Tuesday, 20 July 2021: EU calls Pegasus spying reports ‚completely unacceptable‘, US and EU blame China for cyberattack on Microsoft Exchange servers, Germany ponders lessons from deadly floods

⊂ EUROPE ⊃

EU calls Pegasus spying reports ‚completely unacceptable‘: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke out against reports that the Israeli spyware „Pegasus“ was used to hack the smartphones of journalists, government officials and rights activists worldwide. „What we could read so far, and this has to be verified, but if it is the case, it is completely unacceptable. Against any kind of rules we have in the European Union,“ von der Leyen said during a visit to Prague. EU politicians and lawmakers called for a full inquiry over the hacking of the cellphones of politicians, activists and journalists. The investigation by global media outlets suggested that the military-grade spyware from Israel-based NSO Group was also used in Hungary to infiltrate the digital devices of a range of targets — including at least ten lawyers, one opposition politician and at least five journalists. Hungary has denied the reports. Edward Snowden, who in 2013 blew the whistle on the secret mass surveillance programmes of the US National Security Agency, said governments must impose a global moratorium on the international spyware trade or face a world in which no mobile phone is safe from state-sponsored hackers.
dw.com, independent.co.uk, theguardian.com

US and EU blame China for cyberattack on Microsoft Exchange servers: The Biden administration and the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO formally blamed China on Monday for a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software and asserted that criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government have carried out ransomware and other illicit cyber operations. Separately, the US Department of Justice announced Monday that a federal grand jury in May had indicted Chinese nationals accused of working with official sanction from Beijing to break into computer systems belonging to US companies, universities and governments. US officials also alleged that criminal contract hackers associated with China’s Ministry of State Security have engaged in cyber extortion schemes and theft for their own profit. Almost simultaneously, NATO issued a general warning, not specific to China, of cyberattacks and cybercrime meant to destabilise Euro-Atlantic security and disrupt the lives of citizens. In the United States, Attorney General Merrick Garland has sharply limited how and when prosecutors can secretly obtain reporters’ phone and email records, formalising a Biden administration decree that the government would stop using secret orders and subpoenas for journalists’ data to hunt for leakers.
apnews.com, npr.org, orf.at, washingtonpost.com

EU approves Czech recovery plan: The European Commission approved on Wednesday the Czech Republic’s 7 billion euro plan to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and transform the economy to become greener and more digitalised. Prague will also invest 22% of the total to make the economy more fit for the digital era, including investment in digital infrastructure, the digitalisation of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. The particularly contagious Delta variant now dominates the infection incidence in the Czech Republic. It accounts for 70% to 80% of all cases investigated, the country’s health authority announced on Monday.
reuters.com, zeit.de

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EU countries to expand organic farming: EU agriculture ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday unanimously endorsed an action plan aiming for at least 25% of agricultural land to be under organic farming by 2030. Many delegations took the floor to highlight a number of aspects of the plan, including the need to boost demand for organic products by raising awareness among consumers and encouraging public institutions such as schools to supply organic food in their canteens. A number of member states also highlighted the different starting points of the member states and the need to take account of these differences. According to Minister Elisabeth Köstinger, Austria already exceeds the specified target with a share of 26%. Bringing up the rear are Malta (0.5%) followed by Ireland (1.6%) and Bulgaria (2.3%), according to 2019 data from Eurostat.
consilium.europa.eu, tagesschau.de

New government in Haiti, interim prime minister steps down: Haitian officials announced a new prime minister on Monday, in an attempt to resolve a leadership struggle in the wake of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination. Claude Joseph, the prime minister who took control of Haiti’s government immediately after the killing, is stepping down in favour of Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon who had been appointed to the position by the president shortly before he was killed, the elections minister said Monday. Henry said he would soon announce the members of what he called a provisional consensus government that would lead the country until elections are held. Joseph is expected to become the foreign minister in Henry’s cabinet, according to the elections minister, Mathias Pierre.
nytimes.com, npr.org

South Africa begins cleanup after riots: More than a week ago, nationwide protests began with the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma on 7 July. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court after failing to appear before an inquiry investigating corruption and state capture during his administration. What began as a political demonstration devolved into destruction, tires were set afire in the streets and shopping malls were gutted. At least 212 people were killed across the country, over 2,550 were arrested and more suspects were under surveillance, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Friday in a televised address to the country. The cleanup in the country is now underway.
nbcnews.com

Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova: European Council President Michel heralds more EU involvement in the South Caucasus euractiv.com
European Medicines Agency EMA evaluates Sobi arthritis drug to treat COVID-19 with pneumonia reuters.com
2 nm chips: EU Commission wants to take the lead in the semiconductor race heise.de
Afghanistan: Diplomats urge Taliban to halt Afghan offensive dw.com
United States: Capitol rioter sentenced to eight months in prison npr.org

⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃

Freedom of media, free press is one of the core values of the EU.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke out against reports that Israeli spyware was used to hack the smartphones of journalists, government officials and rights activists worldwide.
dw.com

⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃

Germany ponders lessons from deadly floods: As floodwaters receded Monday, authorities continued searching for more victims and intensified their efforts to clean up a sodden swath of western Germany, eastern Belgium and the Netherlands. German officials defended their actions ahead of the severe floods that caught many towns by surprise and killed 196 people in Western Europe, but they conceded that more lessons can be learned from the disaster. Weather officials had forecast the downpours that led to even small rivers swelling rapidly, but warnings of potentially catastrophic damage didn’t appear to have made it to many people in affected areas. Federal and state authorities faced criticism from some opposition politicians over the disaster. But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer dismissed suggestions that federal officials had made mistakes and said flood warnings were up to local authorities. „It would be completely inconceivable for such a catastrophe to be managed centrally from any one place. You need local knowledge,“ he told journalists during a visit to the Steinbach Reservoir in western Germany. „I have to say that some of the things I’m hearing now are cheap election rhetoric,” Seehofer said. Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic candidate for this year’s general election, added that all levels of government were moving as quickly as possible to disburse aid to the victims of the extreme weather. North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Herbert Reul said the state needed to improve how it responds to major disasters, but he rejected claims that its approach was fundamentally flawed.
apnews.com, dw.com

Serbia-Kosovo talks produce no results: A meeting Monday between Serbia and Kosovo that is part of the EU-brokered negotiations aimed at resolving a long-lasting dispute that remains a source of tensions in the volatile Balkans produced no progress. The negotiations were headed by the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who urged Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti before the meeting in Brussels to achieve a “comprehensive legally-binding agreement.” Kurti said that Serbia didn’t want to face the past and face the families of more than 1,600 people still missing from the war in Kosovo. Vucic argued that all sides committed crimes, adding that there was no agreement at all at the meeting, describing the Kosovo side as “irrational.” The EU-brokered negotiations started in 2011, but were stalled last year partly because of the coronavirus pandemic before resuming a month ago.
apnews.com

EU border agency to police Lithuania-Belarus frontier from next week: The European Union’s border agency Frontex will deploy 60 border guards with helicopters and vehicles to Lithuania’s frontier with Belarus next week, after a surge in migrants crossing illegally, which the EU says has been orchestrated by Minsk. In response to EU sanctions, President Alexander Lukashenko has said Belarus will no longer stop people trying to enter Lithuania. Vilnius has since accused Minsk of flying in migrants from abroad to send illegally into the EU. Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri told reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius that the migrant crisis “was created and is fuelled by” Belarus.
reuters.com

Italy: The Five Stars take on new meanings faz.net„>faz.net
Cyprus: Protesters attack Cyprus TV over Covid measures, vaccines france24.com
Greece: COVID-19 vaccinations possible for children ages 12 and older zeit.de
Netherlands orders people back to the home office deutschlandfunk.de
France: Fourth pandemic wave has begun tagesschau.de
Ukraine: Joint military maneuver with the US, Poland and Lithuania deutschlandfunk.de

⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃

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⊂ LAST BUT NOT LEAST ⊃

Majority of Germans think CDU candidate Laschet is a poor crisis manager: Only 26% of Germans believe Armin Laschet, the state premier who is the conservative candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, is a good crisis manager, according to a Civey poll for German newspaper „Der Spiegel.“ The first indication of how the flood catastrophe may play out in September’s path-defining national election, 41% of Germans think that Laschet’s Social Democrat challenger, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, is a good crisis manager. For Annalena Baerbock, candidate of the Greens, running second in polls behind the conservatives, that figure stood at 24%.
reuters.com

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