Author Archives: Europe correspondent

Mistrust in journalists at rise

Brussels 20.04.2021 The 2021 Edelman Trust barometer reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists, with 59% of respondents in 28 countries saying that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false. In reality, journalistic pluralism and rigorous reporting serve to combat disinformation and “infodemics”, including false and misleading information.

“Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”

The country that fell the furthest in 2021 was Malaysia (down 18 at 119th), where the problems include a recent “anti-fake news” decree allowing the government to impose its own version of the truth. Big descents were also registered by Comoros (down 9 at 84th) and El Salvador (down 8 at 82nd), where journalists have struggled to obtain state-held information about the government’s handling of the pandemic. Most of the 2021 Index’s biggest gains are in Africa. Burundi (up 13 at 147th), Sierra Leone (up 10 at 75th) and Mali (up 9 at 99th) have all seen significant improvements, including the release of four journalists with the independent Burundian media Iwacu, the repeal of a law criminalising press offences in Sierra Leone and a fall in the number of abuses in Mali.

Europe and the Americas (North, Central and South) continue to be the most favourable continents for press freedom, even though the Americas registered the biggest deterioration in its regional violations score (up 2.5%). Europe registered a sizeable deterioration in its “Abuses” indicator, with acts of violence more than doubling in the European Union and Balkans, compared with a 17% deterioration worldwide. Attacks against journalists and arbitrary arrests increased in Germany (13th), France (34th), Italy (41st), Poland (down 2 at 64th), Greece (down 5 at 70th), Serbia (93rd) and Bulgaria (down 1 at 112th).

Black sea: Russia restricts navigation

Brusssels 20.04.2021 The United States voiced deep concern over Russia’s plans to restrict navigation for foreign naval ships and other state vessels in its territorial waters in the Black Sea, slamming this as “unprovoked escalation,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The United States expresses its deep concern over Russia’s plans to block foreign naval ships and state vessels in parts of the Black Sea,” the statement reads.

“This represents yet another unprovoked escalation in Moscow’s ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine,” the US State Department said.

The State Department also noted that this development “is particularly troubling amid credible reports of Russian troop buildup” on the border with Ukraine.

According to a bulletin of the Russian Defense Ministry’s navigation and oceanography department, on April 24-October 31 navigation of foreign naval ships and other state vessels in some parts of the Black Sea in Russia’s territorial waters will be suspended. The document did not specify the particular reason for the move.

Earlier Russia asked Washington many times about the goal of US warships’ navigation in the Black Sea.

EU deplores Czech diplomats expel

Brussels 19.04.2021 “The European Union stands in full support and solidarity with the Czech Republic and deplores Russia’s response to expel 20 Czech diplomats. Russia’s decision follows the announcement by the Czech Republic on 17 April to expel 18 Russian embassy staff, based on reasonable suspicion about the involvement of Russian military intelligence service (GRU) agents in the 2014 explosion of an ammunition depot in the town of Vrbětice, resulting in the death of two Czech nationals. These GRU agents were also in charge of the attempted murder of the Skripals in Salisbury in 2018” reads the statement of the EU spokesperson.

“The European Union is deeply concerned about the repeating negative pattern of dangerous malign behaviour by Russia in Europe. Russia must stop with these activities, which violates well-established international principles and norms and threaten stability in Europe”.

Prague authorities demand that Russian Embassy vacate an area of 5,000 square meters, currently occupied by the diplomatic mission. Before 1968, the mentioned area was a part of the adjacent Stromovka Park, Prague-7 district head Jan Cizinsky said on Twitter.

“The Prague city council called on the Czech government to hold negotiations in a bid to bring the Russian Embassy territory to the state that preceded the Warsaw Pact forces invasion in 1968,” he tweeted.

According to the Czech media, the area in question is about 5,000 square meters. The city authorities plan to plant trees and flowers on this area, as it was prior to August 1968, when a Soviet military camp was deployed there.

This decision was made amid a sharp escalation of relations between Russia and the Czech Republic, following the expulsion of 18 Russian Embassy employees and accusations of Russian intelligence’s involvement in explosions at arms depots in 2014.

Russia expels 5 Polish diplomats

Brussels 16.04.2021 Russia will expel five Polish diplomats in response to Warsaw’s actions, the Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) said in a statement published on Friday, April 16.(Image above: Moscow city).

“By the way, we noted how quick Warsaw was to chime in with the U.S. administration, demanding that three Russian diplomats leave Poland. In turn, five Polish diplomats will be expelled from Russia,” the ministry said.

On April 15, Poland declared three Russian diplomats personae non gratae.

Poland expelled on Thursday three Russian diplomats accused of “hostile actions,” the Polish Foreign Ministry said. The move comes after the US expelled 10 Russian diplomats earlier on Thursday and imposed sanctions against dozens of companies and people.

Washington says the measures are retaliation for alleged Kremlin interference in last year’s presidential election and a massive cyber attack on federal agencies known as SolarWinds.

Russia retaliates U.S.measures

Brusssels 16.04.2021 Moscow will shortly publish a list of eight senior US officials and public figures that will be permanently banned from entering Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on Friday, April 16. (Image above: Moscow City).

“Soon, the official website of the Russian Foreign Ministry will publish the names of eight current and former American high-ranking officials and public figures involved in developing and implementing the anti-Russian policy course. They will be permanently banned from entering the Russian Federation. This is a tit-for-tat measure in response to the sanctions against Russian officials blacklisted by the US last month,” the statement says.

Moscow calls on Washington to display wisdom and reject confrontation, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its statement Friday, adding that now is high time to do so. “It is high time for the US to display wisdom and reject the confrontational course. Otherwise, we will implement a set of decisions, sensitive to the US, such as ordering US diplomatic missions in Russia to reduce their staff to 300 people,” the statement says. Thus, the ministry points out, real parity will be reached regarding the number of employees of diplomatic missions, with the exception of Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

Taliban versus U.S.troops

Brussels 15.04.2021 International troops plan to stay in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline envisaged by the insurgent Taliban’s deal with the United States, four senior NATO officials said, a move that could escalate tensions with the Taliban demanding full withdrawal.

“There will be no full withdrawal by allies by April-end,” one of the officials told Reuters.

“Conditions have not been met,” he said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “And with the new U.S. administration, there will be tweaks in the policy, the sense of hasty withdrawal which was prevalent will be addressed and we could see a much more calculated exit strategy.”

The administration of then-President Donald Trump signed an agreement with the Taliban early last year calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops by May in return for the insurgents fulfilling certain security guarantees.

Vienna: Borrell chairs JCPOA

Brussels 08.04.2021 The Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal, will resume its work in a physical format on 9 April at 10.00 CET in Vienna.

The Joint Commission will be chaired on behalf of EU High Representative Josep Borrell by the Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora. It will be attended by representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran.

Participants will take stock of the discussions held at various levels this week, including the relevant expert groups, in the view of a possible return of the United States and to ensure the full and effective implementation of the JCPOA by all sides.

#Sofagate: Junker clarifies

Brussels 08.04.2021 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was left without a seat, and had to sit on a nearby sofa, as the bloc’s leaders met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Only two chairs were set up for the meeting, which involved Ursula von der Leyen, President Erdogan, and EU Council President Charles Michel.

When consulted by Politico Magazine the former EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that when he travelled with the European Council presidents during his term at the helm of the Commission, it was “clear for everyone that, from a protocol point of view, the president of the Council is No. 1, and the president of the Commission is No. 2.”

“When I was traveling with Tusk or Van Rompuy, I always respected that protocol order,” Juncker told POLITICO in a phone interview, referring to the two former Council presidents. “Normally I had a chair next to the chair of the president of the Council, but sometimes it happened that I was sitting on a sofa.”

Nevertheless, the former Commission chief suggested that von der Leyen could have been treated differently.

“I think it would have been better to have her sitting at the same level” as Michel, “but from a protocol point of view the president of the Council is No. 1.”

Asked if he believes the episode in Ankara merits a controversy, the former president was dismissive.

Some critics of President Erdogan have underlined that he is not arranging the protocol himself, and officially the President of the European Commission is the fourth in the line after the President of the European Parliament, the President of the Council (Charles Michel), the President of the rotating presidency, now Portugal, and finally the boss of all the civil servants – Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commmission.

Easter: Pope Francis calls for peace

Brussels 04.04.2021 Francis called for peace in several conflict areas in Africa, including the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia and the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique. He added that the crisis in Yemen has been “met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

The Pontifex appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to “rediscover the power of dialogue” to reach a two-state solution where both can live side by side in peace and prosperity.

In mentioning conflict areas, he singled out for praise “the young people of Myanmar committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully”. More than 550 protesters have been killed since a February 1 military coup in Myanmar, which the pope visited in 2017.

Francis said he realised many Christians were still persecuted and called for all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide to be lifted.

At one point, nearly 9 thousand people were simultaneously celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection with the Pope on Vatican News’ English-language Facebook page alone.

Over 170 broadcast networks and media outlets picked up the Easter broadcasts, which has seen much wider coverage in recent years due to live-streaming.

ICC: Borrell welcomes U.S.repeal order

Brussels 03.03.2021 “On 2 April, the US administration announced the repeal of the executive order imposing sanctions on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and another member of the Court’s staff. This important step underlines the US’s commitment to the international rules-based system” the statement of the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell reads.

“The ICC plays an important role in delivering justice to the victims of some of the world’s most horrific crimes. Protecting the impartiality and judicial independence of the ICC is paramount to its effectiveness and proper functioning.

“The European Union is unwavering in its support for the universality of the Rome Statute and for the ICC. We will stand together with all partners to defend the Court against attempts aimed at obstructing the course of justice and undermining the international system of criminal justice and we will continue to support the ongoing review process to enhance the Rome Statute system and make the Court stronger and more effective”.

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