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EU vaccine politics reach fever pitch; Britain a target – CTV News

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BRUSSELS —
European Union vaccine politics reached a fever pitch Friday with charges of British blackmail and unfair practices among EU members flying about as the bloc frantically sought to ramp up production and impose export controls to stave off another deadly surge in coronavirus infections.

Underscoring the ebbing cross-Channel relations, French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian highlighted the lopsided exports between the EU and Britain, to where the EU had approved the export of 21 million doses while none have come the other way since vaccinations began in December.

The U.K. has adopted a policy of quickly giving as many people as possible a first dose of vaccine. Le Drian said that meant the country would struggle to get enough doses to administer the required second shots and that the British government was pressuring to get more supplies, at the cost of the EU’s vaccination drive.

“You can’t play like this, a bit with blackmail, in the sense that you wanted to vaccinate with the first dose at all costs but you find yourself a little handicapped for the second,” Le Drian told French radio network France Info. “It’s not up to Europe to pay the price for this policy.”

Britain denied it faces such a quandary, saying it was confident it had adequate vaccine supplies, but the tension underscored the foul political mood.

The U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, which was completed on Jan. 1, already had soured relations, And with 47% of Britain’s population having received a dose of vaccine, compared to just 14% of the people living in the 27-nation bloc, the vaccine issue stings Brussels badly.

To avoid losing out on vaccines, especially to Britain, EU leaders late Thursday backed a export control system that aims to keep doses in the EU until the company that produces then has fulfilled its delivery contracts to EU nations.

EU leaders accuse British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, in particular, of putting its contract with the U.K. ahead of promises to the bloc.

Britain points out that it signed a vaccine deal with AstraZeneca first, and has warned the EU against stopping companies from fulfilling their contracts.

“It would be very damaging if countries started to pull up drawbridges and prevent vaccines, medicines or elements of them from crossing international borders, and the U.K. strongly opposes that,” British government minister Robert Jenrick said. The two sides plan to negotiate over the weekend to find common ground.

Within the bloc too, there is no unified stance toward Britain. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, noting a blockade would create tit-for-tat measures, said that “we absolutely should not arrive at this and we won’t arrive at this.”

The EU is not only dealing with problems at its borders, but also internally.

EU leaders failed to settle a fight about the distribution of COVID-19 shots among member nations after Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Thursday that some countries were receiving more than their fair share at the cost of others, such as Croatia and Bulgaria.

Most nations say the allegedly shorted EU members lagged in supplies because they made the wrong choice when given the option to pick a vaccine provider. AstraZeneca has been woefully underdelivering.

EU ambassadors are now tasked to bring the two sides closer together. Kurz saw the stalemate as a victory on Friday.

“It was the main topic, and the discussion went on for hours.” he said. “At some point, people claimed that Austria was standing alone. I can only tell you that one-third of all member states supported this position very, very, vehemently.”

Italy’s Draghi warned Kurz on Friday not to get his hopes up, arguing it wasn’t worth starting over with a new distribution plan just because some countries banked heavily on AstraZeneca vaccines that haven’t been delivered.

“Think about a new model of distribution? No,” he told a press conference. “Germany and we decided no.”

France is convinced EU unity is paramount in the vaccine crisis.

“We are facing a world war of a new kind. We are confronted with Russian and Chinese destabilization attempts trying to exert influence with the help of vaccines,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after Thursday’s summit. “If we want to hold out, we need (vaccine) sovereignty.”

To that end, the EU’s vaccine czar, Thierry Breton, is crisscrossing the 27-nation bloc visiting facilities for several manufacturers in an effort to increase the EU’s autonomy over the next months.

While visiting a plant near Barcelona, Breton said that 52 factories across the EU are currently churning out vaccines. He says the EU will be producing 2 billion or 3 billion doses by end of year.

“This will make our continent probably the first continent in terms of production by the end of this year, giving us a capacity to produce between 2 to 3 billion doses for us, of course, for our fellow citizens,” Breton said.

——

Nicole Winfield from Rome, Angela Charlton from Paris, Jill Lawless from London, Barry Hatton from Lisbon and Samuel Petrequin contributed.

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down

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Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government

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Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER

“We’ll be back, soon.”

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”

NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS

“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER

“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”

TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER

“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER

“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”

FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN

“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”

BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER

“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”

CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER

“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA

“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”

MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT

“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”

DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM

“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”

EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM

“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”

SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER

“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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