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Russia goes on the attack after facing criticism over Navalny

EU Reporter Correspondent

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In an extraordinary press conference with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hit out at the European Union, while also claiming to hope that relations could improve in a strategic review of EU-Russia relations planned for the March European Council. 

Lavrov described relations as difficult due to “unilateral and illegitimate restrictions” imposed by the European Union “under false pretenses” - referring to sanctions linked to the illegal annexation of Crimea and activities in Ukraine. He accused the  European Union of taking advantage of the pandemic to accuse Russia of disinformation and of interfering in the domestic affairs of Russia and of the sovereign states of the Western Balkans and “the post-Soviet Republic”, including those in Central Asia, where the EU and others have found evidence of Russian interference.

In response to questions from journalists, Lavrov went on to accuse different EU countries of violence against protestors and ill-treatment of journalists. He included Italy, Sweden and Latvia. He added that he had spoken to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and had asked about those who were detained for the insurrection at the US Capitol. He also accused the courts of different EU member states of taking politically motivated  decisions in relation to the illegal Catalonia referendum and what he described as the baseless accusations of Russian interference in that referendum.

Despite, the long list of accusations directed at the EU, Lavrov also hoped that the planned strategic review of EU relations with the Russian Federation would bear fruit. He listed many areas where he thought cooperation could be enhanced, including on the JCPOA (Iran Deal), the Middle East, climate change and health. 

Navalny and the jailing of thousands of protestors was one of a number of issues at the top of Borrell’s agenda. MEPs had been very critical of Borrell’s decision to continue with the visit in the current circumstances, they appear to have been proved correct.

In a further hostile act, Russia announced, as talks were continuing with the High Representative, that he would be asking diplomats from Sweden, Poland and Germany who observed the recent anti-Putin demonstrations to leave the Russian Federation. Borrell strongly condemned the move. 

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas have both criticized this action. Maas tweeted: “Russia's decision to expel several EU diplomats, including an employee from the Moscow embassy, is in no way justified and further damages relations with Europe. Should Russia not reconsider this step, it will not go unanswered.”

EU

European politicians condemn upcoming business forum with Iran which ignores Iranian terrorism on European soil

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A group of senior European politicians took part in an online conference to express outrage over the European Union’s silence vis-à-vis the recent conviction and imprisonment of an Iranian diplomat and three of his accomplices for terrorism and attempted murder in Belgium. The conference took particular aim at Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, who is scheduled to take part in the Europe-Iran Business Forum on March 1 alongside Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, writes Shahin Gobadi.

Borrell and Zarif are both being promoted as keynote speakers at that three-day virtual event, organized by the International Trade Centre and funded by the EU. Critics of the Business Forum described it as an endorsement of “business as usual” approach by the EU toward the Iran regime, which they insist is neither a practical nor a desirable objective as long as Tehran continues to use terrorism as a form of statecraft. The speakers urged Borrell and other European officials to cancel their participation in this conference.

Giulio Terzi, minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy (2011-2013), Hermann Tertsch, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament from Spain, Dr. Alejo Vidal Quadras, a former EP Vice-President, Struan Stevenson, former MEP from Scotland, and Paulo Casaca, former MEP from Portugal, took part in Thursday’s (25 February) conference.

The International Committee of “In Search of Justice” (ISJ), a Brussels-registered NGO that seeks to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, peace and stability in Iran, organized the virtual conference.

Speakers focused on the case of Assadollah Assadi, the Third Counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, who he hatched a plot to bomb the “Free Iran” gathering held north of Paris on June 30, 2018. Tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from across the world took part in that event, along with hundreds of political dignitaries. The prime target of Assadi’s foiled plot was the keynote speaker, Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). On February 4, Assadi received a 20-year prison term and three co-conspirators were sentenced to 15-18 years in jail.

The trial established that Assadi was supervising a terrorist network that spanned the EU and that he had collected and tested a bomb in Tehran for use against the Free Iran rally, and then transported it to Vienna on a commercial airliner, using a diplomatic pouch. From there, Assadi passed the device to two of his co-conspirators, along with directions for its use.

Participants in Thursday’s conference pointed out that Assadi had been exposed as a senior officer of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), an officially designated terrorist organization. The European politicians warned that if the EU’s failure to take retaliatory and punitive measures against Iran over this terror plot will embolden the regime to engage in even larger terrorist conspiracies on European soil.

Hermann Tertsch strongly condemned Borrells’ approach toward Tehran, saying that he was compromising the integrity of Europe, adding that Europe cannot keep it as business as usual posture in dealing with Tehran after the court ruling. He said he expects that the European Parliament strongly and vocally oppose the scheduled business summit forum and added that he and other MEPs are very much committed to be the loud voice to the international community to stop the Business Forum.

According to ambassador Terzi: “Borrell is in charge of the security policy of the European people, all people who are residing in Europe. He does not do this at all.”, adding, “his approach to Tehran goes far beyond appeasement: it is total surrender.”

He added that Borrell’s participation in the business forum makes it appear as though nothing has happened and that he is under the illusion that not addressing the case and the court ruling by a Belgian court convicting Assadi and the three terrorists would serve Europe’s business interests. This is not diplomacy. Diplomacy should be an element of deterrence when it comes to security of our countries.

The speakers also noted that Europe should address the Iranian regime’s appalling human right record and the dramatic surge in the number of executions in recent weeks.

Dr. Vidal Quadras denounced the Europe-Iran Business Forum as an example of Western appeasement of the Iranian regime, calling it a shameful act of cowardice. The speakers said that it was absolutely essential for the safety and security of EU citizens that Mr. Borrell and the EU External Service close Iran’s embassies and make all future diplomatic relations contingent on the regime ending its terrorism on European soil. They also specifically demanded action against Foreign Minister Zarif for his role in the murderous bomb plot in Paris.

According to Mr. Stevenson: “If you allow this business forum to go ahead Mr Borrell, you will be sending the clearest possible signal to the fascist regime in Tehran that as far as Europe is concerned, trade matters more than human rights. Terrorism and brutality can be ignored, so long as EU businesses can make money. EU jobs mean more than Iranian lives.”

Paulo Casaca, who was spokesman for the Socialist Group and a member of the budget control committee in the European parliament, said: “Every European expenditure, as in any state following the rule of law, has to be legal and regular. The European Union Treaty sets, in the most unequivocal way, in article 21, the guidelines for the EU’s action on the international scene and therefore, to pay for propaganda of a regime that embodies the reverse of these principles in the wake of masterminding a terrorist attack on European soil is illegal and should be stopped by the European Parliament.” 

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Brexit

UK will resist 'dubious' EU pressure on banks, says BoE's Bailey

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Britain will resist “very firmly” any European Union attempts to arm-twist banks into shifting trillions of euros in derivatives clearing from Britain to the bloc after Brexit, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said on Wednesday, write Huw Jones and David Milliken.

Europe’s top banks have been asked by the European Commission to justify why they should not have to shift clearing of euro-denominated derivatives from London to the EU, a document seen by Reuters on Tuesday showed.

Britain’s financial services industry, which contributes over 10% of the country’s taxes, has been largely cut off from the EU since a Brexit transition period ended on Dec. 31 as the sector is not covered by the UK-EU trade deal.

Trading in EU shares and derivatives has already left Britain for the continent.

The EU is now targeting clearing which is dominated by the London Stock Exchange’s LCH arm to reduce the bloc’s reliance on the City of London financial hub, over which EU rules and supervision no longer apply.

“It would be very controversial in my view, because legislating extra-territorially is controversial anyway and obviously of dubious legality, frankly, ...” Bailey told lawmakers in Britain’s parliament on Wednesday.

The European Commission said it had no comment at this stage.

Some 75% of the 83.5 trillion euros ($101 trillion) in clearing positions at LCH are not held by EU counterparties and the EU should not be targeting them, Bailey said.

Clearing is a core part of financial plumbing, ensuring that a stock or bond trade is completed, even if one side of the transaction goes bust.

“I have to say to you quite bluntly that that would be highly controversial and I have to say that that would be something that we would, I think, have to and want to resist very firmly,” he said.

Asked by a lawmaker if he understood concerns among EU policymakers about companies having to go outside the bloc for financial services, Bailey said: “The answer to that is competition not protectionism.”

Brussels has given LCH permission, known as equivalence, to continue clearing euro trades for EU firms until mid-2022, providing time for banks to shift positions from London to the bloc.

The question of equivalence is not about mandating what non-EU market participants must do outside the bloc and the latest efforts by Brussels were about forced relocation of financial activity, Bailey said.

Deutsche Boerse has been offering sweeteners to banks that shift positions from London to its Eurex clearing arm in Frankfurt, but has barely eroded LCH’s market share.

The volume of clearing represented by EU clients at LCH in London would not be very viable on its own inside the bloc as it would mean fragmenting a big pool of derivatives, Bailey said.

“By splitting that pool up the whole process becomes less efficient. To break that down it would increase costs, no question about that,” he said.

Banks have said that by clearing all denominations of derivatives at LCH means they can net across different positions to save on margin, or cash they must post against potential default of trades.

($1 = €0.8253 )

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EU

Renew Europe demands ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure the swift application of the Rule of Law regulation

James Drew

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In the face of intensifying Rule of Law backsliding and corruption linked to EU funding in some member states, Renew Europe led a determined and successful campaign for an effective and comprehensive Rule of Law conditionality mechanism, now a ground-breaking and indispensable part of the EU budget 2021-2027, and the Next Generation EU Recovery instrument.

This mechanism must be fully applied since the 1st January 2021 by the European Commission. Renew Europe is committed to using all legal and political levers to ensure its swift application and therefore requests a debate with resolution on this issue during the March 1 plenary session of the Parliament, with the participation of the Commission. In response to reports of imminent legal challenges to this regulation by some EU member states, we are committed to do all the necessary steps in order to guarantee that the European Parliament defend the regulation. And we expect the Commission to do the same.

Dacian Cioloş, president of Renew Europe, said: "Renew Europe is and will continue to be at the forefront of defending the Rule of Law mechanism against any attempts to frustrate it by the opponents of liberal democracy. The application of the Rule of Law Regulation must be guaranteed from the date agreed by the co-legislators; we are determined that all necessary political and legal measures are taken by the Parliament to ensure this."

"We will request a debate with resolution of the European Parliament. The European Commission must come to explain its actions. As the guardian of the Treaties, we expect the Commission to take all steps to ensure that the Regulation is fully applicable."

Commenting on reports that the Regulation may be challenged in the CJEU, President Cioloş said:"If, as reported, the regulation is challenged in the next few days, Renew Europe will call for an accelerated procedure and will make sure the Parliament uses all the tools available and does whatever it takes to defend the Rule of Law in Europe and we expect the European Commission to do the same."

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