The Brief — Do as I say, not as I do

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL]

One of the stories of this pandemic has been just how easy it is to take away our freedoms. As Europeans, we took our four freedoms for granted until they were suddenly taken away last March.

Politicians across Europe have learnt that people will put up with huge restraints on their ability to live, work and travel and some have, as national constitutional courts have ruled, abused that power.

But politicians would be ill-advised to take our acquiescence for granted. People will only tolerate these restrictions if they believe that their political leaders are also sticking to the rules.

Most of Europe is now either back in lockdown or with significant social restrictions as we head into another disrupted and uncertain Christmas season. And, in the coming weeks, it is increasingly likely that most countries will consider whether to require compulsory vaccination for their citizens. 

With more sacrifices likely to be required, it is the worst time for politicians to lapse into ‘Do as I say, but not as I do’.

In the UK, Boris Johnson is under huge pressure after it emerged, despite his repeated denials, that his staff had held a Christmas party last year when everyone else was being told to cancel their plans and stay at home.

This is not the first time that Johnson’s advisors or ministers have flagrantly broken lockdown and social distancing rules and, consequently, there is a growing public sense that he is lying. Indeed, just two years after his landslide Brexit election win, there is growing speculation that Johnson may face a no-confidence vote from his own party.

Johnson isn’t the only leader guilty of hypocrisy or, at best, thoughtlessness. Finland’s Sanna Marin, meanwhile, chose to hit the Helsinki nightclubs despite having been informed that her foreign minister had tested positive for COVID. 

Normally these stories would be forgotten about within a couple of days. Not so in this climate. Almost all of us have had someone close who has died of COVID, and we have all suffered from the effects of lockdowns.

Such rulebreaking not only damages public trust but will reduce public willingness to comply with future public health measures. And as the emergence of the Omicron variant has shown, we still don’t know how much longer this pandemic will be with us.

There are strong medical and civic arguments in favour of compulsory vaccination. The evidence is clear that jabs work, and that by being vaccinated we are keeping our neighbours, as well as ourselves, safe.

But if our leaders are not prepared to live by the rules that they have imposed on us, it is asking too much to expect people to meekly accept restrictions in perpetuity.

A message from Neste: To tackle climate change, we need to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we use. Fast. The question is: how?

When it comes to reducing global transport emissions, there is no silver bullet. We need to combine a range of solutions from electricity and hydrogen to e-fuels and renewable fuels. Discover how we can power sustainable mobility. Continue Reading >>

The Roundup

During an exchange with French parliamentarians this week, the EU Commission vice-president in charge of the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said Brussels “will support, sustain and assist those member states that make this choice” of using nuclear power. Timmermans promised an inclusive and ambitious ecological transition that leaves no one behind. EURACTIV France reports.

Hungary has the right to apply its own measures in areas where the European Union has yet to take adequate steps for common implementation of EU rules, the Hungarian Constitutional Court ruled on Friday. The court has been considering a challenge launched by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government to a December 2020 EU court ruling that Budapest had broken Union law by restricting access to the international protection procedure for asylum applicants in transit zones and unlawfully detaining them.

In other news, the European Commission has praised Italy for fining Amazon. The Italian antitrust body has slapped a €1.128 billion fine on Amazon after finding that the US giant holds a position of absolute dominance in the Italian e-commerce market, which has allowed it to favour its own logistics service. EURACTIV Italy reports.

The digital revolution is set to change the health world as we know it. Transposing research outcomes into digital products and services is a complex but stimulating process that could move the needle in diagnosing Alzheimer early but also in improving the quality of life of patients.

Meanwhile, the “Strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer” report has been adopted by the European Parliament’s special committee on cancer control (BECA), laying down measures to tackle the disease. The report aims to strengthen coordination between EU countries to combat inequalities in the fight against cancer. EURACTIV France reports.

The European Union should move on outstanding promises of enlarging the bloc while leaving the two frontrunners in the waiting room, Serbia and Montenegro, to ‘do their homework’, Serbia’s Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue Gordana Čomić told EURACTIV.

Like every Friday, click on our Digital Brief for a roundup of weekly news.

Look out for…

  • High Representative Josep Borrell receives representatives of the Belarusian civil society on Sunday (12 December)
  • Commissioner Ylva Johansson participates in the European Parliament Plenary Session in Strasbourg on Monday (13 December)
  • Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi participates in the Meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference on Accession of Montenegro to the European Union on Monday (13 December)

Views are the author’s.

[Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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