The new year inaugurated by the Portuguese presidency at the Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union, consisting of the heads of State or of government of the members States and of the president of the Commission, is the institution which has the role of defining the political directions of the European Union. Since 2009, it is organised through a rotation mechanism which gives custody of the presidency to a group of three States every 18 months, and each of them accepts the appointment for six months. On 1st July 2020 the period which had as protagonists Germany, Portugal and Slovenia started. On 1st January 2021, Angela Merkel let the directional position to the president Antònio Costa, introducing the Portuguese semester, which will last until 1st July of this year. The three States group usually organises in advance a common line to follow. In fact, Costa announced that, according to the German presidency course of actions and to the European Commission, the three priorities are:
- Promoting the European recovery with a digital and sustainable transition;
- Implementing the Social pillar of the European Union as a key element to ensure a clear transition which is inclusive, digital and sustainable;
- Reinforcing the strategic autonomy of Europe, leaving an open door to the world.
These objectives will be achievable through the tools and the projects established in the previous months thanks to the collaboration between the institutions, as the Next Generation EU and the project of the Green New Deal.
New year with Brexit
Since 31st December, the United Kingdom has been officially released from the right of the European Union, after the transition period which began on 1st February 2020. A temporary Agreement has been stipulated between the Country and the European Union, in force until 28th February, and it regulates trading and security relations of citizens. The consequences have been different among the States. Ireland, which has always made use of the United Kingdom for commercial transport by road towards the European continent, is now facing customs controls and other procedures, causing delays and other damages to trading. France has obtained a profit from the escape of companies from the Brexit: 170 billion euros of assets and 2.500 more jobs. In order to face the upsetting change, the Commission has established a special fund of 5 billions, called Brexit Adjustment Reserve, to allocate among the most damaged regions and sectors, especially in the fishing area in the British water.
Cases of COVID-19 increase after the holidays and lockdown continues
At the end of January more than 30 million infected people have been registered in the whole continent. It is possible to find the United Kingdom in pole position with 3 millions and a half, followed by France with about 3 millions, Spain and Italy with almost 2 millions and a half and Germany has exceeded 2 millions. The blame for the increase of cases has been imputed to the movings occurred during the Christmas holidays, which did not seem to have had the same effect on the calculation of deaths. What aroused concern was especially the British variation of the virus, highly contagious, which pushed the European Union to invite the States to strengthen restrictions. Germany had to opt for a total lockdown, while it is only partial in Spain. In France the curfew was anticipated at 6pm and Austria prolonged Christmas lockdown until 7th February. In order to avoid the closure of borders as happened in the previous springtime, the Commission proposed the creation of “dark red areas”, to isolate the most infected areas.
On 27th December, the administration campaign of vaccines in the European Union has officially begun, starting with the priority categories: elderly people and healthcare professionals. The distributed doses come from Pfizer-BioNTech and from Moderna, yet negotiations for the distribution of doses developed by different companies are still open: the EMA will soon approve the Russian vaccine Sputnik V and that of AstraZeneca. Ursula von der Leyen wanted to specify that those agreements need to be concluded with the European Union, without the capacity of separately negotiating with the States. The president of the Commission has also supported the Greek proposal of creating a European certificate of vaccination, to guarantee more freedom of movement to vaccinated people.
Translated by Lucica Oana Maris