Tag Archives: COVID19

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.

Michel postpones #EUCO Summit

On 1 and 2 October, the EU leaders will meet in Brussels to discuss the Single market, industrial policy and digital transformation, as well as external relations, in particular relations with Turkey and with China. The Summit, initially planned for 24 and 25 September, has been postponed as President Michel is in quarantine.

In July, the European Council agreed an unprecedented recovery package to counter the effects of COVID-19 on the economies and societies of the EU member states. The two pillars of such a recovery, the green transition and the digital transformation, coupled with a strong single market, will foster new forms of growth and strengthen the EU’s resilience.

“This agreement was a major step to our vital objective: European strategic autonomy. (…) The strategic independence of Europe is our new common project for this century. It’s in all our common interest” said Charles Michel, President of the European Council.
The European Council will look at ways of deepening and strengthening the single market, developing a more ambitious industrial policy, and pressing ahead with the digital transformation. EU leaders will focus on:
going back to a fully functioning single market as soon as possible; making the EU’s industries more competitive globally and increasing their autonomy; accelerating the digital transition.

The European Council will hold a strategic discussion on Turkey. During the EU leaders’ video conference of 19 August 2020, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and the relations with Turkey were raised by some member states. The leaders expressed their concern about the growing tensions and stressed the urgent need to de-escalate. The members of the European Council expressed their full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and recalled and reaffirmed previous conclusions on the illegal drilling activities.

“We agreed to come back to these issues during our meeting in September. All options will be on the table”, president Michel said.
Following the EU-China summit on 22 June 2020 and the meeting with President Xi on 14 September 2020, both by video conference, the European Council will discuss EU-China relations.
In the light of events, the European Council may address other specific foreign policy issues.

COVID19: President Michel self-isolates

Brussels 22.09.2020 The president of the European Council Charles Michel has been informed today that one of security officers, with whom he had “close” contact early last week, tested positive for COVID-19. Respecting Belgian sanitary rules, he has to respect quarantine for two weeks from today onward, although the president has been passing tests regularity, and was tested negative yesterday, his spokesperson said.

The Belgium National Security Council is set to meet on September 23 to discuss the COVID-19 measures in the face of fast-rising infection rates. Infections are particularly noticeable in younger age groups than was registered in the spring. Last week an average 45 people a day were hospitalised due to complications from the virus. In the seven day period previous to that, the figure was 30 patients per day. It has been more than a month since the last Security Council meeting, which, according to Geert Meyfroidt, a professor in intensive care at KU Leuven, is too long. “You cannot go a month without meeting and taking decisions,” he told Radio 1. “The timing of measures is as crucial as the measures themselves.”

President Michel has decided to postpone the special European Council meeting that was scheduled for 24 and 25 September to 1 and 2 October #EUCO.

#SOTEU: Leyen promises EU Magnitsky law

In her State of the Union #SOTEU #SOTEU2020 address on 16 September 2020, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen presented her vision for the European Union in post- pandemic period, tools for recovery, and sources for new vitality. In spite of the fact that the foreign policy of the EU has been overshadowed by the coronavirus issue, the ruptures in communications it has caused, and standstill in many areas, it stayed an integral part of the presentation, although in a rather sketchy way drawing the lines of the bloc foreign policy, with the accent of “planet fragility” and Climate Change.

One of the most courageous minds of our times, Andrei Sakharov – a man so admired by this House – always spoke of his unshakeable belief in the hidden strength of the human spirit. In these last six months, Europeans have shown how strong that human spirit really is. We saw it in the care workers who moved into nursing homes to look after the ill and the elderly. In the doctors and nurses who became family members for those in their last breath. In the front line workers who worked day after night, week after week, who took risks so most of us didn’t have to. We are inspired by their empathy, bravery and sense of duty – and I want to start this speech by paying tribute to them all. Their stories also reveal a lot about the state of our world and the state of our Union.They show the power of humanity and the sense of mourning which will live long in our society. And they expose to us the fragility all around us.
“A virus a thousand times smaller than a grain of sand exposed how delicate life can be’.

“It laid bare the strains on our health systems and the limits of a model that values wealth above well-being.
It brought into sharper focus the planetary fragility that we see every day through melting glaciers, burning forests and now through global pandemics. It changed the very way we behave and communicate – keeping our arms at length, our faces behind masks.It showed us just how fragile our community of values really is – and how quickly it can be called into question around the world and even here in our Union.
But people want to move out of this corona world, out of this fragility, out of uncertainty. They are ready for change and they are ready to move on. And this is the moment for Europe.
The moment for Europe to lead the way from this fragility towards a new vitality. And this is what I want to talk about today”.

In foreign policy the COVID-19 pandemic and world-wide vaccination have been addressed by the president vor der Leyen in the first place and became an issue of international politics:


“…In the pandemic, European planes delivering thousands of tonnes of protective equipment landed everywhere from Sudan to Afghanistan, Somalia to Venezuela. None of us will be safe until all of us are safe – wherever we live, whatever we have. An accessible, affordable and safe vaccine is the world’s most promising way to do that. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was no funding, no global framework for a COVID vaccine – just the rush to be the first to get one.This is the moment the EU stepped up to lead the global response. With civil society, the G20, WHO and others we brought more than 40 countries together to raise 16 billion euro to finance research on vaccines, tests and treatments for the whole world. This is the EU’s unmatched convening power in action. But it is not enough to find a vaccine. We need to make sure that European citizens and those around the world have access to it. Just this month, the EU joined the COVAX global facility and contributed 400 million euro to help ensure that safe vaccines are available not only for those who can afford it – but for everyone who needs it. Vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk. Vaccine cooperation saves them”.


On UN, WTO, conflicts in Libya and Syria:
“We are firm believers in the strength and value of cooperating in international bodies.It is with a strong United Nations that we can find long-term solutions for crises like Libya or Syria.It is with a strong World Health Organisation that we can better prepare and respond to global pandemics or local outbreaks – be it Corona or Ebola. And it is with a strong World Trade Organisation that we can ensure fair competition for all.But the truth is also that the need to revitalise and reform the multilateral system has never been so urgent. Our global system has grown into a creeping paralysis. Major powers are either pulling out of institutions or taking them hostage for their own interests. Neither road will lead us anywhere. Yes, we want change. But change by design – not by destruction.And this is why I want the EU to lead reforms of the WTO and WHO so they are fit for today’s world”.

EU-China relations:
“But we know that multilateral reforms take time and in the meantime the world will not stop.Without any doubt, there is a clear need for Europe to take clear positions and quick actions on global affairs.Two days ago, the latest EU-China leaders meeting took place.The relationship between the European Union and China is simultaneously one of the most strategically important and one of the most challenging we have.From the outset I have said China is a negotiating partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival.
We have interests in common on issues such as climate change – and China has shown it is willing to engage through a high-level dialogue. But we expect China to live up to its commitments in the Paris Agreement and lead by example.There is still hard work to do on fair market access for European companies, reciprocity and overcapacity. We continue to have an unbalanced trade and investment partnership”.


Announcing of anti-semitsm as EU “issue”
“And there is no doubt that we promote very different systems of governance and society. We believe in the universal value of democracy and the rights of the individual. Europe is not without issues – think for example of anti-semitism. But we discuss them publicly. Criticism and opposition are not only accepted but are legally protected”.


On Hong Kong and Uygurs:
“So we must always call out human rights abuses whenever and wherever they occur – be it on Hong Kong or with the Uyghurs. But what holds us back? Why are even simple statements on EU values delayed, watered down or held hostage for other motives? When Member States say Europe is too slow, I say to them be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting – at least on human rights and sanctions implementation.


Magnitsky Act proposal:
“This House has called many times for a European Magnitsky Act – and I can announce that we will now come forward with a proposal. We need to complete our toolbox”…

World tourism loss exceeds €1 trillion

The economic damage to the global tourism sector as a result of the coronavirus pandemic restricitons is likely to exceed $1 trillion in 2020, which would set the industry back two decades, according to a new report from the United Nations.

“Depending on when travel restrictions will be fully lifted, the World Tourism Organization expects international tourism receipts (i.e. spending by international tourists) to drop between $910 billion and $1.2 trillion this year, which would set the global tourism industry back by 20 years,” UNWTO said.

The report adds that the coronavirus-related restrictions brought international travel to a crashing halt in April and May, resulting in international tourist arrivals that trailed last year’s total by almost 60% through the first five months of 2020.

The UNWTO has underlined that the tourism sector employs one in every ten people on Earth and warns that up to 120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk.

Tourism came to a standstill in mid-March. 2020. International tourist arrivals decreased by 56% in the first months of the year, with numbers in May down by 98%. This translates into a loss of nearly $320 billion in exports – over three times what was lost during the whole of the 2009 global economic crisis.

Forward-looking scenarios point to possible declines in arrivals and receipts from international tourism of 58% to 78% for the whole year depending on the speed of con- tainment of the pandemic, the duration of travel restrictions and the gradual re-opening of borders that has now begun but remains uncertain.

Trade Commissioner Hogan resigns

“This evening I have tendered my resignation as EU Trade Commissioner to the President of the EU Commission, Dr Ursula von der Leyen”, reads the letter of resignation of Phil Hogan, the Irish politician, serving as the EU Trade Commissioner. The decision came amid controversy over breakig the strick sanitary rules during his visit to Ireland. He has been criticised for participating in a gala dinner, without considering the COVID-19 sanitariy measures, attending an event organised for 82 people celebrating golf club anniversary, which caused indignation of his compatriots.

“It was becoming increasingly clear that the controversy concerning my recent visit to Ireland was becoming a distraction from my work as an EU Commissioner and would undermine my work in the key months ahead.

“I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland – the country that I have been so proud to represent as a public servant for most of my adult life – caused such concern, unease and upset. I have always tried to comply with all relevant COVID-19 Regulations in Ireland and had understood that I had met with all relevant public health Guidelines, particularly following confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test. I reiterate my heartfelt apology to the Irish people for the mistakes I made during my visit. The Irish people have made incredible efforts to contain the coronavirus, and the European Commission will continue to support you, and all EU Member States, in defeating this terrible pandemic.

“Let me say from the heart that I fully appreciate and recognise the challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to our society and the global economy. As European Trade Commissioner, I have been at the frontline of the European Union’s response to the crisis.

“I recognise and appreciate the devastating impact of Covid-19 on individuals and families, and I fully understand their sense of hurt and anger when they feel that those in public service do not meet the standards expected of them. It is important to state that I did not break any law. As a public representative I should have been more rigorous in my adherence to the Covid regulations.

“It has been the honour of my life to serve as European Commissioner, first in Agriculture and Rural Development and then in Trade. I believe the project of European Union is our shared continent’s crowning achievement: a force for peace and prosperity the likes of which the world has never seen. I also believe that Ireland’s destiny is deeply European, and that our small, proud, open nation will continue to play an inspiring and proactive role at the heart of the EU.

“I made a lifelong commitment to public service, throughout the course of my almost 40-year political career, as a member of the Local Authority, Oireachtas, Minister and two terms as European Commissioner .I am proud of my record and achievements as European Commissioner and I hope history will judge them favourably, when the final assessment is made.

“I remain convinced that at a time when the global economy faces significant challenges and turbulences, the importance of the EU as a global leader remains paramount. It has been my priority as EU Trade Commissioner to strengthen this global leadership role in trade, and to boost Europe’s capacity to protect itself from unfair trading practices. The EU must remain at the heart of the multilateral system of open, fair and rules-based trade, and continue pursuing a positive reform agenda.

“Brexit also represents a significant challenge for the EU and for Ireland in particular for which I have been centrally involved from the outset. I hope that the EU Member States, with Ireland at their vanguard, and the UK, can overcome their differences and work together to reach a fair, mutually beneficial and sustainable trade deal. EU and UK citizens and businesses deserve nothing less.

“I would like to thank President von der Leyen, my fellow Commissioners, Council members and MEPs for their support and encouragement since my appointment as EU Trade Commissioner. I would also like to thank my Cabinet, team and family for their support”.

UK foreign affairs cat Palmerston retires

Palmerston, the Foreign Office’s famous cat, has retired from mousing duties to “spend more time relaxing away from the limelight”.

In a “letter” dedicated to explantation of his decision at length, he sadi he has moved away from Whitehall and is now climbing trees rather than “overhearing all the foreign dignitaries’ conversations”.
The black-and-white cat, who has more than 105,000 Twitter followers, arrived from Battersea in 2016.

Palmerson has been known to clash with Larry, Number 10’s main mouse-catcher.
Their decidedly undiplomatic disputes – which have included several hissy fits and a stand-off in full view of the press in Downing Street – are not thought to have hastened his departure.

Named after the 19th-Century Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston, Palmerston cat has often featured in photographs involving visiting officials. The news of his retirement hit the world’s headlines.

Sassoli: MEPs call for end to rebates

Statement by European Parliament President on the ongoing European Council meeting:
After days of discussions, European citizens expect an agreement that lives up to this historical moment. We are worried about a future where European solidarity and the Community method are lost. The European Parliament has set out its priorities and it expects them to be met.

The multiannual financial framework must be able to address the main challenges facing Europe in the medium term, such as the Green Deal, digitalisation, economic resilience, and the fight against inequalities. New own resources are needed immediately. We also need measures to ensure the effective defence of the rule of law.
“Furthermore, Parliament has repeatedly called for the end of rebates. If these conditions are not sufficiently met, the European Parliament will not give its consent. COVID-19 is still here and we are seeing new outbreaks in Europe. More than ever it is necessary to act quickly and courageously.”

Dutch Rutte is «not opitimistic»

«Hard work» lies ahead said the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the doorstep of the European Summit (#EUCO) on recovery and long-term budget. However he underlined that due to prepararty period the positions of everyone became clear, and it also became more visible where the «bridges can be built», but of paramount importance is the conducting reforms in the countries which are at utmost in need of the European subsides, to make sure that this kind of situation is the last one.

«If the [member-states in need] are willing to receve subsides above the borrowing, it is very important to be sure that the reforms are conducted there» Rutte has underlined.
Dutch head of government said that he is not «optimistic», but from the other hand «you never know», because nobody is interested to «come together again», but still there are very difficult issues to be agreed upon.

«Nobody is willing to bring to standstill Brussels traffic once again in two week time, however it is not about the speed but about the content», Rutte joked whiling continuing. “Yes” to solidarity, but everything should be done that the countries, which are suffering from the crisis the most, would be able to cope with it the next time. The answer lies in the reforms of the labour market, the pensions reforms, etc. Being against subsidies, the Dutch government sill finds they are possible step, in case there are reforms guarantees, which are crucial. Because the funds should go from the North to the South “in principle last time”.

The Prime Minister has also explained the significance of the consistency of his position on reforms as a condition for two major reasons: the profound need of the stability of Europe in the “unstable world”, with such authoritarian players as China, the U.S., the situation in the Middle East, and role Russia is playing, and the second reason is the EU internal market, which should recover. He also put the Netherlands as an example of a strong internal market, which allows the country the speedy recovery in crisis.

However, Rutte has underlined, that he does not consider the veto perspective, but the power of reasoning as his major advantage, making the point that he does not have any aces in the sleeves.

“We don’t believe in grants set system. It is crucial to maintain the rebates on the sufficient level, and we still need to negotiate what is the sufficient level, and we need the reforms. If the South is in need of help, in terms of coping with crisis we understand that, because they have limited scope of dealing with it financially themselves, it is reasonable for us to ask for the clear commitments to reforms. If the part of loans are converted to grants, then the reforms are absolutely crucial, and we need guarantees that they would take place” Rutte said at doorstep of the Summit. “The EU economies should come of the crisis more résiliant, we need a strong Europe in an unstable world” he said. “The countries who are lagging behind in terms of reforms should steep up” he added.

Rutte also rebuffed the rumours and insinuations, underlining that he works for “strong’ Europe, which is also in the interest of the Dutch citizens – the guarantees instead of “insurances”. Among issues significant for his country he named the rebates.

“A weak compromise will not take Europe further” Rutte said.

The first round of negotiation has started between Dutch Rutte and French President Macron.

Mark Rutte added that he had dinner with the Italian Prime Minister Conte in The Hague, and he is sure that under Conte leadership Italy will pursue further the way for reforms. He also underlined that the personal relationship between both politicians have been always marked by mutual respect.

EU Special recovery plan Council

Invitation letter by President Charles Michel to the members of the European Council ahead of their meeting on 17-18 July 2020 reads as follows:

«On Friday, for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, we will be able to meet again here in Brussels.

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed many lives across Europe and dealt a serious blow to our economies and societies. It continues to impact our lives. All our efforts must focus on building a sustainable recovery. To that end, our meeting this week will be dedicated to the Multiannual Financial Framework and the Recovery Plan.

Since our last summit in June, we have worked intensively with all of you and taken due note of your concerns. On that basis I have put forward a proposal to address the key difficulties and to build bridges between the different positions. Finding agreement will require hard work and political will on the part of all. Now is the time. A deal is essential. We will need to find workable solutions and come to an agreement, for the greater benefit of our citizens.

Our meeting will start on Friday at 10.00 a.m. with the traditional exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. We will then hold our first working session and take it from there.

I look forward to welcoming you again in Brussels!»

EU leaders will meet physically in Brussels to discuss the recovery plan to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and a new long-term EU budget.

President Michel has proposed €1 074 billion to fulfil the long-term objectives of the EU, and to preserve the full capacity of the recovery plan. This proposal is largely based on the February proposal, which reflected two years of discussions between member states.

Rebates

Lump sum rebates would be maintained for Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden.

Size of the recovery fund

The Commission would be empowered to borrow up to €750 billion through an own-resource decision. These funds may be used for back-to-back loans and for expenditure channelled through the MFF programmes.

President Michel has proposed to preserve the balance between loans, guarantees and grants to avoid over-burdening member states with high levels of debt. “This is also key for the future of the Single Market and to prevent more fragmentation and disparities,” he said.

Allocation of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF)

This proposal ensures the money goes to the countries and sectors most affected by the crisis: 70% of the Recovery and Resilience Facility would be committed in 2021 and 2022, according to the Commission’s allocation criteria. 30% would be committed in 2023, taking into account the drop in GDP in 2020 and 2021. The total envelope should be disbursed by 2026.

Governance and conditionality

Based on the proposal, member states will prepare national recovery and resilience plans for 2021-2023 in line with the European Semester, notably country-specific recommendations. The plans will be reviewed in 2022. The assessment of these plans will be approved by the Council by a qualified majority vote on a proposal by the Commission.

Secondly, 30% of funding will target climate-related projects. Expenses under the MFF and Next Generation EU will comply with the EU’s objective of climate neutrality by 2050, the EU’s 2030 climate targets and the Paris Agreement.

The third conditionality proposed by the President is linked to the rule of law and the European values.
“We are taking a key step to anchor the rule of law and values in our European project and this is why I propose a strong link between funding and respect for governance and rule of law,” said President Michel.

Image: Europa building, Brussels, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

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