This remains considerably below the current EU average, which is over 420. The Commission proposed to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine, the Commission said in a press release, adding that this could be extended to vaccines having completed the WHO emergency use listing process. The adapted threshold should allow the Council to expand the list of countries from which non-essential travel is permitted regardless of vaccination status, subject to health-related measures such as testing and/or quarantine. But if variants emerge we have to act fast: we propose an EU emergency brake mechanism,” she warned. At the same time, concerned by coronavirus variants, the Commission proposed a new ‘emergency brake’ mechanism, to be coordinated at EU level and which would limit the risk of such variants entering the EU. The Council should review the list of non-EU countries exempted from the travel restriction in light of the updated criteria and continue doing so every 2 weeks. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation. “Time to revive European Union tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle – safely,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote in a tweet. The same applies to EU citizens and long-term residents as well as their family members. It is now for the Council to consider this proposal. Once the proposal is adopted by the Council, it will be for Member States to implement the measures set out in the recommendation. Those travelling for essential reasons, including notably healthcare professionals, cross-border workers, seasonal agricultural workers, transport staff and seafarers, passengers in transit, those travelling for imperative family reasons or those coming to study should continue to be allowed to enter the EU, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or which country they come from. This should allow the Council to expand this list. This will allow Member States to act quickly and temporarily limit to a strict minimum all travel from affected countries for the time needed to put in place appropriate sanitary measures. Non-essential travel regardless of individual vaccination status is currently permitted from 7 countries with a good epidemiological situation. In addition, the Commission proposed to raise, in line with the evolution of the epidemiological situation in the EU, the threshold related to the number of new COVID-19 cases used to determine a list of countries from which all travel should be permitted. A first discussion is scheduled at technical level in the Council’s integrated political crisis response (IPCR) meeting taking place on May 4, followed by a discussion at the meeting of EU Ambassadors (Coreper) on May 5. This list is decided by the Council on the basis of epidemiological criteria contained in the current recommendation. Member States could also extend this to those vaccinated with a vaccine having completed the WHO emergency use listing process. Such travel should continue to be subject to health-related measures, such as testing and quarantine as decided by Member States. This reflects the latest scientific advice showing that vaccination considerably helps to break the transmission chain, the Commission said. Member States should allow travel into the EU of those people who have received, at least 14 days before arrival, the last recommended dose of a vaccine having received marketing authorisation in the EU. In particular, travellers should be able to prove their vaccination status with a Digital Green Certificate issued by Member States’ authorities on an individual basis, or with another certificate recognised as equivalent by virtue of a Commission adequacy decision. Children who are excluded from vaccination should be able to travel with their vaccinated parents if they have a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken at the earliest 72 hours before arrival area. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Commission proposes easing restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU

By New Europe Online/KG

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 2021

But if variants emerge, Commission proposes EU emergency brake mechanism

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The European Commission proposed on May 3 that Member States ease the current restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU to take into account the progress of vaccination campaigns and developments in the epidemiological situation worldwide. The Commission is proposing to amend the criteria to take into account the mounting evidence of the positive impact of vaccination campaigns. Member States could consider setting up a portal allowing travellers to ask for the recognition of a vaccination certificate issued by a non-EU country as reliable proof of vaccination and/or for the issuance of a Digital Green Certificate.   In these cases, Member States could require additional testing after arrival. Non-essential travel for vaccinated travellers
The Commission proposes that Member States lift restrictions on non-essential travel for vaccinated persons travelling to the EU, the press release read. Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, Member States should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data, the Commission said. This should be facilitated once the Digital Green Certificate becomes operational, in line with the rules the Commission proposed on March 17, the press release read. In addition, if Member States decide to waive the requirements to present a negative PCR test and/or to undergo quarantine for vaccinated persons on their territory, they should also waive such requirements for vacccinated travellers from outside the EU. ‘Emergency brake’ to counter the spread of variants
When the epidemiological situation of a non-EU country worsens quickly and in particular if a variant of concern or interest is detected, a Member State can urgently and temporarily suspend all inbound travel by non-EU citizens resident in such a country, the Commission said, adding the only exceptions in this case would be healthcare professionals, transport personnel, diplomats, transit passengers, those travelling for imperative family reasons, seafarers, and persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons. As now, the Council should review this list at least every 2 weeks. Such travellers should be subject to strict testing and quarantine arrangements even if they have been vaccinated. When a Member State applies such restrictions, the Member States meeting within the Council structures should review the situation together in a coordinated manner and in close cooperation with the Commission, and they should continue doing so at least every 2 weeks. The proposal is to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100.

Pressure from successful multi-nationals, with roots in Belarus, is not likely to arise, and any such protests would not necessarily be helpful or even desirable. Kronospan owns more than 30 wood-based panel manufacturing sites in various countries in addition to Belarus, including key sites in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, such as Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary – as well as plants and branches in the US. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chairs a Security Council meeting in Minsk following the outbreak of protests over his 27-year rule. For these reasons, Lukashenko likes to highlight companies such as Kronospan as prime examples of his country’s favorable investment conditions, buoyed by the fact of a highly successful multi-national – with bases across the EU – having shown consistent confidence in the country’s infrastructure and labour markets. For the leadership, such case studies serve to demonstrate that Belarus is up to European standards. Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya attends a protest against the political situation in Belarus in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. As Belarusian diplomats continue to be expelled from Western countries, major European companies are enduring fierce criticism for doing business in Belarus and are under increasing pressure to divest. These critiques have been especially sharp at the European Union level amidst allegations that Lukashenko has misappropriated EU funds. They might well be right. If anything, firms such as Kronospan serve to remind Lukashenko of the rewards of single-market integration, for which the EU can leverage its political capital. Recent revelations that the company has been selling potash, a key ingredient in fertilizer, below the market price in China and India have led to allegations of dumping.  
Lukashenko has frequently praised Kronospan and its leader’s honest business ethos. As such the West’s policy goals toward Belarus and Russia cannot be divorced from each other. The long-term presence of well-run, EU-centred operations at the heart of the Belarusian manufacturing ecosystem could serve as helpful blueprints for other sectors of the economy. The Belarusian crisis is unfolding in a broader geopolitical context in which Moscow is trying to leverage Lukashenko’s vulnerability to expand Russia’s political, economic, and military footprint in the country. Having established legitimate foundations in the country replicated on their business models in the EU, they might feel they are doing more to combat corruption and establish European business norms on the ground than any divestment and sanctions programme ever could. According to reports, over 100,000 opposition activists took to the streets against Belarusian government and President Alexander Lukashenko calling him to step down and demanding new presidential elections. Western policy towards Belarus needs to thread a very difficult needle, punishing Lukashenko and the leadership for human rights violations while simultaneously preserving Belarusian sovereignty and preventing Russia from exploiting the crisis. They make it clear however that Western policy toward Russia and Belarus needs to be approached as a coherent whole – a careful balance of carrot and stick. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>The soft power of big business in a former Soviet republic

By Nicholas Waller
Managing Editor

epa08773291 Protesters march carrying a banner reading ‘Enough’ during a rally against government and President Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, 25 October 2020. Lukashenko is known to hold close relationships with a number of highly successful European businessmen and pan-European multi-nationals. Companies such as his are perceived to have helped boost the country’s aspiring reputation for economic stability in the face of external criticism of its leadership. Would sanctioning large Belarusian state-controlled companies drive them into the arms of Kremlin-linked companies and oligarchs? But expanding sanctions to include large state-run firms is not without risk. The EU has continued to prioritize a sanctions-based approach in tandem with the US. EPA-EFE/STR

Pressuring successful multi-nationals to divest from Belarus might do more harm than good 

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The increasing isolation of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko’s regime on the international stage raises important questions about the future of the country’s economy. Although to date this has largely been focused on individuals, pressure is growing on both sides of the Atlantic to broaden and expand the programme to include major companies. Or conversely, would sanctions against these enterprises deter Russian efforts to acquire them? This raises a series of questions that need to be carefully considered, but for which there are no easy answers. In Belarus itself, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has called for sanctions on the Belarusian state-controlled potash producer Belaruskali, which is a major source of revenue for the Lukashenko regime and controls about one-fifth of the global market. EPA-EFE//CLEMENS BILAN
The solution probably doesn’t reside in the private sector either. Indeed, a significant amount of Kronospan’s investment was raised through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International AG. Peter Kaindl is renowned in the country for having harnessed the full potential of its raw materials sector and provided hundreds of jobs for unskilled workers over the course of a decade. Western sanctions policy toward Belarus cannot, therefore, be divorced from policy towards Russia. EPA-EFE/STR

Pro-democracy protesters carry a banner in Russian with the Italian word 'Basta' (Enough) during a rally against President Alexander Lukashenko in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Kremlin-backed oligarchs and businesses are seeking to leverage the crisis in Belarus to snatch up troubled industrial assets in the country and expand Russia’s footprint and political influence there. The West stands to gain little by depriving Lukashenko of such incentives. Kronospan’s worldwide sales exceed €4.5 billion per year and the company employs more than 11,000 people. Moreover, these long-term investors are unlikely to pack up and leave any time soon. One such example is Peter Kaindl, owner and CEO of Kronospan, an international company that is the world’s largest manufacturer of wood-based panels. EPA-EFE//ANDREI STASEVICH
This debate is about how much to sanction versus how much to isolate. Without these anchors set in the West, the leadership might be less reluctant to turn East.