Europe's week: Omicron reveals the EU's coordination cracks

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By Aida Sanchez Alonso  & Méabh Mc Mahon
From left, Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Jansa, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
From left, Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Jansa, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool

This week was a packed one in the European bubble.

In the last complete week before the Christmas holidays, the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission had a full agenda.

Omicron coordination

The week ended with an intense summit that showed the divisions between members states on omicron even as member states called for coordination.

Italy, Greece, Portugal and Ireland are now acting on their own and introducing extra measures like PCR tests for vaccinated Europeans. The fear is that the EU COVID travel pass for citizens will soon be obsolete.

Italy's PM Mario Draghi has insisted on the need for these new measures, but not all members states agree. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez praised the certificate and said it continued to have his full support.

The prime ministers and heads of state are not the only ones who want to avoid travelling conflict just before Christmas.

The leader of the European People's Party Manfred Weber also defended the certificate.

"Even with growing numbers with Omicron now, with rising cases of COVID cases, we have to guarantee the freedom of movement with open borders inside the European Union. That is why we have to modernise and upgrade the COVID pass," he said.

All eyes on Russia

In addition to tough talks about the virus, EU leaders had another problem on their hands as they met this week in Brussels. Once again, Russia played a central part in their talks.

Leaders are concerned about a recent US intelligence report that 175,000 Russian troops are gathering on the border of Ukraine.

"Probably we face the most dangerous situation in the last 30 years. We have to do everything in our hands to prevent the worst-case scenario," said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda ahead of the summit.

Ukraine wants the EU to act prior to a feared Russian incursion but this is not a move they are willing to make. Instead they have made a series of threats.

"If there is military aggression against Ukraine, the consequences will be huge," said Council President Charles Michel.

Navalny's Sakharov

Meanwhile in Strasbourg this week, MEPs gave a prestigious prize to Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. The 45-year-old Russian activist sits behind bars in Russia after violating his probation.

It was his daughter Nadia who collected the Sakharov prize in his honour and didn't mince words when she accepted it.

"We strive for a Europe of ideas, the celebration of human rights, democracy and integrity and we don’t want a Europe of chancellors or ministers who dream of getting a job on the board of Putin’s state-owned companies or sailing on oligarchs’ yachts," she said.