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The Slovakian Prime Minister made his first public appearance following an assassination attempt. Robert Fico was shot multiple times on May 15 while greeting people outside a cultural center in Handlova, approximately 180km (112 miles) from Bratislava. He underwent emergency surgery and was later discharged to recover at home.

On Friday, Mr. Fico attended a ceremony at Devin Castle in Bratislava to celebrate Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, a public holiday in Slovakia. Cyril and Methodius, two brothers from the 9th century, are credited with converting the Slavic people to Christianity and creating an early version of the Cyrillic alphabet.

During his speech, Mr. Fico, 59, criticized the spread of progressive ideologies and the West’s approach to Russia regarding the war in Ukraine. He referred to liberal ideas as “meaningless” and spreading “like cancer,” and argued that there were insufficient peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the conflict.

Mr. Fico, a populist who returned to office last October, has been a polarizing figure both domestically and within the EU. He has called for an end to military aid to Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, and proposed abolishing Slovakia’s public broadcaster.

The attacker, identified as 71-year-old Jurac C., is described as a writer and political activist. Footage of the incident shows a gun being drawn in the crowd and five shots fired. The Prime Minister was quickly escorted into a car by his bodyguards, while the suspect was detained at the scene.

In a video address posted on social media on June 5, Mr. Fico stated that he forgave his assailant and harbored no hatred towards him, blaming the attack on his parliamentary opposition.

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Volkswagen (VW), the German automotive giant, has announced an investment of up to $5 billion (£3.94 billion) in Rivian, a competitor to Tesla. This partnership forms a joint venture allowing both VW and the US-based electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer to share technology. Following the announcement, Rivian’s stock surged nearly 50%.

The collaboration comes amid increasing competition among EV manufacturers and the imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports by Western nations. VW will start with an initial $1 billion investment in Rivian, with an additional $4 billion planned by 2026.

Founded in 2009, Rivian has yet to achieve a quarterly profit, reporting a net loss of over $1.4 billion in the first quarter of 2024. VW, facing pressure from competitors like Tesla and China’s BYD, is working to transition from fossil fuel-powered vehicles to EVs.

The partnership provides VW with immediate access to Rivian’s software, which it can integrate into its vehicles. The deal also comes as Chinese EV manufacturers expand globally, increasing competition. The European Union (EU) recently announced plans to raise tariffs on Chinese EV imports by up to 38%, following an investigation that found Chinese EV companies had been unfairly subsidized. China criticized these tariffs as violating international trade rules and labeled the investigation as protectionist.

The tariff increase by the EU follows the United States’ decision to raise import duties on Chinese EVs from 25% to 100%. Canada is also considering similar measures to align with its allies.

Separately, Tesla announced a recall of over 11,000 Cybertrucks sold in the US due to issues with windscreen wipers and exterior trim. The Cybertrucks were first released at the end of November last year.

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An invasive species of mosquito has established itself in 13 EU countries, including France, Spain, and Greece, leading to a rise in dengue fever cases in Europe. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) attributes this spread to climate change, which has created favorable conditions for the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). This species, considered the most invasive mosquito globally, is now spreading northwards, even reaching Paris, where authorities are actively monitoring and trapping the insects ahead of the Olympic Games in July.

The ECDC warns that international travel will likely increase the risk of further outbreaks in Europe. To mitigate this, it advises people to remove stagnant water from gardens and balconies, use insect repellent, and install screens on windows and doors. The tiger mosquito, which transmits diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika virus, has become prevalent in countries such as Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain, and has been reported in Belgium, Cyprus, Czechia, the Netherlands, and Slovakia.

Another mosquito species, Aedes aegypti, which spreads yellow fever, has been found in Cyprus and poses a significant threat to other parts of Europe due to its preference for biting humans and its disease transmission capabilities. Dengue fever, which can escalate from flu-like symptoms to severe, sometimes fatal conditions, has seen increasing outbreaks in Europe. Last year, multiple infections were recorded in France, Italy, and Spain, with a total of 130 locally-acquired cases, up from 71 the previous year.

The West Nile virus, also transmitted by mosquitoes, is now more widespread in Europe, with a case reported in southern Spain as early as March, indicating that climate conditions are becoming suitable for mosquitoes much earlier in the year. ECDC Director Andrea Ammon emphasizes the need for personal protective measures, early case detection, timely surveillance, further research, and awareness-raising activities in high-risk areas. With dengue fever endemic in over 100 countries and malaria posing the deadliest mosquito-borne threat, concerns are growing about potential increases in malaria incidents in Europe if conditions remain favorable.

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The European Union has become the second major economy this week to reduce its lending rate, indicating progress in addressing inflation. The European Central Bank (ECB) cut its main interest rate from a record high of 4% to 3.75%, following Canada’s decision to lower its official rate on Wednesday. This decision coincides with EU-wide elections, reflecting public discontent over living costs.

ECB President Christine Lagarde stated that the inflation outlook has significantly improved, allowing for the rate cut. However, she cautioned that inflation would likely remain above the 2% target “well into next year,” averaging 2.5% in 2024 and 2.2% in 2025. Lagarde emphasized that the ECB would maintain a restrictive interest rate policy as needed to achieve the 2% target, without committing to a specific rate trajectory.

Lindsay James, investment strategist at Quilter Investors, noted that the rate cut was anticipated but still a relief for European consumers and businesses. She mentioned that the ECB’s move precedes potential cuts by the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve, providing needed economic stimulus.

Despite a slight increase in inflation in May to 2.6% from 2.4% in April, the ECB decided to reduce rates. This follows Canada’s reduction from 5% to 4.75% after their inflation fell to 2.7%. Sweden and Switzerland have also made similar rate cuts.

Lagarde provided a positive economic outlook for the eurozone but warned of challenges such as geopolitical tensions and climate-related risks that could impact growth. Katherine Neiss, chief European economist at PGIM, expressed confidence in further ECB rate cuts over the summer or autumn, potentially lowering eurozone rates to 3.5% or less by year-end. She cited sluggish economic recovery, slowing inflation, and easing wage growth as justification for additional cuts.

In the UK, speculation exists that the Bank of England might reduce rates as early as this month, with inflation down to 2.3% from its peak over 11% in late 2022. The International Monetary Fund recommended cutting UK rates from 5.25% to 3.5% by year-end. However, George Godber from Polar Capital suggested that the upcoming UK election could complicate the Bank’s rate decision on June 20, as political considerations might influence the outcome.

The US Federal Reserve is also expected to reduce rates soon, with the current US inflation rate at 3.4%. Godber predicted that the Fed would act before the November election.

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Georgia’s MPs have overturned a presidential veto on the controversial “transparency on foreign influence” bill, commonly referred to as the “foreign agents law,” after several weeks of protests in Tbilisi. The law mandates that media and NGOs receiving over 20% of their funding from abroad must register as “organisations acting in the interest of a foreign power,” undergo stringent audits, or face heavy fines. The vote in a plenary session on Tuesday saw 84 MPs, primarily from the governing Georgian Dream party, in favor, with four votes against and the opposition abstaining.

Thousands of Georgians protested outside parliament, waving Georgian and EU flags. The law, initially passed on May 14 and then vetoed by pro-Western President Salome Zourabishvili, is set to take effect in 60 days. The Georgian government argues that the law will enhance transparency and protect against foreign interference. However, opponents, calling it the “Russian law” due to its similarity to existing Russian legislation, believe it aims to suppress dissent ahead of October’s parliamentary elections.

The EU expressed deep regret over the parliament’s decision, warning that the bill could hinder Georgia’s progress within the bloc. Georgia achieved candidate country status in December 2023. Many NGOs have declared they will not comply with the legislation, describing it as “insulting” and “factually incorrect.”

As MPs debated the bill, protesters gathered outside parliament under heavy police presence. Following the vote, demonstrators shouted “slaves!” and “Russians!” Police have frequently used force against protesters, with reports of beatings and intimidation. Despite this, many demonstrators, predominantly young, continue to protest, viewing their future as dependent on aligning with Europe.

Observers believe the passing of the foreign agents law has become crucial for the survival of Georgian Dream, alienating many traditional partners. The US joined the EU in warning of repercussions, with the US State Department announcing travel restrictions on those undermining democracy in Georgia and their families. However, authorities dismissed these warnings, with Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze asserting that there would be no compromise against national interests.

With limited options left to halt the bill, President Zourabishvili presented a new charter on Monday to move Georgia towards Europe, calling for a new political reality, different elections, and significant reforms to depoliticize the justice system and security services. She invited all opposition parties to sign the charter by June 1 and unite for the parliamentary elections in October.

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Calls for calm have been issued in Finland and the Baltic states following a draft Russian decree proposing border revisions in the Baltic Sea. Latvia is seeking clarification, while Lithuania accuses the Kremlin of using the decree as an intimidation tactic. Finnish President Alexander Stubb stated that political leaders are monitoring the situation and Finland will respond calmly and factually.

The draft, issued by Russia’s defense ministry, suggested altering sea borders around Russian islands in the Gulf of Finland and the exclave of Kaliningrad. Initially reported by Russia’s Tass news agency, the draft aimed to redraw Soviet-era borders from January 1985. It was unclear if Finnish or Lithuanian waters near Kaliningrad would be affected, but the proposal included the eastern Gulf of Finland, islands near the Finnish coast, and areas around Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk in Kaliningrad.

As members of the EU and NATO, Finland and the Baltic states have the alliance’s commitment to defend their borders. Finland’s defense and foreign committees convened emergency meetings, with Prime Minister Petteri Orpo stating there is no immediate cause for alarm.

The Russian proposals were subsequently removed from public view with a “draft deleted” notice. A Russian source later confirmed no plans to alter territorial waters in the Baltic. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov directed questions to the defense ministry, noting the political landscape had changed since the 1980s and emphasizing the heightened confrontation in the Baltic region.

Charly Salonius-Pasternak from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs suggested Russia’s approach was typical: probing reactions and retreating if met with resistance. Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis described the draft as an escalation against NATO and the EU, advocating a strong response.

Simultaneously, Sweden’s armed forces chief, Gen Micael Byden, warned of Putin’s ambitions to control the Baltic Sea. Byden stressed the importance of keeping the Baltic Sea out of Putin’s control to maintain peace and stability. Sweden, a NATO member since March, has reinforced its military presence on the Baltic island of Gotland, which Gen Byden believes Russia has targeted.

In response to potential migration issues, Finland, which joined NATO last year, plans to prevent large-scale asylum seeker crossings from Russia. Helsinki fears Russia might exploit migration, but the UN refugee agency warns the draft law could lead to harmful pushbacks of legitimate asylum seekers, risking severe injuries, family separations, and deaths, according to UNHCR’s Philippe Leclerc.

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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico underwent surgery after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds during an attack in Handlova. Initially in critical condition, his health has since stabilized. The incident, deemed politically motivated, has drawn widespread condemnation and raised concerns about democratic stability. Despite the suspect’s detention, the motive behind the shooting remains uncertain.

Deputy Prime Minister Tomas Taraba suggested that false narratives propagated by opposition parties may have fueled the attack, echoing previous concerns expressed by Fico about the potential consequences of such rhetoric. The shooting underscores simmering political tensions within Slovakia, sparking debates about the role of inflammatory discourse in shaping the country’s political climate.

The incident has ignited discussions about the broader implications of divisive language in Slovakian society. President Zuzana Caputova highlighted the serious ramifications of such rhetoric, emphasizing its potential to incite violence. The shooting serves as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by polarizing narratives and underscores the need for constructive dialogue and unity in the face of political differences.

Fico, known for his controversial policies, including calls to end military aid to Ukraine and efforts to abolish the public broadcaster RTVS, has faced significant opposition both domestically and within the EU since returning to power. The attack on him amplifies existing concerns about political stability and underscores the challenges facing Slovakian democracy in navigating polarized political landscapes.

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The European Union has expanded sanctions on Iranian drone and missile producers in response to Iran’s recent attack on Israel. European Council President Charles Michel stressed the significance of further isolating Iran, highlighting the need for decisive action.

These new sanctions build upon existing measures implemented by the EU, including penalties for Iran’s involvement in supplying drones to Russia. The decision to escalate sanctions was reached during a summit in Brussels, marking the first gathering of the bloc’s leaders since the attack on Israel.

In the wake of Iran’s assault, which involved a barrage of over 300 missiles and drones from multiple countries, the international community has urged restraint to prevent the situation from spiraling into a wider conflict. Despite calls for caution, Israel has not ruled out a potential response to the aggression.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz emphasized the importance of de-escalation following the summit, encouraging Israel to leverage diplomatic channels to strengthen its position in the region. Scholz’s remarks reflect a broader sentiment among global leaders to mitigate tensions in the volatile Middle East.

Meanwhile, Israel has appealed to its allies to take robust action against Iran, advocating for sanctions on Tehran’s missile program and the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. However, the EU and UK have not yet followed the United States in designating the IRGC as such.

In addition to EU sanctions, the United States is also considering imposing new penalties on Iran. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen highlighted the potential for disrupting Iran’s terrorist financing and targeting its oil exports as areas of focus. Furthermore, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan affirmed that Iran’s missile and drone programs, alongside the IRGC and Iranian defense ministry, would be subject to forthcoming sanctions.

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Poland’s MPs recently engaged in a significant debate over potentially granting women the right to abortion on demand, marking a departure from discussions of the sort in over three decades. Despite expectations of strong emotions given Poland’s devout Catholicism, the attendance was notably sparse, with many MPs from both the opposition and government failing to show up.

Although women constitute only 29% of the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, the majority of speakers in the debate were women. The discussion revolved around potentially liberalizing one of the EU’s strictest abortion laws, which currently permits the procedure only in cases of maternal health risk, rape, or incest.

While public opinion increasingly supports expanded abortion access, politicians have been hesitant to act. The previous Law and Justice-led government, supported by the Catholic Church, had actually tightened abortion restrictions in 2020, sparking widespread protests across the nation.

The ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal, which deemed abortion due to severe and irreversible fetal abnormalities unconstitutional, led to outrage and sustained demonstrations. Several women have died in hospitals since then, as doctors refused to perform necessary abortions, even when the mother’s life was at risk.

Outside the parliament, anti-abortion protesters expressed their views in stark terms, likening liberal ministers to Adolf Hitler and employing provocative imagery. Inside, MPs presented contrasting viewpoints, with some arguing for abortion as a woman’s right, while others contended that it’s not universally supported among Polish women.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk has committed to introducing abortion on demand, but his coalition government is divided over the extent of liberalization. Various proposals, ranging from abortion up to 12 weeks to decriminalization of abortion assistance, have been put forward by different factions within the coalition.

However, achieving consensus on this contentious issue won’t be easy, with opposition from conservative elements and the potential for a presidential veto by Andrzej Duda, who aligns with Catholic beliefs. Ultimately, the fate of these proposals remains uncertain pending further parliamentary deliberation and potential presidential intervention.

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After years of negotiations, the European Parliament has approved a significant reform aimed at tightening the EU’s migration and asylum regulations. The EU Asylum and Migration Pact, which has been in development since 2015, is set to become effective in two years’ time. Its objectives include expediting the asylum process, enhancing the repatriation of irregular migrants to their home countries, and establishing a system of shared responsibility among EU member states for asylum seekers.

Last year, there was a notable increase in illegal border crossings within the EU, prompting the need for such reforms. The pact, though met with some opposition from certain member states, is expected to gain full approval by the end of April through majority voting.

Under the proposed rules, EU countries will be obligated to either accept a quota of migrants from frontline countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain, or provide additional financial aid or resources. Additionally, the pact emphasizes swift processing of asylum claims, particularly those deemed to have low chances of approval, and aims to reach decisions within a maximum of 12 weeks. Forcible returns of rejected asylum seekers to their home countries would also need to occur within the same timeframe.

The pact introduces stricter pre-entry screening procedures within seven days of arrival, including biometric data collection for migrants aged six and above. It also establishes mechanisms to address sudden influxes of migrants.

The pact received support from the two main political groups in the European Parliament, although it faced opposition from some left-wing and far-right factions, as well as NGOs. Critics argue that the agreement may lead to increased suffering for asylum seekers, particularly those with low chances of acceptance, who might undergo processing on border islands or in detention facilities with limited access to fair procedures.

Despite its imperfections, many MEPs saw the pact as a workable compromise, acknowledging its significance in addressing the challenges of migration within the EU. However, concerns remain regarding the potential consequences of expedited processes and increased detention.

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