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The Brief: Trump flight ban, foreign policy report card

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Belgium EU von der Leyen   -   Copyright  Virginia Mayo/AP
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Europe woke up to news that flights to the US were suspended. President Trump called for a 30-day ban on foreign nationals entering the US, as he faced domestic pressure to take action to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The EU has slammed the US president's decision to ban European travel to America.

In a statement, the Commission and Council presidents said:

"The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.

The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.

The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus."

Trump claims that Covid-19 cases in the country had been caused by European travelers.

When asked about a more heavy-handed reaction from Brussels, Eric Mamer, Chief Spokesperson European Commission responded:

"The European Union isn’t in the habit of shooting from the hip as you know. We believe that good policy-making requires reflection."

The French transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, also took the opportunity to criticise the US president's response to coronavirus.

"I know the temperament of Donald Trump, who reacted perhaps a little later than some other countries, particularly European countries, on the subject. Today he is taking fairly drastic measures on the Schengen area, which we will obviously have to evaluate."

Turbulent times

Trump's unprecedented measure comes at a bad time for European airlines. The EU is expected to release further support for the sector by the end of the week.

In the meantime, airlines are asking for measures to be put in place as soon as possible - including suspending the airport slot system and tax exemptions.

100 days of foreign policy ambitions

"This Commission will be a geopolitical commission," that was the bold statement of Ursula von der Leyen at the beginning of her mandate.

The president of the European Commission made it clear during her first press conference. She wants to emphasise the EU's role in the world. She also wanted to take a different direction than the United States.

"I want the European Union and thus the Commission to be the guardian of multilateralism, because we know that we are stronger by doing together what we cannot do alone."

Since then, the High Representative, Josep Borrell has travelled around the world from Iran to Sudan and passing through Kosovo.

But he also has had to deal with many important crises. From Libya to the ongoing crisis at the Greek-Turkish border.

"Receiving the Turkish president in Brussels and showing a clear stand to every blackmail attempt. From this point of view, the European Union demands respect, and that is right," says French MEP Nathalie Loiseau, (Renew Europe). We also see a new military operation off Libya and that the arms embargo is taken more seriously, it was high time for this."

But it appears the European weak point in terms of Foreign policy is unanimity. Just one country can block a decision.

Borrell would like to avoid national vetoes introducing a multi-speed system.

And new formulas could be tested.

"Perhaps we could test qualified majority voting on certain fields for a certain period of time. For instanc e, sanctions as one example," explains German MEP David McAllister (EPP).

In the long term, the Commission has presented a new strategy for Africa to make the continent a top priority. It culminated in the visit of 20 commissioners to Addis Ababa. But it has raised some criticism from humanitarian organisations.

"We are disappointed because there is a strong focus on economic growth and the role of the private sector, and not enough focus on human development, the delivery of public services, addressing poverty and inequalities which are all priorities of African citizens," says Luisa Fondello, Caritas Europa.

A lot of work needs still to be done, and it will have to be supported by the next European budget.