Europe should not fear standing alone if US adopts ‘America First’ policy in 2024, says Belgian prime minister – Europe live | World news

Democracies to be ‘put to the test’ in 2024, Belgian leader says

Speaking at the European parliament this morning, Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, said liberties would be tested this year.

In a nod to the possibility of a return of Donald Trump to the White House, the Belgian leader said Europe should not fear a scenario where the US leaves it on its own.

The prime minister, whose country has taken over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, told MEPs:

2024 will be a crucial year. A lot is at stake for Europe, a lot is at stake for the west.

A year where our democracies and our liberties will be put to the test. Not only with the election for this house, but equally so for US Congress, equally so with an election for the American presidency.

If 2024 brings us “America First” again, it will be more than ever Europe on its own. We should as Europeans not fear that prospect – we should embrace it.

We should embrace it by putting Europe on a more solid footing. Stronger, more sovereign, more self-reliant. A Europe that delivers and makes a difference in people’s lives. Protecting them, strengthening the economy, preparing a common European future.

Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, delivers his speech at the European parliament
Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, delivers his speech at the European parliament. Photograph: Jean-François Badias/AP

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Key events

Orbán doubles down on opposition to long-term EU budget aid for Kyiv

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, today reiterated his opposition to a proposed four-year financial package of Ukraine.

“If we want to help Ukraine, which I think we need to do, we have to do it in a way that doesn’t harm the EU’s budget,” he said, according to Reuters.

The Hungarian leader added:

But to give away €50bn from the EU budget for four years in advance is a violation of the EU’s sovereignty and national interests. We do not even know what will happen in a quarter of a year.

In December, Orbán blocked an agreement on financial assistance for Ukraine at a summit of EU leaders. Discussions are continuing to find a compromise, and EU heads of state and government will meet again on 1 February.

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Ukraine pushes for EU decision on long-term funding

Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that his conversation with the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, today “focused on the need to unblock the decision to provide Ukraine with €50bn in long-term EU assistance.”

The issue will be on the table when EU leaders gather for a special summit on 1 February.

I met with Ursula @VonderLeyen to discuss all of the key priorities on the Ukraine-EU agenda.

As Ukraine moves closer to the practical start of EU accession negotiations, we agreed to take another step forward and start the screening of Ukraine’s legislation.

We focused on the… pic.twitter.com/Uh8cgF5gOR

— Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 16, 2024

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As MEPs prepare to debate the resurgence of neo-fascism in Europe, president of the Green group Terry Reintke cautioned that extremists will not stop.

The AfD’s inhuman plans to deport millions of people is a frontal attack on democracy and on us all. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

Anyone who believes that they are not targeted by the attacks on our political system, on governments, on the LGBTQI community and on migrants is mistaken.

The right-wing extremists will not stop at anyone who thinks differently, loves differently, looks differently, speaks differently.

Ashifa Kassam

Ashifa Kassam

Ahead of tonight’s European Parliament debate on the resurgence of neo-fascism across the continent, the Renew Europe group has called on Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, to speak out on the rise of neo-fascists groups.

The debate was added to the parliament’s agenda at the last-minute after a chilling video emerged from Italy that appeared to show hundreds of men making fascist salutes earlier this month.

In a statement sent to the Guardian, Renew Europe said:

European liberals are deeply concerned by the rise of neofascism in Europe.

While the shocking ceremony in Italy has been witnessed before, it is indicative of a worrying rise in far-right groups across Europe. We call on the Italian prime minister to condemn it and speak out against the rise of neo fascist groups.

Belgian presidency playlist

To mark its rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, Belgium has created a special playlist.

You can check out the music here.

Rescuers in daring bid to save sheep trapped by Iceland volcano

Daniel Boffey

Daniel Boffey

A daring operation is being launched to rescue more than 200 sheep left to their fate by farmers after a volcanic eruption near the evacuated Icelandic town of Grindavik.

With molten lava setting homes ablaze and the ground surface cracking, rescue teams are seeking to bring out an estimated 270 animals from their fields and pens.

The animals, who have not been fed or watered for days, had not initially been designated a priority. Animal welfare campaigners raised the alarm after seeing footage of expensive machinery being taken from the danger area rather than the sheep.

One farmer had persuaded rescuers to help him evacuate 30 sheep at the edge of the town on Monday evening but a further estimated 270 are stranded in more dangerous locations.

Read the full story here.

European parliament to debate resurgence of neo-fascism

Ashifa Kassam

Ashifa Kassam

The European parliament will tonight debate the resurgence of neo-fascism across the continent, after a last-minute agenda item was added to address a chilling video from Italy that appeared to show hundreds of men making fascist salutes earlier this month.

The debate was put on the agenda by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group after its members were “outraged and distressed” by the images, S&D leader Iratxe García said in a statement.

García added:

The rise of neo-fascism is a dark cloud that looms across parts of Europe … It is both unacceptable and alarming that in 2024 we still bear witness to such scenes.

What is even more disconcerting is the lack of consequences and the lack of a clear, decisive response from the Prime Minister. Why has (Giorgia) Meloni chosen silence? Why has she not condemned these disturbing images?

Fascism has been at the centre of parliamentary debate in Europe at least twice before.

In 2018 members of the parliament called for a ban on neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the EU as it warned of the impunity with which neo-fascists were operating in some member states.

One year later, this call was broadened to include all organisations that glorify Nazism, fascism or any other form of totalitarianism.

‘No more rebates on the rule of law,’ MEP says

German MEP Moritz Körner, a member of the Renew Europe group, said today that the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has “allowed herself to be blackmailed by Viktor Orbán and released 10 billion taxpayers’ money to Hungary despite massive corruption in the country.”

He added:

The European Parliament is not going along with this and will challenge her decision before the European Court of Justice. There must be no more rebates on the rule of law in the EU.

Von der Leyen calls for ‘predictable’ financing for Ukraine

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said in Davos today that Europe needs to continue backing Kyiv, citing the need for “predictable” funding.

We must continue to empower their resistance. Ukrainians need predictable financing throughout 2024 and beyond.

They need a sustained supply of weapons to defend Ukraine and regain its rightful territory. They need capabilities to deter future attacks by Russia. And they also need hope. They need to know that, with their struggle, they will earn a better future for their children.

And Ukraine’s better future is called Europe.

The EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, speaks during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland
The EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, speaks during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

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Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, has also congratulated Donald Trump.

European parliament to consider legal challenge over unfreezing of Hungary’s EU funds

The European parliament’s leading political groups have agreed on a draft compromise resolution that opens the way to a possible legal challenge targeting the European Commission’s decision to unfreeze about €10bn earmarked for Hungary.

According to the draft, dated today and seen by the Guardian, the parliament “instructs its committee on legal affairs to take the necessary steps as soon as possible, in relation to the commission’s decision leading to the unfreezing of €10.2bn, including the legal service analysis in accordance with rule 149, with a view to review the legality of the decision C(2023) 9014 before the court of justice”.

The draft also “recalls the possibility for the European parliament to use any legal and political measures at its disposal, if the commission releases funding without criteria being fulfilled or if it fails to ensure the full implementation of the relevant legislation, considering its responsibility to act as Guardian of the treaty and to protect the EU financial interests; reminds that the commission is politically accountable to the parliament.”

The draft was negotiated by the European People’s party group, the Socialists and Democrats group, Renew Europe, the Greens and the Left group.

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Thanasis Bakolas, the secretary general of the centre-right European People’s party, has criticised the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, over his decision to run in the European parliament election.

The move is expected to result in Michel stepping down from his role early, and while Hungary holds the rotating Council presidency.

We rightfully expect our top leaders to show their unmitigated loyalty, absolute commitment and dedication to the European cause.

We certainly do not expect them to abandon their duties for personal gain as Charles Michel has and risk handing over the reigns of the EU Council to an illiberal political actor like prime minister Orban.

Renew Europe and the Liberal camp must face up to their responsibilities.

We rightfully expect our top leaders to show their unmitigated loyalty, absolute commitment and dedication to the European cause. We certainly do not expect them to abandon their duties for personal gain as @CharlesMichel has and risk handing over the reigns of the @EUCouncil to…

— Thanasis Bakolas (@ThanasisBakolas) January 16, 2024

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Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is celebrating Donald Trump’s win in the Iowa caucuses.

Support for Ukraine ‘existential’, De Croo says

In his speech this morning, Belgium’s Alexander De Croo said Europe must continue supporting Kyiv.

We achieved unity and solidarity in the face of the Russian war of aggression against an innocent Ukraine. A solidarity we absolutely need to keep up, with the Ukraine facility and continued military support.

For America and for other allies, the support for Ukraine is a strategic question, it is a geopolitical consideration.

For us Europeans, the support to Ukraine is existential. It goes to the heart of our security and our prosperity.

Welcome to the blog

Good morning and welcome back to the Europe blog.

Send tips and comments to lili.bayer@theguardian.com.

Democracies to be ‘put to the test’ in 2024, Belgian leader says

Speaking at the European parliament this morning, Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, said liberties would be tested this year.

In a nod to the possibility of a return of Donald Trump to the White House, the Belgian leader said Europe should not fear a scenario where the US leaves it on its own.

The prime minister, whose country has taken over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, told MEPs:

2024 will be a crucial year. A lot is at stake for Europe, a lot is at stake for the west.

A year where our democracies and our liberties will be put to the test. Not only with the election for this house, but equally so for US Congress, equally so with an election for the American presidency.

If 2024 brings us “America First” again, it will be more than ever Europe on its own. We should as Europeans not fear that prospect – we should embrace it.

We should embrace it by putting Europe on a more solid footing. Stronger, more sovereign, more self-reliant. A Europe that delivers and makes a difference in people’s lives. Protecting them, strengthening the economy, preparing a common European future.

Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, delivers his speech at the European parliament
Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, delivers his speech at the European parliament. Photograph: Jean-François Badias/AP

Updated at 

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