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#SOTEU - Von der Leyen will propose a European #MagnitskyAct

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In today’s (16 September) ‘State of the European Union’ address to the European Parliament, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called for a European Magnitsky act.

The European Parliament has called for a Magnitsky act for some time. The act would allow a sanctions regime to be established at the EU level to impose asset freezes and visa bans on individuals involved in grave human rights violations. The EU’s Foreign Affairs Ministers started discussing how this could be done in detail in December 2019. The Parliament insists that the list should include state and non-state actors who have contributed, physically, financially or through acts of systemic corruption, to abuse and crimes.

At one point ministers seemed reluctant to refer to the act as a ‘Magnitsky’ act, but MEPs have long argued that Sergei Magnitsky’s illegal treatment and death inspired the campaign led by Bill Browder to tackle human rights abuses more effectively should bear his name. Much needs to be discussed including the criteria used and enforcement. MEPs have always argued that the new regime would strengthen the EU’s role as a global human rights actor.

Von der Leyen said that this was an important measure to ‘complete our toolbox’. The question of sanctions has come under particular scrutiny with the recognition that sanctions are needed following the Belarussian detentions and human rights violations.

Von der Leyen argues that Europe is too slow to react and said that the EU should have the courage to move to qualified majority voting, at least on human rights and sanctions implementation.

Belarus

Von der Leyen said that Europeans had been moved by the immense courage of those peacefully gathering in Indepedence Square and taking part in the Women's March. The president of the Commission said that the European Union is on the side of the people of Belarus. She condemned the brutal crackdown on demonstrators and said that Belarussians must be able to decide their future for themselves through free and fair elections. She added pointedly at Russian interference: “They're not pieces on someone else's chessboard.”

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European Commission

‘We have not done enough to support the Roma population in the EU’ Jourová

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The European Commission has launched a new 10-year plan to support Roma people in the EU. The plan outlines seven key areas of focus: equality, inclusion, participation, education, employment, health, and housing. For each area, the Commission has put forward targets and recommendations on how to achieve them, the Commission will use these to monitor progress.
Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová said: “Simply put, over the last ten years we have not done enough to support the Roma population in the EU. This is inexcusable. Many continue to face discrimination and racism. We cannot accept it. Today we are relaunching our efforts to correct this situation.”
Although some improvements have been made in the EU – predominantly in the area of education – Europe still has a long way to go to achieve real equality for Roma. Marginalisation persists, and many Roma continue to face discrimination.
Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli (pictured) said: “For the European Union to become a true union of equality we need to ensure that millions of Roma are treated equally, socially included and able to participle in social and political life without exception. With the targets that we have laid out in the Strategic Framework today, we expect to make real progress by 2030 towards a Europe in which Roma are celebrated as part of our Union's diversity, take part in our societies and have all the opportunities to fully contribute to and benefit from political, social and economic life in the EU.”

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Bulgaria

Commission complains about lack of results in the fight against corruption in #Bulgaria

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Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová led discussions in the European Parliament’s debate on the rule of law in Bulgaria (5 October). Jourová said that she was aware of the protests that have been taking place over the last three months and is following the situation closely. Jourová said the demonstrations show that citizens attach great importance to an independent judiciary and good governance.
She said that the Commission will not lift the ‘Control and Verification Mechanism’ (CVM) that checks Bulgaria’s progress in making reforms to its judiciary and fighting organized crime, she added that she would take the views of the European Council and Parliament into account in any further reports. Fighting corruption European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said that while Bulgaria’s structures were in place they needed to deliver efficiently.
Reynders said surveys show a very low level of public trust in Bulgaria’s anti-corruption institutions and a belief that government lacked the political will to do this in practice. Manfred Weber MEP, Chair of the European Peoples’ Party defended Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s record, adding that he was supportive of the rule of law mechanism in European Council discussions. Weber acknowledges that the rule of law in Bulgaria “is not perfect” and that, there is still much to be done, but said that the government’s fate should be decided next year in elections.
Ramona Strugariu MEP (Renew Europe Group) made one of the more powerful interventions in the debate, saying that when she was demonstrating in the cold winter of 2017 in Bucharest - against government corruption in Romania - the support of President Juncker and First Vice-President Timmermans support made her feel that someone was listening to the Romanians who wanted reform. Strugariu said: “I am here today to ask for this voice from the Commission and of the Council and of this house because the Bulgarian people need it. Because it matters to them. It is really important to them.”
To fellow MEPs who were endorsing Prime Minister Borissov, she asked: “Do you know who you are endorsing? Because you are endorsing people facing serious allegations of corruption, money laundering and fraud with European money? I have seen women dragged outside by the police and pictures of children sprayed with tear gas, is this protection? Are you sure that this is the person to endorse?”

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Bulgaria

#Bulgaria - 'We don't want to be under the Mafia and corruption' Minekov

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Ahead of a debate on the rule of law in Bulgaria (5 October), protestors and MEPs gathered outside the parliament to call for systemic change and new elections in Bulgaria. EU Reporter spoke to some of those involved. Professor Vladislav Minekov, has been labelled as one of the ‘Poisonous Trio’ by the oligarch-owned Bulgarian media. Asked what was keeping protestors on the streets ninety days after the first impromptu protest on 9 July, he said that Bulgarians don’t want to live under the Mafia. Minekov welcomed that the European Parliament was grappling with this important question, saying that Bulgarians had the impression that the EU and the world was overlooking what was happening in Bulgaria.

One of six MEPs we interviewed, Clare Daly MEP (Ireland), compared the current Bulgarian government to vampires feeding off EU money, “sucking the lifeblood out of Bulgarian society,” she said that the European Peoples’ Party, in particular, had protected Borissov’s government for too long and that it was time to face up to the blatant corruption and failure to adhere to the rule of law. 'Brussels for Bulgaria' has organized weekly protests in Brussels since the protests began in July.

One of the organizers, Elena Bojilova, said that Bulgarians abroad want to show solidarity with their fellow countrymen: “We've had people join us from other cities from Ghent, from Antwerp.” Bojilova explained that this phenomenon was also occurring in many other countries, “in Vienna, in London, in Canada in the United States, other European capitals. The fact that we are not physically in Bulgaria does not prevent us from supporting the efforts of our countrymen, and we fully support their demands which are for the resignation of the government, resignation of the Prosecutor General, reform rule of law and basically cleaning up the

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