European Commission
EU demonstrates united response to Russian invasion of Ukraine

In response to Russia’s large-scale military invasion of Ukraine, the largest military attack in Europe since World War II, the EU has acted swiftly to support Ukraine’s defense efforts, and has installed far-reaching sanctions against Russia. Sanctions imposed by the EU so far include financial sanctions, eliminating Russia’s access to EU financial markets, freezing Russian assets and excluding key Russian banks from the SWIFT payments system. Energy sanctions imposed have also made it harder for Russia to upgrade its oil refineries, while the German unit of the Gazprom Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is being wound up (Nord Stream 2 AG has since filed for bankruptcy). The EU has also expanded the scope of export controls on dual-use goods (items used for military as well as civilian purposes) to limit Russian access to key technologies, such as semi-conductors. EU airspace has also been shut down to all Russian aircraft, and Russian media outlets like Sputnik and Russia Today have been banned from operating in the EU.

In a watershed moment for the EU, direct military assistance has been pledged to Ukraine, with the 27 Member States agreeing to provide €500 million in weapons and other military equipment to Ukraine. This is a pivotal turning point given that the EU treaties ordinarily prevented the use of the EU budget for military or defense purposes. The military aid adds to a new emergency macro-financial assistance (MFA) package of up to €1.2 billion, to help Ukraine deal with the unprecedented humanitarian, economic and geopolitical challenges it is experiencing. An additional measure offers Ukrainian refugees temporary protection status for up to 3 years in any Member State. Furthermore, the EU is now weighing up options for additional sanctions, with High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell stating on Friday 4th March that “all options remain on the table.” More Russian banks could be excluded from SWIFT, Russian ships could be banned from EU ports, and further import bans could be imposed – affecting key materials such as Russian steel, timber, aluminium and coal.

In a sign of the conflict’s escalating threat to the continent, Russian forces shelled Europe’s biggest nuclear power station – the Zaporizhzhia plant, and a huge blaze emerged there – provoking great concern to NATO allies, given the presence of 15 nuclear units in Ukraine. But NATO countries are still unwilling to introduce a no-fly zone, fearing that its enforcement would lead to a direct conflict with nuclear-armed Russia – given NATO countries would end up shooting down Russian jets in such a scenario. On Friday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken emphasised the alliance would defend every inch of NATO territory, adding “Ours is a defensive alliance. We seek no conflict. But if conflict comes to us, we are ready for it.” (link)

 

Country News:

·       Belgium: In an operation involving more than 100 officers across 13 different addresses, Belgian police have arrested 13 members of an Islamist terror group based in Antwerp, on charges of spreading jihadist propaganda on social media. (link)

·       Czech Republic: The Czech Republic’s chief prosecutor has stated that expressing support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be subject to criminal offences of up to 3 years. (link)

·       France: Six French police officers are facing a disciplinary hearing accused of “administrative failings” in a gruesome case of femicide in Bordeaux. (link)

·       Germany: German police have found nearly 400 cases of online hate speech that are “criminally relevant” in an investigation into the murder of two police officers, in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate. (link)

·       Italy: The appeals trial of two American teenagers, who were last year found guilty of the murder of an Italian police officer in July 2019, has begun in Rome. (link)

·       Malta: The Maltese Police have submitted 28 proposals to the government aiming to improve the working conditions and environment for members of the force, including health and life insurance, revision of the police pension every 3 years, and annual scholarships for officers. (link)

·       Netherlands: Dutch police saved several hostages during an armed robbery in an Apple Store in central Amsterdam. (link)

·       Spain: Spanish police have arrested the UK’s most wanted woman, Sarah Panitzke, who was part of a £1 billion VAT fraud gang and on the run since 2013. (link)

·       UK: Police officers in half of the police forces in the UK are currently having their conduct probed due to allegations they abused their power for sexual purposes. (link)

 

Other news
Tragic increase in suicide rate amongst French police
Tragically, in January, 12 French police officers took their own lives – the same number as in January 2019, when French police were experiencing the heavy strain of the yellow vest movement, where protestors clashed with police for several months in France. Gérald Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior has stated that he believes the suicides in January were unconnected with the strain of the job, instead attributing it to “the personal and not professional life of these people.” Unsurprisingly, French police unions are appalled by these comments – pointing to the 6000 calls they received from distressed, exhausted police officers in 2021 who had been policing COVID-19 lockdowns and protests. “The hours, the insults, the way of working… there’s no limit to the pressure we face,” stated Didier Crassous, of the French Trade Union Alternative Police (CFDT). (link)

Civil society coalition calls for bans on predictive policing in upcoming EU AI Act
In an open letter to the EU institutions, 38 civil society organisations have called for a ban on artificial intelligence (AI)-based “predictive policing” systems, in the context of the upcoming EU AI Act. The groups, led by Fair Trials and European Digital Rights (EDRi), warned that the use of automated policing systems disproportionately impact minority groups, violate fundamental rights and reinforce structural discrimination. The joint letter emphasised that if predictive policing is not added to a list of “unacceptable risk” practices within the AI Act, it will “result in racialised people, communities and geographic areas being over-policed, and disproportionately surveilled, questioned, detained and imprisoned across Europe.” (link)

 

Look Ahead :

–      8 March: the Council of the EU and Commission will hold a joint debate on the situation of refugees as a consequence of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

–      11-12 March: Informal meeting of EU Heads of State and government are scheduled to meet in Versailles, and are likely to discuss the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

–      16-17 March: European Parliament LIBE Committee meets, agenda not yet released.

–      24-25 March: European Council summit – on the agenda: COVID-19, security and defence, the European Semester and external relations.

 

 

 

 

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