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At the centre of the simmering threat to European integration is France and its President Emmanuel Macron, who has been accused of going “against the “spirit of the EU” as he tackles the coronavirus pandemic on his home turf. European officials have raised concerns after Mr Macron made the shock decision to ban the export of surgical masks and other medical supplies to its EU partners as COVID-19 continues to spread across the continent.
Mr Macron said his state would seize masks being produced on French soil to end shortages in hospitals, doctors’ practices and chemists in his nation.
Meanwhile, an EU diplomat attacked French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire’s order to supermarket suppliers to ‘Buy French’, saying it “very much against the spirit of the EU”, according to the Irish Times.
It comes as the bloc struggles to find a coordinated response to the invisible killer disease, the latest test of the bloc’s solidarity after it was shaken by Brexit, the 2015-2016 migration crisis and the euro zone debt emergency.
Germany has also limited exports of respiratory masks and banned the export of medical protection gear to ensure that local health workers have enough.
While Czech health minister Adam Vojtech halted disinfectant exports to other member states too.
The EU’s economic commissioner Paolo Gentiloni attacked Germany for its “no to solidarity at this moment” policy during the coronavirus pandemic, warning it was “endangering all EU projects”.
His comments come after German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a group of leading EU member states in rejecting proposals for further common fiscal measures aimed at helping states badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Gentiloni urged Berlin to act immediately to support fellow member states amid the growing risk of a global recession sparked by the pandemic.
Another EU diplomat admitted “public health is not an EU competence” saying: “The Treaty on the Functioning of the EU stipulates that in the event of a national public health emergency, you can impose import or export restrictions.”
Janez Lenarcic, the European commissioner for crisis management, told le figaro that it would be “a total illusion” to believe that a country can tackle the outbreak alone, as he admitted that there had been a lack of EU solidarity in the early days of the crisis.
He said the EU would emerge from the crisis “stronger” if states act together and stressed that global solidarity was “necessary” to beat the virus.
Mr Lenarcic said the EU 27 had to ‘pool their resources’ to manage the pandemic and protect the Union’s economy.
The news comes after the bloc failed to agree last week on measures to cushion the economic blow.
The bloc’s divisions were laid bare after leaders hit an impasse on Thursday over how to minimise the economic pain and prepare for an eventual recovery, with the ailing south incensed by the resistance of the richer north to offer more support.
Germany and the Netherlands came out strongly against a push by Italy, Spain, Portugal and France to issue joint bonds to help finance an economic stimulus.
There were also squabbles over the sharing of medical equipment and border controls.
In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hit out at the double-standards within the bloc after his country was slowed in efforts to secure face masks from Germany while other capitals criticised Vienna’s own controls on the Italian border.
Mr Kurz told the Kronen Zeitung newspaper: “After the crisis is over, there will have to be tough discussions within the EU.”
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