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Europe's week: Macron slapped, Belarus sanctions and Babis vote

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German European Parliament member Jens Gieseke attends the opening of the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Monday June 7, 2021
German European Parliament member Jens Gieseke attends the opening of the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Monday June 7, 2021   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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This week in a small town in southern France, President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face as he was doing a walkabout to greet locals.

For some reason, France has seen a lot of incidents like this.

A few years ago, François Hollande, campaigning for the presidency in 2012, had flour thrown at him.

The same happened, in 2017, to former Prime Minister François Fillon.

Macron downplayed the incident, saying it was isolated and stupid, but he also reminded everyone that physical violence should have no room in the public arena.

"There is stupidity and when it is linked with violence it is unacceptable. I hear when there is anger, and anger can express itself democratically, I always go on the contact of people, within reach of an argument. People express their anger and sometimes their distress, and I am always there…But stupidity and violence no, not in a democracy," Macron said.

The man who did the slapping was very quickly sentenced to four months in prison.

Belarus sanctions coming soon

MEPs debated the situation in Belarus this week, which has seen protests and turmoil since long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko was announced the winner of last year's presidential election. His critics say the vote was rigged in his favour.

"We are unlikely to stop Lukashenko and Putin from violating the sovereignty of Belarus in attempts to form a so-called 'union state'," said Lithuanian MEP Petras Austrevicius this week.

"But we must justify the expectations of the Belarusian people towards the European Union and contain the Lukashenko regime by imposing broad sectoral sanctions."

This was all while Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, told MEPs that sanctions against the government in Belarus are likely to be approved later this month.

"As mandated by the European Council, and together with the [European] Commission, we have started targeted economic sanctions, as the council requested, that will be adopted at the next Foreign Affairs Council, I hope," Borrell said.

COVID travel pass clears final hurdle

MEPs also approved the bloc's EU COVID travel pass this week, paving the way for the revival of free movement across the continent.

The vote, which passed overwhelmingly, means that European citizens may finally get a slight taste of normal this summer, once the travel certificates are fully operational across by July 1.

Babiš vote

MEPs voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to issue proceedings against the Czech Republic's prime minister Andrej Babiš for breaches of EU law concerning an alleged conflict of interest.

Brussels concluded last year in an audit that Andrej Babiš had breached domestic and EU conflict of interest legislation in relation to his control of Agrofert, the agriculture conglomerate he founded.

The vote by MEPs does not mean that direct action will be taken against Babiš, rather it determines the European Parliament's position on the issue. It also urges the European Commission to look further into the issue and potentially act.

Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, says that he wants to see action taken against Babis, including halting the payment of European funding to his business.

"The EU rules clearly say that conflicts of interest need to be resolved. So if this conflict of interest needs to be resolved, there are three concrete things that the Czech prime minister can do," Freund told Euronews.

"He can resign as prime minister. He can sell his company or you can stop receiving EU funds. So one of these three he has to pick and if he doesn't, well, then either we need to stop paying money to the Czech Republic or the other heads of state and government need to refuse to let him go to the negotiation table because we cannot just tolerate that the conflict of interest persists at the very heart of decision making of the European Union."