Category Archives: featured

Belgium: Day of mourning

Brusssels 20.07.2021 Belgium held a day of mourning Tuesday,July 20, for the victims of the devastating floods, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel undertook her second visit to the region worst hit by the disaster.

“In this day of mourning, we observed a minute of silence for the victims of the devastating floods. No words can describe the suffering and destruction caused.The European Commission stands with the communities rebuilding their lives and homes. We will support in any way we can” the top EU executive Ursula von der Leyen wrote on her Twitter micro blog.

“The Belgian king and queen visited the eastern town of Verviers to console people who had lost family members, friends, and neighbours, and many lost their possessions as the flows swept through villages in eastern Belgium, taking at least 31 lives.

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde discuss with each of the victims invited to the official ceremony of national mourning. Queen Mathilde spoke at length with an upset little girl.

Some 70 people are still missing or have been unable to be contacted after massive rains turned streets in eastern Belgium into deadly torrents of water, mud and debris. Flags flew at half staff and at noon, sirens wailed throughout the nation, followed by a moment of silence.

Help is pouring in from across the nation and some 10,000 volunteer workers have offered to visit the hilly region to start the cleanup once the waters have receded enough.

“Please accept my most sincere condolences on the tragic consequences of floods in the southern and eastern regions of your country” reads letter of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the King of Belgium Philippe.
“Russia shares the grief of those who lost their loved ones as a result of this natural disaster, and hopes for a speedy recovery of all those affected”.

EU aid to Iran and Pakistan vulnerable

Brussels 13.07.2021 This week the Commission has announced renewed support for those most in need in Iran and Pakistan with €22 million in humanitarian aid. This package will assist those most affected by man-made crises, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate induced and other natural disasters in the region.

“Iran and Pakistan are both highly vulnerable to recurrent natural hazards, with both countries’ situations aggravated by a severe coronavirus pandemic. Iran and Pakistan are also the principal host countries of Afghan refugees worldwide. The EU is boosting support to humanitarian organisations in both countries at this critical time” Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič said.

Of the €22 million allocation, €15 million will focus on supporting humanitarian organisations working in Iran to assist the most vulnerable Iranians and Afghans in the country. Part of the funding will support the country’s battle against the severe coronavirus pandemic, including the provision of urgent medical equipment. EU humanitarian funding also supports Iran’s commendable efforts in assisting Afghans on its territory and host communities, on education, health, protection and livelihood.

€7 million will go to humanitarian organisations in Pakistan, focusing on the most vulnerable local populations, Afghans as well as host communities. Assistance will comprise Afghans and Pakistanis, affected by conflict, displacement, COVID-19 and natural disasters, including malnutrition.

All EU humanitarian aid is strictly monitored and only provided to established humanitarian organisations such as United Nations agencies, NGOs and international organisations.

Image above: illustration, Qom city, Iran.

Borrell concludes EU DIPLOMATS Council

Brussels 12.07.2021 “We started today’s Foreign Affairs Council with a discussion on the external and geopolitical impact of the new digital technologies. These technologies are crucial for our societies and economies. They are becoming an object and a driver of geopolitical competition and global influence. Certainly, global actors are using these new technologies to manipulate the information environment, to influence our public debates and to interfere in our democratic processes” the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said, concluding the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.

As European Union, we need to use our unique capacity as regulatory power, setting global norms and standards to maintain an open system, centred on the rule of law. We want to work together with partners from the United States to the Indo-Pacific, Africa and Latin America.

We agreed with the European External Action Service and the European Commission to continue our work on structuring a coherent digital external policy. For sure, in the months to come we are going to go back to this very much important issue and in order to be prepared for that, at the European External Action Service, we have created a new division to deal with the connectivity and digital transformation issues.

Also, for the first time, the Foreign Ministers discussed the Strategic Compass. It is something that the Ministers of Defence have been involved in on several occasions and will continue being involved in the next informal meeting in September, but today the Foreign Ministers – at their request – have been involved in the discussion about: how to better prepare for future crises; how to reinforce our resilience against threats, for example in the cyber space; how to reinforce our partnerships to meet common challenges; and how to develop a common strategic culture.

I presented to the Ministers the schedule in order to be able, by November, to present a first draft and, by March [next year], to adopt the Strategic Compass. I think that it is a very important initiative. I do not care if it is controversial, I prefer to have controversies [rather] than indifferences and I think that the Foreign Ministers took stock of the importance of this project. Let us hope that by November the Ministers will have a full draft of the Strategic Compass.

Talking about defence and security issues, today we formally established, in a record time, the new European Training Mission for Mozambique. This is the second Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission that is being created during my mandate.

It has been done in a record time, in European terms ‘record time’ does not mean very quickly, but it has been done quicker than in any other mission.

The new mission will be a fundamental part of our response to the government of Mozambique’s request to address the crisis in Cabo Delgado, in the northern part of the country, and to contribute to reinforce and re-establish security.

This mission will train selected Mozambican units to help the armed forces in their efforts to bring back safety and security. This commitment now needs to be properly resourced and accompanied by the adequate assistance measures. So, I have been asking the Member States, once the mission has been agreed, to bring, to provide the means, the staff that this mission will require. It is not going to be a big mission, like the one that we have in Mali, but it is important that the people who will go to Mozambique to train Mozambican units will be highly qualified military elements.

We had a discussion over lunch with the new Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid. You know that the European Union and Israel share deep political, historical and cultural ties.

We had a friendly, open and constructive exchange on our bilateral relations, but also on the situation in the region – especially related to the [Middle East] Peace Process and the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal] negotiations.

The fact that [Foreign] Minister Lapid decided to follow up on my invitation to attend todays’ meeting, and with this to allow for an exchange with the new administration, shows that we have a chance for a fresh start and for strengthening our bilateral relations. But, these bilateral relations are also conditioned to many issues in which we have differences. And the proof is that the Association Agreement meetings have been cancelled since 2012, [as far as] I remember. It is quite a long time, almost 10 years.

We discussed also the Middle East Peace Process. Here I want to stress very clearly that Israel’s security is non-negotiable. We stand firmly for Israel’s security and condemn terrorism, but at the same time, we expect Israel to offer a political perspective to end the conflict. To find a solution with the Palestinians can only contribute to Israel’s security and we have a Foreign Minister from Israel that has publicly been advocating in favour of the ‘two-state solution’ – which is the solution that we, European Union, are strongly supporting.

A credible engagement, a stronger relationship with Israel needs to revive a path towards peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians both alike. We remain ready and willing to support both in the efforts to rebuild a meaningful political process. We know that this is not going to be for tomorrow, we know the special composition of the Israeli government, but we have been very interested in listening the explanations of the Foreign Minister and his good will in order to improve the everyday life of the Palestinians and to advance in cooperation and working together towards resuming the holding of Association Council meetings if the conditions are met.

For this, we need, on one hand, to reach a consensus among Member States and, on the other hand, Israel has also to do its part.

After a long discussion with the Foreign Affairs Minister of the new Israeli government, we went to the discussion on Ethiopia.

You know that the situation in the Tigray region has never been as bad, despite of the ceasefire announced by the government of Ethiopia. What we are seeing in Tigray, what we are afraid Trigay is going to suffer, is a serious humanitarian crisis, with almost 1 million [people] – 850,000 [people] at risk of famine, and ongoing use of violence against civilians and rape as a weapon of war. The ceasefire is a positive step, but what is happening today is that the Tigray region is being cut-off from the rest of the world by destroying critical infrastructure of transportation, and this, as I said, could bring to the region the risk of mass famine.

We, at the European Union, the Commission, will organise an [humanitarian] air bridge to try to bring support to the region, but you can imagine that we cannot solve the problem of a famine affecting 850,000 people. It is something that is out of our capability, it will require the mobilisation – for this almost 1 million people, 850,000 people – of the United Nations agencies, and to ensure humanitarian access. We are ready to support the population, but we call on the Member States to provide donations as a clear sign of European Union solidarity.

[We should focus on these priorities:] To consolidate the ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign forces from Ethiopian territory. To stop Human Rights violations. And to launch a reconciliation and national dialogue in order to preserve the integrity and political unity of Ethiopia, which remains a clear strategic objective.

Finally, we should be ready to use restrictive measures where we believe they are justified and necessary in advancing these goals. I believe that the situation in Ethiopia would certainly require that we consider this possibility along all options at our disposal. This option, the option of restrictive measures – to my understanding – must be on the table.

With ministers, we also addressed the situation in Afghanistan. The fighting is having a grave impact on civilians. The number of civilian casualties has grown 23% in the first semester of this year. We condemn the increasing targeted attacks against the Hazara community and other religious and ethnic groups.

The Ministers have unanimously urged the Taliban to engage in substantive and inclusive peace negotiations. We also call on countries of the region and the broader international community to play a constructive role in support of the Afghan peace process. I will be reaching out to many of the regional actors in the conference I will be attending in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan(link is external), in the coming days, where we expect the attendance of the President of Afghanistan.

On Lebanon, it seems to me that Europeans are more concerned with the search for a political solution to the country than the Lebanese politicians themselves, which is quite strange. After my visit to Lebanon, the political stalemate persists, the economy is imploding and the suffering of the people of Lebanon is continuously growing. They need to have a Lebanese government in order to avoid a crackdown of the country, fully able to implement the reforms and protect its population. This is in the interest of the Lebanese people, from all confessions and political orientations.

The Ministers reached a political understanding that a sanctions regime against those who are responsible for the situation should be established. In light of the preparatory technical work, the legal acts will be worked on and a decision will be adopted by the Council in order to create this new sanctions regime without delay. I can say that the objective is to complete this by the end of the month. I am not talking about the implementation of the regime, just the building of the regime according with sound legal basis.

On Belarus, the repression by the regime continues. Over the last few weeks, we have seen large-scale bulldozing of the independent media.

We have expressed our full solidarity with Lithuania on the expulsion of their diplomatic staff. We are following closely the situation at the Lithuania-Belarus border, where there are reports that the regime is now sending migrants to the Polish border too.

We call on Belarusian authorities to stick to their international commitments and obligations. We took already a number of restrictive measures and we are ready to consider further response to this behaviour. To use migrants as a weapon, pushing people to the borders is unacceptable and that is what is happening in the Lithuanian and Polish borders.

Finally, Cyprus. We are concerned about developments on the ground in Varosha. The European Union, through the President of the Commission [Ursula von der Leyen] and the President of the European Council [Charles Michel] has repeatedly reaffirmed the status of Varosha and called for the Turkish authorities not to create a situation, which could be against the United Nations decisions. The status of Varosha is set out in relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and it is important, as the two Presidents have directly addressed to the highest authorities in Turkey, to refrain from provocative actions.

Our priority is to focus on getting the Cyprus settlement talks [to restart], that is what we are working on, trying to avoid any kind of trouble, trying to avoid to get trapped in a negative spiral again. Our wish is to work on the settlement of the Cyprus issue. The Ministers today also rejected the two-state solution in Cyprus and on that we are firmly united. Let us hope that we are not going to have, on the following days, reasons for the calling of an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council”.

Lukashenko regime self-isolates

“The Belarusian authorities ordered Head of Mission at the Embassy of Lithuania in Minsk and the Consul General in Hrodna to leave the country by 11 July, drastically limiting Vilnius’ diplomatic presence in the country” reads the statement by the spokesperson on limiting the diplomatic presence of Lithuania. (Image:Viktar Babaryka)

“With this, the Lukashenko regime is closing further diplomatic channels of communication. By also reducing the consular staff of EU member states’ diplomatic missions, the regime limits the opportunities for the Belarusians to travel to the EU. Already last October, at the request of the regime, the Lithuanian and Polish Ambassadors left the country, and in May this year the entire staff of Latvia’s embassy in Minsk was ordered to leave. Most recently, the Belarusian authorities asked the Head of the EU Delegation in Minsk to return to Brussels for consultations.

“By these actions, the regime further isolates itself. Such decisions are also detrimental to Belarus and its population. Keeping diplomatic channels of communication open in time of difficulties is crucial. The EU calls on the Belarusian authorities to allow full presence of the EU’s and it Member States’ diplomatic missions to allow diplomacy to work”.

EU welcomes US execution moratorium

Brussels 03.07.2021 “The European Union welcomes United States’ Attorney General’s announcement on Thursday, July 1,to impose a moratorium on federal executions until the US Department of Justice reviews its policies on the death penalty. This is a promising first step that we hope will bring a definitive end to this practice at federal level, and pave the way for the nationwide abolition of capital punishment in the US” reads the statement by the European External Action Service (EEAS) spokesperson on halting federal executions.(Image above: EU building).

“The European Union strongly opposes the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances. It is a cruel and inhumane punishment, which fails to act as a deterrent to crime and represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity”.

“The European Union continues to work for the universal abolition of the death penalty”.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a moratorium on federal executions, a shift from the Trump administration, which had resumed the use of the death penalty in federal cases.

Garland wrote in the memo that the Justice Department would also review its policies and procedures to make sure they “are consistent with the principles articulated in this memorandum.”

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” Garland announced in a statement. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”

EU leaders address migration

Brussels 25.06.2021 The European Council (pictured) discussed the migration situation on the various routes. While the measures taken by the EU and Member States have brought down the overall irregular flows in recent years, developments on some routes give rise to serious concern and require continued vigilance and urgent action.

In order to prevent loss of life and to reduce pressure on European borders, mutually beneficial partnerships and cooperation with countries of origin and transit will be intensified, as an integral part of the European Union’s external action.

The approach will be pragmatic, flexible and tailor-made, make coordinated use, as Team Europe, of all available EU and Member States’ instruments and incentives, and take place in close cooperation with the UNHCR and IOM. It should address all routes and be based on a whole-of-route approach, tackling root causes, supporting refugees and displaced persons in the region, building capacity for migration management, eradicating smuggling and trafficking, reinforcing border control, cooperating on search and rescue, addressing legal migration while respecting national competences, as well as ensuring return and readmission. To this end, the European Council:

– calls on the Commission and the High Representative Josep Borrell, in close cooperation with Member States, to immediately reinforce concrete actions with, and tangible support for, priority countries of origin and transit;

– calls on the Commission and the High Representative, in close cooperation with Member States, to put forward action plans for priority countries of origin and transit in autumn 2021, indicating clear objectives, further support measures and concrete timelines;

– invites the Commission to make the best possible use of at least 10% of the NDICI financial envelope, as well as funding under other relevant instruments, for actions related to migration, and to report to the Council on its intentions in this respect by November.

The European Council condemns and rejects any attempt by third countries to instrumentalise migrants for political purposes.

EU diplomats visit South Caucasus

Brussels 23.06.2021 “On 25-26 June, Alexander Schallenberg, Minister for European and International Affairs of Austria, Gabrielius Landsbergis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania and Bogdan Aurescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania will visit Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as mandated by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Polic Josep Borrell” reads the press-release of the European External Action Service on visit of Foreign Affairs Ministers of Austria, Lithuania and Romania to South Caucasus mandated by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell mandated by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell. (Image above: Bakou, Azerbaijan, Flame Towers).

The visit on behalf of the High Representative will highlight the importance that the European Union attaches to its bilateral relations with these countries, to the South Caucasus region, and to the EU’s Eastern Partnership framework. The visit signals the EU’s readiness to support broader cooperation both with and between the South Caucasus countries, including through the opportunities available under the Eastern Partnership. Following the recent discussions among EU Foreign Affairs Ministers at the informal Foreign Affairs Council (Gymnich) on the conflicts in the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood, the visit will underscore the EU’s determination to promote and actively support sustainable and comprehensive conflict settlement efforts.

The Ministers will meet with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, in Baku, the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, and Acting Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, in Yerevan, as well as the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, in Tbilisi. The visit will convey the EU’s support to the three countries also in the context of the preparation for the Eastern Partnership summit, which is scheduled to take place in December 2021.

“The Ministers will hold a press conference at the end of their visit, at the EU Delegation in Tblisi, on Saturday 26 June at around 13:00 (CEST) / 15:00 local.

“The Ministers will be accompanied by the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and crisis in Georgia, Toivo Klaar. They will report about their visit to EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs during the next Foreign Affairs Council in July.

“Audiovisual coverage of the visit will be provided by the European Union Delegations to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia respectively”.

EU towards Belarus targeted sanctions

Brussels 09.06.2021 “…It is certainly the right moment to talk about Belarus. Belarus is again at the very top of the international agenda for the events that everybody knows and the continued repression by Lukashenko’s regime” the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said, while addressing the Members of the European Parliament.

“This repression has been strongly condemned, as much as the massive human rights violations, which continue unabated since the past elections in August 2020, almost one year ago.

“The recent events are related with the hijacking of a European Union airplane flying between two European Union capitals, and forcing it to land in Minsk, with the intervention of a fighter jet, which is an act that overstepped many red lines. Not only it has jeopardised the security of over 100 passengers, but it has also challenged international rules relating with air transportation. The subsequent arrest of a young Belarusian journalist [Raman Pratasevich] as well as his partner [Sofia Sapega] is an abhorrent act. Their forced confessions on state television is another example of the flagrant violations of basic human rights that Lukashenko’s regime commit. It was certainly awful to watch these images of these people detained, crying and recognising in front of the state television like he has been committing I do not know how many crimes against Belarus. Believe me, it was a shameful image.

“We had to respond decisively against these images, against these facts, and already the day after the hijacking of the Ryanair flight, the European Council met, brought up this issue on the agenda and took decisions.

“The European Council called for additional sanctions, and for the first time they decided to include targeted economic sanctions. Until now all our sanctions [vis-a-vis Belarus] are usually taken on a personal basis, affecting individuals and entities, but not the whole economy of the country. This time the Council requested to take targeted economic sanctions.

“The Council also requested that all European Union-based air carriers avoid overflights of Belarus.

“It called also for adopting the necessary measures to ban overflight of the European Union airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to European Union airports of flights operated by such airlines. And I can tell you that these measures have already been adopted last week and I will give you some details about it.

“Listings of individuals and companies, including those involved in the Ryanair incident, are well on track for adoption and they will be adopted by written procedure in the following days.

“As mandated by the European Council, and together with the Commission, we have started [preparing] targeted economic sanctions as the Council requested. They will be adopted at the next Foreign Affairs Council, I hope that the technical work will be finished and it will be affecting critical sectors of the Belarusian economy. But the final decision belongs to the Member States; I hope they will be united on that.

“In the meantime, we will continue to address the human rights violations in international fora. Let us not forget that there are now, we calculate, almost 450 political prisoners in Belarus. This group includes journalists arrested for simply doing their jobs – informing, students, representatives of civil society and ordinary citizens who protested against their freedoms and rights being taken away by the regime.

“We have been contributing to the establishment of mechanism to hold the perpetrators of human rights violations responsible and we will continue to support the victims and look for the accountability of perpetrators.

“We have published a plan for a €3 billion economic and investment package in support of a democratic Belarus, sending a message of hope and support to the people of Belarus, showing the prospects for a more prosperous country once they come back to a democratic system. This should be a strong incentive for economic development, should the country change. This €3 billion economic plan will support it. This is a way of proving that we stand with the Belarusian people, and we will continue doing so in the future…”

EU-US Summit on 15 June

Brussels 06.06.2021 The EU and US leaders are expected to address a wide range of issues of common concern, including COVID-19, climate, trade and investment, foreign affairs, and common values. The EU will be represented by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. The US will be represented by President Joe Biden.

Representatives from Washington and Brussels met in the Belgian capital on Wednesday,June 2, to reaffirm the strength of the EU-US partnership on foreign policy and security issues.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European External Action Service, met as the Biden administration seeks to reassure European allies after the transatlantic relationship took a battering under former president Donald Trump.

Sannino and Sharman called the upcoming summit “as an important step in the revitalized transatlantic partnership.”

Presidents of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and European Council Charles Michel will host US President Joe Biden in Brussels, however Biden will participate at a NATO leaders’ summit in Brussels a day earlier.

The leaders are expected to hold talks on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, trade and regulatory policies, as well as various foreign policy questions at the summit.

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. will travel to the United Kingdom and Belgium in June 2021. This will be the first overseas travel by President Biden. This trip will highlight his commitment to restoring our alliances, revitalizing the Transatlantic relationship, and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America’s interests.

President Biden will attend the G7 Summit in Cornwall, U.K., which is happening from June 11-13, where he will reinforce our commitment to multilateralism, work to advance key U.S. policy priorities on public health, economic recovery, and climate change, and demonstrate solidarity and shared values among major democracies. He will also hold bilateral meetings with fellow G7 leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

From the United Kingdom the President will travel to Brussels, Belgium, where he will participate in the NATO Summit on June 14. President Biden will affirm the United States’ commitment to NATO, Transatlantic security, and collective defense. NATO leaders will discuss how to orient the Alliance to future threats and ensure effective burden sharing. The President will also hold bilateral meetings with fellow NATO leaders.

While in Brussels President Biden will participate in a U.S.–EU Summit, which will underscore our commitment to a strong Transatlantic partnership based on shared interests and values. The leaders will discuss a common agenda to ensure global health security, stimulate global economic recovery, tackle climate change, enhance digital and trade cooperation, strengthen democracy, and address mutual foreign policy concerns.

We look forward to having further details to share about this trip soon, including potential additional elements.

Huawei lanuches new smartphone

China’s Huawei Technologies Co. on Wednesday, June 2, unveiled its self-developed operating system for smartphones, in a bid to pave the way for separating its business from the United States and the dominance of Google LLC.

The Chinese tech giant’s Harmony OS will be loaded with its Mate X2 foldable smartphones, released in February, as the export-control measures imposed by the 45th U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration have been hurting its cooperate performance.

The focus on HarmonyOS working across devices is one way Huawei is trying to differentiate its operating system from Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

“HarmonyOS is designed to provide the glue between a growing array of connected devices that Huawei is targeting,” Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, said.

“Huawei will be hoping that it can follow Apple’s lead, by having a single software platform that extends in all directions, providing a seamless experience to customers that buy into its ecosystem of products.”

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