Friday, 18 December 2020: European leaders self-isolate, UK and EU stuck on fish after leaders’ Brexit call, Hungary asylum policies failed to fulfill EU obligations

⊂ EUROPE ⊃

EU agency moves forward meeting on Moderna vaccine: EU states will start vaccinations against Covid-19 in ten days as Europe tries to catch up with Britain and the United States. The 27 December start date will be almost three weeks after the world’s first fully tested Covid vaccination was administered in England. Germany and other EU members have been waiting for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the vaccine developed by US drug company Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. The EMA is expected to make an announcement on 21 December. The EMA also said it was speeding up efforts to approve another vaccine being developed by Moderna, bringing forward a review to 6 January from an original date of 12 January. Meanwhile, the EU Commission completed exploratory talks for coronavirus vaccines with Novavax.
reuters.com, pbs.org, politico.eu

Macron’s positive test prompts European leaders to self-isolate: A host of European leaders are self-isolating after French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for Covid-19. Macron will continue to work remotely, the Elysee Palace said. The French president had attended a number of high-profile events in recent days, including an EU summit. Following his diagnosis several other European leaders, including Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, said they would self-isolate. The prime minister of Portugal, António Costa, who had lunch with Macron on Wednesday, tested negative for Covid on Thursday. European Council President Charles Michel and other EU top officials are placing themselves in self-isolation as a precaution. German Chancellor Angela Merkel tested negative for the virus on Tuesday, German officials said after hearing the news about Macron.
bbc.com, cnbc.com, apnews.com

UK and EU stuck on fish after leaders’ Brexit call: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the Brexit talks were in a serious situation after a call with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Downing Street said time was very short and it now looked very likely that agreement would not be reached unless the EU position changed substantially. The UK and EU flagged fisheries as the current Brexit roadblock. Johnson stressed that the UK could not accept a situation where it was the only sovereign country in the world not to be able to control access to its own waters for an extended period and to be faced with fisheries quotas which hugely disadvantaged its own industry. The ministers in the Council of the EU have agreed to set provisional quotas for the fish stocks shared with the UK. The provisional quotas are designed to ensure the continuation of sustainable fishing in the concerned areas until consultations with the UK are concluded.
theguardian.com, politico.eu, bbc.com, consilum.europa.eu

Facebook Live: IJP-AfricaTalk #7 – Agriculture and Food Security: Does COVID-19 have an impact on access to food? COVID-19 pandemic movement restrictions have implications on food security. The measures are likely to exacerbate food security challenges. Meanwhile, certain agricultural regions were already in trouble, facing floods, conflicts and decreasing prices. What needs to be done to achieve adequate food supply in periods of crisis? Facebook Live-Discussion with Renate Künast (MdB, Die Grünen) on Thursday, 10 December 2020, 09:45 UTC +01. facebook.com

Hungary asylum policies failed to fulfill EU obligations: The European Court of Justice has ruled that Hungary’s asylum policies have failed to comply with European Union law. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán erected a fence, electrified in some places, along Hungary’s border with Serbia and Croatia in 2015, and transit zone camps where migrants and asylum seekers were held, sometimes for more than a year. The EU court said that third-country nationals wishing to claim asylum in Hungary were in practice confronted with the virtual impossibility of making their application due to national legislation making it mandatory for them to start the procedure from a so-called transit zone and an administrative practice drastically limiting the number of people allowed to enter these areas every day.
dw.com, euractiv.com, euronews.com

Volkswagen loses top EU court case in diesel scandal: Technologies used by Volkswagen to rig vehicle emissions tests should be considered illegal, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday, even if they contribute to preventing ageing or clogging up of the engine. The scandal known as „Dieselgate“ erupted five years ago when the US Environmental Protection Agency found that Volkswagen had installed special software to rig US emissions tests. The EU’s highest court also ruled Thursday that member countries may ban the practice of ritual slaughter in order to promote animal welfare, without infringing the rights of religious groups. Furthermore, problems with the rule of law in Poland or any other EU country shouldn’t automatically trigger the suspension of extraditions to that country, the EU’s top court said in a final judgment.
reuters.com, apnews.com (VW); politico.eu (Ritual slaughter); politico.eu (Extraditions)

Putin says if Russia poisoned Navalny he’d be dead: Russian President Vladimir Putin denied state involvement in the poisoning of opposition activist Alexei Navalny in comments during an annual nationally televised press conference on Thursday. Putin said recent reports that Russian state security agents had poisoned Navalny were part of a US intelligence plot to discredit him. If the Russian special services had wanted to poison Navalny, „they would have taken it to the end,“ he said. During the press conference, Putin also said Russia would ramp up its support for Ukraine’s rebel-controlled eastern Donbass region where conflict broke out in 2014 between pro-Moscow rebels and government forces. He announced that Russia would help the region upgrade its factories, infrastructure and help it meet the social needs of local people whom he said faced challenges. The EU has decided to prolong the restrictive measures currently targeting specific sectors of the Russian economy, which were imposed in 2014 in response to Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine.
dw.com (Navalny), uk.reuters.com (Eastern Ukraine), consilium.europa.eu (EU)

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Belarus: EU imposes third round of sanctions over ongoing repression consilium.europa.eu
Brexit: Eurostar warns travellers to expect customs checks from 1 January politico.eu
Ten years after the Arab spring: Tunisia calls for more help from Europe spiegel.de
European People’s Party (EPP): Chaos in the EU Parliament spiegel.de

⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃

Trump has awakened us from certain strategic sleepwalking.
The arrival of US President Donald Trump in 2016 awakened the EU and made it realise it was too dependent on Washington, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told „Euractiv“.
euractiv.com

⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃

Spanish lower house of parliament backs euthanasia bill: Spain took a significant step towards legalising euthanasia on Thursday when its parliament voted in favour of allowing physician-assisted suicide for long-suffering patients with no hope of recovery. The bill, which allows for euthanasia and assisted suicide for people with serious and incurable or debilitating permanent conditions deemed unbearable by the patient, still needs to pass the Senate. It is expected to be signed into law by spring 2021. Patients must ask to die on four separate occasions during the euthanasia process. The first two requests must be in writing and submitted over two weeks apart. The individual must reaffirm that request a third time after consulting with a doctor and once more just before undergoing the procedure to terminate his or her life.
dw.com

Denmark toughens rape law: Denmark toughened its rape law on Thursday by criminalising sex without explicit consent, a long-awaited victory for assault survivors and human rights groups. In order to bring a rape charge, the law previously required proof of violence, threat or evidence that the victim was unable to fend off the assault. But the new legislation broadens the definition. The law reform makes Denmark one of 12 countries in Europe, including Germany, the UK and Sweden, to recognise sex without consent as rape. Spain and the Netherlands have also announced plans to amend their national laws.
nytimes.com, dw.com

French court sentences Thalys train attacker to life in jail: An Islamist militant who opened fire aboard a high-speed train travelling through northern Europe but was overpowered by three Americans before he killed anyone was sentenced to life in jail by a French court on Friday. A Paris court found the defendant, Ayoub El Khazzani, guilty of attempted murder with intent to commit terrorism over the August 2015 plot on the Amsterdam-Paris high-speed Thalys train. The court also issued sentences of between seven to 27 years to three accomplices.
reuters.com, rfi.fr

Poland and Portugal impose curfews on New Year’s Eve: Poland will enter a national quarantine from 28 December to 17 January that will include the closure of hotels, ski slopes and shopping malls, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Thursday. While no new restrictions would be imposed for Christmas, Niedzielski said there would be a curfew on New Year’s Eve from 7 pm on 31 December to 6 am on 1 January to limit the virus’s spread. In Portugal, an overnight curfew from 11 pm will come into force on New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Thursday. Bulgaria has extended its soft lockdown until the end of January. Latvia is pioneering an automated coronavirus testing station.
reuters.com (Poland), reuters.com (Portugal), reuters.com (Bulgaria), france24.com (Latvia)

King Carl XVI Gustaf says Sweden’s coronavirus approach has failed: Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf has said his country failed to save lives with its relatively relaxed approach to the coronavirus pandemic. “I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died and that is terrible. It is something we all suffer with,” the king told Swedish broadcaster SVT. Sweden has been an outlier during the pandemic due to its low-intervention approach that relied on people’s sense of civic responsibility. But the country has seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases since October and recorded over 7,800 deaths from Covid-19.
politico.eu, bbc.com

Merkel is proud of BioNTech founders: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised the accomplishments and tenacity of BioNTech researchers who developed the first coronavirus vaccine to be approved in western countries. „When we see how many people are currently dying from the coronavirus, then we know how much it can save lives,“ Merkel said as she met online on Thursday with the founders of BioNTech. Referring to Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, the couple that runs BioNTech, Merkel said she was incredibly proud that Germany has such researchers. Merkel was joined by Health Minister Jens Spahn and Research Minister Anja Karliczek for the video conference with Sahin and Tureci. Karliczek also sought to dispel any concerns about the vaccine. „I am stressing again and again at the moment that no shortcuts were taken in testing the safety and efficacy of the vaccine,“ she said, adding that the opposite was true.
dpa-international.com, dw.com

Italy: Former prime minister Renzi criticises incumbent Conte sueddeutsche.de
Hungary: Rising anti-Semitism worries Jewish groups dw.com
Slovenia: National press agency at risk after funding slashed dw.com

⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃

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⊂ AT LAST ⊃

Big Ben will bong for Brexit: Big Ben will ring out to mark the end of the Brexit withdrawal period on 31 December – but only as part of routine tests. The iconic bell has been largely silent since 2017 due to repairs on the clock and Parliament’s Elizabeth Tower in which it is housed, but is sporadically reconnected for special events. It will chime at 11pm on New Year’s Eve as the UK leaves the EU’s single market and custom’s union – in one of a series of routine tests to ensure it can produce its 12 bongs when the clock strikes midnight to mark the arrival of the new year.
independent.co.uk

 

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