“The news that Malta has reached herd immunity at such an early stage was met with joy and optimism at the special European Council, as this augurs well for the European Union.” Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela was speaking to journalists at the end of a two-day summit which he described as “intensive” and which led to positive results.
He said that the main priority on the table was how to restart the European economy post pandemic, something which is particularly important for countries like Malta, which depend on the tourism sector.
The Prime Minister thanked the Maltese public for cooperating with Health Authorities in the vaccine rollout, as well as the front liners who were crucial at planning and implementation stage. He added that a crucial element of the success in the vaccination strategy was the fact that the Government has managed to procure enough vaccines so early, in order to guarantee enough stock for the whole population.
Here in Brussels, expectations were high for this special European Council, being the first physical meeting in 5 months, therefore allowing Heads of State and Government to also meet on the margins of the actual meetings, lobbying and pushing their agendas forward.
Here’s a round up of the main points that came out of this two-day summit.
Day 1 opened with a discussion on Belarus. EU Leaders agreed to impose further sanctions on Belarus following the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk to arrest journalist Roman Protasevich and his travel companion. The European Council mandated the High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell to compile a list of individuals that will be covered under the relevant sanctions framework and to prepare targeted economic sanctions. These measures will then be discussed within the Council of the EU internal structures prior to their approval. Furthermore, the EU is calling on European airlines to avoid overflights over the Belarusian airspace while limiting Belarusian airlines access to European airports.
EU leaders have also called for the immediate release of Roman Protasevich and his travel companion and to guarantee their free movement.
The situation in the Middle East was also discussed by EU leaders and while welcoming the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, they reaffirmed its commitment to a Two-State solution and stated that it will be working with other international stakeholders in a bid to restart the political process.
EU leaders also condemned Russian actions both in some EU countries and beyond and asked Josep Borrell to prepare a report on the status of EU-Russia relations to be discussed in its meeting next month.
PM Robert Abela in a discussion with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. © European Union
On the second day of the Summit, today, leaders agreed to donate 100 million COVID–19 vaccines to third countries, by the end of year. While welcoming the approval of the EU Digital COVID Certificate, they called on the Council of the EU to update the travel recommendation on internal travel by mid-June.
Donating vaccines has become an important element in diplomatic circles across the globe, as both China and Russia have used vaccine diplomacy to gain foothold in third countries, notably in Africa. Therefore, by donating vaccines, the EU, which is the largest producer of COVID–19 vaccines, can hope to regain its global standing.
A discussion on climate was set to be quite long and complicated. After European leaders, some eagerly and some half-heartedly, agreed with the ambitious targets of 55% emission reduction by 2030 and to achieving carbon neutrality by 2055, it was time to discuss how these targets will be reached. On the one hand Eastern European Member-States, who are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels for their energy production, are set to bear most of the brunt in terms of costs pertaining to their economic diversification, and on the other, advanced Member-States who actually preferred more ambitious targets. While, the EU has earmarked funding to assist Member States in their effort to diversify their production basis away from fossil fuels, the “national reduction percentages” was the most difficult aspect of the negotiations.
Several Member States noted their preference for national impact assessments to be published together with the whole legislative package prior to making any commitments, as an analytical assessment would be imperative to evaluate the costs and benefits of reaching these targets on the various sectors of the economy, in the short and medium term.
During the December Summit, which discussed climate policy, Malta obtained an important safeguard that acknowledges the limited resources and capabilities of an Island-state located on the periphery of Europe.