COVID-19: European Commission Proposes ‘Digital Green Certificate’ For Free Movement In EU

Passengers seen with the obligatory face masks at the main departure hall in the terminal of Athens International Airport ATH LGAV in Greece. AFP

 

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.”

READ ALSO: EU Regulator Says AstraZeneca Is ‘Safe And Effective’ Vaccine

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.

Next Steps

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.

Background

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.

WHO Expert Slams US Pandemic Intel As Curbs Tightened In Europe

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

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”.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

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.

Vaccine Production Must Catch Up To Science – EU Chief

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement following a phone call meeting with Britain's Prime Minister, at the European Commission in Brussels on December 13, 2020. Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement following a phone call meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister, at the European Commission in Brussels on December 13, 2020. Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP

 

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.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

But she defended the overall strategy.

“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”.

EU Chief Urges States To Donate Vaccines To Ukraine

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement following a phone call meeting with Britain's Prime Minister, at the European Commission in Brussels on December 13, 2020. Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement following a phone call meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister, at the European Commission in Brussels on December 13, 2020. Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP.

 

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.

READ ALSO: French Health Minister Encourages Use Of AstraZeneca Jab

Speaking at the same conference on Monday, Zelensky also pointed to Ukrainians’ “mistrust” of vaccines, saying a “large part of the population” did not want to get vaccinated.

According to a recent poll conducted by the non-government Rating Group, more than half of Ukrainians said they were not ready to get inoculated, even for free.

Ukraine’s 43-year-old leader, who experienced mild symptoms of the coronavirus last year, said he was ready to get inoculated to encourage others to do the same.

“As a majority of world leaders, I am ready to show people by personal example that vaccination is important, it is safe, it is needed,” said Zelensky.

With its run-down health system, Ukraine has recorded over 1.2 million cases and more than 23,000 deaths.

AFP

EU Launches Judicial Freedom Case Against Poland

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

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.

AFP

UK Rejects EU Trade Demands, Threatens To Pull Out

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP.

 

Britain put the prospect of a chaotic Brexit back on the table on Thursday as it set out its red lines for trade talks with the European Union.

In its mandate for the negotiations that start on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government rebuffed EU demands for common trading standards and continued fishing rights.

And it warned it could walk away from the talks if a “broad outline” of a deal is not agreed by a meeting planned for June.

This would see Britain’s currently seamless trading arrangements with the EU, forged over half a century, abruptly end after a post-Brexit transition period expires in December.

“We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in a pursuit of a deal, we will not trade away our sovereignty,” senior government minister Michael Gove told MPs.

The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the EU’s 27 member states, said it was preparing for all scenarios.

“The commission maintains its capacity to prepare for no deal following the result of those negotiations,” spokeswoman Dana Spinant said.

She added that the mid-year meeting was “a very fair timeline” to take stock of whether a deal was possible.

– No alignment –

Britain left the EU on January 31, but both sides agreed to a standstill transition period lasting until December 31 to allow time to strike a new partnership.

Johnson wants a free trade agreement similar to the EU’s deal with Canada, set alongside separate agreements on issues such as fishing, energy and aviation.

But Brussels says Britain’s geographical proximity and existing close ties make it a different case, fearing it could gain an uncompetitive advantage by relaxing costly environmental and labour laws.

It says Britain must mirror EU standards if it wants to continue freely trading goods with the bloc’s huge single market.

However, Johnson argues this would undermine the whole point of Brexit, even if that means increased barriers with what is currently Britain’s largest trading partner.

“We will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s,” the official UK mandate says.

Brussels also wants its state aid rules to apply in the UK — something London rejects.

Another potential flashpoint is financial services, a key concern for Britain that it wants resolved by June to allow firms to keep working in the EU after December 31.

The European Commission spokeswoman refused to commit the EU to completing so-called equivalence assessments by June.

In the British parliament, opposition politicians decried the government’s hard line approach.

“This is nothing other than a routemap to the cherished no-deal — the real ambition of these Brexit zealots,” said Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart.

– Fishing rights –

Tensions were already high between Britain and the EU ahead of the first round of negotiations.

On Tuesday, when the bloc published its mandate, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he would not strike a deal “at any price”.

Some EU ministers have also warned London against backtracking on commitments made in the previous Brexit divorce agreement, particularly relating to the Irish border.

One crucial issue for both sides in the upcoming negotiations is fishing rights.

Fishing became a totemic issue in the 2016 referendum campaign on Britain’s EU membership, which Johnson led.

But it is also vital for many EU countries, notably France, where fish and seafood caught in UK waters account 30 percent of sales for fishermen.

Brussels wants to maintain the right of its fleets to fish in UK waters, warning that failure to agree on this could scupper the wider trade talks.

But Gove warned: “We will take back control of our waters as an independent coastal state and we will not link access to our waters to access to EU markets.”

London proposes instead that fishing opportunities be negotiated annually, based on stock levels.

AFP

EU To Check How Facebook, Google Use Data

The European Commission said Monday it had begun a “preliminary investigation” into how Facebook and Google collect personal data and what they do with it.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s and Facebook’s data practices,” a Commission spokeswoman told AFP.

“These investigations concern the way data is gathered, processed, used and monetised including for advertising purposes,” she added.

The Commission did not say who exactly the questionnaires were sent to. It is a step that could lead to a formal investigation.

Facebook vice president Nick Clegg was asked about the probe during a press conference in Brussels but did not answer directly.

Facebook faces investigations worldwide, he said.

Clegg nonetheless warned EU regulators not to let themselves get misled by faulty reasoning when it comes to data.

“This phrase you often hear that data is oil is deeply unhelpful because data is nothing like oil,” Clegg said.

“It’s not something that you suck out of the ground and burn in a vehicle engine and that’s it. Data is infinitely divisible and infinitely sharable,” he added.

“Data is something that you can both share and keep at the same time,” Clegg noted.

“For a data intensive companies like FB we would urge regulators and legislators not to be trapped by analog parallels which don’t apply to the digital world,” he said.

A Google spokesman said in an e-mail to AFP: “We use data to make our services more useful and to show relevant advertising, and we give people the controls to manage, delete or transfer their data.

“We will continue to engage with the Commission and others on this important discussion for our industry.”

In September 2016, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager warned that she would keep a close eye on companies that collect and use data such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Google.

Since she began working at the commission in November 2014, Vestager has hit Google with three major fines for abusing its dominant market position in different sectors.

Vestager has been promoted to vice president in the new European Commission and still holds the competition portfolio in addition to a new one on regulation of the digital sector.

Meanwhile on Monday, Facebook announced a new tool for Irish users to easily transfer photos and video footage towards Google Photos, which is owned by its competitor.

Facebook said it would extend the service at some point to other countries and internet platforms.

AFP

‘Substantial Progress’ Needed In Brexit Talks Says – Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gestures as he gives a speech during the ceremony “100 Years Republic Austria” in Vienna, Austria, on October 4, 2018.
HERBERT NEUBAUER / APA / AFP

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.”

AFP

Migrant Crisis: European Commission Seeks Change To Asylum Rules

Migrant CrisisThe 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.

 

Migrant Crisis: EU To Launch New Border Force Plan

EU on New Border PlanThe European Commission is set to outline controversial plans for an EU border and coast guard force as part of efforts to curb the record influx of migrants.

The commission is proposing a force with a stronger mandate than the EU’s current Frontex border teams but some governments see the powers as violating national sovereignty.

Poland said that it will oppose any move to send in EU border guards without the host country’s approval.

The commission is also proposing to resettle Syrian refugees directly from camps in Turkey to try to stop people taking the dangerous voyage by sea.

Frontex, an EU agency based in Poland, is already poised to send border guards to Greece, where almost 800,000 migrants arrived by sea this year. Most of them are refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Frontex said that its role is to help enforce border controls, but the deployed officers work “under the command and control of the authorities” in the host country.

The deployment on the Greek islands near Turkey will boost the number of land and sea patrols, meaning more migrants will be identified and properly registered, a Frontex statement said.

The migrant crisis had undermined the authority of Schengen, because several EU states, among them Germany, Austria and Hungary have re-imposed border controls.

Beefing up security on the EU’s external borders is seen as a way to ensure the survival of Schengen.

Migrant Crisis: Germany To Speed Up Asylum Process

germanyGerman Chancellor, Angela Merkel, says Germany will create up to five special centres for asylum-seekers deemed to have little chance of staying.

This comes after the German Chancellor’s Christian Democrats and junior coalition partners- the Social Democrats, have quarreled for weeks over the issue.

Germany says it expects to receive at least 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015 and is seeking to speed up the asylum process, after the governing coalition resolved a rift on the issue..

Earlier, the European Commission said that three million migrants were likely to arrive in Europe by the end of 2017.

The huge influx of asylum seekers has caused political turmoil across the European Union (EU) with member states disagreeing about how to deal with the crisis.

Migrants Crisis: Central European States Set To Hold Meeting

migrants7Central European States, Germany and Luxembourg are due to meet and discuss ways to tackle the migrants crisis.

Germany is pushing a quota system that would oblige EU States to take fixed numbers of new arrivals.

The European Commission wants 120,000 additional asylum seekers to be shared out between 28 members; a sharp increase from the previous proposal of 40,000.

But the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have rejected the proposals.

Meanwhile, an Austrian woman revealed that migrants are being treated like animals with bags of food thrown at them at the Hungarian camp near the Serbia border.

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of migrants have been desperately trying to flee conflicts in countries such as Syria and Libya.

The Emergency Director of Human Rights Watch said the migrants were being held like “cattle in pens”.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was sending 300 pre-fabricated housing units to Hungary.

There is also a bottleneck at Hungary’s border with Austria. Officials said about 8,000 people had crossed into Austria at Nickelsdorf on Thursday and a similar number were expected on Friday.