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Romania’s governing coalition collapses after less than a year in office

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The Romanian government coalition led by Florin Cîțu (EPP) has collapsed following a no confidence vote in Parliament. The 281 MEPs voted against the government with 185 abstaining. 

President Klaus Iohannis (EPP) will have to nominate a new PM. 

The vote comes as Romania sees its fourth wave of COVID. Despite vaccine availability, Romania has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the EU.

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The issue of COVID orphans takes centre stage

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In Romania, COVID has hit hard entire families, leaving many without their loved ones. Even more frightening are the losses that many children feel, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

Children who come to the attention of the welfare and child protection departments automatically enter a psychological counseling program so that specialists can help them to overcome the trauma more easily. At national level, there are no clear statistics regarding the children who lost their parents after falling ill with Covid., there are only local cases that make it to attention of institutions and the media.

In Sălaj County, a teenager was left without his mother. Neither one of his parents were vaccinated. Daniela Bocșa, psychologist, close to the family: “It is extraordinarily difficult, he was left without a mother and with a sad father, a father who blames himself, a father who does not know how he will be able to help him, because he has to be helped as well to get over this shock and recover.

In Bucharest, a 7 years old came into the care of an aunt after his entire family was gone.

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The death toll is so high that some chapels inside hospitals will temporarily take over the bodies from morgues. Romania receives help from abroad. Italy, Serbia, the Netherlands or France are just some of the countries that have sent medicines and oxygen concentrators. In the next few days, more medical teams from abroad will arrive, but that does little to solve the situation of children left without parents, especially since Romania has some of the highest poverty levels in the EU amongst children, which is only expected to increase amongst orphans.

According to the report analyzing the situation in 2020, almost a quarter (24.2%) of children in the EU were at risk of poverty and social exclusion, compared to 21.7% of adults (18-64 years) and 20.4% among the elderly (65 years and older).

The highest share of children in this situation is in Romania (41.5%), Bulgaria (36.2%), Spain (31.8%) and Greece (31.5%).

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Last year, the lowest share of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion was in Slovenia (12.1%), the Czech Republic (12.9%), Denmark (13.5%) and Finland (14.5%).

The situation has become so dire that a group of MEPs is calling for European support for children left orphaned because of COVID.

27 MEPs have called for an EU support mechanism for children who have lost one or both parents to Covid. The 27 MEPs are from all political groups and represent 15 member states: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain. They called on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit to provide a specific aid and assistance mechanism for children in the European Union who have lost one or both parents to Covid-19.

To date, almost 800,000 European citizens have lost their lives to the new coronavirus infection.

It is expected that following the COVID-19 pandemic the level of social exclusion, inequality and poverty will increase amongst kids, particularly those in rural areas.

As mentioned, poverty levels would only increase if nothing is done. Numerous researchers have already warned about the considerably increased risk of poverty and social exclusion, abuse, school dropout, and the impact that the pandemic has on the physical and mental health of children around the world. And the European Union is no exception: almost a quarter of European children (22.2%) were at risk of poverty before 2020. In Romania, almost 1,400,000 children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and half some of them are already living in extreme poverty.

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Bulgaria and Romania are moving away from the eurozone, as Croatia gets on track for the single currency

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Bulgarian economist Professor Boian Durankev said that the significant budget deficit will prevent Bulgaria from joining the eurozone in the near future. Durankev added that in order to ready the country, the whole of the Bulgarian economy and society must change, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

The Bulgarian government forecasts economic growth of 3.5% this year and inflation of 2.5%. "The inflation rate is officially over 2%”. He added that "forecasts indicate that the economy has the potential for some change, but the country is heading for a significant budget deficit, which will prevent us in the coming years, at least until 2025, from joining the eurozone ", explained Prof. Durankev . He commented that the eurozone has undeniable advantages, including stronger support in the event of crises such as the pandemic.

On the other hand, Croatia is doing much better. Croatia is on track to adopt the euro by 2023, as long as it meets the criteria set by the European Commission, said Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission's executive vice president. "The euro will be a great advantage for Croatia, as it is now for Europe. These developments must be carefully monitored and managed," said the European official.

Dombrovskis warned Croatia that it should be cautious about the effects of the pandemic on the economy, especially the low level of vaccination, which could lead authorities to adopt new restrictions, although the pace of recovery in the Croatian economy is good.

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Croatia will only be able to introduce the euro once all the convergence criteria have been met. If met in 2022, the EU Council will decide whether the state will join the euro on January 1, 2023, said the European Commission's executive vice president.

The governor of the Central Bank of Croatia, Boris Vujcic, also recently said that Zagreb could meet all the criteria for joining the eurozone sooner than expected. The temporary suspension of the deficit limit for EU member states due to the coronavirus pandemic should help Croatia fulfill, sooner than expected, a key condition for becoming a eurozone member, Boris Vujcic said.

Croatia, a country that relies heavily on tourism more than any other EU member state, has been affected by travel restrictions introduced in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. "We have a situation this year in which the European Commission has suspended excessive deficit procedures for all Member States. In this context, we need to think about the date of Croatia's accession to the euro area," Boris Vujcic said at a meeting of central bank governors. Candidate countries for accession to the euro area must prove the soundness of public finances, that inflation is under control and the exchange rate is stable before they can switch to the single currency.

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Euro favorability and readiness in the region

Romanians top the chart of euro currency favorability, with 75% of them wanting the euro switchover, up from 63% last year.

According to the Flash Eurobarometer, Romanians are followed by other eastern and central European nations, with 69% of Hungarians, 61% of Croats and 54% of Bulgarians favoring the single currency.

The survey was carried out in the seven member states that have not adopted the single currency: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

“Across the seven countries, 57% are in favour of introducing the euro, while 40% are against. There is wide variation at country level: three quarters are in favour of introducing the euro in Romania, but in Czechia and Sweden, a majority of respondents are against the idea of introducing the euro”, the survey points out.

Across all countries, except the Czech Republic, there has been an increase in the proportion of those in favor of introducing the euro compared to 2020.

Yet, most respondents in each country think introducing the euro will increase prices and are concerned about abusive price setting during the changeover.

While Romanians lead in terms of favorability towards the euro they are also much aware of their fiscal unreadiness, with 69% of the population saying that their country is not prepared to join the Eurozone.

In order to become part of the Eurozone a country must meet a set of criteria, with Romania no longer fulfilling the requirements according to last year’s European Commission report on euro convergence.

Romania has moved back and forth on various phases of the accession process over the past 14 years since it became part of the EU, outlining plans and setting numerous deadlines for joining the eurozone. The country lags behind in its readiness to adopt the single currency. Romania previously set 2024 as a deadline to join the Eurozone but the odds are slim for that to happen.

Bulgaria and Croatia have been admitted in the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II), the first step in joining the euro, though Bulgaria is now backtracking on its progress.

Sweden remains one of the most prepared countries in switching to the euro. Yet joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism requires public approval. On 14 September 2003 56% of Swedes voted against adopting the euro in a referendum, with political parties pledging to abide by the result of the referendum.

All member states of the European Union, except Denmark which negotiated opt-outs from the provisions, are obliged to adopt the euro as their sole currency once they meet the criteria.

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Only one third of Romanians trust vaccines as Western Europe intensifies immunization

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A recent survey of the European Union showed that only one in four Romanians show any interest in medical innovations and discoveries, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

The recent Eurobarometer comes as Romania is registering a record high number of COVID cases and the highest mortality rate in the entire European Union. The country has the second lowest vaccination rate in the EU, coming a close second after Bulgaria.

The survey shows that Romanians are among the least influenced out of all Europeans by matters of science, and moreover, it shows that Romanian have a fear of technological progress which tends to intensify together with the education gap.

Thus, one in five Romanians believes that science has a negative impact on society. Most Romanians believe that viruses were created in the laboratory to control population freedom, and half of those questioned believe that the cure for cancer exists, but it is hidden for commercial reasons.

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Even more striking is that a third of Romanians believe that humans have lived at the same time with dinosaurs, and only one third believe that vaccines are good against the epidemic which might explain some of the reasons Romanians are dodging the vaccines. Plummeting coronavirus vaccines interest in Romania comes from a long-standing mistrust in authorities, vaccines skepticism, as well as officials’ poor approach in dealing with the virus. Hospital, healthcare workers and ICUs across the country are overwhelmed. Healthcare specialists warned weeks in advance that the 4th wave will hit Romania hard.

Romania is now trying to weather a perfect storm. Romania was the first in the EU to lift restrictions and relax other measures, but next-to-last in terms of vaccination rates.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, countries in Western Europe are pushing hard to get as many people as possible vaccinate. For example a brothel in Vienna offers guests 30 free minutes with "a lady of their choice" in exchange for vaccination. The unexpected offered from the Austrian capital is aimed at bringing up vaccination numbers. The uncanny offer gives clients a 30 minutes plus bonus to every customer who wants to get vaccinated there.

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The brothel thus hopes to help increase the vaccination rate, but also to increase the number of customers that has decreased due to the pandemic. After a dose of vaccine, visitors receive a free 30-minute session with a girl of their choice. The brothel encourages men and women to visit it for vaccinations this month.

Austria has been going through a spike in the number of Covid cases. Infection rates have skyrocketed and the country’s authorities have announced that additional measures have been imposed in order to halt the further spread of the virus and protect public health. Austria now has a new “2-G-Rule” in place, which refers to the vaccination and recovery requirements. This means that all persons, including travellers, are now required to present valid proof of vaccination or recovery in order to be permitted access to different indoor areas while in Austria.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said Austria's latest restrictions would probably remain in place during the winter holidays.

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