Von der Leyen: Green passes to boost tourism ‘on track’ for June

Commission president aims for political deal by the end of this month.

Von der Leyen: Green passes to boost tourism ‘on track’ for June

The EU might just be able to help you get a holiday this summer.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Saturday the bloc is “on track” to have its system of green passes in place by June.

EU officials hope the scheme will boost tourism as the coronavirus pandemic eases by offering a standard certificate verifying travelers’ jabs, tests or past infections.

The legal and technical work on the green certificate “is on track for the system to be operational in June,” von der Leyen said at a summit of EU leaders in the Portuguese city of Porto.

As for securing a deal among EU politicians on the passes, von der Leyen said that “we can realistically aim to have a political agreement by the end of this month.”

That target looks ambitious, as talks between the European Parliament and Council of the EU are far from straightforward. Parliament insists the certificates should be used to drop further restrictions such as quarantines — a tough sell in the Council, as EU countries warn they must keep their options open in case new health threats emerge. Parliament also called for free coronavirus testing as part of any deal.

Negotiators from the Council and the Parliament launched talks on the passes earlier this week, and a second meeting is due next week.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, whose economy relies heavily on tourism, told POLITICO in Porto that there was a “general consensus” that the talks should be accelerated. But he conceded that it’s “difficult to be confident in the timeframe” of the negotiations.

The EU is aiming for the framework to enter into effect by June 21, but that’s “not a promise,” according to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. “It’s a target date, depending on how the European debate goes,” he said. EU leaders will discuss the passes again at a meeting on May 25.

Several countries, including Austria, have already taken matters into their own hands with the launch of a national pass. If there’s no EU-wide progress, countries could cut bilateral deals, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. But he added that even countries that had aired concerns about the scheme were under pressure to restart travel.

“There aren’t just politicians in the world, thank God, there’s the population, and the population … is impatient: People want to travel again, they want to have the possibility of going on holiday again,” he said.

David M. Herszenhorn in Porto contributed reporting.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Nicola Sturgeon sets stage for next chapter of Scottish independence fight

Boris Johnson tries to kill nationalist push with kindness, urging shared effort to recover from pandemic.

Nicola Sturgeon sets stage for next chapter of Scottish independence fight

LONDON — Nicola Sturgeon gave up hope of securing a majority for her party in Scotland — but not of a referendum on independence.

The routes to hitting the 65 seats needed for an outright win closed off late Saturday afternoon when it became clear her Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) had failed to gain West Aberdeenshire from the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament election.

But a pro-independence majority is all but guaranteed when Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) from the SNP and Greens are tallied together, and First Minister Sturgeon sounded bullish on Saturday night. She said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had no reason to deny Scotland another referendum.

“In no way can a referendum be described as just a demand of me or of the SNP,” she said in a speech. “It is a commitment made to the people by a clear majority of the MSPs that have been elected to our national parliament. It is the will of the country. And given that outcome, there is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or indeed for anyone else seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our own future.”

Sturgeon added: “If the Tories make such an attempt they won’t be placing themselves in opposition to the SNP, they will be standing in direct opposition to the will of the Scottish people.”

Her comments show that the independence debate will continue to dominate Scottish politics and to call into question the future of the U.K. The government in Westminster will argue that the SNP’s failure to win a majority should put an end to demands for a fresh referendum. But that will cut no ice with the SNP. 

Johnson tried to kill off the fight with kindness, with a focus on how the U.K. nations can work together to build back after the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a letter to Sturgeon, he said the vaccine rollout showed the “team U.K. in action” and stressed that the economic response would continue to require a four-nation project. He invited Sturgeon, as well as leaders in Wales and Northern Ireland, to a summit about “our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them.”

The message was clear: An independence referendum is not up for debate. “Our focus is on recovery and recovery from the pandemic,” a U.K. government official said. “The incoming Scottish government must focus on that too.”

Asked what Johnson might do if the SNP tries to fight Westminster in the courts about whether a referendum should be allowed, as Sturgeon has threatened, the official said: “We’ll just have to see what they do. We’d hope they focus on other issues.”

Mandate questioned

Government outriders made the argument that a failure to win an outright majority had killed off the SNP’s independence demands. “I don’t think the SNP has a mandate for an independence referendum,” Scottish Conservative MP Andrew Bowie told the BBC after the result became clear.

Another MP said the Conservative campaign message, urging voters to back the Tories to deprive the SNP of a majority, had been vindicated. Luke Graham, a former Downing Street adviser on the union, said the SNP’s failure to win a majority would mean “the momentum for a second referendum is reduced.”

After the West Aberdeenshire result came in, SNP officials were quick to brief that talk of an outright majority was always overblown.

To be sure, the electoral system in Scotland is proportional, giving smaller parties a leg-up at the expense of the dominance of a few. “It was always kind of stacked against us from the start,” one SNP official lamented.

In the end, it was tactical voting by pro-union supporters that appeared to deprive Sturgeon of an outright majority. In the SNP’s top target seat, Labour-held Dumbarton, a big swing from the Conservatives translated into a larger majority for the incumbent, as Tory voters held their noses and backed the party most likely to defeat the nationalists.

In Eastwood, a three-way marginal between the two unionist parties and the SNP turned into a relatively comfortable win for former Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw. The Labour vote there dropped by around 4,000, with the Tories the main beneficiary.

Alex Salmond’s Alba Party aimed to win tactical support in party list votes from independence supporters who voted SNP on the constituency ballot, but it looks unlikely to win any seats. The former Scottish first minister blamed his successor, Sturgeon, for deciding not to encourage her supporters to vote Alba or Green on the list and therefore letting unionist opponents in “through the back door.”

The SNP official quoted above noted the irony in the fact that while Salmond was a leading champion of tactical voting, the anti-independence camp appeared to have used it more effectively.

“It looks like unionists have done the tactical voting thing better than us,” the official said. 

Source : Politico EU More   

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