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Italy imposes travel ban from India over Covid variant

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Italy has joined other countries by imposing restrictions on travel from India to avert the spread of a Covid-19 variant as the Asian nation struggles with a surge in infections, Reuters reports. India, which is facing a health crisis, is battling a “double mutant” strain of Covid-19. On Sunday, the country posted the world’s highest single-day increase in cases for a fourth day in a row.

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Speculations Run Amok as Johnson Crashes ‘Awkward One-on-One’ Meeting Between Biden and Morrison

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The Australian prime minister held a meeting with the US president on the sidelines of the G7 summit in England, where the two agreed to work closely on “challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region, among other things.

Scott Morrison was hoping for a one-on-one meeting with US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in the UK, however, event host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson frustrated his plans by crashing their tête-à-tête.

The Australian prime minister was invited to this year’s G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall and was set to meet Biden in a bilateral setting.

When Morrison was asked why the supposed private meeting suddenly included a third party, the prime minister said “it was an opportunity that presented because we’re all here and so it was mutual”.

“We were particularly keen to have the discussion with both parties”, he added.

The incident has prompted great speculation as to why Morrison was unable to secure a bilateral meeting with the US president.

“This seemed to me like it was Boris Johnson stepping in what seemed like it might be a little awkward meeting, given Morrison’s full-on support for [former US President Donald] Trump”, Nikki Sava, a former adviser to ex-Australian Prime Minister John Howard, told ABC’s Insiders.

Many others ventured that Johnson’s decision to make the meeting trilateral was motivated by a willingness to make discussions about climate change productive.

Labour’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Penny Wong called the prime minister’s inability to secure a face-to-face meeting with Biden “disappointing”, and suggested Morrison’s “stubborn refusal” to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 was damaging the country’s reputation on the world stage.

“Mr Morrison’s stubborn refusal to sign up to net zero emissions has left him isolated and left Australia isolated”, she said on Sunday.

Ex-Liberal opposition leader John Hewson, in turn, alleged Biden might “not be prepared to extend Morrison the privilege [of a one-on-one] given his indefensible irresponsibility and stubbornness on climate”.

Greens leader Adam Bandt, for his part, thinks the only reason why Morrison was invited to the G7 summit is so the heads of states and governments can rebuke him over Australia’s perceived inaction on climate change.

“Climate is a critical issue at this G7. It is the only game in town. When they sit down to discuss climate, Scott Morrison will be sitting at the kids’ table and I think part of the reason he’s been invited to this summit is so the rest of the world can give Australia a dressing down on climate”, Bandt told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Morrison has since rejected those claims, arguing that climate change was not a point of discussion for the meeting and would instead be a topic of conversation at Monday’s G7 Plus sessions. 

Following the trilateral meeting, Biden, Morrison, and Johnson issued in a joint statement, revealing they had “discussed a number of issues of mutual concern, including the Indo-Pacific region”.

Morrison later downplayed any suggestion of a diplomatic snub, describing it as “a meeting of great friends and allies who share a view on the world”.

“Australia has no greater friends than the United States and the United Kingdom. It was a great opportunity for my first meeting with the president. I’ve known Boris for many years, and there was a very easy understanding amongst the three of us”.



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EU relations: Berlin, Paris hoping Spain will stay close to EU’s French-German bloc | International

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France and Germany, considered the traditional axis of the European Union, are hoping that the Spanish government will remain a firm ally despite statements by Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya about seeking to diversify ties within the 27-country bloc.

In the space of just a few months, Spain has gone from embracing a G-3 of sorts with France and Germany to considering new alliances. These could include cooperation with Poland and Hungary in the battle to preserve European cohesion funds.

It makes sense to complement alliances with other states, but there is no substantial reason to justify walking away from the Franco-German axis

Ignacio Molina, senior analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute

Toward the end of former Foreign Minister Josep Borrell’s term in office, there were attempts at opening up to alternative alliances as Europe moved to a post-Brexit scenario. But it is González Laya’s first steps at the helm of the Foreign Ministry that have most clearly set the new tone.

Sources consulted by this newspaper played down this difference and instead highlighted Spain’s pro-European sentiment as a key to EU collaboration.

“It is normal for each country to seek out partners based on its own interests regarding a specific issue,” said a German diplomat. “This is not a big surprise, and you could also see it happening with Borrell. “The main thing, and there is no question about this, is that everyone should row in the same direction: for a Europe that is strong and shows solidarity.”

A French diplomatic source said that Spain remains a key player in the new European landscape that opened up when Britain left the club on January 31. “We cannot build a sovereign Europe without great involvement by Spain,” said this source. “France and Germany expect a lot from their main partners, particularly from Spain, in order to address Europe’s challenges.”

Everyone should row in the same direction: for a Europe that is strong and shows solidarity

Anonymous German diplomat

Since 1986, the year it joined the European club, Spain has stuck close to the French-German axis. “The only time we went our own way was in 2001, under [former Prime Minister] José María Aznar, and that was a strategic move prompted by the Iraq war,” notes Ignacio Molina, a senior analyst at Elcano Royal Institute. “It is not possible to distance yourself from the axis: [Hungarian PM Viktor] Orban can do it, the way that Aznar did, but everything in the EU goes through that core group.”

In early February, González Laya told this newspaper that she wished to cooperate with France and Germany on some policies, but not on all. “On other issues, the geometry will be a little bit different,” she said, citing a few countries from Eastern Europe that follow opposite policies from Spain on issues such as immigration or the rule of law. In spite of this, Spain could consider these countries allies on matters such as EU cohesion policy.

In her initial days in office, the new minister received Mediterranean colleagues first, notably Italy’s Luigi di Maio and Greece’s Nikos Dendias. But two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said there is no particular state strategy behind the move. Instead, it is González Laya’s own take on the role that Spain should play within a bloc that has just lost its second-biggest economy, triggering a political reshuffle on the continent.

The minister will appear before Congress for the first time this coming Thursday, when she will discuss the main lines of her work as head of Spanish diplomacy.

González Laya was asked to come Berlin by Germany’s foreign minister, the social-democrat Heiko Maas, in the welcome letter he sent her following her appointment. While these letters are part of the protocol, they do not always include an invitation. No date has been set yet for the meeting.

This week, a lower-level bilateral meeting between Spain and France is taking place in Madrid, where the Spanish Secretary of State for European Affairs, Juan González-Barba, will meet with his French counterpart, Amélie de Montchalin. These two officials will also meet with a Portuguese representative to discuss electricity connections between their countries.

The Elcano analyst trusts that González Laya’s early remarks will not result in a more distant relationship between Spain, France and Germany. “It makes sense to complement alliances with other states, but there is no substantial reason to justify walking away from the Franco-German axis,” said Ignacio Molina.

English version by Susana Urra.

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Frontex turning ‘blind eye’ to human rights violations, says former deputy | Global development

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The former deputy head of Europe’s border and coastguard agency has said the state of the beleaguered force “pains” him and that it is vulnerable to the “alarming” rise of populism across the continent.

In his first interview since leaving office, Gil Arias Fernández, former deputy director at Frontex and once tipped for the top post, said he was deeply worried about the agency’s damaged reputation, its decision to arm officers, and its inability to stop the far-right infiltrating its ranks, amid anti-migrant movements across Europe.

“Weapons are not needed for Frontex operations,” he said. “They are more of a problem than a help.”

Frontex is experiencing the most acute crisis in its 16-year history. The agency is being investigated by the European parliament over allegations of illegal pushbacks of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean and its head, Fabrice Leggeri, is facing calls to quit over allegations he misled the EU commission. Leggeri has strongly rejected allegations about the agency’s operations.

Arias Fernández, 65, now retired, lost out on the top role to Leggeri in 2015. He admits he did not get on with Leggeri when they worked together for a year.

“From the first moment I saw that he had a perhaps excessive eagerness to change things. Maybe it was to put his personal stamp on things,” said Arias Fernández.

He said decisions made by one of the EU’s most powerful agencies had led to complicity in human rights violations.

“Frontex pains me,” he said. “Especially for the staff, because they don’t deserve what they are going through. We saw the agency as an instrument to help the member states and the migrants. These events put a dent in all that effort.

“I do not believe that the agency has proactively violated the rights of migrants, but there are reasons to believe that it has turned a blind eye.”

Gil Arias Fernández. ‘Frontex pains me,’ he said.
Gil Arias Fernández. ‘Frontex pains me,’ he said. Photograph: Jose Bautista/Courtesy of Fundation for Causa

In January 2015, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, several European politicians suggested the presence of refugees among the terrorists.

When the media asked Frontex about any link between refugees and the Paris attack, Arias Fernández, a former police commissioner in Spain, told them there was no evidence.

Arias Fernández believes this cost him the director’s job.

The political pressure made the job a tough one, Arias Fernández said. “There is a lot of pressure on the part of certain states to put their people in positions of responsibility. Whether the agency is headed by a Frenchman or a Finn may determine whether there is more or less sensitivity to migration problems. The agency is independent, but ‘independent’ should be put in quotation marks because without a fluid relationship with the [European] commission, you have a hard time.

“Operations have always been conducted unarmed and there have never been any problems. In operations where Libyan tribal clans smuggling migrants shot in the air to frighten the patrols, even there it was not considered appropriate to carry weapons. In this case, weapons are more a problem than a help. The proposal of carrying weapons came from the European Commission, which I do not know to what extent is influenced by lobbyists in Brussels.

“There is no filter in the recruitment system. You cannot prevent people with extremist ideas from entering, unless they clearly express their position in favour of hate crimes, xenophobia and racism.”

Arias Fernández pointed to the dearth of human rights training for Frontex officers. “But lack of information should not be used to justify certain things,” he said. “The incidents under investigation were carried out by Greek units following the instructions of their commanders.

“When there are irregularities like this in operations, it is usually because there are instructions from the authorities responsible for coordinating the operation. The decision to turn back a boat with migrants is not taken by an officer but is an order from above.”

A rescue boat escorts a dinghy with migrants from Afghanistan as a Frontex ship patrols off Lesbos in Greece.
A rescue boat escorts a dinghy with migrants from Afghanistan as a Frontex ship patrols off Lesbos in Greece. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

He said he appreciated borders needed a certain level of security to know who was entering but added that immigration was vitally important for the survival of all European states.

“I come to this conclusion because there are studies that show that if we do not resort to immigration and other incentives, the EU will have serious problems and the welfare state will be a chimera. We should learn these lessons. In the first half of the pandemic, migrants saved our bacon.

“In Europe, movements that use populism are growing at an alarming rate, and the fight against immigrants is one of those arguments. States are excessively prudent in not touching this issue. The commission presented the new pact on migration and asylum, which contains no proposals for channelling migration through legal channels. They tried to satisfy all the blocs, Visegrád [Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia], southern states, northern states, and I fear that in the end it satisfies no one.”

Arias Fernández said the lack of migrants being allowed into Europe would have a severe economic impact amid an ageing workforce: “Who will pay the pensions of the growing number of pensioners?”

A Frontex spokesman denied the agency ignored migrants’ rights. “The executive director of Frontex has written several letters to the Greek authorities to address incidents that raised his concerns. Two inquiries, including one that was conducted by representatives of national authorities and the European Commission, have found no evidence of violations of human rights in Frontex operations in Greece.”

The spokesman also denied that officers had always conducted operations while unarmed, saying: “Before this year, Frontex relied exclusively on officers provided by national authorities, who brought their own weapons to the agency’s operational activities. Today, Frontex has its own operational arm, the standing corps, whose core is made up of officers directly employed by the agency who require weapons for self-defence and to protect others.

“Since Mr Arias left more than half-a-decade ago, Frontex has undergone a massive transformation that included a much bigger focus on cross-border crime, which means a greater chance that our officers may encounter life-threatening situations while patrolling the borders or performing other duties.”

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