Displaying items by tag: Europe

Thursday, 21 January 2021 20:58

Germany: pragmatic Armin Laschet to succeed Merkel

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a centre-right party, has elected Armin Laschet, the pragmatic governor of Germany's most populous state, as its new leader - sending a signal of continuity before the 26 September election. The vote is not the final word on who will be the centre-right candidate for Chancellor, but Laschet will either run himself or will have a big say in who does. He is viewed as more in line with Merkel's pragmatic centrism, and spoke of the value of continuity and moderation. ‘We must speak clearly but not polarise. We must be able to integrate, hold society together.’ The decision ends an 11-month leadership limbo in the CDU. Angela Merkel, who has been Chancellor since 2005, is not seeking a fifth term.

Published in Europe
Thursday, 14 January 2021 20:50

Germany: 300 bodies waiting for cremation

Caskets are stacked three high in the crematorium, piled up in empty offices, and stored in hallways. Many are sealed with plastic, others labelled ‘infection risk,’ ‘urgent’, or ‘Covid’. A surge of coronavirus deaths has boosted crematorium businesses but nobody is celebrating. There are 300 bodies waiting to be cremated, and dozens more arrive every day. Schaldach, the crematorium owner, said comments on social media are saying reports of bodies piling up at his crematorium are fake news. Franziska Schlieter. who runs a food store,feels easing the lockdown over Christmas was a mistake. She said, ‘In the Bible, God sent people plagues when they didn’t behave. Sometimes I have to think of that.’ Officials hope that stricter rules, and people obeying them, will bring infection rates and the death toll down. See

Published in Europe
Thursday, 14 January 2021 20:48

Spain / Greece: extreme weather

Deep snow left by Storm Filomena turned to ice, disrupting transport and lowering temperatures to -25C (-13F). The elderly are warned to stay at home. At least seven people have died due to the weather. ‘We are going to have this cold for a few more days, but we all pull together’, Yoli Asensio said, ‘Day-to-day life is difficult, access to homes and roads are blocked.’ There were 1,200 fracture cases in one day, caused by accidents on the ice - an average of fifty an hour. 1,300 snow-clearing vehicles managed to push snow off 12,100km of roads, to keep them ice-free. In contrast, Greece is basking in unusually warm weather, with Athens recording temperatures of 23C (73.4F) - the average January temperature is 10C.

Published in Europe

Days after a ‘mutant’ coronavirus strain ruined Christmas plans of holidaymakers on both sides of the Channel, red tape and confusion have raised hurdles for Britons attempting to return to their homes in several European countries. They are now regarded as ‘third-country nationals’, and some were barred from boarding flights bound for the countries where they live. Others have complained of difficulties accessing the social benefits to which they are entitled. Most complaints involved flights to Spain, home to the largest number of registered Britons in Europe, though the Spanish authorities claimed that the issue had been resolved by mid-Sunday. Italy, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands all experienced travel problems for UK residents trying to return home, and there were reports of violations of the withdrawal agreement guaranteeing their rights.

Published in Europe
Thursday, 07 January 2021 20:45

Russia: aggression

Russian aggression has taken on many different forms. The most glaring example remains the undeclared and ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, which has cost over 14,000 lives and displaced millions. President Putin has also deployed hybrid Russian forces around the world, unleashed teams of assassins, and attempted at least one coup in the Balkans. Russian hackers have set new standards in cyberwarfare, targeting everything from political parties to essential infrastructure. Meanwhile, Moscow has funnelled support to political extremists and separatist movements throughout the EU and beyond, aided and abetted at every turn by a vast Kremlin-backed disinformation machine that has succeeded in comprehensively polluting the internet. The aim is not to defeat the West, but to secure its own position by undermining the allure of the liberal traditions and democratic institutions that allow the Western world to dominate the global imagination.

Published in Europe
Thursday, 17 December 2020 18:28

Europe’s Covid Christmas

Across Europe there will be further lockdowns, curfews and travel bans as the number of people infected with Covid has increased. Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte summed it up when he told Italians to expect a ‘more sober Christmas, without Christmas Eve gatherings, hugs and kisses’. We can pray for people to honour the various restrictions on public gatherings and to obey curfews where they have been imposed. Pray particularly for friends and families to exercise restraint on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Pray also for countries which will be easing restrictions prior to Christmas; may the public act wisely to avoid any further unnecessary sickness and deaths. See The EU drug regulator will meet on 21 December to decide whether to authorise the jab after desperate EU countries said the agency risked losing the trust of EU citizens if it did not act fast.

Published in Europe
Thursday, 17 December 2020 18:26

Holy See: Christmas lighting-up ceremony

'Christmas reminds us that Jesus is our peace, our joy, our strength, our comfort’, Pope Francis said at the Vatican’s traditional lighting ceremony: ‘Let there be light.’ A 30-metre-tall spruce was placed just off-centre in St Peter’s Square. It was lit during a small and socially distanced ceremony as prelates invoked a spirit of peace and encounter after a year marked by the Covid pandemic. Across Europe there have been public unveiling of nativity scenes, lighted trees, angels, and other Christian symbols. We can pray that all who see these artistic creations will be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.

Published in Europe
Thursday, 10 December 2020 20:25

Venice flooded again as new dam system fails

A massive new flood defence system called MOSE, aimed at protecting Venice's lagoon during high tide, was finally installed in October. This week St Mark's Square was again under water, after MOSE did not activate due to human error. Residents, long accustomed to perennial high water events, pulled on their rubber boots once more to deal with flooding that reached a high of 4.5 feet above sea level. Waters drowned the square and invaded the famous basilica as shopkeepers blocked their entrances with wood panels to keep the water out. The MOSE project began in 2003 but was plagued by cost overruns of $6 billion, corruption scandals and delays.

Published in Europe
Thursday, 10 December 2020 20:23

Spain: lions have coronavirus

Four lions at Barcelona Zoo have tested positive for coronavirus after being given Covid tests when a zookeeper noticed they were displaying suspicious symptoms. The lions were familiar enough with the zookeepers to allow them to swab their noses and mouths in the same way that humans are tested. Although it is not yet known how the lions contracted Covid, two human staff at the zoo have also tested positive. The zoo has contacted its counterparts at the Bronx Zoo in New York, where the first confirmed cases of Covid in large cats was reported. They all recovered. There have been cases of Covid in domestic dogs and cats and large outbreaks among mink around the world. It is not fully known which animals can and cannot contract Covid from contact with infected humans, and no confirmation of animals re-infecting humans.

Published in Europe
Thursday, 03 December 2020 20:34

Barnier warns Boris over fishing and finance

Michel Barnier has warned Brexit trade talks could be plunged into ‘crisis’ if Boris Johnson puts forward more legislation that calls into question last year's divorce deal. The Brussels diplomat is worried that the Finance Bill will contain clauses that breach the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol. He was infuriated when No 10 tabled legislation that handed ministers the powers to rip up sections of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland. Mr Barnier made the warning during a video call with EU27 ambassadors. At the time of writing the future UK-EU relationship is still deadlocked because of disagreements over post-Brexit fishing rights and common standards, and Downing Street has yet to decide on a timetable for publishing the Finance Bill. Talks went on late into the evening on 2 December at the business department in central London. See

Published in Europe