A new lockdown in Europe, between discontentment and negationism
After the summer reopening new lockdown measures have been reintroduced in many European countries, given the steady increase in the number of infections: 900,000 cases in Germany, more than one million cases in Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain, and more than two million ones in France. Czech Republic acted first. Despite having successfully dealtwith the first wave, today contagions are growing out of all proportion: there are 500 thousand infected out of a population of 10 million inhabitants. On 25 October, a total lockdown was introduced and the government officially asked NATO for assistance, in order to better deal with the inadequacy of health facilities. France has adopted restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms and commercial activities but, thanks to the results obtained, a partial reopening is expected as early as December. Moving to Germany - that adopted soft measures mainly concerning restaurants and nightclubs - and Italy - that adopted different restrictions for each region. In the United Kingdom, non-core activities remain closed, while Spain and Greece have adopted a regional system similar to the Italian one. Further closures have been ordered in the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, Ireland and Portugal. In Denmark, after that coronavirus infected a mink farm, seven municipalities have been completely closed. Conversely, Sweden and Norway - that are deeply affected by the virus, but record much lower mortality rates than other countries - are relying on herd immunity. Although the various restrictions are to be considered less invasive than those of last spring, civil society's concerns about the economic consequences have generated protests and denials throughout the continent. National governments are trying to appease the mood by promising to reopen by Christmas, but the risk of a third wave between January and March is real.
I fondi europei contro il ciclone ungherese-polacco: dalla procedura d’infrazione al veto
On November 16, the governments of the 27 member states met in the Council chaired by the German Minister of European Affairs, Michael Roth. The key point of the videoconference was the veto posed by Hungary and Poland - then joined by Slovenia - against the European budget, because of one specific conditionality associated to the Recovery Fund: respect for the rule of law. The extreme gesture is linked to the hostility emerged some weeks before: on October 30, the Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary, following the latter's violation of the new European legislation on asylum. The Orban government has two months to respond to the Commission, but in the meantime the veto has triggered criticism among other European leaders. "It is not time for vetoes, be responsible," said Roth himself, as "the price to pay would be too high for all European states. Orban and Moraviecki are also well aware of this, because with the veto they would not intend to destroy the whole project of European funds, but rather to reach other compromises and avoid the rule of law clause. The message from Hungary and Poland was well received by the other European negotiators. "We have to evaluate the possible options", affirmed Angela Merkel, while the EU Council President, Charles Michel, said that "a solution must be sought for everyone"; the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen, said that it is important to "reach an agreement as soon as possible".
New deals for vaccines
The Commission has reached another agreement with CureVac, which is producing a vaccine largely funded by ECB loans. The agreement provides for the distribution of 400 million doses. This is not the only pharmaceutical company to have signed agreements with the European Union. Further companies include AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV and BioNtech-Pfizer. Also, the preliminary talks with the American company Moderna were successful, and a definitive agreement is supposed to be finalized. In the meantime, the company has agreed with the European Union to distribute up to 160 million doses. The production was financed with public funds, the final price is therefore expected to cover the costs.
The CAP reform
In October the Council stated its orientation on the reform of the CAP - the Common Agricultural Policy. Member States are expected to cope with more ecological obligations linked to the payment of funds - up to 400 billion - to support farmers affected by the crisis. Requirements are stricter, but the Member States can choose the means by which to achieve environmental objectives. The European Parliament approved the Council's proposal, but called for an increase in the percentage of funds to be allocated directly to environmental issues, a lower ceiling on the compensations destined to large farms and the introduction of social conditionality to protect the right to work. The proposed new regime should enter into force after 2020, but the institutions must work on a transitional regulation to be applied in 2021 and 2022. While waiting for a final agreement between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the Parliament has approved the budgetary plan for 2021-2027, which provides for more than 300 billion in the CAP as early as next spring. The reform has received harsh criticism from environmentalist movements, which believe that the interventions on the environment provided are not sufficient and that the protection of biodiversity has been neglected.
The fear of terror is still alive in Europe
On October 29th, three people were stabbed in Notre Dame Cathedral of Nice by an illegal immigrant from Tunisia, who attacked them screaming "Allah Akbar". "France is under attack," said Macron, promising to increase military suppor to "Sentinelle", the anti-terrorism operation aimed at patrolling cities. Only four days later in Wien, four people were killed and 22 others wounded by a shooting, later claimed by Isis. The two attacks were commented with messages of solidarity by the European leaders, from Ursuala von der Leyen to the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli. Charles Michel spoke about "the importance of the union between European countries and its values". But what do European norms provide for in order to combat terrorism? In 2017 a system of control over people - including European citizens - entering the Schengen area was introduced. From 2021, Etias will be operational: the European Information and Travel Authorization System, which records the entry of non-European citizens; it has the power to deny access to persons considered a risk to internal security. The Union grants the extraordinary closure of internal borders for security reasons - as happened in Germany following the attack in Vienna. Macron proposed to reform the Schengen Treaty to implement the defence of the external borders. Such an idea will be discussed in the December Council on asylum and migration policy.
The dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria risks to block Balcanic candidates' accession procedure
On November 17, during the videoconference among the Ministers of European Affairs of the member countries, Bulgaria voted to block North Macedonia's accession process to the European Union. The reason would be strictly cultural: Bulgaria accuses the candidate of violating an agreement on the recognition of national heroes common to the two states, since historically the region of Macedonia also includes a piece of Bulgaria. Moreover, the latter would not accept the admission of the Macedonian language among those of the Union because it is said to be derived from Bulgarian. The blockade risks to drag with it also the application of Albania, closely related to the Macedonian one. However, the radical position of Bulgaria remains mysterious and it is not excluded that it is motivated by other political reasons.