⊂ EUROPE ⊃
Russia calls on Slovakia to return Sputnik V doses after dispute: On Thursday, Slovakia said that the doses of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine it purchased differed from a version reviewed favourably by The Lancet peer-reviewed medical journal. The statement by Slovakia’s drug regulator questioning the Russian vaccine suggested potentially serious quality-control problems in the manufacture of Sputnik V. Russia called on Slovakia to return its doses of the vaccine, citing contract violations. It said the Slovak side had not tested the shot in a specially-certified laboratory, adding that this was “an act of sabotage”. The Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund that financed Sputnik V’s development and has spearheaded a push for its use abroad, did not address the substance of the Slovak agency’s statement but dismissed it as “disinformation” and “fake news.” The dispute follows a raucous political battle in Slovakia that began last month when the prime minister, Igor Matovic, who was last week forced to step down, announced that he had negotiated a secret deal with Russia for 200,000 Sputnik V doses. The deal outraged fellow members of a fragile coalition government. Germany’s Jens Spahn told his fellow health ministers Wednesday that Berlin is beginning negotiations to purchase Sputnik V. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled on Thursday that compulsory vaccinations would not contravene human rights law.
nytimes.com, reuters.com (Slovakia); politico.eu (Germany); dw.com (Court)
MEPs want EU leaders to answer for Sofagate in Parliament: Leading MEPs are pressuring European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to come answer questions before the European Parliament on the diplomatic sofa snub in Turkey. Von der Leyen was left standing on Tuesday during a meeting with Michel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, when there were only two chairs set out for the three leaders. Von der Leyen retreated to a nearby sofa, an incident that prompted cries of sexism. Michel wrote on Facebook on Wednesday evening that the strict interpretation by the Turkish services of the rules of protocol produced a distressing situation: „the differentiated, even reduced, treatment of the President of the European Commission.“ Michel said he was „saddened by any suggestion that I may have been indifferent to the protocol misstep with respect to Ursula“. While photographs of the meeting had given the impression that he was indifferent to the situation, nothing could have been further from the truth, he said. Both he and von der Leyen had preferred to focus on the substance of the discussion with Erdogan.
politico.eu, euronews.com, bbc.com
Merkel demands Russia withdraw troops near Ukrainian border: Recent clashes between pro-Russia separatists and government forces have sparked fears of an escalation in the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for Russia to withdraw troops deployed along the Ukrainian border during a phone call with Vladimir Putin. A transcript of the phone conversation from the German Chancellery said the two leaders discussed the increased Russian military presence in the vicinity of eastern Ukraine. „The Chancellor called for the reduction of these troops reinforcements in order to achieve a de-escalation of the situation,“ the statement said. Following the call, the Kremlin also released a statement saying the two leaders had expressed concerns over the escalation of tensions in the southeast of Ukraine. According to Russia, the Ukraine has been purposefully exacerbating the situation on the front line. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy went to Donbass on Thursday. „I want to be with our soldiers in the tough times,“ he said on Twitter, adding that a 23-year-old soldier was killed on Wednesday.
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EU-wide food labelling plan: Some Southern European products should be left out of plans by the European Commission to introduce a mandatory food labelling system, an MEP has told Euronews. Brussels intends to propose the Nutri-Score – a rating system that goes from A for the healthiest of foods, to E for the least healthy – at some point next year, as part of its Farm to Fork Strategy, in order to help consumers make healthier choices when eating. But Spanish MEP Adrián Vázquez Lázara has questioned how it’s calculated, as many Mediterranean products, like olive oil, receive the same score as products like Coke Zero, for example.
International Roma Day: Has Europe’s largest ethnic minority been forgotten over Covid vaccines? NGOs are calling on EU countries to ramp up efforts to vaccinate the Roma community, seen as particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. Official vaccination guidelines from Brussels have suggested giving priority access to groups with chronic diseases, comorbidities, frailty and disabilities. It also suggested that vulnerable socio-economic group could be categorised as possible priority groups. But Slovakia is currently the only one of the EU’s 27 countries to explicitly recognise its 500,000-strong Roma community as an at-risk group in its vaccination campaign despite them being more likely than the general population to suffer from cardiovascular diseases, develop severe disabilities, respiratory and musculoskeletal system diseases, diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and obesity-related diseases.
Greenpeace: One third of EU’s farming ad budget promoted meat and dairy greenpeace.org
Conference on the Future of Europe: Launch of the citizens’ platform on 19 April europarl.europa.eu
Cybersecurity: European institutions were targeted in a cyber-attack last week bloomberg.com
United Nations: ‚Inhumane‘ explosive devices ‚crush lives and end livelihoods‘ news.un.org
US President Biden targets ‚ghost guns‘ and ‚red flag‘ laws in new gun control measures nbcnews.com
⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃
„I absolutely do not agree with Erdogan’s behaviour towards President von der Leyen.“
Italy‘s Prime Minister Mario Draghi criticised Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan after EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was left without a chair during a high-level meeting in Turkey, saying it was important to be frank with “dictators.”
⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃
Hungarian official denounces German sacking of football coach: An aide to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called into question Germany’s democratic standards on Thursday after a top German soccer club sacked a Hungarian coach for expressing anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT views. The Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the German charge d’affaires to express shock over the dismissal on Tuesday of goalkeeping coach Zsolt Petry by Hertha Berlin. The German football club said on Tuesday that while they were satisfied with the work of the former Hungary international, comments he made that were critical of LGBTQ people and immigrants went against the club’s positions on tolerance and diversity. A German foreign ministry spokesman said the comments by the Hungarian government were “in no way comprehensible to us”.
Sweden to tighten immigration law: The Swedish government has submitted a bill to parliament which will tighten immigration rules. In particular, the new law would require those seeking permanent residency in Sweden to prove they can speak the language. Asylum-seekers will also not be granted permanent residency by default. Instead, they will have to wait three years and meet a list of requirements before applying. The bill is expected to be put to parliament and come into force before the summer.
Draghi says Italy must focus on vaccinating the elderly: Italy should momentarily stop giving people under 60 years old coronavirus vaccines and instead focus on protecting the elderly, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Thursday. „How can a young person or someone who is not on the (priority) list jump the queue, knowing that he or she is exposing someone who is over 75 or frail to the risk of death,“ he told a news conference. Unlike many other European countries, when Italy launched its vaccination campaign at the end of December, pensioners were not given automatic precedence, despite the fact that they have borne the brunt of the disease.
France’s Macron closes elite ENA school: President Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday the closure next year of France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration, an elite postgraduate school that has produced many of the country’s presidents, ambassadors and business leaders. Macron himself is an alumnus of the school. The school had earned a reputation for selecting students from the upper social echelons and being disconnected from reality – an image it struggled to redress. It will be replaced by a new Institut du Service Public, with revamped rules for recruitment and access to the highest tiers of the civil service. The move to abolish what has for some in France become a symbol of unequal opportunity is part of Macron’s drive for a fairer society.
Germany: Conservatives face pressure to pick chancellor candidate politico.eu
Austria: Mastermind behind the Ibiza scandal video before investigative committee de.euronews.com
Bulgaria: Prime Minister Borisov wants to give up immunity as a member of parliament rnd.de
Italy: Dispute over homophobia and transphobia divides Draghi’s coalition faz.net
Norway: Adrift cargo ship at risk of capsizing secured by authorities dw.com
⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃
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⊂ LAST BUT NOT LEAST ⊃
Nordic countries set up Sámi reconciliation commissions to investigate indigenous injustices: Colonial era policies in northern Scandinavia continue to affect Sámi life, culture and land use. Meanwhile, truth commissions are being set up and aim to investigate injustices against Indigenous people carried out by the states. From at least the 19th century, governments in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia pursued aggressive policies of assimilation, involving the education system and church discouraging or actively suppressing Sami languages and culture and forcibly assimilating Sami children into the dominant culture. The Council of Europe and European human rights organisations have repeatedly condemned the lack of local representation of the Sámi in national governance decisions.