Europe at a glance

Minister jailed


Denmark’s former immigration minister has been sentenced to two months in prison for separating asylum-seeking couples in cases when the woman was under 18. A court found that in introducing the policy, Inger Støjberg (pictured) had breached the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2016, 23 couples were split up. Støjberg said that the policy protected girls from forced marriages, but in most cases, the age difference was small. Støjberg, who served in the previous centre-right administration, was known for bringing in a host of hard-line policies, and for celebrating the 50th of her legal amendments with a cake.

Commuting at home

Kassel, Germany

A German court has ruled that a man who fell over and broke his back while walking downstairs from his bedroom to his home office is eligible for compensation under his employer’s workplace insurance scheme. The insurer had refused to pay out, leading to a lawsuit in which two lower courts disagreed as to whether the man’s short journey down the spiral staircase could be classed as a “commute”. In its final ruling, Germany’s federal social court, in Kassel, took into account the fact that the employee – an area sales manager for a company identified only as “R-GmbH” – usually started working in his home office “immediately, without having breakfast beforehand”. As such, it found that “the first morning journey from bed to the home office [was] an insured work route”, making the insurer liable for compensation under the employer’s policy.

Political prisoners

Gomel, Belarus

A group of opposition politicians who were arrested in the crackdown that accompanied Belarus’s rigged election in August 2020 have been jailed for between 14 and 18 years. Among them was the opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky (pictured), who was arrested before the vote, and whose wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, then became the face of a unified campaign against President Lukashenko. He got 18 years in a “maximum security colony”. His wife – who fled the country with their children immediately after the election – described the sentences as Lukashenko’s “revenge”.

Nord Stream 2


Germany has confirmed that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – linking Russia to Germany via the Baltic – will not become operational if Russia invades Ukraine. Germany’s new foreign minister, the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock, revealed on Sunday that Berlin had agreed that position with Washington last week. The pipeline is controversial because it bypasses Ukraine – which currently receives billions of dollars in transfer fees from Russian gas; and analysts had warned that it could also prove a fault line in the new coalition in Germany. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SDP has long supported the project, but the Greens oppose it, on environmental and foreign policy grounds. However, Scholz recently promised to do “everything possible” to ensure that gas keeps flowing through Ukraine, and that Moscow doesn’t use the pipeline to cripple the country’s economy.

PM reprimanded


Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin (pictured) has been forced to apologise for going out clubbing until 4am although a close contact of hers – her foreign minister Pekka Haavisto – had just tested positive for Covid. Marin, 36, said she had initially been advised that she didn’t need to isolate because she had been fully vaccinated. Her officials later sent her a message saying that, in fact, she should be avoiding unnecessary social contacts, but she missed the text because she had left her work phone at home. Per capita, Finland has the lowest number of Covid-19 cases in Europe, and the third lowest death toll (after Iceland and Norway). However, cases are currently at their whole-pandemic peak and rising.

Omicron “lockdown”


Norway has banned the sale of alcohol in all pubs, bars and restaurants as part of its efforts to head off the threat of a “contagion bomb” caused by the Omicron variant. The ban – which was announced on Monday, and came into force at midnight the following day – will remain in place for at least four weeks. Other new measures include advice to work from home where possible, the closure to some users of gyms and public swimming pools, further mask mandates, and the acceleration of the vaccine campaign. “There is no doubt that the new variant changes the rules,” said PM Jonas Gahr Støre. “For many, this will feel like a lockdown, if not of society, then of their lives and of their livelihoods.” The country’s public health agency had warned that without new restrictions, the health service would be overwhelmed – even if the variant proves to cause relatively mild symptoms. Omicron is also causing a rapid rise in cases in Denmark.

Notre-Dame battle


A panel of heritage experts established to oversee the renovation of Notre-Dame cathedral has approved a controversial revamp of its interior, which includes modern art works, Bible quotes projected onto the walls, and new sound and light effects to create “emotional spaces”. Supporters of the scheme, put forward by the Diocese of Paris, say it is not revolutionary. They say that it merely aims to foster a “dialogue” between the old and the new, and make the 800-year-old cathedral, which received 12 million visitors a year before 2019’s devastating fire, more relevant to modern audiences. But days before the plan was given the green light, 100 historians and intellectuals had put their names to an article in Le Figaro warning that the proposals were inane and kitsch, and risked “completely distorting the decor and liturgical space”.