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Bucharest officials pledge to rename street after Belarusian dissident Protasevich

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In Bucharest, Romania, a street where the Belarusian embassy is situated will carry the name of arrested journalist Roman Protasevich, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

Protasevich, well known critic of Lukashenko's regime, was arrested after his Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk.

The initiative to rename the street that accommodates the Belarusian embassy came from Bucharest university professor Andrei Oișteanu. His online proposal went viral and got picked up by the mayor of Bucharest’s District 1 where the embassy is situated.

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The mayor believes renaming the street outside Belarus's embassy would send a clear message to Lukashenko's regime that human rights abuses will not be tolerated by the international community. The procedure would need city council approval. The city official thinks that the name change could happened within a month’s time if all goes well.

Usually the process takes longer since residents oppose such changes due to the additional hassle linked to having their IDs changed as well. But in this case, nobody lives on that street so the process should be straightforward.

If enacted, the change would mean that all Belarus embassy employees would have Roman Protasevich Street on their correspondence as well as on their business cards.

The campaign garnered support from some members of the European Parliament as well, urging other countries to follow Bucharest’s lead.

In Bucharest, the campaign to rename a street after Roman Protasevich was also accompanied by protests held in front of the embassy of Belarus.

Romanian protesters wrapped themselves in the red and white flag of the Belarusian opposition, and displayed a huge banner calling for the release of journalist Roman Protasevici and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

The protests in Romania are part of a series of events in several European capitals marking a global day of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition, called for by exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tshanovskaia.

Belarus has been facing street protests since Lukashenko declared himself the winner of last August's election, which the Opposition and the West say have been rigged.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, 481 journalists were arrested in 2020, twice as many as in the last six years, including Roman Protasevici.

Roman Protasevich has been a vocal critic of autocratic Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko for the past 10 years. Now, following his uncanny arrest by grounding the plane he was travelling in, Europe's aviation regulator issued a report calling for all airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace for safety reasons.

The forced grounding of the Ryanair flight in order to arrest Roman Protasevich had put in question the ability to provide safe skies in Europe.

EU foreign ministers are discussing possible economic sanctions, and the United States said that it would re-impose sanctions on nine state-owned enterprises in Belarus on 3 June.

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coronavirus

EU response lessens COVID-19 economic blow

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Had the EU institutions not intervened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bloc’s economy would have seen much worse, says the World Bank report, writes Cristian Gherasim.

The report titled Inclusive growth at crossroads pointed to the governments of member states as much as to the EU institutions stepping in to dampen the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the very poor. The economic response meant that the most serious effects of the pandemic on employment and income were avoided.

According to the World Bank document, the pandemic exposed and increased deep inequalities, halting progress in multiple areas, including gender equality and revenue convergence in all EU member states. Today, it is estimated that between three and five million people in the EU are "at risk of poverty" on the basis of national value thresholds compared to pre-crisis levels.

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“A green, digital and inclusive transition is possible if economic policy is increasingly geared towards reforms and investment in education, health and sustainable infrastructure,” said Gallina A. Vincelette, director for the European Union Countries at the World Bank.

The report shows that some of the economic support systems in place can help with ongoing reforms happening across the European Union. There is also need for a continued approach with government support schemes and vaccination key to the strengthening of companies, employees and households.

As we seen across Europe, given the fact that the pandemic isn’t over, governments respond to the prolonged crisis by continuing to offer state aid even throughout 2021.

Yet, regardless of the response, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered EU's strongest peace recession since World War II, with an economic contraction of 6,1% in 2020.

The World Bank report calls for governments to make sure that sound and well-thought policies are in place as well as active labor market policies to support an inclusive recovery. The report stresses that special attention should be given to vulnerable pre-pandemic workers, such as young people, and the self-employed. These groups are more vulnerable to adjustments in employment in times of crisis and may face longer periods of unemployment or periods when they are out of work and lacking a source of income.

A particular attention in the report is given to women who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The report found that at least one in five women will have difficulty returning to work, compared to one in ten men.

The hardest hit areas of the EU by the pandemic’s economic fallout have been the emerging economies. In the case of Romania, the World Bank report shows that the number of people at risk of poverty increased significantly at the beginning of the pandemic, as a result of the substantial decrease in incomes in the first wave of the pandemic.

In emerging economies, despite rapid introduction of government support measures combined with job adjustment policies contributing to moderating poverty levels, the poverty rates are still expected to remain above pre-crisis levels.

The World Bank's Global Economic Outlook report suggests that we will have strong but uneven growth in 2021. The global economy will grow by 5.6% - the strongest post-recession rate in 80 years. The outcome largely reflects a strong recovery in some large economies, yet sluggish in others.

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Crime

18 arrested for smuggling more than 490 migrants across the Balkan route

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Officers from the Romanian Police (Poliția Română) and Border Police (Poliția de Frontieră Română), supported by Europol, dismantled an organized crime group involved in migrant smuggling across the so-called Balkan route.

The action day on 29 July 2021 led to:

  • 22 house searches
  • 18 suspects arrested
  • Seizure of munitions, five vehicles car, mobile phones and €22 000 in cash

The criminal network, active since October 2020, consisted of Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian and Romanian citizens. The criminal group had cells in the countries across the Balkan route from where regional facilitators managed the recruitment, accommodation and transport of migrants from Jordan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Several criminal cells based in Romania facilitated the border crossing from Bulgaria and Serbia of groups of migrants and arranged their temporary accommodation in the area of Bucharest and in western Romania. The migrants were then smuggled to Hungary on their way to Germany as a final destination. In total, 26 illegal transports of migrants were intercepted and 490 migrants were detected in an attempt to illegally cross the Romanian border. Very well organized, the criminal group was involved in other criminal activities as well, such as drug trafficking, document fraud and property crime.

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Up to €10,000 per migrant

Migrants were paying between €4,000 and €10,000 depending on the trafficking segment. For example, the price for facilitating the crossing from Romania to Germany was between €4,000 and €5,000. The migrants, some of which were families with young children, were accommodated in extremely poor conditions, often with no access to toilets or running water. For the safe houses, the suspects rented accommodations or used the residences of group members, mainly situated in the areas of Călărași County, Ialomița County and Timișoara. In one of the safe houses, measuring about 60 m2, the suspects hid 100 people at the same time. The migrants were then transferred in risky conditions in overcrowded lorries between merchandise and in vans hidden in concealments without proper ventilation. 

Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support. On the action day, Europol deployed one analyst to Romania to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases in real time to provide leads to investigators in the field. 

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Eurozone

Majority of EU citizens favor the euro, with Romanians most enthusiastic

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Three out of four Romanians favour the Euro currency. A survey done by Flash Eurobarometer found that Romanians overwhelmingly back the euro currency, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest corrrespondent.

The survey was carried out in seven of the EU member states which have not joined the Eurozone yet: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

Overall, 57% of respondents are in favor of introducing the euro in their country.

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In a press release, the European Commission, the institution behind the survey, said that the vast majority of EU citizens surveyed (60%) believe that the changeover to the euro has had positive consequences for countries that already use it. 52% believe that, in general, there will be positive consequences for the introduction of the euro for their country, and 55% say that the introduction of the euro would have positive consequences for themselves as well.

Yet “the proportion of respondents who think that their country is ready to introduce the euro remains low in each of the countries surveyed. Around a third of respondents in Croatia feel their country is ready (34%), while those in Poland are least likely to think their country is ready to introduce the euro (18%)”, the survey mentions.

Romanians are leading in terms of an overall positive opinion regarding the Eurozone. Thus, the highest percentages of respondents with a positive opinion were registered in Romania (75% in favor of the currency) and Hungary (69%).

In all member states that took part in the survey, with the exception of the Czech Republic, there has been an increase in those favoring the introduction of the euro compared to 2020. The highest increases in favorability can be observed in Romania (from 63% to 75%) and Sweden (from 35% to 43%).

The survey identifies some woes amongst respondents as possible drawbacks in making the switch to euro. Over six in ten of those surveyed think that introducing the euro will increase prices and this is the majority view in all countries except Hungary. The highest proportions are observed in Czechia (77%), Croatia (71%), Bulgaria (69%) and Poland (66%).

Furthermore, seven in ten agree that they are concerned about abusive price setting during the changeover, and this is the majority opinion in all countries surveyed, ranging from 53% in Sweden to 82% in Croatia.

Even though the tone is upbeat with almost all questioned saying that they personally will manage to adapt to the replacement of the national currency by the euro, there are some who mentioned that adopting the euro will mean losing control over national economic policy. Respondents in Sweden are the most likely to agree to this possibility (67%), while surprisingly those in Hungary are the least likely to do so (24%).

The general feeling is that the great majority of those questioned not only support the euro and believe that it would benefit their respective countries but that making the switch to euro would by no means represent that their country will lose a part of its identity.

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