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EU officers insisted on Monday that a go to to Lisbon by a high-level Brussels delegation was 'important enterprise', despite the fact that the journey took three European Commissioners to the Isolation as a result of danger of coronavirus an infection.
Friday's go to, led by Fee President Ursula von der Leyen, aimed to indicate the beginning of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU. However with the nation's healthcare system on the point of collapse following a surge in COVID-19 infections, the journey raised thorny questions on how the EU decides which official journey is sufficient ' important ”to make an exception to nationwide foreclosures measures.
Fee Govt Vice-Presidents Valdis Dombrovskis and Margrethe Vestager and Cohesion and Reform Commissioner Elisa Ferreira have been quarantined the weekend following their journey.
Their isolation was obligatory after Portuguese Finance Minister João Leão examined optimistic for the virus on Saturday.
The journey additionally raised the query of whether or not Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa positioned the next precedence on selling publicity for the rotating presidency than on defending the well being of dozens of nationwide officers who participated within the Friday occasions.
The questions put to Costa's authorities are significantly troubling provided that Portuguese hospitals are in need of intensive care beds. The nation can be campaigning for a presidential election on Sunday and many citizens are nervous about whether or not it’s secure to vote.
Josep Borrell throughout an interview in Lisbon | Pedro Rocha / European Union
Though Portugal’s foreclosures laws present exemptions for political occasions, the federal government and the EU ought to have set a greater instance, mentioned Ricardo Mexia, president of the Portuguese Nationwide Affiliation of Public Well being Physicians.
“Throughout this crucial second, it actually would have been higher to chorus from any pointless contact,” Mexia mentioned. “Messaging is essential. We ask folks to remain at house, to seek out methods to dwell remotely, to make use of know-how to satisfy and work. Politicians should take part on this message. "
Portuguese and Fee officers, nevertheless, insisted on the necessity to meet in individual.
“Regardless of the masks, we’ve got to look folks within the eye. We actually want to speak head to head as a lot as doable, ”Ana Paula Zacarias, Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs, advised a press convention. “The Lisbon assembly was completely productive. We now have mentioned all the weather and the agenda is full. "
Zacarias insisted that the bodily presence of the delegation "was completely elementary for us to proceed the dialogue and transfer ahead on many points."
But questions come up not solely in regards to the nature of the work, but additionally whether or not ample effort was made to maintain conferences quick and to the purpose. A Vestager spokesperson mentioned the chance of the chief vice chairman's contact got here from sitting on the similar desk as Leão. The Fee mentioned the choice to carry a dinner assembly was taken by the Portuguese hosts.
Commissioner Elisa Ferreira meets Minister Nelson de Souza | Pedro Rocha / European Union
Whereas the Fee mentioned the general journey was important, officers clearly acknowledged the dangers and tried to mitigate them by decreasing the scale of the delegation to eight. Usually, all the 27-member Faculty of Commissioners journey for such visits firstly of presidencies.
On the Fee’s every day press convention on Monday, von der Leyen’s chief spokesperson Eric Mamer was confronted with a collection of investigations into the day's journey to the Portuguese capital. When a reporter requested why half of the Faculty wanted to journey, Mamer insisted on correcting the quantity first: "Fairly, it was a 3rd of the Faculty that traveled," he mentioned .
Mamer has repeatedly mentioned that face-to-face conferences are "important" to launch the Portuguese Presidency. He additionally identified that the occasion befell on the invitation of Portugal and that nearly all the Fee's actions have been now performed on-line as a result of pandemic.
"As as to if it was a good suggestion in hindsight to go on a mission or not: what I can say is that in fact these choices usually are not taken flippantly," mentioned Mamer mentioned. "The President has given some thought to this, however it’s seen as a vital mission as a result of it’s the launch of an especially necessary Presidency."
The fallout was instantly obvious.
Ferreira's quarantine compelled her to take part remotely in a press convention Monday on the launch of the 'European Bauhaus' – a flagship initiative that von der Leyen identified in his September deal with on the state of the world. Union.
Whereas Commissioner for Innovation, Analysis, Tradition, Training and Youth Mariya Gabriel appeared in individual, Ferreira was initially in a position to be heard however not seen . For a couple of minutes, she remained a disembodied voice till she appeared on a display screen inside a display screen. Midway via Ferreira's opening remarks, points with the audio stream made him unintelligible.
Mamer mentioned Fee officers will proceed to evaluate their journey wants on a case-by-case foundation. He didn’t present any info on the vaccination plans of senior EU officers besides to say that the vaccinations would finally be carried out in accordance with Belgian guidelines.
A Portuguese public well being physician mentioned authorities ought to act quicker to vaccinate authorities officers.
"I’m additionally baffled that they didn’t vaccinate the Cupboard. Well being staff are a precedence, in fact, however there are solely 18 ministers and they’re in fixed contact with international dignitaries, ”the physician mentioned. "Already vaccinate the rattling Cupboard."
The physician, who spoke on situation of anonymity, criticized Costa for failing to take more durable Christmas measures to include the infections. "Costa was not keen to cancel Christmas and we’ve got this main outbreak now due to it."
"We’re close to Italy in March of final yr, about two weeks earlier than our hospitals collapsed," the physician warned. "I perceive that the Fee go to was crucial politically, however we’re on the prime of the record by way of prevalence and for the time being round 1% of the Portuguese inhabitants is presently contaminated… It’s 39; was clearly irresponsible of them to return right here. "
Lili Bayer and Sofia Diogo Mateus contributed reporting.