Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Agenda

EU goes fully online in lockdown This WEEK

  • EU Council president Charles Michel, videoconferencing. This will be the third time EU leaders discuss their responses to the coronavirus pandemic (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Lockdowns all over Europe and in the EU capital, Brussels have forced meetings online, but considering the circumstances, the EU will have a relatively full agenda next week.

The regular March summit of EU leaders in Brussels has been officially postponed.

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Nevertheless EU leaders will convene online next Thursday (26 March) as they have in the past two weeks to coordinate the European response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called Europe the epicentre of the pandemic, while death rates in Italy have surpassed those in China, where the virus appeared first in December.

EU leaders will need to discuss the closure of internal borders and how best to keep the flow of goods, medical supplies and other essentials, moving within the passport-free Schengen area.

They will also need to coordinate on the supplies and purchases of medical equipments as bans on exporting medical gear in several member states have "undermined" EU solidarity, as humanitarian aid commissioner Janez Lenarcic said Thursday.

They will also need to coordinate on economic and fiscal measures to offset the economic consequences of the outbreak.

The idea of using Europe's rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism with its €410bn firepower, could be on the agenda, and also Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte's earlier request for eurobonds to help finance the crisis.

The European Central Bank said last week, it is planning to buy €750bn in bonds, which helped stabilises the markets.

The EU parliament will also hold a one-day extraordinary session the same day.

The aim is to endorse the proposals put forwardly the EU commission to allow EU budget money to be redirected towards helping SMEs, workers, sectors most hit by the economic fallout of the outbreak.

MEPs will also vote on extending the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund to cover public health emergencies and a new law stopping the so-called ghost flights.

MEPs for the first time will vote remotely, via email.

Englargement

EU affairs ministers on Tuesday (24 March) will discuss, online, giving the green light to opening the enlargement negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.

"The EU must live up to its commitments. The enlargement process should not be taken hostage by the domestic agendas of individual member states," European People's Party MEP Michael Gahler said in a statement.

Last October, France and others objected to agreeing to start the negotiations, citing the need to reform the accession process, which the commission has since addressed.

Poland and Hungary, which have been under scrutiny for breaking EU codes on rule of law, and had been accused of democratic backsliding, will also be discussed.

EU foreign ministers will hold video conference on Monday (23 Monday) to discuss geopolitical implications of the coronavirus pandemic, repatriation of EU nationals, the situation in Libya and Syria and its impact on EU's external borders with Turkey.

Exit from Brexit

What is not on the agenda are the Brexit negotiations.

Britain's lead negotiator for post-Brexit trade relations, David Frost has gone into self-isolation after showing mild symptoms of coronavirus.

On Thursday, EU chief negotiation Michel Barnier announced he had tested positive for Covid-19.

"We remain in contact with the European Commission and expect further conversations between the teams next week," a spokesperson for the British prime minister Boris Johnson said.

However, the spread of the virus aggravated doubts whether a EU-UK trade deal can be struck before the current deadline of December 31, 2020.

A second formal round of negotiations was cancelled last week but Johnson said he will not ask for more time, which he would need to do by July.

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