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#Brexit - Von der Leyen says she trusts the British government to implement the withdrawal agreement

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Yesterday (6 September) the Financial Times wrote an article claiming that the UK is prepared to use domestic legislation to override some parts of the withdrawal agreement. Specifically, the UK wants to modify parts of the protocol on the Ireland/Northern Ireland border related to goods and state aid. The article caused consternation among European diplomats and MEPs.

Manfred Weber MEP, chairman of the European’s People Party tweeted: “Prime Minister, there is no such thing as a good outcome in Brexit. Instead of taking Northern Ireland hostage again, it would be better that you keep your word and stand by the Withdrawal agreement. Can we trust you keep your word?”

Irish foreign minister and former Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste), Simon Coveney wrote: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was unambiguous: “I trust the British government to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law & prerequisite for any future partnership. Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is essential to protect peace and stability on the island & integrity of the single market.”

EU Reporter asked the European Commission’s spokesperson on the EU’s future relationship, Daniel Ferrie, to comment on the report. Ferrie said that from the very beginning of the negotiations, the European Union had been engaged constructively and in good faith with the United Kingdom.

He underlined the commitment of the EU to do everything in its power to reach an agreement, which would also be compatible with the EU's long term economic and political interests, in particular by protecting open and fair competition, the ‘level playing field’ provisions, that the Prime Minister agreed to in the political declaration on the future relationship.

Given Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s comments over the weekend on the possibility of not reaching an agreement, the EU pointed out that while it was determined to reach an agreement with the UK, the EU will be ready in the event of a no-deal scenario to trade with UK on WTO terms as of the first of January 2021.

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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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