EU Calls For New Sanctions On Belarus Over Influx Of Migrants

A picture taken on November 8, 2021 shows migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region. Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA / AFP
A picture taken on November 8, 2021 shows migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region. Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA / AFP

 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday called on member states to impose new sanctions against Belarus, which she blamed for an influx of migrants at the Polish border. 

The use “of migrants for political purposes is unacceptable”, she said in a statement, adding that the EU would also look at how to sanction “third-country airlines” that bring migrants to Belarus.

“We will not hesitate to adopt sanctions if necessary against companies and countries that play into the hands of smugglers,” EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell warned in mid-October.

READ ALSO: Obama Says Youth ‘Right To Be Frustrated’ At Climate Inaction

“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.

 

AFP

EU Announces Defence Summit, More Aid After Afghan Collapse

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
File photo: Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP

 

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.”

Afghanistan Aid

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.

Covid Recovery

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”.

AFP

70% Of EU Adults Have At Least One COVID-19 Shot, Says Brussels

Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses media on the second day of a European Union (EU) summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on October 2, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

 

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday that 70 percent of adults in the bloc have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Overall, 57 percent of over-18s are now fully vaccinated across the 27 nations, she said in a statement.

“These figures put Europe among the world leaders,” von der Leyen said.

“But we need to keep up the effort.”

The European Commission president sounded a warning over the “very dangerous” Delta variant of the virus that has increasingly taken hold on the continent and seen infection rates begin to tick up again.

“I therefore call on everyone – who has the opportunity – to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others,” she said.

READ ALSO: British Museum To Restore Objects damaged in Beirut Blast

The European Commission — which has been in charge of securing vaccinations for the bloc — had earlier set the target of getting 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated by the end of summer.

Von der Leyen said on July 10 that the EU had delivered enough vaccines to reach that level.

The inoculation drive in the bloc has picked up speed dramatically after a bumpy start due to supply shortfalls that saw it lag behind pacesetters like the United States, Britain and Israel.

AFP

Turkey Must Resume Accepting Migrants From Greece – EU

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

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.

READ ALSO: Pandemic Blamed For Lack Of VAR In World Cup Qualifiers After Ronaldo Fury

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.

AFP

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

COVID-19 Vaccine: Firms Must Deliver, Says 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

 

Companies producing Covid-19 vaccines “must deliver”, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday as tensions mounted between her European Commission and pharmaceutical firms over delayed deliveries.

“Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first Covid-19 vaccines,” she said in a live video address to an online-only version of the annual World Economic Forum usually held in Davos, Switzerland.

“And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations,” she said.

The Commission is demanding answers of British-Swedish group AstraZeneca and US company Pfizer about delays both have announced to their deliveries to the European Union.

In a sign of concern that pharmaceutical groups might be selling the earmarked doses to higher bidders outside the bloc, it is making a move to require the companies to notify authorities of any exports to outside the European Union.

Von der Leyen underlined that initiative in her speech, saying “we will set up a vaccine export transparency mechanism” to “ensure” the firms meet their contractual obligations to the EU.

READ ALSO: UK Unemployment Hits 5.0% On COVID-19 Fallout

The issue is sensitive for von der Leyen, who spearheaded efforts to have the Commission procure more than two billion doses of potential Covid-19 vaccines for the bloc’s 27 member states, home to 450 million people.

Last week — after Pfizer’s announced delay but before AstraZeneca’s — von der Leyen vowed the aim was to inoculate 70 percent of adults in the EU by the end of August. That goal now looks in jeopardy.

The pace of the EU rollout has lagged behind the United States, Britain and Israel, though member states including Malta, Denmark and France have started to accelerate their programmes.

In her speech, von der Leyen said the Commission’s vaccine procurement was not for the EU alone but also for poorer non-EU countries who are to be supplied through a COVAX vaccination alliance co-led by the World Health Organization.

As part of a longer-term strategy to head off this and future health crises, von der Leyen said the EU would propose a public-private entity under a new European Health Emergency Response Authority.

UK Leaves European Single Market As Brexit Takes Effect

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 22, 2019 EU and Union flags belonging to both anti-Brexit and pro-Brexit activists, fly outside the Houses of Parliament. Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP

 

Brexit becomes a reality on Thursday as Britain leaves Europe’s customs union and single market, ending nearly half a century of often turbulent ties with its closest neighbours.

The UK’s tortuous departure from the European Union takes full effect when Big Ben strikes 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) in central London, just as most of the European mainland ushers in 2021 at midnight.

Brexit has dominated British politics since the country’s narrow vote to leave the bloc in June 2016, opening deep political and social wounds which remain raw.

But both sides are now keen to move on to a new future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Brexit “a new beginning in our country’s history and a new relationship with the EU as their biggest ally”.

“This moment is finally upon us and now is the time to seize it,” he added. The British pound surged to a 2.5-year peak against the US dollar before the long-awaited departure from the single market.

Legally, Britain left the EU on January 31 but has been in a standstill transition period during fractious talks to secure a free-trade agreement with Brussels, which was finally clinched on Christmas Eve.

Once the transition ends, EU rules will no longer apply, with the immediate consequence being an end to the free movement of more than 500 million people between Britain and the 27 EU states.

Customs border checks will be back for the first time in decades, and despite the free-trade deal, queues and disruption from additional paperwork are expected.

Symbolic departure

Britain — a financial and diplomatic big-hitter plus a major NATO power — is the first member state to leave the EU, which was set up to forge unity after the horrors of World War II.

The EU has lost 66 million people and an economy worth $2.85 trillion, but Brexit, with its appeal to nationalist populism, also triggered fears other disgruntled members could follow suit.

“It’s been a long road. It’s time now to put Brexit behind us. Our future is made in Europe,” Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday, as she signed the trade pact.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and European Council President Charles Michel (R) pose in Brussels, on December 30, 2020 as they show the signed Brexit trade agreement due to come into force on January 1, 2021. JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and European Council President Charles Michel (R) pose in Brussels, on December 30, 2020 as they show the signed Brexit trade agreement due to come into force on January 1, 2021. JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP

 

British pro-Brexit newspapers hailed the new post-EU era. “A new dawn for Britain,” said the Daily Mail. The Sun said: “The New Year marks a glorious new chapter.”

The Daily Express evoked wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and called 11:00 pm the country’s “finest hour”.

But the Daily Telegraph, where Johnson made his name as a Brussels-bashing Europe correspondent, sounded a note of caution, with the EU having long been blamed for the country’s ills.

“Politicians will have to get used to bearing much greater responsibilities than they have been used to while the UK has been in the EU,” it said.

‘New beginning’

In January, flag-waving Brexiteers led by populist anti-EU former lawmaker Nigel Farage cheered and pro-EU “remainers” mourned.

But no formal events are planned for the end of the transition.

Public gatherings are banned due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed more than 72,000 lives and infected more than 2.4 million in Britain, including Johnson himself.

In this file photo taken on November 19, 2019 Britain's Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson wears boxing gloves emblazoned with "Get Brexit Done" as he poses for a photograph at Jimmy Egan's Boxing Academy in Manchester north-west England on November 19, 2019, during a general election campaign trip. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 19, 2019 Britain’s Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson wears boxing gloves emblazoned with “Get Brexit Done” as he poses for a photograph at Jimmy Egan’s Boxing Academy in Manchester north-west England on November 19, 2019, during a general election campaign trip. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP

 

Johnson is looking not only to a future free of Covid but also of rules set in Brussels, as Britain forges its own path for the first time since it joined the then European Economic Community in 1973.

On Wednesday, he hailed regulatory approval of Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, and a “new beginning” for a prosperous, more globally focused Britain.

As well as ensuring tariff- and quota-free access to the EU’s 450 million consumers, Britain has recently signed trade deals with countries including Japan, Canada, Singapore and Turkey.

It is also eyeing another with India, where Johnson plans to make his first major trip as prime minister next month, and with incoming US president Joe Biden’s administration.

Practical application

In the short term, all eyes will be closer to home and focused on how life outside the EU plays out in practical terms, from changes in pet passports to driving licence rules.

That includes disruption at the ports, stoking fears of food and medicine shortages, as well as delays to holidaymakers and business travellers used to seamless travel in the EU.

British fishermen are disgruntled at a compromise to allow continued access for EU boats in British waters.

The key financial services sector also faces an anxious wait to learn on what basis it can keep dealing with Europe, after being largely omitted from the trade deal.

Northern Ireland’s border with EU member state Ireland will be closely watched to ensure movement is unrestricted — a key plank of a 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence over British rule.

And in Scotland, where most opposed Brexit, Johnson faces a potential constitutional headache from a resurgent independence movement.

Relaxing COVID-19 Rules ‘A Risk’: EU Chief Sends Out Warning

Ursula von der Leyen
(Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

 

European countries should not ease coronavirus restrictions too quickly, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen warned on Wednesday, stressing the risk of a post-Christmas third wave.

Some European nations are slowly relaxing measures including stay-at-home orders put in place to fight the pandemic, as they gear up for end-of-year holidays.

But von der Leyen told EU lawmakers: “We must learn from the summer and not repeat the same mistakes, relaxing too fast.”

French President Emmanuel Macron announced late on Tuesday that shops could reopen on Saturday and nationwide stay-at-home orders would be lifted from December 15, though a nighttime curfew would be reintroduced.

Elsewhere in Europe, 16 German states agreed on guidelines for Christmas that were less strict than those proposed for the rest of December, even as virus cases near one million.

State leaders agreed to cap gatherings to 10 people over the December 23 to January 1 holiday — double the limit for the rest of December.

The latest bulletin by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control issued early this week classes most of the European Union countries, including France and Germany, as being of “serious concern”.

“Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas,” von der Leyen said.

“Weeks ago, I said that this Christmas will be different. And yes, it will be quieter.”

-AFP

EU Chief Begins Self-Isolation After Contact With COVID-19 Positive Person

Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses media on the second day of a European Union (EU) summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on October 2, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

 

The president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said Monday she would self-isolate for a day after learning she had met someone infected with Covid-19.

“In accordance with regulations in force, I’m therefore self-isolating until tomorrow morning. I’ve tested negative on Thursday and am tested again today,” she tweeted.

Von der Leyen said she was at a meeting on Tuesday last week attended by a person who tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday.

The head of the EU executive did not mention this in her announcement, but on Tuesday last week, she was visiting Lisbon for talks with senior Portuguese officials.

When she is in Brussels, von der Leyen generally stays in a small flat on the 13th floor of the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters, near her office.

She is not the first senior EU official to be quarantined in recent weeks.

Last month the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, was forced to postpone a European leaders’ summit for a week after a security guard in his team tested positive.

The summit went ahead on Thursday and Friday last week and was attended by Von der Leyen.

AFP

EU Chief Pledges Green Recovery From COVID-19 Crisis

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a news conference with European Council President (not seen) following a virtual summit with Chinese President in Brussels, on June 22, 2020. YVES HERMAN / POOL / AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a news conference with European Council President (not seen) following a virtual summit with Chinese President in Brussels, on June 22, 2020. YVES HERMAN / POOL / AFP.

 

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen vowed Wednesday that Europe would lead the global search for a coronavirus vaccine while rebuilding its shattered economy with a green recovery plan.

In her first annual State of the European Union address, the president of the European Commission also warned Britain not to breach its Brexit withdrawal treaty and Turkey not to threaten its neighbours.

And she recommitted to bloc to fighting racism and homophobia, denouncing the so-called “LGBT-free” zones set up by some towns in EU member state Poland, and urging member states to step up for refugees.

Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, von der Leyen said: “The people of Europe are still suffering.”

In an implicit swipe at US President Donald Trump’s approach to the pandemic, von der Leyen said Europe would lead the world in the search for vaccine and support multilateral bodies like the World Health Organization.

“None of us will be safe until all of us are safe -– wherever we live, whatever we have,” she said. “Vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk. Vaccine cooperation saves them.”

Europe’s own economy has been devastated by the epidemic and the ensuing economic and social lockdowns, but von der Leyen touted her Commission’s green recovery plan as a way back.

She said that Brussels would urge member states to set a more ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse emissions by 55 percent by 2030, up from a target of 40 percent.

“For us, the 2030 target is ambitious, achievable, and beneficial for Europe” she added.

– ‘Hate is hate’ –

The new target is backed by EU powers France and Germany, as well as big business, but faces resistance from eastern member states that depend on coal for their energy needs.

EU leaders will attempt to agree on the target at summit in October, which would then need the approval of European Parliament, where a majority of MEPs want a still more ambitious target.

Von der Leyen said that 30 percent of spending from the 750-billion-euro ($890-billion) plan would be devoted to climate-friendly projects and financed through so-called green bonds.

In a broadside aimed at Poland’s populist government, von der Leyen also declared that so-called LGBT-free zones have “no place in our union.”

“I will not rest when it comes to building a union of equality… a union where you can be who you are and love who you want — without fear of recrimination or discrimination,” she said.

A number of Polish towns have declared themselves “LGBT ideology free zones”, and President Andrzej Duda has compared the struggle for equality to communism in terms of the alleged threat it poses to national values.

Brussels has denounced this stance before, but von der Leyen’s speech went further as she vowed to push EU member states to recognise adoptions by same-sex couples across the bloc.

“If you are parent in one country, you are parent in every country,” she said.

To applause, von der Leyen also re-committed her European Commission to the fight against racism.

“Hate is hate — and no one should have to put up with it,” she said, vowing to use the EU budget to address discrimination in employment, housing and health care and to appoint an anti-racism coordinator.

The 61-year-old former German defence minister also warned Turkey against trying to bully Greece and Cyprus, as tensions grow over energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

– Hopes fade –

Von der Leyen said Ankara was a key partner doing important work hosting refugees, but stressed “none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours”.

And she had a stark warning for another troublesome neighbour, Britain, which she warned was threatening the peace in Northern Ireland by trying to override its Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The row over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to pass a law to override the divorce pact has also overshadowed talks to reach a trade deal before the end of the year, when it leaves the EU single market.

“With every day that passes, chances for a timely agreement do start to fade,” she said.

The withdrawal agreement “guarantees our citizens rights, financial interests, the integrity of the single market and crucially, the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.

The European Union and Britain “jointly agreed it was the best and only way to ensure peace on the island of Ireland. And we will never backtrack on that,” von der Leyen said.

AFP