The EU made progress on migration, security and the economy in spite of the unprecedented difficulties
Maria Koleva, Brussels
The challenges ahead on migration crisis, internal and external security issues, Brexit and other pressing matters were in the focus of the debates at the European Parliament on 18 January at the plenary session in Strasbourg. For Antonio Tajani, it was the first working day at the leader’s seat after the exhausting mid-term election of а new EP president held the previous day. As Vice-President he had chaired a lot of sessions in the past two years and a half. Saying to MEPs that last year the EU made progress on migration, security and the economy in spite of the unprecedented difficulties, President of the European Council Donald Tusk stressed that it will be an extraordinary year for Europe and EU.
Instead of relying on national contributions, the Union should be financed through its own dedicated taxes
The EU should attempt to fund itself with its own dedicated taxes rather than by national contributions, according to a report by the High-level Group on Own Resources, released last Tuesday. The group, chaired by former Commissioner Mario Monti, has compiled a 100-page report on future EU financing.
 
MEPs urge the Commission to beef it up also with territories that ease tax crimes
Maria Koleva, Brussels
The blacklist of states at risk of money laundering that the EU Commission has drawn up was tossed back with request to be expanded. This was requested in a resolution that MEPs passed on 19 January in Strasbourg by 393 votes to 67, with 210 abstentions.
 
Antonio Tajani takes EP lead
Maria Koleva, Brussels
At an all-day-long pro­cedure in the final fourth round in the evening of 17 January, the European Parliament elected Italian MEP Antonio Tajani from the centre-right European People’s Party group as its new President till 2019. I want to be a president building bridges, working with every group and every member of this parliament; we need stability, we need to work for the future of the EU, said the newly elected EP President immediately after the handover from Martin Schulz (S&D), the outgoing EP President, who was at the top of this chamber since 2012.
May bids farewell to single market
At long last, the British PM put an end to speculations about what kind of post-Brexit relationship with the EU the UK would aim for. Leaving the single market and the customs union and ending the legal jurisdiction in Britain of the European Court of Justice – with these key points in her speech last Tuesday
Accords unlock over €1bn for SMEs under Investment Plan
The European Investment Fund (EIF) has signed agreements in France and Austria that will unlock over €1bn worth of loans for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across nine countries, the EU press service reported.
EU-US insurance deal boosts mutual trade
More than 20 years of talks between the EU and the US ended successfully on 13 January with a bilateral agreement set to boost transatlantic trade in insurance and re-insurance, news wires reported. The agreement will apply the same requirements to both EU and US re-insurers when they place business in each other's jurisdictions.
Fifth President takes oath of office
The Fifth President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev and Vice-President Iliyana Yotova took their oaths of office at the parliament on 19 January. Radev entered the National Assembly accompanied by his wife Desislava and walked the red carpet along a line of guardsmen.
€1.4bn worth of projects under Juncker plan
Vasil Nanchev
Bulgarian firms’ projects worth a combined €1.4bn have applied for cheaper loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and under the Juncker plan.
Europe under election stress, Brexit and Trump surprises
Mark Leonard, Jeremy Shapiro
Last year, we began the year with a lot of hubris by predicting 13 trends that would define European foreign policy in 2016. We ended the year with getting 7.5 out of 13.
Traps hidden in Macedonian Albanians Platform
Kostadin Filipov
A seven-point document pretentiously entitled Platform was presented to the parties in Macedonia by three political formations of the country’s Albanian population at the height of the local Christmas celebrations. The move was in keeping with the idiosyncrasies of the former Yugoslav republic’s political culture, which see the Albanians using the most sacred Christian holidays to send their most significant messages to their Macedonian compatriots - even though during these periods of festivities no one is in the mindset to decipher political recommendations and conditions coming from the “other side” of the Vardar River where predominantly Albanian districts are situated.
Ukraine sends Russia to UN court
Ukraine filed last Monday a lawsuit at the United Nations' highest court demanding that Russia immediately halt its support for pro-Moscow separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, news wires reported. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry accused Russia of “acts of terrorism and discrimination in the course of its unlawful aggression” in the filing to the International Court of Justice, according to a ministry statement. No date was immediately announced for hearings in the lawsuit.
Serbia and Kosovo avoid armed conflict
A new regional war nearly broke out in the Balkans. Kosovo special police units last Saturday prevented a train painted in Serbia's national colours and bearing the words "Kosovo is Serbia" from crossing the border and entering Mitrovica, in the northern part of the country. Many of the remaining Serbs in Kosovo live around Mitrovica.
Obama gives $500m to UN Green Fund
In one of his final acts as US president, Barack Obama gave last Tuesday $500m to the so-called Green Climate Fund aimed at helping poor countries develop clean energy technology, news wires reported. The fund, which is under UN auspices, is a major part of the Paris climate deal agreed in 2015. The payment is the second from the US and with it the US contribution reached $1bn. The fund is supposed to reach $100bn by 2020, with both public and private funding from around the world.
Auto, energy giants form hydrogen council
A group of leading energy, engineering and automotive firms has this evening debuted a new hydrogen council designed to promote and accelerate the adoption of hydrogen-based technologies capable of slashing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
Luxottica and Essilor create eyewear giant
Italy's Luxottica and France's Essilor have agreed a €46bn merger to create a global powerhouse in the eyewear industry with annual revenue of more than €15bn, the two companies said in a statement on 16 January.
Samson et Dalila - one different production
Sofia Opera and Ballet is staging a production of Samson et Dalila, the world-renowned masterpiece by French composer Camille Saint-Saens, on 27, 28 and 29 January. This version of the opera has a cast that includes the star of the Wiener Staatsoper Nadia Krasteva, Conductor Iurie Florea, Daniel Magdal as Samson and a plethora of leading Sofia Opera soloists.
I paint with words
Christie Petrova
Sadness is one of the basic human emotions. Banal as it may sound, the poet’s soul is vulnerable, and there is no such thing as a merry poet.
Visual chronicles of Bulgarian art
An exhibition constituting the concluding phase of the Visual Chro­nicles project, whose aim is to create an archive of Bulgarian art during the second half of the 20th century, is on display at the Sofia City Art Gallery until 12 February 2017.
Spiritual heart of Bulgaria
Adelina Lozanova
Rila Monastery, often referred to as “Bulgarias spiritual heart”, is located amidst the thick coniferous forests of the mountain of the same name at an altitude of over 1,100 metres.
In Brief
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Dimitris Avramopoulos visits refugee camp in Greece
 
Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos (L) speaks to local officials during a visit last Wednesday to a refugee camp on Lesvos Island, Greece. Photo: BTA

Berlin Green Week opens
 
'Cheese Queen' advertises Dutch cheese at the Berlin International Green Week, the world's biggest agriculture fair, which runs from 20 to 29 January. Photo: EPA

Hotel in Italy buried by avalanche
 
Eight survivors were rescued on 20 January from the debris of the Rigopiano Hotel in Italy, overwhelmed by a snow avalanche two days earlier. Photo: EPA

UN launches new plan on migrants in Europe
 
The UN refugee and migration agencies along with a host of partners unveiled last Thursday a new strategy to address the challenges confronting hundreds of thousands of migrants in Europe. It is expected to play a key role in ensuring more coordinated response throughout 2017. The plan seeks to complement governments' efforts to provide safe access to asylum and protection of migrants and also stresses the need for orderly and dignified migration management, including a robust relocation scheme.

Progress on building Security Union reported
 
The Commission presented last Thursday two reports on the implementation of the EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) Agreement and EU-US Passenger Name Records (PNR) Agreement, both instrumental for building the Security Union under Commissioner Julian King. The Commission welcomes the increased transparency of the US authorities on both deals and points at the TFTP as a major instrument to provide timely and reliable information in identifying terrorists.

Austria to further strengthen border controls
 
Austrian Defence Minister Hans-Peter Doskozil announced last week new measures to slow the flow of migrants into Austria. The plan puts special emphasis on the border with Slovakia. Doskozil said 299 migrants have been intercepted so far this year while trying to cross into Austria from Slovakia, with another 174 caught by the border with Hungary. As many of the migrants are entering Austria by train, Doskozil called for stricter controls on rail routes along the border.

Essen becomes European Green Capital 2017
 
The German industrial town of Essen will officially become a European Green Capital for 2017 at a ceremony on 21 January, with the participation of Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella who will hand the title to Essen from Ljubljana. The impressive transformation from coal and steel industrial town to the greenest one in North Rhine-Westphalia proofs Essen's successful structural change, he said in advance. During the year, Essen will act as a role model for sustainable urban development.

Trump inauguration festivities start with concert
 
President-elect Donald Trump kicked off his inaugural festivities on 19 January evening with a concert at the Lincoln Memorial, promising to unify the country but also reflecting on his unlikely election. Photo: EPA

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