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EU leaders agree on sanctions for 40 individuals in Belarus, but not for Lukoshenko

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After nearly ten hours of negotiations, EU leaders managed to finally agree to imposing sanctions on around forty individuals. The EU’s sanction list does not include Alexander Lukoshenko, unlike the UK and Canada lists. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that she was very happy that they had finally reached a way forward. Up until this evening Cyprus had blocked the needed unanimity because of what they saw as a failure to support sanctions on Turkey, this question will be revisited in December. In their conclusions the European Council condemned the unacceptable violence by Belarusian authorities against peaceful protesters, as well as intimidation, arbitrary arrests and detentions following the presidential elections.
The European Council called on the Belarusian authorities to end violence and repression, release all detainees and political prisoners, respect media freedom and civil society, and start an inclusive national dialogue, possibly involving the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). The Council also encouraged the European Commission to prepare a comprehensive plan of economic support for democratic Belarus and reiterated the importance of ensuring safety at the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant, Ostrovets.

EU

Customs Union: Commission proposes new ‘Single Window' to modernize and streamline customs controls, facilitate trade and improve co-operation

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The European Commission has proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders, who will be able to submit the information required for import or export of goods only once. The so-called 'EU Single Window Environment for Customs' aims to enhance co-operation and co-ordination between different authorities, in order to facilitate the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

The Single Window aims to digitalize and streamline processes, so that businesses will ultimately no longer have to submit documents to several authorities through different portals. The proposal is the first concrete deliverable of the recently adopted Action Plan on taking the Customs Union to the next level.

It launches an ambitious project to modernize border controls over the coming decade, in order to facilitate trade, improve safety and compliance checks, and reduce the administrative burden for companies. Economy Comissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Digitalization, globalization and the changing nature of trade present both risks and opportunities when it comes to goods crossing the EU's borders.

"To rise to these challenges, customs and other competent authorities must act as one, with a more holistic approach to the many checks and procedures needed for smooth and safe trade. Today's proposal is the first step towards a fully paperless and integrated customs environment and better cooperation between all authorities at our external borders. I urge all member states to play their part in making it a true success story.”

The proposal, the press release, the Q&A and the factsheet are available online.

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Brexit

UK will not back down on fisheries policy in EU talks: Gove

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Britain will not back down on its demands to the European Union over fisheries, minister Michael Gove said in a 26 October letter sent to a minister in the devolved Welsh government, writes William James.

Responding to concerns set out by Jeremy Miles, Wales’s Minister for European Transition, Gove wrote: “I am afraid we strongly disagree with your premise that we should ‘back down’ on fisheries.

“The UK government’s view is that in all circumstances, the UK must be an independent coastal state, no longer be bound by the Common Fisheries Policy.”

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Economy

#COVID-19 - ‘This year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas’

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Today (28 October) the European Commission presented its proposals for additional measures to tackle the COVID-19 ahead of tomorrow’s meeting (29 October), via videoconference, of European heads of government. 

The measures are aimed at a more co-ordinated approach to data sharing, testing, medical and non-medical equipment, to travel, and to vaccination strategies. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for co-operation, co-ordination and solidarity. 

Von der Leyen said: “Today we are launching additional measures in our fight against the virus; from increasing access to fast testing and preparing vaccination campaigns, to facilitating safe travel when necessary. I call on the Member States to work closely together. Courageous steps taken now will help save lives and protect livelihoods. No member state will emerge safely from this pandemic until everyone does.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “The rise in COVID-19 infection rates across Europe is very alarming. Decisive immediate action is needed for Europe to protect lives and livelihoods, to alleviate the pressure on healthcare systems, and to control the spread of the virus.”

Professor Peter Piot, who is the lead scientist in the Commission’s panel of advisors echoed the President’s concerns, saying that there was no “silver bullet”. He said that Europe was paying a high price for relaxing measures in the summer, adding that measures like wearing the mask work as long as everyone does it.

He also warned against "corona fatigue" and underlined that there was no trade-off between health and the economy. Pointing to a report in the Financial Times, he said that the health issue needed to be fixed to limit economic damage. 

The new efforts, look at many actions, such as:

Improving the flow of information to allow informed decision-making: The sharing of accurate, comprehensive, comparable and timely information on epidemiological data, as well as on testing, contact tracing and public health surveillance, is essential to track how the coronavirus spreads at regional and national level and providing all relevant data to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Commission.

Establishing more effective and rapid testing: The Commission is proposing directly purchase rapid antigen tests and delivering them to Member States, using €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument. In parallel, the Commission is launching a joint procurement to ensure a second stream of access. Travellers should be offered the possibility to undergo a test after arrival. If negative COVID-19 tests are to be required or recommended for any activity, mutual recognition of tests is essential, in particular in the context of travel.

Making full use of contact tracing and warning apps across borders:  EU member states have developed 19 national contact tracing and warning apps, downloaded more than 52 million times. The Commission recently launched a solution for linking national apps across the EU through a ‘European Federation Gateway Service'. Three national apps (Germany, Ireland, and Italy) were first linked on 19 October when the system came online. The Commission calls on all states to set up effective and compatible apps and reinforce their communication efforts to promote their uptake.

Effective vaccination: The development and uptake of safe and effective vaccines is a priority effort to quickly end the crisis. Member States need to take to be fully prepared, which includes the development of national vaccination strategies. The Commission will put in place a common reporting framework and a platform to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccine strategies. To share the best practices, the conclusions of the first review on national vaccination plans will be presented in November 2020.

Effective communication to citizens: Clear communication is essential for the public health response to be successful, the Commission is calling on all Member States to relaunch communication campaigns to counter false, misleading and dangerous information that continues to circulate, and to address the risk of “pandemic fatigue”. Vaccination is a specific area where public authorities need to step up their actions to tackle misinformation and secure public trust, as there will be no compromise on safety or effectiveness under Europe's robust vaccine authorization system. 

Securing essential supplies: The Commission has launched a new joint procurement for medical equipment for vaccination.

Facilitating safe travel: The Commission calls on member states to fully implement the Recommendation adopted by the Council for a common and coordinated approach to restrictions to free movement. Citizens and businesses want clarity and predictability. Any remaining COVID-19 related internal border control measures should be lifted.

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