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Friends of a Free Iran intergroup

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The Friends of Free Iran (FOFI) intergroup in the European Parliament held a virtual briefing on Tuesday, 15 December on the current situation in Iran, discussing the EU policy on Iran. One of the main topics of the briefing was the recent prosecution of the Iranian regime’s diplomat and three of his accomplices charged with attempting to blow up the Free Iran gathering in June 2018 in France.

Several members of the European Parliaments from different political groups attendedthe briefing, expressed the views, and joined the discussion. Dr. Milan Zver, MEP from Slovenia, FOFI co-chair, welcomed the participants andstressed that it is high time for the EU to take a more decisive position against theIranian regime's human rights violations and state terrorism. MEP Zver said: "In this regard, I support Maryam Rajavi and the Iranian opposition movement to restoredemocracy, justice and freedom in Iran.”

Dr. Alejo Vidal Quadras, president of International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ) and former vice president of the European Parliament chaired the conference. Ambassador Giulio Terzi, former foreign minister of Italy, Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and Farzin Hashemi, representative of the Iranian opposition in the court inAntwerp, Belgium, spoke during the conference.

In his presentation, Ambassador Terzi criticized the EU policy on Iran and said that afterthe findings of the judicial investigation in Belgium about the role of the Iranian regime in the terrorist plot against the NCRI annual gathering, the EU must review its policy on Iran and end business as usual with Tehran.

Offering an overall picture of the current situation in Iran, Mohaddessin said: “Today, the world has a unique opportunity to deal once and for all with the Iranian regime,which has posed a major threat to regional and global peace and security. This is while the regime is at its weakest point and the Iranian people's struggle to overthrow thetheocracy has reached a historic milestone. The nationwide uprisings in 2018 and inNovember 2019 have shown that the Iranian people want change. In their protests inJanuary 2020, Iranians were chanting 'death to the dictator, whether the Shah or the leader', signalling their desire for a democratic, pluralist republic in Iran.”

He added: “The experience of the past 41 years has made it clear that no amount ofeconomic and political concessions can change the behavior of the ruling theocracy inIran. The fact is that the regime is unwilling and incapable of changing its behavior. Human rights abuses and export of terrorism are part of the regime’s DNA, critical forpreserving its rule.”

NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee chair stressed: “It is time after decades ofappeasement, for the international community, especially the EU, to stand with theIranian people and recognize their desire for freedom and democracy. The worldcommunity must simply hold the regime to account for its egregious behavior and adopt a firm policy.

“All political and commercial ties with Tehran must be made contingent on a halt inexecutions and torture and respect for the rights of the Iranian people to expressthemselves freely and assemble without the feat or prospects of being shot or arrested,” Mohaddessin emphasized.

Hashemi provided a detailed report about the court proceedings in Belgium. He said that after 40 years of engaging in acts of terrorism, the Iranian regime and its so-calleddiplomat have been caught red-handed. He explained that the decision for this terrorist act was taken at the National Supreme Security Council (SNSC), headed by Hassan Rouhani, and approved by Khamenei. The minister of Intelligence and Security was assigned to implement the plan in co-ordination with, and co-operation of, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Javad Zarif, the Iranian regime’s foreign minister sits in the SNSC, which made the decision.

Based on undeniable facts, the nearly three-year investigation proved that AssadollahAssadi, the Iranian regime’s Vienna-based diplomat had brought the bomb from Iran viaa commercial airline and then handed it over to the bombers with instructions on how touse it. The investigation also concluded that Assadi was acting on behalf of the Iranian regime and not in his personal capacity. Hashemi concluded that while the court will render its judgement in January, given the undeniable evidence about the role of the Iranian regime in this terrorist plot, it was time to end the policy of appeasement which has only emboldened them to act with impunity.

Summing up the conference, Dr. Vidal Quadras reiterated the call by Ambassador Terziand other speakers for the adoption of a firm policy by the European Union on Iran.

Friends of a Free Iran (FoFI) is an informal intergroup in the European Parliament which was formed in 2003 and enjoys the active support of many MEPs from various political groups.

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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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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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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