Global Review – 17th February

Strong reaction by Hungary, Poland to EU Court ruling

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reacted strongly to a ruling by the EU Court of Justice which rejected the appeal filed by Hungary and Poland against the ‘conditionality mechanism’ that links the disbursement of EU funds to the respect for the rule of law. Orban said this was “not a legal sentence, but a political and ideological one, made by abusing their power; they want to force us to accept a federal idea of ​​Europe that we reject”. And Poland’s Deputy Minister of Justice Sebastian Kaleta tweeted the verdict was an “attack against our sovereignty”. Budapest and Warsaw had called for the cancellation of the regulation that allows the EU to suspend European budget payments from to member states where the rule of law is threatened.

Cash for honours probe ‘deepens crisis for British royals’

Most UK national news papers today report on the Metropolitan Police investigation into claims that Prince Charles’ charity offered honours help to a Saudi citizen. “Plutonium Jubilee” reads the Metro – a play on words, as Queen Elizabeth is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee this year. Following the news of the investigation (that comes a day after Prince Andrew settled a sex case), the paper says “another bombshell” threatens to turn the year “toxic”. Under the heading “Yet another royal crisis”, the Daily Mail says the Palace was “in shock a day after Andrew’s disgrace”. The Met have said that there have been no arrests or interviews under caution and the Prince’s Foundation said it would be “inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation”.

US, West contest Russian claims of withdrawal

NATO Secretary-General Jan Stoltenberg has said there was no evidence of Russian claims that Moscow was withdrawing troops from the border with Ukraine. Both US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borell joined Stoltenberg in disputing Russia’s announcement. In an interview with ABC, Blinken said “there is a difference between what Russia says and what Russia does”. According to a senior US official, 7,000 extra Russian troops had arrived on the Ukraine border in recent days. During a phone call with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Boris Johnson stressed there was “little evidence” of a withdrawal of Russian troops. The two leaders agreed to continue working together to find an “urgent diplomatic solution” to the crisis. And the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has expressed caution, stressing that the EU must first “verify”. Russia had announced the end of military exercises in the Crimea annexed to Moscow, where the deployment of troops had fueled fears of an invasion of Ukraine and the soldiers were returning to their garrisons. State television broadcast images of military units crossing a bridge connecting the Russian-controlled peninsula to the mainland.

EU Council, G7 to discuss Ukraine

An informal EU Council on the Ukrainian crisis will be held in Brussels this afternoon. The meeting was called by the President of the EU Council Charles Michel. And Berlin has announced G7 foreign ministers will hold a meeting on the situation in Ukraine on Saturday. The meeting will be held in Munich, on the sidelines of the Security Conference hosted by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. US Vice President Kamala Harris will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the conference.

Von der Leyen: ‘If Moscow cuts gas supplies, we are ready’

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has told the Strasbourg plenary, “We have examined all possibilities if Russia chooses to use energy as a pressure lever and I can say that we are safe for this winter.” She added that “with the member states, we have developed emergency measures that we can put in place if we reach a total crisis”, adding that “over 200 LNG ships are arriving in Europe”. However, she made a plea for Europe to invest “to free ourselves from the dependence on Russia for gas”.

US in contact with alternative Russian gas suppliers

Meanwhile, US State Department advisor Derek Chollett has said they were “working with many gas suppliers to ensure that there is no energy crisis in Europe in the event that Russia decides to cut supplies”. He was speaking during a virtual round table with the media, underlining that the US “is following the issue very closely”.

EU COVID deaths increased by 23% in 2021

The excess mortality – the number of deaths higher than normal conditions – in the EU reached a peak of 26% in November 2021, the year of the COVID pandemic, closing the year instead at 23%. According to Eurostat data, after a low of 6% in July, the rate returned to growth by 9% in August, 13% in September and 18% in October.

100 die in Brazil floods

Some 100 people have died, and an unknown number are missing, in floods outside Rio de Janeiro in what is being described as yet another tragedy linked to climate change in the ‘Regiao Serrana’ (mountainous region) – an hour’s drive from the carioca metropolis. Civil Protection authorities reported that in five hours, more than 200 millimeters of rain fell, resulting in an avalanche of stones and mud that destroyed several houses.

In Phoenix, thousands have to be re-baptized

For 26 years, Father Andres Arango of the church of San Gregorio, in Phoenix, Arizona, had used the formula “we baptise you” instead of “I baptise you” – and  now thousands of faithful have to repeat the baptism because it is considered invalid. Not only: even the subsequent sacraments, in a chain, are all to be redone. The error was discovered in mid-2021 and after the appropriate checks, the bishop of the diocese, Mgr Thomas Olmsted, informed the faithful with an official communication published on the church’s website that “all has to be redone”. Fr Arango has resigned from his post apologising to the faithful. “I deeply regret my mistake,” he said.

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