Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The European Council meets today in Brussels to discuss an EU budget and rescue package, Britain accuses Russia of hacking coronavirus research data, and Azerbaijan’s foreign minister is fired after 16 years in his post.
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European Union Leaders Meet In Brussels For Showdown on Recovery Plan
European heads of government meet in Brussels today for a two-day summit to decide on the fate of the European Union’s seven-year budget alongside an economic rescue package for the bloc.
The meeting of the European Council will be the first in-person summit since Feb. 21. Since then, member states have seen around 135,000 deaths from COVID-19, with 1.3 million people infected. The pandemic has caused economic havoc, too: The EU economy is projected to contract by 8.3 percent this year.
The fact that leaders can meet face to face is a victory of sorts. Compared to their transatlantic rival, the coronavirus is relatively vanquished in Europe. The European Union reported fewer than 4,000 new cases on Wednesday, while the number of new cases reported in the United States was more than 17 times higher.
Should I pay or should I loan? There will be no celebratory mood, however, as leaders remain divided on how to administer an $840 billion recovery fund and must reach a unanimous decision for it to go forward. Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and the Netherlands—the so-called frugal four—want any funds to be distributed as loans, not as grants, and want veto power on how the money is used. This approach has been rejected by Spain and France, which have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and also stand to receive the most from the fund.
Diplomacy in the time of COVID. Although the summit is in-person, it will not otherwise be business as usual: Delegations have been cut to a maximum of six people. Fresh—not recycled—air will filter into the meeting room, translation headsets will be cleaned at every break, and a doctor will be on call should anyone feel ill. All these measures are designed as a counter to “Zoomplomacy.” By Saturday, when the summit concludes, we should know whether human connection can do that much better than an internet connection.
What We’re Following Today
U.K. accuses Russia of hacking COVID-19 vaccine data. The British National Cyber Security Centre claimed that Russian state-backed hackers are attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine data. The United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada issued a joint statement on Sunday attributing the attacks to APT29, also known as Cozy Bear—a group of hackers believed to be linked with Russian intelligence services. The Kremlin has rejected the allegations, citing a lack of evidence.
The allegations came the same day that British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab accused Russia of meddling in the 2019 U.K. general election by disseminating a draft of a free trade agreement between Britain and the United States. Russia’s foreign ministry ridiculed the allegations “The statement is so foggy and contradictory that it’s practically impossible to understand it,” ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.European court rules in privacy case. Europe’s top court has ruled that current regulations on data flows between the United States and the EU do not do enough to protect a citizen’s right to privacy following a case brought by activist Max Schrems. In the short-term, the decision may mean U.S. tech companies will move some of their data processing into Europe, in theory keeping it away from U.S. surveillance programs. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he was “deeply disappointed” with the court’s decision.
Azerbaijan’s foreign minister fired. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has fired Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov over what he called “meaningless negotiations” between Mamedyarov and Armenia over the latest increase in fighting between the two countries. Mamedyarov had served as Azerbaijan’s foreign minister since 2004. The sacking comes after a dozen Azeris were killed along with four Armenians in the past week of fighting in the Tavush region in Armenia’s northeast.
White House mulls China travel ban. The Trump administration is considering a U.S. travel ban on Chinese Communist Party members, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Discussions are reported to be in the early stages and there is not yet any clue on when such a policy would be implemented. There are at least two potential roadblocks to implementing a ban: the sheer scale of membership—the party has more than 90 million members—and the fact that membership in the party is not public information.
Belarusian opposition rally behind Tikhanouskaya. Two banned challengers to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have thrown their support behind Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a blogger who had entered the presidential race in place of her husband after his arrest on charges of threatening public order. Tikhanouskaya’s new supporters—Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo—had both been seen as strong rivals to the incumbent Lukashenko before they were both barred—Babariko because of corruption charges and Tsepkalo because the electoral commission rejected some of the signatures on his candidacy petition. The election is scheduled for August 9.
FBI probing Twitter hack. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating Wednesday’s Twitter hack, which compromised high-profile accounts on the platform. The news comes as cybersecurity researchers fear the attack could also have been a “hack and dump” operation, whereby users’ direct message history was accessed in order to humiliate or otherwise influence public opinion, such as in the hack of Democratic National Committee staff in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The global reckoning on racial justice has reached Greenland, where a municipality of roughly 23,000 will vote on whether to remove a statue of Hans Egede, a symbol of the island’s colonial past. Egede established a colony on Greenland during the era of the united kingdom of Denmark-Norway in the early 18th century. Egede had hoped to reconnect with long-lost Danes on the island but found only the ethnic Inuit people living there—a group that remains in the majority in modern Greenland. An online and postal vote currently shows 555 votes in favor of keeping the statue, and 324 votes to remove it. Voting continues until July 21.
That’s it for today.
Image credit: Yves Herman / AFP
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