PARIS – When European Union leaders meet virtually for a summit Friday, a familiar duo will again grab the spotlight.
COVID-19, which has battered European economies, is also giving a new boost to Europes traditional economic engines, France and Germany, and possibly the so-far underwhelming relationship between their leaders.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have found common cause in pushing for a massive coronavirus recovery plan for the 27-member bloc — one that flouts Germanys traditional budgetary orthodoxy and puts Berlin at odds with other frugal states.
But whether the newfound unity opens a new chapter for the two countries to power other joint European initiatives is less certain. Key hurdles still face the coronavirus rescue package, framed in an $843 billion proposal of grants and loans the European Commission unveiled last month.
“I think we can look ahead to a big dogfight,” said Daniel Gros, director of the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, or CEPS, of the opposition facing the package.
Still, Gros added of member states, “They will have to come together — thats quite clear.”
Germanys EU presidency: Brexit and budget
Fridays summit is a key marker in other ways. Next month, Europes biggest economic power, Germany, takes over the rotating six-month EU presidency that will also tackle thorny Brexit negotiations. On the menu, too, will be discussions about the blocs next seven-year budget running through 2027.
It comes as Merkel, the EUs longest-serving leader, prepares to leave office next year.
Tara Varma, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Paris office, believes Merkel is looking toward her legacy.
“She knows she has a massive, critical role to play,” Varma said, particularly on establishing European health sovereignty, after the pandemic found the bloc heavily dependent on medical imports from China and India. “She sees the necessity for the EU to be able to protect itself and its citizens.”
But the immediate task Friday may be finding consensus on money.
Europes “Frugal Four,” who generally oppose big spending — Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria — have reiterated their concerns about the commissions COVID-19 bailout plan, aimed primarily at helping more economically strapped southern countries.
“How can it suddenly be responsible to spend €500billion [$562 billion] in borrowed money and to send the bill into the future?” they wrote in a letter published in the Financial Times this week, noting European taxpayers would have to shoulder the burden.
The four have instead called for loans, rather than grants that would not have to be paid back.
Germany has traditionally shared such spending concerns. But last month, Merkel joined Macron in proposing a $562 billion recovery plan for the bloc, which was rolled into the commissions broader proposal.
Announcing it last month, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — Merkels former defense minister — called the plan “Europes moment,” that would see the bloc recovering from the pandemic together, rather than “accepting a union of haves and have-nots.”
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire is offering a broader take.
“We are seeing a turning point in Franco-German relations,” Le Maire told Der Spiegel in an interview, sketching other areas for potential joint initiatives, including industrial projects.
Analyst Varma is also hopeful about a reboot.
“At the beginning of the relationship, there were expectations on both sides that werent met,” Varma said of Merkel and Macron, who took office in 2017.
Macron had big ideas for Europe; Merkel was weakened by a divided coalition.
“He was expecting her to meet him halfway and build this Franco-German moment,” Varma added. “And from the German side, there were different expectations.”
Berlin has not shared Macrons push for closer EU fiscal and defense integration. But this week, Bloomberg reported the two countries are now pushing for tighter European defense ties.
The call is backdropped by U.S. President Donald Trump’s confirmation of plans to withdraw 9,500 American troops from Germany, which he has criticized for failing to spend enough on defense.
“Germany used to look at the U.S. and the transatlantic relationship for security issues,” Varma said. “And I think were seeing a shift here, too.”
“Germany is now coming to terms that it will need the EU to protect not only its economic interests but its security interests,” she said “which is a position France has been holding for a long time.”
But other analysts believe the current unity over the COVID-19 rescue package may be a one-off.
“Macron is overwhelmed by his domestic concerns,” said Gros of the CEPS policy center. “And Merkel knows theres only so far she can take Germany along” in other EU areas.
John Springford, deputy director for the London-based Centre for European Reform policy institute, is similarly skeptical.
“Theres a realization shes nearing the end of her term and wants to have been a chancellor that has made Europe stronger,” Springford said of Merkel.
“And so, theres a kind of happy marriage of interests now between her and Macron,” he added of the rescue fund, “which is why weve ended up with something thats actually pretty ambitious.”
Migrants leave Ocean Viking rescue ship in Sicily after tense wait
Issued on: 07/07/2020 – 01:46
Almost 200 migrants rescued by a humanitarian aid boat in the Medite..
Almost 200 migrants rescued by a humanitarian aid boat in the Mediterranean Sea began to leave the vessel in Sicily late on Monday after nine days stuck on the ship.
An AFP journalist aboard the Ocean Viking watched as the migrants, in single file and carrying backpacks, regained dry land at Porto Empedocle on the Italian island's western coast.
Police escorted them a short distance to another vessel, where they will be quarantined to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus.
The arrival of the boat chartered by charity group SOS Mediterranee capped a tense few days onboard marked by migrants jumping overboard, a suicide attempt and bouts of violence.
After being rescued in four separate operations on June 25 and 30, the migrants waiting on the ship became increasingly agitated, according to SOS Mediterranee, as the charity awaited the go-ahead from either Italy or Malta to dock at a safe port.
However, approval did not arrive until Sunday, after the group declared a state of emergency on board, adding it could no longer guarantee the safety of the migrants or the crew.
Soon after 8:00 pm (18:00 GMT), the Ocean Viking docked at the port directly in front of Italian ferry Moby Zaza, where the migrants will wait out a two-week quarantine period.
Earlier on Monday, a separate group of 169 migrants disembarked from the Moby Zaza after a two-week quarantine.
Thirty of the group — all of whom were rescued last month by Sea-Watch, another humanitarian group — tested positive for coronavirus and will remain on the ferry in an isolated "red zone" area.
SOS Mediterranee spent most of Monday waiting roughly four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the coast before being allowed to dock, as it warned that tensions were rising and the long wait was "amplifying risks on board".
From the deck of the Ocean Viking, migrants who have waited for more than a week to disembark could make out both the Sicilian coast and the immense ferry, the Moby Zaza, according to an AFP reporter on board.
The mayor of Porto Empedocle, Ida Carmina, told reporters that the migrants' arrival was too much for the economically suffering community to support.
"Now that we&#Read More – Source
Reaching the bottom of the barrel: Coronavirus pandemic batters European wine production
Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:46
It's an ancient beverage turned cultural icon, so cherished in ..
Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:46
It's an ancient beverage turned cultural icon, so cherished in France that the legendary Victor Hugo once provocatively wrote: “God made only water – but man made wine”. Aside from being a staple at many family dinner tables, wine is also a massive European industry – and one thats going through its own coronavirus-induced crisis. This in a sector that was already battling against 25% tariffs imposed by Donald Trump in 2019 that have seen exports slump.
Up to one third of French vineyards are believed to be in potential danger – in a sector that employs around 700,000 people in France alone.
FRANCE 24 has been investigating how winemakers have been coping – as some say they might end up forced to give up altogether.
Vincent Bouzereau, winemaker: "I think were going to have to pick up the pieces. We are all going to pay. I always say to my children, 'we can always tear up a vine, and put sheep out to graze, and then we can eat the sheep'.”
"We are farmers – thats where we began, as farmers."
Aubert Lefas, winemaker and secretary-general of the Bourgogne winemakers confederation warns that small family vineyards will go under as they do not have the resources to pay for wages and outgoings.
"If their land is valuable, theyll be sold to big international groRead More – Source
Child sex abuse warning as coronavirus school closures continue
Issued on: 06/07/2020 – 09:33
Child sex abuse offenders are “taking advantage” of the coronavirus ..
Child sex abuse offenders are "taking advantage" of the coronavirus pandemic to make and share more abusive material online. That warning from Catherine De Bolle, head of European law enforcement agency Europol. In an interview with FRANCE 24, she explains that with millions of children at home, many are going unsupervised, using outdated and poorly secured software which leaves them at greater risk from exploitation.
"You have to be aware, when your child goes on the internet, the child has access to the world – but also the world has access to your child. You have to be aware of this, and you have to protect your child in this situation."
Catherine De Bolle says that organised criminals have exploited the pandemic in other areas too, with a "huge impact" on cyber crime; with counterfeit and sub-standard goods, and property crime also singled out.
The Europol Executive Director also cautions for the coming months of economic crisis in Europe, saying that the end of the pandemic will not be the end of pandemic-related crime.
"We are convinced that criminal organisations will try to make profit out of the pandemic, long after the pandemic. They will make use of the economic downturn, they will make use of economic sectors in difficulty, like tourism,Read More – Source