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Fear mounts as crack cocaine floods Brussels

The Brussels skyline with the tower called Tour du Midi - Zuidertoren seen from the recently opened Brucity building, in the city center of Brussels, on Monday 30 January 2023. BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE (Photo by JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE / BELGA MAG / Belga via AFP) (Photo by JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Dear readers,

As I step in for Jamil to write this week’s POLITICO Confidential, I find myself thinking of the election year ahead — and not only because we’ve used this quiet August to progress planning here at POLITICO Europe HQ!

Many governments will no doubt be hoping the post-invasion, post-pandemic cost-of-living crisis has largely eased before electoral gavels drop, but a campaign by medics in the U.K. this week caught my eye as a big hint this issue will be loud in upcoming elections. Medical professionals are painting a stark picture of patients unable to afford bus fares to medical appointments and having to choose between medication and food, in a warning to the U.K. prime minister that high prices and insufficient social support pose a major risk to health. Closures of ER departments in France due to a lack of staff is another illustration of the existential question facing European countries about the longevity of socialized health care; an important and challenging story that our newsroom with its policy reporting muscle is so well placed to cover.

Another very different story on my mind in a week where the Women’s World Cup was a major political story — with Spain’s deputy prime minister, Teresa Ribera, telling POLITICO that football chief Luis Rubiales, who has refused to resign amid a sexual harassment furor, had behaved in a “shameful” and “unacceptable” manner — is the Paris Olympics. As a former athlete I love watching friends and former competitors still at it on the biggest sporting stage. Yet as a political journalist I would bet on the good news stories being somewhat overshadowed: Just how long will jam-packed European cities with overindebted governments be able to successfully host 10,500 athletes and more than a million tourists in the height of summer? One hint as to where this geopolitical story might be heading is that Qatar is tipped to be interested in hosting the 2036 Summer Olympics …

In the meantime there’s more pressing news to consider — the story of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s demise this week defied the quietness of both Brussels and Berlin’s government quarters, in which I spent time. Read on for our highlights.

Wishing you an excellent last weekend of summer,