The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday announced the winners of its annual Goalkeepers Global Goals Awards.
In a statement, the Foundation recognized Radhika Batra of India, Zahra Joya of Afghanistan, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, and Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for their extraordinary work towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in their communities and around the world.
Radhika Batra, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Every Infant Matters, which provides last-mile health solutions to disadvantaged children in India.
Zahra Joya, a journalist from Afghanistan who founded and self-funded Rukhshana Media, an online news agency focused exclusively on covering issues that affect the women of Afghanistan.
Vanessa Nakate, a climate justice activist from Uganda and founder of the Africa-based Rise Up Movement and the Green Schools Project.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.
The winners were announced at the Goalkeepers Awards Ceremony, which was attended by global leaders, influencers, and changemakers, and hosted by Tumelo Mothotoane, senior anchor at South African news broadcaster eNCA. Award presenters included Malala Fund co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai; and entertainer and founder of Unicorn Island, Lilly Singh.
“While the world is far from being on track to reach the Global Goals by 2030, there is still cause for optimism. We’ve seen how human ingenuity and innovation can lead to game-changing breakthroughs and progress toward our shared goals, and that’s exactly what we see in this year’s Goalkeepers Global Goals Award winners,” said Blessing Omakwu, head of Goalkeepers.
“Each show us how women are leading the way in coming up with the innovative solutions to move the numbers in the right direction, so that more people can lead healthy and productive lives,” Omakwu added.
The European Union’s second-highest court on Wednesday overwhelmingly upheld the EU’s record fine against Google over its Android operating system for mobile phones, slightly reducing the fee for technical reasons.
In a statement, the EU’s General court said it “largely confirms the commission’s decision that Google imposed unlawful restrictions on manufacturers of Android mobile devices” in order to benefit its search engine.
The court, however, said the fine should be slightly reduced to 4.125 billion euros ($4.1 billion), instead of the 4.3 billion euros decided by the commission in 2018 after reviewing the duration of the infringement.
The levy remains the EU’s biggest ever despite Google’s arguments that the commission’s case was unfounded and falsely relied on accusations it imposed its search engine and Chrome browser on Android phones.
The company also pushed the case that the EU was unfairly blind to the strength of Apple, which imposes or gives clear preference to its own services such as Safari on iPhones.
Google insisted that downloading rival apps was only a click away and that customers were in no way tied to Google products on Android.
The EU and complainants responded that Google used contracts with phone makers in the early days of Android to stifle rivals.
“This shows the European Commission got it right,” said Thomas Vinje, a lawyer representing FairSearch, whose original complaint launched the case in 2013.
“Google can no longer impose its will on phone makers. Now they may open their devices to competition in search and other services, allowing consumers to benefit from increased choice,” he added.
The decision by the General Court is not necessarily the end of the story. Both sides can turn to the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, for a final say on the fine, which was the equivalent of $5 billion when levied.
– Global action –
The Android case was the third of three major cases brought against Google by the EU’s competition czar Margrethe Vestager, whose legal challenges were the first worldwide to directly take on the Silicon Valley giants.
Since then, global regulators have followed suit, with Google facing a barrage of cases in the US and Asia based on similar accusations.
Last year, South Korea fined Google nearly $180 million for abusing its dominance in a similar case.
Vestager has already won against Google in its appeal of a separate case, a 2.4-billion-euro fine for the company for abusing its search engine dominance. As expected, the tech giant appealed that setback to the high court.
The EU, however, has lost recent cases involving the microchip industry.
Vestager’s team lost an appeal against a $1 billion fine imposed on Qualcomm in the same court in June.
That followed another setback in January when the EU lost the court’s backing for a 1.06-billion-euro fine on Intel.
Frustrated at the length of time it takes to pursue competition cases, Brussels has since adopted the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which puts a much tighter leash on the way Big Tech can do business.
The new law, set to come into force next year, would set up a rulebook of do’s and don’ts for Big Tech companies such as Google and Facebook.
The DMA includes specific bans or limits on Google, Apple and other gatekeepers from promoting their own services on platforms.
“The migrants are provided with visas, plane tickets and an aircraft is ready to transport them to Minsk from where they are taken to the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland,” he said.
Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas will visit “the main countries of origin and transit in the coming days to ensure that they act to prevent their own nationals from falling into the trap set by the Belarusian authorities,” the statement said.
The EU has accused Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating a wave of migrants and refugees, mainly from the Middle East, in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Brussels for his regimes crackdown on the opposition.
Lukashenko denies the accusation.
Warsaw expressed concern on Monday about a possible armed attempt to cross its border from Belarus, where thousands of migrants are massed.
To stem the illegal migrant crossings from Belarus, the EU is preparing tougher economic sanctions against Minsk.
An initial round of sanctions imposed in June hit the key sectors of potash, oil and tobacco. EU sanctions also target 166 Belarusian regime officials, including Lukashenko and two of his sons.
Sanctions require unanimous approval from all 27 EU members.
The European Commission is proposing to create a Digital Green Certificate to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Digital Green Certificate will be proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19.
According to a communique by the Commission on Wednesday, this certificate will be available, free of charge, in digital or paper format.
It will include a QR code to ensure the security and authenticity of the certificate.
The Commission will build a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the EU, and support Member States in the technical implementation of certificates.
Member States remain responsible to decide which public health restrictions can be waived for travellers but will have to apply for such waivers in the same way to travellers holding a Digital Green Certificate.
Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová said: “The Digital Green Certificate offers an EU-wide solution to ensure that EU citizens benefit from a harmonised digital tool to support free movement in the EU.
“This is a good message in support of recovery. Our key objectives are to offer an easy to use, non-discriminatory and secure tool that fully respects data protection. And we continue working towards international convergence with other partners.”
Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said: “With the Digital Green Certificate, we are taking a European approach to ensure EU citizens and their family members can travel safely and with minimum restrictions this summer. The Digital Green Certificate will not be a pre-condition to free movement and it will not discriminate in any way. A common EU-approach will not only help us to gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation. It is also a chance to influence global standards and lead by example based on our European values like data protection.”
Key elements of the regulation proposed by the Commission include:
Accessible and secure certificates for all EU citizens:
The Digital Green Certificate will cover three types of certificates –vaccination certificates, test certificates (NAAT/RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test), and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
The certificates will be issued in a digital form or on paper. Both will have a QR code that contains necessary key information as well as a digital signature to make sure the certificate is authentic.
The Commission will build a gateway and support Member States to develop software that authorities can use to verify all certificate signatures across the EU. No personal data of the certificate holders passes through the gateway, or is retained by the verifying Member State.
The certificates will be available free of charge and in the official language or languages of the issuing Member State and English. Non-discrimination:
All people – vaccinated and non-vaccinated – should benefit from a Digital Green Certificate when travelling in the EU. To prevent discrimination against individuals who are not vaccinated, the Commission proposes to create not only an interoperable vaccination certificate but also COVID-19 test certificates and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
Same right for travellers with the Digital Green Certificate –where the Member States accept proof of vaccination to waive certain public health restrictions such as testing or quarantine, they would be required to accept, under the same conditions, vaccination certificates issued under the Digital Green Certificate system.
This obligation would be limited to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation, but Member States can decide to accept other vaccines in addition.
Notification of other measures – if a Member State continues to require holders of a Digital Green Certificate to quarantine or test, it must notify the Commission and all other Member States and explain the reasons for such measures. Only essential information and secure personal data:
The certificates will include a limited set of information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery and a unique identifier of the certificate. This data can be checked only to confirm and verify the authenticity and validity of certificates.
The Digital Green Certificate will be valid in all EU Member States and open for Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway as well as Switzerland.
The Digital Green Certificate should be issued to EU citizens and their family members, regardless of their nationality. It should also be issued to non-EU nationals who reside in the EU and to visitors who have the right to travel to other Member States.
The Digital Green Certificate system is a temporary measure. It will be suspended once the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the end of the COVID-19 international health emergency.
To be ready before the summer, this proposal needs a swift adoption by the European Parliament and the Council.
In parallel, Member States must implement the trust framework and technical standards, agreed in the eHealth network, to ensure timely implementation of the Digital Green Certificate, their interoperability and full compliance with personal data protection. The aim is to have the technical work and the proposal completed in the coming months.
To comply with the measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, travellers in the EU have been asked to provide various documents, such as medical certificates, test results, or declarations. The absence of standardised formats has resulted in travellers experiencing problems when moving within the EU. There have also been reports of fraudulent or forged documents.
In their statement adopted following the informal video conferences on 25 and 26 February 2021, the members of the European Council called for work to continue on a common approach to vaccination certificates. The Commission has been working with the Member States in the eHealth Network, a voluntary network connecting national authorities responsible for eHealth, on preparing the interoperability of vaccination certificates. Guidelines were adopted on 27 January and updated on 12 March, and the trust framework outline was agreed on 12 March 2021.
Today the Commission adopted a legislative proposal establishing a common framework for a Digital Green Certificate. The Commission also adopted a complementary proposal to ensure that the Digital Green Certificate is also issued to non-EU nationals who reside in Member States or Schengen Associated States and to visitors who have the right to travel to other Member States. Separate proposals to cover citizens and non-EU citizens are necessary for legal reasons; there is no difference in the treatment of citizens and eligible non-EU citizens for the purpose of the certificates.
The latest information on coronavirus measures as well as travel restrictions provided to us by Member States are available on the Re-open EU platform.
A WHO expert sent to China to probe the coronavirus hit out at US intelligence on Covid-19 as his team headed home with few answers about the origin of a pandemic that was forcing more clampdowns in some of the hardest-hit parts of the world.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was set to seek an extension of strict virus curbs, as the European Commission chief prepared to defend the stumbling vaccination rollout in the continent — which accounts for a third of the 2.3 million Covid-19 deaths worldwide.
The coronavirus has infected close to 107 million people, devastating the global economy, and questions over the handling of the initial outbreak in central China sparked an intense diplomatic row between Washington and Beijing.
The WHO mission to the ground zero city of Wuhan wrapped up Tuesday without any concrete answers, with Washington again expressing scepticism about China’s transparency and cooperation.
But WHO team member Peter Daszak tweeted: “Please don’t rely too much on US intel: increasingly disengaged under Trump & frankly wrong on many aspects.”
He said they worked “flat out under the most politically charged environment possible”.
China had repeatedly delayed the WHO trip, and bristled at accusations of a lack of transparency. Beijing warned Washington not to “politicise” the mission after the White House demanded a “robust” probe.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the United States supports the investigation. But when asked if China had fully cooperated with the WHO, he said: “The jury’s still out.”
The WHO team did not identify which animal transferred the coronavirus to humans, but said there was no indication it was circulating in Wuhan before December 2019, when the first official cases were recorded.
WHO expert Peter Ben Embarek also scotched the controversial theory that the virus may have leaked from a lab in Wuhan.
– Vaccine, surge worries in Europe –
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was due to explain the EU’s vaccine strategy to the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, with the bloc’s leadership under growing pressure.
Vaccine supply issues have already caused a diplomatic row after AstraZeneca said it would not be able to immediately ship the doses it promised to Britain and the EU.
At the same time, the resurgence of infections across the continent is adding to the pressure on its leadership.
A stricter lockdown will be imposed in Greece from Thursday — in particular in the Athens region — as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned that his country was facing a third Covid-19 wave.
Wary of infection numbers exploding again, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will seek to extend strict curbs at least until the end of February as fatigue grows with the partial lockdown in Europe’s top economy.
Immunisation efforts are being ramped in other parts of the world with a number of vaccines.
Peru on Tuesday began administering shots developed by China’s Sinopharm, while Argentina approved the Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
South Korea on Wednesday also authorised the AstraZeneca shot for people aged 18 and above, including over-65s.
A number of European countries have not authorised the AstraZeneca vaccine for the elderly — considered the demographic most vulnerable to Covid-19.
Japan will start vaccinations next week — most likely the Pfizer/BioNTech jab — but it is scrambling to secure suitable syringes so doses won’t go to waste.
– Valentine’s Day worries –
Along with mass vaccinations, researchers and engineers around the world are searching for other ways to help end the pandemic and return life to normal — especially international travel.
Tech-savvy Estonia is working on a pilot project with the WHO on how a globally recognised electronic vaccine certificate might work, including addressing concerns about security and privacy.
A more immediate concern for authorities in many countries this week is Valentine’s Day, with fears that the upcoming celebrations could lead to a surge in infections.
Authorities in Thailand’s capital Bangkok announced the city would not register marriages on Valentine’s Day, a popular day for weddings.
In Brussels, however, where restaurants are closed, some hotels have converted rooms into private dining salons for two.
“We’re over the moon about being here tonight, just like in a restaurant,” said Marine Deroo, a 34-year-old who tried out the concept ahead of Valentine’s Day.
Europe’s race to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines must accelerate to catch up to scientific breakthroughs and outpace emerging variants, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
“We underestimated the difficulty related to mass production. Normally, it takes five to 10 years to produce a new vaccine. We did it in 10 months. This is a huge scientific success, and we should be rightly proud — but in a way, science has outstripped industry,” she told the European Parliament.
In her first public admission to Europeans — outside of some select media interviews — von der Leyen said her Commission had made missteps in procuring vaccines on behalf all EU countries.
“We were late to authorise. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production. And perhaps we were too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time,” she said.
But to have allowed Europe’s wealthiest countries to grab vaccines for themselves and leave others in the cold “would have been, I think, the end of our community,” she said.
– ‘We got it right’ –
There were lessons to be learnt, von der Leyen said, and her Commission would do so.
They included getting more data shared between clinics in EU countries, improving regulations to allow the European Medicines Agency to move faster in authorising vaccines, and especially to clear industrial bottlenecks to vaccine production.
“Industry must adapt to the pace of science,” she said, noting that vaccines can contain as many as 400 ingredients and manufacturing involve as many as 100 companies.
A vaccine production task force under internal market commissioner Thierry Breton was charged with that mission, she said.
“We’re dealing with completely new mRNA vaccines never manufactured at scale before. One of the current bottlenecks is, for example, linked to synthetic molecules… we need more coordination on the supply of key ingredients.”
Von der Leyen warned that European scientists do not yet know if the vaccines will be effective against new mutant strains of the virus that are emerging.
“But we do know these variants will continue to emerge. And we do know that we need to anticipate and prepare immediately,” she warned.
She also said deeply regretted an aborted bid by the Commission last month to try to restrict vaccines being transported into Britain’s territory of Northern Ireland as part of a bitter row with Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which has failed to deliver vaccine doses it promised to the EU.
But she stressed that “in the end, we got it right” and a hastily set-up EU vaccine export control scheme would not “restrict companies that are honouring their contracts with the European Union” and vaccines to most of the bloc’s neighbours would be unhindered.
The Commission, she emphasised, “will do its utmost to protect the peace of Northern Ireland, just as it has done throughout the entire Brexit process”.
The European Commission chief said on Monday she had called on EU member states to donate some of their coronavirus jabs to Ukraine, which is trying to launch a vaccination campaign.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has faced criticism at home for failing to source Western-made jabs and has called on the EU to help Ukraine source vaccines.
Zelensky said on Monday that Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, would begin the first phase of the vaccination campaign later this month.
The country of some 40 million is awaiting delivery of eight million doses promised under the United Nations Covax programme and up to five million doses of the Chinese CoronaVac jab.
“On top of Covax, I have also asked our member states to donate part of their doses to Ukraine,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a video address at a conference held in Ukraine’s capital Kiev.
“Thanks to Covax, Ukraine’s doctors and nurses will receive the first vaccines already this month,” she said, adding that “millions of other doses will reach Ukraine by the summer”.
Ukraine has not registered any vaccine so far and Zelensky has rejected calls from pro-Moscow politicians to approve Russia’s Sputnik V jab.
Last week, the post-Soviet country said it had also secured 12 million doses of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Novavax.
The total amount of the already secured doses is not enough to meet the needs of the country, however.
The EU on Wednesday launched a new legal challenge against reforms in Poland that Brussels says threaten judicial independence.
The move is the latest round in a long-running tussle between the European Commission — the bloc’s executive — and right-wing governments in Eastern Europe it accuses of undermining fundamental EU values.
Wednesday’s case is the fourth lodged by commission against Warsaw since the conservative government there began seeking new oversight over judges’ work and careers.
Some of the reforms have been already been softened or rolled back, but the Polish government is pushing ahead with new disciplinary rules opposed by Brussels.
A commission statement said the latest “infringement procedure” was “designed to safeguard the independence of judges in Poland” against “political control”.
It was announced by Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who travelled to Poland in January to raise concerns with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government.
“Member states can reform their judiciary, but they have to do it without breaching the EU treaties,” she told reporters during a Brussels video briefing.
“There are clear risks that the provisions regarding the disciplinary regime against judges can be used for political control of the content of judicial decisions, among others.
“This is a European issue, because Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently.
“This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market,” she warned, giving Warsaw two months to respond to an action that “can not have come as a surprise”.
– Judicial unease –
According to the commission, the law “increases the number of cases in which the content of judicial decisions can be qualified as a disciplinary offence.
“As a result, the disciplinary regime can be used as a system of political control of the content of judicial decisions.”
In a sign of unease, a German court in February refused to extradite a suspect to Poland, citing fears that the judicial reforms might deprive him of a fair trial.
Three infringement procedures have already been launched against Poland since 2017.
The first two, concerning retirement conditions for judges of the ordinary courts and the Supreme Court, were upheld by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
In the third case, concerning the new rules for judges, the court ordered Poland on April 8 to suspend the new disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court, pending a final ruling.
The head of the Polish Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, ordered the suspension, but the decision was challenged and the matter referred to the Constitutional Court.
The European Commission has also initiated a procedure under Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland in 2017, which in theory can lead to political sanctions.
This mechanism, provided for in the event of a “serious breach” of the rule of law in an EU member, has also been activated, this time by the European Parliament, against Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday that “substantial progress” was needed in Brexit negotiations, particularly on the vexed issue of the Irish border.
“I want to believe that we will be able to find a deal with our British friends between the European Council meeting next week and the possible one in November,” Juncker told French newspaper Le Monde.
“We, therefore, need substantial progress, which we should be able to see next week,” Juncker added, referring to a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels where Britain’s exit from the European Union is set to top the agenda.
Britain’s under-fire Prime Minister Theresa May has been invited to address fellow EU leaders on the eve of talks on her Brexit plans.
If she cannot convince them that she is able to deliver a Brexit deal that her European counterparts see as respecting the EU’s joint rules on trade and investment, negotiations are expected to fall into crisis.
The biggest difficulty is the future trading and customs arrangement between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, a British territory that will leave the trading bloc in March next year along with the rest of the UK.
“The Irish question is obviously ultra difficult,” Juncker said. “It’s true that we are not where we need to be to be able to conclude. (But) it’s not the EU that has imposed this debate on the British and Irish: it’s the sovereign British decision that caused this difficulty.
“In any case, if Ireland finds itself in a situation that it can’t accept what is being proposed, then we won’t conclude. ‘Ireland First’,” he said.
Juncker said that the EU Commission and member states were preparing for a potential “no deal” scenario that would see Britain crash out of the EU next March without legal agreements governing its relations with the rest of the bloc.
“Some (members) consider that we should do more (to prepare for a no deal”,” Juncker said. “I have good reasons for not doing that: we are not insisting too much because it would be seen as a provocation in London.”
The European Commission is set to change the way EU countries handle asylum claims.
This move is in reaction to the difficulties faced by Greece and Italy in thier response to the migrant crisis.
Other countries have hardly taken in any refugees.
European Commission Vice President, Frans Timmermans, said that the ideas, presented Wednesday, were intended to launch a debate on next steps among member states and European Union lawmakers who must sign off any plans.
People in the Netherlands are taking part in a referendum on an EU free trade deal with Ukraine.
They will be given the choice of voting for or against the deal.
The non-binding referendum is being viewed by many as an opportunity to protest against EU’s expansion and what they consider to be its undemocratic decision-making processes.
Under the current rules, people must file their asylum claims in the first EU country in which they set foot, or be later sent back to that country.
However, the EU’s policy of open borders has made it easy for asylum seekers to quickly leave the first EU country they entered for their preferred destination.