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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  March 26, 2021 12:30am-1:01am GMT

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this is bbc news. in his first news conference as president, joe biden has doubled his goal for coronavirus vaccinations — saying 200 million will be delivered in his administration's first hundred days. he also dismissed suggestions of an immigration crisis at the southern border and said he will revisit gun control. the head of the european commission, ursula von der leyen, has said that astrazeneca must �*catch up' on vaccine deliveries for the eu before exporting its vaccine supplies elsewhere. european leaders have been meeting to discuss vaccines supplies. the eu has not received anything like the number of vaccines it has ordered. china has imposed sanctions on nine britons, including five mps, in retaliation for british measures taken against chinese officials accused of human rights abuses against the uighur minority in xinjiang province.
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rich will be here later. now on bbc news, its hardtalk with stephen sackur. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. the covid—19 pandemic has presented the european union with an unprecedented test of its cohesion and competence. right now, the scorecard looks decidedly mixed, with many member states facing a third wave of infection while the vaccination roll—out lags far behind that in post—brexit britain. my guest is the former president of the european commission, jean—claude juncker. he once bemoaned a loss of collective eu libido. is the performance problem getting worse?
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jean—claudejuncker in brussels, welcome to hardtalk. yeah, it's my pleasure to be here. pleasure to have you on the show. there you sit in brussels. of course, you're no longer the president of the commission, but you still watch events very, very closely. how disappointed are you by the eu's failure to deliver a speedy vaccination roll—out? i have to say, i'm disappointed by the performance of the european union. that's not the fault of the commission, but also of the member states. and i would like... i would like the member states and the commission to speed up
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the efforts to provide vaccines for each and every one in the european union. i'm told via press by the president of the commission, my successor, mrs von der leyen, that from now to... ..autumn, maybe summertime, 70% of europeans, we would have had the chance to be vaccinated. i hope that this forecast is the right one. right. but hope may not be enough, because they've been saying that, that they'll get to 70% vaccination by the end of the summer, for some time. but the figures do not look good. we're looking at 12% at best of europe's citizens, adult citizens so far been vaccinated, compared with close to 40% in neighbouring britain. why do you think it is so slow across the european union? we have time from now
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to the end of the summer. so if all the efforts we are expecting are paid, the 70% goal can be reached. i hope so, that this will be the case. britain is in advance for different reasons, because britain took the decision months ago to have an emergency decision—based approach whereas the european union, the commission and the member states were more budget—conscious and had to look on the guarantees our producers were asked to provide for. we were too cautious, and britain was not cautious enough but it revealed to be the right approach. too cautious, you say. and the detail indeed backs that up because we know britain was moving to procure vaccine
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in the early summer of last year, while the eu didn't make the same moves until the late autumn. so there was a major time lag. the current commission president, your successor, ursula von der leyen, she has said that "we were too late and we were too optimistic "when it came to our production targets". do you think she should resign? no. somebody has to take responsibility, mrjuncker, because people are dying in europe because there is now a third wave of infection and it could be said thousands of people in europe are going to die because of these failures. these are not failures of the commission. these are failures of the member states in total. and so i don't think that the... ..getting rid of mrs von der leyen would be helpful, but it would prolong the delays and we are responsible for...
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would you accept that there is a great deal of unease in europe about her position right now? i'm mindful that the finance minister in germany, mr olaf scholz, at a cabinet meeting was reported to have used a word i cannot even repeat on the television to describe her performance. and he also said it was a disgrace, the eu's handling of the vaccination process. but germany, including the vice chancellor, mr scholz, are part of the european union. so it's too easy to put all the responsibility on the shoulders of the commission under mrs von der leyen. all the member states of the european union are responsible for these delays, given the bureaucratic approach some member states set when it came to translate into reality the decisions which had been taken on the european level.
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so i don't think it's wise to put all the responsibility on the shoulders of mrs von der leyen. the structural issues are important, aren't they? because everybody needs to learn lessons for the future. the us respected economist, nobel—prize—winning economist paul krugman, he analysed what's happened in europe and he said the failures were about bureaucratic and intellectual rigidity. the decision was made to go for collective eu procurement, but then the officials involved, he said, were too concerned with penny—pinching to ensure that europe was not ripped off. they were too concerned with legal liability issues, and they were not concerned enough about the urgency of saving lives. would you accept that? not entirely, but there are some elements of the arguments of paul krugman which proved to be right.
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the european commission and thus the member states, the member states and thus the european commission, were too budget—conscious, which is quite normal because in normal times, the commission, as was always the case, is accused of spreading money away without taking into consideration what is happening on the ground. so the european union was too budget—conscious whereas others were not because they wanted to fight against the pandemic development, which the european union did not do to the full extent. but it's always the same story — the commission is accused to be... spread helicopter money around, and that's why the european commission had inside her brain this budget break.
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and that was a major mistake, which should not have happened. but it happened. let's get to the vexed issue of relations between the eu and britain in the light of the vaccine roll—out. there was a very interesting headline some weeks ago — i'm sure you saw it — in germany's leading newspaper, bild, which said, "brits, we envy you." and it seems that some european leaders are so sort of concerned about this comparison with britain and now so resentful that britain is receiving vaccines from production facilities inside the european union and moving ahead swiftly with its vaccination programme while not sending vaccines into the european union, the resentment is so deep that some leaders are now talking about putting export restrictions on vaccines into the uk. how do you feel about that?
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i'm not a fan of this idea, although i have some understanding for the recent move of the president of the commission to threaten with export bans, but this could create major reputation damage to the european union, who used to be the world free—trade champion. and so i don't think that this is the right way to do it, although i have some understanding for the recent move of the commission and some member states to behave that way. i do think that we have to pull back from a vaccine war. it's to some extent understandable. britain was a member of the european union. britain now is a third state, but we have special relations with britain and so i think that there is room for dialogue, for discussions and for developing arguments on both sides of the channel.
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nobody in britain, nobody in europe understands why we are witnessing such a... according to me, stupid vaccine war. what the european union is asking is reciprocity between britain and the european union. but this cannot be dealt with in a war atmosphere. i don't like that. this has to be dealt with in intense dialogue between the european commission and the british government. let's not blame either the europeans, nor... neither the europeans nor the british. we have to discuss. we have to dialogue. we have to find solutions. we are not in war and we are not enemies. we are allies. well, i wonder if you've told your successor, ursula van der leyen, that, because it seems sometimes she still is prepared to fight a war. just the other day, she said if this situation doesn't change, "we will have to reflect on how to make
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exports to "vaccine—producing countries "dependent on their level of openness." that sounds like a threat. no, i think there is some confusion in the general public, if not in the minds of decision—makers. the european union has a major conflict with one producer. that's astrazeneca. and this producer has to fulfil the commitments it has entered and the contract between them and the european union. it's not, although it seems to be like that, a conflict between the european union and britain. it's, in the first range, a conflict between the producer, astrazeneca, and the european union, so let's not confuse different levels of disputes. we have, as the european union, a conflict with a drug
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producer who is not fulfilling its commitments. and we have the problem of reciprocity and we have to discuss this amongst friends, not in a war atmosphere. that's the best way to deal with this problem, which is concerning the british and the citizens of the european union. yeah. do you think political leaders in europe, including emmanuel macron and france, have made a mistake in their targeting of astrazeneca? but particularly, a couple of weeks ago, mr macron was speculating about the virtual ineffectiveness of that vaccine for older people. now the science suggests he was plain wrong. but what we see now is that a substantial portion of the population in europe, particularly in countries like france, is deeply suspicious of the astrazeneca vaccine. do you think politicians made a big mistake? i don't know if politicians have made a big mistake, but i do think that all of us,
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those who have stopped the vaccination of astrazeneca, made a mistake because between their decision to stop the vaccination and the advice given by the medical authorities of the european union, the assessment of the medical authority of the european union has proof that this vaccine is safe, and you should never give... in an atmosphere which is creating public opinion, you should rely on those who know better and this is...these are the medical authorities of the european union. and what is creating some disarray, including in my mind, is that member states are behaving in different ways. have a look at what is happening today in germany. the german chancellor
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and the german prime ministers of the 16 regions have decided on monday night — or was it...? yeah, it was on monday night — to impose a total lockdown during easter time. it has been cancelled today by chancellor merkel after having consulted the different 16 prime ministers of the german regions. she was apologising publicly... that's right. the german parliament for this mistake, and so the europeans have to come back to common sense. yeah. so you talk about disarray in europe. and i would add to that the fact that countries like hungary and poland and slovakia and the czech republic are now going to get their vaccines from china and/or russia. the austrians and the danes are talking about vaccine partnerships with israel. so much for the solidarity
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of the eu dealing with this crisis cohesively and together. it'sjust not happening any more. the disarray is getting worse. yes, but the european solidarity is weakening. why is it weakening? because the european union, as such, is unable to manage at the request, the extent, the response to the covid crisis. and so member states are trying to have the vaccine wherever they can get it. of course, covid has created a massive economic challenge for the european union. there is a recovery plan which involves more than 700 billion euros of new debt taken on by the commission to be spread out across the worst—affected areas and to be tied to the forthcoming eu budget. but there are many governments in europe who are deeply unhappy with this new form of debt mutualisation,
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and the polish parliament is threatening to block ratification. as far as poland is concerned, it is yet another sign that europe... you always wanted it to be united and full of solidarity and with ambitious plans for a fiscal union — it is very, very far from that, isn't it? but it's something new. the decision the european council has made months ago to borrow, via the european commission, the money needed to finance this plan, the 750 billions that we planned, it's something new. and so governments — and all the governments were part of that decision—making — have to advocate the value and the virtues of this common recovery plan. what is creating some difficulties is that there too we are accused of some delays because member states, how could i say, too lazy
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to introduce in brussels and to the european commission, their national recovery plans, because these recovery plans, according to the decisions of the european council, which was taken months ago, is due to deal with some precise indications, meaning by there that the money has to be dedicated to structural reforms and to growth—enhancing initiatives. and so the commission has to take under exam all the national programmes. this takes time, but... well, it takes time and it shows us that the eu is divided. i quickly want to go into a couple of other areas... no, no, it's not divided. member states. well, it is divided, because you get a very different set of statements from poland, for example, or indeed from holland, the netherlands, or austria,
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than you get from france or italy. you know it is divided, but let us move on... this is not the first time that before final decision—making is put into place that these kind of events are happening. all right. let's quickly talk about one specific aspect of brexit, which is still deeply complex and indeed creating dispute in the eu. that is, the british have decided unilaterally to extend the grace period before they implement full checks on goods travelling from the british mainland to northern ireland. now, they didn't get agreement with the eu to do that. and there are some in the eu who now want to take britain through the european courts. i just would like you to tell me whether you would support that action. i'm no longer in charge of all these disputes between britain and the european union. i do think that if the european union has a point and has a case, it can be easily put before the judge,
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but i would not advise the europeans to do so because as i said earlier in our conversation, stephen, we are not in war with britain. we are still allies and we should try to solve these problems through dialogue and through debates and discussions. what i don't understand is this... how could i say? this...temptation... fight against britain and the british temptation to fight against the european union. let's discuss amongst adult people. the image we are giving as far as the relations between britain and the european union is concerned is we are giving the image of countries who are... how could i say? as the french are saying, i cannot translate this in ordinary english — drole de guerre.
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we are not in a drole de guerre and we are notjust before war, and not in war, and the british decision to extend the grace period was wrong, as was wrong the decision taken by the commission weeks ago to openly put into question article 16 of the northern irish part of the withdrawal agreement. we should behave like adult people. all right. well, i get that message with regard to britain. before we end, i quickly want to ask you a bigger—picture question about europe's strategic geopolitical direction. emmanuel macron says that europe has to move toward a new level of what he calls "strategic autonomy". he wants a greater distance from nato. he wants the europeans to be more responsible
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for their own security, a sort of third geopolitical world power with the us and china. do you regard that as realistic? because when we look at what is actually happening on the ground in the european union, that seems like a fantasy. no, no, but i have to remember and to remind you that this wording, "strategic autonomy", is going back to a european council decision of 2003. britain was a member of the european union at that time, so it's not a new invention, but that europeans want to take on their shoulders more responsibility in the security and defence domain is ok because we have launched the beginning of a defence union. but this defence union, although very modest as far as its ambitions are concerned, is not stepping away from a strong transatlantic relationship. well... i still believe that we have to have a strong from a strong transatlantic relationship. well... i still believe that we have to have a strong
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transatlantic relationship. but the point i'm getting to throughout this interview really is about european division. you, years ago, said that you wanted to see greater european libido. you were worried that the europeans weren't strong enough and ambitious enough in pursuit of their own interests. but the truth right now is that there's deep divisions over what europe should do in terms of its security strategy, deep divisions about how close or not it should have an economic partnership with china. they are completely in disarray, to use your word. so how on earth can europe pursue strategic autonomy in that context? i'm responsible for the wording i had years ago, but libido is an irrational phenomenon, as far as we know, and i was referring to the general atmosphere in the general public of the european union.
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and believe it or not, we have common interests with britain and we have common interests with the united states of america. and we are facing a very... let me say, that way round, dangerous situation as far as international relations are concerned. the russian foreign minister yesterday, or the day before yesterday, said that the relations between the european union and russia are dead, and we are facing increasing difficulties, problems with china. i still think that... well... ..we should look for ways to solve these problems in terms of dialogue with... all right. ..with china. jean—claudejuncker, i'm sorry to cut you off there, but we're out of time. i thank you so much forjoining me from brussels. thank you very much. so do i. bye— bye.
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hello there. the weather will be turning much colder today. we look at the temperatures we got to yesterday, in the warmer spots we had highs of around 15 celsius, for example, in sheffield. today, those temperatures quite widely across the uk down by about five celsius. from 15 to about ten later this afternoon. the change is brought about by an area of low pressure, this one here, and there are a couple of weather fronts on it. the first one an imposter bringing in a little bit of rain eastwards. the second one is the cold front and it is behind that that the colder air will be
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spreading its way in across the uk. over the next few hours, ourfirst band of rain moves from wales across into central and western england. our main band of rain, our cold front, will be bringing wet weather and gusty winds to scotland, western parts of wales and northern ireland as well. through friday morning, this band of rain will push eastwards and only really reaching east anglia and southeast england in the afternoon. so there will be a bit of sunshine for a time. behind that, some sunny skies but also plenty of showers. the showers will have hail and thunder mixed in across northwestern areas where it will feel particularly cold. highs of seven celsius and factor in the brisk wind and it will feel colder than that. in fact, through the weekend, i think it will stay on the windy side, rain around as well. we start off with a risk of icy stretches across higher parts of scotland and northern england because there may well be some snow showers here through friday night. icy conditions. sunshine for a time but further west the cloud building in and eventually outbreaks of rain spreading to northern ireland, perhaps western
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scotland towards the end of the day. blustery and still quite cool, temperature about nine or 10 celsius through saturday afternoon. into saturday night, more outbreaks of rain, particularly across northern areas of the uk with the rain turning heavy at times. the weather front become slow—moving somewhere across northern ireland and northern england and north wales. to the north, cold air in scotland, so sunshine and a few showers, and to the south across southern parts of england and wales, temperatures will not be quite so low. highs of around 13 or 14 celsius. and that trend to slightly milder conditions continues into monday. for many of us it will be a much milder day with temperatures as high as 18 celsius but there will still be rain around across the north and west of the uk. that is your weather.
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you're watching bbc news, very good to have you with us. i'm rich preston — our top stories: strong words from brussels after european union leaders meet for talks — saying astrazeneca must "catch up" on vaccine deliveries for the eu before sending them elsewhere. china levels sanctions against britain in retaliation for penalties imposed on chinese officials accused of human rights abuses against the uighur minority. joe biden holds his first presidential news conference, setting a new vaccination target and defending his gun control and immigration policies. as bangladesh marks 50 years since its independence, we compare how history is being remembered there, to what is taught in indian and pakistan. a painting by the iconic artist, vincent van gogh, not seen in public for
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more than 100 years, sells at auction — twice.


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