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Addition of Czech NGO #PeopleInNeed to list of 'Undesirable Organizations' in #Russia condemned

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The Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum strongly condemns the addition of the Czech NGO “People in Need” to the list of “undesirable organizations” in Russia [1]. It is impermissible that a well-respected civil society organisation from a European Union member state is deemed “undesirable” in Russia.

We call on the European Commission, members of the European Parliament and representatives of European Union member states to publicly express their dismay over the decision and communicate their position to their Russian counterparts. The issue should be raised as long as necessary during meetings between Brussels and Moscow with the goal of de-listing People in Need and ultimately of stopping this repressive practice.

We also call on Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović, to voice her discontent in meetings with Russian colleagues, and to contribute to a widespread dissemination of the issue.

The Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum regards this decision as part of a new wave of repression against independent civil society in Russia, as the addition to the list is primarily aimed at putting an end to its cooperation with partners and like-minded associations in other countries. We call on Russian authorities to repeal not only this decision but also to reconsider the entire legislation, which contravenes fundamental principles of international law and violates international obligations of the Russian Federation.

Background information

People in Need (PIN) is an independent, non-profit NGO based in Prague, which was established in 1992. PIN has grown to be one of the largest organisations of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe and has worked in over 30 countries around the world. PIN conducts activities in three areas: human rights support; humanitarian aid and development; social and educational programmes. For more than a decade, PIN has been organising the One World Festival, the largest human rights film festival in Europe [2].

On 12 November 2019, the Russian Ministry of Justice added People in Need to the list of Undesirable Foreign and International Non-Governmental Organisations on the Territory of the Russian Federation. Without further elaboration, the Ministry announced on its webpage that the decision was taken in accordance with the Federal Law No. 272-FZ of 28 December 2012 "On Sanctions for Individuals Violating Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of Citizens of the Russian Federation", based on a decision by the Deputy Prosecutor General on 7 November 2019.

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was established in 2011 by non-governmental organizations as a permanent common platform. At the moment, 180 NGOs from Russia and the European Union are members or supporters of the Forum. It aims at development of cooperation of civil society organisations from Russia and EU and greater participation of NGOs in the EU-Russia dialogue. The Forum has been actively involved, inter alia, in the questions of facilitation of visa regime, development of civic participation, protection of the environment and human rights, dealing with history and civic education.

[1] For the background information on the term and the legislation history, please see statements by the Board/ Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum of 5 June 2015 and of 19 March 2018[2] For more information on the NGO, please visit its website. 

EU

‘Right to disconnect’ should be an EU-wide fundamental right, MEPs say 

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Always on’ culture poses serious risks, MEPs say ©Deagreez/Adobe Stock  

The European Parliament calls for an EU law that grants workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions. In their legislative initiative that passed with 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions, MEPs call on the Commission to propose a law that enables those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours. It should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods.

The increase in digital resources being used for work purposes has resulted in an ‘always on’ culture, which has a negative impact on the work-life balance of employees, MEPs say. Although working from home has been instrumental in helping safeguard employment and business during the COVID-19 crisis, the combination of long working hours and higher demands also leads to more cases of anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental and physical health issues.

MEPs consider the right to disconnect a fundamental right that allows workers to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks – such as phone calls, emails and other digital communication – outside working hours. This includes holidays and other forms of leave. Member states are encouraged to take all necessary measures to allow workers to exercise this right, including via collective agreements between social partners. They should ensure that workers will not be subjected to discrimination, criticism, dismissal, or other adverse actions by employers.

“We cannot abandon millions of European workers who are exhausted by the pressure to be always 'on' and overly long working hours. Now is the moment to stand by their side and give them what they deserve: the right to disconnect. This is vital for our mental and physical health. It is time to update worker’s rights so that they correspond to the new realities of the digital age,” rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT) said after the vote.

Background

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has increased by almost 30%. This figure is expected to remain high or even increase. Research by Eurofound shows that people who work regularly from home are more than twice as likely to surpass the maximum of 48 working hours per week, compared to those working on their employer’s premises. Almost 30% of those working from home report working in their free time every day or several times a week, compared to less than 5% of office workers.

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Brexit

Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus

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Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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EU

Leaders agree on new ‘dark red’ zones for high-risk COVID areas

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At a special meeting of European heads of government, to discuss the rise of infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants, leaders agreed that the situation warranted the utmost caution and agreed on a new category of ‘dark red zone’ for high-risk areas.

The new category would indicate that the virus was circulating at a very high level. People traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. Non-essential travel in or out of these areas would be strongly discouraged.

The EU has underlined that it is anxious to keep the single market functioning especially concerning the movement of essential workers and goods, von der Leyen described this as of the “utmost importance”. 

The approval of vaccinations and the start of roll-out is encouraging but it is understood that further vigilance is needed. Some states which are more dependent on tourism called for the use of vaccination certificates as a way to open up travel. The leaders debated the use a common approach and agreed that the vaccination document should be seen as a medical document, rather than a travel document - at this stage. Von der Leyen said: “We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification.”

Member states agreed to a Council recommendation setting a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results across the EU. The mutual recognition of test results for SARS-CoV2 infection carried by certified health bodies should help facilitate cross-border movement and cross-border contact tracing.

The common list of appropriate COVID-19 rapid antigen tests should be flexible enough for addition, or removal, of those tests whose efficacy is impacted by COVID-19 mutations.

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