17th Apr 2021


EU easing lockdowns, counting costs This WEEK

  • Bars in EU capital will have to serve people outdoors only, as social-distancing stays in force (Photo: Stacy Clinton)

"From now on, freedom is the rule and what is not allowed is the exception," Belgium's corona-info webpage said of Monday (8 June), when bars and restaurants reopen in the EU capital, among other new liberties, in a sign of return to normality.

Several other member states have either done so already or will shortly.

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  • Government-critical Polish judge Igor Tuleya could end up in jail (Photo: Ralf Lotys)

But at the same time, EU officials and the Brussels press corps face another week of talking to computer screens.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, for instance, faces a marathon of video-diplomacy.

He will speak about pandemic aid to poor countries with World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and 27 EU development ministers on Monday.

He will also discuss: corona-disruption to global commerce with 27 EU trade ministers Tuesday; Middle East security with Israeli defence minister Benjamin Gantz Wednesday; Russia with six foreign ministers from former Soviet republics in Europe Thursday; Russia again with five foreign ministers from Central Asia on Friday, and security again with five other foreign ministers from the Sahel region in Africa later the same day.

Belgium also expects to reopen its borders to travellers from 15 June, along with most other EU countries.

But for the time being, the only flying EU commissioner will be Janez Lenarčič, in charge of crisis management, who goes to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday together with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to see how the EU is doing on delivering Covid-19 aid to Africa via special "air-bridge" flights.

About 90 percent of EU staff will also continue to work from home in Brussels.

And the European Commission press centre - a hub for Brussels journalists - will probably stay closed until the end of summer, the commission said Friday.

"We're still in a very early phase of return to normal," a spokesman said, in less enthusiastic words than Belgium's announcement on "freedom is the rule".

In other events, EU finance ministers (Tuesday), employment ministers (Tuesday), health ministers (Friday), and industry ministers (also Friday), will hold video-talks on how to keep on fighting the pandemic and its socio-economic impacts.

Employment ministers, for instance, will look at how to help "vulnerable groups", especially women.

And the head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Christine Lagarde, will brief a European Parliament committee on the ECB's rescue package also on Monday.

Eurozone finance ministers will, on Thursday, check to see if Cyprus, Greece, and Spain are keeping up with the austerity measures they agreed to in return for bailouts during Europe's financial crisis.

They will also discuss progress on creating a euro-area "banking union".

And agriculture ministers will, on Monday, discuss EU commission strategies on food security and nature-friendly farming.


Meanwhile, the commission's two EU values enforcers - Didier Reynders and Vĕra Jourová - will be speaking with the new US ambassador to the EU, with the CEO of YouTube, and with MEPs in separate video-chats Monday and Tuesday.

But they might do well to keep an eye on Poland, where a government-critical judge, Igor Tuleya, is to appear before a new disciplinary tribunal in Warsaw on Tuesday.

Tuleya might be dragged to the disciplinary hearing by force by police and spend years in prison over an alleged procedural violation in 2017.

Independent Polish judges say it would be a "blatant violation" of a recent EU court injunction against Poland's judicial reforms, marking the end of European rule-of-law in its sixth-largest member.

But Polish diplomats deny that, saying the EU injunction did not apply to this particular case.


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Belgium re-opens, with restrictions, on 8 June

From 8 June Belgium reopens bars, restaurants, fitness clubs and other activities, as long as people keep 1.5 meter of social distancing. Traveling will also be possible to other European countries if these agree.


Is Russia manipulating food supplies during pandemic?

Russia already dominates global oil – letting them dominate global food during a pandemic would spell disaster for the EU. It would effectively mean the EU, not just depending on Russian energy, but increasingly also on Russian food supply.

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