Europe

European Council chief postpones EU summit for Covid-19 quarantine

An EU summit on Thursday and Friday has been postponed because European Council President Charles Michel is in quarantine after a security officer tested positive for the coronavirus, his spokesperson announced on Tuesday.

Brussels, 22 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) – An EU summit on Thursday and Friday has been postponed because European Council President Charles Michel is in quarantine after a security officer tested positive for the coronavirus, his spokesperson announced on Tuesday.

The meeting between the 27 EU leaders will take place on October 1 and 2 instead.

“The President is tested regularly and tested negative yesterday,” spokesperson Barend Leyts said on Twitter. “Respecting Belgian rules, he has gone into quarantine as of today.”

Michel learned on Tuesday that a security officer, with whom he had been in close contact, had tested positive, Leyts said.

The deferred gathering of EU leaders in Brussels is set to focus – among other things – on relations with Turkey, which have deteriorated in recent months due to a dispute with Greece and Cyprus about gas exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

The delay could potentially buy Michel, who along with Germany has been trying to broker dialogue between Greece and Turkey, more time to persuade the parties in the dispute to sit down for talks.

The top EU official may hope that recent signals indicating readiness for dialogue bear fruit.

At the summit, EU leaders will also attempt to unblock a deadlock on sanctions against Belarus for human rights abuses and election fraud.

Cyprus has refused to approve the Belarus measures unless sanctions against Turkey are also passed, according to EU diplomatic sources.

But sanctions on Turkey are controversial, as many EU countries prefer a diplomatic solution to the conflict and are cautious about imposing sanctions.

The backdrop for negotiations with Britain on post-Brexit relations may also have darkened further by the end of next week.

The final vote on a bill overriding parts of London’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union in the lower house of the British parliament is to take place early next week.

EU leaders will now have more time to consider a response to what looks like a likely passing of the Internal Market Bill – potentially including legal action.

Brussels says that unilaterally changing the withdrawal agreement dangerously jeopardizes the talks with only weeks left for both sides to cut a deal.

EU officials have come under increasing scrutinization for their compliance with Covid-19 containment measures. Trade commissioner Phil Hogan was forced to resign last month after flouting coronavirus rules, prompting a call for EU staff to be more vigilant.

The deferral might also lead to a further delay of coronavirus coordination measures, for which the European Commission sent a proposal but which still needs to be adopted by the EU leaders. The fragmented approach in the EU – there are diverging rules for quarantine and travel – has drawn criticism across the continent.

The matter was discussed during the General Affairs Council on Tuesday, but recommendations have not been finalized.

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