Author Archives: Europe correspondent

NAVALNY: EU aims at stronger russia sanctions

Brussels 21.01.2021 Following the recent imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, MEPs call on EU countries to significantly strengthen sanctions against Russia.

In a resolution, adopted with 581 votes in favour, 50 against and 44 abstentions, Parliament calls on EU member states to take an active stance on the arrest of Alexei Navalny and many of his followers at their next meetings and to “significantly strengthen the EU’s restrictive measures vis-à-vis Russia”. This includes sanctioning the “individuals and legal entities” involved in the decision to arrest and imprison Alexei Navalny, they say.

Sanctions should also be imposed against Russian oligarchs linked to the regime, members of President Putin’s inner circle and Russian media propagandists, who possess assets in the EU and can currently travel there. Additional restrictive measures could also be taken under the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.

Following years of deteriorating relations, MEPs stress the importance of critically reviewing cooperation with Russia in various foreign policy platforms and on projects such as Nord Stream 2. They call on the EU to immediately stop the completion of the controversial pipeline. MEPs also underline that the EU should no longer be a welcoming place for Russian wealth of unclear origin.

With a view to the new administration in Washington, Parliament stresses that the EU should use this momentum to strengthen transatlantic unity in protecting democracy and fundamental values against authoritarian regimes.

The resolution finally demands the immediate and unconditional release of Alexei Navalny and of all other persons detained in relation to his return to Russia, be they journalists, members of his team or citizens showing support.

Pompeii new discovery

Brussels 27.12.2020 The archaeologists said they had discovered a frescoed thermopolium or street-food counter in an exceptional state of preservation in Pompeii.

The ornate snack bar, decorated with polychrome patterns and frozen by volcanic ash, was partially exhumed last year but researches extended work on the site to reveal it in its full glory.

Pompeii was buried in ash and pumice when the nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing between 2,000 and 15,000 people. However, nowadays archaeologists continue to make discoveries there.

The Thermopolium of Regio V at what was a busy intersection of Silver Wedding Street and Alley of Balconies was the Roman-era equivalent of a fast-food snack stall.

A fresco bearing an image of a Nereid nymph riding a seahorse and gladiators in combat had been unearthed previously (pictured).

Provisional EU-UK Agreement

Brussels 26.12.2020 The European Union and the United Kingdom reached an agreement in principle on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement on December 24, 2020.

The entry into application of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is a matter of special urgency.

The United Kingdom, as a former Member State, has extensive links with the Union in a wide range of economic and other areas. If there is no applicable framework regulating the relations between the Union and the United Kingdom after 31 December 2020, those relations will be significantly disrupted, to the detriment of individuals, businesses and other stakeholders.

The negotiations could only be finalised at a very late stage before the expiry of the transition period. Such late timing should not jeopardise the European Parliament’s right of democratic scrutiny, in accordance with the Treaties.
In light of these exceptional circumstances, the Commission proposes to apply the Agreement on a provisional basis, for a limited period of time until 28 February 2021.
The Council, acting by the unanimity of all 27 Member States, will then need to adopt a decision authorising the signature of the Agreement and its provisional application as of 1 January 2021. Once this process is concluded, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK can be formally signed.

The European Parliament will then be asked to give its consent to the Agreement.

As a last step on the EU side, the Council must adopt the decision on the conclusion of the Agreement.

Leyen hosts meeting with Stoltenberg

Brussels 15.12.2020 Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had discussions at the European Commission on Tuesday, 15 December 2020, about how to further strengthen NATO’s cooperation with the European Union.

While the Secretary General often meets with EU leaders and EU Commissioners, this is the first time that a NATO Secretary General attended a meeting of the College of Commissioners, a sign of the deepening partnership between NATO and the EU.

The joint press point by the NATO Secretary General and the President of the European Commission, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, as well as footage of Secretary General’s arrival, were available remotely.

Among discussed issues were closer cooperation on cyber-security, countering disinformation, climate change & its geopolitical impact, and increasing our resilience against hybrid attacks.

EU-UK Sunday talks continue

Brussels 13.12.2020 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he will “continue talking” with the EU in an attempt to reach a trade deal, but that leaving without one and trading in future on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms is more likely.

The European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and the UK prime minister have agreed that trade talks should continue, and she called the exchange of opinions on telephone this morning “useful”.

Prime Minister has underlined that both parties had described the discussions as “constructive and useful”, in a moving away from their previous terms of “lively and interesting”. The joint statement was a sign they were working to try to find a way forward together, he added.

EUCO: EU-Turkey relations on rocks

10.12.2020 Brussels The EU top diplomat Josep BoTrrell upon arrival at the European Council made the following remarks:

“We have three important [external affairs] items today on the agenda of the European Union Council: we have Turkey, once again; we have our relations with the US and the prospects of the new presidency; and we have the Southern Neighbourhood”.

“The Southern Neighbourhood is a very important part of the world for us. We are closely working with them in order to push for their progress but we have to do more. I hope that the debate in the Council today will provide guidelines for this continued effort and to prepare the [Joint] Communication that the Commission will put forward in February.

“We have just celebrated the anniversary of the Union for the Mediterranean in Barcelona. This was also an important event and I will inform the Council about this meeting.

“We are also going to discuss the relationship with the US – the prospects for the new administration, how to engage with them. We hope that this is going to be a more positive one. It has been a bumpy road in the last years, and there is a lot of hope for the future work between the European Union and the US.

“On Turkey, the Foreign Affairs Council reviewed the latest events and we cannot provide a positive assessment. The behaviour of Turkey has not changed fundamentally. We can even say that, from some points of view, things have been worsening. The assessment is not a positive one and we have to deal with it”.

EU-UK: preparations for no-deal

Brussels 10.12.2020 In spite of the considerable efforts of the negotiators “very large gaps remain” between the UK and EU, despite talks in persona between Boris Johnson, who came to Brussels, and EU to executive Ursula von der Leyen aimed at breaking the Brexit trade deadlock, according to No 10 spokesperson.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said the two sides were still “far apart“. Meanwhile talks between the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier will resume in Brussels. However British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was “unlikely” the negotiations would be extended beyond December 13, Sunday.

After their meeting, the British Prime minister and European Commission president “agreed that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks”, a No 10 spokesperson added.

In view of the looming no-deal on Thursday morning, the EU set out the measures it would implement in the event of a no-deal scenario.

The plan includes allowing aviation safety certificates to continue to apply to avoid the grounding of aircraft.

“The EU will “never sacrifice (its) future” to conclude a post-Brexit agreement at the cost of concessions that would weaken its single market, warned European negotiator Michel Barnier, while negotiations between Brussels and London are deadlocked.

Boris Johnson travels to Brussels

Brussels 08.12.2020 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels for a summit in persona with the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in an attempt to reach a breakthrough in the EU-UK stalled negotiations.

A long-awaited decisive meeting will be held in the “coming days”, the two leaders said in a joint statement following a phone call lasting over an hour, to ensure the agreement on a trade and security. The diplomatic sources on both sides pointed to 9-10 December as the most likely dates.

However none of the diplomats expressed certainty about the sealing of the deal. There is also a backdrop of pessimism among the experts, presuming this “gesticulation” is mere attempt to convince the electorates at both side of the Channel in sincere attempt to reach a results.

“Talks are in the same position now as they were on Friday,” a UK government source said, referring to the December 4. “We have made no tangible progress. It’s clear this must now continue politically. Whilst we do not consider this process to be closed, things are looking very tricky and there’s every chance we are not going to get there.”

EU new regime of sanctions

The Council today adopted a decision and a regulation establishing a global human rights sanctions regime. For the first time, the EU is equipping itself with a framework that will allow it to target individuals, entities and bodies – including state and non-state actors – responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occurred.

Such restrictive measures will provide for a travel ban applying to individuals, and the freezing of funds applying to both individuals and entities. In addition, persons and entities in the EU will be forbidden from making funds available to those listed, either directly or indirectly.

The framework for targeted restrictive measures applies to acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses (e.g. torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions). Other human rights violations or abuses can also fall under the scope of the sanctions regime where those violations or abuses are widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern as regards the objectives of the common foreign and security policy set out in the Treaty (Article 21 TEU).

It will be for the Council, acting upon a proposal from a member state or from the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to establish, review and amend the sanctions list.

Today’s decision emphasises that the promotion and protection of human rights remain a cornerstone and priority of EU external action and reflects the EU’s determination to address serious human rights violations and abuses.

The relevant legal acts have been published in the Official Journal.

On 9 December 2019, the Council welcomed the launch by the High Representative of preparatory work to establish an EU regime of general scope for restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses.

On 17 November 2020, the Council approved conclusions on the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 which set out the EU’s level of ambition and priorities in this field in its relations with all third countries. In the EU Action Plan, the EU committed to developing a new horizontal EU global human rights sanctions regime to tackle serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide.

EEAS: Stefano Sannino next SecGen

High Representative Josep Borrell decided to appoint Stefano Sannino as next Secretary General of European External Action Service (EEAS).

“I want to express my profound gratitude to Helga Maria Schmid for the remarkable achievements she has accomplished as Secretary General and for having built the EEAS into what it is today. Her contribution to the European Union’s global action is unrivalled. I look forward to continue working with Stefano Sannino, as new Secretary General of the EEAS. He brings with him a long and rich European diplomatic experience from his senior service to both the European Union institutions and the Italian government. I cannot think of a better candidate to steer the EEAS into its second decade.“

This decision will enter into force on 1 January 2021.

Stefano Sannino worked as EEAS Deputy Secretary General for Economic and Global Issues since February 2020. Previously, he was the Ambassador of Italy to Spain and the Italian Permanent Representative to the European Union. Mr. Sannino also served as Director General for Enlargement in the European Commission. He will be following Helga Maria Schmid, who has been Secretary General of the EEAS since 1 September 2016 and EEAS Deputy Secretary General/Political Director since 2011.

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