Tempers flared as the deadlocked EU coronavirus summit rolled over from Sunday into Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron upbraiding his Dutch and Austrian colleagues and threatening a walk-out.
Frustration had been building for three days as the 27 leaders wrangled over the size and form of an up to 750-billion-euro ($860-billion) package of loans and grants to lift virus-ravaged countries out of recession.
An alliance of so-called “frugals”, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, has been resisting calls for the bulk of the funds to be doled out as non-repayable grants.
Macron, according to witnesses, bashed the table, attacked Kurz for leaving the room to make a call, and accused Rutte of behaving like former British premier David Cameron — whose strategy “ended badly”.
Cameron often took a hard line at EU summits seeking concessions for Britain, but ended up losing a Brexit referendum — and his job.
According to a European source Kurz was offended by Macron’s behaviour.
A member of the French delegation told AFP that some of the accounts of what had happened has been “a little caricatured” but confirmed that Macron had “taken a hard line on their inconsistencies”.
According to officials, Macron had denounced the two leaders for their insistence that the recovery funds take the form of loans with strict conditions attached, rather than as grants — and had said he would rather walk away than make a bad deal.
France wants at least 400 billion euros to be available as grants, but the Frugals want to cut that back substantially.
The leaders of the 27 EU member states will meet in Brussels on July 17, their first physical summit since the coronavirus lockdown began, to discuss an economic recovery package.
The two-day meeting — which will unusually run into a Saturday — was confirmed by a spokesman for European Council president and summit host Charles Michel, as capitals wrangle over the terms of the huge rescue plan.
The leaders will devote the talks to the 750-billion-euro ($842-billion) recovery roadmap put forward by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
The proposed package consists of 500 billion euros in grants — a suggestion of France and Germany — and 250 billion euros in loans, to help businesses recover from an unprecedented crunch.
The proposal would be based on EU borrowing over four years and requires unanimous approval from the EU 27.
A group of countries, a so-called “Frugal Four”, are trying to rein in spending, which is earmarked mainly for the poorer countries of southern Europe hardest hit by the COVID-19 epidemic.
The Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden insist that loans with tough conditions attached, rather than grants, should be the prefered method of rescue and are not in a rush to make a deal.
Other countries argue that the commission’s plan misallocates the money, giving too much to eastern Europeans who were never on the front lines of the pandemic.
Launching a busy three weeks of shuttle diplomacy ahead of the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron will visit the Netherlands on Tuesday for talks with Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
At a virtual EU summit on Friday, Rutte told leaders he did not believe “an enormous rush is needed”.
Macron, for his part, said it was “essential… to quickly reach an ambitious agreement.”
Complicating matters still further, the recovery fund is linked to the EU’s long-term, seven-year budget, which leaders will negotiate in parallel.
This has countries usually on the receiving end of EU spending — mainly in eastern Europe — worried that funds will now go elsewhere.
The leaders last met physically in February and broke up after two days of talks without a deal on the EU budget. Because of health safety rules during the pandemic, subsequent meetings were by videolink.
The head of the global vaccine alliance has warned “nobody is safe unless everybody is safe” from the new coronavirus, urging international solidarity ahead of a fundraising summit as the pandemic threatens to trigger a resurgence of preventable diseases.
Scientists are racing to identify and test possible vaccines for COVID-19 as nations grapple with the economic and societal consequences of the virus lockdowns.
Seth Berkley of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, said the international community must ensure all countries will have access to any potential vaccines, regardless of their wealth.
“This is a global problem that needs a global solution and we have to all work together,” he said.
He spoke ahead of a virtual summit hosted by Britain on Thursday, where Gavi hopes to raise at least $7.4 billion to continue vaccination programmes against diseases like measles, polio and typhoid that have been severely disrupted by the pandemic.
The meeting will also see Gavi and its partners launch a financing drive to purchase potential COVID-19 vaccines, scale up their production, and support delivery to developing nations.
The fundraising goal for COVID-19 is $2 billion, although Berkley said it was an initial sum as they kickstart negotiations with manufacturers and could go up “substantially”.
The meeting comes as the pandemic exposes new ruptures in international cooperation.
US President Donald Trump last week announced he would pull out of the World Health Organization and there are fears America may use its economic clout to buy up vaccines.
Berkley said that countries needed a “different mindset”, adding that sharing access to drugs was not just a humanitarian and equality issue, but a global health security one.
“Nobody is safe unless everybody is safe. We saw the virus move from somewhere around Wuhan to 180 countries in less than three months, including islands and isolated areas,” he said.
– ‘Perfect storm’ –
The World Health Organization, UN children’s agency UNICEF and Gavi warned last month that the pandemic had hindered routine immunisation services in nearly 70 countries, affecting around 80 million children under the age of one.
Polio eradication drives were suspended in dozens of countries, including those still struggling with the debilitating illness, while measles vaccination campaigns were also put on hold in 27 countries, UNICEF said.
Recent Gavi-supported modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine estimated that for every COVID-19 death prevented by halting vaccination campaigns in Africa, up to 140 people could die from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Berkley said the situation was improving, with new guidance on how to carry out immunisation campaigns safely.
But he said locating all the children who missed out on vaccines before new outbreaks emerge will be a “real challenge”.
Thursday’s funding drive is for a five-year period in which the organisation aims to reboot halted programmes in the countries it supports — allowing them to access vaccines at a much reduced cost — with the goal of reaching some 300 million children.
Berkley said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the target would be reached, with more new countries pledging donations despite the economic strains of the pandemic.
Recalling past episodes when vaccine work was stalled by the outbreak of diseases such as Ebola and SARS, another coronavirus, he urged nations to move beyond “boom and bust” cycles of crisis planning.
“I don’t think this coronavirus is going to go away like SARS did,” he said.
He also warned of an “unprecedented” level of rumour and conspiracy theory around vaccinations, particularly from the northern hemisphere.
“Distrust between people in their government, the rumours and the intentional spread of false information is not only at an all time high, but it also is being amplified by social media tools that didn’t exist 20 years ago,” he said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told African leaders Monday that Britain would be more open to migrants from their continent after Brexit as he hosted a summit intended to boost trading ties.
He also promised an end to direct UK state investment in thermal coal mining or coal power plants overseas, saying London would focus on supporting a switch to low-carbon energy sources.
Johnson was speaking at the start of the first UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, a clear pitch for business less than two weeks before Britain leaves the European Union.
He told leaders including presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya that he wanted to make Britain their “investment partner of choice”.
After highlighting all that Britain has to offer, he said Brexit would mean an end to preferential treatment for EU migrants.
“Our (immigration) system is becoming fairer and more equal between all our global friends and partners, treating people the same, wherever they come from,” he said.
“By putting people before passports we will be able to attract the best talent from around the world, wherever they may be.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who also attended the summit, said Brexit offered an opportunity for increased free trade across the Commonwealth — and said visas were a key issue.
“While many in the African diaspora enjoy considerable benefits from life in the West, they do not always feel at the heart of the community,” he wrote in an article for The Times on Monday.
“A renewed sense that there are ties that bind us through the Commonwealth, and a concerted effort to grow those links through trade, could act as a spur to encourage togetherness and the certainty of belonging.”
Breathe the same air
Johnson, whose country hosts the next UN climate change summit in Glasgow later this year, also announced a shift in investment strategy to help combat global warming.
Sub-Saharan African faces a number of environmental challenges, particularly the effects of climate change, water and air pollution, desertification, deforestation and over-fishing.
On fossil fuels, Johnson said: “There’s no point in the UK reducing the amount of coal we burn, if we then trundle over to Africa and line our pockets by encouraging African states to use more of it, is there?”
“We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky. We all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warns.”
He added: “Not another penny of UK taxpayers money will be directly invested in digging up coal or burning it for electricity.
“Instead, we’re going to focus on supporting the transition to lower and zero carbon alternatives.”
The British government’s export agency reports providing £2 billion ($2.6 billion) in financing for UK company exports to Africa in the past two years.
The agency says it now wants to “increase its risk appetite” in Egypt and the emerging economies in Nigeria and Rwanda.
The UK government said the London summit will see British and African firms announce commercial deals worth £6.5 billion.
It did not spell out whether these were all firm commitments or included memorandums of understanding that do not always result in actual deals.
Britain will leave the EU on January 31, although ties will remain the same for 11 months while the two sides thrash out a new trading relationship.
The UK has said it will be leaving the bloc’s single market and customs union.
Johnson wants the freedom to strike trade deals with other countries, even at the expense of some of its producers facing trade tariffs and quotas as a result.
India is planning a “bloodbath” in Kashmir, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan told the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.
The Indian-controlled part of the disputed territory has been under lockdown since New Delhi scrapped its semi-autonomous status in early August, and Khan said armed forces there would turn on the population after the curfew was lifted.
“There are 900,000 troops there, they haven’t come to, as Narendra Modi says — for the prosperity of Kashmir… These 900,000 troops, what are they going to do? When they come out? There will be a bloodbath,” he said.
A long queue of climbers has formed near the summit of Mount Everest as expedition organisers on Thursday reported two more deaths on the world’s highest mountain.
More than 200 climbers were taking advantage of clear weather on Wednesday to attempt to summit from both Nepal and China, but teams had to line up for hours to reach the top — risking frostbite and altitude sickness.
An American and Indian climber are the latest fatalities, their expedition organisers said, on one of the busiest-ever days on the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) peak.
Donald Lynn Cash, 55, collapsed at the summit on Wednesday as he was taking photographs, while Anjali Kulkarni, also 55, died while descending after reaching the top.
Kulkarni’s expedition organiser, Arun Treks, said heavy traffic at the summit had delayed her descent and caused her death.
“She had to wait for a long time to reach the summit and descend,” said Thupden Sherpa. “She couldn’t move down on her own and died as Sherpa guides brought her down.”
Pasang Tenje Sherpa, of Pioneer Adventure, told AFP that Cash collapsed on the summit and died close to Hillary Step as guides were bringing him back.
The deaths take the toll on Everest to four this season, after an Indian climber died last week and an Irish mountaineer is presumed dead after he slipped and fell close to the summit.
Mountaineering in Nepal has become a lucrative business since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the first ascent of Everest in 1953.
The Himalayan nation has issued a record 381 permits costing $11,000 each for this year’s spring climbing season, sparking fears of bottlenecks en route to the summit if poor weather cuts down the number of climbing days.
Most Everest hopefuls are escorted by a Nepali guide, meaning more than 750 climbers will tread the same path to the top in the coming weeks.
At least 140 others have been granted permits to scale Everest from the northern flank in Tibet, according to expedition operators. This could take the total past last year’s record of 807 people reaching the summit.
Many Himalayan mountains — including Everest — are at peak climbing season, with the window of good weather between late April and the end of May.
At least six other foreign climbers have died on other 8,000-metre Himalayan peaks this season, while two are missing.
The 82-year-old hopes to raise awareness about abuse through prayers, speeches, working groups and testimonies from victims.
“I ask the Holy Spirit to support us in the following days and help us to transform this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification,” Francis said.
“May the Virgin Mary enlighten us to try to cure the serious wounds caused by the scandal of paedophilia both in children and in believers,” he added.
‘A turning point’
The summit aims to educate 114 top bishops who will then return home with clear ideas on how to spot and deal with abuse and paedophilia.
The task is made difficult by the fact that some churches, in Asia and Africa in particular, deny the problem exists.
“My hope would be that people see this as a turning point,” said American Cardinal Blase Cupich, one of the pope’s trusted allies in the United States and one of the summit’s four organisers.
The US Catholic Church has been shaken by one of the gravest crises in its history, with the defrocking last week by Pope Francis of a former cardinal — American Theodore McCarrick — over accusations he sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago.
“It’s not the end game, no one can ever say that… (but) we’re going to do everything possible so people are held responsible, accountable and that there is going to be transparency,” Cupich told journalists ahead of the meeting.
Three themes — responsibility, accountability and transparency — form the backbone of the summit and will provide its participants with the keys to ensuring child safety, he said.
‘Silence a no-go’
There are reforms in the pipeline, such as the “tweaking” of certain canon laws, according to another of the organisers, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
But the suggestion that Church laws need only fine-tuning has angered many, including Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a public database that documents cases of proven or suspected cleric sex crimes.
“Canon law has to be changed: not tweaked, not modified, but fundamentally changed, so that it stops prioritising the priesthood… over the lives of children, and vulnerable adults who are sexually assaulted by them,” she said.
Scicluna insists that summoning Church leaders from all continents to Rome “is in itself a very important message”.
The Maltese spent 10 years as the Vatican’s top prosecutor on paedophilia cases, and was picked by Francis to travel to Chile last year to hear from victims whose voices had previously been silenced by an internal Church cover-up.
Scicluna has called for an end to the code of silence and culture of denial within the beleaguered centuries-old institution.
“Silence is a no-go, whether you call it omerta or simply a state of denial,” he said this week.
“We have to face facts because only the truth of the matter, and confronting the facts, will make us free,” he added.
Poland’s prime minister on Monday cancelled Warsaw’s participation in a summit of central European countries in Jerusalem, calling comments about the actions of Poles during the Holocaust by Israel’s foreign minister “racist”.
“The words of the Israeli foreign minister are racist and unacceptable… it is clear that our foreign minister (Jacek) Czaputowicz will not be travelling to the summit,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Polish media, after comments by Israel’s new foreign minister accusing Poles of anti-Semitism.
Poland warned on Monday it may pull out of a summit of central European nations in Jerusalem this week, after comments by Israel’s new foreign minister accusing Poles of anti-Semitism.
The foreign ministry also summoned Israeli ambassador Anna Azari over the remarks by Israel Katz on Sunday, the PAP news agency reported, the second time Warsaw has taken such action in a matter of days.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had backed out of the summit on Sunday following uproar over reported comments by his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu about Poles and the Holocaust.
Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz was due to replace Morawiecki, but the prime minister said on Monday that Warsaw’s participation was now in question following the Katz comments.
Katz told Israel’s i24 television that “there were many Poles who collaborated with the Nazis, and like Yitzhak Shamir, whose father was murdered, said: Poles suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”
“We’re waiting for a firm reaction to the unpardonable and simply racist words of Israel’s new foreign minister, which is something that can’t be left without reaction,” Morawiecki told Polish media.
“If there is no such reaction on the other side, we’ll wish them the best possible meeting, but minister Jacek Czaputowicz will also not attend,” Morawiecki said.
The matter would be decided “in two-three hours”, he added.
The Visegrad Group, also known as the V4, comprises the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It is due to hold its first summit in Jerusalem Monday and Tuesday for talks with Israeli officials.
The initial row broke out last week when Netanyahu — who was quoted in Haaretz newspaper as saying that “the Poles collaborated with the Nazis” — was condemned in Poland for appearing to accuse all Polish people of cooperating with Germany during World War II.
Warsaw has long been at pains to state that Poland, which was occupied by Nazi Germany, could not have and did not collaborate in the Holocaust although individual Poles gave up Jews to the Nazis.
The Israeli prime minister’s office said on Friday that Netanyahu had not implicated all Poles in the Holocaust.
It insisted that Netanyahu was “misquoted” in Haaretz and other publications that reported different versions of the quote.
The clarification came hours after the Polish foreign ministry had summoned Azari over the remarks.
Netanyahu was in Warsaw last week for a two-day summit on the Middle East, co-hosted by Poland and the United States, which focused on isolating Iran while building Arab-Israeli ties.
The fresh controversy in Polish-Israeli ties comes after a row last year over a Polish law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German crimes.
After protests from Israel and the United States, Poland amended the law to remove the possibility of fines or a prison sentence.
Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II and lost six million citizens including three million Jews.
Pope Francis gathers bishops from around the world at the Vatican this week for a hotly-awaited summit on tackling the wave of child sex abuse scandals assailing the Catholic Church.
The heads of around 100 bishops’ conferences from every continent will convene from Thursday to Sunday for the meeting on the protection of minors, with victims’ groups demanding that a concrete action plan on fighting paedophilia be drawn up.
The pope, who asked the bishops to speak to victims of abuse in their respective countries before the Rome convention, has tried to dial down “inflated expectations” for a cure-all.
Several victims were also invited to the Vatican.
“I ask you to pray for this meeting,” the pope said Sunday, adding that he wanted the meeting “as an act of strong pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge of our time.”
The conference aims to be an opportunity to improve awareness of the global phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, despite many in Africa, Asia and the Middle East being in denial of what they call “a Western problem”.
In many parts of the world, discussing violence towards children and even sex is taboo, leading the Vatican to organise this week’s “educational” gathering.
Some abuse victims, particularly from countries where their plight is ignored, have also been invited to attend.
“Someone who has met a victim, heard their cries for help, their tears, their psychological and physical wounds, can’t remain the same,” said German Jesuit priest Hans Zollner, a psychologist who travels the world educating priests and is one of the conference’s organisers.
“The Catholic Church has been faced with this problem for the last 35 years,” he said, hailing rigorous preventative measures taken in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland and the United States.
“It works: the number of new accusations of sexual assault in all these countries is now minimal,” he said.
The aim is for the heads of the world’s episcopal conferences to achieve “a feeling of collective responsibility” said Father Federico Lombardi, who will be leading debates during the conference.
“The credibility of the Church is at stake,” he said.
‘A decisive moment’
The summit comes after Pope Francis defrocked a former cardinal — American Theodore McCarrick — over accusations he sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago.
McCarrick, 88, who resigned from the Vatican’s College of Cardinals in July, is the first cardinal ever to be defrocked for sex abuse.
Chilean Vatican expert Luis Badilla said the meeting would be a “decisive moment for the pontificate”.
“We want this meeting to result in concrete measures,” he said, echoing victims’ hopes for the conference, being held in the wake of paedophile scandals that have shaken the Church particularly in Chile and in the United States.
The summit’s title, concerning “the protection of minors”, avoids using the words “sex” or “paedophilia”, noted Badilla.
That reflects the Church’s centuries-old instinct to protect its image, he said. But added “the only way to emerge from the crisis is to tell the whole truth”.
In France, prosecutors said Friday they were investigating a sexual assault complaint made against the Vatican’s envoy to Paris, 74-year-old Luigi Ventura.
He is accused of molesting an official at the Paris mayor’s office, a judicial source told AFP.
The pope has already warned those hoping the four-day meet will be a panacea that “the problem of abuse will continue”.
“By resolving the problem within the Church, through becoming aware, we will contribute to resolving it within society, within families, where the shame means everything is hidden,” Francis said.
The meeting will come up with “protocols for moving forward”, because “sometimes bishops don’t know what to do,” he said.
Father Zollner is also wary of people hoping for a magic wand of “new norms” that will make the problem simply disappear.
Bishops must “change their attitude”, which can be more difficult than drawing up new rules or guidelines, he said.
The scale of the problem is impossible to measure statistically.
A study in the United States said that between three and four per cent of the clergy were involved in abuse before 2002 when stricter guidelines were published, said Zollner.
While the Catholic Church says it is trying to address the problem, other churches are also affected.
In the United States, the Protestant Southern Baptist Convention has been hit by a wide-ranging sex abuse scandal involving almost 400 pastors, volunteers and teachers over two decades.
The United States is organizing an international summit in Poland next month, focusing on Iran’s Middle Eastern influence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News.
Pompeo made the announcement in an interview with the network during a regional tour aimed at reassuring US allies after President Donald Trump’s shock decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria, which sparked concerns that Iran’s influence could grow.
“We’ll bring together dozens of countries from all around the world,” Pompeo told Fox.
They will “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence,” the top US diplomat said.
EU President Donald Tusk will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May Thursday for “last-minute talks” to try to help save her beleaguered Brexit deal ahead of a crucial European summit.
“Ahead of #EUCO I will meet PM @theresa_may for last-minute talks,” Tusk tweeted.
May comes to the EU summit in Brussels after postponing an attempt to ratify the Brexit treaty, only to have to face down a bid from fellow Conservative MPs to unseat her.
The other 27 EU countries have drawn up a six-paragraph statement designed to appease concerns about the “Irish backstop” in the Brexit withdrawal and ease the deal’s passage through the British parliament.
According to European diplomats, the leaders will not allow the backstop nor the deal itself — which was only agreed at the end of last month — to be renegotiated at this stage.
But the statement, which could be issued at the summit, would declare that any backstop “would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary.”
And it will add: “The union stands ready to examine whether any further assurances can be provided. Such assurances will not change or contradict the withdrawal agreement”.
This would not be the legally binding promise that British eurosceptics are seeking that the measure to keep the Irish border open would not be used to bind the UK into a customs union indefinitely.
“This is incredibly innocent language. Nothing of this is new. There is no end date for the backstop,” one European source told AFP.
“Not even the wording is different. There is the word temporary, but this is already in the withdrawal agreement,” he noted.
But the diplomat said that, in the likely event that the statement will not assuage the concerns of May’s parliamentary opponents, then a legal “interpretation” of the deal could be produced.
This would only be published in January, he said, as if it were released too soon, the Brexiteers might immediately seek more concessions, pushing approval of the plan still further back.