Europe

Brexit Talks – Crucial UK-EU talks begin ahead of June summit
Europe

Brexit Talks – Crucial UK-EU talks begin ahead of June summit

As the EU and the UK begin to disentangle the Brexit process, talks between representatives of both sides began their talks over trade deal on 11 May 2020.

The success of these talks is crucial ahead of the summit next month. The summit is scheduled to take place on 30 June.

The latest round of talks, held virtually, will be closed by 15 May.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the pace of talks has been slowed. However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants conclusive discussions and does not want the transition period to be extended beyond December this year.

For the British government, a free trade agreement is the most critical agenda on the discussion table. Other priority areas are air transport, energy and law enforcement, data sharing, and security. The EU wants all key areas should be dealt with equal importance. Licensing and regulation of medicines are also on the table.

During the previous round of talks, held in April 2020, differences emerged over fisheries, competition rules, and cooperation over law enforcement.

EU is also disappointed with British negotiations. According to a report, the UK representatives are only focusing on their priority areas.

Ever since the UK withdrew from the EU on 31 January 2020, the UK is under transition period where it will have to follow the EU regulatory framework.

In this transition period, till 31 December 2020, the UK has to finalize its trade deal and future rules of convergence over crucial areas.

In the event both sides fail to negotiate on any agreement, a further extension will have to be approved by the UK-EU joint committee.

The Labour party and other opposition parties in the UK want Boris Johnson government to extend the talks beyond the transition period of 31 December.

Prime Minister Johnson remains hopeful that the outcome of the talks, which began in March, will be conclusive, and any extension would not be required.

While for the UK, a free trade agreement, with no quotas, tariffs, or any other barriers, is the desired outcome from these talks. For the EU, all sectors of Brexit talks are of equal importance. Their concern also involves the deal after divorce with Northern Ireland, on which the UK remains non-committal.

Germany Prepares to Ease the Corona Lockdown as European Union Faces Worst Recession
Europe

Germany Prepares to Ease the Corona Lockdown as European Union Faces Worst Recession

Europe is facing some good and some bad days amidst the coronavirus fight. As the European Union faces the worst recession in history, on Wednesday, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the easing of lockdown but with the ‘emergency brake mechanism’. Merkel stated that Germany will be slowly reviving while following restrictions in case if new infections start picking up again.

Merkel said that though Germany’s first phase of pandemic is over, there is still a long way to go in the fight against Coronavirus. The schools, restaurants and day care centers are set to reopen in Germany next week onwards. Furthermore, post Germany’s 16 state heads agreement, people from two households will be permitted to meet and more shops would be reopened provided hygiene levels are met.

European Union Commission on Wednesday released the projections wherein Europe’s economy is facing it’s worst low ever with a 7.4% shrink this year. This recession is being stated as the worst post Second World War aftermath.

These figures are a dismal reminder of the economic state of EU during the pandemic which might take months, if not years to bounce back.

Experts suggest that we are at the marginal meltdown of world economy if any of these scenarios becomes a harsh reality – prolonged recession in Europe, a second virus wave or a slow economic recovery. It must be noted that Europe is at the center of world’s economy with No.1 trading partner with the U.S. and second with China.

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has exposed the grim reality of international relations with political clashes reaching a new peak and brittle balance waiting to be shattered between poor and developing nations and wealthier counterparts.

European commissioner of economy, Paolo Gentiloni stated post the EU economic forecast that the recovery of Europe’s economy might start later this year, but unevenly. If predictions are to be believed, 2021 end will see worse economic condition in European Union countries as compared to couple of months back.

Germany too is set to face economic setback but is expected to recover quickly, experts predicted.

The UK and Netherlands are too planning to ease the coronavirus lockdowns commencing Monday. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is back post his coronavirus fight, will lay out the plan this Sunday, as reported.

The present figures are set to have the European leaders venture out for a joint tactic to tackle the economic crisis. The EU leaders have reportedly agreed for half-trillion euros worth of measures that will need wealthier nations to subsidize the poorer nations’ recovery.

Mr. Gentiloni said that the EU nations need to mitigate a joint and decisive action to tackle the present European recession for a hopeful road to recovery.

COVID-19 Cure in Sight? Italy Claims to Have the First Corona Vaccine
Europe

COVID-19 Cure in Sight? Italy Claims to Have the First Corona Vaccine

As the world is struggling to emerge out of COVID-19 pandemic, a good news came in late Tuesday evening of Italy claiming to have the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine.

Reportedly the tests which were carried out at infectious disease of Rome, Spallanzani Hospital have helped in development of antibodies in mice which are also reportedly working on human cells.

Luigi Aurisicchio, CEO of Takis, company developing the medication told the Italian news agency ANSA that this vaccine is in the most advanced stage of candidate testing and that the human tests are expected to commence late summer.

The scientists in Spallanzani Hospital tested the vaccine on mice and have stated that the mice developed antibodies against virus after first dose which is blocking virus from infecting the human cells.

Five vaccine candidates are developed and two are selected for further testing and observation based on ‘genetic material of DNA spike.’

Pharma moguls and nations have already started work on the vaccine development, but it is still a long way to go. With COVID -19 vaccine hunt heating up across the globe, there is still no concrete estimate as to when we will have vaccine ready to be supplied.

On Tuesday, Pfizer Inc and BioNTech stated that they have started the delivery of experimental coronavirus vaccine for human trials in the United States.

Furthermore, Oxford University said that they are teaming up with AstraZeneca to produce COVID-19 vaccine which will hopefully be ready by the end of this year.

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus globally in a short span of time with no concrete knowledge regarding the true nature of this virus is posing to be the biggest challenge in development of vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

It should be understood that vaccine development is a long process which takes years and has high risks of failure.

According to Milken Institute, USA, there are potential 111 vaccines in the course of development across the globe. Out of these nine are under initial clinical trials while the rest are in pre-clinical trial phase.

Post the vaccine development what will determine our control over the virus spread will be the scale of vaccine production, it’s distribution to all countries including the poor and developing nations.

EU will have to go slow on tourism  post lockdown
Europe

EU will have to go slow on tourism post lockdown

For Germany, it is bad new post lockdown open, as the tourism industry might not be the same again. It still has a cap over the worldwide travel that extends into June 14. But the industry has been badly hit and is now looking for financial help.

Germany is also looking at a shrink by a record 6.3percent. According to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, “We will experience the worst recession in the history of the federal republic,” since its founding in 1949.

Tourism accounts for 10 percent of the EU’s economic output. Economists now believe that the 27 member states will have to decide how to resume public movement both within their countries and beyond. The German association for tour operators has shared their plight with the media of having lost over €4.8bn ($5.21bn) in sales up until the end of April, and that the tourist sector would now need urgent government assistance.

Of all of Germany, mask is a compulsion. For Austria for example, while quarantine restrictions have been lifted off from three popular ski resorts, the movement of tourists will not be the same as before as they wish to adopt a phased return to tourist activity that begins by allowing German visitors too. In Spain for example, there is unrest over hotels being opened from May 11, because of fear people might not be able to follow social distancing protocols, flight restrictions and border closures, leading to low traffic and low sales therefore.

In Belgium, mayors from towns along the North Sea coast are thinking out strategies best suited to create access to the beaches. They intent to reach a solution by May 08, where they intent to create some kind of restricted accessand “save the Belgians’ summer”.
France has said no beaches will be open until at least June, while Spain is also targeting the end of June.

For over European Union, tourism is going to need slow and patient redefining and this might hurt just too much for those invested in the industry.

EU puts its guard up against China; tightens restrictions over foreign acquisitions
Europe

EU puts its guard up against China; tightens restrictions over foreign acquisitions

The novel coronavirus not only attacked Europe’s health systems but also crumbled its economy, making its assets value take a steep fall. European nations have all the reasons to be worried as weak economy makes the companies vulnerable and open to foreign takeovers. Earlier this month, NATO deputy secretary-general Mircea Geoana told defense ministers to put their guard up in order to secure their “crown jewels” from slipping into the hands of other nations. Currently the only economy, which is relatively stronger and holds the capacity to buy major stakes in companies of strategic importance is China. This feels like déjà vu as the continent witnessed a similar wave of acquisitions by foreign companies (mainly Chinese) during 2008 crisis as well.

EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager told The Financial Times (paywall) that in order to prevent Beijing from using the current crisis as an excuse to buy European companies, the EU governments should step in and buy stakes in those companies. It would keep the companies both secured and financially afloat.

Agatha Kratz, associate director at the US-based research firm Rhodium Group, said, “There were a lot of assets being bought on the cheap because of discussions with the euro zone, and the trend there at the time, in Germany in particular, that some of those countries needed to get their fiscal health back into order. And so a lot of them sold strategic assets and some of them happened to get bought by Chinese players.”

The trend of Chinese trying to gain leverage of economic slump to buy key western companies is almost two decades old. In 2003, Chinese companies in total spent about $1.6 billion in mergers and acquisitions of foreign companies, and by 2006 the figure shot up over 11 times to $18.2 billion. In 2018, Chinese corporations invested some $25 billion in the United States, while in 2019, Chinese entities invested 11.7 billion euros (nearly $13 billion) in European Union countries. This year too, the communist nation is all-set to go on a buying out spree. The corona-driven global recession has only made things easier for the Asian country.

Yang Wang, a Hong Kong-based partner at law firm Dechert LLP told Bloomberg,”It may still be early days but we hope to see a gradual increase of activity in the second half of the year from Chinese companies trying to do deals both in the Asia Pacific region and abroad,”. “Deal activity in industries such as consumer products, travel and hospitality should bounce back once things return to normal.”

Some market analyst called the claims about China on its toe for mergers and acquisitions “overrrated”. But the entire scenario has put European governments on alert as Italy introduced Golden Power protections against foreign takeovers and Spain revised its rules regarding foreign direct investment, which would now require the government’s approval. The United Kingdom was also quick to cancel the deal happening early in April between China Reform, a Chinese state-owned investment firm and Imagination, a British technology company which makes smartphone chips. Germany also plans to bring in new rules which empowers the state to cancel the deals which could lead to “potential interference”.

Strategizing its maritime security post-Brexit should be UKs top priority
Europe

Strategizing its maritime security post-Brexit should be UKs top priority

From a decelerated economy to trading norms, Brexit has had a profound impact on the relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Years after the beginning of the Brexit (“British exit”) process on June 23, 2016, the UK officially left the EU on January 31, 2020. Among the many agendas in focus after Brexit, maritime security is of crucial importance to the UK.

Being an island nation, the UK marine area consists of 298 thousand square miles. As per a 2014 report by the UK government, the maritime industry directly contributes up to £13.8 billion to its economy and indirectly contributes a £17.9 billion. Over 90% of Britain’s imports and exports are facilitated through the seas using over 400 ports. However, this maritime infrastructure and fishing arenas pose many challenges to its security such as illegal fishing, smuggling, human trafficking, and prospects of a terrorist attack at the sea.

During the Brexit transition period that will last until December 31, 2020, the seas are managed by the UK within the EU maritime governance framework and under its regulations. The need for this transition period is to allow new UK-EU negotiations to materialize. Therefore, the UK has to strategize its action-plan for internal/national regulations and frameworks.

As per research by the University of Bristol, Brexit can potentially intensify maritime security risks after the shifts in the collective EU maritime governance, as there will be a soaring need for the UK to protect its waters against illegal activities and threats. These dramatic changes can also affect the fisheries sector which is currently managed by a Common Fishing Policy. Once the UK regulates its seas, the Common Fisheries Policy can come to an end.

It is also important to note that even if the UK is a major maritime force, its independent capacities of naval power outside the EU are insufficient which can lead to increased threats to its waters. However, Brexit can help Britain in developing its maritime security over time. The UK is working on strengthening the dimensions of its maritime security and governance infrastructure. In 2019, the British government formulated the Joint Maritime Security Centre which is strategizing a new UK maritime security plan. It is also important for the UK to work in hands with different government agencies to ensure maritime security and manage potential risks to its waters.

Meanwhile, amid the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the UK government and European Union have been engaging in post-Brexit talks over video link, to discuss division on fishing rights and trade.

A European hackathon to find innovative solutions to combat COVID-19
Europe

A European hackathon to find innovative solutions to combat COVID-19

To complement hackathons taking place at global and member state level, the European Commission in close collaboration with EU member states hosted, from 24 to 26 April, a pan-European hackathon to connect civil society, innovators, partners and buyers across Europe to develop innovative solutions to the novel coronavirus. The #EUvsVirus Hackathon addressed approximately 20 imminent COVID-19 challenges to be quickly developed and deployed across Europe.

Under this initiative EU aims at addressing critical issues such as fast producing and scaling of protective materials and equipment for medical staff and patients, remaining safe for front line medical personnel – robots assisted tele-presence of medical staff in intensive care units, fast production and scaling of FFP2-masks with a good quality, fast check of the quality of masks, ways to clean and reuse mouth masks and other disposables, low cost individual protection equipment that is easy to put and remove ideally just one piece. The pan-European hackathon also addressed Member States’ critical challenges such as: build new medical ventilator with existing components from the aeronautics, automobile and diving industries to enable large-scale quick production and easily fixing ventilators and respirators for medical use.

The initiative saw over 16 milia participants among start-ups and technology companies. Among these also Andrius Milinavičius, founder of a Lithuanian start-up that is developing an app to connect volunteers with elderly people in difficulty according to ‘EuroNews’. Many organizations have a database with the needs that the start-up connect with a database of volunteers to view all the needs in a map. The volunteer – explains the organization -open the app and he will see a need for a nearby elderly citizen, as groceries, delivery or more important needs like medicines.

High tech solutions like this often require multiple minds to be successful. That’s why the European Union organized the hackathon against the virus, working with technology companies and civil society organization to find solutions to daily pandemic challenges. The initiative aims to collect the best ideas, and above all to propose the means to produce them. “We are examining also how to produce fans, to have them quickly, in large quantities so that they can be accessible to everyone. This is the type of ideas we are looking for”. The EU Commissioner for Research, Mariya Gabriel, explained talking with journalists.

Due to COVID-19 response restrictions, engineers, developers, designers and employees will not be able to meet live, but this will not prevent them from working 24 hours a day from their homes and during the hackathon, the participants worked really hard. They are usually highly motivated, especially when it comes to contributing to a cause like this, commented Sasa Popovic CEO of Vega IT, a Serbian startup. The European Commission, in close collaboration with all member States and the participating H2020 associated countries, will provide follow up to the best projects coming from the #EUvsVirus hackathon through the new European Innovation Council (EIC) Covid platform. Foundations, investors, health providers like hospitals are also part of the project.

Culture and tourism don’t stop during the Coronavirus pandemic
Americas, Europe, Middle East & Africa

Culture and tourism don’t stop during the Coronavirus pandemic

Culture and tourism don’t stop during the novel coronavirus pandemic. If it’s impossible to travel because of the lock-down, many governments and organizations have made their beauties and their cultural heritage available online. A service highly appreciated by citizens, who forced to stay home for the measures in response to COVID-19, are able to rediscover museums, exhibitions and precious gardens, directly on their computer and smartphones.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, in Washington (USA), virtual tours allow visitors to take self-guided, room-by-room tours of select exhibits and areas within the museum from their desktop or mobile device. Visitors can also access select collections and research areas at our satellite support and research stations as well as past exhibits no longer on display. During the virtual visit, it’s possible to learn about the ecology of African elephants, their place in geologic time, and their connections to humans, including the threats they face from poachers. Examine the diversity, dynamism, and global influence of Africa’s peoples and cultures over time in the realms of family, work, community, and the natural environment as well.

In Italy, The ‘Scuderie del Quirinale’ virtually reopened the doors of the “Raffaello, 1520-1483” exhibition with video stories, insights and forays into the backstage which, through social channels, will allow the visitor to admire some of the most beautiful works on display and will present details and curiosities about the art of the Renaissance painter and on the largest exhibition ever attempted so far. With the hashtag #RaffaelloOltreLaMostra it will be possible to listen the story of the curators and virtually participate in the meetings hosted at Palazzo Altempi, in Rome, before the opening of the exhibition to the public. From Silvia Ginzburg, expert on the theme of Raphael’s youth, to Antonio Natali, who tells the painter’s Florentine period, up to Alessandro Zuccari, who explores his activity in the capital.

In the United Arab Emirates, Louvre Abu Dhabi provided free access to more content through virtual tours, video, audio and downloadable activities, ensuring that the museum remains accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic. “While Louvre Abu Dhabi is temporarily closed, our mission of sharing stories of cultural connections continues,” said Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi. “New digital features include a virtual 360-tour of our most recent exhibition, as well as online resources and activities that bring our collection to life. We will continue to tell the stories of our museum, with the hope that they offer solace, peace and inspiration,” Rabaté added. Louvre Abu Dhabi is also a part of CulturAll, a new initiative launched by the UAE Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi to bring the emirate’s cultural landmarks online for audiences to enjoy their offerings from home.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism has also decided to make available online guided tours in the ancient Egypt and exhibitions of archaeological jewels preserved along the Nile. “This initiative – the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquity (@moantiquities) explains from its Facebook page – is part of our efforts to allow people from all over the world to explore and enjoy the ancient Egyptian civilization even if confined to their home due to precautionary anti-pandemic measures”. Several online visits, one more suggestive than the other, are published every day both on the official website of the Egyptian ministry and on the social networks accounts, with the slogan “Live Egypt from home. Stay safe”.

WHO calls for global collaboration of health organisations for even distribution of Covid-19 medical supplies
Americas, Europe

WHO calls for global collaboration of health organisations for even distribution of Covid-19 medical supplies

The World Health Organisation launched a project aimed at bringing together multiple health organisations (including state or non-state actors) all across the world to ‘accelerate the development, production and equitable global access to new COVID-19 essential health technologies’. The initial set of organisations who are party to this global collaboration are the United Nations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, BMGF, CEPI, Gavi, the Global Fund, UNITAID, Wellcome Trust, WHO, Vaccine Alliance, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers

Besides, the European Commission, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Norway, Spain, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Malaysia have also extended their support to the project.

But two most powerful economies of the world, US and China, who were also two of the hardest-hit countries by far in the pandemic, did not come forward in its support. A US Department of State spokesperson wrote us that, “America’s world-leading scientists are working hard on a Covid-19 vaccine. We welcome serious efforts to assist in that endeavor, and look forward to learning more about the World Health Organization’s proposal. We remain deeply concerned about the WHO’s effectiveness, given that its gross failures helped fuel the current pandemic.”

The campaign, which would officially start on May 4, was launched considering the level of inequality which prevails in the world. The key aim of the project is to provide equal access to ‘safe, quality, effective, and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines’ to all nations – developed, developing and underdeveloped. Often in war against pandemics, low-incomes nations are the ones which suffer the most.

“The world needs these tools, and it needs them fast,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a 90-minute online briefing. “Past experience has taught us that even when tools are available, they have been not been equally available to all. We cannot allow that to happen. … Our shared commitment is to ensure all people have access to all the tools to defeat Covid-19.”

WHO issued a statement saying, “We understand we cannot do this alone, and that we need to work together in unprecedented and inclusive partnership with all stakeholders – political leaders, public and private sector partners, civil society, academia, and all other stakeholders across society – jointly leveraging our comparative strengths and respective voices to drive towards collective solutions, an accelerated path, and access for all. We are stronger, faster and more effective working together.”

The pandemic outbreak which has infected more than 2.7 million people and taken over 191,000 lives, raised an urgent need for global medical collaboration. The organisation did not give out execution details of the project.

Strange ideas to face coronavirus, from plexiglass for tables restaurant to fashion masks
Europe

Strange ideas to face coronavirus, from plexiglass for tables restaurant to fashion masks

While governments are working to plan the activities reopening for the second phase of the new coronavirus pandemic, citizens and entrepreneurs are launching initiatives and strange inventions to facilitate the return to normal. A restaurant in Rome is now testing out a way that people can sit down for a pleasant meal while still maintaining the recommended social distance of 2 metres (6 feet). A plexiglass divider placed on the table to help lower the risk of COVID-19 contagious. The restaurant, Il Ciak, located in Rome’s Trastevere movida district, has only been open for take-out and delivery, but the owner, Valerio Calderoni and his wife Martina began testing out the divider this week.

The company ‘Nuova Neon Group 2’ launched the dividers on the tables. The absolutely transparent panels can be mounted on the tables of the catering sector. In fact, it will soon be necessary to live with Covid-19 by adopting measures suitable for economic recovery. Life, of course, will never be the same again and having dinner in a restaurant or pizzeria, or toasting in a pub on Saturday night could be more complicated than expected. This is why, to encourage customers, spaced tables with appropriate transparent dividing barriers could be used.

Strange ideas to face coronavirus, from plexiglass for tables restaurant to fashion masks

From Italy comes another bizarre idea for our beach holidays amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Italians do not seem ready to give up the beach at all. So how do you do it? Three meters away between an umbrella and the other and then plexiglass barriers. A company specialized in roofing, stands and window frames has started to distribute solutions among beach clubs.

These are transparent boxes made with Plexiglas walls and aluminium profiles. The boxes measure 4.5 meters per side with a 1.5-meter-wide access. At the moment the price of the installation is not known but, especially on the Romagna Riviera, the proposal seems to be successful.

It’s not all. Ideas for fashion addicts come from Asia and the United Kingdom, where clothing companies have started producing fashion facial masks with prints, beads, rhinestones and lace. If it is necessary to wear a mask, why not give up being fashionable? Masks for the day and for the evening, casual or elegant to combine with the handbag or shoes.

Not everyone goes crazy over these strange ideas born at the time of coronavirus. In Italy lifeguards have already rejected the plexiglass cabins on the beach. While in the UK, online fashion retailer Boohoo has been criticised for selling fashion face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The £5 masks came with messages such as “Eat, sleep, isolate, repeat” or “If you can read this, you are too close”. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said they were “scandalous” and one NHS nurse said it was “disgusting”. The retailer has apologised and removed the masks from sale, insisting they were not designed for “protection”.

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