The Brussels Brief

More sanctions against Belarus?

In an unprecedented move described as an act of terrorism, Belarus authorities have diverted a flight to Minsk, which was on its way to Vilnius in Lithuania from Athens, Greece. Following this diversion, the authorities arrested Opposition activist Roman Protasevich. The arrest and diversion caused outrage across Europe. Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki said in a tweet that he asked EU Council President Charles Michel to discuss further sanctions against Belarus during an EU Leaders’ meeting on Monday. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that “any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences.”

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And now for some good news

The European Medicines Agency declared that the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator temperature for a month, rather then five days. This news is expected to affect positively the vaccination programme in Europe.

Warning!

The UK’s response to the EU on the infringement procedure launched by the Union over delays in the Irish Sea was not deemed satisfactory by the EU. The UK accused the EU of resorting to tough actions rather than negotiations on the matter. Many are seeing this as a déjà vu with escalating tensions from both sides of the channel.

Unanimity?

In another blow to EU unanimity on the escalating tensions in the Middle East, Hungary blocked a draft statement on Tuesday which would have called on both sides to stop the violence and implement a cease fire to ease tensions. In an unprecedented move, the EU’s VP and High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, singled out Hungary during a press conference following the videocall meeting. Malta’s Minister for Foreign and EU Affairs was quoted by Reuters saying that the EU would seek Israel-Palestinian peace talks with the US. Meanwhile a cease fire agreement negotiated during the week seems to be holding so far.

White smoke for the EU Digital COVID Certificate

On Thursday evening, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced that the Presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Parliament clinched a deal on the formerly called Digital Green Certificate. The Commissioner hailed the agreement as it was negotiated in record time. This agreement provides a legal framework to Member States to introduce these certificates which are aimed at normalising freedom of movement within the EU. It will also allow for unhindered travel to European destinations, which is a blessing for tourism dependent economies that are betting on these certificates to restart the tourism industry. The deal was endorsed by EU Ambassadors during a meeting on Friday morning.

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Third country nationals are welcome

EU Ambassadors approved a text during a meeting on Wednesday, updating the rules for non-essential travel by nationals outside the EU. The deal stipulates the lifting of restrictions on vaccinated individuals with the possibility of an emergency break, should the COVID-19 epidemiological situation deteriorates in the future. 

No guarantees on preserving the separation of powers

In an opinion, the Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice said that Poland does not have the minimum guarantees to preserve the separation of powers. Meanwhile, Poland’s Justice Ministry called the opinion “bizarre” in a tweet following the publication of the opinion.

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