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10 European nations regret U.S. pulling out Open Skies Treaty

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Ten European nations on Friday issued a joint statement regretting the United States’ withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, which they consider “a crucial element of the confidence-building framework that has been created over the past decades to increase transparency and security across the Euro-Atlantic area.”

“We regret the announcement by the government of the United States of its intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, although we share its concerns regarding the implementation of treaty provisions by Russia,” said the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Sweden in the statement.

“We will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty which has obvious added value for our conventional arms control architecture and our common security,” said the statement.

“We reaffirm that this treaty remains functional and useful. The withdrawal becomes effective after a period of six months,” it added.

“On matters relating to the implementation of the treaty, we will continue dialogues with Russia as previously agreed between NATO allies and other European partners in order to resolve outstanding issues such as undue restrictions imposed on flights over Kaliningrad,” it said.

German Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the German broadcaster n-tv on Friday that her country will make an effort to salvage the international Open Skies treaty.

“I deeply regret the U.S. announcement on the abandonment of the treaty,” said Kramp-Karrenbauer, adding that in close coordination with Germany’s Foreign Office, “we will do everything we can to ensure that at the end of the day everyone will be able to stick with this contract.”

The U.S. administration revealed on Thursday its intention to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, which allows its states-parties to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

The Treaty on Open Skies, which aims at building confidence and familiarity among states-parties through their participation in the overflights, was concluded in 1992 and entered into force in 2002.

Currently, 35 nations, including Russia, the United States, and some other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have signed it. Kyrgyzstan has signed but not ratified it yet.

(XINHUA)

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Facebook German privacy case referred to European Court

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The German Federal Court, on Thursday, referred a lawsuit filed by a consumer protection watchdog, alleging privacy violations by Facebook, to the Court of Justice of the European Union to seek clarification on the applicable law.

The long-running case, brought by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv), alleged that the social network had allowed operators of online games to improperly collect the personal data of people who played them.

Facebook declined to comment on the court statement pending the release of a full written judgment.

A lower court ruled in favour of the vzbv and Facebook appealed the decision.

In its written ruling, the Federal Court said it was suspending the case to seek advice from the European Court as interpretations of the applicable law varied.

“This question is disputed both in court judgments and in the literature,’’ the court, based in Karlsruhe, said in a statement.

At issue were online games offered on Facebook’s App Centre back in 2012 in which, by playing them, a user automatically agreed to share personal data including their email address.

At the end of the game, users would see a message saying that the app could post their status, photos and other information.

Such games – including quizzes – were widely used at the time to harvest data on users of Facebook.

The company subsequently overhauled its privacy settings, although they have continued to be a source of controversy.

The European Union’s two-year-old privacy rulebook, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), stipulates that any requests to collect personal data should be subject to clear, informed consent.

However, it is not clear, according to the Karlsruhe court, whether organisations that can bring litigation under national law have the necessary standing to press their case under the GDPR.

It is seeking clarification on this matter of principle.

AIB

Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)

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Croatia set to drop entry ban for nationals of ten European countries

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Croatia will drop entry ban for nationals from 10 European countries, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced on Thursday at a government session.

He explained that nationals of Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will be able to enter Croatia as the epidemiological situations in those countries are similar to that in Croatia where the peak of the epidemic seems to be over.

As the situations improve in other countries, Plenkovic said, the list of countries whose nationals can enter Croatia will expand.

After the government session, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said due to the satisfactory situation, citizens of the 10 countries would not be asked to explain the reason for coming to Croatia.

Earlier this month, Croatia dropped the mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement for nationals of neighboring Slovenia.

In the last 24 hours, there is only one new COVID-19 infection in Croatia. Before that, from Monday to Wednesday, there was no new case reported in the country, according to official website koronavirus.hr.

Croatia is trying to save the tourist season by opening its borders. Tourism is a major industry accounting for almost 20 percent of the country’s GDP. In 2019, almost 21 million tourists visited the country, which was a five percent rise year-on-year. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the number of visitors has dropped drastically this year, and the Tourism Ministry expects around 30 percent of last year’s revenues.

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: European Commission proposes borrowing landmark recovery fund, in “Europe’s moment”

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The European Commission on Wednesday proposed borrowing 750 billion euros (826 billion U.S. dollars) in its name from the financial market to help the world‘s largest trading bloc recover from a recession owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The money is proposed to be channeled to member states through European Union programs and repaid over a long period of time throughout future EU budgets, not before 2028 and not after 2058.

The proposal follows an earlier initiative by France and Germany that asked for the EU’s executive to borrow 500 billion euros from the financial market, all of which would then be distributed as grants to member states.

The European Commission’s proposal in effect echoed that initiative and added another 250 billion euros of further borrowing, which is intended to be loans to member states. The 750-billion-euro figure was first confirmed on Twitter by European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni, who described it as “a European turning point to face an unprecedented crisis.”

Whether the proposal from Brussels will be heeded by member states remains to be seen. The French-German initiative faced push back from the so-called frugal four — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — which called for loans, rather than grants, to member states.

To pay for the recovery proposal, Brussels anticipates new taxes on large businesses, technology companies and carbon emissions, which could also be politically difficult.

“EUROPE’S MOMENT”

“EUROPE’S MOMENT”

“EUROPE’S MOMENT”

The proposal comes at a pivotal moment for the EU, which is facing the dire economic prospects due to the coronavirus that have shuttered factories and services. Worries abound in that richer countries would afford more generous stimulus while poorer ones would no longer have a common playground in the single market.

Together with a revamped long-term EU budget of 1.1 trillion euros, the recovery proposal, dubbed Next Generation EU, sums up to 1.85 trillion euros. Plus a previously-agreed financing of social safety nets in the amount of 540 billion euros, the total recovery sum could reach as high as 2.4 trillion euros.

In addition to the sheer size, the 750-billion-euro proposal, if adopted, will mark a significant step towards unprecedented fiscal solidarity of the bloc.

For years, European capitals have, bit by bit, transfered parts of their sovereignty power to the bloc in matters like trade, competition and the common currency, but never has a bold fiscal integration on this scale been tried before.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, told the European Parliament on Wednesday “we either all go it alone, leaving countries, regions and people behind, and accepting a union of haves and have-nots, or we walk that road together.”

A meeting of the European Council, made up by heads of state or government of the 27 members, has been scheduled for June 19 to discuss the proposal.

(XINHUA)

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Roundup: European Commission proposes 750-bln-euro recovery fund as countries count losses

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As countries in Europe are counting their losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission on Wednesday proposed a 750-bln-euro (826 billion U.S. dollars) recovery fund to help the world‘s largest trading bloc recover from a recession.

The money is proposed to be borrowed from the financial market and channeled to member states through European Union (EU) programs and repaid over a long period of time throughout future EU budgets.

The proposal which is deemed by European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni as “a European turning point to face an unprecedented crisis,” follows an earlier initiative by France and Germany that asked for the EU’s executive arm to borrow 500 billion euros from the financial market before distributing them as grants to members.

The European Commission’s proposal echoed that initiative and added another 250 billion euros of further borrowing, which is intended to be loans to member states.

Whether the proposal from Brussels will be heeded by member states remains to be seen. The French-German initiative faced push back from the so-called frugal four — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — which called for loans, rather than grants, to member states.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, on the other hand, welcomed the proposal as “ambitious”, saying it’s “up to the challenge that Europe faces,” and “opens the door to the reunion of the European project with the Europeans.”

COUNTING LOSSES

According to the lastest COVID-19 situation dashboard from the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region, a total of 2,064,675 confirmed cases have been reported in the Region as of Wednesday morning, with 176,279 deaths.

While the devastating human losses would be grieved long and hard, countries in Europe are already faced with the imminent economic losses wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde said Wednesday that the 19-member euro area economy is likely to contract between 8 percent and 12 percent this year, more than the previous estimate of a 5-percent decline for a “mild scenario”.

“It’s very likely that we are somewhere between the medium and severe scenarios,” she said.

The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) said on Wednesday that due to the effects of the lockdown measures, the country’s economic output in the second quarter (Q2) of 2020 is likely to decline by more than 10 percent compared to the first quarter.

For the entire year 2020, leading think tanks in Germany have predicted that the country’s economic output would fall by 4.2 percent.

France‘s national statistics institute INSEE said the country’s economy is likely to contract by 20 percent in Q2 this year, deepening a recession in the eurozone’s second-largest power where the coronavirus crisis had prompted the worst post-war economic turmoil.

INSEE added that the French economy could contract 8 percent for the whole year of 2020 if activities return to the pre-crisis level by July.

However, “such a rapid return to normal seems unrealistic,” it noted.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a report on Wednesday that more than one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic while those who remain employed have seen their working hours cut by 23 percent.

In Finland, 433,100 unemployed jobseekers were registered at the employment authorities by the end of April, nearly doubled year-on-year, at an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent. (1 euro = 1.1 U.S. dollars)

(XINHUA)

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Proposed European recovery fund “up to the challenge”: Portuguese PM

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Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Wednesday that European Commission’s proposal for a 750-billion-euro (823 billion U.S. dollars) recovery fund is “ambitious” and “up to the challenge”.

“I welcome the ambitious proposal of the European Commission, which is up to the challenge that Europe faces,” he wrote on his Twitter account, stressing the “importance of the proposed reinforcement for cohesion and development policy”.

“This proposal opens the door to the reunion of the European project with the Europeans. It is now up to the Council not to frustrate this hope,” he added.

Portugal may receive up to 26.3 billion euros (28.88 billion U.S. dollars) in grants and loans to minimize the economic and social effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Lusa News Agency.

According to the recovery fund proposed Wednesday, Portugal could have 15.5 billion euros (17 billion U.S. dollars) in non-repayable grants and another 10.8 billion euros (11.86 billion U.S. dollars) in loans under favorable conditions.

Membership in the fund will be voluntary, and the amounts would be divided in accordance with the severity of the crisis effects, besides indebtedness and “per capita” gross domestic product (GDP), Lusa reported.

In this sense, Portugal would fall into the group of countries with a “per capita” GDP below the European Union average and “high debt”.

Also on Wednesday, Portuguese Minister of Economy Pedro Siza Vieira called on companies to prepare investment plans to take advantage of the “unprecedented volume” of public financing that the country could have.

He admitted that the next few months will be of “hesitant demand, with withdrawn consumers”, but that it will be an opportunity for “the most vigorous relaunch possible” of the Portuguese economy.

“These additional financial resources, (if) well spent on reproductive investments, could improve the productivity of the economy and the competitiveness of companies, putting (Portugal) on a different level,” he said at an online conference.

Portugal had 14 new fatalities and 285 more cases of COVID-19 infection in the last 24 hours, bringing its toll and tally of cases to 1,356 and 31,292 respectively since the pandemic started.

(XINHUA)

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German energy providers file joint lawsuit at European court against RWE, E.ON deal

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Following the approval of German energy company RWE’s takeover of E.ON’s energy generation assets and trading business, more than ten smaller energy providers in Germany filed an action for annulment with the European Court of Justice (EJC) on Wednesday.

The German energy providers argued in a joint statement that the approval of the deal by the European Commission as well as the German national competition regulator Bundeskartellamt in September 2019 was “clearing the way for two national champions at the expense of medium-sized companies.”

“This deal is associated with considerable disadvantages for competition and thus for all consumers,” the joint statement read.

Central to the deal is an asset swap between RWE and E.ON, two German electric utility companies, valued at more than 40 billion euros (44 billion U.S. dollars). With the merger, E.ON acquired networks and sales divisions and became one of Europe’s largest suppliers of electricity and gas.

In return, RWE took over renewables and once again became a producer of energy from nuclear, coal and gas plants, as well as wind and solar power.

The plaintiffs fear that the “reorganization of the German energy market” as envisaged by RWE and E.ON would eliminate the participation of other suppliers, according to the joint statement.

Although the joint lawsuit at the EJC does not have any immediate effect on the approved restructuring of the RWE and E.ON, the lawsuit announced on Wednesday presents an additional legal risk for the two energy giants.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, both RWE and E.ON had reported increased revenues and earnings for the first quarter of 2020. On Thursday, E.ON is excepted to present more detailed plans about the restructuring and future plans on its annual general meeting.

(XINHUA)

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European Commission proposes borrowing 750 bln euros as recovery fund

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The European Commission on Wednesday proposed borrowing 750 billion euros (826 billion U.S. dollars) in its name from the financial market to help the world‘s largest trading bloc recover from a recession owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The money is proposed to be channeled to member states through European Union programs and repaid over a long period of time throughout future EU budgets, not before 2028 and not after 2058.

(XINHUA)

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Spotlight: Europeans continue to heal economic wounds, infections top 2 mln

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As markets and industries lick their wounds from the impact of the coronavirus crisis, European governments are turning their focus to reopening and rescuing the battered economy.

France on Tuesday unveiled a major recovery plan to revive the country’s auto industry, which has been crippled by the loss of sales and production during the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown aimed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, an online dashboard maintained by the WHO European Region showed that 2,044,870 confirmed COVID-19 cases had been reported in 54 countries, with 175,184 deaths as of 10:00 a.m. CET (0800 GMT) on Tuesday.

“HISTORIC PLAN” IN FRANCE

Following a visit to a Valeo car parts factory in northern France, President Emmanuel Macron announced an 8-billion-euro (8.78 billion U.S. dollars) rescue plan to help the recovery of the auto industry.

“The state will provide more than eight billion euros in aid to the sector,” Macron said.

The president, who met with industry bosses early in the day, said the “historic plan,” which aims to “face a historic situation,” was based on a support package and a scrappage scheme to shift towards less polluting vehicles.

“We need to defend our industry and make France Europe’s top producer of clean vehicles,” with an output of one million electric and hybrid cars per year by 2025, said Macron.

“Bankruptcies should be avoided at all costs,” he said. To help promote clean cars, he also announced a higher state bonus for the purchase of a clean vehicle by individual consumers and businesses, from 6,000 euros to 7,000 euros.

According to figures released by the French Automobile Manufacturers Committee, sales of French vehicle brands plunged by 84.2 percent in April.

France‘s massive rescue plan came one day after Deutsche Lufthansa AG said the German government’s Economic Stabilization Fund (WSF) has approved a 9-billion-euro rescue package for the airline.

Lufthansa said the WSF would provide up to 5.7 billion euros in the form of “silent participation” in the company’s assets, of which nearly 4.7 billion euros would be classified as equity in accordance with related financial rules.

Lufthansa was operationally healthy and profitable before the pandemic and has good prospects for the future, but it came into an existential emergency due to the coronavirus crisis, the WSF Committee, which consists of representatives of several federal ministries, said in a statement.

EASING BORDER CONTROLS

In a phased approach, European countries are cautiously easing their border controls, as part of their efforts to reopen the tourism industry, which is one of the hardest-hit sectors and accounts for about 10 percent of the European Union’s economic output.

On May 13, the European Commission had offered a tourism and transport package, recommending that EU member states with “similar overall risk profiles” on the pandemic should open to tourists from each other’s countries. Two days later (on May 15), Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became the first EU nations to reopen their shared borders.

Starting on Tuesday at midnight, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will reopen their respective borders to each other’s citizens for stays of no more than 48 hours without quarantine, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said on social media.

Also on Tuesday, the Czech Republic began reopening its border crossings with neighboring Germany and Austria.

“From Tuesday, we are opening all railway and road crossings with Germany and Austria, as well as the Hrensko river crossing, and we are abolishing comprehensive border controls,” Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said on Monday in a statement, adding that proof for a negative COVID-19 test will still be mandatory and border checks will be random.

But crossing borders in non-designated areas will still be prohibited until June 13, and the external borders of the Schengen area will be closed until at least June 15, Czech media reported.

Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia had already reached an agreement to allow tourists from the three countries to travel without a quarantine period of 14 days, starting from June 1.

Meanwhile, the German government is planning to lift a travel warning for tourists from 31 European countries from June 15, ending an unprecedented directive against all international travel, German news agency DPA reported on Tuesday.

Alongside Germany’s 26 fellow EU member states, the warning will also be lifted for Britain and the four non-EU members of the borderless Schengen area — Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, DPA reported.

Germany’s plans, which are contingent on continuing positive trends in the coronavirus pandemic, could be approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet as early as Wednesday, DPA said.

(XINHUA)

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Malta holds another boatload of rescued migrants on high seas pending European solution

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Malta has rescued a group of 140 migrants and chartered a third tourist boat to hold them on the high seas after refusing their disembarkation, a government spokesman has confirmed.

Sources said the 140 rescued on Friday were in distress as their dinghy, which was already too small for all those people, was taking in water.

Malta has closed its ports to migrants in April and told the EU it could not guarantee the availability of assets to conduct rescues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following its decision to close its ports, the government still wanted to live up to its international obligations to rescue people at sea who were in distress. On April 30, it chartered a tourist boat to house the 57 migrants rescued earlier in the day.

A second boat was chartered a week later after the Maltese army rescued another boatload of 120 migrants. Ten of them were allowed to disembark for purely humanitarian reasons.

The third boat commissioned on Friday will take the remaining 121 of a group of 140 rescued earlier in the day, as 19 of the group — mostly children, their parents and three pregnant women — were allowed to disembark in Malta.

The three chartered boats are outside Malta’s waters until a European solution is found. Malta is calling for solidarity from other EU member states.

(XINHUA)

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