BREAKING NEWS
This content is not available in your region

US election: Five key European news stories you may have missed while all eyes were stateside

Access to the comments Comments
Sweden COVID-19 measures, Belarus power plant, Polish abortion protests, Macron protests, Fehmarnbelt tunnel.
Sweden COVID-19 measures, Belarus power plant, Polish abortion protests, Macron protests, Fehmarnbelt tunnel.   -   Copyright  Andres Kudacki/Dita Alangkara/Sergei Grits/Czarek Sokolowski/Associated Press and Femern A/S
Text size Aa Aa

While our collective attention has been gripped by the unusually tight race to see who will prevail in the US presidential election between President Donald Trump and challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, the world has continued to turn and with it, a lot of important news stories have broken that have by and large flown under the radar.

Here are the five biggest stories in European which may have missed your attention during coverage of the race for the White House.

1. Belarus fires up its controversial new nuclear power plant

Belarus brought one of the reactors of its first nuclear power plant, designed and financed by Russia, into operation on Tuesday despite fierce opposition from neighbouring Lithuania.

The move comes 34 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster caused havoc in the south of the country. Belarusians are still traumatised by the accident after a quarter of its territory was irradiated by the 1986 explosion of a reactor at the Soviet power station in what is now Ukraine.

Built by the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom, the Ostrovets power station, which is 40 kilometres from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, is made up of two reactors of 1,200 megawatts each and should cover a third of the energy needs of this country of 9.5 million inhabitants.

The Russian so-called Generation 3 reactor, which came on stream Tuesday, is the first of its kind to operate abroad. Three others of the same type are in operation in Russia and a fourth is due to come online soon.

The power plant has been a contentious issue in Lithuania who has raised concerns about the safety standards at the plant. The country responded by cutting off energy imports from Belarus minutes after the Ostrovets reactor was connected to the former Soviet state's national grid.

After further tests, the plant is scheduled to be fully commissioned in earlier 2021.

2. Poland delays abortion court ruling after protests

Poland’s right-wing government is delaying the publication and implementation of a high court ruling that tightens the abortion law and that has triggered almost two weeks of nationwide protests.

A government official said on Tuesday that the leaders are taking time to debate the contested ruling and find a solution.

“There is a discussion going on, and it would be good to take some time for dialogue and for finding a new position in this situation that is difficult and stirs high emotions,” said Michal Dworczyk, the head of prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki's office.

The move comes after two weeks of protests on the streets of Warsaw and other towns and cities across Poland against the decision which would ban abortion in all cases except rape, incest, or if the mother's life is threatened.

The constitutional court ruled on October 22 that the abortion of fetuses with congenital defects violates the constitution, in effect further tightening what was already one of Europe's most restrictive reproductive laws. It would leave only abortions in cases of risk to the woman's life or crime — meaning rape or incest — allowed under Polish law.

3. World's longest submerged rail-road tunnel gets go-ahead

After years of legal proceedings, a German court gave the go-ahead on Tuesday for the construction of the world's longest submerged rail and road tunnel, the Fehmarnbelt, which will link Denmark and Germany.

The nearly 18-kilometre-long infrastructure, which is now scheduled to open in 2029, will link the Danish islands of Lolland-Falster south of Copenhagen to the German region of Schleswig-Holstein, passing under the Baltic Sea.

While work on the Danish side was due to begin on 1 January 2021, work on the German side was still pending after years of legal action. An unlikely alliance of environmentalists concerned about the potential long-lasting damage to eco-systems and ferry companies concerned by the competition for road transport had delayed the project with ligation in the German courts.

Germany's highest administrative court, however, rejected their arguments on Tuesday, saying no major risks or degradation were to be expected, neither for maritime transport nor for nature. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is due to rule on the issue in November and could yet apply the brakes to the project.

4. Macron considers sending envoy to Muslim countries

In a bid to assuage the continuing backlash in some Muslim countries over French President Emmanual Macron's comments supporting freedom of expression, the country says it is considering sending a special envoy to the Muslim world to explain Macron's views.

Relations with some Muslim countries became strained after comments Macron made in the aftermath of a terror attack in Paris, in which a teacher was beheaded by an Islamic extremist outside a suburban school over a lesson he taught on free speech, and a subsequent terror attack in Nice in which three people were killed.

Macron sought to defuse tensions with Muslim leaders, including President Erdogan of Turkey, in a lengthy interview with broadcaster Al Jazeera.

"I understand and respect that we can be shocked by these caricatures. I will never accept that we can justify physical violence for these caricatures and I will always defend in my country the freedom to say, to write, to think, to draw," Macron said.

5. Sweden latest European country to impose new COVID-19 restrictions

Once held up as an example of good practice in dealing with coronavirus, Sweden has joined many of its European neighbours in introducing new COVID-19 restrictions as cases rose in the country and continued to surge on the continent.

"We are going in the wrong direction. The situation is very serious," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said. "Now, every citizen needs to take responsibility. We know how dangerous this is."

New measures took effect on Tuesday in the Scandinavian nation, which is home to 10 million people. It opted not to impose a national lockdown in the spring when other EU countries did.

Austria and Greece also introduced new measures yesterday, with Germany imposing a partial shutdown on Monday and tighter rules have also been set in motion in Italy, France, Kosovo and Croatia. England will introduce a near-total lockdown from Thursday, although schools and universities will remain open.

The new restrictions imposed in Sweden include limits on capacity in restaurants and cafés with a maximum of eight people at any table.