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Parliament votes to take Commission to court over inaction on breaches of the rule of law

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Today (10 June), the European Parliament has voted (506 for, 150 against, 28 abstentions) on a resolution paving the way to bring the European Commission to the European Court of Justice for inaction over the rule of law, as called for by the Greens/EFA Group. The EU's Rule of Law Mechanism, which has been in place since 1 January this year, has yet to be triggered by the Commission over breaches of the rule of law that affect the EU's budget. The Parliament voted in March and gave the Commission a deadline of 1 June for the adoption of guidelines and the application of the mechanism. The Commission has missed this deadline and has yet to publish its 'guidelines' on how the mechanism should be triggered.

The resolution highlights that this a 'failure to act' by the EU Commission under Article 265 of the TFEU and is the first step in taking the Commission to court. Terry Reintke MEP (pictured), Greens/EFA negotiator and LIBE rapporteur on the Rule of Law Mechanism, said: "The EU needs a strong basis we can all stand on, which is spelled out in the treaties: democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights. But this is under attack and being dismantled as we speak. Instead of defending European values, the Commission is watching, writing reports and sitting on its hands. The rule of law needs action now. Unfortunately, it's clear from yesterday's debate in Parliament that the Commission doesn't seem to feel the same sense of urgency to act.

"People in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere need to know that the Commission is on their side and will fight for their rights as EU citizens. The Commission should not need pressure to act on defending the treaties, but if they keep refusing to act, pressure is what they will get. We are taking action against the Commission to make them do their job and defend the rights of European citizens. We, as the Parliament, will not allow the Commission to sit idly by as far-right populist governments rip apart the rule of law in Europe."

Daniel Freund MEP, Greens/EFA negotiator on the Rule of Law Mechanism, said: "The Rule of law Mechanism isn't just some shiny souvenir from a hard-wrung struggle in the Council last winter; it's a real tool with real world applications and real sanctions. First the Commission claimed they didn't have the tools to fight the rule of law, but now that we have the tool, it's time to use it. There are clear examples of breaches of the rule of law that are taking place as we speak, without any need for 'guidelines' to start proceedings. Attacks against NGOs, media freedom and 'foundations' set up to avoid scrutiny over the use of EU funds, all are cause for launching action in Hungary alone. These are attacks by Viktor Orbán on our rights, our values and our money as EU citizens.

"Inaction on the rule of law would be tantamount to accepting the fight for democracy is already lost in several member states. In six months, Hungarian citizens will go to the polls and they need to be able to vote under real democratic standards. We must make sure that Orbán isn't using EU money to steal the election, to control media coverage and ensure that the opposition cannot contest the election fairly. We don't have time to wait."

Brexit

Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.

The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' summit.

"I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union," she said.

Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.

Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.

The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045

Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.

“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said

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Brexit

'Whatever it takes', UK's Johnson warns EU over post-Brexit trade

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Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (12 June), threatening emergency measures if no solution was found, write Elizabeth Piper and Michel Rose.

The threat by Johnson seemed to break a temporary truce in a war of words over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, the focus for tensions since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year.

Despite US President Joe Biden encouraging them to find a compromise, Johnson used a G7 summit to indicate no softening in his position on what is called the Northern Ireland protocol that covers border issues with the British province.

"I think we can sort it out but ... it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes," Johnson told Sky News.

"I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16," he added, referring to a safeguard clause that allows either side to take measures if they believe the agreement is leading to economic, societal or environment difficulties.

"I've talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads."

His comments came after he met French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a Group of Seven summit in southwestern England.

The EU told the British government once again that it must implement the Brexit deal in full and introduce checks on certain goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. Britain repeated its call for urgent and innovative solutions to ease the friction.

The province has an open border with EU member Ireland so the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed as a way to preserve the bloc's single market after Britain left.

The protocol essentially kept the province in the EU’s customs union and adhering to many of the single market rules, creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between the British province and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Anti-Brexit protesters holding a banner and flags demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel remove their protective face masks as they meet during the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool

Since Britain exited the bloc's orbit, Johnson has unilaterally delayed the implementation of some provisions of the protocol, including checks on chilled meats such as sausages moving from the mainland to Northern Ireland, saying it was causing disruption to some supplies to the province.

"Both sides must implement what we agreed on," von der Leyen, European Commission president, said after meeting Johnson alongside Michel, the European Council president.

"There is complete EU unity on this," she said, adding that the deal had been agreed, signed and ratified by both Johnson's government and the bloc.

Germany's Merkel said the two sides could find pragmatic solutions on technical questions, while the EU protected its single market.

Earlier this week, talks between the two sets of negotiators ended in an exchange of threats over the so-called "sausage wars". An EU official said at the G7 that there was a need for the rhetoric to be toned down.

The head of the World Trade Organization said she hoped the tensions would not escalate into a trade war.

The United States has also expressed grave concern the dispute could undermine the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

That agreement largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Though Brexit was not part of the formal agenda for the G7 summit in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay, it has more than once threatened to cloud the meeting.

France's Macron offered to reset relations with Britain as long as Johnson stood by the Brexit deal - a characterisation of the meeting that was rejected by the British team. Read more.

Brexit has also strained the situation in Northern Ireland, where the pro-British "unionist" community say they are now split off from the rest of the United Kingdom and the Brexit deal breaches the 1998 peace deal. But the open border between the province and Ireland was a key principle of the Good Friday deal.

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EU

Keeping the UEFA EURO 2020 championship safe

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Between 10 June and 12 July 2021, Europol will host an operational centre to support safety and security during the UEFA EURO 2020 football championship. Coordinated by the Dutch Police, the International Police Cooperation Centre (IPCC) of the National Football Contact Points will host about 40 liaison officers from 22 participating and hosting countries. This special operational set-up is created to enable swift cooperation and provide the necessary operational support for a safe and secure championship.

The IPCC will serve as a central information hub for national law enforcement authorities. To that end, Europol has created a special Task Force EURO 2020 to enable keeping officers on the ground 24/7 to easily exchange information and swiftly receive leads on ongoing investigations. The operational activities will focus on public safety and criminal threats, which may threaten security during the tournament. Enforcement authorities will target threats such as cybercrime, terrorism, match-fixing, trafficking counterfeit goods including fake COVID-19 certificates, and other intellectual property crimes.

Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, said: ‘The UEFA EURO 2020 championship is a unique tournament both for football and for law enforcement. With 24 national teams playing in 11 cities across Europe, teaming up is paramount for the safety of the tournament. Europol will enable this cooperation by hosting the dedicated operational centre. Backed by Europol’s capabilities, officers on the ground will be better prepared to ensure a smooth and safe championship.’

The IPCC’s chief of staff, Max Daniel, said: ‘Combining information about public order issues, supporters, places of stay and travel movements by road, air and rail results in an up-to-date and integrated picture. Being able to easily share that information between countries has proven to be very valuable in the past. Police intelligence officers of all participating countries are doing their utmost to ensure that this unique UEFA EURO 2020 championship will be as safe as possible.’

IPCC UEFA EURO 2020 Participants (total number):

EU Member States: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands. 

Non-EU Countries: Azerbaijan, North Macedonia, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom.

Organisations: INTERPOL and UEFA

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