⊂ EUROPE ⊃
European Parliament ratifies post-Brexit trade deal: Parliament voted with a large majority in favour of granting its consent to the agreement setting the rules of the future EU-UK relationship. 660 MEPs voted in favor of the post-Brexit trade deal, while only five voted against. 32 lawmakers abstained. The consent by MEPs means that the agreement, which has been provisionally applied since January, can fully enter into force on 1 May. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that the agreement marked the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK. She also reiterated that faithful implementation was essential. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the „final step in a long journey“, providing stability to the UK’s new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals.
europarl.europa.eu, politico.eu, twitter.com, skynews.com
Russia expels several European diplomats: Moscow on Wednesday expelled seven European diplomats after their countries ordered Russian diplomats to leave in solidarity with the Czech Republic, which is engulfed in a diplomatic row with Russia. The Czech government this month accused Russian security services of being behind a deadly explosion at an arms depot in eastern Czech Republic in 2014. It expelled a number of Russian diplomats over the allegations, with Slovakia and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania following suit in solidarity. Russia’s foreign ministry on Wednesday said in a statement that a total of four diplomats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been declared “persona non grata” and must leave the country within seven days. Bulgarian prosecutors on Wednesday said they were investigating the possible involvement of six Russians in four explosions at arms depots from 2011 to 2020. Prosecutors‘ spokeswoman Siyka Mileva said investigators could reasonably assume there were links between the blasts and munitions depot explosions in the Czech Republic in 2014.
Russia, China sow disinformation to undermine trust in Western vaccines, EU report says: Russian and Chinese media are systematically seeking to sow mistrust in Western Covid-19 vaccines in their latest disinformation campaigns aimed at dividing the West, a European report said on Wednesday. From December to April, the two countries‘ state media outlets pushed fake news online in multiple languages sensationalising vaccine safety concerns, making unfounded links between jabs and deaths in Europe and promoting Russian and Chinese vaccines as superior, the EU study said.
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Turkey rejects accusation that it snubbed von der Leyen because she is a woman: The Turkish government has rejected the accusation that it snubbed EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a meeting in Ankara because she is a woman, insisting Wednesday that internal EU squabbling was to blame for a protocol gaffe during a meeting with Turkey’s president. A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said Ankara was pleased the European Commission had a woman at the helm and called on EU institutions to reach a consensus among themselves to avoid similar lapses in protocol in the future.
Next hearings in EU legal case against AstraZeneca in May: A Brussels court decided on Wednesday to hold two more hearings on 26 May in a legal case brought by the EU against AstraZeneca over Covid-19 vaccine deliveries. A first hearing was held on Wednesday. The EU is pivoting to the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus shot with a record agreement to buy up to 1.8 billion doses. The agreement with Pfizer, which is yet to be finalised in an official contract, would be the world’s biggest single deal for a Covid-19 vaccine to date. BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said on Wednesday that Europe can achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus this summer. The EU Parliament wants to decide its position on the European vaccination certificate this week.
reuters.com, cnn.com, dw.com, zdf.de
Several banks fined over bond cartel: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Agricole and Credit Suisse were hit with an EU antitrust fine of 28.5 million euros on Wednesday for taking part in a bond cartel. The EU competition watchdog said the cartel operated in the European secondary trading market related to US denominated supra-sovereign, sovereign and agency (SSA) bonds. The EU Commission said traders at the four banks colluded on trading strategies, exchanged sensitive pricing information and coordinated on prices over five years via chatrooms on Bloomberg terminals. Credit Suisse said it would challenge the EU fine in court.
EU adopts law giving tech giants one hour to remove terrorist content: The European Parliament on Wednesday formally adopted without a vote controversial legislation which forces online platforms to remove terrorist content within an hour of it being flagged. The regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online, which was adopted in the face of opposition from several organisations and MEPs, includes an obligation for digital platforms to remove terrorist content or disable access to terrorist content in all member states as soon as possible and in any event within one hour of receipt of the removal order.
Scandal over potentially illegal push-backs: EU Parliament threatens EU border protection agency Frontex with budget cuts zeit.de
Covid pandemic exacerbates inequalities: Political commitment to gender equality needed in cohesion policy, say EU lawmakers euractiv.com
Council of Europe: Attacks on press freedom worsened by pandemic politico.eu
Space: EU plans almost 15 billion euros for space programme spiegel.de
⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃
„If we can deliver politically, the technical solution will be ready in time. If we don’t, we risk fragmentation across Europe, with a multitude of possibly incompatible national solutions.“
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders has warned that EU countries introducing their own Covid vaccination certificates would be left with a dangerous myriad of disjointed solutions if the 27-nation bloc fails to build a joint system.
⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃
Germany puts anti-lockdown „Querdenker“ group under observation: Germany’s domestic intelligence agency says some parts of the „Querdenker“ („lateral thinker“) movement are being kept under observation amid concerns they may be trying to delegitimise the state. Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said elements of the so-called group were of particular concern because they questioned the legitimacy of the state. Although the majority of protesters are not seen as extremists, „Querdenker“ anti-lockdown demonstrations have drawn support from a variety of groups, including the far-right AfD party, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.
Stricter anti-terror law in France: The French government aims to deploy algorithms and other technology to monitor the web-browsing of terror suspects amid growing tensions over a group of retired generals who recently warned the country was sliding toward a civil war. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean Castex said the government plans to submit a bill to parliament seeking permanent authority to order telecommunications companies to monitor not just telephone data but also the full URLs of specific webpages their users visit in real time. Government algorithms would alert intelligence officials when certain criteria are met, such as an internet user visiting a specific sequence of pages. Meanwhile, seven Italian far-left guerrilla fighters, who hid in France for decades after escaping terrorism convictions in Italy, have been arrested. French authorities are also searching for three other Italians convicted on terrorism charges linked to bombings and assassinations between the late 1960s and early 1980s.
wsj.com (Law), theguardian.com (Italian terrorists)
Germany’s Merkel presses China for human rights dialogue: German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed China’s prime minister Wednesday for broader discussions on human rights issues, telling him that the relationship between their countries “means that we can address difficult issues and put everything on the table.” The comments came after Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang led broad-ranging governmental consultations on issues like the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, economic cooperation and other topics. The talks were held virtually due to the pandemic.
Finnish government avoids collapse: Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s five-party government will live to see another day. Marin’s government was on the brink of collapse Tuesday after the centre-right Center Party threatened to walk away following sour negotiations over Finland’s budget. But the government announced Wednesday it has found a compromise. The final contours of the deal have not yet been revealed.
North Macedonia warns Balkans border change would lead to a bloodbath: Moving borders in the Balkans would lead to an immediate „bloodbath“, North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski has told Euronews. His comments came after reports of a leaked memo advocating redrawing the borders of countries formed after Yugoslavia’s breakup. The unsigned document, called a non-paper in diplomatic circles, proposes the expansion of Serbia, Croatia and Albania to the detriment of Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo. Pendarovski said he would never accept border changes in North Macedonia, arguing that the human cost these transformations entail is too heavy to bear.
Covid restrictions are being eased in France, Poland and the Netherlands: The coronavirus situation is improving in France and President Emmanuel Macron will outline on Friday how restrictions will be progressively relaxed, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday. Dutch customers eager for their first drink of coffee at a cafe terrace have flocked to outdoor seating as the Netherlands‘ lockdown is being eased. Poland will reopen shopping centres on 4 May, while hotels will be allowed to open and restaurants will be able to serve food outdoors from 8 May, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday. Switzerland might allow events with up to 3,000 spectators from July, the government said on Wednesday, although such events would be restricted to attendees who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, can prove they’ve recovered from the illness or test negative.
france24.com, abcnews.com, reuters.com, reuters.com
Poland: Court delays ruling on whether EU or Polish law has primacy apnews.com
France: Authorities worry about mental health of the population during the pandemic euractiv.de
Switzerland to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage euronews.com
Moldova: President calls early election for 11 July abcnews.com
⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃
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⊂ LAST BUT NOT LEAST ⊃
Brexit nothing to ‘wine’ about, say French growers: France is likely to remain the UK’s undisputed top wine supplier despite the challenges posed by Brexit, climate change and rising international competition. In 2020, British importers spent an amount of 733 million pounds on wine from France, making the country the UK’s leading supplier, ahead of Italy, New Zealand, Australia and Spain.