Tag: European Union

Brexit deal enters decisive phase, no certainty visible on cards

Brexit deal enters decisive phase, no certainty visible on cards

With just 36 days left in termination of UK’s transition period, the pressure started mounting on both the sides to finalise a deal. Despite the pressure, things didn’t seem to be moving towards finalisation and what followed was the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier threat to David Frost that he might pull out of the Brexit negotiations. Barnier told his counterpart that unless UK changed its approach in the ongoing negotiations in the next 48 hours, there might be a no deal between two sides. 

Barnier pointed out that it was pointless to take negotiations further unless Britain was was ready to agree and compromise on the key outstanding issues. Most of the legalities were complete but what was left was consensus over three key issues – fishing, standards and domestic subsidies, and dispute resolution.

Britain has been pushing for annual negotiation for allowing fishing in its territorial waters, and also proposed a “zonal attachment” system which divides fish species between the two sides as per to where the fish reside rather than the current division on the basis of fixed fishing patterns. Where as EU has been fighting against both annual negotiations and zonal attachment for it wants an amount of ‘certainty’ for its fishing community. 

Besides, both the sides have been struggling with how to decide on the future course of their relationship, for they both agreed on the need to “uphold the common high standards at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change and relevant tax matters”. But the matter is still hanging as the two have not found a common ground on how to define their current common high standards.

Brexiters have been wishing for a special trade and security deal with EU but all they believe EU has been offering is a regular trade deal wherein latter has more advantage over the former. Despite all the difference, what EU-Britain needs the most is a common resolution system to decide their disputes.

On Wednesday, while giving a speech in the European Parliament, the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU was open to be “creative” in order to get a deal with the UK but emphasised that an agreement was difficult with “very little time ahead of us”. Barnier would be heading for London on Friday for the last round of negotiations with the UK. 

With regarding to the deal entering its last leg, EU president said, “These are decisive days for negotiations with the United Kingdom. But, frankly, I cannot tell you today if in the end, there will be a deal.”

“We will do all in our power to reach an agreement. We’re ready to be creative,” she said. “But we are not ready to put into question the integrity of the single market, the main safeguard for European prosperity and wealth.”

Von der Leyen said legal texts on judicial and social security coordination, trade in goods and services and transport were almost finalised. “However, there’s still three issues that can make the difference between a deal and no deal,” she added. 

EU Bloc Delays Recovery Fund Under Veto From Hungary Poland

EU Bloc Delays Recovery Fund Under Veto From Hungary Poland

EU Bloc Delays Fund: The big budget fight has got out of hands as EU leaders find it difficult to solve the fistfight between the bloc and two nations in particular. This includes Hungary and Poland that are refusing to give a go ahead to the funding support that EU bloc is trying to pump into the European Union, as a post-pandemic recovery effort. 

A 1.8 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) budget and recovery package is at stake.  The European Council President, Charles Michel is now waiting for a solution to come by, by the next summit meeting that falls now in December.

The virtual session ended quickly without any results coming through. Mr. Michel believes in magic as he concluded by saying that, “The European Union’s magic is its ability to find solutions even when one believes it’s impossible.” Right now, there seems to be a stalemate and no solution in sight.  The best one at solving problems has been Germany, and Berlin has not come up with any solutions either. 

According to new rules set down by the bloc, the bloc could prevent extending funds to those countries that do not follow the democratic norms set down by the bloc. These points have vehemently been opposed by Hungary and Poland. Up and arms against this development the nations are being backed by Slovenian PM Janez Jansa and feel that the ‘rule-of-law’ mechanism could be used against them as a ‘ideological weapon’ to punish them. 

In Poland, a resolution has been already passed to veto the financial aid and the new rules that come with it. But this is simply looking like tactic to delay the much needed financial impetus. In France, the European affairs minister Clement Beaune has warned that the EU bloc will have to decide quickly. They might also have to move ahead leaving Hungry and Poland on the wayside. 

General consensus is that the rest of the countries could move ahead and when Poland and Hungry fulfill the criteria, they can join in. But if the countries don’t decide anything soon, they might have to depend on their own funds and be tight strapped after all. 

Hungary Poland Might Delay Post Pandemic Recovery Aid

Hungary Poland Might Delay Post Pandemic Recovery Aid

Hungary Poland Might Delay Post Pandemic Recovery: Hungary and Poland are jointly vetoing the accord of the jointly financed economic recovery package for the European Union.  Strangely, they are the biggest beneficiaries of the post Covid package. 

Both the nations have never seen eye-to-eye with the EU on anything. Earlier, there was a tiff over abortion ban that was strongly opposed by the EU bloc on the condition that it amounts to violation of human rights. 

A seven-year budget support was decided upon in July this year.  EU leaders also agreed to support the more needing nations with a robust stimulus program funded by joint debt. However, parts of this accord does need unanimous backing by member states.  Therefore, with Hungry and Poland raising up some kind of red flags, this is only going to hurt other needing nations like Italy or Spain for example. 

The pandemic situation had hit the economy of many EU member countries in bad ways. Most have lost their economic standing and are now finding ways to ensure their people can keep their jobs. Unemployment is a direct result of lack of trade in these countries. Italy and Spain for example, who depend heavily on their tourism related trade have been adversely affected due to second and third wave of the Covid-19 virus infection. 

This week, the EU member state leaders went ahead to sign off on a deal linking funds to the rule of law. Hungary and Poland have opposed the rule of the law from the very beginning. However, this part of the accord only needs an enhanced majority of member states. Further, debt issuance needs unanimity. This necessary money push to fund EU’s budget payments is being curtailed by Hungry and Poland’s resistance. Therefore, this sure shot chance to block the entire package remains a big possibility.

Polish economists feel this kind of resistance could mean investors would look for greener pastures elsewhere in Europe. The so-called ‘rule of the law’ principle is what has been the bone of contention for Hungary and Poland, which feel they are being pulled into autocratic function. But this political mishmash is a dangerous one to be in, because it will only delay the economic recovery help that most of the EU nations are in desperate need of. The result could be catastrophic- with only bureaucrats receiving salaries, some farm subsidies and humanitarian aid flowing into the various economies by the end of 2020. 

No-Brexit deal concerns rise as transition period nears end

No-Brexit deal concerns rise as transition period nears end

No Brexit deal: Concerns over a no-Brexit deal increase as talks between EU and UK officials are dragging on 

Officials from both the European Union and the United Kingdom have expressed concerns over finalising a Brexit divorce deal, noting that the coming week is particularly crucial with less than 50 days left for the transition period to end. 

In the coming days, chief negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier will try to bridge their differences as pressure over a Brexit agreement looms on. As talks with the European Union are dragging on, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing increased pressure as he faces a tricky time for his leadership. Amid this crucial week, Johnson is self-isolating at his official residency after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. 

Negotiators from the UK and the EU are gathering in Brussels this week for more talks to find a solution to differences over fishing rights, governance and competition rules in their future deal. A number of informal deadlines for a trade agreement have already passed. Experts suggest that if these differences are not bridged by the end of this year, no trade agreement will be formalised which will eventually result in higher costs for exporters on both sides.

Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost on Sunday took to Twitter, saying that some progress has been made in a positive direction in recent days.

While Brussels officials are asserting that the UK Prime Minister must take the first step in reaching an agreement, their British counterparts are dismissing the stance. According to a report by The Guardian, senior officials have stated that Prime Minister Johnson is determined not to compromise over Britain’s terms for exiting the European Union.

The UK government is also fearing a power struggle after one of Boris Johnson’s closest aides, Lee Cain, announced his resignation as the Director of Communications last week. Dominic Cummings, another high-profile aide of the British PM, also left Downing Street on Saturday amid the power struggle. Both Mr Cummings and Mr Cain have been instrumental to the Brexit outcome as they worked with Johnson in the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 European Union (EU) referendum.

It has been almost five years since the Brexit referendum campaign began and Britain and the EU negotiators have yet not worked out a deal to operate the nearly $1 billion in trade per year. Meanwhile, Ireland has said that there are around 7-10 days to figure out a way to unlock a trade agreement even as a senior EU official asserted that it may be too late to put a deal into force.

EU Commission promotes Spain’s action plan against fake news

EU Commission promotes Spain’s action plan against fake news

EU Commission promotes Spain’s action plan: The Spanish government is chalking out an action plan to monitor the internet for fake news stories, under the “Procedure for Intervention against Disinformation” approved by the National Security Council of the country last month. As per recent reports, the European Commission has extended its support to the Spanish government’s plan to initiate administrative responses against disinformation campaigns and systematic and large-scale dissemination of false messages. Published in the Official Journal of the State (BOE) last week, the protocol aims at preventing, detecting and responding to disinformation on various platforms. 

However, the move invited strong criticism from opposition leaders, claiming that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is using this strategy to control the media. 

Meanwhile, the Spain government has denied these accusations, stressing that the main aim behind the project is not to censor or limit free and legitimate rights of the media. Instead, the plan will be led by the Secretary of State for Communication to conduct public communication campaigns to curb the spread of disinformation.

Leading members of the center-left coalition government defended the new protocol, stressing that the plan does not interfere with media freedom. Responding to opposition’s claims, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo maintained that the action plan has “nothing to do” with press freedom or freedom of expression.

“We are living in times when lies are becoming information in any part of the world, and democracies need to fight this, because it is part of our constitutional right,” the Deputy PM was quoted as saying. 

The new protocol is an updated version of the document already in place since March 2019 under the previous government led by Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that carried out various initiatives to monitor disinformation campaigns.

These steps are being taken by the Spanish government in view of various incidents of disinformation campaigns in the past that not only interfered in public opinion, not also destabilised a country, particularly during election campaigns. Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential elections is one fine example of such a campaign. The Spanish document also acknowledges that news media, digital platforms, IT sector, academic world, and society in general play a crucial role in fighting disinformation by identifying it, preventing it from spreading, and raising awareness among other communities.

Spain’s efforts have come in line with the European Commission’s initiative to counter the threat of fake news. Among these initiatives include Action Plan Against Disinformation, Rapid Alert System and the Code of Practice on Disinformation aimed at investigating issues related to online disinformation and fake news stories. The European Union has also called on other member states to develop their capabilities for tackling the issue.

EU imposes sanctions on Belarus President and 14 others for abuse of power

EU imposes sanctions on Belarus President and 14 others for abuse of power

Union member nations, the bloc finally took a call to unanimously impose sanctions on Belarus President, Alexander Lukashenko, and 14 other members of the regime for their involvement in the brutal crackdown on the country’s post-election protests. On Wednesday, 27 EU members decided to impose visa bans and freeze the assets belonging to Lukashenka and the 14 others. Inside sources revealed that the bloc would make official confirmation over the matter on November 6.

Belarus has been rocked by nation-wide protests challenging the 26 year-long rule of the country’s strongman, Lukashenko. People of Belarus have take to the streets demanding his exit from the President’s office. The protestors, who have been protesting for past 12 weeks, since Lukashenko took over as the country’s official head in August, claimed that he got in power through rigged elections.

AFP reported that the EU would also be imposing sanctions on Lukashenka’s son Viktar, who is the national-security adviser in Belarus.

Lukashenko, who categorically clarified that he has no intention to resign, with response to the surge in protests recently said that any protestor who lays hands on any official patrolling the protests, should “at least leave without hands”. He incorporated various steps to suppress the ongoing protests including, installing armoured off-road vehicles equipped with machine guns, along with water cannon vehicles and other anti-riot equipment. These armed vehicles were placed for the first time in last three months of continuous protests. 

The 66-year old Belarus leader, who is currently serving his sixth consecutive term as the country’s President has been trying his best to wipe out any dissent from his state. On his orders, authorities have detained over 15000 demonstrators protesting against the state head since he won elections in August. Human rights activists claimed that out of the total detainees more than 100 have been political prisoners. Most of Lukashenko’s political opponents have either been put behind the bars or have flee the country. Even the Belarus’s recent presidential candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was considered the rightful winner of the latest election, moved to Lithuania due to pressure from the authorities.

Lukashenka is “responsible for the violent repression by the state apparatus before and after the 2020 presidential elections,” according to the sanctions report viewed by AFP.

He ordered, “arbitrary arrests and the ill-treatment of peaceful demonstrators, as well as intimidation and violence against journalists.

As per the earlier sanction agreement, EU formulated a list containing 40 Belarusian officials who it intended to blacklist, freezes assets of and impose travel bans on for their role in running the presidential elections and subsequent crackdown. But the list did not include Lukashenko. The EU has finally included his name and denounced the August election as “neither free nor fair” and refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as Belarus’s rightful president.

Tikhanovskaya during her recent Skype interview with Current Time said, “Lukashenka is losing the last element of legitimacy on November 5. And if some countries may still believe that he still has some kind of legitimacy, that now it is over too… We see how the regime is disintegrating before our very eyes; mistakes are being made. And you all know that only together we will win.” 

Tsikhanouskaya added, “I would like democratic countries to pay even more attention to how human rights in Belarus are infringed upon, on the violence taking place in our country. And that they talk about it and take all possible appropriate measures“.

EU, UK fail to reach Brexit breakthrough amid intense talks

EU, UK fail to reach Brexit breakthrough amid intense talks

Even after intensified negotiations between EU and UK, a Brexit breakthrough is still not in sight.

While trade talks have intensified between Britain and European Union negotiators in Brussels in recent days, a breakthrough in the Brexit deal is still not in sight. As per media reports, the EU and Britain have failed to reach an agreement on some of the most persistent points in the negotiations even after weeks of intensive talks in London. From differences over fisheries and protecting trillions of dollars of the trade from disruption to ensuring fair competition and settling disputes at all fronts, both sides are yet to set basic governance structure to proceed with the trade deal.

“There is some progress being made, but it’s far from concluded yet,” said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney signaling that time may run out to strike a deal.

Recently, Brussels negotiators dismissed reports claiming that an agreement has been reached between the two sides on the fishing industry, with European officials confirming that the central issue is still open for talks. Brussels has also asserted that no future Brexit trade deal can be agreed upon with the United Kingdom if there is no deal on fishing.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement treaty signed by the UK and the EU in January, Northern Ireland will remain within the ambit of the EU customs union and will follow the bloc’s rules for its agricultural and manufactured goods. This decision was taken to maintain peace between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and to keep the border between the two sides open.

Noting that the clock is ticking, EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost are engaged in talks to finalize a trade deal such that it can be ratified by the end of this year.

Will EU travel tourism business recover from pandemic hit?

Will EU travel tourism business recover from pandemic hit?

The European Union has been worst hit by the pandemic, when it comes to their key sector of travel and tourism. The economy which thrives on its tourist inflow has hit rock bottom as many nations systematically try and open their borders post a long induced lockdown.

In a web debate over how to make a recovery recently Matthew Baldwin, deputy director general, Mobility and Transport, the European Commission expressed his gravest concern was ‘to restore a sense of wellbeing and security amongst the people.’

Also engaging in the debate was Eduardo Santander, executive director and CEO of the European Travel Commission (ETC) who said that the situation might not revive that quickly though some activity has started to resume in the European Union post the pandemic and that is a fresh start.  According to him the best way to move ahead would be to ‘harmonized and use a united approach to travel across the European Union.’

Matthew expressed the Commission’s seriousness to come up with a solution owning to the fact that ‘there are 6 million jobs at stake and almost 10 percent GDP comes from travel and tourism for European Union.’

However in his understand a more “common approach would be most appropriate to lift restrictions of the border and create travel links without compromising the safety and hygiene aspect of the travelers.  Health protocols for hotels for example will need to be well defined as well. It is more of the perspective of safety and restoring public confidence that is important. Also we need to work out a way to really give travel operators the maximum possible certainty for them to feel reassured their business can still work,” said Matthew.

Speaking about moving ahead, he said that European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has already put down operational tool for the aviation industry.  Further he said that its most important that “as we open travel and tourism, lets concentrate on three things- coordination, transparency and non discriminatory approach.”

Portuguese Secretary of State for Tourism, Rita Marques spoke about the need for “data and information in order we can follow a coordinated approach. We will need this support coming from all member states. Mobility is also critical to restart the travel and tourism business. We need to work towards reopening borders and mobilize transport in a very harmonizing way, promote tourism within EU and then funding.  15 percent of our GDP, strong support from EU to restart the travel and tourism sector.”  Santander threw light on the fact that family travel businesses and enterprises are now facing an existential threat.  He also reiterated the problem facing EU nations post the summer months. In his opinion, the first thing to do would be to “really restore the trust amongst the players itself.” All of them believe that the damage is far more psychological that just economical and would definitely need consensus and unified rules, guidelines and standards that works well both for travelers and service providers.

Lawmakers from US, EU form alliance to counter China
Americas, Europe

Lawmakers from US, EU form alliance to counter China

Following recent Chinese overtures in Hong Kong, in a unique effort, Members of Parliament (MP) from the US and Europe have formed an alliance to look into the issue.

18 MPs from the US and Europe have come together to form the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). The cross-continent initiative will also look into China’s role in the COVID outbreak.

US Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez are part of the alliance. Other representatives are from the European Parliament, the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, and Sweden.

The group will work towards a “strategic approach” on issues about China.

Rubio, without mincing words, said, “China, under the Chinese Communist Party, presents a global challenge.” The IPAC will coordinate the response to that “challenge.”

The alliance will work towards safeguarding the international rules-based order, uphold human rights, and promote fair trade. The 18 member body will also work for strengthening security and promoting national integrity.

The US has objected to discriminatory trade practices of China in the past. Recently tension between the two has flared up over how China handled the novel Coronavirus crisis. The death toll in the US, from the viral infection, has crossed over a hundred thousand.

The US government has also raised concern over China tightening grip over the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong.

China in late May announced that it would impose National Security law in the former British colony. The US, UK, Australia reacted sharply over this move. The US announced that it would take steps that might alter Hong Kong’s special trade and economic relationship with the US.

Recently the US Congress passed a bill allowing the US President to take steps against Chinese human rights violations against the Uyghurs.

Senator Rubio and Menendez are known for their hardline stand against China. The two had introduced the bill to impose sanctions against China in then Congress in 2019, against human rights violations in Xinjiang province.

China has increased its patrol in the South China Sea. It is also intruding on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands joined forces for a COVID-19 vaccine
Europe, Geopolitics

Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands joined forces for a COVID-19 vaccine

Around the world, several companies and governments are looking for a vaccine for COVID-19, with the risk that the first to find it will produce it first for its population, leaving the others, in particular the least developed countries, at the mercy of a second epidemic to coincide with the next flu season. For this reason, Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands have joined forces in the research and production of the vaccine against the new coronavirus, an “inclusive” drug, as stated in the note expressed by the Dutch authorities published by France Presse.

The note affirms that the four countries jointly explore several promising initiatives and are in talks with different pharmaceutical companies, for which joint strategy and investments are conceived to reach a “widely accessible” vaccine, even from the least wealthy countries like African ones. German Health Jens Spahn wrote to the European Commission along with his counterparts from France, Italy and the Netherlands to announce that they have joined to “achieve the fastest and best possible outcome in negotiations with key players in the pharmaceutical industry.”

The four EU countries have identified the development of a vaccine as “one of the most urgent issues that the European Union has to address at present.” Doctors announced a new coronavirus outbreak in Göttingen, Lower Saxony, for which authorities decided the reintroduction of preventive measures such as the closure of schools for a week, after their reopening on May 23rd.In the German city, have been recorded 80 new cases of Covid-19, and at the base of the outbreak, there would be a private party between families without masks and social distancing.The EU is also preparing to use a €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion) fund to make advance purchases of vaccines, Reuters news agency reported. The use of the emergency fund is yet to be officially announced.

Over 380,000 have died from coronavirus worldwide. According to Johns Hopkins, the total number of infected people recognized as such is 6,404,872, while the healed are 2,743,777.The situation is improving in Italy, where people can leave their region without restrictions from yesterday. The latest data of Civil Protection reports of 71 deaths in the last 24 hours and 321 new infections, most in Lombardy, the first epicenter of the pandemic, in northern Italy. The total number of infections rises to 233,836, of which the dead are 33,601, while the recovered are 160,938.

The US has already secured almost a third of the first 1 billion doses planned for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca experimental vaccine by pledging $1.2 billion (€1.07 billion). AstraZeneca is one of several companies that Germany is now in talks with.The situation is still alarming in Latin America and in particular in Brazil, where at the beginning Jair Bolsonaro caught the epidemic: in the last 24 hours the deaths were 1,262, a number that brought the total of deaths to 31,199 28,936 new cases were recognized, for a total of 555,383.

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