“The COVID-19 Digital Certificate is a game changer for Freedom of Movement, one of the basic principles of the EU.” Speaking at the end of the European Council meeting in Brussels, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that Malta was one of the first EU Member States to introduce the COVID-19 Digital certificate. This, he said, was crucial for Malta’s tourism as he looks forward to a good summer for the tourism industry.
On migration, PM Abela said that it is positive that migration is being put on the European Council agenda on a frequent basis. “Malta has always been vociferous at an EU level on migration. Our work in Libya is producing tangible results, with fewer migrant arrivals in Malta.”
European Council: Emotionally charged, divisive as ever
EU Leaders have concluded another European Council which, on paper, was meant to be a show of unity, with issuesof convergence on the agenda. As expected, COVID-19 and migration were the least contentious.
However, new legislation enacted by the Hungarian Parliament last week proved to be too contentious for EU leaders to ignore. Hungary has effectively banned any LGBTIQ individual from appearing on adverts and TV material, along with any reference to LGBTIQ individuals in school books. Following a request by the BENELUX countries, the European Council President accepted to hold a discussion on developments in Hungary. As predicted by variousdiplomats in Brussels, the meeting was highly charged, with openly-gay Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel leading the charge against Hungary. It sooned turned personal and emotional, unprecedented for the Europa Building.
The discussion demonstrated that EU patience is wearing thin and the European Commission confirmed once again that it has analysed the amendments, and found that these contravene Article 2 of the Treaty of the EU which relates to the Fundamental Rights in the Union. Hungary will most likely face a legal challenge by the Commission, which should be sooner rather than later.
The European Council dynamics have become more apparent, as on one side, Orban is supported by Eastern countries, excluding the Baltics, and on the other, the liberal Western Member States. Many are fearing the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as she is considered as a balanced voice that kept the two opposing sides,together. Diplomats in Brussels fear that once Merkel’s term comes to an end, the European Council will be divided into two opposing camps, one led by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the other by Orban himself.
Yesterday’s discussion was so contentious that at one point, the Dutch Prime Minister asked his Hungarian counterpart to consider triggering Article 50 and leave the Union.
At one point, the Dutch Prime Minister asked his Hungarian counterpart to consider triggering Article 50 and leave the Union.
Another issue which has become a main stay in these meetings is the EU’s relationship with Russia. In line with its actions and support to Belarus, the EU wanted to send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Despite France and Germany teaming up with a late night joint proposal for an EU summit with the Russian President and more economic santions, Member States were having none of it and shot down these proposals, with the main objectors being Eastern and Baltic Member States. After long discussions, the European Council finally approved a strongly worded statement on Russia, tasking the European Commission to draft proposals for new restrictive measures, while re-affirming the EU’s position that Russia should respect the Minsk agreements as a key condition, leaving however, the door open for cooperation on other international matters, including the Iran Nuclear Sanctions.