Tuesday, 24 March 2020: EU foreign ministers debate repatriation of European citizens, UN chief Guterres calls for global ceasefire, Spanish army finds abandoned dead bodies in old people’s homes


EU foreign ministers debate repatriation of European citizens: EU foreign affairs ministers met via video conference on Monday to discuss pressing issues on the international agenda and, in particular, the implications of the coronavirus for foreign affairs with a focus on repatriation of EU citizens stranded abroad. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell confirmed there are around 20 hotspots globally where air traffic is in difficulty. He said the EU’s repatriation attempts so far would concern only travellers, and not EU citizens permanently living abroad, as the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism was not designed to deal with hundreds of thousands of people. An estimated 300,000 EU citizens are currently seeking repatriation. Germany has flown back around 120,000 people out of an estimated German 200,000 tourists who were stranded abroad due to travel restrictions, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. The German government is now setting its sights on travellers who are stuck in countries such as Mexico, Chile, New Zealand and Gambia — where it is more logistically difficult to repatriate them. Maas urged for better co-operation within the EU to repatriate other citizens within the bloc. Maas and his Austrian colleague Alexander Schallenberg also proposed activating the solidarity clause in the European treaties in order to better co-ordinate the fight against coronavirus.
newsroom.consilium.europa.eu, euractiv.com, dw.com (Repatriation); sueddeutsche.de, vol.at (Solidarity clause)

EU finance ministers suspend deficit limits: Finance ministers have approved a suspension of the EU’s deficit limits so treasuries can boost spending in a bid to stop the coronavirus from cratering the economy. Governments can now use more financial muscle to stimulate their economies — pumping money into hospitals, businesses, benefits to citizens and the like — without fear of punishment from Brussels. EU rules require that governments cut budget deficits until their books are in balance or in surplus and that they reduce public debt every year until it is below 60% of GDP. But with the pandemic expected to put the EU into a deep recession this year, governments do not want to be bound by any limits to try to resuscitate the economy and they endorsed the EU Commission’s proposal to activate what is called a “general escape clause” in the rules.
politico.eu, nytimes.com

EU urges nations to let freight cross borders: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has urged member states to unblock their borders and allow freight vehicles to cross from one country to another within 15 minutes to ensure the flow of basic supplies and medical equipment. She said measures introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus had also slowed and sometimes paralysed transport, causing delays and risking shortages: “This weekend we had some crossing points with more than 40 kilometres of queues. This is a waiting time of up to 18 hours. This has to stop.” The Commission asked EU countries to designate major crossing points as “green lane” border crossings, including for rail, sea and air transport and on waterways. Meanwhile, the EU Parliament is working with member states to ensure that the EU can buy ventilators, masks and other medical equipment to be put at the disposal of hospitals across the EU.
reuters.com (Leyen), europarl.europa.eu (Medical equipment)

Macron and Xi say G20 summit needed to combat virus: French President Emmanuel Macron and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed during a phone call that a summit of the G20 group of nations to co-ordinate the world’s economic and public health response to the coronavirus outbreak was necessary. The two leaders agreed the summit, which could be held via videoconference, would need to involve the World Health Organisation WHO as well to work jointly on vaccines and treatments, a French presidency official told Reuters.

UN chief Guterres calls for global ceasefire: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against the coronavirus – the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war”, he said. The ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of the virus. As Guterres pointed out, coronavirus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, or other differences between people, and attacks all, relentlessly, including during wartime.

EU to start membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia: The EU can start membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, according to a draft decision by the bloc’s 27 member states seen by Reuters on Monday and due to be finalised this week. If no country objects, the decision is expected to be formally adopted by the 27 EU members’ Europe ministers at mid-week – in writing, as face-to-face meetings have been suspended due to coronavirus risks. Greece was still not on board before the weekend with the decision, which requires unanimity of all EU members. But diplomatic sources said Greece gave its approval after the latest draft included stronger language on protecting Greek and other national minorities in Albania.

Corona crisis 1: First death at EU institutions euobserver.com
Corona crisis 2: EU supports Iran, Venezuela bids for IMF support in fight against the virus euractiv.com
Corona crisis 3: International Monetary Fund IMF sees pandemic causing global recession in 2020, recovery in 2021 reuters.com
Corona crisis 4: EU Council takes steps to ensure institutional continuity consilium.europa.eu
Climate: EU cost-benefit study seen backing 55% emissions cut by 2030 euractiv.com


European solidarity is saving lives.
French President Emmanuel Macron has thanked Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg for admitting French coronavirus patients.


Spanish army finds abandoned dead bodies in old people’s homes: Military units sent in to offer emergency healthcare assistance and disinfect old people’s homes found an unspecified number of abandoned dead bodies. According to Spain’s Ministry of Defence, the military teams found that most of the staff had stopped going to work in several privately-run centres after residents began to fall ill with coronavirus, leaving the sick and dying unattended. Defence Minister Margarita Robles said the full force of the law would be brought against those who did not fulfil their obligations. The coronavirus death toll in Spain has reached 2,182, adding 462 fatalities overnight, the health ministry said on Monday. The rising death toll has placed a strain on hospitals and funeral homes and led regional health authorities in Madrid to set up a makeshift morgue at a large ice rink.
telegraph.co.uk, reuters.com, theguardian.com

Italy’s coronavirus deaths slow: The death toll from the outbreak in Italy rose by 602 on Monday, the smallest increase for four days, while the number of new cases also slowed, raising hope that the most aggressive phase of the epidemic may be passing. However, there was also a significant fall in the number of tests carried out, and the head of Italy’s national health institute, Silvio Brusaferro, said it was too soon to say if the recent decline in daily deaths and new cases would continue. According to German newspaper “FAZ”, Italy refuses to allow shipwrecked migrants to go ashore, even if they are subsequently accepted by other EU member states. The government argued that it could not accept more migrants in the face of the pandemic, saying there were great concerns that people from Africa were themselves infected with the virus.
reuters.com (Death toll), faz.net (Migrants)

France announces stricter confinement rules: French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has announced stricter confinement rules that will go into effect this Tuesday to curb the spread of the virus. People are still allowed to leave their homes to buy groceries or medicine, go to doctor’s appointments, work out individually, or tend to childcare or elderly relatives, but with more restrictions. Philippe also hinted at an extension of the confinement period, saying it could last a few weeks and announced more measures to avoid gatherings. French officials said four more doctors have died after contracting the virus.
politico.eu, dailymail.co.uk

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No majority for Hungary’s emergency law: A draft Hungarian law allowing the government to rule by decree during the state of emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic was voted down in parliament. The opposition had vowed to oppose the law in its current form despite a broad consensus that the state of emergency should be prolonged. MP Jakab Peter said there was no reason to give a lifelong mandate to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, because that would be called a kingdom. Council of Europe human rights chief, Dunja Mijatovic, had warned that the law would grant sweeping powers to the government to rule by decree without a clear cut-off date and safeguards.
orf.at, euractiv.com

Call for postponement of elections in Poland: The Polish opposition has called for upcoming election to be postponed. The election is scheduled for the 10th of May, with a possible second round to be held on the 24th. Meanwhile, more Polish prisoners will be given the possibility to serve their sentences at home under a justice ministry proposal.

German families minister expects more domestic violence: Germany’s Minister for Families, Franziska Giffey, has called on local authorities to help women who may be subject to increased domestic violence owing to restrictions on public life. If women’s refuges have no space, then the district must consider how to look after women in need, she said on Monday. Germany is expecting an increased number of cases of domestic violence, she explained, since coronavirus restrictions meant that families will be spending increased time together at home.

Germany: Chancellor Merkel’s first coronavirus test result is negative politico.com
Denmark: Coronavirus lockdown extended a further fortnight thelocal.dk
Latvia: Nine cabinet members in quarantine after contracting coronavirus dw.com
Poland 1: Farmers push to keep Ukrainians in agriculture after border closure euractiv.com
Poland 2: First African swine fever outbreak on farm spiegel.de
Greece: EU Parliament demands evacuation of refugee camps on Greek islands; UN criticises Greece’s handling of refugees rnd.de; zeit.de
Croatia: Aftershocks rattle Croatian capital a day after strong quake apnews.com


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politjobs.eu, politjobs.eu/submit (Inserat schalten)


Italy’s mayors lose patience with lockdown dodgers: One of the challenges facing governments as they battle the spread of coronavirus is enforcing lockdowns once they have been declared. Many people have not been heeding the instructions to stay indoors. Now, a number of Italian mayors are taking matters into their own hands and posting social media videos urging citizens to take coronavirus measures seriously. “Where are you going with these dogs which must have inflamed prostates? You gotta stay home”, implores the mayor of Gualdo Tadino, Massimiliano Presciutti. Antonio Decaro, the Mayor of Bari, had someone film him walking a beach in Bari telling people they had to go home. The mayor of Reggio Calabria, Giuseppe Falcomata, said he saw a fellow citizen jog up and down the street, accompanied by a dog that was visibly worn out: “I stopped and told him: ‘Look, this isn’t a film. You are not Will Smith in I Am Legend. So, you have to go home.’”
euronews.com, theguardian.com


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