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EU leaders meet to tackle disputes over Turkey, Belarus and budget

Issued on: 01/10/2020 – 04:50

European leaders meet on Thursday to tackle rifts that threaten thei..

Issued on: 01/10/2020 – 04:50

European leaders meet on Thursday to tackle rifts that threaten their huge coronavirus recovery package and weaken their ability to respond to crises on their borders with Turkey and Belarus.

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The first night of the extraordinary two-day European Union summit will be dominated by the bloc's tricky ties with Ankara, which is embroiled in a dangerous maritime stand-off with Greece and Cyprus.

But the leaders will reluctantly be forced to address an internal argument about tying access to EU funds to a member state's support for the rule of law — an idea fiercely opposed by Hungary.

At a turbulent four-day marathon summit in July the leaders agreed to borrow to build a 750-billion-euro corona stimulus fund, to be backed by a trillion-euro long-term EU budget.

But the speaker of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, will warn the national heads at the start of their meeting that MEPs oppose cuts to key EU programmes in the budget plan and want 100 billion euros more.

The parliament could yet withhold approval for the package, and Hungary and Poland could also block the deal if their access to funds is linked to their respect for EU legal and democratic values.

The so-called "frugal countries" — the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Finland — oppose restoring the budget cuts and insist on the importance of the rule of law.

A German compromise proposal, which would see states only fined for rule of law breaches involving the spending of EU funds, narrowly won the support of EU ambassadors ahead of the summit on Wednesday.

But the frugals' envoys voted against it, as for them it does not go far enough, and so did Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused the block of "blackmail" and demanded the resignation of the European Commission vice-president Vera Jourova.

In a report published by Jourova on Wednesday on the state of the rule of law in Europe, the commission said connections between Hungarian politicians and businesses are conducive to corruption.

– Maritime crisis –

But the European leaders will not want to get bogged down in more of the fighting about budgets and values that almost derailed July's prolonged summit.

Instead, diplomats say foreign affairs and Europe's strategic posture will dominate.

Over dinner on Thursday they will look at ties with Turkey, which is notionally still a candidate to join the EU but is in a stand-off with member states Greece and Cyprus over maritime borders and energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Ankara has infuriated the EU by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters, and Athens has responded with war games backed by France, raising fears of full-blown conflict.

Tensions have eased slightly, with Turkey and Greece agreeing to resume long-stalled talks, but Ankara still has assets in Cypriot waters.

In his summit invitation the president of the European Council Charles Michel warned that "all options remain on the table" if Ankara does not engage constructively in talks.

This could include tough economic sanctions against Turkey, but officials stress that while the EU stands squarely with Greece and Cyprus, the focus for now is on trying to find a diplomatic solution.

"We've seen positive developments on Ankara's behalf towards Greece but not Cyprus," an EU official said, citing the start of a German-led mediation effort.

Meanwhile, Cyprus has been blocking long-trailed sanctions over the political crisis in Belarus, insisting more people must be listed over Turkish drilling in its waters at the same time.Read More – Source

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".

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Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24
This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE
TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24

This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.

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Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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Our guests

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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