The Slovenian government has finally decided to nominate two delegated prosecutors for the European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO), after a long delay.
The appointment of Tanja Frank Eler and Matej Oštir is only a “temporary” proposal, the Ljubljana government said in a statement. The two candidates still have to be officially selected via the national nominating procedure.
So far 22 EU member states have joined the new office. Denmark, Ireland, Poland and Hungary do not yet participate. Sweden is expected to join next year. Slovenia was the final EU member state to name prosecutors to the EPPO – a new body designed to claw back misspent EU funds.
The EPPO had no initial reaction, as they had not yet received an official announcement from the Slovenian authorities, an EPPO representative told EUobserver.
When the Slovenian government officially proposes the candidates, then the EPPO in Luxembourg will decide if they are suitable.
Slovenian prime minister Janus Jansa personally delayed and then blocked the appointment of Frank Eler and Oštir back in May.
This prompted the resignation of justice minister Lilijana Kozlovič, who had selected the candidates for the EU’s court in Luxembourg.
In October, the Slovenian administrative court ruled against Janša’s decision to annul the appointment of the two Slovenian representatives.
The government then started a new procedure – and Frank Eler and Oštir were the only candidates to apply to the new call.
The European Commission, and the EPPO chief Laura Kövesi, have made repeated calls on the Jansa government to speed up the progress, and even threatened sanctions.
“Slovenia, a member state of the EU, is interfering with the function of an EU judicial body. This sets a very dangerous precedent,” Kövesi told MEPs and a commission representative in October. “We have to work as if our office does not exist in Slovenia,” she said.
Slovenia currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
On Thursday (18 November) at the autumn meeting of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in Wiesbaden, Kövesi warned Slovenia is “sabotaging” the work of the EPPO.
She told press that since its inception in June, the EPPO has initiated 400 cases, with estimated damage worth over €5bn to EU taxpayers.
But she also warned that the forthcoming distribution of the €800bn Covid-19 pandemic recovery funds posed a “higher risk.” Because it is a novel innovation, to be distributed at speed in a crisis, there is a higher risk of misallocation and opportunities for duplicity.
In the past Kövesi has told MEPs that the current budget is inadequate for the agency to do its job properly.
The parliament and the European Council upped the agency’s budget by a further €7.3m in December 2020 to recruit financial analysts and IT experts.
But, as previously reported by EUobserver, the commission has not allowed EPPO to spend that money to keep cost down.
Von der Leyen slammed for not revealing Pfizer CEO texts
The European Ombudsman has criticised the European Commission for its handling of a request for public access to text messages exchanged between president Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
But, according to the ombudsman, inquiry commission staff never explicitly asked the president’s office to look for text messages, despite Fanta specifically requesting them.
Instead, the cabinet was asked to only look for “documents”, a term that does not include text messages by commission standards.
The EU watchdog has now asked the commission to do a more extensive search.
“The narrow way in which this public access request was treated meant that no attempt was made to identify if any text messages existed,” ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in a statement.
“This falls short of reasonable expectations of transparency and administrative standards in the commission.”
Last year, the EU commissioner for transparency and values, Věra Jourová, said that text messages do not fall under the scope of EU transparency rules on access to documents, as EUobserver reported.
“Due to their short-lived and ephemeral nature, text and instant messages are not meant to contain important information relating to policies, activities and decisions of the commission,” Jourová wrote in a statement.
But a New York Times article in April last year had shown that von der Leyen and Bourla had been exchanging texts and calls for months to seal a deal for 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
“Not all text messages need to be recorded, but relevant text messages should be recorded. It is not credible to claim otherwise,” O’Reilly said, adding that “text messages clearly do fall under the EU transparency law.”
She has said in an official recommendation that the commission should ask von der Leyen for texts concerning EU policies and decisions.
“If text messages concern EU policies and decisions, they should be treated as EU documents,” she said, adding that the “EU administration needs to adapt its practice of recording documents.”
“What Ursula von der Leyen is typing into her phone is, frankly, not a private matter. We need public scrutiny of EU text messages when they are used to make billion-euro vaccine deals,” Fanta tweeted on Friday.
“It is unacceptable that the commission is refusing to be transparent on contacts between von der Leyen and Bourla,” tweeted MEP Kathleen Van Brempt from the Socialists & Democrats group on Friday and called for a dedicated Covid-19 parliamentary committee to further investigate the matter.
In response, a spokesperson has said that the commission will respond to the recommendation before the deadline of 26 April 2022.
‘We just sleep and hope we don’t perish’: 2m in Tigray in urgent need of food – UN | Hunger
At least 2 million people in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray are suffering from an extreme lack of food, with the 15-month conflict between rebel and government forces pushing families to the brink, the UN’s emergency food agency has found.
In the first comprehensive assessment the World Food Programme (WFP) has carried out in Tigray since the start of the war, 37% of the population were found to be severely food insecure, meaning they had at times run out of food and gone a day or more without eating.
Families were found to be “exhausting all means to feed themselves”, with 13% of Tigrayan children under five and almost two-thirds of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering from malnutrition.
“Before the conflict we were eating three times a day but now even once a day is difficult. I was borrowing food from my family but now they have run out. We just sleep and hope we do not perish,” Kiros, a single mother of six children living on the outskirts of the region’s capital, Mekelle, told researchers.
The assessment, which was based on face-to-face interviews with 980 households in accessible parts of Tigray, was carried out from mid-November until mid-December.
However, researchers were unable to travel to areas where fighting is impeding humanitarian access. Moreover, since the assessment was carried out, the needs of the region are thought to have become even more acute as no aid convoy has reached Tigray for about six weeks.
“This bleak assessment reconfirms that what the people of northern Ethiopia need is scaled up humanitarian assistance, and they need it now,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for eastern Africa.
“WFP is doing all it can to ensure our convoys with food and medicines make it through the frontlines. But if hostilities persist, we need all the parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause and formally agreed transport corridors, so that supplies can reach the millions besieged by hunger.”
Across northern Ethiopia, where fighting has raged in the regions of Afar and Amhara as well as Tigray, WFP estimates that 9 million people are in need of humanitarian food assistance, the highest number yet.
In Amhara, hunger has more than doubled in five months, it says. In Afar, where fighting has intensified in recent days between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and forces loyal to the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, recent health screening data showed malnutrition rates for children under five were at 28%, far above the standard emergency threshold of 15%.
Since the conflict erupted in November 2020, it has been difficult for the UN and other humanitarian organisations to gauge the level of need in Tigray due to a lack of on-the-ground access and telecommunications. The UN has accused the federal government of preventing food and essential medical supplies from coming into the region in a de-facto blockade. The government denies this.
On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Mekelle since last September. The drugs are understood to have included enough insulin supplies to last about a month, after medics at the Ayder referral hospital raised the alarm over severe shortages.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, recently accused Abiy’s government of imposing a “hell” on Tigray by denying entry to medical supplies.
“It is a huge relief that this first shipment is reaching hospitals,” said Apollo Barasa, health coordinator at the ICRC delegation in Ethiopia. “This assistance is a lifeline for thousands of people, and I can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is that these deliveries continue.”
Asylum applications on rise in EU
The EU Agency for Asylum on Friday said the number of asylum applications in November 2021 was the second-highest in five years, narrowly below the level in September. About 71,400 applications for international protection were lodged in the “EU+” (EU, plus Norway and Switzerland) in November 2021, up by nine percent from October. “This was the second-highest level since 2016,” it said.
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