Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva asserted his certainty regarding the support the European Union will provide to Mozambique in training its forces in the fight against terrorism — following a letter issued by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique requesting aid in the anti-jihadist resistance in the country’s volatile Cabo Delgado region which has seen a rise in catastrophic insurgencies the last few years.
In an interview with the LUSA news agency in Bissau, Silva recalls that the European Parliament has already discussed the matter and that there was consensus among the deputies, “As Minister of Foreign Affairs of the country that will occupy the presidency of the Council of the European Union from January, I have already had an opportunity to have a formal meeting with the high representative Josep Borrel and one of the themes was the north of Mozambique, support for Mozambique. Based on all this information, I am sure that the European Union’s response will not be delayed, it will be positive, and naturally, Portugal will contribute to it quickly and positively.”
In a recorded speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi outlined the wave of violent attacks by Islamic extremist groups in the country’s north, “They leave people displaced, destroy housing and socio-economic infrastructure, plunder community goods, keep children and women in captivity. As a result of these phenomena, over a thousand people have been murdered and around 250 thousand people are displaced in other districts within the country.”
The province of the gas-rich Cabo Delgado region in Mozambique has been the backdrop of debilitating armed attacks the last three years by forces classified as Islamist terrorists.
EU’s chief negotiator ‘worried’ as UK reportedly plans new law to override key parts of Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
Brexit trade talks have plunged into crisis on the eve of a penultimate round of negotiations in London, after the United Kingdom warned the European Union that it could effectively override the divorce deal it signed unless the bloc agrees to a free trade deal by October 15.
Tensions mounted on Monday, with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier saying he was “worried” about negotiations, and that he will seek clarification from London about plans to renege on commitments.
The UK is reportedly planning new legislation that will override key parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – a step that, if implemented, could jeopardise a treaty signed in January and stoke tension in Northern Ireland.
Sections of the internal market bill, due to be published on Wednesday, are expected to “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs, the Financial Times newspaper said on Monday, citing three people familiar with the plans.
If no deal is agreed, both sides should “accept that and move on”, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will say later on Monday. In this scenario, the UK would have a trading relationship with the bloc like Australia’s, which would be “a good outcome”, Johnson will say.
Johnson will also say there is no sense in thinking about timelines beyond October 15.
“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on,” he will say.
As the prospect of a no-deal Brexit loomed, sterling fell against the dollar and euro.
The UK left the EU on January 31, but talks aimed at clinching a new trade deal before the end of a status-quo transition arrangement in December have so far snagged on state aid rules and fishing.
Without a deal, nearly $1 trillion in trade between the UK and the EU could be thrown into uncertainty, including rules over everything from car parts and medicines to fruit and data.
European concern over UK’s reported plan The reported plan to undermine the Withdrawal Agreement was condemned by parties on both sides of the Irish border and surprised some in Brussels.
“If the UK chose not to respect its international obligations, it would undermine its international standing,” said one EU diplomat.
“Who would want to agree trade deals with a country that doesn’t implement international treaties? It would be a desperate and ultimately self-defeating strategy,” the diplomat said.
“Without correct implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, I cannot imagine the EU would conclude a treaty with a country that does not abide by its treaty commitments,” said another EU diplomat.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who played a key role in negotiating the withdrawal agreement and Northern Ireland protocol, said on Twitter that the reported move “would be a very unwise way to proceed”.
Senior members of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein and SDLP parties, the region’s two largest Irish nationalist groups, also criticised the UK’s reported plan.
Asked about the report in the Financial Times, British Environment Secretary George Eustice said there might be some minor “legal ambiguities” that needed to be tidied up over the Northern Irish protocol.
“We are not moving the goal posts,” he told Sky News broadcaster.
Barnier said everything that has been signed “must be respected”, as he planned to discuss the FT report with his British counterpart David Frost during this week’s talks.
“The important thing for me is what the prime minister says and does, and what the British government itself says and does,” he said.
Regarding Northern Ireland, Barnier insisted that under the withdrawal deal it will continue to apply the EU’s single market rules, intended to avoid a “hard border” with Ireland but which would effectively create a trade border in the Irish Sea.
The move is meant to avoid reviving sectarian tensions between Ireland and Northern Ireland that were largely calmed by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
“No land border is the pre-requisite for peace since the end of the conflict … and it’s the pre-requisite for a united and coherent economy for the entire island, and also to respect the single market,” Barnier said.
Post-Brexit trade talks have stalled over the UK’s push for autonomy over state aid and fishing rights.
The United Kingdom has set a deadline of October 15 to strike a free-trade deal with the European Union, and if none is agreed, both sides should “accept that and move on”, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will say on Monday.
The UK left the EU on January 31, but there has been little progress on a new trade deal after a status-quo transition arrangement ends in December. Failure to reach a deal could result in the imposition of trade tariffs and customs controls for goods moving between the UK and EU.
Talks, which have stalled over the UK’s insistence that it has full autonomy over state aid and fishing, are due to resume in London on Tuesday.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said an agreement on trade needed to be reached urgently and he blamed the stalemate on the UK’s attitude.
Johnson will say there is no sense in thinking about timelines beyond October 15.
“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on,” he will say, according to comments released by his office.
If no deal is agreed, the UK would have a trading relationship with the bloc like Australia’s, which would be “a good outcome”, Johnson will say.
The EU has been negotiating a trade agreement with Australia since 2018 but has yet to conclude a deal.
‘Full control’ “As a government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it,” Johnson will say. “We will have full control over our laws, our rules and our fishing waters.”
In that case, the UK would be ready to find sensible accommodation with the bloc on practical issues such as flights, lorry transport or scientific cooperation, according to the excerpts.
The Financial Times newspaper reported that the British government is planning legislation that will override key parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, risking the collapse of trade negotiations with Brussels.
Sections of the internal market bill, due to be published on Wednesday, are expected to “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs, the newspaper said, citing three people familiar with the plans.
A source told the newspaper that the move could “clearly and consciously” undermine the agreement on Northern Ireland – a part of the UK – that Johnson signed last October to avoid a return to a hard border with the neighbouring Republic of Ireland.
The UK’s Brexit negotiator David Frost said on Sunday that the British government was not scared of a no-deal exit at the end of the year.
Johnson will say there is still a deal to be had based on a standard free trade agreement if the EU is ready to rethink its current position.
“But we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get it,” he will say.
The European Union’s high representative Josep Borrell held talks in Liba with the warring sides in a bid to find a solution to end the conflict.
Chaos erupted after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2014, the country has been split between the rival factions: the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA) and General Khalifa Hafta, who controls the east.
Both sides are backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Fayez Sarraj, head of the GNA, announced a cease-fire on 21 August and called for demilitarising the key city of Sirte and the nearby area of Jufra, which would mean the withdrawal of forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter.
Previous efforts to secure lasting cease-fires have stalled.
The two sides also agreed on the need of an “effective” international support to the political solution to Libya’s conflict, a statement said.
Hafter’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 trying to capture Tripoli.
But his campaign collapsed in June when the Tripoli-allied militias, with heavy Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving his forces from the outskirts of the city and other western towns.
The two sides also agreed on the need of an “effective” international support to the political solution to Libya’s conflict, a statement said.
But that may prove difficult with countries split on which side they support.
Turkey, Italy and Qatar are among those who side with the GNA.
Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates back General Haftar.
Congolese Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege is calling on the European Union to implement a system that would allow people to raise the alarm “to prevent atrocities.”
Mukwege spoke to EU lawmakers on Monday via video-link.
“We need to create a system which allows people to raise the alarm. These individuals who are in different parts of the country do fantastic work to protect their populations and communities and to prevent atrocities,” Mukwege said.
He also called on human rights defenders to be protected themselves.
Mukwege is known for founding that is renowned for its work treating survivors of sexual violence.
He has faced death threat.
The United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called for a quick investigation into the death threats against Mukwege last week.
He praised him as a “true hero” for his work,
The DRC’s eastern region has seen separate conflicts involving armed groups and government forces for the past year.
Thousands have been killed and half a million people have fled the violence.
In November, the International Criminal Court passed its highest ever sentence when it sent a Congolese warlord known as “The Terminator” to prison for 30 years for crimes including murder, rape and sexual slavery.
Bosco Ntaganda was found guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as a military commander in atrocities during a bloody ethnic conflict in a mineral-rich region of Congo in 2002-2003.
Turkish VP refutes EU threat for sanctions as Turkish military gets ready to carry out military exercises off Cyprus.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay has slammed a recent threat by the European Union to slap Ankara with sanctions as “hypocritical” as his country prepares to carry out a military drill off the coast of Cyprus amid tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Oktay’s comments on Saturday came a day after Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the bloc was preparing to impose sanctions on Turkey – including tough economic measures – unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.
“It is hypocritical for the European Union to call for dialogue and, simultaneously, make other plans regarding Turkey’s activities within our continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Oktay said on Twitter.
“We are proficient in the language of peace and diplomacy, but do not hesitate to do the necessary thing when it comes to defending Turkey’s rights and interests. France and Greece know that better than anyone.”
The long-running dispute between Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, flared after both agreed to rival accords on their maritime boundaries with Libya and Egypt, and Turkey sent a survey vessel into contested waters this month.
The EU’s measures, meant to limit Turkey’s ability to explore for natural gas in contested waters, could include individuals, ships or the use of European ports, Borrell said.
“We can go to measures related to sectoral activities … where the Turkish economy is related to the European economy,” Borrell told a news conference, referring to possible sanctions.
The EU would focus on everything related to “activities we consider illegal”, he said.
Military exercise On Friday, Turkey said it will hold military drills off northwest Cyprus in the next two weeks.
The Turkish military issued an advisory to mariners, known as a Navtex, saying it would be holding a “gunnery exercise” from Saturday until September 11.
Greece and Turkey have both held military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for the dispute over the extent of their continental shelves to escalate into a confrontation.
Two weeks ago, Greek and Turkish frigates shadowing Turkey’s Oruc Reis oil and gas survey vessel collided, and Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense said Turkish F-16 jets on Thursday prevented six Greek F-16s from entering an area where Turkey was operating.
Greece and Turkey are at odds over the rights to potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, based on conflicting claims about the extent of their continental shelves.
Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel in a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo.
The agreement is seen as a response to a Turkish-Libyan accord signed in 2019 allowing Turkey access to areas in the region where large hydrocarbon deposits have been discovered.
Turkey is a formal candidate to join the EU, but its talks with the bloc have been in a deadlock for several years now.
The EU urged Russia on Friday not to intervene in Belarus after President Vladimir Putin vowed military support for the country’s embattled leader.
As EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin discussed the crisis, President Alexander Lukashenko — facing unprecedented protests calling for him to quit — accused the West of trying to topple him in order to weaken Moscow.
Meanwhile neighbouring Ukraine, which saw its own pro-Russian leader toppled after bloody protests in 2014, has offered refuge to Belarusians fleeing a regime crackdown.
The EU has rejected the official results of an August 9 presidential poll in Belarus, which saw Lukashenko re-elected with 80 percent of votes, and is preparing sanctions against his regime for electoral fraud and a violent crackdown on opposition protesters.
Putin on Thursday said he stood ready to send in his military to stabilise Belarus after weeks of huge demonstrations calling for Lukashenko, often dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”, to quit and hold new elections.
“I have heard many times from Russia the mantra that this is a domestic internal affair for Belarus and they do not want external interference. I suppose it’s also valid for themselves,” EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell said.
“It is solely for the Belarusian people to determine their own future,” he added, urging Russia to “respect the wishes and democratic choices of the Belarusian people.”
French President Emmanuel Macron was blunter, telling reporters in Paris that the “worst thing would be Russian intervention” in Belarus.
There “could be no repeat of what happened in Ukraine”, Macron added.
After an uprising in 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and pro-Moscow forces declared breakaway republics in Ukrainian regions in the east.
‘Springboard to Russia’ Putin on Thursday also called on the Minsk authorities and the opposition to “find a way out” of the crisis peacefully, but the threat of military intervention by the Kremlin has raised the spectre of the crisis on the EU’s doorstep taking a darker turn.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, renewed his claims that the West wanted to see the back of him for its own ends.
“Belarus is just a springboard to Russia, as always,” he said, according to the state news agency Belta.
“Unlike Hitler, who sent his army to Moscow, they are trying to destroy the government in place here and replace it with a new one that will ask another country for military assistance and deploy troops.”
EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin gave their backing to a list of some 20 individuals to be hit with asset freezes and travel bans for their role in rigging the Belarus election or cracking down on demonstrators.
Borrell said the list would encompass “individuals at high political level”, but it looks unlikely to include Lukashenko himself, despite calls from some countries for him to be targeted.
‘Deeply alarming’ The EU is supporting offers by the OSCE to broker a negotiated end to the crisis and hitting Lukashenko in person is seen as counterproductive to these efforts.
The OSCE on Friday described the post-election violence in Belarus as “deeply alarming” and called on Minsk to accept its offer to support dialogue and avoid a “nightmare”.
The current OSCE chair, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, said the sooner dialogue started “the better it is for everyone”.
Macron said Putin had told him Russia was open to OSCE mediation but Lukashenko was opposed.
“He (Putin) has to make efforts to help us in this direction,” the French president added.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Belarusians seeking to enter “Ukraine in an attempt to flee the crisis” would receive entry permits from his country’s border guards.
He said they will be given preferential treatment and be exempt from a month-long entry ban over spiking coronavirus cases.
The demonstrations that erupted in Belarus after the election and the violent police crackdown that followed have prompted comparisons with Ukraine’s pro-Western uprising in 2014.
Lukashenko’s notorious security services violently broke up peaceful protests after the vote, arresting nearly 7,000 people in a clampdown that sparked widespread allegations of torture and abuse in police custody.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring EU country Lithuania after claiming she beat the 65-year-old leader and calling for the protests.
Ireland on Thursday scrambled to assemble potential candidates to succeed EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan after his resignation for breaching coronavirus guidelines.
Hogan, one of the bloc’s most senior officials and a powerful force in Brexit talks, quit on Wednesday after a week-long stream of revelations caused rising public anger.
European Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia has stepped up to take over temporarily.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke to Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin by phone, asked Dublin to submit one man and one woman as candidates to succeed Hogan.
Her spokesman said she wanted a replacement “rapidly”.
Von der Leyen meanwhile issued a stern warning to other commissioners to comply with Covid-19 rules.
As “Europeans make sacrifices and accept painful restrictions, I expect the members… to be particularly vigilant about compliance with applicable national or regional rules or recommendations”, she said in a statement.
– Rumoured replacements –
Martin told Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE on Thursday that he would meet his government coalition partners to discuss Hogan’s replacement.
He refused to be drawn on specific names, even as rumours swirled linking past prime ministers, current cabinet ministers and European parliamentary officials to the job.
But he added: “It’s fair to say that at this stage our shared objective will be that a person of very, very high calibre will be nominated by the Irish government.”
Yet there is no guarantee Ireland will retain the trade portfolio, which is regarded as a key asset protecting the Republic’s interests during Brexit trade talks with Britain.
Among those touted in the Irish media as potential successors are former prime minister Leo Varadkar, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.
But all three hold key positions in Martin’s two-months-old coalition government, and Donohoe was recently appointed head of the eurozone group of finance ministers.
Martin is also considered unlikely to want to weaken his administration, which has already been hit by a series of resignations and is facing a surge in coronavirus cases.
RTE raised European Parliament vice-president Mairead McGuinness and former deputy prime minister turned MEP Frances Fitzgerald as possible replacements for Hogan.
They were seen as figures who would not destabilise the coalition by prompting an unwelcome by-election.
Other names said to be in the frame include the former EU ambassador to the United States, David O’Sullivan, and former prime minister Enda Kenny.
The Irish Times, citing party sources, speculated candidates will come from the centre-right Fine Gael party Hogan served as an Irish lawmaker under the terms of the coalition deal.
It is thought the government may have already had a plan to replace Hogan — a former Irish government minister and EU agriculture commissioner — after he made a failed run for the head of the World Trade Organization in June.
– Covid-19 breaches –
On Wednesday the Irish government said 60-year-old Hogan’s resignation was “the correct course of action”.
Martin piled pressure on Hogan to quit after it emerged he travelled through a county in a local lockdown and flouted guidelines for a 14-day quarantine on arrival in Ireland.
Hogan also attended a parliamentary golf club dinner on August 19 in breach of coronavirus restrictions on social gatherings announced just 24 hours earlier.
The sporting evening was attended by around 80 people — including a cabinet minister, a supreme court judge and lawmakers from Ireland’s upper and lower houses of parliament.
It is being investigated by police under legislation limiting gatherings to 50 and has prompted a series of high-level resignations, including agriculture minister Dara Calleary and deputy Senate chair Jerry Buttimer.
Hogan initially declined to apologise for his attendance at the event and details of his travels across Ireland emerged fitfully.
Embarrassment was compounded when it was revealed he was pulled over by an Irish police officer for using his phone while driving.
“I deeply regret that my trip to Ireland … caused such concern, unease and upset,” Hogan said in his resignation statement.
Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed says all persons must refuse to accept the conditions that make violence against women and girls possible.
The UN top official made the remarks in a pre-recorded video broadcast on Tuesday during a Spotlight Initiative townhall.
The Spotlight Initiative, a new, global, multi-year initiative from the European Union (EU) and the UN, is determined to eliminate all forms of such violence against women and girls (VAWG).
“Around the world, violence against women and girls, especially rape is skyrocketing,” Mohammed said. “Many incidents have triggered widespread outrage. Yet some keep trying to play the oldest game in the book; the blame game. Blame the COVID-19 pandemic, blame social and economic stress, blame uncertainty. Even outrageously, blame the victim – usually a woman or, worse still, a girl. Blame anything, everything but the perpetrator.
“Let’s be really clear, sexual violence and any form of violence is violence. There is absolutely no excuse, there is no justification and there must be zero tolerance. All of us must stand together and speak out.”
The former Nigerian Minister of Environment called for more persons to support the Spotlight Initiative, which is designed to “bring focused attention to the issue, moving it into the spotlight and placing it at the centre of efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Below is an excerpt from Mohammed’s speech at the town hall meeting:
I am the proud mother of four daughters, but the loudest voices urging me to speak up came from my sons and they said, ‘Mom, this is already a dangerous issue – it is in our chat spaces; you need to do something about it, people will listen.
I am not sure people will listen but if I can make a difference in one woman’s life, then it is worth speaking about it.
When I asked what they were hearing, they said it varies. Some say violent is not right, but others, appallingly, say women asked for it. Really? You and I know that men and boys who commit violence against women and girls are just simply not men. They are weak, it’s shameful. They are, sadly, the textbook definition of a coward.
And for those who turn a blind eye or deaf ears saying it is a private matter, know that you too are accomplices to violence. Now, we can agree to disagree, but because of these attitudes, women and girls face a clear and present danger of the threat of violence and rape every day at home, in school and, these days, online. Men and boys, fathers and sons, husbands, we must have this conversation. Take responsibility, speak up. Stand with women and girls.
Let’s join hands with survivors of violence including rape. Listen to their stories. Let’s call out victim blaming and shaming. Let’s rally our communities to say ‘No’ to gender-based violence. Let’s remember that if not for a woman, and her nine months of labour, I am not sure that you men will be here today.
So, let’s stand with our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our partners and, together, let’s declare in one voice, I am with her’.
The EU is likely to sanction between 15 and 20 individuals for their role in electoral fraud and a crackdown on protesters in Belarus, a senior official said Tuesday.
The bloc has been preparing asset freezes and travel bans over the crisis that has unfolded in the ex-Soviet republic and after an emergency video summit last week EU Council President Charles Michel said a “substantial number” of people would be targeted.
The European Union is trying to find ways to get strongman President Alexander Lukashenko to listen to the unprecedented protests that followed his hotly disputed August 9 re-election, which the bloc has rejected as not free or fair.
EU foreign ministers meeting for informal talks in Berlin on Thursday and Friday are expected to give political approval to a list of targets, before the list is formally approved soon afterwards.
Asked how many names were on the list, a senior EU official said it would likely be “something between 15 and 20”, but the final total would depend on legal verification carried out by the EU’s lawyers.
Because sanctions listings can be challenged all the way up to the European Court of Justice, the EU subjects each one to rigorous checks to make sure they are legally watertight.
European leaders including Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all sought to persuade Russia to help bring about a peaceful conclusion to the Belarus crisis.
The senior EU official said the “very interesting tango between Russia and Belarus” in recent years, in which Lukashenko has resisted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to get him to join a political-economic union, had disrupted the Moscow-Minsk dynamic.
After drifting away from Putin, Lukashenko was now suddenly seeking his support, the official said, complicating European efforts to get Putin to encourage the Belarus leader to start talking to the opposition.
“Is Putin usefully prodding Alexander Lukashenko in the way of this dialogue? My answer has to be no — he is in a different business,” the official said.
European Union trade commissioner Phil Hogan apologised on Sunday as he faced calls to resign for attending an Irish parliamentary golf society dinner which breached COVID-19 guidelines.
The event — attended by a cabinet minister, a supreme court judge and swathes of lawmakers — was held on Wednesday, just 24 hours after the government announced new coronavirus restrictions.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin urged Hogan, a former Irish government minister, to “consider his position” after revelations he was one of the 82 attendees at the dinner.
In the face of a fresh surge in cases, Dublin specifically said there should be no “formal or informal events or parties” at hotel restaurants.
The dinner has sparked a series of resignations at the top tier of Irish politics and prompted Martin to decide Sunday to recall parliament.
“I wish to apologise fully and unreservedly for attending,” Hogan said in a statement.
“I acknowledge my actions have touched a nerve for the people of Ireland, something for which I am profoundly sorry.”
Irish Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary and deputy chair of parliament’s upper chamber Jerry Buttimer have both already resigned for attending the event.
Hogan said he had spoken to Martin and respected his views, and said he had been reporting to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
Later on Sunday, a Commission spokesman said von der Leyen was “following the situation closely” and had ordered Hogan to prepare a report detailing the event.
“It is important that facts are established in detail to carefully assess the situation,” the spokesman said.
Hogan previously said he had been assured the dinner would comply with government coronavirus guidelines and did not offer an apology.
On Saturday, Martin and deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar — the head of Fine Gael, the party for which Hogan previously served — said in a joint statement that “the commissioner’s apology came late” and that he needed to “give a full account and explanations of his actions”.
The Irish Examiner newspaper — which revealed details of the dinner on Thursday — said guests sat at tables of 10 in breach of coronavirus guidelines, and organisers erected a room divider in a bid to skirt legislation banning gatherings of more than 50.
Police on Friday said they had opened an investigation into the event for alleged breaches of that same legislation.
Ireland’s prime minister Michael Martin said Thursday that his British counterpart Boris Johnson was “very committed” to reaching a trade agreement with the European Union, after they met in Belfast.
It was the pair’s first face-to-face meeting since Martin was elected Taoiseach in June.
“We both agreed on the absolute necessity for a free trade agreement that would be tariff-free, quota-free,” Martin told reporters after the “wide-ranging” meeting.
“That’s the best possible outcome for the European Union, for the United Kingdom, for businesses in the island of Ireland in terms of jobs and certainty.”
Martin added that Johnson was “very committed to reaching a comprehensive agreement with Europe”.
The British prime minster’s office later said Johnson had told Martin that Britain would “continue to take pride in high environmental, animal welfare and labour standards outside the European Union”.
“Our priority remains protecting Northern Ireland’s place in our United Kingdom and preserving the huge gains from the peace process,” added his Downing Street office.
Johnson was also scheduled to meet Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’ Neill during the visit.
Ahead of his trip, Johnson said Britain would “stand side-by-side” with Northern Ireland.
Britain formally left the European Union on January 31 — after voting to leave in a 2016 referendum — but is currently in a standstill transition period until the end of 2020 as it tries to negotiate a new trade deal with the European Union.
Talks are ongoing between London and Brussels to try and find a mutually acceptable deal.
The stalled talks are set to continue until October but fears are growing that almost half a century of economic integration with Europe and increasingly frictionless travel will end abruptly, without a deal, on December 31.
Also on Thursday, Britain’s senior Brexit negotiator, David Frost, tweeted that round seven of negotiations would begin in Brussels next week.
“Our assessment is that agreement can be reached in September and we will work to achieve this if we can,” wrote Frost.
However, he added: “The UK’s sovereignty, over our laws, our courts, or our fishing waters, is of course not up for discussion and we will not accept anything which compromises it.”
The EU announced Friday that it had struck a deal with French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi for 300 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm which negotiated the agreement, said it would allow all 27 member countries to purchase the vaccine once it was proven to be safe and effective.
The announcement comes on the same day the US government said it would provide up to $2.1 billion to Sanofi and GSK for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, as the world continues to battle the pandemic.
As official data revealed coronavirus lockdowns had caused a devastating 12 percent economic contraction in the EU in the second quarter of 2020, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc was doing everything it could to help find a vaccine.
“We are in advanced discussions with several other companies,” she said in a statement, adding that Europe was investing in a “diversified portfolio of promising vaccines”.
“This increases our chances to obtain rapidly an effective remedy against the virus.”
Sanofi hopes to seek marketing authorisation from the European Medicines Agency for a vaccine in June next year.
The French government welcomed Friday’s announcement as a “decisive step”.
“This future contract will allow each EU member state to order the vaccine under good conditions once it has shown enough proof of its effectiveness and safety,” the French government said in a statement.
Six months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 17 million people, with global daily cases now approaching the 300,000 mark.
Europe overall has nearly 210,000 deaths from 3.2 million cases, and with infections rising again in several countries there are fears a “second wave” of the pandemic could be on the way.
The highly restrictive lockdowns enforced to deal with the pandemic earlier this year has caused economic turmoil and an effective vaccine may be the only long-term solution to the highly contagious respiratory disease.
European Union leaders emerged from a marathon four-day and four-night summit Tuesday to celebrate what they boasted was a historic rescue plan for economies left shattered by the coronavirus epidemic.
The 750-billion-euro ($858-billion) deal was sealed after intense negotiation that saw a threats of a French walkout and a Hungarian veto — and fierce opposition from the Netherlands and Austria to too generous a package.
“These were of course, difficult negotiations in very difficult times for all Europeans,” EU Council Chief Charles Michel, whose job was to guide the tortuous talks over more than 90 hours.
He dubbed the summit “a marathon which ended in success for all 27 member states, but especially for the people.”
The package, seen by AFP, was made possible by the crucial backing of Germany and France and includes the biggest ever joint borrowing by the 27 members of the bloc, something that had been resisted by Berlin and the so-called “frugal” northern states for generations.
The deal is a special victory for French President Emmanuel Macron who came to office in 2017 committed to strengthen the European Union, but had struggled to deliver against member states with less ambition for the seven-decade-old EU project.
“This is a historic change for Europe,” Macron told reporters in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking of her relief that Europe had, in her eyes, shown itself equal to “The greatest crisis in the history of the European Union.”
– ‘Frugals’ fight – The package will send tens of billions of euros to countries hardest hit by the virus, most notably heavily indebted Spain and Italy that had lobbied hard for a major gesture from their EU partners.
Their call for solidarity was met with the fierce opposition of the “Frugals”, a group of small, northern nations led by Netherlands, who believed strongly that the stimulus package was unnecessary.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez hailed “a Marshall Plan for Europe”, that would boost Spain’s suffering economy by 140 billion euros over the next six years.
But Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands denied that the advent of joint borrowing for the rescue heralded the start of what he had warned of before the talks — a “transfer union” with a permanent north south transfer of wealth.
“This is a one off, there is a clear necessity for this given the excessive situation,” he told reporters.
The frugals were also deeply apprehensive of sending money to southern countries that they see as too lax with public spending.
To meet their concerns, payouts from the package will come with important strings attached — a hard pill to swallow for Rome and Madrid who deeply resisted anything resembling the harsh bailouts imposed on Greece, Portugal or Ireland during the debt crisis.
The frugals were also enticed with heavy rebates on their EU contributions, furthering a practice first offered to Britain decades ago, when it was still a member.
– ‘Rule of Law’ – The recovery package will complement the unprecedented monetary stimulus at the European Central Bank, that has largely succeeded in reassuring the financial markets despite a catastrophic recession in Europe.
Overall, the deal will dole out 390 billion in the form of grants to pandemic-hit countries.
That was lower than an original 500 billion euro proposal made by France and Germany. Another 360 billion euros was to be disbursed in loans, repayable by the member state.
The stimulus payments will not be blank cheques to member states.
Spending will be closely controlled and must be devoted to policies seen as compatible with European priorities, including politically difficult economic reforms as well as the environment.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will be in charge of distributing the funds, with the 27 member states able to turn down a spending plan if a weighted majority of them decide to intervene.
The rescue package was agreed along with the EU’s long-term budget, bringing the agreed spending to 1.8 trillion euros through 2027.
The plan was nearly upended by Hungary and Poland due to a demand that EU payouts be tied to the “Rule of Law”, Brussels jargon for upholding laws on freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.
Budapest and Warsaw are under fire for offending EU norms, but a proposal to tie the EU budget to those concerns was watered down to the satisfaction of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Polish counterpart.