This Week in Europe: Spain, border tensions and prisoner exchanges in the Ukraine

, by Radu Dumitrescu, Věra Dvořáková

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This Week in Europe: Spain, border tensions and prisoner exchanges in the Ukraine

Members of the TNF team recount big events from Europe from the past week, and point attention to news that may have passed notice. What did we miss? Comment on our Facebook page at !

Spanish police retreat from Catalonia

On Tuesday, the Spanish government announced that it will be removing several thousands of police officers from Catalonia, stationed there since the referendum on independence. At the time, the force used by the police to stop the referendum was deemed excessive by many observers. The retreat follows last week’s regional elections in Catalonia, won by separatist parties.

Poll: Schulz, loser of the year, Merkel in third

A poll issued to over 1,000 Germans revealed that most (67%) of them viewed Schulz as a loser for leading his party to the worst election results in German post-war history. 53% of respondents felt the same about Merkel for her struggle to form government with liberal FDP. Schulz beat Horst Seehofer (61%), leader of CDU, for the “honor” of obtaining the title of loser of the year.

Italian general elections on March 4th

On Thursday, Italian President Sergio Mattarella dissolved the parliament in anticipation of the new general elections, which are to be held in early March. With a very fragmented political landscape, Italy is set for another coalition government. Current opinion polls show anti-establishment 5Star Movement ahead, followed by the current PM’s Democratic Party. Possible scenarios of a coalition between Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the 5Star Movement and the Northern League are still being debated.

Italy sends military mission to Niger

In an effort stop people smugglers from taking migrants to the EU, Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni announced that Italy will be sending a “non-combat” mission to Niger. Overall, crossings into Europe have been decreasing since the EU and the Libyan coastguard began intercepting boats.

Border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia

EU intervention was called by Slovenia regarding its border dispute with Croatia concerning an area of the Gulf of Piran. Six months ago, the Permanent Court of Arbitration decided that two thirds of the waters around Savudrija Bay in Croatia belonged to Slovenia. At the same time, the ruling set that Slovenian soldiers should leave Sveta Gera mountain peak, which belonged to Croatia, and that Slovenian citizens who owned properties there should give them up. However, Croatia stated that the ruling was invalid because the tribunal had been “contaminated” in 2015 by having a Slovenian judge on its panel.

MEPs to request copy of OLAF report on Czech prime minister

MEPs from the Committee on Budgets will request a copy of a report of the anti-fraud unit OLAF on the alleged subsidy fraud of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. The request would be filed in the first week of January, unless it was released by the Czech Finance Ministry by that time, as stated by Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský (Christian Democrats). The Ministry has refused to release the document so far. Finance Minister Alena Schillerová from Babiš’ ANO movement has commissioned an expert analysis on which parts of it could be made public. Prime Minister Babiš is suspected of a fraud connected with an EU grant for the Stork’s Nest Farm.

Spain to leave EU’s deficit ’sin bin’ next year, Rajoy says

According to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Spain will be taken off the EU’s red list of budgetary sinners next year. Spain is currently one of the two countries under a special budget supervision for running up deficits in excess of an EU-imposed limit of 3.0 percent of GDP. But at a news conference at the end of the year, Rajoy said that he believed that in 2017, Spain would come out of the excessive deficit procedure and could get closer to a balanced budget by 2020.

Ukraine and separatists begin largest prisoner exchange of conflict

The largest prisoner exchange since the start of the conflict in 2014 has begun between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists with Ukraine handing over 246 prisoners in exchange for 74 people taken captive by the separatists. The exchange took place at a checkpoint near Horlivka in the region of eastern Donetsk. Journalists, activists and bloggers accused of spying or treason were among the released.

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