⊂ EUROPE ⊃
EU says UK grace period extension breaches international law: The EU Commission has accused the UK of risking a breach of international law after the UK’s Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis unveiled plans to unilaterally extend grace periods for Irish Sea border checks. Northern Ireland has remained a part of the EU’s single market for goods so products arriving from the UK undergo EU import procedures. The grace periods mean procedures and checks are not yet fully applied. The first of these periods will expire at the end of March, but the UK has said it will be extended until October. EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic condemned the unilateral move Wednesday night, branding it a clear departure from the constructive approach to ongoing talks on Northern Ireland trade that would undermine trust. Ireland called it „deeply unhelpful.“ The EU Commission said in a statement that it marked the second time the UK government had been set to breach international law after a heated row over the border erupted in 2020. The move amounted to a violation of the substantive provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the most contentious part of Britain’s divorce deal with the EU.
bbc.com, politico.eu, reuters.com
EU wants to keep fiscal rules suspended in 2022: The EU Commission said on Wednesday that the EU should keep borrowing limits for governments suspended in 2022, as it has this year and last, to help the 27-nation bloc’s economies return to pre-pandemic levels. With prospects of economic recovery still fragile, the Commission wants to maintain activated in 2022 the escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact, suspending the rules that control national deficit and debt levels. The Commission’s recommendation is meant to help EU governments draft their fiscal strategies for the next two years by April.
Orban’s Fidesz quits EPP group in European Parliament: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party on Wednesday quit the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) bloc in the European Parliament after EPP members backed rule changes that would have made it easier to kick lawmakers out. The EU has lambasted Orban for putting courts, media, academics and non-governmental organisations under tighter government control. Earlier on Wednesday, the EPP group voted overwhelmingly to allow for suspension and to make ejection of member parties easier. A separate motion to freeze out Fidesz was expected soon. Orban responded quickly with a letter to EPP leader Manfred Weber, making clear his party would not stick around for a vote to kick it out of the group. Weber said he regretted that Fidesz was leaving, but he also added that the behaviour of Hungary’s ruling party towards the European Union was a main reason for the split. The EPP group is the biggest in the parliament. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are members.
politico.eu, reuters.com, dw.com
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Myanmar security forces kill dozens of protesters: At least 38 people have been killed in rallies against Myanmar’s military coup, according to United Nations special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener. She said videos showing violence against journalists and the shooting of a protester were very disturbing. „It seems that the police used weapons like 9 mm submachine guns. So, live ammunition,“ Schraner Burgener said. She called on UN member states to employ all tools available to stop this situation and called for unity within the international community. Security forces opened fire at protesters in numerous cities, according to demonstrators and medics responding to the violence. Protesters have poured into the streets for 26 straight days demanding that the military coup be reversed.
ICC to investigate reported war crimes in Palestinian territories: The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, has announced plans for a formal investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the Palestinian territories. The investigation will look at events in the territories from 13 June, 2014 onwards, and is expected to focus on the Gaza war fought between Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014, actions by the Israeli army during hostilities along the Gaza fence in 2018, as well as Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank.
Bigger capital requirements hang over EU insurance sector in Solvency review: EU regulators and the insurance sector disagree over whether the review of the rules for the industry (Solvency II) should include higher capital requirements to deal with risks of interest rate changes, which insurers say would mean less money to support recovery.
Mutual recognition of disability status between EU member states: Commission to launch European disability card nau.ch
EU trade policy: States find common ground in first debate euractiv.com
Taxes: Council of the EU approves greater corporate transparency for big multinationals consilium.europa.eu
Hong Kong: 16-year-old teenager sentenced to jail dw.com
⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃
„We will have probably this year around 100% of debt to GDP in the euro area which is very high and unprecedented.“
For the first time ever the debt of eurozone countries will this year likely become equal to their combined wealth, EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on Wednesday.
⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃
Terrorism suspected after mass stabbing in Sweden: A man armed with an ax attacked and injured eight people in the southern Swedish town of Vetlanda on Wednesday before being shot and arrested, police said. Investigators are treating the attack as suspected terrorism. Five different crime scenes, a few hundred metres apart, were identified, local police chief Jonas Lindell said. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven condemned “this terrible act,” and added that Sweden’s domestic security agency SAPO was also working on the case.
Dutch coronavirus test centre hit by homemade bomb: An explosion blew out the windows of a Covid-19 testing centre in the town of Bovenkarpsel in North Holland, Dutch police said on Wednesday. Nobody was injured in the blast, which occurred just before 7am. A bomb squad was sent to see whether any explosive material remained at the scene. Police said in a statement that a self-manufactured object caused the explosion. Tensions have been riding high in the Netherlands since it introduced a curfew in an effort to stem a spike in coronavirus cases, with the measure sparking riots in January. A Dutch court soon after ordered the curfew to be lifted — a decision the government overrode with emergency legislation.
Germany places entire far-right AfD under surveillance: Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has put the country’s largest opposition party – the Alternative for Germany (AfD) – under surveillance as a potential threat to the country’s constitution, according to public broadcaster ARD and other media outlets. The decision by the domestic intelligence agency will now allow it to tap phones and other communications and monitor the movements of members of the AfD. Despite noticeably radicalising in recent years and closing ranks with neo-Nazis in street rallies, the AfD has pockets of support in state institutions like the police and the military, raising concerns about far-right infiltration at the heart of democracy. In response to the news, AfD leaders said the intelligence agency’s actions against it are themselves unconstitutional. But Volker Ullrich — interior affairs spokesman for the CSU, the sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU — described the AfD’s new surveillance status as a consistent and correct decision. „The concept of a defensible democracy means naming and fighting the opponents of the free democratic basic order,“ said Ullrich.
dw.com, npr.org, nytimes.com
France bans most well-known far-right group in the country: The French government on Wednesday agreed to ban the far-right group „Generation Identity“, saying the organisation incited discrimination, hatred and violence. The group has repeatedly tried to bar migrants from entering the country, conducting high-profile raids in the Alps and the Pyrenees. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin posted the decree to ban GI on Twitter, saying it took into account the group’s structure and military organisation, adding that it could be regarded as having the character of a private militia. Darmanin pointed out in the decree that the group had links to ultraright groups from which it received logistical support, noting that it received donations from Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist behind the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Germany extends lockdown with plan to relax restrictions: German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Wednesday evening a plan to relax Covid-19 restrictions, including conditions to reopen businesses. The country’s lockdown has been extended until at least 28 March, but there is a five-step plan to relaxing restrictions on a regional or state level. Each step will be taken every 14 days if regional infection numbers are stable or reduced. An emergency brake system will return regions to current lockdown levels if there are three consecutive days with an incidence rate above 100. At least one free rapid test per week will be available for all residents of Germany starting next week.
Russia nominates Austrian ex-minister Kneissl to Rosneft board: The Russian government has nominated Austrian former Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl for a seat on the board of directors of oil giant Rosneft PJSC, according to an order published Wednesday. While foreign minister, Kneissl hosted Vladimir Putin at her 2018 wedding, dancing with the Russian president at the ceremony. Since leaving government the following year, she has contributed commentaries to the Kremlin-funded RT news network. If Rosneft’s shareholders approve Kneissl’s nomination at their general meeting, she will join former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who has served as chairman of the board and independent director since 2017.
Germany is extending checks on its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province rnd.de
Germany: Chancellor Merkel to testify in Wirecard committee of inquiry tagesspiegel.de
Austria: Vienna terrorist attack: relatives and victims sue the state de.euronews.com
Belgium: Scientists recommend Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for over-55s politico.eu
Czech Republic asks China for coronavirus vaccine reuters.com
Greece extends Covid lockdown; 6.3 magnitude earthquake hits central Greece reuters.com; dw.com
⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃
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⊂ LAST BUT NOT LEAST ⊃
Spanish king’s sisters spark outcry by getting early vaccine: The sisters of Spain’s King Felipe were vaccinated in Abu Dhabi last month while visiting their father who is living in self-imposed exile, sparking outrage at home where most Spaniards are still waiting for their shots. Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz criticised the two women for taking the shot while so many in Spain are still waiting. “It is very unpleasant, very ugly,” she told state broadcaster RTVE. “We, the people who exercise some sort of representation, must lead by example.” She pointed out that many healthcare workers in Spain have not yet been vaccinated.