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EU must change its approach to Hezbollah and place the group in its entirety on the EU sanctions list

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For almost a decade Hezbollah has been given special status on the international stage. Unlike any other terrorist group, the Iran-backed group’s apologists naively differentiate between the group’s military and political wing.

If any good can come from the horrendous ordeal Lebanon has endured in the past few months, it is that the international community, in particular France and the EU, must now see that the so-called political wing of Hezbollah is just as pernicious as the militant wing.

The distinction between Hezbollah's military and political wings is a compromise that EU member states laboriously worked out in 2013. For almost a decade this cowardice has been maintained by the flawed assumption that proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety would complicate relations with Lebanon and limit the EU’s ability to influence its political leadership. Ignoring these concerns entirely, Hezbollah’s senior leadership has itself routinely denied that any such distinction exists, making a mockery of the EU’s approach.

Thankfully the status quo is coming to an end.  The UK, Germany and a number of other European states have designated Hezbollah a terrorist group in its entirety. Yet the EU, and notably France, have not. This failure to act is having disastrous consequences for Lebanon.

As President Macron must learn it is Hezbollah, not the EU or France, that has the most influence over Lebanon’s political leadership. Hence, in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion and imminent economic ruin, Lebanon was unable to form a government to implement economic and political reforms that would have unlocked desperately needed financial aid. Why? Because Hezbollah feared losing control of the finance ministry.

If ever proof were needed that the political wing of Hezbollah is as destructive as the military wing, it is now on display for the world to see. Hezbollah is so wedded to maintaining its power and influence over the state finances that it would rather usher in the total collapse of the Lebanese economy than lose control of the nation's purse strings.

Moderates in Lebanon are increasingly growing frustrated with the EU’s intransigence on this issue. Bahaa Hariri, the former son of Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri and a prominent Lebanese businessman, recently spoke out against the status quo, stating “we have suffered a lot in Lebanon, and others have to understand that warlords are not builders of nations.”

Thankfully, where the EU and France have failed, the US has stepped up.  In recent weeks it has imposed tough new sanctions aimed explicitly at limiting Hezbollah's influence over the political process. The US Treasury targeted two former cabinet ministers close to Hezbollah – Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister, and Youssef Fenianos, a former public works and transportation minister – and is understood to be considering placing other senior political figures under the same measures.

The United States has targeted Hezbollah with sanctions for years, but this is the first time it has imposed sanctions on high-profile former government ministers. It is widely understood that these sanctions are part of a broader effort to signal that politicians can be targeted, and that the rapacious behaviour of the Hezbollah-backed elite will not go unpunished.

Contrary to belief, Hezbollah is not only a threat to Lebanon. The EU is itself a major target of the group. Soon after these latest sanctions were announced, a senior official in the State Department warned that Hezbollah was stockpiling large amounts of ammonium nitrate – the deadly chemical that caused the blast in Beirut – in the EU itself. Significant amounts of the substance had been “moved through Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland” while “significant ammonium nitrate caches have been discovered or destroyed in France, Greece, and Italy”.

In June this year we saw the US Senate and the House of Representatives pass bipartisan resolutions calling on the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Yet nothing changed.

The EU’s inaction, sponsored in large part by France’s overly-conciliatory approach to Iran, leaves the bloc looking weak and indecisive. The EU must change its approach to Hezbollah and place the group in its entirety on the EU sanctions list, or be held liable for Hezbollah’s continued destruction of Lebanon and its malign activity elsewhere – including in the EU’s backyard.

Economy

#COVID-19 - ‘This year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas’

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Today (28 October) the European Commission presented its proposals for additional measures to tackle the COVID-19 ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, via videoconference, of European heads of government. 

The measures are aimed at a more coordinated approach to data sharing, testing, medical and non-medical equipment, to travel, and to vaccination strategies. President of the European Commission, von der Leyen, called for cooperation, coordination and solidarity. 

Von der Leyen said: “Today we are launching additional measures in our fight against the virus; from increasing access to fast testing and preparing vaccination campaigns, to facilitating safe travel when necessary. I call on the Member States to work closely together. Courageous steps taken now will help save lives and protect livelihoods. No Member State will emerge safely from this pandemic until everyone does.”

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said: “The rise in COVID-19 infection rates across Europe is very alarming. Decisive immediate action is needed for Europe to protect lives and livelihoods, to alleviate the pressure on healthcare systems, and to control the spread of the virus.”

Professor Peter Piot, who is the lead scientist in the Commission’s panel of advisors echoed the President’s concerns, saying that there was no “silver bullet”. He said that Europe was paying a high price for relaxing measures in the summer, adding that measures like wearing the mask work as long as everyone does it.

He also warned against ‘corona fatigue’ and underlined that there was no trade-off between health and the economy. Pointing to a report in the Financial Times, he said that the health issue needed to be fixed to limit economic damage. 

The new efforts, look at many actions:

Improving the flow of information to allow informed decision-making: The sharing of accurate, comprehensive, comparable and timely information on epidemiological data, as well as on testing, contact tracing and public health surveillance, is essential to track how the coronavirus spreads at regional and national level and providing all relevant data to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Commission.

Establishing more effective and rapid testing: The Commission is proposing directly purchase rapid antigen tests and delivering them to Member States, using €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument. In parallel, the Commission is launching a joint procurement to ensure a second stream of access. Travellers should be offered the possibility to undergo a test after arrival. If negative COVID-19 tests are to be required or recommended for any activity, mutual recognition of tests is essential, in particular in the context of travel.

Making full use of contact tracing and warning apps across borders:  EU member states have developed 19 national contact tracing and warning apps, downloaded more than 52 million times. The Commission recently launched a solution for linking national apps across the EU through a ‘European Federation Gateway Service'. Three national apps (Germany, Ireland, and Italy) were first linked on 19 October when the system came online. The Commission calls on all states to set up effective and compatible apps and reinforce their communication efforts to promote their uptake.

Effective vaccination: The development and uptake of safe and effective vaccines is a priority effort to quickly end the crisis. Member States need to take to be fully prepared, which includes the development of national vaccination strategies. The Commission will put in place a common reporting framework and a platform to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccine strategies. To share the best practices, the conclusions of the first review on national vaccination plans will be presented in November 2020.

Effective communication to citizens: Clear communication is essential for the public health response to be successful, the Commission is calling on all Member States to relaunch communication campaigns to counter false, misleading and dangerous information that continues to circulate, and to address the risk of “pandemic fatigue”. Vaccination is a specific area where public authorities need to step up their actions to tackle misinformation and secure public trust, as there will be no compromise on safety or effectiveness under Europe's robust vaccine authorization system. 

Securing essential supplies: The Commission has launched a new joint procurement for medical equipment for vaccination.

Facilitating safe travel: The Commission calls on member states to fully implement the Recommendation adopted by the Council for a common and coordinated approach to restrictions to free movement. Citizens and businesses want clarity and predictability. Any remaining COVID-19 related internal border control measures should be lifted.

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EU

European minimum wage: Commission proposal welcome but falls short on ambition to fight poverty and inequality say Greens

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The European Commission has just released its draft directive on a European minimum wage. The proposal sets out minimum standards and uniform criteria for the level of EU-wide minimum wages. The European Commission is calling on EU governments to involve social partners and trade unions in negotiations on minimum wages and to close gaps where collective agreements do not apply.

For the Greens/EFA group, the European Commission's proposal falls short of its stated ambition to fight poverty and inequality. Kira Peter-Hansen MEP, Greens/EFA co-ordinator in the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, said: "Too many Europeans earn a wage they cannot live on and the number of ‘working poor’ is likely to grow during the current COVID-19 crisis. That's why it's welcome that the Commission is attempting to tackle the issue of in-work poverty, but unfortunately this proposal fails to tackle the issue.

"If a European framework on minimum wages is to make a real difference then this proposal is not up to the job. As it stands, this Directive will still see workers on as little as two euros an hour. Wages must be enough to live on across the whole of the EU.

"We welcome the proposal to guarantee wages based on collective agreements in public procurement. However, more needs to be done to give social partners the means to strengthen collective bargaining and we need to secure that the proposal do not harm well-functioning collective bargaining models European workers need access to poverty-proof wages and for the eradication of discrimination of any kind, and for all EU citizens to have a minimum income - that’s what a true Social Europe is about."

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China

Samsung Display gets US licenses to supply some panels to Huawei

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Samsung Electronics’ display unit has received licenses from US authorities to continue supplying certain display panel products to Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL], a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday (27 October).

With US-China ties at their worst in decades, Washington has been pushing governments around the world to squeeze out Huawei, arguing that the telecom giant would hand data to the Chinese government for spying. Huawei denies it spies for China.

From 15 September, new curbs have barred US companies from supplying or serving Huawei.

Samsung Display, which counts Samsung Electronics and Apple as major customers for organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display screens, declined comment.

Huawei was not immediately available for comment.

It is still unclear whether Samsung Display will be able to export its OLED panels to Huawei as other firms in the supply chain making components necessary to manufacture panels would also have to get U.S. licences.

Samsung’s cross-town rival LG Display said that it and other companies, including most semiconductor companies, need to get licences to resume business with Huawei.

Last month, Intel Corp said it had received licences from US authorities to continue supplying certain products to Huawei.

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