Friday, 19 February 2021: Criticism after Facebook blocks news content in Australia, NATO delays decision on Afghanistan withdrawal, expands Iraq mission, Texas Senator Ted Cruz flew to Mexico amid state energy crisis


Criticism after Facebook blocks news content in Australia: The social networking platform Facebook has blocked news content sharing in Australia, in response to a proposed media law. The law stipulates that digital platforms, such as Facebook and Google, must pay for journalistic content based on negotiations with news outlets. Users in Australia could not see posts for news organisations on Thursday and instead saw a blank feed stating that there are no posts yet for those websites. The restrictions even extended to some government services with Queensland’s health department stating their Facebook page was down but then later restored. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said their Facebook page was also down but later reinstated by the company. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on his Facebook page the company’s response to the proposed law was proof that tech giants believed they were „bigger than governments“. Hamburg’s data protection officer Johannes Caspar told the „Handelsblatt“ that Facebook’s actions should be understood as a global alarm signal. The US company had made clear that it would not hesitate to use its information and market power for its own purposes.,,

EU presents new trade strategy: The EU Commission has set out its trade strategy for the coming years, which includes objectives to strengthen the post-pandemic economic recovery and reach carbon neutrality by making the Paris climate agreement an essential element of future trade deals. The strategy builds on a renewed focus on strengthening multilateralism and reforming global trade rules to ensure that they are fair and sustainable. Where necessary, the EU will take a more assertive stance in defending its interests and values, including through new tools. Brussels also wants to ensure that the bloc’s competition rules are respected by non-EU countries, especially given the newly concluded investment agreement with China, as well as looking to develop trade defence measures to protect European companies and citizens from unfair trade practices. In an interview with „Politico“, Europe’s trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis has fired a warning shot at US President Joe Biden over his plans to press US authorities to „Buy American.“ Dombrovskis said the EU would closely monitor whether preferential treatment for US contractors on public projects contravened international commitments.,,

New EU sanctions against Russia over Navalny: EU countries are ready to impose new sanctions against Russia over the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after a meeting of envoys gave approval for punitive measures, diplomats said. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, diplomatic sources told „Euronews“ that there will likely be a political decision on the topic during next week’s Foreign Affairs Council. The decision will then be referred to technical teams to prepare the lists of Russian individuals which will then be sent to EU ambassadors for review and approval. The consensus among member states is helping to speed up the process. A meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday showed broad support for sanctions, with countries including Sweden, Germany, France, Poland and Baltic countries all calling for the travel bans and asset freezes.,

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NATO delays decision on Afghanistan withdrawal, expands Iraq mission: NATO has made no decision on whether or when to pull out of Afghanistan, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday. NATO defence ministers pushed back a decision on complying with a 1 May deadline to withdraw all of their forces from Afghanistan, saying they would wait for US President Joe Biden and his new administration to complete a policy review now underway in Washington. The deadline was set in a peace agreement between the US and the Taliban brokered by the administration of former President Donald Trump. The peace deal has been violated repeatedly, and allies have suggested the level of violence in Afghanistan is still too high to justify a total pull-out of allied forces. Stoltenberg insisted the Taliban must live up to commitments under the deal with the US, including making progress in peace talks with Kabul, reducing violence and cutting ties to international terrorist groups. Nato allies did, however, decide to expand their current training and support mission in Iraq.,,

EU agrees list of Covid rapid tests: The EU Health Security Committee agreed on a common list of Covid-19 rapid antigen tests, a selection of rapid antigen tests for which member states will mutually recognise their results, and a common standardised set of data to be included in test result certificates. EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said rapid antigen tests were crucial to slowing down the spread of Covid and should be part of Europe’s overall response to the pandemic. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for 3 to 5% of the European and US vaccine supply to be sent to developing countries to prevent Russia and China from extending their influence over these nations. In an interview with the „Financial Times“ he said German Chancellor Angela Merkel also agrees that this should be a concerted European effort.,

EU condemns Slovenian PM’s attacks on journalists: The EU Commission has condemned attacks by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa on journalists, stressing that protecting journalists should be a priority for every country. On Twitter this week, Jansa attacked „Politico“ and one of its reporters over an article that documented his public campaign against media outlets and journalists. Jansa accused reporter Lili Bayer of lying in her story entitled “Inside Slovenia’s war on the media”, in which she quoted journalists and watchdogs as saying Jansa was creating a climate of fear in the media. EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans responded with a tweet of his own: “Vilifying, threatening or attacking journalists is a direct attack on free media. That is why journalists like @liliebayer deserve our support.”,

G7 summit and Munich security conference this Friday
Myanmar: People use hacker attacks to protest against the military junta
European Central Bank: ECB profit drops
EU Asylum Office EASO: Almost a third fewer asylum applications in Europe due to travel restrictions during the pandemic
EU regions’ advisory body to step up cooperation with Commission
British universities: Applications from EU students to UK universities down 40%


Tehran is playing with fire.
Speaking ahead of meetings to salvage a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tehran had not been pushing for reduced tensions, but for escalation.


EU sues more countries over air pollution, nature and water: The European Commission said on Thursday it was suing Slovakia for years-long breaches of legal limits on air pollution and started legal action against Germany and Slovenia for falling short on nature conservation and water treatment. Air pollution in Europe has eased in the last decade, but remains the continent’s biggest environmental health risk. The EU is suing Germany for a general and persistent failure to produce sufficient conservation plans for more than 4,000 sites deemed important for protecting nature.

EU takes legal steps against Hungary over NGO law: The EU Commission has started an infringement procedure against Hungary over a controversial law requiring foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to disclose their donors to authorities or face fines. „Civil society organisations are an indispensable part of our democracies. We must support them, not fight them,“ Vera Jourova, a deputy head of the European Commission, said on Thursday. Hungary’s so-called „transparency rule“ requires NGOs with donations from abroad above a certain amount to be publicly labelled as foreign funded. Violators could be forced to close. Critics of Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Orban say the law is tailored to target US billionaire George Soros, a Hungarian-born businessman. In June 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the law was illegal and violates EU rules on free movement of capital, along with rights to data protection and freedom of association.

Rapper’s arrest sparks protests in Spain: Spanish police clashed with protesters in Madrid and Barcelona Wednesday night, as fresh rallies broke out across the country over the jailing of rapper Pablo Hasel for tweets insulting police and the monarchy. Hundreds gathered under a heavy police presence in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square and called for his release. In Barcelona, demonstrators lobbed objects at police and set barricades ablaze, with police firing foam rounds and charging at the protesters. Campaigners have warned that prosecuting Hasel is a dangerous assault on free speech.,

Belarus jails journalists for filming protests: A Belarusian court on Thursday jailed a pair of journalists for two years on charges of orchestrating protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. The two journalists, Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova, were detained in November in an apartment they had been using as a vantage point to film demonstrations over the death of a protester killed several days earlier. Both women, who were working for Belsat, a Warsaw-based satellite TV channel that provides Belarussians with an alternative to state-run television, pleaded not guilty. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was alarmed by Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on protesters, activists and journalists. Lukashenko has announced that he plans to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next week.,

Ischgl study finds lasting coronavirus immunity: A study of residents in the ski resort of Ischgl, the site of Austria’s worst coronavirus outbreak, found that at least eight months after contracting the virus the vast majority of people remained immune. “In close to 90% of those who tested seropositive in April, antibodies could also be detected in November,” virologist Dorothee van Laer, one of the scientists who carried out the study, said in a statement. The Medical University of Innsbruck conducted a study in April that found 42% of Ischgl’s population had antibodies for the virus. A follow-up study conducted in November and published on Thursday found the vast majority of those who had antibodies in the first study still had them in the second.

Georgia in turmoil as PM resigns over arrest of opposition leader
Italy: PM Mario Draghi easily wins Senate backing for unity government
Slovakia will not order Russian vaccine Sputnik V for now
Denmark wants to test all citizens for Covid
Cyprus: Virus-stranded cruise ships tread water off Cyprus


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Texas Senator Ted Cruz flew to Mexico amid state energy crisis: Texas Senator Ted Cruz flew to Mexico with his family for a holiday amid a winter weather crisis that has left millions in his state without power. Photos of Cruz boarding a flight ricocheted quickly across social media and left both his political allies and rivals aghast at a tropical trip as a disaster unfolded at home. On Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Texans woke up to a fourth day without power, after extreme winter weather overwhelmed the state’s energy grid.,


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