Europe

Netherlands: Mark Rutte wins election, fourth time in a row
Europe

Netherlands: Mark Rutte wins election, fourth time in a row

Mark Rutte won the Netherlands’ general elections for the fourth time in a row, defeating the country’s far-right bloc. The 54-year old leader, if successful in forming the new government, would become the longest-serving prime minister of the country. According to the exit poll estimates conducted by Ipsos for the country’s national broadcaster NOS, Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, won 35 out of 150 seats, upping from 33 seats, won in the last election.

In his reaction towards the poll results, he expressed gratitude towards the voters for choosing his party with “an overwhelming vote of confidence ”and called it a “humbling” experience. He committed to rebuild the country marred by the coronavirus pandemic, which killed over 16,000 people in the country. Rutte said, “It is also forcing us to do everything we can to make a success out of it.” He added, “The agenda ahead of us is enormous. In the coming weeks and months, we have to lead the Netherlands through the corona crisis.”

In his victory speech, Rutte said that “not everything has gone well in the last 10 years”, referring to his resignation tabled in January following the accusation of his involvement in child benefits scam and displaying racially biased attitude.  He said, “But of course the main issue also on the table for the next years is how to rebuild the country going forward after coronavirus.” He added: “I have the energy for another 10 years.”

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Sophie Hermans, VVD’s vice-chair said: “The Netherlands has expressed confidence in the VVD, in Rutte in this unprecedented crisis.We succeeded, for the fourth time in a row. I’m very proud.” With regard to Rutte’s plans to form a coalition government, he said that his first option was the centrist D66 party, which was also part of his last coalition government. Many analysts predicted that it would be continuation of the last government combination only. Over the party’s estimated win of 27 seats, the party’s leader Sigrid Kaag tweeted that the election outcome was “a great responsibility”, along with a picture of herself dancing on a table in celebration.

EU starts legal action as UK violates international law
Europe

EU starts legal action as UK violates international law

The European Union said, on Monday, that it is initiating a legal action against the United Kingdom, asserting that it does not adhere to the conditions of Brexit withdrawal agreement and has been continuously violating international law.

The 27-nation EU objected the step of Britain to unilaterally extend a grace period beyond Apr. 1 that has to do with trade on the island of Ireland. Here, the United Kingdom and EU share a land border and as a part of Brexit divorce deal, a special trade system is set up.

This development marks yet another deterioration in the relations between the two parties since a divorce transition period that ended on Jan. 1. Disputations have ranged from tussles over vaccines, to the complete diplomatic recognition of the Union in Britain and now again over the terms of divorce agreement.

Britain announced, last week, that impositions of checks on commodities from the EU is being delayed to give businesses more space to prepare for the new post-Brexit rules.

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And on March 3 ,the Kingdom decided to extend a grace period, unilaterally, until October on checks for goods moving back and forth between Northern Ireland and Britain. Northern Ireland forms a part of the United Kingdom but has remained part of the EU’s single market for essential goods after Brexit to avoid tough border that could bring back sectarian violence.

That means that products coming from Britain will face EU import regulations.

Last year, in September,  the U.K. had upset the 27-nation body when it was bringing the legislation that would have empowered Boris Johnson’s government to override a part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement linked to Northern Ireland.

EU threatened that it will ban shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to Northern Ireland as a part of the moves to shore up the bloc’s supply. 

Why Pablo Iglesias Withdrew From The Office As Dep. PM
Europe

Why Pablo Iglesias Withdrew From The Office As Dep. PM

Spain’s deputy PM has suddenly stepped down in the eleventh hour. Pablo Iglesias was a political novice before he emerged to lead the Podemos party. He has left the Left Wing coalition suddenly, and already put forward the name of Employment Minister Yolanda Díaz as his replacement (with Ione Belarra taking over from Díaz at the employment ministry).

The current Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has yet to approve these moves. Iglesias instead feels that he could do better to run for the political elections slated for May 2021. There are currently four deputy PM holding positions in the Spanish government.

According to Iglesias, by being a candidate in May to head Madrid’s regional government, he is going to add a new dimension to the leadership, which has been attacked as “criminal” and “Trumpist” for the time being.

 Announcing his decision over a social media video he also said that “I will put all my heart and all my organization’s force into building a strong broad leftist campaign to avoid the far right from taking control of our institutions. If party members want, I will put myself forward in the elections. Madrid needs a government of the left.”

He has had no qualms to suggest that Spain’s communist labour minister Yolanda Díaz should run as Podemos’s candidate in the country’s next general election, due by 2023. Diaz

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Spanish government is in chaos already as several regional government alliances have collapsed. This has lead to number of no-confidence motions being filed where other regional governments were built on coalitions between the Citizens and PP, including Madrid.

But amidst all this chaos, Madrid’s president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso dissolved the executive to prevent a motion of no-confidence and brought forward elections to May 4. She has been seen as the doer. No wonder polls show that Dias Ayuso could seek to return to office repeat in office in coalition with the far-right Vox party. But Pablo Iglesias does not probably want that to happen and therefore he will ask Más Madrid – another left-wing splinter group of Podemos – to promote a single candidate while maintaining independence.

The Netherlands becomes the latest country to suspend AstraZeneca vaccine use over side effects concern
Europe

The Netherlands becomes the latest country to suspend AstraZeneca vaccine use over side effects concern

Netherlands has become latest country to suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine over possible side effects concern after many nations too suspended the use. The side effect of blood clot development is the reason of this action being taken by multiple countries. However, the WHO (World Health Organization) and the European Medicines Agency have rejected any link between the blood clot formation and AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine.

So far seven countries have suspended the vaccine use in their population. AstraZeneca pointed out that out of 17 million people who received a vaccine dose in the UK and EU, less than 40 cases of blood clots were reported last week.

The Dutch government has said that the vaccine suspension is a precautionary step and would last till at least March 29.

Similar step of suspending vaccine inoculation as a precautionary step after reports of blood clot formation post vaccination with AstraZeneca vaccine was taken by Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria, Iceland and Democratic Republic of Congo. Suspension if certain batches of the vaccine has been done by many European nations, including Austria and Italy.

RELATED NEWS: Brazil Spread Of Virus Could Be Detrimental To World Recovery: WHO

Post brief delay in vaccination rollout, Thailand will now roll out AstraZeneca vaccination on Tuesday.

European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said that it is safe to continue vaccination while it is reviewing the cause behind blood clot formation after AstraZeneca vaccine dose in certain individuals. Furthermore, medicines regulator of UK also has said that evidence doesn’t indicate that blood clot formation is due to vaccination. People in UK have been urged to get vaccinated on their turn and not to let the said ‘supposed side effect’ change their decision of getting vaccinated against Covid-19.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford vaccine group that developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine said, “It’s absolutely critical that we don’t have a problem of not vaccinating people and have the balance of a huge risk – a known risk of Covid – against what appears so far from the data that we’ve got from the regulators – no signal of a problem.”

EU launches investigation into the Google ads ecosystem
Europe

EU launches investigation into the Google ads ecosystem

On Friday, European Union Competition Commissioner said that the union would be launching a very extensive investigation in order to understand Google’s advertising business model. The new angle to the probe has added an extra element of complication to a decade-long antitrust battle between the tech giant and the bloc. 

Speaking at a virtual conference, organized by the European retailers’ association, EuroCommerce, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager stressed that technology “is really a high priority for us because what has happened over these last 12 months has changed a lot of habits.” 

Vestager said that the EU would “use every tool that we have to the fullest” to enforce the antitrust action necessary “to make sure that the marketplace is fair.” Google so far has not released any statement in correspondence to Vestager’s remarks.

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The European Commission has been looking into Google’s antitrust practices for the past two years, and now has extended its investigation to examine the tech giants’ plans to discontinue third-party cookies. Britain’s antitrust body is investigating this aspect of Google plan, after it received multiple complaints from publishers.

EU has launched similar antitrust probes against big tech giants including Apple Inc, Facebook, and Amazon in the recent past. EU’s series of investigations against tech giants included launching a probe into Apple Inc.’s payment system, Facebook’s data collection, and Amazon’s control over retailer’s data. Out of all, her most advanced probe has been digging into Amazon’s control of seller data, which she said could be “dramatically reducing the risks of Amazon retail compared to the risk” faced by traders on the platform.

Last year, the European Commission urged the EU court of justice to reopen a landmark case against Apple with regard to its unpaid tax dues worth €13bn. Vestager, who had been leading this legal battle for the EU against the technology giant alleged that the Ireland government gave a “sweetheart” deal to the iPhone maker, allowing it to pay comparatively much lower taxes than other businesses.

With this case, the EU challenged the July 2016 General Court’s judgment which exempted Apple from any charges related to evasion or underpayment of taxes. Besides, Vestager said that the case raised a pertinent issue of state aid rules and unfair competition.

She said, “The General Court has repeatedly confirmed the principle that, while the Member States have competence in determining their taxation laws taxation, they must do so in respect of EU law, including State aid rules.”

Germany Losing Its Grace Over Lobbying Allegations Against Conservative MPs
Europe

Germany Losing Its Grace Over Lobbying Allegations Against Conservative MPs

Angela Merkel is not having a good exit another of her affiliates has been pulled into lobbying controversy forcing him to put in his papers. Mark Hauptmann of the Center-Right Christian Democratic Union has resigned over alleged lobbying for Azerbaijan and through a newspaper that he owns. He has denied any wrongdoing 

A German daily newspaper alleged that he received money from abroad, in the form of advertisements in a newspaper he publishes via countries like Azerbaijan. The Spiegel weekly had reported that the 36-year-old repeatedly spoke out in favor of the authoritarian, oil-rich nation in the past.

The situation is becoming more and more embarrassing for the party as two other members of Merkel’s bloc also resigned in recent days amid allegations they profited from brokering deals to procure masks early in the pandemic.

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The allegations seem to be undoing everything good that Merkel had done in her tenure. In order to maintain the sanctity of the parties, the parliament’s CDU-CSU bloc has now set a deadline asking its 245 Bundestag members to declare in writing that none have benefited from pandemic-linked trading.

Ralf Stegner, a deputy chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD), who are currently partners in Merkel’s coalition cabinet, has also renewed calls for a clear code of conduct, saying Germany should ban paid lobbying at federal and regional state assembly levels.

Germany has pride in its transparency of handling politics and the trust of its people. The recent spite of scandals is making many feel ashamed of the lack of integrity amongst the Conservatives. Both scandals have led to a drop in the Christian Democratic Union of Germany’s (CDU) popularity ratings just days ahead of two key regional elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.

The mask controversy has CSU lawmaker Georg Nuesslein being investigated under suspected corrupt handling of Covid-19 mask supply where he has been accused for having accepted around 600,000 euros ($715,000) to lobby for a mask supplier. A similar controversy embroiled CDU lawmaker Nikolas Loebel too, whose company apparently has pocketed 250,000 euros in commissions for acting as an intermediary in mask contracts.

Over failure to remove ‘banned content’ Russia slows down Twitter
Europe

Over failure to remove ‘banned content’ Russia slows down Twitter

Russian media watchdog has announced that it is slowing down Twitter speed. The decision comes after the US social media platform failed to remove 3000 posts flagged by Russia which were related to drugs, suicide and pornography. 

The watchdog said that decision was with intention of protecting citizens of Russia. Twitter has expressed deep concern over watchdog’s decision. 

Twitter is majorly used by Kremlin opponents and critics in Russia. With this speed slowdown, users in the country are facing trouble in viewing many photographs and videos on the social media platform. 

Media watchdog supported and defended its action saying that the move of slowing down internet wasn’t targeted towards Twitter and involved more of a technical issue, affecting several Russian websites, including Kremlin and Russian internet provider Rostelecom. The watchdog further said that Twitter’s failure to remove the banned content in Russia incited suicides of various minors, contained indecent images of children and young adults and also information on drug usage. The internet connection speeds were slowed down in Russia in general, reports suggested. 

Twitter is widely used social media platform in Russia and is the sixth most popular platform in the country. It is also widely used by Kremlin opposition figures and critics, including Alexei Navalny who was arrested in January after he returned to Moscow from Germany where he received treatment for poisoning with nerve agent Novichok, 

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After his arrest mass rallies erupted across the country in support of Navalny and demanding his release, the extent of mass dissent that was never seen in Russia. Media watchdog had warned Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and other media sites that they would face fines if content inciting protests is not removed. Earlier in this month, Russian authorities announced that Twitter along with four other social media platforms was being sued as they failed to delete these flagged posts. 

The Russian media watchdog was given powers by President Vladimir Putin recently of blocking social media platforms that defied Russian media and failed to comply by the regulations.

Conference for EU’s future rejected by 13 member states: Report
Europe

Conference for EU’s future rejected by 13 member states: Report

Citizens of 13 member states have denied participating in Conference for future of European Union

The European Parliament is planning to launch a Conference on the Future of Europe in the coming months. However, the recently-conducted Eurobarometer study has revealed that respondents from at least 13 EU member states are not willing to participate in the conference meant for citizens.

As per reports, the conference is aimed at providing a discussion forum for citizens on shaping the future of the European Union in the next 5-20 years in the wake of Britain’s exit from the bloc. While the conference was scheduled to start in May 2020, the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the efforts. 

As per the official Eurobarometer study, 48 percent of the respondents are less inclined towards participating in the initiative, while 20percent have said that they would not take part. Meanwhile, 51 percent of respondents have shown their willingness to take part in the Conference for the future of the bloc. 

Interestingly, there are prominent differences in the responses of citizens from different member states. On one hand, citizens of Ireland (81%), Belgium (64%), Luxembourg (63%), and Slovenia (63%) are more enthusiastic about taking part in the decision-making process, on the other hand, respondents from Portugal (34%), Bulgaria (34%) and Finland (38%) are not willing to get involved in the conference. In addition, around half of the Europeans have said that they hold a positive image of the EU, with only 14 percent saying that they hold a negative image. 

Over 27,000 people across all 27 member states of the bloc were interviewed in the survey between 22 October and 20 November 2020. Jointly commissioned by the European Commission and the European Parliament, the survey saw both face-to-face and online interviews amid pandemic restrictions. 

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In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the idea for a Conference for Europe’s future. After European Commission, President Ursula von der Leyen included the idea in her political guidelines with the aim of collecting the thoughts of EU citizens about various issues related to the bloc, including digital transition, election process among others. According to the joint declaration approved by the Council of the EU, the conference must be launched soon in order to “reach conclusions by spring 2022. For implementation, the plan is yet to be signed by Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, Parliament President David Sassoli, and Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa, who currently hold the bloc’s Presidency acting, as joint chairs”.

Switzerland follows suit, votes to ban the burqa and any face-covering in public
Europe

Switzerland follows suit, votes to ban the burqa and any face-covering in public

In a move that has already attracted wide criticism from Muslim communities globally, Switzerland has voted in support of a referendum that would ban women in the country from wearing burqa or niqab in public places. With the narrow votes Switzerland has followed the suit after France, Austria and Belgium too banned women from having any face-covering in public places. ` 

In the voting, just over 51% of voters in Switzerland voted in favor of the motion that would ban women from covering their face entirely in public places like on the street, shops, and restaurants. However, the full facial covers would still be permitted in places of worship and at places of native customs like a carnival. Face masks, that is face coverings that are to be worn for safety and hygienic reasons too are allowed and won’t be affected by the new law. 

The referendum was strictly opposed by the Parliament in Switzerland and the seven-member executive council that forms the federal government in the country. The argument proposed by them was that full facial coverings represent a “fringe phenomenon”. They said that instead a proposal must be initiated under which people could be ‘forced’ to reveal their identity by lifting the veil when demanded to by officials. 

The ban has been highly criticized by Muslim groups. Swiss Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organizations said, “This symbolic policy is directed against female and male Muslims. But it also damages the whole of Switzerland, which has undermined its own values by accepting the initiative.” 

Group of hoteliers has opposed the ban citing that it would reduce the number of tourists from Arab nations. “A burqa ban would damage our reputation as an open and tolerant tourism destination,” said Nicole Brandle Schlegel of the HotellerieSuisse umbrella organization.

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The supporters of the law argue that this is necessary to stop violence by street protesters and that the referendum doesn’t specifically mention ‘Islam’ or words ‘niqab’ or ‘burqa’. 

5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million is constituted by Muslims, which is about 390,000 people. The majority of these people have origins from Turkey, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

EU threatens to launch legal proceedings against the UK over delay in Brexit deal relating to N Ireland
Europe

EU threatens to launch legal proceedings against the UK over delay in Brexit deal relating to N Ireland

After the UK unilaterally delayed part of the Brexit deal implementation relating to Northern Ireland, Brussels has threatened it of legal proceedings ‘pretty soon’. No 10’s announcement on Wednesday had come out as a “very negative surprise”, said Maros Sefcovic, Vice President European Commission. 

The announcement made by UK cabinet office minister, David Frost, noted that the government is extending the ‘grace periods’ that were designed to ease out the trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain until permanent arrangements are chalked out. This decision has infuriated Brussels as it accuses the UK of backing down from the Brexit withdrawal agreement that would ensure no strict border between the Republic and Northern Ireland for trade. 

Sefcovic is currently working on the legal proceedings on behalf of the EU, and who is responsible for the implementation of the agreement said, “We are currently preparing it and it would be really something coming to our table very soon. The most precise term I can give you is really very soon.” 

The warning came after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the “temporary and technical measures” were just to ensure smooth flow of trade as the government worked on some concrete measures. Johnson said on Thursday, “I’m sure with a bit of goodwill and common sense all these technical problems are eminently solvable.” 

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The Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit withdrawal agreement refers to keep Northern Ireland aligned to a plethora of EU rules, and it requires checks on goods arriving into the region from the Great Britain region. The UK had left European Union on 31st January 2020. Post that transition period was in place up until 31st December 2020, which includes Northern Ireland Protocol. 

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