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The Achilles Heel covered by #Macron #Beirut triumph

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French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured) received a hero’s welcome in Beirut, walking the streets and embracing the victims of last week’s explosion the way no Lebanese leader could dream to do. Faced with the pleadings of a desperate population, Macron was even placed in the bizarre position to politely decline suggestions to retake Lebanon under French mandate, as it had been between the two world wars of the last century, writes international political strategist George Ajjan.

While his visit serves as a masterclass in statesmanship, this public relations coup covers an Achilles Heel of Macron’s foreign policy. As he appeared triumphant in one small corner of France’s former global influence, two other key dominoes of the francophone world continued to teeter.

On the very day that Macron wept with the injured on the streets of Beirut, both Alassane Ouattara and Alpha Condé significantly advanced their bids to secure 3rd terms as Presidents of their respective countries, Ivory Coast and Guinea. Both nations, resource rich economic pillars of West Africa and former French colonies, in principle have constitutional limits of two presidential terms. The ruling elites bending the law to allow them to remain in power represents African democracy in reverse gear, pedal to the metal.

Depriving millions of Guineans and Ivorians of electoral choice has obvious negative implications within their borders. But on the international level, the autocratic moves by Macron’s African counterparts cause him significant consternation. French leadership naturally keeps a close eye on the political machinations of its former colonies, whose political elites typically retain lobbyists of various levels of sophistication who plead their case in the corridors of the Elysée Palace. Thus, it’s unlikely that Macron did not know in advance that Ouattara and Condé would move in the direction of autocracy exactly when they did.

In an era when the continent moves further away from family dynasties and presidents-for-life, Ivory Coast and Guinea bucking the trend raises serious questions about Macron’s Africa policy. As recently as March, he extolled the democratic virtues of Ouatarra by tweeting: “I salute the decision of [President Ouatarra] to not be a candidate…tonight, Ivory Coast sets the example.” With Macron’s approval, Ouatarra had prepared a clean exit after 2 terms, having groomed his Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, to take the reins. The plan seemed solid.

Just a few weeks after that tweet, however, Coulibaly announced a decision to self-quarantine after coming into contact with someone positive for COVID-19. Though he never tested positive himself, he left to France in May, presumably for medical treatment (he had heart surgery back in 2012) and only returned in early July. Coulibaly dropped dead just a few days later. The vacancy prompted chaos in Ouattara’s party. He laid low as they ostensibly searched for a replacement flag-bearer. But ultimately he is betting that the death of candidate due to bad health less than 100 days before an election in the midst of global pandemic offers considerable cover for an unconstitutional power grab.

The timing of Ouattara’s float of the decision was auspicious. The explosion rocked Beirut on 4 August; he delivered his 25-minute address to the nation two days later on the eve of the celebration of Ivorian independence from France. There is something symbolic, or perhaps cheeky, about an African head of state charting an undemocratic course that is surely to meet the disapproval of its former master on the very day commemorating the removal of the colonial yoke.

As for Condé, he proceeded with a bit more discretion last week while Beirut captured France’s attention: his party merely nominated him to run for a third term. But the groundwork has been laid months in advance, as they rammed through an amended constitution back in April. Macron cannot be too pleased with these conditions, but Condé has many friends in high places in France, as well as a feckless opposition that has not given Macron enough reason to abandon him.

This conundrum is not new. Other French leaders have had to deal with similar rebellious streaks before, like in 2012 when former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade used contorted constitutional logic to try to seize a third term, to the annoyance of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. In Wade’s case, however, the population grew tired of him after 12 years and he lost by a landslide in the 2nd round of the election.

Neither Ouattara nor Condé seem likely to face defeat, and if they remain in power, the democratic image of francophone West Africa will be badly blemished. That does not auger well for Macron’s legacy. Fortunately for him, he can compensate with the leadership he will exhibit via the Lebanon file.

Macron returns to Beirut on 1 September for another hero’s welcome that makes him the envy of his European peers, and for a convenient distraction from the inevitable media attention focused on questionable third term bids by the presidents of two important nations in France’s sphere of influence.

Digital economy

New EU rules: Digitalisation to improve access to justice

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Cross-border videoconferencing and safer and easier document exchange: learn how new EU rules for digitalising justice will benefit people and firms. On 23 November, Parliament adopted two proposals aimed at modernizing justice systems in the EU, which will help to decrease delays, increase legal certainty and make access to justice cheaper and easier.

New regulations will implement several digital solutions for cross-border taking of evidence and service of documents with the aim of making cooperation between national courts in different EU countries more efficient.

Endorsing distance communication technologies will lower costs and help evidence to be taken quicker. For example, to hear a person in a cross-border proceeding, videoconferencing can be used instead of requiring a physical presence.

A decentralized IT system that brings together national systems will be established so that documents can be exchanged electronically in a faster and more secure way. The new rules include additional provisions to protect data and privacy when documents are transmitted and evidence is being taken.

The regulations help simplify procedures and offer legal certainty to people and businesses, which will encourage them to engage in international transactions, thereby not only strengthening democracy but also the EU's  internal market.

The two proposals update existing EU regulations on service of documents and taking of evidence to ensure they make the mosrt of modern digital solutions.

They are part of the EU's efforts to help digitise justice systems. While in some countries, digital solutions have already proved effective, cross-border judicial proceedings still take place mostly on paper. EU aims to improve cooperation at EU level to help people and businesses and preserve the ability of law enforcement to protect people effectively.

The COVID-19 crisis has created many problems for the judicial system: there have been delays of in-person hearings and of cross-border serving of judicial documents; inabilities to obtain in-person legal aid; and the expiry of deadlines due to delays. At the same time, the rising number of insolvency cases and layoffs due to the pandemic make the courts’ work even more critical.

The proposals enter into force 20 days following their publication in the EU's official journal.

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coronavirus

Coronavirus: Commission presents 'Staying safe from COVID-19 during winter' strategy

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Today (2 December), the Commission adopted a strategy for a sustainably managing the pandemic over the coming winter months, a period that can bring a risk of increased transmission of the virus owing to specific circumstances such as indoor gatherings. The strategy recommends continued vigilance and caution throughout the winter period and into 2021 when the roll out of safe and effective vaccines will occur.

The Commission will then provide further guidance on a gradual and coordinated lifting of containment measures. A coordinated EU wide approach is key to provide clarity to people and avoid a resurgence of the virus linked to the end of year holidays. Any relaxation of measures should take into account the evolution of the epidemiological situation and sufficient capacity for testing, contact tracing and treating patients.

Promoting the European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “In these extremely difficult times, guidance to Member States to promote a common approach to the winter season and in particular on how to manage the end of the year period, is of vital importance. We need to curtail future outbreaks of infection in the EU. It is only through such a sustained management of the pandemic, that we will avoid new lockdowns and severe restrictions and overcome together.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Every 17 seconds a person loses their life due to COVID-19 in Europe. The situation may be stabilizing, but it remains delicate. Like everything else this year, end of the year festivities will be different. We cannot jeopardise the efforts made by us all in the recent weeks and months. This year, saving lives must come before celebrations. But with vaccines on the horizon, there is also hope. All member states must now be ready to start vaccination campaigns and roll-out vaccines as quickly as possible once a safe and effective vaccine is available.”

Recommended control measures

The staying safe from COVID-19 during winter strategy recommends measures to keep the pandemic under control until vaccines are widely available.

It focuses on:

Physical distancing and limiting social contacts, key for the winter months including the holiday period. Measures should be targeted and based on the local epidemiological situation to limit their social and economic impact and increase their acceptance by people.

Testing and contact tracing, essential for detecting clusters and breaking transmission. Most member states now have national contact tracing apps. The European Federated Gateway Server (EFGS) enables cross-border tracing.

Safe travel, with a possible increase in travel over the end-of-year holidays requiring a coordinated approach. Transport infrastructure must be prepared and quarantine requirements, which may take place when the epidemiological situation in the region of origin is worse than the destination, clearly communicated.

Healthcare capacity and personnel: Business continuity plans for healthcare settings should be put in place to make sure COVID-19 outbreaks can be managed, and access to other treatments maintained. Joint procurement can address shortages of medical equipment. Pandemic fatigue and mental health are natural responses to the current situation. Member states should follow the World Health Organisation European Region's guidance on reinvigorating public support to address pandemic fatigue. Psychosocial support should be stepped up too.

National vaccination strategies.

The Commission stands ready to support member states where necessary in the deployment of vaccines as per their deployment and vaccination plans. A common EU approach to vaccination certificates is likely to reinforce the public health response in Member States and the trust of citizens in the vaccination effort.

Background

Today's strategy builds on previous recommendations such as the April European road map on the careful phasing out of containment measures, the July Communication on short-term preparedness and the October Communication on additional COVID-19 response measures. The first wave of the pandemic in Europe was successfully contained through strict measures, but relaxing them too fast over the summer led to a resurgence in autumn.

As long as a safe and effective vaccine is not available and a large part of the population not immunised, EU member Sstates must continue their efforts to mitigate the pandemic by following a coordinated approach as called for by the European Council.

Further recommendations will be presented in early 2021, to design a comprehensive COVID-19 control framework based on the knowledge and experience so far and the latest available scientific guidelines.

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EU-US: A new transatlantic agenda for global change

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The European Commission and the High Representative are today (2 December) putting forward a proposal for a new, forward-looking transatlantic agenda. While the past years have been tested by geopolitical power shifts, bilateral tensions and unilateral tendencies, the victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, combined with a more assertive and capable European Union and a new geopolitical and economic reality, present a once-in-a-generation opportunity to design a new transatlantic agenda for global co-operation based on our common values, interests and global influence.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) said: “We are taking the initiative to design a new transatlantic agenda fit for today's global landscape. The transatlantic alliance is based on shared values and history, but also interests: building a stronger, more peaceful and more prosperous world. When the transatlantic partnership is strong, the EU and the US are both stronger. It is time to reconnect with a new agenda for transatlantic and global cooperation for the world of today.”

EU High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said: “With our concrete proposals for cooperation under the future Biden administration, we are sending strong messages to our US friends and allies. Let's look forward, not back. Let's rejuvenate our relationship. Let's build a partnership that delivers prosperity, stability, peace and security for citizens across our continents and around the world. There's no time to wait – let's get to work.”

A principled partnership

The EU's proposal for a new, forward-looking transatlantic agenda for global co-operation reflects where global leadership is required and is centred on overarching principles: stronger multilateral action and institutions, pursuit of common interests, leveraging collective strength, and finding solutions that respect common values. The new agenda spans four areas, highlighting first steps for joint action that would act as an initial transatlantic roadmap, to address key challenges and seize opportunities.

Working together for a healthier world: COVID-19 and beyond

The EU wants the US to join its global leadership role in promoting global cooperation in response to the coronavirus, protecting lives and livelihoods, and reopening our economies and societies. The EU wants to work with the US to ensure funding for the development and equitable global distribution of vaccines, tests and treatments, develop joint preparedness and response capacities, facilitate trade in essential medical goods, and reinforce and reform the World Health Organization.

Working together to protect our planet and prosperity

The coronavirus pandemic continues to pose significant challenges, climate change and biodiversity loss remain the defining challenges of our time. They require systemic change across our economies and global co-operation across the Atlantic and the world. The EU is proposing to establish a comprehensive transatlantic green agenda, to coordinate positions and jointly lead efforts for ambitious global agreements, starting with a joint commitment to netzero emissions by 2050.

A joint trade and climate initiative, measures to avoid carbon leakage, a green technology alliance, a global regulatory framework for sustainable finance, joint leadership in the fight against deforestation, and stepping up ocean protection all form part of the EU's proposals. Working together on technology, trade and standards Sharing values of human dignity, individual rights and democratic principles, accounting for about a third of the world's trade and standards, and facing common challenges makes the EU and US natural partners on trade, technology and digital governance.

The EU wants to work closely with the US to solve bilateral trade irritants through negotiated solutions, to lead reform of the World Trade Organization, and to establish a new EU-US Trade and Technology Council. In addition, the EU is proposing to create a specific dialogue with the US on the responsibility of online platforms and Big Tech, work together on fair taxation and market distortions, and develop a common approach to protecting critical technologies. Artificial Intelligence, data flows, and cooperation on regulation and standards also form part of the EU's proposals.

Working together towards a safer, more prosperous and more democratic world

The EU and the US share a fundamental interest in strengthening democracy, upholding international law, supporting sustainable development and promoting human rights around the world. A strong EU-US partnership will be crucial to support democratic values, as well as global and regional stability, prosperity, and conflict resolution. The European Union is proposing to re-establish a closer transatlantic partnership in different geopolitical arenas, working together to enhance co-ordination, utilise all available tools, and leverage collective influence. As initial steps, the EU will play a full part in the Summit for Democracy proposed by President-elect Biden, and will seek joint commitments with the US to fight the rise of authoritarianism, human rights abuses and corruption.

The EU is also looking to co-ordinate joint EUUS responses to promote regional and global stability, strengthen transatlantic and international security, including through a new EU-US Security and Defence Dialogue, and strengthen the multilateral system. Next steps The European Council is invited to endorse this outline and proposed first steps as a road map for a new transatlantic agenda for global cooperation, ahead of its launch at an EU-US Summit in the first half of 2021.

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