Europe

Protests continue in Belarus over ‘rigged’ elections
Europe

Protests continue in Belarus over ‘rigged’ elections

Even as the key opposition candidate disappeared into the neighbouring country, detractors of long-time president continued to protest the biased election results.

It was widely anticipated that Alexander Lukashenka, President of Belarus from 1994, would be declared the winner of Sunday’s elections. Not because he is popular. Quite the contrary, public sentiment is largely against him with increasing support for political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who has promised free and fair elections if she is elected. Because that is certainly not an option under Lukashenka who is often referred to as Europe’s last dictator.

Even before results were declared, protests have been breaking out across the country calling for transparent elections and easing up of the crackdown on opposition leaders. But the authorities have been unrelenting. On Monday, it was announced that Lukashenka won more than 80% of the votes triggering condemnation and accusations of election rigging. Tikhanovskaya, who reportedly got only 10% of the votes, said she would contest the results and went to the Central Election Commission to lodge a complaint. Here is where things get murky.

She was reportedly held there for over seven hours and no one heard from her after she was released. Today, Belarusian foreign minister said that she has crossed over the border to Lithuanian and is “safe” and was “resting”. Tikhanovskaya herself released a video, looking forlorn, saying she had to take the “very difficult decision” of leaving the country for the sake of her children. Soon another video of her emerged, this on taken a day earlier during her detention in Belarus, asking the public to accept Lukashenka’s “victory” and stop protesting.  But clashes between protestors and police continued on for a second night. Confrontations were reported from all across the country and police detained over 3,000 people, nearly a third of them in the capital city of Minsk. Rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas were used on demonstrators. There were videos of police vans ramming into crowds and mowing down people as well. Protestors fought back with stones and fireworks from behind barricades built out of metal barriers, wooden crates and other objects. One man died after an explosive divide went off in his hand, making him the first casualty of the protests.

Europe is yet to fulfil its COVID-19 commitments amid surging fear of second wave
Europe

Europe is yet to fulfil its COVID-19 commitments amid surging fear of second wave

From Scotland to Spain, European countries are witnessing an unprecedented surge in Coronavirus cases in recent days, forcing the governments to reinstate restrictions to control the spread of the disease. Fresh infections across Europe are threatening the hopes of the member states for a quick post-pandemic recovery.

While the European Union was aiming to lead the world in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, analysts have contended that the bloc has not been able to live up to its promises. After almost seven months since the Coronavirus outbreak hit the EU, the 27-nations bloc has only had a few positive results to show the world. It took weeks of negotiations for the bloc to agree on a €1.8-trillion budget and recovery package that will assist in countering the repercussions of the pandemic. According to the agreement, the European Commission will be borrowing €750 billion on international markets and allocate the aid to the member states to support their recovery process.

A surge in Coronavirus cases has also escalated the search for an effective vaccine against the disease in the European Union. However, at a time when the European Commission is seeking to set up an inclusive international buyers’ group for the bloc to procurement of potential COVID-19 vaccines, a number of member states have already signed up deals with vaccine manufactures for their countries respectively. Significantly, EU’s collective plan will require member states to pool in necessary resources for jointly developing effective vaccines to combat the disease which can lead to duplication of work of vaccine manufacturers.

Earlier in July, the European Commission entered a deal with Sanofi and GSK (the two have collaborated to develop a potential vaccine) for 300 million doses which will be available for all 27-member countries to purchase. Reportedly, the EU’s announcement came on the same day the US government stated that it will be investing up to $2.1 billion in Sanofi and GSK for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

On the other hand, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands signed a deal with AstraZeneca for 400 million doses of the vaccine in mid-June. Later after discussions, the four-nation deal was merged with European Commission’s efforts to procure the vaccine for all 27 members. Last month, European leaders openly clashed during negotiations over the allocation of the €1.8tn budget and recovery package for the bloc. The leaders engaged in intense debates over the size of the recovery fund for countries that have been worst affected by the pandemic consequences and the seven-year multi-financial framework.

Long time president in Belarus faces election of a lifetime
Europe

Long time president in Belarus faces election of a lifetime

The president has been in power since 1994 but he is being challenged by an unlikely candidate in the upcoming elections.

Dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is hoping to return to office for the sixth time in the elections due on August 9. It should have been a routine affair – after all elections in Belarus have been famously unfair and a crackdown on opposition has preceded voting over the years. But for the first time since the 26 years he has been in power, Lukashenko’s chances are looking shaky. The reason is a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother of two and political novice who is now running against him.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is the wife of opposition candidate and prominent blogger Sergei Tikhanovskaya, who was arrested recently on the charges of using Russian fighters to create unrest in the country. The campaign manager of another opposition candidate and the wife of a third have also thrown their weight behind Tikhanovskaya’s candidature, which has been seeing a lot of popular support over the past few days.

Her rallies are drawing tens of thousands of people, especially young people, who are increasingly disillusioned with their current leader for the economic stagnation, authoritarian rules and his handling of the coronavirus crisis. If elected she has promised the release of political prisoners and free and fair elections within six months. There are three other candidates in the race, largely considered token opposition to Lukashenko.  

There were several complaints of voting irregularities in the last elections in 2015 and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights observed that there was no accountability in the overall process. This time, the international organisation has been invited too late to observe the process. In the last weeks, the authorities have also been exerting more and more pressure on the Tikhanovskaya’s campaign and not allowing her to conduct her rallies freely.

The first round of elections is on August 9 and a second round will be held in two weeks unless a candidate manages to get 50 per cent of the vote. Considering that he has less than usual popular support, there is an expectation that Lukashenko would not allow the voting to reach stage two. Unwilling to risk his office, he will probably declare himself the winner in the first round. But more Belarusians than ever have been actively participating in the campaigns and many have been detained for protesting against rigged elections and arrest of opposition. With so many people more aware than ever of the electoral process and invested in the outcome, it might be more difficult than usual to rig the results. 

Sanctions against autocratic EU governments on the cards
Europe

Sanctions against autocratic EU governments on the cards

Access to EU recovery funds should be subject to adherence to democratic principles, according to France.

In the face of corruption allegations and curtailing of human rights and press freedom in some Eastern European countries, France has said that access to the European Union’s coronavirus recovery fund will be subject to conditions.

France’s minister for European affairs Clement Beaune made these comments in an interview with Financial Times, saying European citizens can’t have financial solidarity without making sure all of them also had basic rules of democracy. Any breach should be dealt with firmly with sanctions that entail both legal and financial consequences, he said.

EU member states agreed on a 750-billion-euro recovery fund, along with a seven-year 1.1 trillion-euro budget, over a marathon five-day summit in July. The massive stimulus package is a combination of grants and loans that will not only support the recovery of the pandemic-stricken economies but also invest in a green future.

In recent years, Western European countries have been struggling to respond to the authoritarianism creeping in on their Eastern flank. In Poland and Hungary, human rights and press freedoms are under threat while there have been corruption allegations at the highest levels in the Czech Republic. These countries have been opposing rule-of-law conditions on the recovery plan, in an effort to maintain the status quo within their borders while benefitting from the EU’s safety net.

They had a victory last month when the agreement on the recovery fund was finalised without provisions for stricter measures on those who are in breach of democratic values. While sanctions were suggested, the language was vague and not strong enough to ensure meaningful action. There are still efforts to iron out a deal by the end of the year that will take into account these increasing threats to freedoms in the East.

In both Hungary and Poland, there has been more and more attack on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) communities. In Poland, towns are declaring themselves LGBTI- “free” and the clampdown on media freedoms has made it difficult to call out this trend. In Hungary, independent media outlets are being bought out by cronies of the ruling parties and journalists have been resigning in protest.

There has been some symbolic resistance to these activities from the EU like recently when the European Commission rejected grants from anti-gay Polish cities under a twinning programme. But there is a general agreement that there need to be stricter measures to stem this tide.

Opinion Polls: President Macron’s popularity increases after the EU Recovery Deal and reshuffling of govt
Europe

Opinion Polls: President Macron’s popularity increases after the EU Recovery Deal and reshuffling of govt

French President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity increased by six points in the opinion polls that were done on July 21-23, especially, after the 27 EU members agreed on a 750 billion euro stimulus and the reshuffling of cabinet ministers in July.

President Macron called the marking of the EU Recovery Deal a ‘historic day for Europe’ that will support nations to recover from the novel Covid-19 pandemic.

As the meeting arrived on its fifth day, the 27 members of state and government finally consented to seal the EU Recovery Deal, the Guardian reported. 

Despite the opposition from a few states, Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden that the deal was signed at 5:15 am 27 on Tuesday morning. 

According to BBC, the package will permit EU nations to manage to spend on the consequences of lockdowns that severely influenced the economy. It incorporates checks so that the assets won’t get misused. The beneficiaries will have to submit spending plans to the European Commission, and a dominant part of states will have the option to block plans. 

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the discussion lasting over 90 hours, had been “justified, despite all the trouble” and that the EU couldn’t be blamed this time for being late in executing what was needed.

Facebook sues the EU: “Our employees’ privacy has been violated”
Europe

Facebook sues the EU: “Our employees’ privacy has been violated”

According to British media, Facebook has sued the European Union for the invasion of its employees’ privacy.The appeal, filed before the Luxembourg Court, is linked to the requests of the Brussels authorities in the context of two ongoing antitrust investigations, which according to the American social giant, go well beyond the scope of the inquiries. In particular, the European Union is examining how Facebook collects and gains its data and is trying to determine whether the company’s Marketplace has an unfair advantage over competitors in the classifieds sector.

Since March, Facebook has provided the Commission with 1.7 million pages of documents, including internal e-mails. According to well-informed anonymous sources cited by several British media, Brussels has asked for more information, demanding all documents containing keywords and phrases like big questions, free, not good for us, and shutdown.In its appeal, the company claims that this request is too broad and would also include private information about its employees.

“The nature of the Commission’s requests means that we would be required to deliver mostly irrelevant documents, which have nothing to do with the Commission’s investigations.That includes highly sensitive personal information such as employee medical information, personal financial papers, and information.”

The Facebook lawyer Tim Lamb explained, adding that his company believes that EU courts should review these requests.The Commission will defend its case before the EU Court of Justice, and the EU investigation into Facebook’s potential anti-competitive behavior is ongoing. A spokesman for the European Commission said, commenting on the move by the social network to appeal to the EU Court against requests for documents made by the European antitrust.

A year ago, the European Commission launched an antitrust assessment on Facebook and the use of data collected by third-party apps, within an investigation of the American giants of the web and their conduct in terms of respect for competition. Amazon and the collection of seller data on its marketplace, Apple and its digital store are also under examination of EU. Within these investigations, the Commission may ask to deliver documents containing some keywords.The European Court will have to verify what privacy protections the Commission is taking in its investigations. Hence the preliminary suspension, necessary to avoid a situation in which the disputed material is made public in violation of Facebook’s fundamental right to privacy of managers and employees.

Changing EU-US relations in geopolitical discourse
Europe

Changing EU-US relations in geopolitical discourse

For more than seven decades, the United States and the European Union have shared stable relations in the world order eve after disagreements certain fronts. However, it appears like both sides of the Atlantic are rethinking their relations due to a mix of internal and external forces, particularly, in the aftermath of the Coronavirus outbreak.

According to analysts, diplomatic and transatlantic relations between the US and the EU have significantly eroded after Donald Trump’s presidency. US President Trump has on several occasions attacked the bloc, ridiculing America’s relations with the EU in the geopolitical discourse.

Evidence have shown that after Washington has stopped interfering in European affairs, the 27-member bloc has also been actively working on gaining more autonomy from one of the world’s biggest economies. With the US and China are distancing themselves amid the ongoing trade clashes, the EU is also reassessing Sino-European relations. Notedly, Brussels is pondering on enhancing its economic and strategic partnership with China in a bid to curtail its reliance on the United States.

From the Paris Climate Accord to the Iran nuclear deal, the US and EU have locked horns on several issues. As per reports, tensions have escalated within the US-EU-NATO geopolitical triangle. Trump’s attacks on European NATO members through trade policies have also pushed the European Union into establishing a stronger autonomy in areas of security and defence to counter America.

Earlier in July, the EU declined to welcome American travellers into the bloc as it reopened its external borders to 15 countries in the post-pandemic recovery process. On the contrary, the EU’s list of safe countries where European citizens were allowed to travel to included China among other countries.

America’s response against the Coronavirus pandemic has appeared to be largely different from the European Union. When the US is still fighting the continuous surge in the number of positive cases, Europe is working on reopening its economy after reporting a decline in infections. On one hand, Europe has intensified its efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine for the entire mankind, Washington is eyeing to monopolize use of the vaccine across the world. It is understandable that relations and interests between both sides are rapidly changing with time. But, it is important for both – EU and US –  to coordinate their efforts against global threats in the current situation.

European green recovery dependent on efforts of member states
Europe

European green recovery dependent on efforts of member states

The European Union is working on a green economic recovery in the post-pandemic process. Recently, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that Europe’s recovery will be green, adding that the new EU budget will power the European green deal and accelerate the digitalisation of the bloc’s economy. Significantly, European leaders have been stressing on the importance of climate action and green recovery in the upcoming seven-year budget of the bloc.

Earlier this week, EU leaders met at a special meeting of European Councils in Brussels. After hours of negotiations, the leaders agreed on a deal committing 30% share of the mammoth €1.074 trillion 2021-2027 EU budget and a €750 billion COVID-19 recovery fund towards climate projects. According to media reports, the European governments have approved a historic climate change plan, agreeing to invest $572 billion into various initiatives to support environmental development in areas like renewable energy and agriculture.

In addition, the European leaders agreed on a “do no harm” principle which states that no funding will go to any project that would cause harm to the climate or environment in the midst of the EU’s goal to become climate neutral continent by 2050.

With the increasing necessity to address the climate crisis, the issue is significantly gaining political attention. Evidently, European lawmakers are acknowledging the commitments to climate action and environmental protection, therefore allocating substantial funds from the EU budget to address the crisis. Notedly, the European Parliament has also worked on strengthening the allocation of funds to ensure the fulfillment of the EU’s goal for climate neutrality. Interestingly, how effective the green recovery plan will end up depends crucially on the member states and their respective recovery plans. Members states are required to submit their plans and investment agendas until 2024 to the Commission by October 2020. One of the criteria against which the Commission will assess their plans is whether they consist of measures for green and digital recovery. At the same time, member states can choose to go beyond the minimum 30% climate spend and give priority to measures that facilitate a more green and resilient economy. For instance, Germany’s post-pandemic recovery plan is among the greenest so far. The country is allocating about a third of its recovery budget of 130 billion euros ($145 billion) into developments of public transport and green hydrogen.

European Council conclusions, “We did it. Europe is strong. Europe is united”
Europe

European Council conclusions, “We did it. Europe is strong. Europe is united”

“We did it. Europe is strong. Europe is united”, European Council President Charles Michel said commenting the conclusions of the special meeting of 27 heads of State and Government. “We have reached a deal on the recovery package and the European budget”. Michel added, highlighting that these were, of course, difficult negotiations in very difficult times for all Europeans. A marathon which ended in success for all 27 member states, but especially for the people. “This is a good deal. This is a strong deal. And most importantly, this is the right deal for Europe, right now”. He stressed.

On 21 July 2020, the European Council adopted conclusions on the recovery plan and multi annual financial framework for 2021-2027.The exceptional nature of the economic and social situation due to the COVID-19 crisis requires exceptional measures to support the recovery and resilience of the economies of the Member States.The plan for European recovery will need massive public and private investment at European level to set the Union firmly on the path to a sustainable and resilient recovery, creating jobs and repairing the immediate damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic whilst supporting the Union’s green and digital priorities. The MFF, reinforced by NGEU, will be the main European tool.In order to provide the Union with the necessary means to address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission will be authorised to borrow funds on behalf of the Union on the capital markets. The proceeds will be transferred to Union programmes.

“We negotiated about money. But, of course, it is about a lot more than money. It is about workers and families, their jobs, their health and their well-being. I believe this agreement will be seen as a pivotal moment in Europe’s journey, but it will also launch us into the future. In fact, it is the first time, the first time in European history that our budget will be clearly linked to our climate objectives. The first time, the first time that the respect for rule of law is a decisive criterion for budget spending. And the first time, the first time that you are jointly re-enforcing our economies against a crisis”. Michel stated.

The EU decided to support a budget for the next seven years with 1,074 billion euros, to mobilize 750 billion euros to support an economic recovery capacity. Michel explained that the 27 have taken guidelines in terms of own resources which represent an impetus for the future of the European project by identifying the themes for which they are going to work, with precise timetables. “We considered that the rule of law, governance, our common values ​​should be there. They were also involved in the decisions we take today”. The president affirmed, adding: “As you can see, we have demonstrated that the magic of the European project works, because when we think it is impossible, there is resilience thanks to respect, thanks to cooperation, also thanks to the will to work together, to overcome difficulties together, thanks to mutual respect, there is this capacity to face by being united, together.”

This is the magic of the European project. Beyond differences, beyond sensitivities, beyond opinions. Yesterday the special European Council showed this.“It is a signal that we send in Europe to Europeans, that we also send to the rest of the world: that this European Union is a union of values, this union, which brings together 450 million citizens, it has the ability, when the moment demands it, to respond forcefully, with robustness”.As of 21 July 2020, 1,634,446 cases have been reported in the EU and 180,702 deaths according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Europe has ignored Italy’s request for urgent help in February, The Guardian reveals
Europe

Europe has ignored Italy’s request for urgent help in February, The Guardian reveals

At the end of February, Italy asked for urgent help to deal with the spread of the new Coronavirus but the countries of the European Union ignored the request while the virus was crossing the Continent. The British newspaper The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed today reconstructing the first stages of the pandemic in Europe and the initial lack of coordination in the response among the European institutions.

The British newspaper explains step by step how Europe has become the epicenter of the pandemic after China and denounces the shocking silence with which the EU has welcomed the Rome’s request, when the number of infections in Italy tripled every 48 hours. The Guardian writes that, on February 26, an urgent message was sent from Rome to the European Commission at the Berlaymont building in Brussels. The specifications of what Italy needed were uploaded on the EU’s Cecis system (Common Emergency Communication and Information System).

According to Brussels Commissioner for Emergency Management, Janez Lenarcic, there would have been no “lack of solidarity” at the origin of European silence before the demands of the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Lenarcic explained to the authors of the investigation that support to Italy didn’t arrive due to “lack of equipment”. “It was not only Italy that was not prepared nobody was,” the EU commissioner reiterated. The EU was unprepared from the earliest stages of what would later in March be declared a “pandemic” by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The investigation also shows that Italy did not take part in a first meeting called by the European Commission for health security, on 17 January, because the officials in charge did not notice the email inviting the meeting. Among the topics discussed during the talks, there was also the management of direct flights from Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, to three European cities: London, Paris and Rome.

Some 180,000 European citizens, across the European economic area and the UK, have died from coronavirus and 1.6 million have been infected since the disease crept on to the continent in December last year courtesy of a mystery patient zero.The true number of deaths is almost certainly higher than so far recorded.

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