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The European Union’s Security and Defence Policy Beyond COVID-19 – E-International Relations


As Europe went from being the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic to a situation where most European countries are confident that they are past the worst of the crisis, the focus of the European leaders is now towards the resurgence of the society back to normalcy. Beyond the epidemiological challenge of the virus – the economic, political, geopolitical as well as security challenges faced by the Union are also plenty. Though the European Union’s Global Strategy of 2016 (PDF) highlighted the detection, prevention and response to global pandemics as a priority, the massive consequences and implications on the security policy of the EU are unprecedented. In a continent that is always undergoing shifts, the outbreak of COVID-19 is likely to cause an impact much similar to that of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States of America in 2001.

The most direct and immediate impact is economic in nature which is taking place concurrently to the pandemic. Most European companies including the EU defence firms are witnessing a historic drop in their stock market prices. This is subsequently leading to a rise in their debt ratios and eventually causing a functional threat to their survival. Further, as the public authorities are channelling their resources towards fighting an unprecedented challenge, the funding towards the defence sector and its initiatives is bound to be diminished.

As Europe enters a massive economic recession, defence spending will also take a blow in terms of priority. Europe’s recovery from the outbreak will require unparalleled levels of financial stimulus and thus, the allotted funding to previous defence initiatives, which do not seem to play a key role in the overall recovery of Europe, is likely to decrease. Spending on the defence sector, which had finally reached its pre-2008 financial crisis level in 2019, is now likely to see a reverse trend. The lack of funds will also have a directly proportional relationship with the in-house Research and Development sector of the European defence firms. As long as the COVID-19 crisis persists, its impact will continue to be seen as the slowdown of innovation in the European defence sector, further diminishing the European competitiveness in the same.

As the spending on defence sector slumps, the development of several initiatives on the EU defence cooperation such as European Defence Fund (EDF) and the European Peace Facility (EPF) will lose their velocity. The number of Member States already questioning the political credibility and the value of financing these initiatives will rise, fragmenting the otherwise flourishing integration project of the supranational Union. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the already unequal economies of the Northern and Southern European states, unity and solidarity are already under stress as Member States embolden nationalist narratives, rather than European solutions. Political will is a crucial factor for a transnational actor like the EU in order to develop an effective framework for European security and to establish itself as a credible security partner alongside NATO. The EU defence project will only make sense if the Member States support each other in principle in times of crisis.

The EU’s position as a security actor is under question as a result of the pandemic. Owing to the high cost of dealing with the socio-economic damage caused by the outbreak, the EU’s operational readiness of crisis-management activities will be narrowed down. The Union’s willingness to contribute troops to civilian and military activities on Libyan, Syrian and Ukrainian territories is likely to decrease. This inward-looking perspective of the European security policy further creates a risk that crisis in such regions may worsen at the peak of a pandemic. This will not only add to the human suffering in the neighborhood, but also create a nexus of vulnerability and crisis for Europe. If not handled effectively, non-state actors may begin to take advantage of this period of vulnerability of the Union. Negative externalities could spill over to the EU, such as accelerating the migrant issue and leading to political polarization within the Member States.

While COVID-19 continues to transform political and economic realities in Europe, it becomes imperative for the EU to advocate a holistic recovery package that focusses not only on the reconstruction of economies but also on the diversified security needs of the alliance. The EU has to cope with the pandemic as well as the economic recession without sacrificing the European defence sector initiatives and competitiveness, which could play a functional role in not only maintaining security and stability but also in pushing towards an EU-wide plan of economic and industrial re-launch. At the same time, it is important to note that the need for advancing solidarity on the defence policy front has never been as compelling. With the EU facing the heat on both sides of the pacific in the face of US-China rivalry and transatlantic relations also under stress, the exigency for a more coherent, geopolitical, self-reliant Europe is emergent.

The European Union External Action Taskforce’s factsheet on ‘COVID-19: Lessons and Implications for EU Security and Defence’ (May 2020) highlights the need of the Union to confront all possible security consequences of the pandemic, in order to be truly prepared and resilient for the future. The document brings out the five key essential initial lessons learned in order to overcome the crisis: partnerships, solidarity, responsiveness, capabilities and preparedness. It is advisable for the EU to not abandon its pre-coronavirus agenda on security and defence policy, which is required to be truly responsive to imminent threats facing the continent. Thus, the EU must incorporate European defence cooperation to be a part of its post-pandemic recovery, in order to achieve the goal of strategic autonomy, and enhance its role a security actor in the international realm.

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US, European leaders weigh reopening risks without a vaccine


NEW YORK —
On a weekend when many pandemic-weary people emerged from weeks of lockdown, leaders in the U.S. and Europe weighed the risks and rewards of lifting COVID-19 restrictions knowing that a vaccine could take years to develop.

In separate stark warnings, two major European leaders bluntly told their citizens that the world needs to adapt to living with the coronavirus and cannot wait to be saved by a vaccine.

“We are confronting this risk, and we need to accept it, otherwise we would never be able to relaunch,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said, acceding to a push by regional leaders to allow restaurants, bars and beach facilities to open Monday, weeks ahead of an earlier timetable.

The warnings from Conte and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came as governments worldwide and many U.S. states struggled with restarting economies blindsided by the pandemic. In the U.S., images of crowded bars, beaches and boardwalks suggested some weren’t heeding warnings to safely enjoy reopened spaces while limiting the risks of spreading infection.

Britain’s Johnson, who was hospitalized last month with a serious bout of COVID-19, speculated Sunday that a vaccine may not be developed at all, despite the huge global effort to produce one.

“There remains a very long way to go, and I must be frank that a vaccine might not come to fruition,” Johnson wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

President Donald Trump, by contrast, promised Americans a speedy return to normalcy that sounded far more optimistic than most experts say is realistic.

“We’re looking at vaccines, we’re looking at cures and we are very, very far down the line,” he said while calling into a charity golf tournament broadcast Sunday broadcast on NBC. “I think that’s not going to be in the very distant future. But even before that, I think we’ll be back to normal.”

Trump said events would likely resume with small crowds — if any — but hopes that, by the time the Masters Tournament is played in November, the crowds can return.

Health experts, however, say the world could be months, if not years, away from having a vaccine available to everyone, and they have warned that easing restrictions too quickly could cause the virus to rebound.

With 36 million newly unemployed in the U.S. alone, economic pressures are building even as authorities acknowledge that reopening risks setting off new waves of infections and deaths.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell expressed optimism Sunday that the U.S. economy could begin to recover in the second half of the year, assuming there isn’t a second wave. But he suggested that a full recovery won’t likely be possible before the arrival of a vaccine.

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Powell said that, once the outbreak has been contained, the economy should be able to rebound “substantially,” while warning it would take much longer for the economy to regain its health than it took for it to collapse.

The coronavirus has infected over 4.6 million people and killed more than 314,000 worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say under counts the true toll of the pandemic. The U.S. has reported over 89,000 dead and Europe has seen at least 160,000 deaths.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death.

Some experts noted recent infection surges in Texas, including a 1,800-case jump Saturday, with Amarillo identified as a growing hot spot. Texas officials said increased testing was playing a big role — the more you look for something, the more you find it. Many are watching hospitalizations and death rates in the weeks ahead to see exactly what the new Texas numbers really mean.

But Texas was one of the earliest states to allow stores and restaurants to reopen, and Dr. Michael Saag at the University of Alabama at Birmingham called Texas “a warning shot” for states to closely watch any surges in cases and have plans to swiftly take steps to stop them.

“No one knows for sure exactly the right way forward, and what I think we’re witnessing is a giant national experiment,” said Saag, an infectious diseases researcher.

In the U.S., many states have lifted stay-at-home orders and other restrictions, allowing some types of businesses to reopen.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, told CNN on Sunday that he was concerned to see images of a crowded bar in Columbus, on the first day that outdoor dining establishments were allowed to reopen.

“We made the decision to start opening up Ohio, and about 90% of our economy is back open, because we thought it was a huge risk not to open,” he said. “But we also know it’s a huge risk in opening.”

The Isle of Palms, one of South Carolina’s most popular beaches, saw a rush of visitors this weekend— with Mayor Jimmy Carroll calling Saturday the busiest day he has seen in his more than 60 years there. But police said almost everyone on the beach and in the ocean was staying a safe distance apart.

Houses of worship are beginning to look ahead to resumption of in-person services, with some eyeing that shift this month. But the challenges are steeper in states with ongoing public health restrictions.

In Elgin, Illinois, Northwest Bible Baptist Church had sought to welcome back worshipers on Sunday, preparing to scan people’s temperatures and purchasing protective equipment. But that was postponed after local authorities raised questions.

The church’s preparations were “more than what they’d had to do if they were at Home Depot or Lowe’s or Walmart,” said Jeremy Dys, a counsel at First Liberty Institute, the legal nonprofit representing Northwest Bible Baptist. “Somehow people going to church are incapable, it’s insinuated, of safely gathering.”

Underscoring the tradeoffs involved in resuming such gatherings, officials in California’s Butte County announced Friday that a congregant had tested positive for the virus after attending a Mother’s Day church event that drew more than 180 people.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has suggested that early predictions were overblown. On Monday, Florida restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, as can retail shops, museums and libraries.

Paula Walborsky, a 74-year-old retired attorney in Tallahassee, Florida, has resisted the temptation to get her hair done and turned down dinner invitations from close friends. But when one of her city’s public swimming pools reopened by appointment, she decided to test the waters.

“I was so excited to be back in the water, and it just felt wonderful,” Walborsky said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo got tested for the coronavirus on live television Sunday. Any New Yorkers experiencing flu-like symptoms or those returning to work can now get tested, Cuomo said.

“We’re all talking about what is the spread of the virus when you increase economic activity. Well, how do you know what the spread of the virus is? Testing, testing, testing,” he said.

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Kunzelman reported from Silver Spring, Maryland. Associated Press writers Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida; Michael R. Sisak in New York; and AP writers around the world contributed.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.



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How will the new visa-free European travel system work – VoxEurop (English)



Set to enter into force next year, the ETIAS scheme aims at speeding up traveling authorisation for travellers from countries which do not require a visa. In this regard, it looks pretty much like the US ESTA. But there is still some confusion on how it works, so here we have a closer look at it.

Ever since the European Union first announced that it was planning to create a new travel system in a bid to enhance security and improve border management, speculations on this system have been of every kind and travelers across the globe have started getting a bit worried about it.

While a new requirement to Europe may seem a bit scary, it actually is not as complex and difficult as it seems. ETIAS is, in fact, set to make traveling safer for everyone, and will apply as a requirement only to the nationals of countries traveling visa-free to the Schengen Area. 

While many have attempted to clarify what the ETIAS actually is, most travelers remain either confused or uninformed about it. Following, we have tried to briefly but clearly and simply explain what ETIAS is all about, how travelers will be affected, and who and how will benefit from it. 

What is ETIAS?

The ETIAS abbreviation stands for the European Travel Information and Authorization System. It is a new EU scheme through which nationals of several world countries planning to travel to the Schengen Area will have to apply for and obtain through it a travel authorization named the same – ETIAS – soon in the future.

The system, which will become operational by January 2021, is completely electronical and resembles to schemes operated by other countries as the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) or the Canadian Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA).

It is not a visa, as many have been confused into believing it is, but rather a single document that one can easily apply within minutes, from the comfort of their own home. 

How Does ETIAS Serve to the EU?

Once the ETIAS starts operating, every person planning to travel to the Schengen Area visa-free will have to apply for it online well in advance of their trip.

Each application will undergo detailed security checks before a final decision is given whether the traveler should be permitted to enter the zone or not. The ETIAS system will detect all persons that may pose a threat to the security of the EU and non-EU Schengen Member States, and reject them.

This way the European Union will know who is planning to cross its borders, and prevent from entering those that could disturb the safety of its citizens and other travelers. 

This system will continuously gather, keep track of, and update necessary information regarding visitors. It will also help the EU authorities to improve management of the external borders, make irregular migration more difficult, assist in the detection and decrease of crime and terrorism, therefore reinforcing the visa liberalization policy of the EU at the same time. 

Who Will Need ETIAS?

So far, it is foreseen that the nationals of over 60 world countries that currently have a short-term visa-free travel regime with the EU, will soon need to apply for an ETIAS before taking a trip to any of the Schengen member countries. 

These countries are: Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Georgia, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macao, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, and Venezuela.

Which Countries Can a Traveler Enter with an ETIAS

Those holding a valid ETIAS will be eligible to enter the 26 Schengen member countries, 22 of which are EU member states, which until the enforcement of this system are permitted to enter visa-free. 

The Schengen member countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Getting an ETIAS – Application Procedures Explained 

The European Union has announced that the procedures to get an ETIAS will be simple and quick, as its purpose is not to make traveling to the Schengen Area more difficult, but to facilitate it and make it safer for every visitor. 

Soon, the European Union will launch a website from which applicants can complete the application form. It is estimated that filling out an ETIAS application will take about 10 minutes.

Applicants will need to provide the following information:

  • Full name

  • Date & place of birth

  • Citizenship

  • Address, email and phone number

  • Education and work experience

  • First EU country the applicant intends to visit in his/her first visit to the Schengen Area

In addition, there will also be background and eligibility questions on applicant’s medical condition, police records, possible trips to conflict zones, and other similar questions, which the European Union has not yet revealed.

How much will ETIAS cost?

As for now, it is foreseen that one ETIAS application will cost €7, while all those under the age of 18 at the time of application will be exempt from paying the fee. No additional service fees will be implemented. 

ETIAS Processing Period

Once the applicant gives in all the information required and pays the ETIAS fee, he/she can submit the application by clicking on the ‘submit’ button (or another similar button that will be given). The system will then check if the given information was correct, the eligibility and risk factors of the applicant.

The processing of each application is expected to take about four days, however, in specific circumstances when the ETIAS system needs to consult other EU schemes in an application may take up to two weeks to be processed.

Each traveler will receive the answer on their application through their email. Those that are granted with an ETIAS will receive the document in their email as well, in the form of an A4 document. This document must be printed and carried when traveling to the Schengen Area. 

Validity of an ETIAS

An approved ETIAS will be valid for a period of three years, starting from the date of issuance. If the passport of the traveler expires before the validity of an ETIAS ends, the document becomes invalid at that time as well.

Rules of Traveling with an ETIAS

Rules of traveling with an ETIAS to the Schengen Area, will remain the same as the current rules of visa-free travel to this territory. This includes:

  • Travelers holding an ETIAS can remain in Europe for a maximum of 90 days within every six months. 

  • Travelers must have a valid passport, with at least three more months of validity left beyond the date of intended departure from the Schengen Area. Those holding passports older than ten years, even if they have enough validity left, will not be able to get an ETIAS in first place. 

  • Visitors will still be obligated to hold EU Travel Insurance in order to be permitted to enter from any EU port of entry.

  • Holders of ETIAS, will be able to perform only unpaid activity in the Schengen Area, as tourism, medical checkup or short-term study. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What documents are required to apply for an ETIAS?

While completing the form, the applicant will only need a passport valid for at least six more months beyond the date of the intended stay in the Schengen Area, but not older than ten years.

Can an ETIAS be rejected?

Yes, an ETIAS can be rejected to any applicant for several different reasons. The system could have detected the applicant gave incorrect or false information, was seen as a suspicious or a possible threat to the safety of the EU.

When an applicant receives a negative answer on their application, they will also receive the reason why they were rejected from getting an ETIAS. 

What then?

Those getting a negative decision on an ETIAS application can appeal the decision if they think it was unjust or taken by mistake. 

However, if the reason for the rejection of an ETIAS application is correct and justifiable the applicant should apply for a regular Schengen Visa instead. 

How many times can a traveler enter the EU with an ETIAS?

A traveler can use the ETIAS to visit the European countries in which it is admissible, as soon as the ETIAS is valid, and the traveler does not overstay by violating the 90-days-within-six-months rule. 

Do travelers with a Schengen Visa need ETIAS?

The ETIAS will be mandatory only for visitors from countries that right now can travel to the Schengen Area visa-free. Which means if a person possesses a Schengen visa right now, he or she does not fall under this category, and therefore is not obligated nor eligible for an ETIAS. 

Do those holding long-term visa from one of the Member States need ETIAS?

As a long-term visa/residence permit issued by one of the EU member states permits its holder to travel throughout the whole Schengen Area without the need of getting additional travel permits, ETIAS will not be required from them. 

Do babies and children need ETIAS?

Yes, babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, and adults, will all need to get an ETIAS in order to visit the EU. Children under the age of 18, will however be exempt from paying the fee. Their parents will need to complete the online application form for them. 

What are the differences between an ETIAS and a Schengen Visa?

In essence, they are both permits to enter the Schengen Area. However, it’s the procedures and fees that make all the difference.

While the application process for an ETIAS is completed within 10 minutes, with no documents but a passport required, the process to get a Schengen visa is way more complicated. There are quite e lot of documents required, depending on applicant’s purpose of the visit, including health insurance, proof of accommodation and sufficient financial means. 

In addition, Schengen visa applicants are also required to make an appointment and attend a visa interview, while paying a visa fee of €60, which by February 2020 will increase to €80. 

The processing of an ETIAS is foreseen to take about four days while the processing of a Schengen visa takes 15 business days, in general.



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New European Central Bank chief holds her first rate meeting


FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Newly appointed European Central Bank head Christine Lagarde makes her first official assessment Thursday of the mixed bag that is the eurozone economy, which suffers from slowing manufacturing and global trade even as consumer spending helps prop up growth.

Analysts think Lagarde will stress that the economy still needs support from the central bank, and that policymakers must be their guard against things turning out worse than expected. The ECB, however, is not expected to announce changes to a stimulus package decided Sept. 12 before Lagarde succeeded Mario Draghi on Nov. 1.

Doubts have grown about how much good additional central bank action can do to support developed economies; the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept interest rates unchanged and signaled it would leave them alone through 2020.

Instead, interest is focused on Lagarde, who is presiding over her first meeting since she was appointed by European leaders as the head of the institution that sets monetary policy for the 19 euro countries that use the euro and their 342 million people. She is well known from her previous jobs as head of the International Monetary Fund and as French finance minister but investors will want to see how she communicates and explains the complexities of monetary policy to markets and voters.

Other themes that may come to the fore at her news conference are her plans for a review of the bank’s monetary policy framework and how it defines price stability, the goal it is supposed to seek under the European Union treaty. There’s also been discussion of whether the ECB should do more to support financing of projects aimed at fighting environmental pollution and climate change.

Analysts will also look for signals on how she will manage dissent on the ECB’s 25-member governing council. A minority criticized the measures enacted under predecessor Draghi on Sept. 12. Those included a cut in the deposit rate to minus 0.5% from minus 0.4%. The rate is charged on excess cash left at the central bank overnight by commercial banks, so the negative rate is in effect a penalty that aims to push banks to lend the money to companies. The bank also started 20 billion euros ($22 billion) in monthly purchases of government and corporate bonds.



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David Casa MEP calls for European Council intervention to defend #RuleOfLaw in #Malta


In a letter sent today (25 November), Casa stated: “Malta has been gripped by crisis from the moment the late Daphne Caruana Galizia reported on the Panama Papers. It was a scandal that exposed corporate structures reeking of money laundering and connected to secretive deals with Azerbaijan. Those involved were Prime Minister Muscat’s closest political allies.

“Keith Schembri is still his chief of staff, and Konrad Mizzi, is still a cabinet minister. He held portfolios from Health to Energy and now Tourism.

“Joseph Muscat defended them through the Panama Papers, through revelation after revelation, as the web of corruption continued to be exposed. Daphne Caruana Galizia was considered to be Joseph Muscat’s most vociferous critic, but when she was assassinated by a car bomb on the 16th October 2017, not a shred of political responsibility was shouldered.

“The situation today is degenerating into unprecedented desperation.

“The arrest of Yorgen Fenech was supposed to bring us closer to justice, but Muscat’s interference poses a nauseating predicament that is rapidly further eroding trust in the institutions of the State. Yorgen Fenech, the chief murder suspect and owner of a Dubai company linked to Schembri and Mizzi’s Panamanian companies, was arrested trying to flee Malta on his luxury yacht.

“Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are implicated in serious crimes. With each passing day it is becoming all the more clear that Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered so as to prevent her from exposing these very same crimes.

“Joseph Muscat’s incessant protection of Schembri and Mizzi to this day has inevitably rendered him complicit in their actions.

“To add insult to injury, members of Muscat’s cabinet are being questioned by the police in relation to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Instead of resigning, Muscat has increased his role in this investigation.

“While the police commissioner is refusing to comment, the prime minister is informing the public on the progress of a murder investigation that could implicate members of his cabinet and connects the chief murder suspect to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.

“Joseph Muscat also has the power to recommend presidential pardons. He has already given assurances that he will recommend such a pardon to the middleman involved in setting up the assassination. Now Yorgen Fenech has also asked for a pardon. How can the prime minister decide on such matters when his political fate is intrinsically tied to those that Yorgen Fenech could expose? Given his glaringly obvious interest in the case, it is nothing short of obvious that Muscat should step aside and allow the investigation to carry on independently of undue pressure.

“The prime minister wields domineering influence on supposedly independent institutions giving him effective control. The fact that he has attached himself so forcefully to the murder investigation is seriously undermining Malta’s democratic credentials.

“Prime Minister Joseph Muscat alone is responsible for the constitutional crisis in which Malta is trapped. His resignation is imperative. The Prime Minister no longer holds the moral or political authority to represent our nation as a European country with democratic credentials.

“I am therefore calling upon you, as President of the European Council, to intervene to help safeguard Malta’s democracy and to ensure the respect of the values listed in Article 2 of the Treaty in Malta and in particular, justice and the rule of law.”





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