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Europe's week: Netherlands and Italy plunged into crisis, Pompeo snubbed by EU

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Europe's week: Netherlands and Italy plunged into crisis, Pompeo snubbed by EU
Copyright  Alex Brandon/The Associated Press
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After a nightmarish 2020 in Europe, the new year was supposed to bring calm and stability, with a smooth vaccine rollout and the easing of restrictions.

But that's not exactly how it has gone so far, with lockdowns still in place across the continent and the inoculation process appearing to stall somewhat.

Add to the long list of woes two EU member states being plunged into political crises with the worst timing possible.

Italy: Renzi puts his foot down

In Italy, a small partner in the coalition government triggered a political storm because of the way that around €200 billion in pandemic relief will be spent.

Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister and leader of the Italy Alive party, accused premier Giuseppe Conte of making unilateral decisions.

As a result, Renzi pulled his ministers from the government and criticised Conte for running the country through undemocratic decrees.

"Those who want to stop the democratic machine in the name of the pandemic are not stopping the pandemic, they are stopping freedom. They are not stopping the virus; they are stopping politics. They are not stopping contagion; they are stopping democracy," Renzi declared at a Wednesday evening news conference.

The Netherlands: government collapse

The Dutch government also collapsed two months before the March general election due to a scandal dating back to 2013.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte's coalition decided to call it a day on Friday over its response to a child welfare benefits scandal.

It emerged the tax authority wrongly accused families of fraud when claiming child benefits.

In a nationally televised speech, Rutte said he had informed King Willem-Alexander of his decision and pledged his government would continue work to compensate affected parents as quickly as possible and to battle the coronavirus.

"We are of one mind that if the whole system has failed, we all must take responsibility, and that has led to the conclusion that I have just offered the king, the resignation of the entire Cabinet," the Dutch Prime Minister said.

Europe snubs Pompeo

The US has also been in crisis the past few weeks, after the violent attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, earning Donald Trump the dubious distinction of being the first US president to be impeached twice.

But Trump's behaviour hasn't just irked Americans - it has also caused some strong rebukes in Europe.

Luxembourg's foreign minister Jean Asselborn called Trump a "criminal" who "must be brought before a court".

Realising the European disgust, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cancelled a scheduled trip to Belgium and Luxembourg at the last minute.

And with Pompeo being one of Trump's staunchest allies, patience towards his administration may have finally run out from across the pond.