|The Briefing is taking a month-long summer break and will be back on 2 September with more news. |
|Summertime, and the living’s not easy |
By Méabh Mc Mahon, Euronews’ Brussels correspondent
It’s that time of the year again when people of the Brussels bubble pack their bags, bid farewell to their host country and head off to their home countries or a suitable spot in the sun. Whether a lake in Sweden or a beach in Portugal, it’s finally time to turn on that “out of office” automatic email, kick back and replace political podcasts with soothing tunes like Ella Fitzgerald 60’s classic: “Summertime, and the living is easy…”
First, the good news this year: the EU’s vaccination roll-out is on track with 7 in 10 adults jabbed once and 57% fully. Also, the much deliberated EU COVID-19 travel pass is now a reality, albeit a confusing one. But that is where the good news stops.
Although the summer break may provide a good distraction and give some exhausted civil servants a chance to finally turn off their phone, an unenviable workload awaits them upon return in September, most likely under a dark cloud of a fourth coronavirus wave.
“There will be no respite when European leaders return from a summer break punctuated by floods, cyberattacks, coronavirus and challenges to the EU’s rule of law,” Judy Dempsey, senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, tells me over the phone.
Think tanks like hers are deeply concerned about the fate of the Northern Ireland protocol, the next steps of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenkoand the threat of online disinformation from China, Russia and Iran.
Judy also has a wake-up call for all those working for the EU institutions: “One of the many weaknesses of the EU in dealing with the plethora of challenges is the complete inability by EU leaders and officials to communicate in clear, unbureaucratic and jargon-free language,” she says, hoping this will change ahead of a very “unpredictable Autumn.”
With so much at stake, some EU watchers tell me a long summer break should not be on the cards.
“Europe’s power and ambition will be put to test this autumn; first at the G20 in Italy and then at the COP26 in Glasgow. Being unable to show a unified front on climate action or corporate taxation could signify international irrelevance of the Old Continent,” says David Rinaldi, director of Studies and Policy at FEPS.
Indeed, the EU Green Deal and the post-Covid €750-billion recovery plan are the big priorities of the Commission, two projects that cannot fail. If they do, the credibility of the EU project could be at stake. Disbursements are already underway to inject some cash into member states, but some national recovery plans still have to be approved.
One man whose day job is to teach EU law and policies is Tobias Lock, professor of EU law at Maynooth University. He hopes EU leaders will think of clever ways to crack the whip on Poland and Hungary during their summer break. It’s a topic that deeply upsets his students.
“The sustained attacks on the rule of law notably in Poland and Hungary have the potential of undermining the entire EU legal order and value system. The Commission and member states need to react more robustly and seriously consider financial repercussions for deviant member states,” says Lock.
Speaking recently live on Euronews, Laurent Pech, another respected law professor, told me the EU institutions were running out of time and that there was now a “total breakdown of the rule of law”.
“Hungary is no longer considered a democracy since 2019 and Poland is about to join this club of autocracies. I expect Poland to no longer be a democracy by 2023. Time is not on the side of EU institutions.”
Time is never on the side of the EU institutions.
But despite the exhaustive to-do list, given the mental health crisis Europe is also dealing with, exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, I think everyone deserves a break this summer.
So enjoy the summer, stay safe and as one old Irish proverb goes “go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís” – which in English means “may we live to see this time again next year.”
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON?
GROWING DEBATE As coronavirus infections surge, Europe debates whether vaccinations should be voluntary or mandatory. The World Health Organization “encourages any measure to increase coverage of vaccination as long as this is legally and socially acceptable,” Dr. Hans Kluge, regional director of WHO Europe, told our reporter Fay Doulgkeri. “But it should not be a first resort because first we have to try to understand what's in the mind of the people, what are their perceptions.” Watch the interview.
GREEN PASS As part of this debate, some EU countries, like France and Italy, have expanded the use of the vaccination pass, making it obligatory to access bars, restaurants and cultural venues. The measures have been met by fierce resistance, with critics saying they violate basic rights. However, Alice Tidey reports, Europe’s courts may not agree with this assessment. Meanwhile, if you’re a bit confused about how the green pass is being deployed across the continent, we have a country-by-country guide on rules and usage.
ARMS RACE The war in Yemen has entered its 7th year of horror and destruction. More than 230,000 people have been killed and around 24 million people need some kind of protection or humanitarian assistance. But despite the conflict’s catastrophic scale, some EU countries, such as Spain, Germany, France and Belgium, have allowed the export of arms to Saudi Arabia, the country leading the offensive against the Houthi rebels. The Yemeni war, though, is not the only one where EU-made weapons can be found. In a must-watch episode of Unreported Europe, Monica Pinna examines the role played by European exports in wars and conflicts around the world.
GENOCIDE DENIAL In a bid to counter the glorification of war criminals, Bosnia and Herzegovina's High Representative Valentin Inzko has invoked his executive powers to unilaterally pass the nation's first law prohibiting genocide denial. The text is linked to the 1992-1995 war, when 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces. “Honestly, I did it for the dignity of the killed boys and men in [the genocide],” Inzko told our reporter Aleksandar Breza. We take a closer look at the reasons behind the High Representative's extraordinary move.
BREAKAWAY STATE Maia Sandu won both Moldova's presidency in November and a majority in parliament in July with a promise to re-orientate her country towards Europe and fight corruption. An issue that went unnoticed in her campaign was Transnistria, the breakaway state that encompasses 11% of Moldova's territory and is home to 500,000 people. Now that she’s in power, President Sandu has no choice but to confront the Transnistrian dilemma. Can she solve it?
SHARED TASKS Male contraception has been limited to the same two options for more than a century: wearing condoms or having a vasectomy. In comparison, women are able to choose between a dozen options, ranging from the pill to hormonal injections, an intrauterine device (IUD), a diaphragm or a vaginal ring. But thanks to a series of groundbreaking methods targeted at men, like a male pill and a testosterone gel, birth control could become a shared responsibility.
TRAVEL TIPS Since this is the last Briefing before the summer break, we want to leave you with a round-up of holiday recommendations (courtesy of Euronews Travel) in case you haven’t made up your mind yet. First up, 12 of Europe's best city breaks that are not capitals. Second, nine magical destinations accessible by train. And finally, to relax and unwind, six quiet Greek islands that are COVID-free.
|IT'S IN THE NUMBERS|
The European Union has vaccinated over 70% of its adult population with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, meeting the July target set by the European Commission. Since the beginning of the year, the EU’s common procurement scheme has delivered more than 520 million doses, of which over 450 million have been administered. However, Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst told Euronews that the 70% figure is not high enough to effectively protect against the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Allegations, lawsuits and daming reports: How Frontex became the most contentious EU agency
|One of the EU's largest and costliest agencies is facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence. For the past year, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, has been battling a barrage of extremely serious allegations that, at best, describe the agency as a silent accomplice in human rights violations, and, at worst, as an active perpetrator. The furore over the accusations has reverberated across Brussels and beyond, with European institutions lining up to publicly reprimand the agency, all the while working up plans to bolster its powers. Investigations, public hearings and new media reports continue to pile up. A lawsuit threatens to bring the office before the EU's Court of Justice for the first time in its history. For many, the ongoing tumult is a consequence of the meteoric rise experienced by Frontex, which has gone from a modest agency with limited scope to a headline-making, multi-million organisation of ever-expanding power. |
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggled with an umbrella in inclement weather during a dedication ceremony for a new police memorial in the English county of Staffordshire. The PM’s umbrella turned inside out in the pouring rain, causing the laughter of Prince Charles, who was sitting next to him.
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