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Controversial think-tank #ODF probed by Polish government

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Polish security services have launched an investigation into the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) following serious allegations about its funding, writes James Hipwell.

The Polish government has launched an investigation into the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), a controversial think tank with an office in Brussels, after finding evidence the organization may have received funding from “offshore tax havens” and “criminal origins”.

On its website, the ODF calls itself a human rights organization, but has been previously accused of operating an “image washing” service for criminals, thanks to its championing of infamous fraudsters Mukhtar Ablyazov and Veaceaslav Platon.

Now Poland’s Internal Security Agency has opened an investigation into who is funding the organization, claiming the information it provides about its donors “does not correspond with reality”.

In August, the ODF’s president, the Ukrainian activist Lyudmyla Kozlovska, was deported from the EU at the request of the Polish authorities.

She has claimed this was a politically motivated revenge for a social media post by her Polish husband, Bartos Kramek, in which he called for the overthrow of the Polish government.

However, the Polish authorities have insisted their decision was based on “serious” concerns about ODF’s funding.

Last Friday (23 November) Stanisław Żaryn, a spokesman for Poland’s security services chief, revealed the National Revenue Administration (NRA) had carried out an inspection into the ODF and discovered worrying irregularities.

He said: “According to the Foundation’s documents, most of the funds channeled to it came from people who were members of the Foundation’s authorities or from individuals and businesses linked to them.”

However, they found that there were also funds from “other sources”.

In particular, the Polish authorities focused on a mysterious company owned by Kramek called the Silk Road Biuro Analiz i Informacji, which had paid money into the ODF, while also receiving funds from companies based in the UK.

These UK firms, were in turn owned by entities registered in notorious offshore tax havens including Seychelles, Belize and Panama.

Investigations by the Polish media have identified the UK companies as Stoppard Consulting LLP and Kariastra Project LP – both incorporated in Scotland.

They had paid Kramek’s company more than US$1.27 million, according to Zaryn.

He added that the NRA believed these funds, which were ultimately paid into the ODF, “may have been criminal in origin”.

Kramek admitted funding for the ODF had originated from off-shore companies. “Owning businesses in tax havens is not prohibited by law,” he said. “To sum up, the money the Foundation received in this way comes from completely legal sources, they flow neither from Vladimir Putin nor from Pablo Escobar.”

The investigation was announced while Kozlovska was hosting a panel at the United Nations in Geneva on human rights abuses.

Just the night before she had faced questions about the ODF’s mysterious funding during an event at the UK’s House of Commons, in which she was a speaker.

Addressing Kozlovska one journalist asked: “One of the things I don’t understand is why Open Dialogue Foundation doesn’t do more to try and put some of the speculation to rest with regards to what services you and your husband’s company Silk Road provided to Stoppard Consulting…and what work you provided to the Kariastra Project.”

Given that Silk Road is a substantial donor to the Open Dialogue project, you refuse to publish details on how Silk Road is funded and it’s led to negative speculation surrounding the exact nature of that relationship.”

In her response, Kozlovska said: “With regards to Silk Road, our family company, this is a private company and actually we had a number of different kinds of report in front of Polish authorities, and different kinds of examination, and all the information was provided.” She then directed the journalist to ODF’s website for more information.

Last month the ODF was accused by Romanian MEP Andi Cristea of operating as a lobbying firm for some of the criminals it has defended, including Moldovan fraudster Veaceaslav Platon and Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is accused of stealing more than US$5 billion from BTA bank in Kazakhstan, which he chaired, siphoning the funds into a network of offshore entities.

Cristea told EU Reporter: “In relation to funding, the Open Dialog Foundation publishes annual reports on its sources of funding, according to the regulations in force. If these reports are not in line with reality, there will be legal consequences for the Foundation as well as consequences for its image and credibility.”

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EU has not yet ordered more AstraZeneca vaccines, says internal market commissioner

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Syringes are prepared to administer the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a new mass vaccination centre in WiZink sports arena in Madrid, Spain, April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

The European Union has not yet made any new orders for AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccines beyond June when their contract ends, European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton (pictured) said on Sunday (9 May).

Breton also said he expected that the costs of the EU’s recent order for more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N) vaccines would be higher than the earlier versions.

The Commission last month launched legal action against AstraZeneca for not respecting its contract for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and for not having a “reliable” plan to ensure timely deliveries.

"We did not renew the order after June. We’ll see what happens," said Breton, adding that it was "a very good vaccine".

Concerns has risen on potential side-effects of the Anglo-Swedish COVID-19 vaccine.

Europe's medicines regulator said on Friday it is reviewing reports of a rare nerve-degenerating disorder in people who received the shots, a move that comes after it found the vaccine may have caused very rare blood clotting cases. Read more.

Breton said an increase in prices for second generation vaccines could be justified by the extra research required and potential changes to industrial equipment.

The European Union signed a new contract with Pfizer-Biontech to receive 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for 2021-2023, to cover booster shots, donations and reselling of doses, the European Commission said on Friday (7 May). Read more.

“There may be a little extra cost but I will let the competent authorities unveil it in due course,” he told France Inter radio.

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Conference on the Future of Europe: Make your voice heard

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Executive Board approved on 9 May the Rules of Procedure that set out the composition of the Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and how it will work.

The text approved on Europe Day 2021 will complete the rules determining how the Conference Platform, Panels and Plenary can transform citizens' priorities, hopes and concerns into actionable recommendations. It adds to the rules previously adopted concerning the working methods of the Executive Board and those related to citizens' participation.

On the same day, the European Parliament in Strasbourg hosted the inaugural event of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Watch it here.

Ensuring that citizens' input will be taken into account

The Conference Plenary will be composed of 108 representatives from the European Parliament, 54 from the Council (two per member state) and three from the European Commission, as well as 108 representatives from all national Parliaments on an equal footing, and citizens. 108 citizens will participate to discuss citizens' ideas stemming from the Citizens' Panels and the Multilingual Digital Platform: 80 representatives from the European Citizens' Panels, of which at least one-third will be younger than 25, and 27 from national Citizens' Panels or Conference events (one per member state), as well as the president of the European Youth Forum.

Some 18 representatives from both the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, and another eight from both social partners and civil society will also take part, while the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will be invited when the international role of the EU is discussed. Representatives of key stakeholders may also be invited. The Conference Plenary will be gender-balanced.

Their exchanges will be structured thematically around recommendations from the Citizens' Panels and input gathered from the Multilingual Digital Platform. The Platform is the single place where input from all Conference-related events will be collected, analysed and published. In due course, the Plenary will submit its proposals to the Executive Board, who will draw up a report in full collaboration and full transparency with the Plenary and which will be published on the Multilingual Digital Platform.

The final outcome of the Conference will be presented in a report to the Joint Presidency. The three institutions will examine swiftly how to follow up effectively to this report, each within their own sphere of competences and in accordance with the Treaties.

Parliament's Co-Chair of the Executive Board Guy Verhofstadt said: “We want to create real momentum from the bottom up. The Conference will be much more than a listening exercise, but a way to truly include citizens in mapping out our shared European future. The foundations have been laid: digital and deliberative democratic experiments that have never been tried on an EU-wide scale. We will guarantee that their concerns and proposals will then get a political answer. It's new and exciting, and it starts today.”

The Portuguese Secretary of State for EU Affairs and Co-Chairwoman from the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ana Paula Zacarias, said: “Coming from Porto to Strasbourg, to celebrate Europe Day and the launching of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the words of President Mario Soares came to my mind when back in 1976 he defended: ‘to rethink Europe and its future is a permanent duty of all Europeans. A joint endeavour that needs to be taken forward with humbleness facing the historic relevance of our common goals."

Commission Vice President for Democracy and Demography and Co-Chairman Dubravka Šuica, said: “This Conference is an unprecedented exercise for the EU. We are creating a space where citizens can debate on a par with elected representatives to spell out the future of Europe. This has never been tried before, but we are confident that this will strengthen both our European Union and our representative democracy. And there is no better date to celebrate that than on 9 May.”

Next steps

The Executive Board will soon set the date for the first Conference Plenary meeting. Preparations for the Citizens' Panels are underway, while the number of participants and events on the Conference's Multilingual Digital Platform continue to grow. The Conference is committed to give maximum space to young people and in this vein, preparations for the European Youth Event organised by the European Parliament in October also continue.

More information

Digital Platform for the Conference on the Future

Questions & answers on the multilingual digital platform for the Conference on the Future of Europe

Charter of the Conference on the Future of Europe

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EU calls on US and others to export their vaccines

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during the opening ceremony of an EU summit at the Alfandega do Porto Congress Center in Porto, Portugal May 7, 2021. Luis Vieira/Pool via REUTERS

The European Commission called on Friday (7 May) on the United States and other major COVID-19 vaccine producers to export what they make as the European Union does, rather than talk about waiving intellectual property rights to the shots.

Commission head Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference on the sidelines of a summit of EU leaders that discussions on the waiver would not produce a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the short- to medium-term.

"We should be open to lead this discussion. But when we lead this discussion, there needs to be a 360 degree view on it because we need vaccines now for the whole world," she said.

"The European Union is the only continental or democratic region of this world that is exporting at large scale," von der Leyen said.

She said about 50% of European-produced coronavirus vaccine is exported to almost 90 countries, including those in the World Health Organization-backed COVAX program.

"And we invite all those who engage in the debate of a waiver for IP rights also to join us to commit to be willing to export a large share of what is being produced in that region," she said.

Only higher production, removing exports barriers and the sharing of already-ordered vaccines could immediately help fight the pandemic quickly, she said.

"So what is necessary in the short term and the medium term: First of all vaccine sharing. Secondly export of vaccines that are being produced. And the third is investment in the increasing of the capacity to manufacture vaccines."

Von der Leyen said the European Union had started its vaccine sharing mechanism, citing delivery of 615,000 doses to the Western Balkans as an example.

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