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In the difficult environment of managing a public health pandemic because of the coronavirus, Montenegro would be well advised to invite international support organisations to monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections later this year, to ensure that there are no politically motivated restrictive measures. The Coronavirus pandemic should not be used as a pretext for limiting the transparent election process. such a move risks the government  to negative criticism of their commitment to democracy and deal a serious blow that would impact on the reputation for any future Government for many years - writes Vladimir Krulj,

The Author, Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London

The Author, Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London

To the contrary, the presence of international observers to monitor the process during such difficult times would be crucial for protecting these fundamentals for Montenegro in the context of their ongoing EU accession process. Election observation today is the norm with 85% of all elections in new democracies organising the involvement of international agencies to monitor their operation. In todays world, failure to inviteelection observers could be misinterpreted as meaning that the country is not guided by basic democratic principles, and give rise to accusations that the society tolerates electoral malpractice.

International observers representing diverse political interests, academic and professional expertise give credibility to the full international legitimacy of the election process and can lend important support to the country during its transition to the democratic set of norms established by EU.

Safe, peaceful, free and fair elections will foster democratic development in Montenegro, reinforce its sovereignty and independence, and pave the way for greater cooperation with the EU and economic prosperity for the Montenegran people.

Montenegro is at a crucial point in its accession process to become a  member of the EU, and whilst the current negotiations with Western Balkan states are not a beauty contest, it is nevertheless important for Montenegro to demonstrate the countrys commitment to the same democratic values and principles of good governance expected of EU Member States.

In recent elections for neighbouring countries in the Region, both North Macedonia and Croatia arranged for observer teams, but there were no observation missions for Serbia; indeed there was no political campaigning, no opposition, with the result of a landslide74% victory for the ruling coalition. Although Serbia is another candidate country to join the EU, it seems to follow a different road in terms of freedom of media, rule of law and electoral fairness.This presents Montenegro with the opportunity to aim for higher standards, and follow the examples of North Macedonia and Croatia to go for best governance practice.

The attention of the EU on standards of governance for elections has recently been drawn into sharp relief by the failure of Belarus to respect any standards in the conduct of their elections due on 9 August. Montenegro needs to distance the country totally from such behaviour, and show efforts to implement procedural and legal safeguards to enhance inclusiveness, integrity and transparency during all stages of the electoral process.

Accusations have already started to be levelled in the media to cast doubt on voter registration, and there is a need to counter black propaganda with hard facts and attention to demonstrate that Montenegro is determined to protect democracy and the rule of law and to ensure a meaningful and competitive political contest.

It is time to act quickly to stop such negative propaganda, by putting in place positive structures to support and defend political rights and freedoms. Inviting international observers to monitor the election process is one such measure that needs to be implemented as soon as possible.

The Author, Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London


Brexit Britain just approved a European vaccine, German health minister says



Celebrating Britain’s swift approval of BioNtech and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine as a benefit of Brexit is misplaced since the vaccine was itself a product of the European Union that Britain has left, German Health Minister Jens Spahn (pictured) said, writes Thomas Escritt.

Spahn told journalists that while Britain had been the first to approve the vaccine, he was optimistic that the European Medicines Agency would soon follow. The time difference was due to Britain and the US having conducted an emergency approval process, while the EU was using a regular process.

“But a few remarks on Brexit to my British friends: Biontech is a European development, from the EU. The fact that this EU product is so good that Britain approved it so quickly shows that in this crisis European and international cooperation are best,” he said.

Some have suggested that Britain having its own medicines approval meant it could move more nimbly than the EU’s bloc-wide agency.

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EU criticizes 'hasty' UK approval of COVID-19 vaccine




The European Union criticized Britain’s rapid approval of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday (2 December), saying its own procedure was more thorough, after Britain became the first western country to endorse a COVID-19 shot, writes .

The move to grant emergency authorization to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been seen by many as a political coup for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has led his country out of the EU and faced criticism for his handling of the pandemic.

The decision was made under an ultra-fast, emergency approval process, which allowed the British drugs regulator to temporarily authorise the vaccine only ten days after it began examining data from large-scale trials.

In an unusually blunt statement, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is in charge of approving COVID-19 vaccines for the EU, said its longer approval procedure was more appropriate as it was based on more evidence and required more checks than the emergency procedure chosen by Britain.

The agency said on Tuesday it would decide by Dec. 29 whether to provisionally authorise the vaccine from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU executive, said the EMA’s procedure was “the most effective regulatory mechanism to grant all EU citizens’ access to a safe and effective vaccine,” as it was based on more evidence.

June Raine, the head of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), defended its decision.

“The way in which the MHRA has worked is equivalent to all international standards,” she said.

“Our progress has been totally dependent on the availability of data in our rolling review and our rigorous assessment and independent advice we have received,” she added.

The EMA started a rolling review of preliminary data from Pfizer trials on 6 October, an emergency procedure aimed at speeding up possible approval, which usually takes at least seven months from reception of full data.

The UK regulator launched its own rolling review on Oct. 30, and analysed less data than made available to the EMA.

“The idea is not to be first but to have a safe and effective vaccine,” Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn told a news conference.

Asked about the emergency procedure used by Britain, he said EU countries had opted for a more thorough procedure to boost confidence in vaccines.

“If you evaluate only the partial data as they are doing they also take a minimum of risk,” the EMA’s former head Guido Rasi told an Italian radio.

“Personally I would have expected a robust review of all available data, which the British government has not done to be able to say that without Europe you come first,” he added.

EU lawmakers were even more explicit in their criticism of Britain’s move.

“I consider this decision to be problematic and recommend that EU Member States do not repeat the process in the same way,” said Peter Liese, an EU lawmaker who is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party.

“A few weeks of thorough examination by the European Medicines Agency is better than a hasty emergency marketing authorization of a vaccine,” said Liese, who represents the centre right grouping, the largest in the EU Parliament.

Under EU rules, the Pfizer vaccine must be authorized by the EMA, but EU countries can use an emergency procedure that allows them to distribute a vaccine at home for temporary use.

Britain is still subject to EU rules until it fully leaves the bloc at the end of the year.

“There is an obvious global race to get the vaccine on the market as fast as possible,” said Tiemo Wolken, an EU lawmaker from the socialist grouping, the second largest in the Parliament.

“However, I do believe that it is better to take the time and make sure that the quality, effectiveness and safety is guaranteed and matches our EU standards.”

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Winners of the 2020 #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards announced



At the online #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards ceremony on 1 December, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel announced the award-winners for 2020. Commissioner Gabriel said: “Congratulations to the three winners of this year's #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards, and a special mention to the other six finalists. 181 amazing projects were in the running this year and I hope all of them continue their excellent work - helping us to build a cohesive society, united in diversity, through sport. Their tireless work and energy remind us of the power of sport.” 

The #BeInclusive Awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of sport organisations working with ethnic minorities, refugees, people with disabilities, youth groups at risk, or any other group that faces challenging social circumstances. The 2020 Awards were launched in April and open to all organizations established in the Erasmus+ programme countries – public or private, commercial or not-for-profit. Independent experts evaluated all project applications and their contribution to social inclusion through sport.

Nine projects were shortlisted by a high-level jury, with three frontrunners: 'INtegrative Championship - INclude and INtegrate!' from Poland – supporting the equal and active participation of people with disabilities; 'Surf.ART - Atreve-te | Realiza-te | Transforma-te' in Portugal - using surfing as a means of reaching out to young people from areas with high levels of poverty; and the French project 'Ovale citoyen' - supporting social inclusion through sport of people of a migrant background, or people experiencing homelessness. The full details of the winners are available here along with information on all the projects. More information on sport in the EU is available here.

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