Donald Tusk's speech drew a standing ovation during the official opening ceremony
The President of the European Council Donald Tusk chose a verse by one of Bulgaria's greatest poets, dedicated to the love for the fatherland, to start his speech during the official opening ceremony for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Tusk gave his speech in Bulgarian, which brought to their feet the Bulgarian and EU political elite in attendance during the event held on 11 January at the National Theatre in Sofia. “As a Pole, I understand well how much work, courage and determination it cost you, Bulgarians, to achieve European success for your fatherland. No one gave you anything for free,” he said. “We would all like it if the present and future of the Balkans were less like dramatic screenplays.
The regulation fortifies fight against terrorism, organised crime
Maria Koleva, Brussels
New rules, that will give EU countries full scope to freeze and confiscate criminal assets throughout the EU, were backed on 11 January by the Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) members, with 47 votes in favour, two against and one abstention. Talks with the Council can start immediately after the full house backs the negotiating mandate.
 
Erasmus Plus and Horizon post-2020 are the only common programmes excluded from cuts
Maria Koleva, Brussels
The design of the next EU long-term budget post-2020 is one of the pressing topics in the Commission programme for this year. On Wednesday, at its first for 2018 meeting, the College of Commissioners held the first orientation debate on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
 
UK risks tensions in appeal to Germany
Two top British ministers risked fresh tensions with Brussels last Wednesday by reaching out directly to Germany with a call for a new trade and economic model of cooperation with Berlin and the EU as Brexit talks enter a critical phase, news wires reported.
Faster progress in removing illegal content online eyed
Maria Koleva, Brussels
Online platforms have the responsibility to provide a secure environment for their users, and they have been removing more illegal content than ever before showing that self-regulation can work, but regulation remains an option, said EC Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip.
Southern Europe commits to common policy on migration
The heads of seven southern European states pledged last Wednesday at a meeting in Rome to up their efforts to tackle flows of migrants towards the EU.
Catalonia to elect old leader
Catalonia's main separatist parties last Wednesday agreed to re-elect fugitive Carles Puigdemont as regional president later this month, news wires reported.
Greeks go on mass strike over right-to-strike bill
Greek transport workers and state-employed doctors went on strike last Friday, in the country's first major industrial action of 2018, to protest a new law that will restrict their right to walk off the job.
Polish PM fires top ministers to reduce tensions with EU
Poland's ruling conservatives fired several senior ministers on 9 January in an apparent move to patch up relations with the EU, strained over accusations that Warsaw is subverting the rule of law.
EU to set up world-class supercomputers
Plans for building a world-class European supercomputers infrastructure, funded jointly by the EU and its member countries, were announced by the Commission on Thursday.
In Brief
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Eurozone unemployment falls to 8.7% in November
 
Unemployment in the Eurozone dropped to 8.7% in November, the lowest level since January 2009, according to a Eurostat estimate. The number of people out of work in the 19-member Eurozone has been steadily declining in the wake of the economic crisis. An overall 14.3m people were unemployed in November, a decrease of 107,000 since the previous month. Youth unemployment, however, stood at 18.2%, down meagre 0.2 percentage points. The lowest overall jobless rates were recorded in the Czech Republic, Malta and Germany. Greece and Spain continued to have the highest rates.

EU offers Iraq strong support towards more stable future
 
EU foreign policy chief Federica Moghe­rini and the Commission proposed last Monday a strategy for Iraq to address the many challenges the country faces following the territorial defeat of Islamic State terrorists. The proposal takes into account the Iraqi government priorities, and outlines both ongoing and longer term EU support to the country. “Iraq is at a crossroads in its history. It is now crucial to act quickly and rebuild the country with the participation of all the components of Iraqi society. This needs international support and we are ready to contribute,” Mogherini said.

Actions to halt bees and other pollinators decline considered
 
The Commission launched last Thursday a public consultation on a European initiative aimed at tackling the decline of wild pollinators such as bees, butterflies and other insects. An estimated €15bn of annual EU agricultural output is directly attributed to them. “Pollinators are too important for our food security and farming communities - as well as for life on the planet. We cannot afford to continue losing them,” Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said. The consultation will remain open until 5 April 2018.

Italy, Germany dismantle Ndrangheta mafia clan
 
Police from Italy and Germany carried out jointly operation to dismantle a major clan of the Ndrangheta organised crime group, based in the southern Calabria region. Some 200 members of the mafia group, which had infiltrated businesses in both countries, particularly those involved in wine, food, garbage collection and funeral services, were arrested. A number of public officials were suspected of corruption, the police statement said, without specifying if they were in Italy or both countries. The crime syndicate was based in Ciro, on the eastern shore of the southern region of Calabria, and had bases in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Munich and Stuttgart. 

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