⊂ EUROPE ⊃
EU blocks export of vaccines to Australia: Italy and the EU Commission have blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine destined for Australia after the pharmaceutical company did not fulfil its European Union contract commitments, sources said on Thursday. It is the first time the EU has employed an export control mechanism it set up to ensure drug manufacturers respect their contracts. The EU’s export scheme requires companies to get explicit authorisation from national authorities before exporting vaccines. The Commission has the ability to override the decision. Italy’s decision affects 250,700 doses, a number the ministry said was high compared with what has been delivered so far by AstraZeneca. Israel, Austria and Denmark said on Thursday they would set up a joint research and development fund and possibly production facilities for Covid-19 vaccines to ensure they had long-term supplies for booster shots or to contend with virus mutations. Germany’s independent vaccine committee has formally approved giving the AstraZeneca shot to people aged 65 and over, officials said Thursday. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said Thursday it will start assessing the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V.
dw.com, politico.eu, wsj.com (Export blocked); reuters.com (Vaccine alliance); apnews.com (Germany); cnbc.com (Sputnik V)
Dispute over extension of grace period for checks on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland: Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said Thursday the UK could not be trusted after a unilateral move by London to extend the grace period for post-Brexit checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain. Coveney said he strongly advised Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis against the decision, adding that if the UK could not be trusted to stick to an agreement and instead took unilateral action, then the EU was left with no option but to take legal action.
US and UK reach pact to drop Airbus/Boeing tariffs: The administration of US President Joe Biden will drop its retaliatory tariffs on UK products in the Airbus/Boeing dispute for four months while the two countries work together to find a resolution. The move is the first sign of Biden working to mend fences broken by the Trump administration with European trade allies. The US will suspend steep 25% retaliatory tariffs on British products that include single malt Scotch whisky, cheese, British-made wool clothing and excavator machinery. In December, the UK had announced it would drop its retaliatory tariffs in the dispute as a gesture of peace toward finding a resolution. The tariff truce is separate from broader US-UK talks on a post-Brexit trade agreement, but sends a positive signal about those discussions.
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EU plans rules to help close gender pay gap: The EU revealed details on Thursday of a proposed law that would require companies to divulge gender pay gaps and give job candidates access to salary information in employment interviews. The proposed law would also empower women to verify if they are being fairly compensated in comparison with male colleagues. The EU Commission wants to provide workers with the ability to seek proper compensation in case of discrimination. Women have been hit particularly badly by the pandemic, EU Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said, since many are in precarious employment. The pay transparency rules are only one tiny move in larger efforts to help women gain equal pay, including efforts for men to take more leave for child-rearing.
US blocked Myanmar junta attempt to empty New York Fed account: Myanmar’s military rulers attempted to move about 1 billion dollars held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York days after seizing power on 1 February, prompting US officials to put a freeze on the funds, according to a „Reuters“ report. The attempt, which has not been previously reported, came after Myanmar’s military installed a new central bank governor and detained reformist officials during the coup. Protests against the military coup in Myanmar continued on Thursday, even after 38 protesters were killed by police forces on Wednesday. The United Nations said that at least 54 people have been killed since the coup. The United Nations‘ Human Rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on Myanmar’s military to „stop murdering and jailing protesters“.
reuters.com, nbcnews.com, euronews.com
Iran ready for talks with the IAEA: A potential roadblock to talks between Iran and the US on the future of the nuclear deal has been cleared after the UN nuclear inspectorate said it had won Iran’s agreement to return to Tehran to hold focused talks on doubts over the veracity of the country’s previous declarations about its nuclear sites. Britain, France and Germany scrapped a plan for the UN nuclear watchdog to criticise Iran for reducing cooperation with its inspectors, in a bid to avoid escalation and make room for diplomacy, diplomats said on Thursday. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the move kept diplomatic efforts alive.
Division of Cyprus: EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell visits Cyprus this Friday oe24.at
Poverty: Criticism of EU measures to fight poverty spiegel.de
Visa exemption for EU citizens in the US: EU Parliament targets EU Commission for inaction orf.at
Human rights and environmental protection: EU Parliament to make proposals for supply chain law orf.at
Libya: Hope for progress as factions agree interim presidential council; Turkey hinders control of UN arms embargo euronews.com; dw.com
⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃
„In times of Covid it is important that we do not create more precarious jobs.“
The EU Commission’s Joost Korte, director general for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need to protect platform workers as part of new EU rules.
⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃
Swedish police no longer investigating terror motives in Vetlanda attack: Swedish police on Thursday said they were no longer investigating possible terror motives for the attack in the town of Vetlanda, where a man stabbed and injured eight people a day earlier. The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the attack. Three of those attacked were said to have suffered life-threatening injuries, while two others were in serious condition.
Italian magistrates set to level charges against German sea rescuers: A German aid group that operated a migrant rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea said on Wednesday Italian magistrates were set to charge 21 individuals and three human rights groups with aiding illegal immigration from Libya. The announcement came after magistrates in the Sicilian city of Trapani said they had concluded a three-year investigation centred on the „Iuventa“ boat, which was run by the „Jugend Rettet“ NGO. Prosecutors have previously said they believed „Iuventa“ crew members colluded with smugglers in 2016 and 2017 to organise migrant transfers at sea.
Italy’s Democratic Party chief Zingaretti resigns: Nicola Zingaretti, the head of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD), announced on Thursday he was quitting as leader, saying he was ashamed by the party’s infighting over key positions. The PD is one of the largest parties supporting the national unity government led by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. The power struggle within the PD injects a fresh element of instability into Italy’s political landscape, with the 5-Star Movement, the largest ruling group, already in turmoil over its decision to back Draghi. Zingaretti has been under fire from internal enemies for tying the party’s fortunes to 5-Star, its allies in the previous government led by Giuseppe Conte.
France acquits former prime minister Balladur in corruption trial: A French court on Thursday acquitted former prime minister Edouard Balladur on corruption charges after he was accused of using kickbacks from an arms deal but handed a suspended jail term to his former defence minister. The verdict by the Law Court of the Republic, which sits to try serving and former ministers for alleged violations committed in office, came just days after ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy was convicted for corruption.
France and Hungary tighten Covid measures: France plans to tighten Covid-19 restrictions and accelerate vaccinations in parts of the country. The Pas-de-Calais department on the northern coast of France will be put under a weekend lockdown as of Saturday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said at a weekly news conference. France also strengthened mask-wearing rules in the most affected areas, closed large shopping centres and called on local officials to shutter places where people gather in numbers without masks. Authorities in Hungary are also tightening pandemic restrictions, with businesses being required to close their doors for two weeks beginning Monday. Only grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations will be permitted to remain open. Kindergartens and primary schools will also be closed until 7 April.
bloomberg.com (France), abcnews.com (Hungary)
German far-right extremists at protests against Covid measures in Vienna tagesspiegel.de
Slovakia: Covid dispute plunges government into crisis tagesschau.de
Italy: Soldiers to help with vaccinations faz.net
Belgium: Drivers rage against Brussels’ Uber ban politico.eu
Hungary brings coal exit forward by five years, to 2025 euractiv.com
⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃
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⊂ LAST BUT NOT LEAST ⊃
Slovak PM jokingly offered Ukraine territory for Russian vaccine: Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic apologised on Thursday after jokingly suggesting that Russia take a part of western Ukraine as payment for delivering doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to Slovakia. Matovic bypassed his cabinet partners to order the Russian vaccine even though it has not yet been approved for use in the EU, of which Slovakia is a member. Asked in a radio interview what he had promised Russia in exchange for the vaccine, Matovic jokingly said he had offered “Transcarpathian Ukraine”, referring to the western Ukrainian region bordering Slovakia. Jokes about territorial integrity are an especially sensitive issue for Ukraine, after Russia annexed its Crimea peninsula in 2014 and has backed armed separatists battling Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine.