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Newsline: Belgian ambassador throws King Charles II treaty into EU fishing debate

When the issue of the future access of European fishing fleets was being discussed by EU ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday the Belgian government’s representative, Willem van de Voorde, made a notable intervention. To the confusion of some, and the delight of others, the ambassador cited a treaty signed some 350 years ago by King Charles II which had granted 50 Flemish fishermen from Bruges “eternal rights” to English fishing waters. It was an important historical footnote illustrating the long relationship between Belgian fishermen and British waters, Van de Voorde suggested. When the Privilegie der Visscherie was given in 1666, Bruges was part of the Southern Netherlands, controlled by Spain. The offer had been Charles’s way of showing gratitude for the hospitality he received when he stayed there during the interregnum that followed the decapitation of his father, King Charles I, and his own restoration to the throne. “I wasn’t quite sure what he was on about but I think he was joking,” said one confused diplomat who had listened to Van de Voorde’s intervention. “But, then, you never know.” (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/oct/08/belgian-ambassador-throws-king-charles-ii-treaty-into-eu-fishing-debate) While the validity of the Belgian claim is somewhat unlikely, the tensions in Brussels over fishing access for European fleets from 1 January are very real. The UK has demanded a radical increase in fishing catches in its exclusive economic zone as it leaves the EU’s common fisheries policy. Some in Brussels recognise the need to satisfy this demand – it was one of the key arguments made for Brexit during the 2016 referendum – certain coastal countries, including France in particular, are insisting on the status quo. During the same meeting of ambassadors, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, pointed out that EU revenues from fishing in UK waters was around €650m, compared with €150m for British fishing in UK waters.

Newsline: EU warns Kosovo and Serbia over Jerusalem embassy plans

The European Union voiced “serious concern and regret” over Serbia’s pledge to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Muslim-majority Kosovo also agreed to normalize its ties with Israel, including establishing diplomatic relations. Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci said that his country “will keep a promise to place its diplomatic mission in Jerusalem.” Serbia and Kosovo — which want to accede to the European Union — would be the first nations in Europe to follow Guatemala and the United States in relocating their Israeli embassies to Jerusalem. The potential move goes against the stance held by the EU. The bloc’s official policy states that the holy city’s status should be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians as part of peace negotiations. “There is no EU member state with an embassy in Jerusalem,” European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said. (https://www.dw.com/en/eu-warns-serbia-and-kosovo-over-jerusalem-embassy-plans/a-54845226) “Any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret.” Stano’s comments follow a weekend of talks between the Balkan neighbors and a high-profile summit at the White House where Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti signed statements committing to measures improving economic ties. Both Balkan leaders said on Monday that they attached “the highest priority to EU integration and to continuing the work on the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue” on comprehensive normalization of relations.

Newsline: Hungary summons German ambassador over EU minister’s anti-Semitism criticism

Hungary’s foreign ministry has summoned the German ambassador to a Monday meeting to explain remarks by his country’s European Union minister in which he accused Hungary of anti-Semitism, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a statement on Sunday. Szijjarto rejected the accusations but did not specify where the comments by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth were published. His spokesman, however, told Reuters that Szijjarto was referring to an interview with website t-online.de published late on Friday in which Roth criticised Hungary and Poland for an erosion of democratic culture and also said one aspect that “led to the Article 7 case against Hungary was rampant anti-semitism in Hungary”. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-germany-diplomacy/hungary-summons-german-ambassador-over-eu-ministers-anti-semitism-criticism-idUSKBN25J0PQ) The EU invoked Article 7 of its governing treaty against Hungary in 2018, having invoked the procedure for the first time against Poland in 2017, for flouting the rule of law. The process could lead to the suspension of their EU voting rights if all other capitals agreed.

Newsline: U.S. ambassador says EU criticism of Poland ‘overblown’

The U.S. ambassador to Poland said the European Union’s criticism of Poland’s adherence to democracy is “overblown”, as Warsaw faces cuts to EU budget funds over its judiciary reforms. Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has faced criticism from the EU over its overhaul of its judiciary system, with Brussels accusing Poland of violating EU laws. As its relationship with the EU has faltered, PiS has focused on building strong ties with the United States, especially since President Donald Trump came to power in 2016. “If you’re asking me…do I think that a lot of the attacks on Poland about democratic values is overblown, my answer is yes, I do,” U.S. ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher told Reuters in an interview. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-usa/u-s-ambassador-says-eu-criticism-of-poland-overblown-idUSKCN24J0G5) The EU is struggling to respond to what many in western Europe see as creeping authoritarianism in the eastern wing of the bloc, especially Poland, Hungary and Romania.

Newsline: Venezuela to allow EU ambassador to remain in Caracas

Venezuela will allow the European Union’s ambassador to remain in Caracas, reversing an earlier decision to expel the envoy in response to sanctions the bloc imposed on officials loyal to the socialist government, the foreign ministry said on Thursday. (https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/venezuela-to-allow-eu-ambassador-to-remain-in-caracas—foreign-ministry/45877470) The EU subjected 11 officials to financial sanctions, citing their actions against the democratic functioning of Venezuela’s National Assembly. “Cooperation between both parties can facilitate the path of political dialogue,” said the ministry, adding that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell had spoken about the issue over the phone.

Newsline: Venezuela president orders EU ambassador to leave country following sanctions

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro ordered the EU ambassador Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa to leave the country within 72 hours. Her expulsion came hours after the EU placed sanctions on 11 Venezuelan officials for “undermining democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela.” (https://www.jurist.org/news/2020/07/venezuela-president-orders-eu-ambassador-to-leave-country-following-sanctions/) The sanctions are against those who were “responsible notably for acting against the democratic functioning of the National Assembly,” specifically in the removal of the democratically elected congressional president Juan Guaidó and his subsequent replacement by Maduro’s ally Luis Parra. Despite his removal, Guaidó has maintained the international support of the US and the EU. The sanctions also stated that those included on the involved in “politically motivated prosecutions and creating obstacles to a political and democratic solution to the crisis in Venezuela, as well as serious violations of human rights and restrictions of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of press and speech.” With the 11 new additions to the list, the new total number of those sanctioned is brought to 36 individuals affected by “a travel ban and an asset freeze.” In a broadcast on state television, Maduro reportedly said, “If they can’t respect Venezuela, then they should leave it.” He also added that “A plane can be loaned for her [Pedrosa] to leave,” because Venezuela’s air space is currently closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The EU has not yet provided any formal comment on the situation. Pedrosa has not yet left the country.

Newsline: Diplomats sya chances ‘close to zero’ US travelers will be allowed in EU

Only travelers from those countries with rates of infection from COVID-19 as good as or better than the European Union will be allowed into the region as lockdown restrictions ease. Travelers from the United States are “unlikely” to be allowed into the European Union, as ambassadors of the 27 members states have agreed “in principle” to criteria as the bloc begins to open up to international travel, several EU diplomats told CNN. The agreement is not final, as the ambassadors will need to consult with their respective governments. Under the current criteria — which, among other parameters, takes into account the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days — US travelers would likely be excluded. The US has the highest number of coronavirus deaths and infections in the world. As of Friday afternoon, at least 2.4 million had been infected in the country and 124,891 people had died, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. An EU diplomat told CNN that it was very “unlikely” travelers from the US would be allowed in, adding that even though the list had not been finalized “the US’s chances are close to zero.” The diplomat also said, “with their infection rates … not even they can believe in that possibility.” (https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/26/us-travelers-unlikely-to-be-allowed-into-the-eu-diplomats-say/) Officials at the European Commission have been working with member states on advising which visitors might be considered safe to visit from July 1, when the EU plans to reopen its borders.

Newsline: China alleged to use Malta’s EU embassy for spying

Belgian secret services have been worried “for years” that Dar Malta has been harbouring technical means installed by the Chinese to spy on European institutions, according to French daily Le Monde. The French news outlet wrote that suspicions stem from a renovation project ahead of the 2007 opening of Malta’s EU embassy. Suspicions about Chinese spying were first transmitted to the Belgian authorities around 2010, Le Monde said. (https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/did-china-use-maltas-eu-embassy-for-spying.792260) The alarm was reportedly sounded by British intelligence, who said Chinese secret services were involved in the Maltese embassy’s renovation. Furniture and certain fittings for the prominent embassy in Brussels, which is a stone’s throw away from major EU institutions, were shipped from China to the Belgian capital as part of a $300,000 cooperation agreement. A Times of Malta source said the agreement was not specific to the Dar Malta project. The source said that all wooden furniture donated by the Chinese had been thoroughly scanned prior to installation.

Newsline: UK diplomat in U-turn over EU ventilators ‘political decision’

The head of the United Kingdom’s diplomatic service was on Tuesday forced into a U-turn after admitting the government had made “a political decision” not to join a European Union-wide scheme to buy medical ventilators in bulk as the scale of the coronavirus outbreak was becoming known. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/uk-diplomat-turn-eu-ventilators-political-decision-200421202115545.html) Simon McDonald, the top-ranking civil servant at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had testified – after being repeatedly pressed by members of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee – that “it was a political decision. The UK mission in Brussels briefed ministers about what was available, what was on offer, and the decision is known”. The UK government instead opted to ask British engineering firms such as Rolls-Royce to reorientate their operations towards designing and building new ventilator models. But few of the 22,000 ventilators needed – including 10,000 offered by longtime Conservative Party associate James Dyson, the founder of vacuum cleaner manufacturer Dyson – had arrived in hospitals as the UK approached the peak week for pressure on the health service.

Newsline: UK rejects EU request for ‘mini-embassy’ in Belfast after Brexit

The British minister leading negotiations on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol has rejected a European Union request for what he described as “a mini-embassy” in Belfast. The EU wants to open an office in Northern Ireland to monitor checks and controls on goods crossing the Irish Sea after the end of the current transition period. But Michael Gove told a committee of MPs that Britain saw no reason for any permanent presence for the EU apart from its delegation’s headquarters in London. “Of course it is the case that the EU has the right to monitor the operation of what UK officials are doing but there’s no need for there to be a mini-embassy in Belfast in order for that to happen,” he told the House of Commons committee on the future relationship with the EU. (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/gove-rejects-eu-request-for-mini-embassy-in-belfast-after-brexit-1.4239223) In a letter to the European Commission, paymaster general Penny Mordaunt said any necessary monitoring could be carried out by means of ad hoc visits by EU officials to the North. Under the protocol, goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be subject to EU customs controls unless they are explicitly exempt.