The EU on Wednesday updated its conditions for poorer nations to win privileged access to the European market with a demand they fall in line with the bloc’s green ambitions.
The changes are part of the European Commission’s update to a scheme dating from 1971, known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), that offers easier access to the EU market for goods exported from developing countries.
The EU executive will now make sticking to environmental safeguards a condition for countries to keep enjoying the smoother GSP access for selling goods into Europe.
Under the GSP, the EU can put pressure on developing countries that veer away from internationally set standards on human rights, labour norms and other issues.
Last year, for example, the EU restored tariffs on goods imported from Cambodia over perceived human rights violations.
“There is no need to overhaul the scheme, as we did 10 years ago. But we have done some fine-tuning… to bring the scheme closer in line with our trade sustainability principles,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU trade commissioner.
In addition, the scheme, which is broken down into several categories of countries, will add six more conventions to the current 27 that countries must comply with to receive the trade advantages.
The EU will also replace the Kyoto Protocol with the Paris agreement on climate change.
Europe will seek to boost its own military capacity after the collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan, EU Chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday, announcing a defence summit.
“It is time for Europe to step up to the next level,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament, in her annual State of the European Union address.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron will convene the “summit on European defence” during France’s six-month presidency of the bloc, starting at the New Year, she said.
Paris has been leading the push for the 27-nation union to develop more autonomous military capacities alongside the Western alliance, which is traditionally led by the US.
And the rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s government at the end of the 20-year-old US-led mission in Afghanistan has intensified debate in Brussels’ about the EU’s role.
But most EU nations are also members of the NATO alliance and some, particularly eastern states more exposed to threats Russia, do not want to undermine ties with the United States.
“Witnessing events unfold in Afghanistan was profoundly painful for the families and friends of fallen servicemen and servicewomen,” von der Leyen said.
“We have to reflect on how this mission could end so abruptly. There are deeply troubling questions that allies will have to tackle within NATO.
“But there’s simply no security and defence issue where less cooperation is the answer.”
Von der Leyen vowed to work with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on a new EU-NATO joint declaration to be presented before the end of the year.
The EU’s video feed of von der Leyen’s address showed a picture of standing side-by-side and smiling with the NATO leader, but Stoltenberg has expressed scepticism over an autonomous EU strategy.
“Any attempt to establish parallel structures, duplicate the command structure, that will weaken our joint capability to work together,” Stoltenberg told UK daily The Telegraph last week.
In the short term, the EU Chief pledged an additional 100 million euros ($118 million) in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan as the bloc grapples with the immediate fall-out of the Taliban’s takeover.
“We must do everything to avert the real risk that is out there of a major famine and humanitarian disaster,” she said, insisting Europe “stands by the Afghan people”.
The new promise comes after the European Commission — the EU executive — already quadrupled its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan for this year to 200 million euros as the country struggles to stave off collapse after the Taliban’s takeover.
Brussels has said that none of the aid will go to Afghanistan’s new rulers and has demanded the Taliban ensure access for humanitarian workers in the country.
Von der Leyen said the EU would set out in full its “new, wider Afghan support package” in the coming weeks.
In a wide-ranging speech, von der Leyen focused on bloc’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and effort to boost inoculations around the globe.
She said the EU would donate another 200 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to low-income countries, more than doubling its present pledge.
“With less than one percent of global doses administered in low income countries, the scale of injustice and the level of urgency is obvious,” she said.
On the economic front, von der Leyen insisted that the bloc would not repeat the mistake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis by imposing sudden budgetary austerity as it emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Noting that last time it took the EU eight years to get back to pre-crisis levels, Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in her annual State of the European Union address: “We will not repeat that mistake.”
She called the financial crisis “a cautionary tale” in which “Europe declared victory too soon and we paid the price for that”.
The European Union is to donate another 200 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to low-income countries, more than doubling its present pledge, the bloc’s chief said on Wednesday.
The extra doses announced by European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen come on top of 250 million shots the EU has already promised to give to other countries, particularly ones in Africa.
“I can announce today that the commission will add a new donation of another 200 million doses until the middle of next year,” she told the European Parliament in her annual State of the European Union address.
Von der Leyen told the Strasbourg assembly the donation is “an investment in solidarity, and it is an investment also in global health”.
She recognised the disparity that has emerged between economically advanced countries such as the United States and those in Europe, which have pushed ahead in vaccinating the majority of their populations against the coronavirus, and poorer nations that are struggling to get hold of supplies.
“With less than one percent of global doses administered in low-income countries, the scale of injustice and the level of urgency is obvious,” she said.
Von der Leyen hailed the Europe Union’s vaccination roll-out, which has seen more than 70 percent of its adult population fully inoculated.
She said Europe had done more than any other region to get vaccine doses to other countries, noting that half of the 1.4 billion vaccines produced on its territory had been exported abroad.
European Union ambassadors on Wednesday agreed to remove six countries, including Japan, from the bloc’s covid safe travel list, meaning tourists entering could face restrictions, diplomats said.
The move targeting non-essential travel from Japan, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, and Brunei — set to be formalised this week — is the latest step by Brussels to tighten up on arrivals as concern mounts over rising infection numbers.
At the same time, envoys agreed to add Uruguay to those countries for which restrictions are not recommended.
The list is not binding on the EU’s 27 nations, which may choose to allow fully vaccinated travellers from any destination to visit.
Most EU members have followed Brussels’ travel advice during the crisis so far.
Brussels late last month recommended that capitals reimpose restrictions on non-essential travel from the United States over rising covid figures there as its vaccination drive has stalled.
Once the latest changes come into force, there will be around a dozen countries on the EU’s covid-safe list.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday in Paris, France, called on European countries and global financial institutions to consider loan restructure or complete debt reliefs, and release vaccines to the continent.
This according to the President will reduce the devastating effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on African economies.
The President made this call on Tuesday at the Financing Africa Summit held at Grande Palais Ephemere, Paris.
Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari to have said African countries need more vaccines to protect the majority of their citizens.
“It is in this vein that we solicit the support of the French government with its influence in the European Union to lend its voice to the efforts being made to mobilize additional resources for developing economies most especially Africa in order to strengthen the quantum of investments to our economies. This financial support should also be extended to the private sector,” he said.
The President urged European Union to encourage fair and equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines in less developed countries, and promote the establishment of manufacturing facilities.
According to him, many African countries were already experiencing debt distress and the Debt Service Suspension by France and G-20 does not go far enough, adding that there was the need for more sustainable and affordable financing solutions, including debt relief and further debt restructuring.
On the Paris Agreement for Climate Change, President Buhari noted that African countries would need financial support for green energy investment and COP-26.
He said Nigeria will refocus on gas, while adopting a Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative.
On the theme of “Africa Private Sector — Reforms – Infrastructure’’, President said Public-Private Partnership (PPP) will be fully explored to ensure more precision in development, cutting down waste and reducing chances of corruption.
“The government intends to leverage on Public-Private Partnership to bolster its job creation and anti-corruption drive. In terms of job creation, Nigeria has an abundant labour force since 30.5 percent of its population is between the ages of 25 and 54.’’
The EU’s home affairs commissioner said on Monday that Turkey should “urgently” resume accepting hundreds of migrants from Greece, days before EU chiefs were due to hold talks in Ankara.
“I call on Turkey to urgently resume the return of migrants from Greece,” Ylva Johansson said during a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, which hosts more than 8,000 asylum seekers.
EU chiefs Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey next Tuesday.
There are nearly 14,000 migrants housed on Lesbos and another four Aegean islands — Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.
Speaking alongside Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi, Johansson pledged 275 million euros ($324 million) of EU money for new camps on all five islands.
She had earlier visited the construction site of the Samos camp, tweeting: “I listened and explained that the migration proposals are designed to Europeanise and help the situation.”
Mitarachi, who has said new migrant camps are expected to be completed on Samos by June, and on Kos and Leros by September, called on Turkey to accept 1,450 migrants whose asylum applications had been rejected.
The press conference was delayed by roughly 300 people demonstrating against the planned Lesbos camp, in a protest called by local governor Costas Moutzouris.
“The islanders will not allow the construction of permanent camps on Greek and European borders,” the governor said in a statement.
Moutzouris had also whipped up opposition to the new camp last year. An attempt by the government to force ahead with construction work had prompted days of riots and clashes with riot police.
Greece has toughened its migration policy since conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power in 2019.
Border patrols have increased, asylum processes have been quickened and benefits have been slashed, even for refugees who are granted asylum.
Greece has also been accused by rights groups of repeatedly pushing back migrant boats in violation of international law.
Government officials have repeatedly denied the claims.
“We haven’t returned boats. We have prevented boats from entering European and Greek territory, but this is something allowed by the regulations,” Mitarachi told AFP in an interview earlier this month.
However, Johansson insisted on Monday that Greece “can do more” to investigate pushbacks.
The European Union approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine on Thursday — the fourth jab to get the green light for the 27-nation bloc.
The decision offers a boost for the EU’s sluggish vaccination programme even if reports say the first J&J shipments may not arrive in European countries until April.
The European Commission formally gave the green light for the jab after the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended approval.
“More safe and effective vaccines are coming to the market,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet.
“We have just authorised the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in the EU…. With the number of doses we ordered, we could vaccinate up to 200 million people in the EU” with the J&J jab this year, she said.
The EU has signed a firm order for 200 million and an option for 200 million more.
As well as being the first that requires a single injection as opposed to two, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to store.
The EU has so far approved three vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford. Three other vaccines are under “rolling review” by the Amsterdam-based EMA — Novavax, CureVac and Russia’s Sputnik.
The EMA gave the green light after saying clinical trials involving volunteers in the United States, South Africa and South American countries found the J&J jab was 67 percent effective at preventing people from getting Covid.
Side effects were “usually mild or moderate”, including pain at the injection site, headache, tiredness, muscle pain and nausea, and usually cleared within a couple of days, it said.
– ‘Bumpy’ strategy –
“With this latest positive opinion, authorities across the European Union will have another option to combat the pandemic and protect the lives and health of their citizens,” European Medicines Agency (EMA) chief Emer Cooke said in a statement.
“This is the first vaccine which can be used as a single dose.”
The J&J shot however appears less protective than Pfizer and Moderna’s regimes, which both have an efficacy of around 95 percent against all forms of Covid-19 from the classic coronavirus strain.
The EU has been struggling with a disappointing vaccination rollout that started in January and faltered because of a shortage of doses produced by the three suppliers so far.
The head of the EU’s vaccine supply task force, Thierry Breton, said on Tuesday the EU’s “bumpy” vaccine strategy should be augmented by the addition of the Johnson & Johnson jab.
Reported production shortfalls in the United States by Johnson & Johnson would not impact the EU because Brussels had made contingency plans for all vaccines, he said.
“Do not believe that because one company has a problem that overall it will jeopardise the whole programme,” said Breton, the EU’s industry commissioner.
Europe’s vaccination strategy faced fresh problems on Wednesday as Denmark, Norway and Iceland said they were temporarily suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after some patients developed blood clots.
Norway and Iceland are not in the EU but are covered by the EMA.
The EMA said the vaccine was still safe for use, pending an investigation.
The European Commission on Thursday told five EU countries — Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Poland and Sweden — to quickly put a 2008 EU law against racism into their statutes.
The five need to “fully transpose” into national law the EU rules that criminalise “serious manifestations of racism and xenophobia”, the commission said in a statement, explaining it had sent formal letters to the respective capitals.
The EU executive already, in October last year, sent similar letters on the same matter to Estonia and Romania.
The commission noted that legislation in Belgium and Bulgaria did not identify racist or xenophobic motives as an aggravating element in crimes, and Bulgaria, Finland and Sweden failed to adequately criminalise certain hate speech, including the trivialisation of the Holocaust.
It also deemed that Finland had failed to allow racist crimes to be investigated even without a complaint by a victim.
It singled out Poland for not specifying “gross trivialisation” of international crimes and the Holocaust, and restricting the criminalisation of denial “only to cases where such crimes were committed against Polish citizens”.
The five countries have two months to respond to the letters. If they do not, the commission can start a procedure that could see them taken to the European Court of Justice.
The European Union has bought up to 300 million extra Covid-19 vaccine doses from US firm Moderna, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
The new deal, which she hailed as “good news”, adds to the EU’s vaccine stock as it strives to meet a target of fully vaccinating 70 percent of adults by mid-September.
The commission now has access to a vaccine “portfolio” of 2.6 billion doses of three EU-authorised vaccines and three more prospective ones, to be provided this year and next, von der Leyen told a media conference.
Numerically, that is more than enough for the EU’s 450 million inhabitants, with the excess going to neighbouring countries, she said.
But another reason for such a big stock was to hedge against “the possibility for the virus to mutate”, as is already being seen with variants, some of which appear to be at least partially resistant to some of the current vaccines.
“We will always have to be vigilant to be able, if there are escaped mutations, to fight them with improved vaccines,” she said.
– Stuttering rollout – The bloc’s 27 members face a vaccine supply crunch in the near term because of a drastic shortfall in doses from AstraZeneca.
The Anglo-Swedish company is providing only 25 to 40 percent of the more than 100 million doses it had originally promised for the first quarter of this year, which were meant to jumpstart the EU’s vaccination programmes.
EU industry commissioner Thierry Breton, who is heading a commission task force to overcome supply bottlenecks, said of AstraZeneca: “I am confident they will be able to catch up.”
He said the production yield in a Belgian factory used by AstraZeneca was “drastically increasing” with a 50 percent rise, and output in an Italian factory was also improving.
Von der Leyen has staked her reputation on the vaccine rollout across the European Union, after having her commission take over advance purchase agreements on behalf of the member states.
She has run into fierce criticism from some capitals over the stuttering start, largely due to the AstraZeneca supply problem, and has turned her attention to ensuring a stronger follow-up.
So far, the European Union has authorised the AstraZeneca, BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for use, and is considering ones from Johnson & Johnson, CureVac and Novavax.
Its vaccination programme has lagged behind those of the US, Israel and Britain, but the bloc is looking to quickly scale up.
Von der Leyen said 33 million doses of the three authorised vaccines have so far been delivered to EU countries and 22 million people have received at least one dose, with seven million having received the two doses for full vaccination.
Britain and the European Union requested Monday that the United Nations Human Rights Council hold a special session in response to the ongoing political crisis Myanmar.
The call comes came a week after Myanmar’s generals conducted a coup in the country.
“The United Kingdom would like to inform all colleagues that together with the European Union, we have submitted a request for a special session on the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar,” Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador in Geneva, told a council organisational meeting.
Myanmar’s military last week detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and dozens of other members of her National League for Democracy party, ending a decade of civilian rule and triggering international condemnation.
Braithwaite said the call was “in response to the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar, the arbitrary detention of democratically elected politicians and civil society by the military,” which he said had “grave implications for human rights in the country”.
“We must respond urgently to the plight of the people of Myanmar and the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation there,” he said.
Braithwaite said the backers of the special session call would inform other council members soon about the drafting of a resolution on the issue.
He said the motion had the support of an additional 19 of the council’s 47 members.
That means in principle that the request would fulfil the requirement for the backing of at least a third of the council’s members, paving the way for a special session prior to the next regular council session, which kicks off on February 22.
A fact-check by the international news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP) has revealed that a purported commendation to the government of Nigeria on the release of the Kankara schoolboys did not come from the European Union but from a self-styled organization known as European Union Human Rights Forum (EUHRF) which has no relationship with the global body.
The European Union says the EUHRF is a ‘discredited’ NGO that does not exist in the EU family.
Meanwhile, the only known acknowledgment of the release of the boys to have come from a multinational global organization was from His Excellency Mr. Edward Kallon the UN Chief Representative in Nigeria on December 18, 2020, where he tweeted:
‘So delighted to receive the news of the return of the abducted Kankara schoolboys. Congratulations to the Gov’t of Nigeria for securing their release. I rejoice with the community and concerned families& call on the authorities to make schools safe for teaching and learning.”