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Slovenia's term raises specter of EU's threat from within

Slovenia's term raises specter of EU's threat from within

KRANJ, Slovenia — Tiny Slovenia took charge of the world’s largest trading bloc this week, and immediately shone a harsh spotlight on one of the European Union’s most vexing problems: How to accommodate increasingly vocal member countries with very different visions of Europe’s future.Already, nationalist governments in Hungary and Poland are worrying their more politically mainstream partners in the 27-nation EU. Some fear that new legislation introduced by the two countries could undermine democratic standards and the independence of the judiciary.Then on Thursday, Slovenia’s return to the European stage — it took over the EU’s rotating presidency for six months — was marked by concerns about the right-wing government’s record on media freedoms and its failure to nominate legal experts to the fraud-busting European Public Prosecutor’s Office.For Prime Minister Janez Jansa — who leads the Alpine nation of just 2 million people nestled between Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy — Slovenia is a misunderstood victim of “double standards,” sometimes at the hands of the EU’s increasingly powerful executive branch, the European Commission.“We are not a colony. We are not a second-class member of the European Union,” Jansa told foreign reporters on Friday. His remarks highlighted the growing tensions between newer EU members from central and eastern Europe and the founding states from the continent’s west.“The EU brings together countries with different traditions, with different cultures. There are differences that need to be taken into account and respected,” he said, during an exchange that lasted well over an hour.Pressure mounted on Jansa’s government recently as it prepared for its EU presidency, which is largely about acting as an “honest broker” to find consensus among the 27 nations and ensure the smooth adoption of policies ranging from the environment to migration.Protests in the capital, Ljubljana, have become routine. In late May, around 20,000 people gathered in a central square to demand that the government step down.Jansa is accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian in ways similar to those of his ally, hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Critics say Jansa’s government has pressured Slovenian media, spurred hate speech and mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic.Asked about his attitude toward “illiberal democracies” like those in Hungary and Poland, the 62-year-old former journalist replied: “For me, all of these mainstream political orientations are equal, and equally legitimate.”“I cannot agree to the division between liberal and illiberal democracy. Democracy is democracy,” Jansa said, before going on to give a favorable account of Orban and what he has done for Hungary. “If I fight for the affection of my voters, in a free world, everyone is equal.”The Slovenian premier has come under particular scrutiny for keeping a stranglehold on funds for Slovenia’s only news agency, the STA. He says he expects the issue to be resolved this fall, but exactly how is unclear.On Friday, he showed reporters a video that he said depicted the media pressure applied by more left-leaning politicians. It listed a number of journalists, including well-known TV news personalities, who have switched to jobs in government or parliament.“You are accusing this government that we are suppressing media freedom,” Jansa said in English. “When we defend ourselves, and we are under attack all the time, this is not suppressing media freedom.”“It’s not good if you’re criticized in whatever you’re doing. If you’re making restrictions regarding COVID, you’re criticized. If not making the restrictions, you’re criticized. At the end, people are dying because of the pandemic. It’s not so simple,” he said.Jansa’s use of images to make a point didn’t go down well with the commission at Thursday’s meeting to mark the start of Slovenia’s presidency. During a complaint about “leftist” politicians, he displayed a photograph of two Slovenian judges alongside opposition members.That prompted a walkout by European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans. He refused to take part in the “family photo” between Slovenia’s Cabinet and the commissioners.“I simply could not be on the same podium with PM Jansa after his unacceptable attack,” Timmermans said later.The following day, Interior Minister Ales Hojs, talking about anti-government protesters, said: “I personally do not want to call anyone a swine. But perhaps once in the future, after everything I heard yesterday, I will be able to call a certain individual a swine.”“They were not on the square (among the protesters), but they sit high in the European bureaucracy,” Hojs told reporters. He later denied via Twitter that he was referring to Timmermans.Ultimately, the tensions suit both parties. Small Slovenia appears to be punching above its political weight, while the EU’s executive branch comes across as a righteous defender of Europe’s values.More problematic though is that the dispute was over the independence of judges, and came amid concern that Slovenia has delayed its appointment of legal experts to Europe’s public prosecutors office, which investigates the misuse of EU funds.It came on the day that the commission endorsed Slovenia’s post-pandemic plan to revive its economy with 2.5 billion euros ($3 billion) in grants and loans of European money. Hungary’s national plan still hasn’t been approved amid concerns over democratic backsliding there.In March, Hungary’s ruling party pulled out of the biggest mainstream political group in the European Parliament in acrimony. The Fidesz party’s membership had already been suspended by the group, the European People’s Party.Jansa suggested that his party too might be ready to walk away.“I think there will be some changes in the future, we hope so, toward the original idea of the European People’s Party,” he said. “If this is not the case, there are other options.”

Slovenia's term raises specter of EU's threat from within

Slovenia's term raises specter of EU's threat from within

KRANJ, Slovenia — Tiny Slovenia took charge of the world’s largest trading bloc this week, and immediately shone a harsh spotlight on one of the European Union’s most vexing problems: How to accommodate increasingly vocal member countries with very different visions of Europe’s future.Already, nationalist governments in Hungary and Poland are worrying their more politically mainstream partners in the 27-nation EU. Some fear that new legislation introduced by the two countries could undermine democratic standards and the independence of the judiciary.Then on Thursday, Slovenia’s return to the European stage — it took over the EU’s rotating presidency for six months — was marked by concerns about the right-wing government’s record on media freedoms and its failure to nominate legal experts to the fraud-busting European Public Prosecutor’s Office.For Prime Minister Janez Jansa — who leads the Alpine nation of just 2 million people nestled between Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy — Slovenia is a misunderstood victim of “double standards,” sometimes at the hands of the EU’s increasingly powerful executive branch, the European Commission.“We are not a colony. We are not a second-class member of the European Union,” Jansa told foreign reporters on Friday. His remarks highlighted the growing tensions between newer EU members from central and eastern Europe and the founding states from the continent’s west.“The EU brings together countries with different traditions, with different cultures. There are differences that need to be taken into account and respected,” he said, during an exchange that lasted well over an hour.Pressure mounted on Jansa’s government recently as it prepared for its EU presidency, which is largely about acting as an “honest broker” to find consensus among the 27 nations and ensure the smooth adoption of policies ranging from the environment to migration.Protests in the capital, Ljubljana, have become routine. In late May, around 20,000 people gathered in a central square to demand that the government step down.Jansa is accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian in ways similar to those of his ally, hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Critics say Jansa’s government has pressured Slovenian media, spurred hate speech and mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic.Asked about his attitude toward “illiberal democracies” like those in Hungary and Poland, the 62-year-old former journalist replied: “For me, all of these mainstream political orientations are equal, and equally legitimate.”“I cannot agree to the division between liberal and illiberal democracy. Democracy is democracy,” Jansa said, before going on to give a favorable account of Orban and what he has done for Hungary. “If I fight for the affection of my voters, in a free world, everyone is equal.”The Slovenian premier has come under particular scrutiny for keeping a stranglehold on funds for Slovenia’s only news agency, the STA. He says he expects the issue to be resolved this fall, but exactly how is unclear.On Friday, he showed reporters a video that he said depicted the media pressure applied by more left-leaning politicians. It listed a number of journalists, including well-known TV news personalities, who have switched to jobs in government or parliament.“You are accusing this government that we are suppressing media freedom,” Jansa said in English. “When we defend ourselves, and we are under attack all the time, this is not suppressing media freedom.”“It’s not good if you’re criticized in whatever you’re doing. If you’re making restrictions regarding COVID, you’re criticized. If not making the restrictions, you’re criticized. At the end, people are dying because of the pandemic. It’s not so simple,” he said.Jansa’s use of images to make a point didn’t go down well with the commission at Thursday’s meeting to mark the start of Slovenia’s presidency. During a complaint about “leftist” politicians, he displayed a photograph of two Slovenian judges alongside opposition members.That prompted a walkout by European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans. He refused to take part in the “family photo” between Slovenia’s Cabinet and the commissioners.“I simply could not be on the same podium with PM Jansa after his unacceptable attack,” Timmermans said later.The following day, Interior Minister Ales Hojs, talking about anti-government protesters, said: “I personally do not want to call anyone a swine. But perhaps once in the future, after everything I heard yesterday, I will be able to call a certain individual a swine.”“They were not on the square (among the protesters), but they sit high in the European bureaucracy,” Hojs told reporters. He later denied via Twitter that he was referring to Timmermans.Ultimately, the tensions suit both parties. Small Slovenia appears to be punching above its political weight, while the EU’s executive branch comes across as a righteous defender of Europe’s values.More problematic though is that the dispute was over the independence of judges, and came amid concern that Slovenia has delayed its appointment of legal experts to Europe’s public prosecutors office, which investigates the misuse of EU funds.It came on the day that the commission endorsed Slovenia’s post-pandemic plan to revive its economy with 2.5 billion euros ($3 billion) in grants and loans of European money. Hungary’s national plan still hasn’t been approved amid concerns over democratic backsliding there.In March, Hungary’s ruling party pulled out of the biggest mainstream political group in the European Parliament in acrimony. The Fidesz party’s membership had already been suspended by the group, the European People’s Party.Jansa suggested that his party too might be ready to walk away.“I think there will be some changes in the future, we hope so, toward the original idea of the European People’s Party,” he said. “If this is not the case, there are other options.”

Slovenia's turn at the EU helm off to a tense, rocky start

Slovenia's turn at the EU helm off to a tense, rocky start

KRANJ, Slovenia — Slovenia’s presidency of the European Union got off to a tense, rocky start Thursday, as the EU’s chief executive demanded that the right-wing government end a funding rift with the small Alpine country’s main news agency.At a news event meant to usher in Slovenia’s six-month term at the EU’s helm, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also urged Prime Minister Janez Jansa to swiftly nominate a delegate to the EU prosecutor’s office, a new body aimed at investigating graft across the 27-nation bloc.“We need media, and free media, that is critical as an oversight of governmental activities or, for example, European Commission activities. This is the essence of democracy,” a stony-faced von der Leyen told reporters during a visit to Slovenia with her team of commissioners.“We think that Slovenia must ensure the independence and the appropriate funding of the public service provided by the agency. So, we expect that swift solutions are found to unblock the funding, and we will follow up the developments,” she said.Pressure has been mounting on Jansa’s government in recent months as it prepares for its EU presidency, which is largely an agenda-setting bureaucratic role — an “honest broker” trying to ensure the smooth adoption of files in a wide-range of European policies.Last month, some 20,000 people gathered at a central square in the capital, Ljubljana, to demand that the government step down and early elections be held. Several workers’ unions and opposition parties joined the demonstration.Critics accuse Jansa of assuming increasingly authoritarian ways similar to those of his ally, Hungary’s hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban. They claim that Jansa’s government has pressured Slovenian media and spurred hate speech, while mishandling the coronavirus crisis.He has come under particular scrutiny for keeping a strangle-hold on funds for Slovenia’s only news agency, the STA.But on Thursday he said, somewhat cryptically, that “in Europe, you usually pay the bill when you get it. Our problem is that we need a document.” He did not provide details but said that he expects the problem to be resolved this fall.Officials in Brussels have also been concerned for some time about Jansa’s delay in appointing two legal experts to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, a new body that started work this month with a brief of tackling fraud linked to the EU’s budget.“It is a crucial component to protect EU tax-payers’ money,” von der Leyen said. “It is very good that Slovenia has signed up to it, and now Slovenia must deliver and cooperate with the EPPO.”“I count on the prime minister to submit names of candidates to the EPPO with utmost urgency,” she said.Von der Leyen’s remarks came just as the EU’s executive branch endorsed Slovenia’s plan to revive its economy and stands ready to provide 1.8 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in grants and 705 million euros ($836 million) in loans.Commission experts said the appointment of delegates to the public prosecutor’s office is not a requirement for the plan to be approved.Such occasions are usually marked by good humor. But in a sign of tensions behind the scenes, von der Leyen’s deputy, European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, refused to take part in the “family photo” between Slovenia’s cabinet and the commissioners.It came after Jansa, complaining about leftist politicians, displayed a photograph depicting two Slovenian judges alongside opposition members.“I simply could not be on the same podium with PM Jansa after his unacceptable attack” on the judges and politicians, Timmermans said in a statement after the meeting. He added that judicial independence and respect for the role of elected officials — in this case from his own Socialist party group — are cornerstones of the rule of law.“We can never stop calling out those who attack it,” he said.Last month, European Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi said that “you cannot efficiently investigate all the suspicions of fraud without European delegated prosecutors.” She said that “the manifest lack of sincere cooperation of the Slovenian authorities with the EPPO seriously undermines the trust in the effective functioning of the management and control systems for EU funds in Slovenia.”

EU members bordering Russia reject plan to meet with Putin

EU members bordering Russia reject plan to meet with Putin

BRUSSELS — European Union countries bordering Russia rejected a Franco-German plan to resume official meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with one leader likening the move to an attempt to talk a bear out of stealing honey.In a statement in the early hours of Friday morning, EU leaders said only that they “will explore formats and conditionalities of dialogue with Russia.” There was no mention of any high-level meetings or plans for a summit with Putin.The European Union is deeply divided in its approach to Moscow. Russia is the EU’s biggest natural gas supplier, and plays a key role in a series of international conflicts and issues linked to Europe’s strategic interests, including the Iran nuclear deal, and conflicts in Syria and Libya.European heavyweight Germany has strong economic interests there, notably the NordStream 2 undersea pipeline project, and a number of countries, including France, are reluctant to continue waging a sanctions battle with Russia, including over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.The EU is concerned that Putin is turning increasingly authoritarian and wants to distance himself from the West. Both the 27-nation trading bloc and the NATO military alliance are struggling to bring Russia to the table. U.S. President Joe Biden’s meeting with Putin this month was a rare exception.“We have to deal with Russia, but being very cautious about the real intentions of Putin’s regime,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels. “So far, we don’t see any radical change in the pattern of behavior of Russia.”“If, without any positive changes in the behavior of Russia, we start to engage, it will send very uncertain and bad signals,” Nauseda said. “It seems to me like we try to engage a bear to keep a pot of honey safe.”The other two Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, are also deeply concerned about reaching out to Moscow when the Minsk agreements meant to bring peace to Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula Russia annexed in 2014, are still not being respected. Conflict still simmers in eastern Ukraine with Russia-backed separatists.“Right now, if it pans out the way it’s proposed, Russia annexes Crimea, Russia wages war in Donbass, and Europe shrugs its shoulders and continues to try to speak a dialogue. The Kremlin does not understand this kind of politics,” said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins.His Estonian counterpart, Kaja Kallas, said that “what our intelligence (service) tells us is that sanctions work and the European Union has to be more patient.”But French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe cannot simply tackle its problems with Russia on a case-by-case basis, by continually imposing sanctions or other measures.“We cannot continue without dialogue. We have to talk, including about our disagreements. It’s the only way to resolve them,” Macron said. “It’s a dialogue that’s necessary for the stability of the European continent, but demanding because we will not give up our interests and values.”In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers that “the events of recent months — not just in Germany — have clearly shown that it’s not enough if we react to the multitude of Russian provocations in an uncoordinated way.”“Instead, we have to create mechanisms to respond in a common and unified way to provocations” to what she described as “hybrid attacks by Russia.” That includes outreach to countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and the western Balkans, but also engaging Russia and Putin directly.The plan was welcomed in Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin supports the idea to restore “the mechanism of direct contacts between Brussels and Moscow.”“Putin has spoken about it many times,” Peskov said. “Both Brussels and Moscow really need this dialogue.”Ukraine, in contrast, was not so keen about the EU outreach.“Initiatives to resume EU summits with Russia without seeing any progress from the Russian side will be a dangerous deviation from EU sanctions policy,” Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in Brussels.In the end, the leaders agreed to underline “the need for a firm and coordinated response by the EU and its member states to any further malign, illegal and disruptive activity by Russia, making full use of all instruments at the EU’s disposal.”Despite the Franco-German push for talks, they invited the EU’s executive branch and top diplomat “to present options for additional restrictive measures, including economic sanctions.”———Sylvain Plazy in Brussels, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.

EU pushes on with migrant policy outsourcing plans

EU pushes on with migrant policy outsourcing plans

European Union leaders are pushing ahead with plans to outsource the bloc’s migration woes by spending billions of euros to boost cooperation with countries that people leave or cross to get to EuropeBy LORNE COOK Associated PressJune 24, 2021, 7:19 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — European Union leaders pushed ahead Thursday with plans to outsource the bloc’s migration policy challenges by spending billions of euros to improve cooperation from countries that people leave or cross when they set out for Europe.Long unable to agree on who should take responsibility for migrants when they come and whether other members of the 27-nation EU should be obliged to help, the leaders focused instead on how to prevent people from arriving in the first place.At their summit in Brussels, they said that “mutually beneficial partnerships and cooperation with countries of origin and transit will be intensified.” No countries were named but the focus is on northern Africa, from where many migrants set out on dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea to seek a better life or sanctuary in Europe.“The approach will be pragmatic, flexible and tailor-made,” the leaders said, and will make use of all available “instruments and incentives” to persuade the countries to cooperate. Their summit statement was prepared by envoys in advance and was subject to almost no discussion Thursday.In it, they invited the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission “to make the best possible use of at least 10% of the NDICI financial envelope, as well as funding under other relevant instruments, for actions related to migration.”The “Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument” has a budget of 79.5 billion euros ($95 billion) from 2021-2027, so almost 8 billion euros ($9.5 billion) could be made available for migration purposes.The money could be used to tackle the root causes that drive people to leave, support refugees and displaced people, build capacity to help countries better manage migration, crack down on human smuggling and boost border controls.The arrival of well over a million migrants in 2015, many fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq, overwhelmed reception capacities in Greece and Italy. It sparked perhaps the EU’s biggest-ever political crisis, and disputes over responsibility and solidarity continue today.The commission unveiled a vast reform of Europe’s woefully inadequate asylum system in September last year. EU member countries have endorsed parts of the package but they are unable to resolve the issues at the heart of their standoff.Migrant arrivals dropped to a relative trickle after the EU sealed a deal in 2015 to convince Turkey to stop people from leaving its shores for the Greek islands, and member countries are trying to replicate that model in northern Africa.Despite the significant drop in unauthorized migrant entries, the leaders said, “developments on some routes give rise to serious concern and require continued vigilance and urgent action.”The EU’s border and coast guard agency, Frontex, said Tuesday that 47,100 “illegal border crossings” were made into Europe in the first five months of this year, an increase of 47% for the same period last year, when arrival numbers were significantly down due to the coronavirus pandemic.Frontex said that many of the people crossing the central Mediterranean were Tunisians or from Bangladesh. Algerians and Moroccans made up the bulk of people arriving via the western Mediterranean route.Raphael Shilhav, a migration expert at the charity group Oxfam, said the leaders should have used their summit “to discuss creating fair and efficient asylum processes, improve the shameful conditions in EU reception centers and end the violent pushbacks” — the illegal expulsion of migrants from a country before they can seek asylum there.“EU leaders must not turn the issue of human rights into political bickering and must instead focus on helping people seek safety,” he said.———Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

EU warns Hungary, Poland of action over democratic standards

EU warns Hungary, Poland of action over democratic standards

The European Union’s executive branch is warning Hungary and Poland that it will take action if they continue to violate the 27-nation bloc’s democratic standardsBy LORNE COOK Associated PressJune 22, 2021, 6:13 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive branch warned Hungary and Poland Tuesday that it will take action if they continue to violate the 27-nation bloc’s democratic standards, amid signs that both countries have little intention of changing their ways.Hungary and Poland have faced criticism in the EU for years over allegations that they are eroding judicial and media independence, among other democratic principles. Last week, Hungary passed a new law banning content portraying or promoting homosexuality or sex reassignment to anyone under 18.“Freedom of expression needs to be protected, and no one should be discriminated (against) on the basis of sexual orientation,” European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said. “The commission is now looking into the law and assessing if it breaches EU law.”Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the law “does not correspond to any values defended by the European Union. People have the right to live the way they want, really, we are no longer in the Middle Ages.”But his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, argued that the law protects children. He said it allows “parents to educate their kids regarding sexual orientation until the age of 18.”More generally, Jourova told reporters, the degradation of democratic standards in Hungary “covers a wide range of issues and we don’t see a meaningful effort from the Hungarian authorities to find a common ground with the European values as stated in the (EU) treaties.”Speaking to reporters in Luxembourg after taking part in a tense debate on the issue between EU ministers, Jourova also expressed concern about developments in Poland.“We can see an increasing influence of the executive over the judicial branch and instead of willingness to dialogue, we witness further steps towards confrontation,” she said.Jourova said the commission will hand down a new report in July on the state of the rule of law across the EU.In an effort to alter the course of Hungary and Poland, Brussels last year established a system that would tie member countries’ access to EU funds to their adherence to democratic principles.The two initially tried to block the EU’s budget to thwart the introduction of the rule of law mechanism, but they eventually agreed to the plan on condition that it would be reviewed by Europe’s top court, the European Court of Justice. The court is yet to hand down its verdict and neither country is backing off.“The commission is ready to work with both Poland and Hungary as we always favor dialogue and sincere cooperation over conflict or legal disputes. But we are ready to use all the tools at our disposal if proven necessary,” Jourova said.Earlier this month, EU lawmakers threatened to sue the commission if it fails to act against them.

EU to slap new sanctions on Belarus, target its economy

EU to slap new sanctions on Belarus, target its economy

The European Union’s top diplomat says the bloc’s foreign ministers are set to approve a fresh set of sanctions against scores of officials in Belarus and prepare a series of new measures aimed at hurting the country’s economyBy LORNE COOK Associated PressJune 21, 2021, 8:54 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers will approve Monday a fresh set of sanctions against scores of officials in Belarus and prepare a series of measures aimed at hurting the country’s economy, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.The EU has ratcheted up sanctions since President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term last August in elections slammed as fraudulent by the 27-nation bloc. The measures have targeted people accused of electoral misconduct and responsibility for the police crackdown that followed.But the EU has tightened ranks further since Belarus’ authorities forced a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk last month and by what appears to be the use of migrants to pressure Lithuania, which has provided safe-haven to opposition figures and is one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics in Europe.“We will approve the package of new sanctions, which is a wider package,” Borrell told reporters in Luxembourg where he was chairing the ministerial meeting. He said asset freezes and travel bans will be slapped on a total of around 86 people and organizations.Diplomats have said that a number of those targeted are linked to the May 23 incident that saw a Ryanair flight traveling from Greece to Lithuania diverted to Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was on board the airliner.The EU has already banned Belarus airline companies from flying over the bloc’s territory or using its airports.Borrell said the ministers will also prepare a raft of economic sanctions for EU leaders to endorse at a summit on Thursday. “These are going to hurt, going to hurt the economy of Belarus heavily,” he said.The measures are likely to include action against the export of potash – a common fertilizer ingredient – tobacco industry exports and petroleum products, among others.“We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions — meaning that we will now get to work on the economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime’s income,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.“We want to make very, very clear to Lukashenko that there is no going back,” Maas said.Maas said the 27 EU countries stand united on sanctions “We are really very, very determined not to budge, not just today — nothing about this will change in the coming weeks and months,” he said.Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said EU countries had thought only a month ago that it still might be possible to reason with Lukashenko but that “the mood is different now.”Landsbergis accused Minsk of “weaponizing” migration flows. He said around 500 people are sheltering in Lithuania, most from Iraq, and that Belarus border guards brought 30 refugees to the border in recent days. He said Lithuania has limited capacity for them and is building a tent camp.To kick-off Monday’s meeting, the ministers held a working breakfast with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate to challenge Lukashenko in last year’s election.———Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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