Tag: European Union

EU-China agreement invites criticism for its hasty giveaway and overlooking Beijing’s human rights record
Asia Pacific Focus

EU-China agreement invites criticism for its hasty giveaway and overlooking Beijing’s human rights record

Members of European Parliament MEPs criticized the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CIA) and the hurried manner in which it got formalized. Many slammed German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for her determination to secure the deal, overlooking not only Beijing’s questionable human rights record but also risking the EU’s ties with Washington. The agreement was seen by US and UK officials as nothing less than a geopolitical blunder. The Union pressed for the deal to be finalized by the end of 2020.

The report, presenting the complete analysis of the agreement, called it the worst negotiated deal as it provided the EU with the minimum additional market access along with “next to no means” to force Chinese authorities for the eradication of forced labor. The report published by the Institut Montaigne highlighted that the European Commission oversold the deal, mainly due to persistent pressure from Merkel. 

The report’s author François Godement said that the agreement could spur tensions between the bloc and US over its differences with regard to China’s human rights situation. Washington strongly slammed Beijing’s treatment of its Muslim minority community, Uyghur. On Tuesday, the newly appointed secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the Senate that US needed to toughen its stand against China as the communist nation was committing genocide in Xinjiang province. His statement hinted at US adoption of tough trade approach towards Beijing.

Europe still has some hope, as MEPs hold the right to ratify the agreement but it would take about a year’s time to do so. European Parliament, which is currently reviewing the agreement, would be passing a motion next week condemning the way the agreement was processed hurriedly, reducing the EU’s support towards global human rights.

With regard to the motion, Godement said that the EU would “regret the fact that the decision for a political conclusion of the comprehensive agreement on investment (CAI) has not reflected the European parliament’s requests in previous resolutions on Hong Kong for using investment negotiations as a leverage tool aiming at preserving Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, as well as its basic rights and freedoms”.

Godement objected to the deal on the basis that it permitted China “to build on Europe’s claims to have advanced its values while escaping enforcement and remedies on the issues that are at the heart of current public debates: environment and labor”.

He added: “Given China’s track record, it is impossible to rely on goodwill to implement commitments and unwise to believe that on key issues, a top-down political process between both parties can be substituted to legal arbitration… On WTO-plus issues, the deal fails to put a secure mechanism of implementation in place”.

Coronavirus, Europe introduces “red zones” and new restrictions to limit non-essential travel within the Union
Europe

Coronavirus, Europe introduces “red zones” and new restrictions to limit non-essential travel within the Union

New restrictive measures to limit non-essential travel within the Union. Introduction of mandatory tests on departure and quarantine on arrival for those traveling from high-risk areas identified with a new color, dark red. These are the choices made late in the evening by the heads of state and government at the end of their ninth video summit dedicated to Covid. A meeting convened by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, to counter the spread of the new variants of the virus, explained Ursula von der Leyen, “worry us a lot: the situation is serious.”

A few minutes after the start of the EU summit, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) indicated an increase in infections is expected with the variants. That can lead to an increasing number of hospitalizations and deaths in all age groups, especially the older ones. There is also a fear that some mutations could damage the vaccine. Also, for this reason, the EU leaders decided to accelerate the immunization process and to increase the genomic sequencing capacity of tests to monitor strains.

In this context, it is not surprising that new generalized lockdowns have been speculated during the summit. “We must maintain or strengthen the restrictive measures,” said Michel. To avoid a harmful shattering of Schengen, the leaders have pledged to keep internal borders open but they have decided to discourage non-essential travel: those for work and the movement of goods will remain possible. Europeans are also preparing to further secure the Union’s external borders. The Netherlands has already closed flights from 17 non-EU countries, such as the United Kingdom and South Africa.

At the push of Merkel and Macron, the leaders have introduced dark red areas in the virus map from which swab and quarantine will be mandatory. The green light for the mutual recognition of rapid tests between European partners has arrived, a prerequisite for any general medical checkpoints at internal borders. The hypothesis of vaccine passports to circulate skipping the checks is premature, supported by the southern countries with a tourist vocation and rejected by the Nordic for legal, scientific, and political. For now, Europe thinks to adopt a vaccination certificate for medical purposes only, which, however, in the future, perhaps in the summer, could be transformed into a travel document.

In the evening, France announced that starting from Sunday at midnight all travelers arriving from other European Union countries must have the certificate of a negative molecular swab carried out 72 hours before the arrival in the country. The tampon will be mandatory for all non-essential journeys. Cross-border workers and land transport workers remain exempt from the obligation.

Why Balkan Countries Are Refusing To Be Immunized?
Europe

Why Balkan Countries Are Refusing To Be Immunized?

Balkan Countries: The Southeastern European nations are seemingly skeptical over the vaccine candidates doing round in the markets.  Some critics feel that the pandemic has become an excuse to forward ‘global manipulation’. 

Strangely, a study conducted by the Europe Policy Advisory Group for the Balkan states (it was published before the regional vaccination campaign started in December 2020) concluded shockingly that virus conspiracy theories were actually affecting people’s decisions to receive the vaccination. This amounted to nearly 80 percent of the citizens residing in Western Balkan countries. Apparently, these are the same countries that are also striving to join the European Union. About half of them will refuse to get vaccinated, it said.

We are referring specifically to countries like the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria that are also running anti campaigns against Russian and Chinese made Covid19 vaccines. 

The anti skepticism has flown down to ex-presidents, former doctors and sportsmen too. For example Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic has been foolhardy with his and his family’s health, travelling on tennis tours, refusing to be inoculated. 

There is a general buzz that through the vaccine, Russia is trying to insert a microchip into the bloodstream of the users. Serbia does not hold Russia is good esteem and it has historic reasons for that. 

Serbian politicians are going on national television to declare safety of the vaccine. They are getting themselves inoculated there. But this isn’t having the desired effect. But even Siberian politicians are divided between the EU approved or the Russian vaccine- there are reasons to favor one over the other. 

In Bosnia too, there is a huge divide. An amalgamation between Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs, the country is favoring the Russian over other Western options. In Bulgaria too, there is mistrust due to lack of proper information about the vaccine and its effects. They faced major resistance over the spread of measles earlier too. The trend continues with Covid-19. According to the Gallup International Poll, majority of the population is against getting itself inoculated. 

In the Czech Republic, where surveys show some 40% reject vaccination, protesters at a big rally against government virus restrictions in Prague demanded that vaccinations not be mandatory. Former President Vaclav Klaus, a fierce critic of the government’s pandemic response, told the crowd that vaccines are not a solution.

Hungary that had been walking its own pace, going against the EU, has now taken a hard stand against anyone ‘scaremongering’ that is dissuading people to get themselves inoculated. Such trouble makers will be persecuted; but the rate of immunization has not gone up. It dwindles on 30percent. 

Herd immunization did not work well; a robust vaccine immunization drive is the only thing that can save these nations from fighting the more deadly form of mutated Corona virus that is challenging nations like the UK presently. 

Digital revolution. China-US tensions, an opportunity for Europe?
Geopolitics

Digital revolution. China-US tensions, an opportunity for Europe?

Digital revolution: UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, recently compared the development between the financial crisis of 2008 and the present day, in full coronavirus emergency. The comparison is useful to understand that the current situation is leading to the emergence of new markets and new companies, alongside the deepening of the crisis of other companies and other traditional sectors. The great driving force of low cost, in particular of travel, which has facilitated the spread of tourist facilities and services with very low productivity, will no longer work as before and this will lead, among other things, to a profound restructuring of tourism.

But the infrastructure and access to the network has exploded in the twelve years that separate us from the previous financial crisis, and in this context, the competition between the two giants the United States and China represents a huge challenge for the European Union, which it also tries to give positive answers to the crisis. The reference framework for the tensions between the US and China is characterized by the American will to resist the rise of the Chinese superpower, at perhaps the most delicate moment of the leadership of President Xi Jinping and, perhaps, also of President Donald Trump.

On the other hand, the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) power lies in the extraordinary economic growth, which has brought dividends certainly distributed in a very unequal way and in the absence of guarantees on individual rights and on human rights of minorities, but so high. to feed a popular consensus without alternatives. Now, after the COVID-19 pandemic’s outbreak, growth forecasts have vanished, accentuating a slowdown trend that can largely be attributed to structural weaknesses in the Chinese economy, including rising debt, unproductive investments, demographic shifts, and renewed government support for inefficient state-owned companies.

However, Western concerns about Beijing’s emerging hegemony, and American concerns, in particular, have never been higher. According to the US Department of Justice, between 2011 and 2018, 90% of state-led espionage cases were attributable to China, and thus 2/3 of intellectual property thefts attributable to the private sector. Xi Jinping’s leadership aims to strengthen China’s international economic, military and technological position, within a strengthened control of the CCP: minorities, oppositions, and areas that do not intend to align are considered dangerous adversaries. To speed up the process, he has for years started an effective model of transmission and interconnection between the civil and military sectors, as the American Congress acknowledges, not without concern.

The coronavirus emergency represents a test case for this strategy. His raid took the local authorities of the province of Hubei by surprise, which was also serious because, in Wuhan, the capital of the province, there is the only biological laboratory of level 4 in China, created with the collaboration of France and where a researcher of international stature developed important knowledge about the “viral reserves” represented by bats and immediately sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the epidemic. The central government reacted to the initial delay with very drastic and effective measures, blocking the epidemic in the country, with very high costs, but with the declared aim of demonstrating this ability to govern to the world: we recall the images of the dozens of bulldozers that cleared the area where the new hospitals for coronavirus patients in Wuhan would be built in a week.

The United States has grossly underestimated the impact of the coronavirus, not only in health terms but also in political and economic terms. They did not understand that China would play all out on containment, to demonstrate, within the country and abroad, the Party’s grip on strategic problems. But they did not even understand how China intended to leverage the internal lockdown, to accelerate the digitization processes already in full development with the emergence of technological giants of primary global importance and, in fact, the only competitors of the American giants.

With which, however, President Trump did not define any strategic approach during his mandate. It is interesting to note that the reference for the Google-Apple agreement to make the operating systems of mobile phones communicate in order to recognize each other via Bluetooth, has as a regulatory horizon, the protection of privacy defined by the European Union.

The coronavirus has therefore also become a field of competition between the US and China, where it is the second to have gained margins. Also, thanks to an extensive adoption of new solutions and apps dedicated to monitoring, tracking, and control. This effort has translated into a further leap forward from the point of view of Internet penetration in the daily life of the Chinese.

According to a study of the World Bank, investment in infrastructure contributes to the development of productivity and economic growth of a country, increasingly as the integration of international markets growths. The Chinese economy has systematically developed the country’s infrastructure. It was able to do that because it found no obstacles in the property rights of families or businesses, in fact still subordinated to the planning of the CCP, and it wanted to do so by activating the financial capital available to the central government and the Provinces.

In the telecommunications and internet sector, this development has been prodigious, accompanied by an even more significant growth in technological capacity and willingness to innovate, fuelled by an educated and ambitious young population: from 2008 to 2019, internet users were grown by 300% reaching 900 million people. The network-based economy is changing Chinese society more rapidly than it is in the West. Among the population that uses the internet: 1 out of 3 order food online 1 out of 2 buy online, 3 out of 4 make payments online, 9 out of 10 use online streaming.

Why Has Hungary Been Left Without Covid-19 Vaccines?
Europe

Why Has Hungary Been Left Without Covid-19 Vaccines?

Hungary Been Left: While the world frantically awaits a Corona virus vaccine with the strongest efficacy rate, Hungarians are skeptical about receiving a jab. They are not feeling prepared of being immunized, reports have confirmed. The blame is being redirected towards Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán an, who seemed to have forgotten to get the requisite vaccine into the country in time. 

In his attempt to show off that Hungary could go against the rest of the EU set vaccination strategy, he has left the public unprepared for vaccination completely. The rest of the EU is started to receive the vaccinations and has already started a stagewise rollout on December 27, 2020. 

As Hungary has been singing its own tune, it had decided to disregard altogether the European Commission’s plan for a coordinated bloc-wide rollout. The state of affairs is quite ironic to the claims made by Orban a few months ago where he accused European regulators for ‘taking too long’ to approve the vaccine. He had been confident that Hungary would be the first country in Europe to use Russian and Chinese shots.

Hungarians would like to stick with what the bloc is prescribing as a trusted vaccine. Orban’s own credibility is in choppy waters amongst his own. 

A public poll conducted by Pulzus for Napi.hu in November had confirmed that almost 53 percent Hungarians would go with the EU approved vaccine candidate, while only 11 percent would use a Russian or Chinese vaccine. The state of affairs remains the same as the year comes to an end. Even health professionals worry that vaccine skepticism might affect all vaccination efforts.

Many critics feel that Orban has been preoccupied flexing in political muscle that he has thrown the lives of the Hungarians into the gallows. With a new strain of virus already destabilizing travel and New Year plans, Hungarians have their own fears about Orban’s intentions. 

It has been further confirmed that infact, Orban has been too busy pushing the Russian vaccine Sputnik IV that has not even gone through significant human trials. While researchers feel it is a good attempt, but can’t be used for mass immunization. 

Currently, medical practitioners are suggesting that the government should still push for a large-scale public health campaign. This will reassure the public about the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines. With multiple vaccine candidates flooding the market, it is no doubt that the Hungarian population is feeling even more lost and lonely that they were a few months back, when Orban decided to veto the EU led stimulus package decision. 

Barnier Snubbed Both Ways With Inconclusive Fishing Decision
Europe

Barnier Snubbed Both Ways With Inconclusive Fishing Decision

Barnier Snubbed Both Ways: No one is happy with the fishing deal that has hit a stalemate between Britain and the European Union. It is for sure that Britain does not want to miss the richness of its waters; it has been sharing with the EU for decades together. 

While the EU Brexit Chief Michael Barnier is trying very hard to reach a conclusive deal by the end of the Brexit transition period, Britain is not happy with what is being placed on the negotiation table. 

Before the Brexit happened, Britain had to share a major chunk of its catch from its waters; at the expense of its industry getting affected. It is now looking at a 60percent revenue from the EU catch. The EU bloc is only budging from a 15 percent to an 18percent but nothing more. 

Further, the bone of contention remains that Britain would like to decide the shipping rights of the countries that fall in the EU bloc, a quota that should be looked into yearly, allowing access to other non EU countries to use British waters too. 

Barnier has been snubbed both ways. As per Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, any conclusive solution looks difficult, even after nine months have been spent over negotiations between the UK and EU bloc. If there no deal conclusive deal where both parties can come to the same page, the UK’s waters would be entirely shut to EU vessels. 

Gerard van Balsfoort, the chairman of the European Fisheries Alliance, represents the industry in coastal states such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. According to Balsfoort, the fishing industry in these countries is  going to be severely hit, without a conclusive Brexit transitional deal.  Giving an official statement in the British media he has concluded that, “The shape of a deal, as currently stands, would give a huge blow to the European seafood sector which is made up more than 18,000 fishermen and 3,500 vessels with an annual turnover of €20.7bn.”

In fact he feels, it is better to be without a deal that to accept the one which is now being proposed by Barnier. 

European Union Comes Heavy On Tech Giants Over Service Regulations
Europe

European Union Comes Heavy On Tech Giants Over Service Regulations

Tech Giants: The EU bloc is extremely serious about American tech companies adhering to fair taxation practices. What has started from the pre-pandemic times continues to put pressure on tech giants like Google and Facebook; a wave of change that even Joe Biden’s taking office will not be able to change. 

Post a congratulatory message to Biden for his elect win, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was quick on her feet to send a message of caution out –‘we are not retreating from our stances and it is not personal.’

EU bloc had been troubled with Trump’s childish moves of isolating itself over WHO funds and blame game in the past. Ms. Leyen unveiled  formal antitrust charges against Amazon for abusing its dominance in online shopping, while opening a second investigation into the company’s business practices.

The EU Commission has now released a set of draft policies that will force companies to change their business practices. It amounts to the most aggressive legislative to rein-in tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. Further, the Digital Service Act, is all abiding for the mammoth social media companies and e-commerce sites that are now obligated to remove illegal and harmful content from their platforms. 

The new Digital Markets Act which is under consideration stage, will ensure there is fair competition where big conglomerates cannot access business user data to get an edge and advantage over their competition.  

Companies that don’t adhere to the set down content policy guidelines could actually see to a six percent deduction from their global revenues. Further, repeat offenders wouldn’t be spared either. Such companies could see their platforms temporarily banned. There are existing powers to levy antitrust fines of up to 10% of global revenues. These are expected to be extended to more areas. In near future, offenders could be forced to sell parts of their business if they continue to break the rules.

Making a public media statement, Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner leading the charge on tech issues, substantiated that, “The two proposals serve one purpose: to make sure that we, as users, have access to a wide choice of safe products and services online. And that businesses operating in Europe can freely and fairly compete online just as they do offline.” 

The EU has a new counter-terrorism agenda
Europe

The EU has a new counter-terrorism agenda

Counter-terrorism agenda: Today, the Commission is presenting a new the Agenda for the EU to reinforce the fight against terrorism and violent extremism and support the EU’s resilience to terrorist menaces. Building on the work done in recent years, the Agenda seeks to support Member States in better anticipating, preventing, protecting, and responding to the terrorist threat, a statement of the EU Commission highlights. Europol, the EU Agency for law enforcement cooperation, will deliver better operational support to Member States’ investigations under the revised mandate proposed today.

A stronger mandate for Europol, the EU agency for law enforcement cooperation. This is what the European Commission outlined. Given that terrorists often abuse the services offered by private companies to recruit followers, plan attacks, and spread propaganda that incites further attacks, the revised mandate will help Europol to cooperate effectively with private parties and convey relevant evidence to the Member States. For example, Europol can act as a focal point if it is not clear which Member State has jurisdiction. The new mandate will also allow Europol to process large and complex data sets, improve cooperation with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and with non-EU partner countries, and help develop new technologies that meet the needs of law enforcement. It will strengthen Europol’s data protection framework and parliamentary oversight.

The Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritas Schinas, affirmed that the inclusive and rights-based foundations of the Union are the strongest protection against the threat of terrorism. “By building inclusive societies where everyone can find their place, we reduce the appeal of extremist narratives,” Schinas explained. “At the same time, the European way of life is not optional and we must do all in our power to prevent those that seek to undo it. With today’s Counter-Terrorism Agenda we are putting the focus on investing in the resilience of our societies with measures to better counter radicalisation and to protect our public spaces from attacks through targeted measures.” She added.

The European Commission is also proposing to give Europol the modern means to support EU countries in their investigations. Police cooperation and information exchange across the EU are key to respond effectively in case of attacks and bring perpetrators to justice, the Commission stressed. That is why the EU is thinking to adopt an EU police cooperation code in 2021 to enhance cooperation between law enforcement authorities, including in the fight against terrorism.

A substantial part of investigations against crime and terrorism involve encrypted information. The Commission will work with Member States to identify possible legal, operational, and technical solutions for lawful access and promote an approach which both maintains the effectiveness of encryption in protecting privacy and security of communications, while providing an effective response to crime and terrorism. To better support investigations and prosecution, the Commission will propose to create a network of counter-terrorism financial investigators involving Europol, to help follow the money trail and identify those involved. The Commission will also further support Member States to use battlefield information to identify, discover and prosecute Foreign Terrorists Fighters returning from conflict areas.

The new Agenda focuses on strengthening preventive action in prisons, paying specific attention to the rehabilitation and reintegration of radical inmates, including after their release. To disseminate knowledge and expertise on the prevention of radicalisation, the Commission will propose setting up an EU Knowledge Hub gathering policy makers, practitioners and researchers. Recognising the specific challenges raised by foreign terrorist fighters and their family members, the Commission will support training and knowledge sharing to help Member States manage their return. The EU will also work to enhance the protection of victims of terrorist acts, including to improve access to compensation.  

EU Fate Hangs Over Controversial Internal Bill Voted Out By British MPs
Europe

EU Fate Hangs Over Controversial Internal Bill Voted Out By British MPs

EU Fate: The peer’s amendment to the controversial Internal Market Bill has been rejected by the House of Commons. This means that the deleted clauses will now be reinserting allowing the government to override the Brexit withdrawal agreement and breach international law. The EU has been against this from the beginning. The Internal market bill tends to be skewed and seems to be favouring the UK. 

A majority MP vote has handed over these powers to ministers within the bill, which the government insists are necessary to prevent a border in the Irish Sea. The bill, which sets out how trade within the UK will work once it is outside the EU’s single market and customs union, will now be passed back to the House of Lords.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson led government is not going to come in terms with EU conditions over trade settlement post the Brexit unless the latter makes amendments to the Internal Market Bill as 10 Downing Street deems it appropriate. 

Finally, Boris Johnson has given the European Union an olive branch. He has offered to drop contentious clauses in the UK internal market bill if a trade deal is agreed.

It is now confirmed that the UK government has formally offered to withdraw or deactivate parts of the bill. This would allow it to override aspects of the Brexit withdrawal agreement if it reaches an accord with the EU this week.

If conditions are met the way UK wants it, the UK government would be prepared to remove Clause 44 of the UK Internal Market Bill, concerning export declarations.

A formal statement from the PM’s office also stated, “The UK government would also be prepared to deactivate clauses 45 and 47, concerning state aid, such that they could be used only when consistent with the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under international law.”

Barnier Braves Corona Virus To Make Physical Appearance In UK Over EU Stalemate
Europe

Barnier Braves Corona Virus To Make Physical Appearance In UK Over EU Stalemate

Barnier Braves Corona Virus: Michael Barnier had to make a personal visit to the United Kingdom to ensure the stalemate between the European Union and UK can be broken down. 

Bariner is making a personal appearance because it has become imperative that a conclusive solution comes to the Brexit deal where EU seems to be the losing out the most. 

The UK post Brexit transition period will come to an end in January 2021. Before that, both sides would need to come to an understanding that their trade is not adversely affected with Britain moving out of the European Union. 

Despite a team member in Bariner’s team showing a positive Covid-19 result, Barnier has decided to make a personal visit to ensure he can speed up  things along with his strategy of ‘patience and determination’.

While the world has been forced to shift to the virtual mode of diplomacy, there is no replacement for personal conversations and physical negotiations.  In response to Barnier’s brave move, the British counterpart David Frost has promised to do his utmost to ensure that some kind of movement is seen in the post Brexit situation. 

However, the stalemate seems to have come in the first place when we refer to the need to respect ‘UK’s sovereignty’. Bone of contention lay over fishing waters and a regime for subsidising businesses between Britain and the EU. 

Britain is definitely not looking at a small share into the fishing catch that EU partners have enjoyed for decades. Further, EU will have to concede with a certain compromise- do away with its insistence on common competition regulations and a tough means of policing them. Britain knows it can squeeze the EU as most of its trade is dependent on British exports; but then Britain has been smart to open up its arms to other partners like Japan and Australia. 

The UK left the EU on 31 January, but it is continuing to follow the bloc’s rules until the end of the year as part of an 11-month transition period.

If a trade deal is not agreed by then, trading between the two will default to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

The EU and UK can keep negotiating if they want to after this, but the two sides would face import taxes on goods traded between them.

The UK would have no access to the EU’s energy market, and no agreement on police and judicial co-operation.

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