Author Archives: Europe correspondent

Merkel: farewell to EU Colossus

Brussels 22.10.2021 Merkel has attended a staggering number of 107 EU Summits in Brussels that saw some of the biggest twists in recent European history, including the eurozone debt crisis, an inflow of Syrian refugees, Brexit and the creation of the bloc’s landmark pandemic recovery fund.

“You are a monument,” the incumbent President of the EU Council and the host of the Summits Charles Michel, said in the closed-door homage to her, according to an official in the room.

An EU summit “without Angela is like Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel tower,” Michel said after Merkel’s 26 counterparts gave her a standing ovation.

The gift given by the European Council President Charles Michel to departing Merkel and Lovren to mark their last ever summits. It’s a representation of the “Lantern” of the Europa Building in Brussels.

Brussels: Marine Le Pen supports Morawiecki

Brussels 22.10.2020 Marine Le Pen met on Friday 22 October in Brussels the Polish head of government Mateusz Morawiecki to whom she provided “support” in the crisis between her country and the EU by denouncing “the unacceptable blackmail” of the European Commission.

“We spoke together in particular of the unacceptable blackmail exercised by the European Commission on Poland, and I wanted to give it my support,” added Marine Le Pen, who is due to hold a press conference in Brussels afterwards. midday, before going to Budapest on Monday to meet the ultraconservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Before the opening of a summit of the Twenty-Seven Thursday in Brussels, Mateusz Morawiecki, in conflict with Brussels on the independence of justice and the primacy of European law, said he was “ready for dialogue” while denouncing ” the pressure of blackmail ”.

European leaders played the card of appeasement during this Summit, while reserving the possibility of cracking down later. Tensions have increased since a decision on October 7 by the Polish Constitutional Court which declared certain articles of European treaties incompatible with the national constitution. A decision denounced by Brussels as an unprecedented attack on the primacy of European law and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU, but also as the ultimate illustration of the lack of independence of the Polish justice with regard to the government.

EESC opinion on 5G

Brussels 22.10.2021 EESC urges Commission to further assess impact of 5G on human health and the environment
The October plenary of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an opinion recognising the value of electronic communications infrastructure while highlighting the potential risks.

The European Commission should move forward in the process of assessing the multi-sectoral impact of new 5G and 6G technologies. Tools and measures are needed to address risks and vulnerabilities. In the opinion drafted by Dumitru Fornea and adopted by the assembly in the October plenary session, the EESC takes a firm stand, and notes that social, health and environmental issues need to be examined, involving citizens and all relevant actors, in spite of the fact that the debate on the deployment of 5G networks has turned into a controversial, political discussion.

“Rapid digitisation and development of electronic communications has a strong impact on the economy and society at large. Through the responsible use of these technologies, humanity has a historic chance to build a better society. Nevertheless, without due diligence and democratic control, our communities might face serious challenges in the administration of these technological systems in the future” said on sidelines of the plenary, Mr Fornea.

The pandemic has shown that electronic communications infrastructure plays an important role in society and can greatly improve citizens’ quality of life, with a direct impact on fighting poverty. For example, 5G technology presents an enormous opportunity to improve human health services through the development of telemedicine and by improving access to medical care.

However, potential danger needs to be continuously assessed. For this reason, the EESC recommends allocating European and national funds to more in-depth multidisciplinary research and impact studies focused on both humans and the environment, and to disseminating these results in order to educate the public and decision-makers.

In addition, the Committee proposes that the European Commission consults citizens and civil society organisations and, through the involvement of all relevant public institutions, feeds into the decision-making process with respect to the societal and ecological impact of mobile electronic communications.

In the EESC’s view, the EU needs an independent European body with up-to-date methodologies, in line with the current technological context and adopting a multidisciplinary approach, in order to establish guidelines for the protection of the general public and workers in the event of exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic radiation.

All radio frequency transmission stations and the frequency bands on which they operate should be inventoried and this information published for better territorial management and the protection of citizens’ interests, particularly those of vulnerable groups, such as children, pregnant women, chronically ill persons, the elderly and electro-hypersensitive people.

Electromagnetic pollution should be monitored on the basis of a rigorous interinstitutional and interdisciplinary scientific approach, supported by modern measuring equipment that properly highlights and evaluates the cumulative effects over longer periods of time. Although there is no recognised scientific data showing a negative impact of 5G on human health, there should be constant monitoring of social, health and environmental aspects, in line with the precautionary principle.

EUCO: Summit addresses energy prices

Brussels 22.10.2021 The European Council addressed the recent spike in energy prices and considered the impact of the price rises on citizens and businesses, especially our vulnerable citizens and SMEs, striving to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The toolbox presented in the Commission Communication on tackling rising energy prices contains useful measures for both the short and the longer term.

The European Council invites:

– the Commission to study the functioning of the gas and electricity markets, as well as the EU ETS market, with the help of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA). Subsequently, the Commission will assess whether certain trading behaviours require further regulatory action;
– the Member States and the Commission to urgently make the best use of the toolbox to provide short-term relief to the most vulnerable consumers and to support European companies, taking into account the diversity and specificity of situations of Member States;
– the Commission and the Council to swiftly consider medium and long-term measures that would contribute to energy at a price that is affordable for households and companies, increase the resilience of the EU’s energy system and the internal energy market, provide security of supply and support the transition to climate neutrality, taking into account the diversity and specificity of situations of Member States; and

– the European Investment Bank to look into how to speed up investment in the energy transition, within its current capital headroom, with a view to reducing future disruption risks and meeting Europe’s global connectivity ambitions.The extraordinary meeting of the TTE Council (Energy) on 26 October 2021 will take this work forward immediately. The European Council will keep the situation under review and revert to it in December.

EUCO: EU Summit conclusions on pandemic

Brussels 22.10.2021 European Council conclusions on COVID-19:
“Vaccination campaigns around Europe have brought about significant progress in the fight against COVID-19. Nevertheless the situation in some Member States remains very serious. In order to further increase vaccination rates throughout the Union, efforts to overcome vaccine hesitancy should be stepped up, including by tackling disinformation, notably on social media platforms. It is necessary to remain vigilant regarding the emergence and spread of possible new variants.

“In light of the development of the epidemiological situation, the European Council calls for further coordination to facilitate free movement within, and travel into, the EU, and for a revision of the two Council recommendations. It encourages the Commission to accelerate its work regarding mutual recognition of certificates with third countries.

“Based on the experiences of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU’s resilience to and horizontal preparedness for crises must be strengthened. To ensure better prevention of, preparedness for and response to future health emergencies in the EU, the European Council calls for the conclusion of the negotiations on the Health Union legislative package and for ensuring that Member States are adequately involved in the governance of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). It recalls the need to swiftly take work forward on access to medicines across Member States.

“The European Council reiterates the EU’s continued commitment to contributing to the international response to the pandemic and to ensuring access to vaccines for all. It calls for the rapid removal of obstacles hampering the global roll-out of vaccines, and invites the Commission to further engage directly with manufacturers in this respect. This will allow Member States to speed up the delivery of vaccines to countries most in need. The EU will continue to support the production and uptake of vaccines in partner countries.

“In the context of the upcoming G20 meeting and in view of the special session of the World Health Assembly in November, the European Council underlines its support for a strong, central role of the World Health Organization in future global health governance and for the objective of agreeing an international treaty on pandemics”.

Poland: Sassoli ready for legal battle

“One year ago, here in this room, we said over and over again that all the hardship, pain, waiting and worry that Europeans were experiencing would not be in vain, because the pandemic would make us better, more united, bring us closer, and that, with our Treaties, we would show democracy to be stronger than authoritarian regimes.

One year ago, many commentators were also arguing that, as in the aftermath of the Second World War, hardship would make us better.

Yet today we find ourselves at a critical juncture, and everyone around this table will be well aware of the gravity of the situation. At this juncture, the European Union needs the truth. And the truth is that we are getting no better.

A few days ago, the legal bedrock of our Union was challenged. This was not for the first time, of course, nor will it be the last.

But never before has the Union been called into question so radically.

I believe that you, and all of us, need to hold a frank and open discussion on the direction we want to give our Union.

The European Parliament has debated this matter in plenary, as you know. We listened very carefully to what Prime Minister Morawiecki had to say, but wish to stress that Poland wrote the European laws in force along with the rest of us. We made these rules together, so there can be no talk of them being imposed by the European Union. The European Union is based on everyone abiding by fundamental values and common rules, which we all voluntarily agreed to observe together.

The citizens of Europe expect us to uphold these principles, and the citizens of Poland have marched in large numbers in Warsaw to remind us of that.

We have together adopted an EU law that creates a close link between the protection of the EU budget and the respect of the rule of law. This law is in force and we believe that the procedure should now be launched in order to protect our budget and secure the respect of the rule of law. This is why, as you know, upon recommendation of our Legal affairs committee, I have asked the Parliament’s legal services to refer a case to the Court to ensure that legislation in force is duly applied. We do not intend to shirk our institutional role in defending the basic principles on which the European Union is founded.

With democratic experience comes the practice of continuous dialogue. We have followed that practice many times before, and I am convinced we have the capabilities and resources to steer our way out of this crisis and rediscover the path of unity. But we must be crystal clear that while our unity is indeed bolstered by our diversity, there is one aspect of our European pact that is not negotiable: our values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. These values are hardwired into the European project, and we all chose to abide by them on joining the European Union. The European Parliament will stand very firm on this point and is ready to enforce these values, within the ambit of its prerogatives.

In difficult times for our Union, our Treaties have enabled us to do what is necessary, to do a lot and to do it together.

We can be proud of the work we have done in tackling the pandemic. From a healthcare perspective, our continent is now ahead of the field on vaccinations, with over 75% of adults vaccinated. However, we know that this figure masks major disparities between Member States. These disparities are liable to undermine the recovery and the smooth functioning of our internal market, and hence we still have to take steps to address them. Viewed on a global scale, however, those disparities become enormous. We are well aware there can be no end to the pandemic until vaccination is available to all countries the world over, and especially the poorest. Only 4% of Africans are vaccinated and COVAX has only received 85 million doses, despite the European Union and the United States pledging over a billion doses. We must commit as of now to delivering on our promise to share vaccine doses through COVAX or via the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, because we know that no one is safe until we are all safe.

‘…Our inability to decide on a common policy is showing our adversaries just how weak we can be. Faced with those who would use migrants as a hybrid weapon, it is not a sign of strength to consider erecting a wall at our external borders. Faced with the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan and the geopolitical challenge now playing out in that theatre, it is not a sign of strength to offload responsibility for hosting migrants onto the other countries in that region without at least assuming some responsibility ourselves, as a great power should. Managing migratory flows in a unified manner and in a controlled and orderly fashion, in cooperation with our partners would, on the other hand, be a sign of our strength and of our political capabilities. The Pact on Migration and Asylum should be our instrument of choice if we are to be stronger and more united…”

EUCO: EU leaders convene in Brussels

Brussels 21.10.2021 Invitation letter by President Charles Michel to the members of the European Council ahead of their meeting of 21 and 22 October 2021:
“I would like to invite you to our European Council meeting on 21 and 22 October.

“During our first working session, we will address the current hike in energy prices which is challenging the post-pandemic recovery and severely affecting our citizens and businesses. Building on the Commission’s recent communication, we will look closely into what can be done at the EU and national level, both in terms of short term relief for those most affected as well as measures for the medium and long term.

“We will also discuss the current COVID-19 situation. The pandemic is not over yet and figures are on the rise in several Member States. Vaccination has brought significant progress in the fight against COVID-19 but more still needs to be done, especially regarding vaccine hesitancy and disinformation. We will touch upon international solidarity, to ensure the speedy delivery of vaccines to countries most in need. We must also take action to ensure we are better prepared for pandemics in the future.

“We will also touch upon recent developments related to the Rule of Law during our working session.

“Over our working dinner we will have a strategic discussion on trade. When it comes to the EU’s global influence, trade remains the most effective instrument in our toolbox. We will discuss how to best make use of this instrument, both in terms of the objectives we seek and in terms of the process for the involvement of Member States, in light of experiences over the last few years.

“Another topic will be the preparations for important upcoming summits such as COP 26 and COP 15 on biodiversity. Looking ahead to the COP 26 summit, we need an ambitious global response to climate change. All major economies should set ambitious targets and meet their commitments on climate finance. We will also prepare the upcoming ASEM and Eastern Partnership Summits.

“On Friday, we will come back to the topic of migration, to follow up on the implementation of the June European Council conclusions on the external dimension of migration, in particular when it comes to financing. Our external borders need to be effectively controlled. We should also sustain our efforts to reduce secondary movements.

“We will then turn to Europe’s digital transformation, which is a key driver for economic growth, job creation and competitiveness. We will provide additional guidance on the digital agenda, including cyber security and connectivity, and give a political push to work on existing and future proposals and initiatives.

“I am confident that we will have a productive meeting, in a spirit of trust and dialogue. As demonstrated in the past unity is our strongest asset. I look forward to seeing you in Brussels.”

Alexei Navalny Sakharov Prize winner

Strasbourg 20.10.2021 European Parliament MEPs have awarded Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny the European Parliament’s 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Parliament Vice-President Heidi Hautala announced the 2021 laureate in the Strasbourg plenary chamber on Wednesday afternoon, following an earlier decision by the Conference of Presidents (President and political group leaders).
Parliament President David Sassoli said: “The European Parliament has chosen Alexei Navalny as the winner of this year’s Sakharov Prize. He has campaigned consistently against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime, and through his social media accounts and political campaigns, Navalny has helped expose abuses and mobilise the support of millions of people across Russia. For this, he was poisoned and thrown in jail.”

“In awarding the Sakharov Prize to Alexei Navalny, we recognise his immense personal bravery and reiterate the European Parliament’s unwavering support for his immediate release”, he added.

Vice-President Hautala said: “This year, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has been awarded to an advocate for change. Alexei Navalny has shown great courage in his attempts to restore the freedom of choice to the Russian people. For many years, he has fought for human rights and fundamental freedoms in his country. This has cost him his freedom and nearly his life. On behalf of the European Parliament, I call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

“Today, the Parliament also honours a group of Afghan women, who have fought fiercely for equality and human rights in their country and who were shortlisted for the Sakharov Prize. We chose to honour the bravery of these women, as they are among the first to suffer violations of their most basic rights and freedoms after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan”, she added.

Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition politician, anti-corruption activist and major political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He came to international prominence for organising demonstrations against President Putin and his government, running for office and advocating for anti-corruption reforms. In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned and spent months recovering in Berlin. He was arrested on his return to Moscow in January 2021. He is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, with more than two years still remaining. Now incarcerated in a high-security penal colony, Navalny went on a long hunger strike in late March 2021 to protest his lack of access to medical care. In June 2021, a Russian court banned Alexei Navalny’s regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, both now classified as extremist and undesirable by the Russian authorities.

The Sakharov award ceremony will be held on 15 December in Strasbourg. Read more about the other Sakharov Prize finalists in 2021 here.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the European Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov and the prize money is 50 000 euros.

Last year, Parliament awarded the prize to the democratic opposition of Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women and political and civil society figures.

MEPs focus on media in Digital Decade

Strasbourg 20.10.2021 European Parliament voices concerns about attacks on EU media in some member states and calls for urgent action to help news media be fit for the “Digital Decade”.

In a resolution adopted on Wednesday by 577 votes to 47 and 76 abstentions, MEPs push for substantial support for the media sector from the EU and member states in order to help the sector recover from the pandemic and transform itself to keep pace with the changing business models of the digital age.

Worried about state capture of media in some member states and lawsuits designed to intimidate and silence journalists (“SLAPPs”), MEPs call for legislative and non-legislative tools to protect media organisations.
In order to safeguard the financial and political independence of European journalists and journalism, Parliament wants a permanent EU news media fund and stresses that EU recovery funds earmarked for the media must support media organisations in those EU countries where media face particular financial and political pressure or rule-of-law concerns.

MEPs also point to the dangers of the “disproportionate economic impact” and “predatory behaviour” of global online platforms that dominate data and advertising markets and have the power to remove legal content provided by media services. Additionally, they demand the urgent adoption of the Digital Services and Digital Markets acts, which can provide a level playing field for the EU media and ensure equal access to data and rules on online political advertising.
To support the EU’s audiovisual industry (filmmakers, producers, distributors and cinemas) MEPs demand the EU to develop special tax policies as well as fiscal and financial incentives to boost production and investments, the setting up of EU insurance guarantees for audiovisual co-productions and rules to ensure catalogues of on-demand services contain a share of European works of at least 30%.

“This is truly a crucial moment to strengthen the EU’s media and audiovisual sector”, rapporteur Dace Melbārde (ECR,LV) said. “The media ecosystem was fragile even before the pandemic but the crisis has reinforced the existing challenges it faces, as well as created new ones. Audiences are increasingly shifting to digital platforms, and the income from these is disproportionally flowing to the global players. Last year, the European media sector experienced a significant drop in advertising income, which is a crucial source of revenue for media organisations. At the same time, the Covid-19 crisis has amplified
the role of quality journalism; an absence of professional and swift reporting during times of
pandemic can cost lives.”

According to early estimates, during the pandemic news media has seen its advertising revenues drop by 20% to 80%.
The EU audiovisual sector suffered a massive revenue loss – a drop of almost 70% in box office revenues for cinemas and distributors in 2020, totalling EUR 4 billion, alongside a reduction of 30% in active productions. MEPs also quote increase of production costs due to stricter health and safety measures.

EU-Poland crisis deepens

Strasbourg 18.10.2021 Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has been attempting to defend an explosive ruling from his country’s top court in front of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
(Image: European Parliament Chamber, Strasbourg, archive).

The verdict, which declared some EU laws incompatible with Poland’s constitution, has stirred the further argument. The majority of MEPs have pressed for a hard line towards Warsaw after it ignored the EU’s top court order to reverse controversial changes to the judiciary.

The EU has delayed the approval of €36 bn of pandemic recovery fund for months, and as soon as this week it may trigger a new tool to withhold budget payments to members states over democratic backsliding.

Prime minister Morawiecki sent a letter to EU leaders ahead of the Summit to take place later this week on 21-22 October in Brussels, clarifying Poland is open for dialog but that it won’t be pushed around.

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