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Russian sanctions: Nuclear gambit



toxic_winter-1920x1080Opinion by Anna van Densky, Brussels

MEPs' 'invitation' to the European Council to broaden the  sanctions spectrum against Russia in the nuclear sector raises concerns over Europan safety, which has already been compromised lately as a result of the competition between the US and Russia over Ukraine's nuclear energy market while the US has delivered incompatible fuel rods to Russian (Soviet) designed power stations. The EU's failed Russian sanctions policy, damaging the bloc's 28 economies, ended in a frantic search for influence mechanisms on the Kremlin and became increasingly reckless, interfering with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prerogratives - a dangerous move.

The accident at Europe's biggest nuclear plant in Ukraine just a few weeks ago was not reported to the IAEA as it should have been, which demonstrated a vulnerability in a sector manipulated by the political agenda in a country torn by armed conflict and sinking in debt. Breaking the rules, requesting accident reporting to the IAEA, the government's silence opened the gate to speculation over the situation in the nuclear sector, with possible fatal impacts on Europe, already acquainted with nuclear troubles following the Chernobyl catastrophe.

The idea of manipulating the nuclear industry shows the despair of MEPs of noticing any tangible result from the sanctions policy - as the economic situation in Russia is deteriorating, the Kremlin continues to enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. Further, the Ukrainian attitude demonstrates the negligence of international order in nuclear safety, elaborated as a result of painful failures including Chernobyl. The incident caused by the incompatibility of elements in the Yuzhno-Ukrainsaya nuclear station brought the co-operation between Ukraine and Westinghouse (US) to a halt in 2012.

A similar problem caused a serious incident at the Czech Temelin power station – apparently, the differences between the US and Russian (Soviet) nuclear industry design of fuel rods can pose a security threat. The issue has been under discussion for several years: can US nuclear fuel be used safely at Russian-built power stations? At present, Ukraine's four nuclear power-plants use 15 reactors, provide half of the electricity demand, with nuclear fuel delivered and waste handled by Russians with rigid procedures.

The idea of bypassing the IAEA while using the nuclear industry as a battlefield over geopolitical interests not only sounds perilous, it is perilous. For the sake of camouflage of its own political miscalculations, which the sanctions against Moscow clearly are, they provoked an increase in President Vladimir Putin's popularity among the lukewarm part of the Russian electorate, lifting it to a dream level, and evoked the spread of anti-Western moods, which were formerly preached without success by communists and nationalists. But the unforeseen response of nuclear sanctions will certainly not end there, influencing Russian home politics against the West, switching sympathies to Asia.

The nuclear gambit may end with more sacrifices than were originally visualized, having an impact on global politics as much as European.

A possible nuclear twist for a new wave of sanctions will without ambiguity hit the Iranian non-proliferation talks hard – one can not imagine Russia being a foe and an ally at the same time, pursuing an engagement with Teheran in uranium enrichment by Russian nuclear companies, while imposing sanctions on its nuclear sector.

Gambits are great for chess, but endangering human lives through bypassing the IAEA and hindering non-proliferation talks in their final stage, might bring the downfall of the European legislators themselves – a nuclear accident on European soil, as much as collapse of the non-proliferation talks will turn fatal for the European institutions, undermining their moral power and strengthening forces leading to their decline. Even the shadow of Chernobyl is too much to bear for EU citizens - if it is repeated, a political nuclear winter will certainly follow.


COVID-19 and natural disasters: €823 million in EU aid for eight member states



On Tuesday (24 November), Parliament approved €823 million in EU aid for the Croatia earthquake, floods in Poland, and the response to the coronavirus crisis in seven EU countries.

The €823 million in aid from the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) will be distributed as follows:

  • More than €132.7m to be distributed in advance payments to Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Hungary, and Portugal in response to the major public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
  • Croatia will receive €683.7m to help the country deal with the devastating effects of the earthquake in Zagreb and the surrounding area in March 2020. A first disbursement of €88.9m was already released in August 2020.
  • More than €7m will go to Poland to assist reconstruction efforts following floods in the Podkarpackie Voivodeship province in June this year.

EU Solidarity Fund modified in response to COVID-19

As part of the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII), in 2020 the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund rules was extended, enabling the EU to help countries respond to major public health emergencies.

Overall, 19 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain) and three accession countries (Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia) have requested assistance in tackling the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Of these, seven countries requested that the payment be made in advance, which Parliament approved with this vote.

Background information on the EU Solidarity Fund.

More information and a table with precise amounts per country can be found in Parliament’s report and the Commission’s proposal.

The report, drafted by Olivier Chastel (RENEW, BE), recommending the approval of the aid was adopted by 682 votes in favour, eight against and two abstentions.

The report approving the accompanying draft amending budget, by rapporteur Monika Hohlmeier (EPP, DE), was adopted with 682 votes in favour, eight against and two abstentions.

Next steps

The Council of Ministers approved the advance payments on 30 October, which can now be disbursed following the plenary vote. The Commission is currently assessing the applications received. Once this assessment has been completed, the Commission will put forward a proposal to make the final payments.

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EU solidarity in action: €56.7 million to Spain to repair the damages of the extreme weather DANA in autumn 2019



The European Commission has granted aid worth €56.7 million from the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) to Spain following the extreme weather conditions DANA (Depresión Aislada en Niveles Altos) resulting in floods in the regions of Valencia, Murcia, Castilla-La Mancha and Andalucia in September 2019.

The financial assistance aims to partially cover the emergency costs of recovery operations and assistance to the local population, including repair and restoration of key water and transport infrastructure along with support to health and education. This is part of an aid package of a total of €279m addressed to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Austria hit by natural disasters in 2019. Spain had already received €5.6m in an advanced payment.

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira said: “Whether it is a natural disaster or a major health emergency, the EU Solidarity Fund is always there to provide relief to those who suffer. This is the essence of the European solidarity.”

The EU Solidarity Fund is one of the main EU instruments for disaster recovery and, as part of the EU coordinated response to the coronavirus emergency, its scope has been recently extended to cover major health emergencies. So far, Spain has received support from the EUSF for five natural disasters, totalling more than €90m. More information on the EUSF is available on the data story.

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Two killed, nine missing as drenching rain hits parts of France and Italy




Two people died and nine people were missing in France and Italy after a storm hit border regions of the two countries, bringing record rainfall in places and causing heavy flooding that swept away roads and damaged homes, authorities said, write and .

The storm, dubbed Alex, ravaged several villages around the city of Nice on the French Riviera. Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi called it the worst flooding disaster in the area for more than a century after flying over the worst-hit area by helicopter.

“The roads and about 100 houses were swept away or partially destroyed,” he told French news channel BFM.

“I have been particularly shocked by what I saw today,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex told a news conference after visiting affected areas, adding he was concerned that the death toll could rise.

At least eight people were missing in France, authorities said. These included two firemen whose vehicle was carried away by a swollen river, according to local witnesses cited by several French media.

Television images from both countries showed several roads and bridges had been swept away by flood water and numerous rivers were reported to have burst their banks.

In Italy, at least two people died - one a fireman hit by a falling tree and another a man in his 30s whose car was swept into a river after a road subsided, local authorities said.

As night fell, one Italian was still unaccounted for while a further 16 people earlier feared missing, including a group of six German trekkers, had all been found safe.

Officials in the Piedmont region reported a record 630 mm (24.8 inches) of rain in just 24 hours in Sambughetto, close to the border with Switzerland. The Piedmont regional chief Alberto Cirio called on the government to declare a state of emergency.

The water level in the River Po jumped by 3 metres (9.84 feet) in just 24 hours.

Eric Ciotti, a member of the French parliament who is from one of the worst affected villages in the area, Saint-Martin-Vésubie, said several villages were cut off as they are located in steep-sided valleys of the mountainous region.

Meteo France said that rainfall of 500 mm (19.69 inches) of rain was registered over 24 hours in Saint-Martin-Vésubie and close to 400 mm in several other towns - the equivalent of more than three months of rain at this time of the year.

There was more rainfall than on Oct. 3 2015, when floods caused the death of 20 people in and around the French Riviera city of Cannes, Jérémy Crunchant, the director of civil protection, told France Info.

In Venice, a long-delayed flood barrier system successfully protected the lagoon city from a high tide for the first time on Saturday, bringing big relief following years of repeated inundations.

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