The Brussels Brief

Further tightening of rules

Belgium has tightened its COVID19 rules further in a bid to stem the rising infection figures that are threatening its health system once again. Some of the rules include hybrid learning for secondary schools, and mask-wearing in primary schools, while indoor activities have been cancelled. The new restrictions led to fresh protests in the streets of Brussels over the weekend, with the police forced to respond with water canons and tear gas. At least six people were injured and twenty arrested.

It seems that we won’t be looking at the back of the pandemic anytime soon, and unless all of the world population is vaccinated against COVID19, we might have to face up the reality that this virus is here to stay due to its many mutations.

Will vaccines be made mandatory? This idea is already being implemented by Austria while German outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the Government should consider it. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen seems to be in favour of such a move too!

Read more on this here.

Will Russia attack Ukraine?

This is the question that is being posed here in the Brussels corridors of power. All cards are now in Putin’s hands. One of the calculations that the Russian President might be making is whether Ukraine’s allies will come to its aid. The EU does not have the appetite to go to war with Russia, which could also jeopardise its territorial integrity in the Baltic States, and if Putin believes that the US will not go to war over Ukraine either, then the stakes are high. Is it all posturing? Is Russia trying to seek attention?

However, in the margins of the OSCE meeting in Stockholm, it was announced that Putin and Biden are expected to hold a phone call in the coming days.

Malta’s Foreign and European Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo has delivered a stark message to the conference that “we need to find a way to live with each other, even with those who disagree, because if we do not cooperate to face common challenges, we will destroy each other”.

More details on the Russia-Ukraine tension here.

No solution to the energy crisis

European Energy Ministers, including Malta’s Miriam Dalli were in Brussels last week to seek a way out of the crunching energy crisis. European citizens are bracing themselves for a very expensive winter, yet some of the Member States, that do not rely heavily on fossil fuels for their energy supply, believe that this crisis is temporary, while others want a revamp of how electricity prices are calculated in the EU.

Malta is insisting on EU support in providing tailored specific measures to assist EU Member States to address the volatility of global energy prices, while other sources of clean energy are being explored.

Read more here.

Von der Leyen under fire over migration

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is under fire over the relaxing of migration rules in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. MEP Sophie Int-Veld has requested the Commission President to address the European Parliament plenary over the issue.

The European Commission has allowed these three Member States to hold migrants in processing centres for up to 16 weeks. This could mean that migrants could be locked up for 16 weeks while their application is being processed.

Up next this week – Health Council

European Health Ministers are in Brussels this week for the Health Council meeting which, unsurprisingly, is expected to focus on COVID19 and the Omicron variant. Other topics on the table include the European Health Emergency Preparedness and the Response Authority HERA proposal, on which, so far the Council has failed to reach an agreement on the scope of the agency.

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