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#Brexit - 'At times it felt as if negotiations were going backwards, more than forwards' Barnier

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Barnier presented his conclusions from the most recent round of negotiations. He said that he was disappointed and concerned by the lack of progress, even saying that: “At times it felt as if they were going backwards, more than forwards.” ‘Four months and ten days, four months and ten days’ Barnier stressed, that to be ready for the end of the transition period, a deal needed to be reached by the end of October, to leave sufficient time for legal experts to verify and validate text in all 23 official languages, it would also require the agreement of the EU’s 27 member states and the European Parliament. He said that any delay beyond October would risk a successful outcome, making a ‘no deal’ end to transition more likely. He was disappointed as “the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told us in June that he wished to speed up the negotiating process during the summer but this week, once again, as in the July round, the British negotiators have not shown any real willingness to move forward on issues of fundamental importance for the European Union and this despite the flexibility which we have shown over recent months, in terms of taking on board and working with the three red lines for which Boris Johnson himself set out in June.” Barnier said that he simply did not understand why the UK was “wasting precious time”. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently holidaying in Scotland. The EU has repeated that any trade agreement will require fair standards and a level playing field. It will also require a long-term perspective on fisheries, as opposed to the UK’s proposal for annual agreements – an area in which he said: “We made no progress whatsoever.” Finally, the EU will not allow cherry-picking of the internal market. Barnier threw back the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’, he seemed to think that British negotiators hadn’t fully understood that Brexit would have consequences and that they were becoming very real as the UK approaches the end of the transition period. Barnier welcomed the legal text put forward by the UK but said that it would only be possible to have a consolidated text by working together. He said that a document that didn’t reflect the EU’s concerns was a “non-starter”. The European Commission is also monitoring progress on the withdrawal agreement adopted by the British parliament at the beginning of the year. It has recommenced its tour of the capitals, via virtual means, to accompany national administrations in preparing for Brexit. UK Chief Negotiator David Frost said: “Agreement is still possible, and it is still our goal, but it is clear that it will not be easy to achieve. Substantive work continues to be necessary across a range of different areas of potential UK-EU future co-operation if we are to deliver it.” In contrast to Barnier’s view, “that the negotiations were going backwards more than forwards”, Frost only referred to making little progress. However, failure to make headway against a hard deadline places ever more pressure on an eleventh-hour agreement which would work against the weaker party in the negotiations. While the EU also wants an agreement, the UK needs this more. The UK is still insisting on its approach, which will give the UK full sovereign control over its own laws, but trade agreements – especially comprehensive ones – usually require co-operation or even relinquishing of certain rights. In its discussions with the US and other potential trade agreements, the UK must already have discovered that this is commonplace and unsurprising. The demands of the EU merely reflect the fact that free trade within its borders is based on tight regulatory co-operation between sovereign states, it is not going to throw these rules away for a third country.

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COVID-19 - ‘It is a decisive moment, it might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring’

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Today (24 September) the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its updated risk assessment showing an upsurge in notified cases across the EU and UK since August.

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides said: “Today's new risk assessment clearly shows us that we cannot lower our guard. With some member states experiencing higher numbers of cases than during the peak in March, it is abundantly clear that this crisis is not behind us. We are at a decisive moment, and everyone has to act decisively… This might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”

Kyriakides said that the high levels mean that control measures have simply not been effective enough, not been enforced or not been followed as they should have been.

The Commission outlined five areas were action needs to be stepped up: testing and contact tracking, improving public healthcare surveillance, ensuring better access to personal protective equipment and medicines, and ensuring sufficient health capacity.

Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said: “We are currently seeing a worrying increase in the number of COVID-19 cases detected in Europe. Until there is a safe and effective vaccine available, rapid identification, testing, and quarantine of high-risk contacts are some of the most effective measures to reduce transmission. It is also everyone's responsibility to maintain the necessary personal protective measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene and staying at home when feeling ill. The pandemic is far from over and we must not drop our guard.”

Free movement

The European Commission has proposed a coordinated approach on free movement restrictions to ensure more predictability for citizens; during the summer chaotic announcements made it impossible for many citizens to know where and when they could or could not go on holiday. The Commissioner said that they had not yet been able to reach a consensus with member states on this proposal.

'A vaccine is not a silver bullet'

Kyriakides said that with a COVID-19 vaccine being months away, she was deeply concerned by what we are seeing now and what may follow in the coming weeks and months. She said that it needed to be undertood that finding the vaccine will not be a silver bullet.

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Cyprus refuses to back EU sanctions for #Belarus in hope of progress on #Turkey

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Following yesterday’s (21 September) Foreign Affairs Council, EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell reiterated that the EU did not consider Lukashenko to be the legitimate president of Belarus. The EU still failed to impose sanctions.

Before yesterday’s Council, there was an informal breakfast for ministers with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who stood against the incumbent in the election of 9 August and is one of the leaders of the Belarusian pro-democracy Coordination Council. Tsikhanouskaya then went on to the European Parliament where she addressed its Foreign Affairs Committee.

Borrell said that ministers wanted to see an end to violence and repression, as well as a new inclusive political dialogue with free and fair elections supervised by the OSCE. Borrell said that the foreign affairs ministers were unable to reach unanimity because of one country, Cyprus. Borrell said that since it was known it advance, the issue of sanctions was not raised at the meeting. Though he went on to say that the extension of sanctions to include Lukashenko was considered.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides who is blocking agreement because of the failure of the EU to take action on Turkey, as promised at a recent informal meeting of ministers, said: “Our reaction to any kind of violation of our core, basic values and principle cannot be a la carte. It needs to be consistent. I really believe that there is no deadlock to diplomacy. I'm here, I'm ready to implement the decision that the political decision that we reach during the Gymnich informal meeting.”

Addressing the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Tsikhanouskaya called for the release of political prisoners, an end to police violence and the holding of free and fair elections: “Our fight is a fight for freedom, for democracy and for human dignity. It is exclusively peaceful and non-violent.”

Borrell will present the outcome of the discussions to this week’s European Council where the EU’s relationship with Turkey will be discussed. Borrell wrote in a blog that the EU has a duty to adopt sanctions, “It is a matter of our credibility.”

In the meantime, a package of around 40 names and entities has been prepared, which targets those responsible for the electoral fraud, the repression of peaceful protests and state-run brutality. In concrete terms, it would mean these people and entities will have any assets inside the EU frozen; they will not be able to receive any kind of funding or finance from within the EU; and they will be banned from entering the EU.

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#Brexit - ‘Please, dear friends in London, stop the game's time is running out’

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Going into today’s (22 September) General Affairs Council (GAC) German Europe Minister Micheal Roth said that one of the most pressing issues to be discussed would be the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom. He said that the UK’s Internal Market Bill violates the Withdrawal Agreement and is totally unacceptable.

Germany is currently holding the Presidency and is anxious that a deal is reached before the year’s end of the year, which will mark the end of the transition period: “We are really, really disappointed about the results of the negotiations so far. This so-called Internal Market Bill is extremely worrying for us because it violates the guiding principles of the Withdrawal Agreement and that's totally unacceptable for us.”

Roth said that the GAC would underline their strong support for the Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and would reaffirm their strong commitment for a fair deal based on trust and confidence between the European Union and the United Kingdom. Roth added: “But please, dear friends in London, stop the game's time is running out. What we really need is a fair basis for further negotiations. And we are ready for that.”

Yesterday, during the debate on the Internal Market Bill in the House of Commons, former Prime Minister Theresa May asked, “If the potential consequences of the Withdrawal Agreement were so bad, why did the government sign it?” She said she didn’t understand how any minister could support these proposals, she said “The government is acting recklessly and irresponsibly with no thought to the long term standing of the UK in the world.”

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