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How Pandemic Upended Croatias Bold EU Presidency Plans

Among the many things that have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic around the world was Croati..

Among the many things that have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic around the world was Croatias ambitious agenda for its six-month term at the helm of the European Union, which ended Tuesday.

“Despite all our best original plans, related to promoting a whole set of issues most important for Europe’s security and prosperity … our presidency has ended up being a genuine crisis-management presidency,” said Pjer Simunovic, Croatias top diplomat in Washington.

Simunovic said his country took its turn in the rotating office in January with plans to address employment, technology, competitiveness, environment, green energy, EU enlargement, external partnerships, as well as to work toward a smooth and well-regulated Brexit and adoption of the EU’s budget.

Instead, he said in an interview, Croatias presidency has been dominated by “virtual meetings replacing the in-person meetings at all levels, and almost everything getting focused on dealing with the immediacy of the multifaceted danger in front to us.”

“We all had to plan and execute on the fly,” he added.

The role of the EU presidency is to build consensus and facilitate joint decision-making among the blocs nearly 30 members, Simunovic said. Toward that end, he credited the member states for working together to bring home more than 500,000 EU citizens who were left stranded by the pandemic around the world.

Simunovic said his country – an EU member since 2013 – also advocated strongly for the union to open accession talks with two other countries in its southeastern Europe neighborhood – Albania and North Macedonia. An EU-Western Balkans summit in May confirmed the “EUs commitment to the region,” he said.

As another example of solidarity within the EU, the ambassador cited ongoing negotiations on financial rescue packages for the member nations most severely hurt by the pandemic.

“On top of the first EU relief package, adopted in April, of 500 billion euros, complemented by a banking package facilitating lending, the European Commission proposed, in late May, the second relief package, consisting of 750 billion euros, 500 billion in grants, 250 billions in favorable loans,” he said.

Simunovic described that proposal as “fair, balanced and appropriate,” adding that progress towards an agreement was made at the final EU summit of Croatias presidency, including a pledge to finalize an agreement at a summit in July.

Independent analysts also are pleasantly surprised by the EUs success in responding to the pandemic.

“There is some pride along with a sense of shock that Europe has been pulling together,” said Stephen Szabo, a senior fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. But he said the success came only after “a disastrous beginning” in which the member states failed to help the hardest-hit countries, such as Italy.

“Still this is only the first stage of what promises to be a long-term crisis,” he said, adding that the economic effects “will be felt for years and will pose a challenge for European solidarity.”

Simunovic discussed the concept of “strategic autonomy” as the pandemic forces nations to evaluate the strength of their supply chains. The notion is perfectly understandable, he said, but he believes collaboration among the EU members will be critical going forward.

He predicted that ties will be “established and reinforced along the lines of reliability” among what he described as “genuine allies.”

Simunovic said Europe stands ready to work alongside the United States to strengthen transatlantic ties and tackle global challenges, including those posed by state actors playing with different rules – Russia and China most prominently among them.

“Globalization will not disappear, trade and investment will continue to flow around the world, as it is happening, but there will be more caution, more safeguards,” he said.

The ambassador predicted Germany, which assumes the presidency for a six-month term beginning Wednesday, will find itself like Croatia in a continuous “crisis management” mode, with “hard issues remaining to be addressed and resolved.”

“We wish our German friends the best of luck, with our full support and great expectations,” he said. “We are in the same boat amidst the rough seas.”

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Europe

Europe swelters under a heatwave complicated by Covid-19 restrictions

Issued on: 09/08/2020 – 13:10

Sun-seekers flocked to beaches over the weekend as parts of Western ..

Issued on:

Sun-seekers flocked to beaches over the weekend as parts of Western Europe sweltered in a heatwave, but authorities urged people to avoid crowded areas and keep wearing masks despite the heat over concern for the rising numbers of coronavirus cases across the continent.

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A day after Britain recorded its hottest August day in 17 years at 36.4° Celsius (97.5° Fahrenheit) much of its southern coastline was packed with visitors, many of whom had been forced to abandon more exciting foreign holidays because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Authorities in Bournemouth, home to a seven-mile golden stretch of beach, warned that most of the beach was so busy that "safe social distancing is not possible" and urged people to stay away.

There was a similar story across other parts of Europe, where many residents endured weeks of lockdown earlier this year.

Crowds of Germans also headed for the coast on Saturday, but local authorities warned residents that some beaches and lakes would be closed if there are too many people.

Police in the capital Berlin told residents to avoid popular lake Mueggelsee while the beach at Prenzlau lake in Brandenburg state was turning people away.

"First time I've experienced that in 30 years," said the manager of the Prenzlau site, Ronny Klein.

France has also been sweltering through a heatwave since Thursday, with temperatures pushing towards 40°C (104°F) in several areas.

In the southwest, Brive-la-Gaillarde broke its own record with temperatures of 40.8°C on Friday as did Cognac with 39.8°C while Nantes posted a new all-time record of 39.6°C.

No relief is expected until Wednesday, with the soaring temperatures compounding the pressure as the country's coronavirus outbreak worsens, the number of daily infections hitting 2,288 on Friday.

Authorities reminded sweltering citizens that masks must continue to be worn where they have been mandated, despite the heat, with a Read More – Source

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Lukashenko faces challenge in Belarus presidential vote, opposition figures detained

Issued on: 09/08/2020 – 09:55

Belarus began voting in an election on Sunday pitting President Alex..

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Belarus began voting in an election on Sunday pitting President Alexander Lukashenko against a former teacher who emerged from obscurity to lead the biggest challenge in years against the man once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington.

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The 65-year-old Lukashenko is almost certain to win a sixth consecutive term but could face a new wave of protests amid anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and his human rights record.

An ongoing crackdown on the opposition could hurt Lukashenko's attempts to mend fences with the West amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.

A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has ruled since 1994.

International election observers 'haven't even been invited' for Belarus vote

He faces a surprise rival in Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.

Her rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people have been detained in a widening crackdown.

Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus for a quarter of a century. Despite an election commission ban on the opposition holding an alternative vote count, Tikhanouskaya urged her supporters to monitor polling stations.

"We are in the majority and we don't need blood on the city streets," she said on Saturday. "Let's defend our right to choose together."

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Belarus opposition candidate’s campaign manager detained before presidential vote

Issued on: 08/08/2020 – 18:09

The campaign manager of Belarus's leading opposition candidate ..

Issued on: 08/08/2020 – 18:09

The campaign manager of Belarus's leading opposition candidate was detained on Saturday on the eve of a tense presidential vote, her office said.

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A spokeswoman for presidential hopeful Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told AFP that Maria Moroz had been detained and was expected to be held until Monday.

It was not immediately clear on what grounds she had been detained, said spokeswoman Anna Krasulina.

"She probably won't be released before Monday," Krasulina said.

Moroz was also detained by the interior ministry on Thursday after visiting the Lithuanian embassy in Minsk. She was later released.

Belarus holds the presidential election on Sunday with Tikhanovskaya posing the greatest challenge in years to long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

The 65-year-old leader has headed the ex-Soviet country bordering Russia since 1994 and Sunday's polls are expected to hand him his sixth term.

Lukashenko has presided over an aggressive crackdown on the opposition and Tikhanovskaya has charged that he will rig the vote.

Europe's longest-serving leader

Early voting began in the country of 9.5 million people on Tuesday, with official turnout over the past four days already at more than 32 percent.

Tikhanovskaya has drawn huge crowds to campaign rallies throughout the country after she was allowed to participate in place of her husband who was jailed and barred from running.

Lukashenko, who is Europe's longest-serving leader, jailed twRead More – Source

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