⊂ EUROPE ⊃
EU to restrict unnecessary travel: The 27 EU member states want to restrict travel amidst the Covid-19 pandemic even more than before, but EU leaders agreed that borders should remain open during a video summit Thursday. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted on the importance of keeping borders open to ensure that goods continue to move smoothly while introducing measures “that keep us all safe.” She said leaders discussed a proposal to introduce new trans-border “dark red zones” where infections rates are particularly high and where all non-essential travel should be discouraged. Travellers from these areas could be required to undergo tests before their departure and be placed in isolation upon arrival in another location. Von der Leyen said the Commission will make precise recommendations to member states in the coming days. EU Council President Charles Michel said that the EU was particularly worried about coronavirus mutations. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned on Thursday that three mutant variants of the coronavirus that emerged in Britain, South Africa and Brazil pose a high risk in Europe and will lead to more Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
apnews.com, tagesschau.de, reuters.com
Merkel wants to talk with Biden about Nord Stream 2: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday she wants to discuss the Russia-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline and related US sanctions with the Biden administration. Asked at a press conference in Berlin whether the arrest and jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as well as the expected revamp of EU-US relations under the new president, have had an impact on her opinion about Nord Stream 2, Merkel said: „My basic attitude has not changed yet to the point where I say that the project should not exist.“ In general, Merkel said that there was a much broader political overlap with US President Joe Biden than with predecessor Donald Trump. She pointed to his first actions after taking office, such as his return to the Paris climate agreement and withdrawal of a Trump move to withdraw from the World Health Organisation WHO. In response to Russia arresting Navalny, the EU Parliament demanded that construction be halted on Nord Stream 2. Russian authorities have stepped up efforts to curb demonstrations against Navalny’s detention.
politico.eu, apnews.com (Merkel); dw.com (EU Parliament); euronews.com (Russia)
UK and EU in row over bloc’s diplomatic status: Britain and the European Union are at odds over the British government’s refusal to grant EU representatives’ full diplomatic status in London after Brexit. The UK is refusing to give Joao Vale de Almeida the full diplomatic status that is granted to other ambassadors. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has written to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, to express his concerns. The issue is expected to be discussed by EU foreign ministers next Monday when they meet for the first time since the post-Brexit transition period ended on 31 December. Vale de Almeida has been the EU’s ambassador to the UK for a year, but Borrell warned Raab that the arrangements offered for his ongoing status did not reflect the specific character of the EU, nor did they respond to the future relationship between the EU and the UK as a non-member.
reuters.com, bbc.com, politico.eu
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VW faces EU fine: VW narrowly missed complying with stricter emissions standards set by the EU last year. The shortfall of about 0.5 gram of carbon dioxide emitted per kilometer driven may lead to a fine of more than €100 million, an amount that won’t affect VW’s earnings because the company had already provisioned for possibly missing its target.
Russia, Ukraine panned by European Human Rights Court over 2008, 2014 abuses: Russia’s 2008 routing of Georgian troops from South Ossetia and its occupation of Abkhazia, and likewise, Ukraine’s Maidan protests of 2013-2014, had culminated in state abuses, ruled the European Court of Human Rights in twin rulings. The judges found that Russia – as occupier of the breakaway Georgian regions in 2008 – was responsible for inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees. They also found that in late-2013 and early 2014, Ukrainian forces under pro-Russian then-president Viktor Yanukovych had used excessive violence to suppress initially peaceful protests, the court found — in one case, the torture and murder of a protestor left to freeze to death in a forest.
EU states should recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s leader, lawmakers say: The European Parliament called on EU governments to recognise Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president in a resolution on Thursday. The resolution, which was approved with 391 votes in favour, 114 against and 177 abstentions, is not legally binding but carries political weight. Guaido is still seen by the United States and Britain as Venezuela’s rightful leader. Following the disputed re-election of President Nicolas Maduro in 2018, Guaido, as head of parliament, became interim President. EU diplomats have stressed that the bloc does not recognise Maduro as president.
ECB: key interest rate remains unchanged: At its policy meeting on Thursday, the European Central Bank’s Governing Council kept interest rates and it stimulus programme unchanged. The ECB’s main refinancing operations, marginal lending facility and deposit facility will remain at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.50%, respectively.
Uganda: EU and US call for probe into election violence cnn.com
EU border agency Frontex: Agency chief Fabrice Leggeri accused of delaying investigation of pushback allegations spiegel.de
Brexit: 4.9 million Europeans apply for right to stay in the UK orf.at
Eurostar: France says Eurostar will get French and UK aid to ensure its future theguardian.com
EU, Turkey cautiously eye improved ties after tough 2020 reuters.com
Renew Europe expels Lithuanian MEP over homophobic remarks euractiv.com
⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃
„We will always have banknotes.“
European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde has reiterated that cash will not disappear, even after the introduction of a digital euro.
⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃
Portugal shuts schools in bid to stem coronavirus surge: The Portuguese government on Thursday announced the closure of schools and universities in an effort to stem a Covid-19 resurgence that has pushed the country to the top of global infection rankings. On Wednesday, the nation of 10 million registered 14,647 new cases, the worst since the pandemic started. Daily rates of over 10,000 have become the norm since New Year. Hospitals are struggling to cope. The death rate has doubled in two weeks, with nine Covid-19 fatalities every hour over the past three days.
Merkel calls for standard Covid measures across the EU: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was in a difficult stage of the pandemic, though she highlighted reasons for optimism. Germany extended its current lockdown to at least 14 February on Tuesday, reflecting the high daily infection rate and death count. Merkel warned that the virus was still very dangerous.“ We have a shockingly high death count, more than 1,000 people today,“ she said. Merkel also spoke about the danger of the mutations of the virus.
Dutch parliament backs night-time curfew plan to curb Covid spread: The Netherlands will impose its first night-time curfew since World War II from Saturday onward in a bid to stop the spread of new coronavirus mutations after a majority of lawmakers supported the emergency measure during a debate on Thursday.
Former head of Vatican bank sentenced to jail for embezzlement: A former head of the Vatican bank has been convicted of embezzlement and money laundering and sentenced to nearly nine years in prison. Angelo Caloia, who served as president from 1999 to 2009, and lawyer Gabriele Liuzzo were sentenced to eight years and 11 months in jail, according to a statement from the Vatican on Thursday. The men were found guilty of skimming profits from the sale of Vatican properties. They stood accused of having cheaply sold 29 properties to themselves through offshore companies. The trial also involved Gabriele Liuzzo’ son, Lamberto Liuzzo, who was also found guilty for his part in the crime and sentenced to five years and two months in prison.
Greece extends coastal claim to Ionian Sea waters: Greek parliamentarians have voted to extend Greece’s western Ionian Sea territorial waters from six out to 12 nautical miles. Simultaneously, Turkey was told publicly by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that Athens had „zero naivety“ before talks due in Istanbul next Monday over rival maritime claims, focused since last year over eastern Mediterranean offshore gas deposits claimed by Turkey. Greece’s western Ionian maritime extension under the UN’s 1982 Law of the Sea convention followed negotiations with its regional neighbours, Italy and Albania. Still pending is a decision in The Hague on Albanian-Greek zones that overlap. Although NATO partners, Turkey’s parliament in 1995 warned that a [similar] Greek 12-mile enlargement in the Aegean would be interpreted as a reason for declaring war.
Austria presents its anti-Semitism strategy: Austria presented its anti-Semitism strategy on Thursday. Based on six pillars (education, security, law enforcement, integration, documentation and civil society), it contains 38 concrete measures, such as the creation of a dedicated documentation centre for anti-Semitic incidents. At the European level, the aim is to cooperate more closely and make data on incidents comparable. Under Austria’s EU presidency in 2018, EU interior ministers adopted a joint anti-Semitism declaration that required member states to develop national strategies.
Anniversary of the signing of the Elysée Treaty in 1963 this Friday sueddeutsche.de
Hungary gives preliminary approval for AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines reuters.com
Spanish public prosecutor’s office investigating misconduct in nursing homes tagesschau.de
Romania: Documentary film shows grievances in Romanian hospitals tagesspiegel.de
Poland grants medical licenses to Ukrainian and Belarusian doctors handelsblatt.com
⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃
+++Digital Currencies Governance Group seeks Political Advisor in Economic Affairs (m/f/d)+++Greenpeace is seeking a EU Communications Officer (m/f/d)+++GIZ cherche un Conseiller/e (h/f/a): Renforcement des capacités de la Cour des Comptes en Côte d’Ivoire+++PensionsEurope seeks Policy Officer/Policy Adviser (m/f/d) +++Center for Data Innovation seeks Senior Policy Analyst – AI Policy (m/f/d)+++Menthal Helath Europe seeks Advocacy and Policy Officer (m/f/d)+++
European Business Summits seeks Communications, Programme and Research Assistant (CIP) (m/f/d)+++Jobs at politjobs.eu +++ Don’t miss any jobs with the politjobs.eu job alert +++
⊂ LAST BUT NOT LEAST ⊃
EU lawmakers call for right to disconnect: The European Parliament has called for an EU-wide law giving workers the right to switch off their devices outside working hours without facing repercussions from their employers. The increase in digital resources being used for work purposes has resulted in an ‘always on’ culture, which has a negative impact on the work-life balance of employees, MEPs say. Although working from home has been instrumental in helping safeguard employment and business during the Covid-19 crisis, the combination of long working hours and higher demands also leads to more cases of anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental and physical health issues.