as Spitzenkandidat without the veto right of its head of government. The EPP’s vote against transnational lists denied this equality to voters. It also blocks Margrethe Vestager from running as common leading candidate of Liberals and Macron, because the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, indicated not to appoint her as national candidate for Commission. Yet, Verhofstadt and Macron should not take the voters’ rights hostage to break the dominance of Christian-Democrats in deciding on the EU top post. Verhofstadt and Macron need to find their own leading candidate and must uphold voters’ rights to scrutinize anyone who wants to run as Commission president. Voters deserve a real choice between candidates from different political parties.

"For Voters to have a real choice for the EU top job, Christian-Democrats have to stand by their word that Parliament will elect the leading candidate with the broadest support in Parliament, not automatically the candidate of the single biggest party. Parliament confirmed this in February on the proposal of a Christian-Democrat rapporteur, MEP Esteban González Pons. Verhofstadt and the Liberals needs to present an own leading candidate to be more than a helping hand for the Christian-Democrat candidate.”


Over 40 arrested in biggest-ever crackdown against drug ring smuggling cocaine from Brazil into Europe



In the early hours of the morning (27 November), more than a thousand police officers with the support of Europol carried out co-ordinated raids against the members of this highly professional criminal syndicate. Some 180 house searches were executed, resulting in the arrest of 45 suspects. 

The investigation uncovered that this drug trafficking network was responsible for the annual importation of at least 45 tonnes of cocaine into the main European seaports, with profits exceeding €100 million over the course of 6 months.

This international sting, led by the Portuguese, Belgian and Brazilian authorities, was carried out simultaneously by agencies from three different continents, with coordination efforts facilitated by Europol:

  • Europe: Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária), Belgian Federal Judicial Police (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie, Police Judiciaire Fédérale), Spanish National Police (Policia Nacional), Dutch Police (Politie) and the Romanian Police (Poliția Română)
  • South America: Brazilian Federal Police (Policia Federal)
  • Middle East: Dubai Police Force and Dubai State Security

Results in brief 

  • 45 arrests in Brazil (38), Belgium (4), Spain (1) and Dubai (2).
  • 179 house searches.
  • Over €12m in cash seized in Portugal, €300,000 in cash seized in Belgium and over R$1m and US$169,000 in cash seized in Brazil.
  • 70 luxury vehicles seized in Brazil, Belgium and Spain and 37 aircrafts seized in Brazil.
  • 163 houses seized in Brazil worth in excess of R$132m, two houses seized in Spain worth €4m, and two apartments seized in Portugal worth €2.5m.
  • Financial assets of 10 individuals frozen in Spain.

Global co-operation 

In the framework of intelligence activities underway with its operational counterparts, Europol developed reliable intelligence concerning the international drug trafficking and money laundering activities of a Brazilian organized crime network operating in several EU countries.

The criminal syndicate had direct contact with drug cartels in Brazil and other South American source countries who were responsible for the preparation and the shipments of cocaine in maritime containers bound to major European seaports.

The scale of cocaine importation from Brazil to Europe under their control and command is massive and over 52 tonnes of cocaine were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigation.

In April 2020, Europol brought together the involved countries who have since been working closely together to establish a joint strategy to bring down the whole network. The main targets were identified on either sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, Europol has provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators. During the action day, a total of 8 of its officers were deployed on-the-ground in Portugal, Belgium and Brazil to assist there the national authorities, ensuring swift analysis of new data as it was being collected during the action and adjusting the strategy as required.

Commenting on this operation, Europol’s Deputy Director Wil van Gemert said: "This operation highlights the complex structure and vast reach of Brazilian organized crime groups in Europe. The scale of the challenge faced today by police worldwide calls for a coordinated approach to tackle the drug trade across continents. The commitment of our partner countries to work via Europol underpinned the success of this operation and serves as a continued global call to action."

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Navalny calls on Europe to follow the money



The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee held an exchange of views with representatives of the Russian political opposition and NGOs on the current political and socio-economic situation in Russia.

Among the speakers was Alexei Navalny, who has recently recovered from being poisoned with a nerve agent similar to the one used in the Salisbury attack targeted at Sergei Skirpal and his daughter. 

Navalny called on Europe to adopt a new strategy towards Russia, that meets the new developments in Russian state leadership. He said that the forthcoming elections for the State Duma would be an absolutely crucial event and that everyone should be able to participate. If opposition politicians are not allowed to participate he asked the European Parliament and every European politician not to recognize the outcome.

Navalny told MEPs that it was not enough to sanction those responsible for carrying out his poisoning and that there was little sense in sanctioning those who didn’t travel a lot or who didn’t own assets in Europe. Instead, he said the main question that should be asked is who gained financially from Putin’s regime. Navalny pointed to the oligarchs, not just the old ones, but the new ones in Putin’s inner circle, with name-checks for Usmanov and Roman Abramovich. He said that these sanctions would be warmly welcomed by most Russians. 

On the various decisions of the European Court of Human Rights that have been ignored by the Russian judiciary, Navalny said it would be very easy to sanction them to prevent them from traveling to Europe and it would be very effective.

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Commission approves German scheme to compensate accommodation providers in the field of child and youth education for damages suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak



The European Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, a German scheme to compensate accommodation providers for child and youth education for the loss of revenue caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The public support will take the form of direct grants. The scheme will compensate up to 60% of the loss of revenues incurred by eligible beneficiaries in the period between the beginning of the lockdown (which started on different dates across the regional states) and 31 July 2020 when their accommodation facilities had to be closed due to the restrictive measures implemented in Germany.

When calculating the loss of revenue, any reductions in costs resulting from income generated during the lockdown and any possible financial aid granted or actually paid out by the state (and in particular granted under scheme SA.58464) or third parties to cope with the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak will be deducted. At the central government level, facilities eligible to apply will have at their disposal a budget of up to €75 million.

However, these funds are not earmarked exclusively for this scheme. In addition, regional authorities (at Länder or local level) may also make use of this scheme from the local budgets. In any event, the scheme ensures that the same eligible costs cannot be compensated twice by different administrative levels. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damages caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the German scheme will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the envisaged compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damages. The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU state aid rules.

More information on actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59228 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website.

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