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State of the Union: Coronavirus, Greek riots and Slovakia votes | This week in Europe

State of the Union: Coronavirus, Greek riots and Slovakia votes | This week in Europe
Copyright Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reservedLuca Bruno
Copyright Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
By Stefan Grobe
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In case you missed it - Europe says 'don't panic' over coronavirus spread, Greek riots over migrant centres and Slovakia heads to the polls in an election plagued by allegations of corruption in high places.


For most Europeans, the coronavirus outbreak in China was more or less a television event with little impact on their personal lives.

That changed dramatically this week when Italy reported clusters of cases in the country's northern economic heartland.

The Italian government acted swiftly and quarantined entire cities and villages.

Suddenly, Covid-19, as the virus is scientifically called, became a neighbour, right around the corner.

The new thing is that the infection chains are no longer trackable, meaning that people got infected who did not have any contact with China or travellers from China.

Yet, EU and international health officials did everything to display calm and competence. Their message: "Don't panic!"

We are facing a situation where there are still many unknowns about this virus and in particular its origin and how it spreads. In conclusion, this is a situation of concern, but we must not give in to panic.
Stella Kyriakides
EU Health Commissioner

Greece riots

In Greece, there was another crisis that let feelings run high and it brought the migration issue back into the spotlight.

On the island of Lesbos, protests against the construction of a new refugee camp led to severe clashes with police.

After weeks of fruitless talks with island officials on where to build the new facility, the government secretly shipped construction machinery and hundreds of riot police, causing outrage.

Locals then attempted to block the unloading of the machinery at the construction site.

Clashes on the streets followed with protesters throwing rocks at police who used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The conservative government in Athens is planning a closed camp on Lesbos where access is controlled tightly.

It should replace a current open-access camp at Moria, a sprawling facility built for fewer than 3,000 people, but which is now accommodating more than 18,000 migrants.

Slovakia votes

This week the country with a population half the size of London got a lot of attention, as it was the run-up to this weekend's general election.

The last time Slovakia made international headlines was, sadly, when investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend were assassinated in their home two years ago.


Kuciak had been working on reports on corruption at the highest echelons of the state.

The notion that he was forever silenced by powerful forces was amplified by a murder investigation that was at times murky, but also revealing, according to Viktoria Jancosekova from the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Brussels.

"The investigation of the murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova has brought a lot of information that the Slovak state is really functioning as a kleptocratic system, using styles of mafia to enrich themselves. So that reminds me of the darkest times of the Balkans when the mafia was the main actor of the ruling of the countries."

Slovakia's political class is still struggling with the fallout of the Kuciak murder.


And corruption wasn't just an important campaign issue – it was pretty much the only campaign issue.

The next government's main task will be to re-establish trust in Slovakia's institutions.

Carnival controversy

It's that time of the year when people celebrate with traditional parades, costumes and organised humour.

The Belgian town of Aalst was making international headlines because of a very peculiar way of mocking other people.


In principle, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you depict Jews using descriptions that seem to come out of a Nazi textbook from the 1930s, then you should be expecting that not everybody finds that funny.

Reacting to the international backlash, the city of Aalst tried to assure everyone that they are open and tolerant.

Maybe. But that does not exclude extremely bad taste.

Looking ahead

On to next week when we will, of course, be covering the development of the Coronavirus situation in Europe, the start of the much-anticipated trade negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom in Brussels, and the presentation of a "climate law" proposal by the European Commission as part of the new Green Deal.


And finally... Liberal beef

This week at the Paris Agriculture Fair, France's Marine Le Pen got a less than warm welcome from a cow.

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