Author Archives: Europe correspondent

Europol dismantles smugglers network

Brussels 30.09.2020 A major operation involving law enforcement authorities from Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, supported by Europol and Eurojust, led to the dismantling of a large network of criminals smuggling migrants in life-threatening conditions through the English Channel.

The action spanned over two days, 28 and 29 September. Law enforcement officers from the Belgian Federal Police (Federale Politie, Police Fédérale), British Immigration Enforcement, the Dutch Royal Marechaussée (Koninklijke Marechaussee) and the French Border Police (OCRIEST/BMR62, Police Aux Frontières) within the French National Police (Police Nationale) worked together and 12 suspects were arrested (seven in France, two in the Netherlands and three in the UK). The overall seizures during the two action days included 12 vehicles, 10 rubber boats and engines, 158 life jackets, a caravan, a boat trailer, jewellery, about €48 000 in cash, documents and mobile devices. This investigation targeted a developing trend of migrant smuggling involving small boats across the English Channel, a criminal activity which has escalated exponentially in recent months with increased interceptions in France and the UK.

Overloaded boats and rough weather
This organised crime group consists mainly of Iranian nationals living in France, the Netherlands and the UK. The network was smuggling migrants with small boats from the north coasts of France to the UK. The suspects had connections in different countries to organise their criminal activity. Members of the criminal group purchased inflatable boats and engines from Germany and the Netherlands and transported them to the departure points. There, they taught the migrants how to operate the boats while charging an average of €3 000 per person for the crossings.

The various elements gathered during the investigations confirmed that this criminal organisation would have facilitated the illegal sea crossing of a large number of migrants. This transportation in overloaded boats, and often in very difficult weather conditions on one of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world, endangered both the lives of the migrants and the law enforcement officers involved in rescue operations at sea.

Europol supported the operation by facilitating the information exchange, organising operational meetings and providing analytical support with two intelligence analysts dedicated to this high-priority case. On the action day, Europol set-up a virtual command post to facilitate the operational coordination and exchange of information between law enforcement officers on the ground in real time.

To support national authorities in this high priority investigation, Eurojust set up in June 2020 a Joint Investigation Team with Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Europol. Eurojust further facilitated the successful cooperation of the judicial authorities of the countries involved.

In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organised crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 – 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU Member States, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Facilitation of illegal immigration is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.

Hungary dabs HR Report “absurd”

Brussels 30.09.2020 Immediately after the Rule of Law presentation by the European Commission, the Hungarian government issued a communication, providing an assessment of the document, viewing it as highly subjective, and politically motivated tool serving other purposes than declared.

Commission’s Rule of Law Report is not only fallacious, but absurd. It cannot serve as a basis for any further discussion on rule of law in the European Union. The concept and methodology of the Commission’s Rule of Law Report are unfit for purpose, its sources are unbalanced and its content is unfounded.

The Commission’s Rule of Law Report makes no reference to objective benchmarks that apply equally to all Member States.

The choice of sources in the report is biased and non-transparent. It is unacceptable for the Commission’s Rule of Law Report to be written by organisations forming part of a centrally financed international network engaged in a coordinated political campaign against Hungary. The Hungarian chapter makes reference to twelve “civil society organisations”, eleven of which have in recent years received financial support from the Open Society Foundations linked to Mr. Soros.

Hungary is one of the few Member States where genuine pluralism prevails in the media, in ideological debates, and in the public sphere in general. Unlike the Western European media landscape, which is overwhelmingly dominated by leftist and liberal outlets, in Hungary the situation is more balanced, with conservative and Christian Democratic views also receiving meaningful coverage in the public sphere.

The Fundamental Law of Hungary and the country’s state structure are based on the rule of law. The protection of Hungary’s constitutional identity is the obligation of every organ of the state.

Objective and impartial analysis of all reliable information concerning the situation in Hungary can only lead to the conclusion that the fundamental values of the European Union are being respected, and that the rule of law is being observed”.

The European Commission has today published the first EU-wide report on the rule of law. Today’s report includes input from every Member State and covers both positive and negative developments across the EU. It shows that many Member States have high rule of law standards, but important challenges to the rule of law exist in the EU. It also reflects relevant developments stemming from the emergency measures taken by Member States due to the coronavirus crisis. The report covers four main pillars with a strong bearing on the rule of law: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media pluralism and freedom, and other institutional issues related to the checks and balances essential to an effective system of democratic governance.

European Liberals welcome new Belgium PM

Brussels 30.09.2020 Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation in the Wilmès Government has been nominated the next Prime Minister of Belgium today, 30 September. De Croo is a former leader of the ALDE Party member Open VLD.

“I warmly welcome Alexander as the new Prime Minister of Belgium and the formation of a new coalition government following the elections of May 2019. Alexander has served his country for many years and brings a lot of experience and achievements to the role having served as Deputy Prime Minister as well as Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation” reacting to the nomination of Alexander De Croo, ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen said.

“I would at the same time like to pay profound tribute to Sophie Wilmès, who not only made history as her country’s first Première Minister, but also stepped up in challenging circumstances to honourably and respectably lead her country through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

“Liberals will continue to play a strong role in the government of Belgium, and we look forward to continuing our very close cooperation with OpenVLD and Mouvement Reformateur, and to welcoming Alexander De Croo to meetings with his fellow liberal European Prime Ministers, the second largest political family in the European Council”.

Review: RULE Of LAW culture in EU

Brussels, 30 September 2020 The European Commission has today published the first EU-wide report on the rule of law. Today’s report includes input from every Member State and covers both positive and negative developments across the EU. It shows that many Member States have high rule of law standards, but important challenges to the rule of law exist in the EU. It also reflects relevant developments stemming from the emergency measures taken by Member States due to the coronavirus crisis. The report covers four main pillars with a strong bearing on the rule of law: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media pluralism and freedom, and other institutional issues related to the checks and balances essential to an effective system of democratic governance.

The aim of the new Rule of Law Report is to enlarge the existing EU toolbox with a new preventive tool and kick-start an inclusive debate and rule of law culture across the EU. It should help all Member States examine how challenges can be addressed, how they can learn from each other’s experiences, and show how the rule of law can be further strengthened in full respect of national constitutional systems and traditions.

“The rule of law and our shared values are the foundation of our societies. They are part of our common identity as Europeans. The rule of law protects people from the rule of the powerful. While we have very high rule of law standards in the EU, we also have various challenges. The European Commission will continue working with the national authorities to find solutions, to guarantee people’s everyday rights and freedoms,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

“Today we are filling an important gap in our rule of law toolbox. The new report for the first time looks at all Member States equally to identify rule of law trends and help to prevent serious problems from arising. Each citizen deserves to have access to independent judges, to benefit from free and pluralistic media and to trust that their fundamental rights are respected. Only then, can we call ourselves a true Union of democracies,” Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said.

“The new Rule of Law Report is the start of an open and regular dialogue with every Member State, a way in which we can share good practices and pre-empt challenges before they become entrenched. The goal is to instil a real rule of law culture across the European Union, and trigger a genuine debate at national and EU level,” Commissioner for Justice and Consumers, Didier Reynders, said.

#EUCO: Michel invites to Summit

The president of the EU Council Charles Michel has issued the invitation letter to the head of states and governments ahead of their meeting on 1-2 October 2020. (Image above: archive).

“Our special meeting on Thursday and Friday will primarily focus on Europe’s place in the world and our capacity to shape our own destiny.

“Our meeting will start on Thursday at 15.00 with the traditional exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. We will then use our first working session for a debate on EU-China relations, following the EU-China leaders’ meeting via video conference on 14 September. We want to work with China on tackling major global challenges such as the COVID 19 pandemic and climate change. We also want to insist on a more balanced and reciprocal economic relationship, ensuring a level playing field. And we will continue to promote our values and standards.

“At the end of the session, we will discuss current issues requiring our attention, namely the situation in Belarus, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and the Nagorno-Karabakh escalation.

“The dinner will be entirely devoted to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and our relations with Turkey. Our objective is to create a space for a constructive dialogue with Turkey to achieve stability and security in the whole region, and to ensure full respect for the sovereignty and sovereign rights of all EU Member States. This will only be possible if Turkey engages constructively. All options remain on the table to defend the legitimate interests of the EU and its Member States. The EU can only be strong on the international stage if it has a resilient and innovative economic base.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly revealed some of the EU’s weaknesses. But I believe we should turn this into an opportunity, critically assessing together how to make the EU more resilient. Crucially, I would like us to discuss how we can best enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy alongside an open and competitive social market economy. Against this backdrop, we will have an in-depth discussion on Friday morning on unlocking the full potential of the Single Market, developing an ambitious industrial policy and exploiting the opportunities offered by the latest digital developments. The exceptional recovery package, adopted in July, will help transform our economies and, along with the Green and Digital transitions, will support us achieve these ambitions. At the end of the meeting, we will provide a brief update on negotiations with the United Kingdom”.

 

Hungary official refused word by German press

Hungary State Secretary Zoltán Kovács’s response to Der Tagesspiegel – has been refused the publication of his response ot Der Tagesspiegel, and started to share it via social media:
“In an article published last week in German daily Der Tagesspiegel entitled “Why nationalism doesn’t help against the pandemic,” Judith Langowski and Jonas Bickelmann claim that instead of organizing an effective defense against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Orbán and his government are using the virus to achieve ideological goals.” (Image: illustration).

I asked for an opportunity to respond but was refused with the reply that “It will not be possible at this time, neither in the online, nor the print edition.” Langowski did also write that she would “gladly” talk to me the next time they cover the topic. How generous!”

“In an article published last week in German daily Der Tagesspiegel entitled “Why nationalism doesn’t help against the pandemic,” Judith Langowski and Jonas Bickelmann claim that instead of organizing an effective defense against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Orbán and his government are using the virus to achieve ideological goals.

I asked for an opportunity to respond but was refused with the reply that “It will not be possible at this time, neither in the online, nor the print edition.” Langowski did also write that she would “gladly” talk to me the next time they cover the topic. How generous!

In their most recent piece, the authors recall that in late March, the Hungarian Parliament passed a piece of legislation, the so-called “Coronavirus Protection Act,” that allowed the government to “issue decrees indefinitely”; and while this law had already been lifted by the end of June, Tagesspiegel notes that it could be reintroduced “very easily.”

But there’s really no need to get into the details; we all know what these critics are trying to say: Instead of saving human lives, PM Orbán’s government allegedly harnessed the pandemic for political gains. This is not just overly biased, but also completely wrong.

Here are the facts:

This past spring, numerous mainstream, liberal news outlets were sounding the alarm over the “erosion of [Hungarian] democracy” (The Independent) and claiming that PM Viktor Orbán would supposedly “rule by decree, alone and unchallenged” (The Guardian).

These fears, however, were proven to be groundless.

Contrary to what these biased sources would have had you believe, the Hungarian government never received “unlimited powers.” The special powers the government did receive could be exercised only to prevent, treat, eradicate and remedy the harmful effects of the coronavirus. Similarly, the extraordinary measures were never intended to last “indefinitely”; they were meant to expire with the threat or be lifted by the National Assembly. And this is exactly what happened at the end of May, when the government proposed to hand back the extraordinary powers it had received under the state of emergency, which had been put into effect solely to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, we know that the Coronavirus Protection Act has, in fact, served the country well. It enabled the government to take swift action, closing borders, enacting movement restrictions, and equipping our national healthcare system and healthcare providers with the equipment necessary to treat all those who required care — all of which served to slow down the spread of the disease. Thanks to this legislative package, with 39.04 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants by early June, Hungary ranked among the top performers in Europe in terms of managing the pandemic. As Prime Minister Orbán has recently said on several occasions: In managing the first wave of the epidemic, Hungary scored among the top 20-25 countries globally.

Yes, it may be true that the number of active coronavirus cases and, sadly, the number of deaths have been climbing during the last few weeks in Hungary, but this is not due to any “populist strategy.” In fact, in a national consultation survey that ended on August 31, we collected the views of more than 1.7 million Hungarians. Based on this vast data, the Hungarian government concluded that while the defense against the coronavirus is a top priority for our citizens, we must simultaneously keep the country functioning.

This is why, in the middle of the second wave, we cannot adopt the same, strict restrictions that proved so successful during the first wave of the crisis. But don’t worry, Hungary will be fine. We have a war plan in place for managing the second wave of the crisis and our healthcare system has been properly prepared. We have all the necessary equipment, hospital beds, ventilators and healthcare professionals we need.

In Prime Minister Orbán’s own words: “Together we will succeed in defeating the second wave of the pandemic”.

Michel regrets EU consensus method

In his speech “European strategic autonomy is the goal of our generation” at the Bruegel think tank president of the European Council Charles Michel addressed problems of global instability, and pointed at the need to establish the EU autonomy. He also has drawn attention to a number of problems in the EU foreign policy, namely the challenges imposed by China and Russia, “unpredictability” of Mediterranean neighbourhood, and post-Brexit trade negotiations. The president also regretted the method of unanimity in the EU foreign policy decision-making process, which slows it down, and “even some times prevents the decisions”.
Michel has underlined the the EU defence should develop in strong partnership with NATO, and “deployed within” North Atlantic Alliance.

“…Because the globalised world has changed a lot since the end of the Cold War. And because an arc of instability has developed around us.

“In the East, the natural and harmless extension of the European democratic space was brutally stopped by Russia in Ukraine. Russia saw a major geopolitical danger there. This cost Ukraine part of its territory, and a war in the East which permanently destabilises the country. Although the context is different, the events in Belarus once again highlight the challenge at Europe’s eastern borders.

“In the Eastern Mediterranean, we face tensions and unpredictability. Libya and Syria are hotbeds of insecurity and instability. There is pressure on the sovereignty of Greece and Cyprus. Our relationship with Turkey is under strain. This is why the next European summit will be devoted to the adoption of a European strategic position in connection with this region. I proposed the organisation of a multilateral conference on the Eastern Mediterranean, where maritime de-limitations, energy, security, migration, etc. would be discussed.

“In the South: Africa. And I feel, at the level of Europe and its leaders, how much the outlook on Africa is changing. Its energy, its vitality, open the way to an unprecedented alliance. It only depends on us, African and European leaders.

“In the West, Brexit. In the aftermath of the referendum, the result shook up the European Union. This choice of national sovereignty was felt as a failure of European construction.

“Today what is it? It is the United Kingdom that faces our quiet strength. The truth is, the British face a dilemma. What model of society do they want? Do they prefer to maintain high quality standards (health, food, environmental, etc.)? Or, on the contrary, do they want lower standards, subject their breeders and their businesses to unfair and unjust competition from other regions of the world? It is the answer to this question that will determine the level of access to our internal market”

President Michel has also regarded the principle of unanimity in the EU foreign policy, “regularly debated”:

“…Unanimity is required in matters of foreign policy. This question of unanimity is, as we know, regularly debated. And I have a qualified opinion in this regard. Of course, the unanimity requirement slows down and sometimes even prevents the decision. But this requirement leads to constant efforts to weld the Member States together. And this European unity is also our strength. Unanimity promotes the lasting adhesion of the 27 countries to the strategy deliberated together. So I ask myself: isn’t renouncing unanimity a false good idea? Are there not other more relevant reforms to act more quickly at the international level, without losing the added value of our unanimity?

“My modest experience is as follows. Very often, in recent months, I have observed that apparently important differences between the Member States were quickly blurred thanks to the substantive debate. So it was with China. The political preparations allowed us in a few months to define a common position which is now shared by all. The same will be true for the eastern Mediterranean and even Belarus. I am optimistic that there too we will express common positions which will draw their strength from our unity. The major decisions on the budget and the stimulus fund further illustrate this certainty: political confrontation, the exchange of arguments on the merits, are an essential step in the process of democratic deliberation. And they found the legitimacy of the decision.

“…Defense is not a European competence like any other. And I know the different national sensibilities. In my eyes, deepening the common defence is a necessity and is more common sense than an ideological obsession. This project must be deployed within NATO. This is the meaning of the strategic partnership between the EU and NATO. The permanent structured cooperation and the European Defense Fund, which we have just endowed with 7 billion euro, are fully in line with this ambition. And I greet Jean-Claude Juncker and Federica Mogherini, whose strategic impetus in this area has not yet been fully appreciated”.

Brussels hosts Europarl October plenary

The president of the European Parliament David Sassoli issued a communication to attention of the Members of the European, informing them about next Plenary taking place in Brussels instead of Strasbourg as a result of the sanitary situation in Grand Est region of France. (Image above: European Parliament, Strasbourg)
Unfortunately, the health situation prevents us from going to Strasbourg for the first plenary session in October. We hope that everything will change soon and that we can return to our city
The novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread in Europe and across the world”  Sassoli wrote on his Twitter micro blog.

On September 10, 2020, the Conference of Presidents debated the consequences of the pandemic and came to the conclusion that Parliament will again hold its sessions in Strasbourg as soon as conditions allow. In close collaboration with the French authorities, we continue to closely monitor the evolution of COVID-19″ the text of the communication reads.

“Unfortunately, given the recent increase in the rate of transmission of the virus in France, including in the Bas-Rhin department, and for the sake of public health, we must reconsider the displacement of Members and employees in the European Parliament, a few days of the first parliamentary session in October.

“Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliament, is very close to our hearts. Beyond the legal obligation to hold the sessions there, it is our most sincere wish to find this city which embodies the reconciliation of European countries better than any other.

“I would like to thank the French authorities and the City of Strasbourg for their support and the close collaboration implemented since the start of the pandemic and I sincerely hope that we will be able to go there again soon”.

“The session of the European Parliament from 5 to 8 October will be held in Brussels”.
Image below: European Parliament, Brussels.

Armenian diplomat accuses Turkey

Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan said Yerevan is totally committed to “strictly peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”.
The Minister reminded in an interview to French news Channel, that there is an internationally agreed, internationally mandated format – the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship which comprises France, the United States, and the Russian Federation.

“We are totally committed to this process, to resolve the conflict strictly through peaceful means, and a solution, resolution which is based strictly on a compromise, a solution which is acceptable, in the words of the Prime Minister of Armenia, to the people of Armenia, people of Nagorno-Karabakh, people of Azerbaijan. What we have unfortunately been dealing with is the absolutely maximalist position of Azerbaijan which denies any recognition of the interest and concerns of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and its authorities and the people of Armenia. The maximalist position has been rejected and remains rejected. We are prepared for compromise. However, this massive escalation is bringing in a new situation we have to deal with”.

The Minister added later to another TV channel – Al-Arabya – that “Turkey has positioned itself in very aggressive way against Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. We have been receiving disturbing reports about recruitment of terrorists from areas, which are controlled by Turkey in Syria.”

Taking into consideration the destructive role of President Erdogan in Nagorno-Karabach conflict, Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, who is the Chairman of the Party for Freedom, has launched a call to end Turkey membership in NATO.

WOLF: Swiss victory of biodiversity

More than half of Swiss voters (51.9%) have rejected changes to the hunting laws, proposed by the Parliament. The regulation of the wolf population as protected species, has been in the focus. (Image: @nywolforg courtesy).

The outcome clearly demonstrated that the Swiss wish to strengthen and not weaken species protection, pointed out Gabor von Bethlenfalvy, large carnivore specialist at WWF Switzerland, in a press release on Sunday, September 27.

He added that by saying no to the revised law, voters were saying yes to a compromise between hunting, regulation and protection. His group was one of many conservation and animal welfare groups to launch the referendum challenging Swiss lawmakers’ revisions to the law.

“Now parliament gets the chance to draft a progressive hunting and protection law that will continue to protect threatened animals such as lynx and beavers and not put them under even greater pressure,” von Bethlenfalvy underlined.

“With this decision, the voters have missed the opportunity to strengthen animal and species protection and to set clear rules for the coexistence of wolves and farm animals,” stated the Swiss farmers’ and hunters’ associations and the committee for mountain regions in a joint press release.

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