European Commission
Commission underlines importance of coordinated EU strategy against the Omicron COVID-19 variant
On 1 December the Commission issued a press release calling for a coordinated EU approach to tackling the new COVID-19 Omicron variant and addressing the ongoing resurgence of the virus in many Member States. Caseloads are skyrocketing across most of Europe, despite new travel bans on African countries and renewed restrictions, with figures from OurWorldInData indicating the EU average COVID rate has quadrupled in the past month – from just over 110 daily new cases per million people on October 1 to 446 on Thursday 25 November. As a result, the Commission has urged for Member States to follow a joint strategy to limit the entry of the Omicron variant to the EU; to deliver renewed campaigns to target unvaccinated people in all eligible age groups; to rapidly deploy booster vaccine doses starting with the most vulnerable age categories; and to install proportionate restrictions to limit the domestic spread of the virus in each respective country. In addition, the Commission has underlined that Member States must respect the revised approach for free movement with the standard 9-month validity period of the EU Digital COVID certificate. (link)

Commission presents temporary measures to address situation at the external border with Belarus
In view of the emergency situation at the EU’s external border with Belarus, the Commission has presented a series of temporary legal and practical measures to assist Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in dealing with the crisis. The three countries will be allowed to extend the registration period for asylum applications to 4 weeks, instead of the current 3-10 day period. They will also be tasked with prioritising the basic needs of migrants, including temporary shelter, food, water, clothing, medical treatment and assistance to vulnerable persons. Additionally, the three countries will be empowered to use simplified return procedures, including for persons whose applications for international protection have been rejected. Alongside these legal measures, the Commission has also pledged the full support of the agencies of the EU in addressing the emergency, including the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Frontex and Europol. The aforementioned legal measures will apply for a period of 6 months, unless extended or repealed, and will apply to non-EU nationals who have “irregularly entered” the EU from Belarus. (link)

Country News:

·        France: Armed French police have evicted a makeshift migrant camp near the northern French port of Dunkirk, where scores of migrants were basing themselves with hopes of reaching the UK. (link)

·        Belgium and UK: Six Londoners have been arrested as part of an international ring that used Airbnb properties, mainly in Antwerp, to store and transport smuggled cocaine, the Belgian national police revealed. (link)

·        Germany: German police have arrested a millionaire doctor for allegedly giving 20,000 doses of his “homemade” COVID vaccine, which he claimed to be 97% effective. (link)

·        Italy: Italian police have started a new crackdown on fake COVID-19 digital certificates, which are being trafficked by criminal gangs via Telegram messenger. (link)

·        Netherlands: Dutch military police arrested a married couple who fled a quarantine hotel and tried to fly to Spain from Amsterdam, despite one of the couple testing positive for COVID on arrival from South Africa a few days previously. (link)

·        Slovakia: The Slovakian police has attracted criticism for issuing guidance against rape that includes recommendations that women “should not provoke” men and should avoid dark places after sunset, and parties with alcohol and drugs. (link)

·        UK: Human rights organisations are voicing concern that the UK government’s forthcoming Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill could undermine data rights and “worsen discriminatory policing practices.” (link)

Other news
European Court of Justice issues new opinion on police use of phone location data
On November 18th Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona, one of the European Court of Justice’s eleven Advocate Generals (who serve as advisers to the judges) issued a landmark opinion on when police use of location data in criminal cases is legitimate. Sánchez-Bordona indicated that “general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data” is only permitted “in the event of a serious threat to national security,” such as incidences involving terrorism. While the opinion is not legally binding, it is considered likely that the Court’s judges will agree with the opinion when it makes a final judgment, which is expected in March 2022. The opinion builds upon legal precedence – specifically two recent ECJ cases, according to Gianclaudio Malgieri, an Associate Professor of Law and Technology at the EDHEC Business School in Lille. Further, it was issued in the context of the 2015 conviction of Graham Dwyer in Ireland, for the murder of childcare worker Elaine O’Hara, a conviction which was largely secured by Gardai using mobile phone data. Ultimately, if the Sánchez-Bordona is upheld by the ECJ next year, it will likely shape how police across the EU can accumulate mobile phone and location data and use it in criminal investigations. This could lead to a new requirement to have ex ante authorization by an independent authority for any police officers to gather such data. (link)

Malta’s police union has issued a trade dispute against the Commissioner of Police over working conditions
Malta’s Police Union has registered a new trade dispute against the country’s Commissioner of Police, on the basis of continually deteriorating work conditions for members of the Malta Police Force. Specifically, the Union stated in a press release from 30 November that officers did not receive their pro-rata shift and special duty allowances and despite weeks of discussions and the materialization of an agreement, the payments had still not been issued. The press release adds that the present situation is the result of several decisions made without consulting the Union, and of a “lack of experience by those directing the decisions in terms of work and real demands of the Police Force.” (link)

Look Ahead :

–       9 December: EU Home Affairs ministers will meet at the Justice and Home Affairs Council to discuss, amongst other things, hybrid attacks (such as those recently carried out by the Lukashenko regime in Belarus) and migrant smuggling. Ministers will also discuss the Schengen evaluation and monitoring mechanism and ways to strengthen the EU’s external borders. Meanwhile, Justice Ministers will discuss ongoing Council and Parliament negotiations regarding access to e-evidence to fight crime. The full provisional agenda for the 9 December is available here.

–       9 December: MEPs within the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) will meet to discuss Rule of Law.

–       16-17 December: European Council summit. According to the agenda, EU heads of state will discuss COVID-19, crisis management and resilience, security and defence and external relations, amongst other issues.

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