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Europe's week: COVID pass, Schengen, Hungary and corruption crackdown

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Europe's week: COVID pass, Schengen, Hungary and corruption crackdown
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It was a busy week in Brussels, where notably the European Union's COVID travel pass began rolling out.

The official launch date is July 1 but Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland all started issuing the certificates

The European Commission also said this week that it wants member states to further lift travel restrictions within the continent. It wants EU countries to harmonise their measures as closely as possible in order to facilitate free movement across Europe.

"We propose no travel-related testing or quarantine for fully vaccinated or recovered persons," Didier Reynders, the European commissioner for justice said on Monday. "This is already practised in many member states and it should be independent of where you travel or where you are travelling to. We propose a common understanding of who a fully vaccinated person is in the context of travel. That means 14 days after having received their last dose."

Brussels wants people who don't fall into these two categories to be subject to the COVID travel colour of the zone they are coming from.

That means no restrictions from a green area, a test for orange and the possibility of quarantine from a red zone.

The proposals are designed to work alongside the EU's COVID travel certificate, but given that member states can effectively choose their own entry requirements, the European Commission's hope of re-harmonising free movement within the bloc may be dashed.

Strengthening Schengen?

It wasn't the only travel-related announcement that Brussels made this week though.

Commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, was centre stage this week to say that the only way to save the borderless Schengen area -- that has been battered and bruised since the start of the pandemic -- is to strengthen and reinforce it.

"We can end up with the most modern border management system in the world and we need that. But we cannot build a fortress Europe. We need to work with neighbouring countries to work together with them and address also when it comes to security threats, fight against terrorism and to manage migration," Johansson said Wednesday.

The European Commission wants to do so by improving police cooperation, as well as increasing the number of staff at the EU's border control agency, Frontex.

ECJ dismisses Hungary case

In other news, Hungary lost a legal case against the European Parliament regarding a vote in 2018 accusing it of chipping away at democratic values.

The case was brought forward by the Hungarian government nearly three years ago after MEPs voted to trigger for the first time a procedure known as Article 7 in September 2018, which is used to determine whether a member state has breached the bloc’s founding values.

Budapest argues that the vote in the parliament should not have been counted due to abstentions by some MEPs not being factored into the two-thirds majority needed for the vote to pass.

For Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, the ruling was for democracy and a stark warning for Viktor Orban.

"There needs to be a very clear message to Viktor Orban that these rule of law violations are not tolerated and that we will cut funding to Hungary if they persist," Freund said.

Europe targets corruption

Brussels finally launched its public prosecutor's office this week to tackle fraud involving European Union cash and with a promise to "defend the rule of law in the EU".

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) will investigate fraud, corruption, and money laundering involving the EU budget, which is set to increase as the bloc rolls out its €750-billion recovery fund on top of its seven-year €1.074 trillion budget.

Based in Luxembourg, the EPPO has been repeatedly delayed since the law that set it up entered into force in November 2017.

"Our target [will be] economic and financial criminality. Make no mistake, this is the most common threat to any democratic society," the EU's chief prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi told Euronews.

"It is underreported, underestimated, and often even tolerated to the benefit of organised criminal organisations that aspire to subvert and replace legitimate authorities."