U.K. and France Send Naval Ships to Channel Island in Tense Fishing Dispute

LONDON — An ugly spat over post-Brexit fishing rights has erupted into a stranger-than-fiction maritime standoff between Britain and France, as naval ships from both countries converged on Thursday in the waters off the island of Jersey, where dozens of French fishing boats were threatening to blockade a port.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatched two British Navy vessels, the H.M.S. Tamar and the H.M.S. Severn, on Wednesday evening as a “precautionary measure,” according to his office.

On Thursday, France deployed two naval patrol boats near Jersey, about 14 miles off the coast of France to “ensure the safety of navigation” as well as the “safety of human life at sea” in case the situation deteriorated, according to a spokeswoman for the French maritime authorities in charge of the English Channel.

The naval deployments escalated a dispute that has simmered for weeks, after French fishing crews accused the local authorities in Jersey of imposing burdensome new requirements to allow them to continue to fish in Jersey’s coastal waters, following Britain’s split with the European Union in January.

Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is not part of the United Kingdom but is a crown dependency, a special status that gives it self-governing rights, including its own legislative assembly, as well as fiscal and legal systems.

Dozens of French fishing boats have massed near the port of St. Helier, the capital of Jersey, threatening to block access to it. A French government official warned earlier this week that France could cut off the power supply to Jersey, which is delivered through underwater cables from France.

The dispute, which flared unexpectedly on the eve of regional elections in Britain, presented Mr. Johnson with a tailor-made opportunity to flex British military muscles in defense of British fishing rights, which were a sticking point throughout the difficult trade negotiations between Britain and the European Union.

“The prime minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey,” a spokesman for Downing Street told the British news media on Wednesday. Mr. Johnson, the spokesman said, called for a “de-escalation in tensions” and said any blockade would be “completely unjustified.”

Relations between Britain and France had already soured on a range of issues as Britain and the European Union divorced. President Emmanuel Macron of France raised doubts about the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine developed at the University of Oxford and produced by AstraZeneca, a British-based drugmaker, prompting charges of “vaccine nationalism.”

In December, Mr. Macron briefly cut off access to freight shipments to and from Britain to prevent a fast-spreading variant of the virus that originated in Britain from leaping across the English Channel. The British tabloids pounced.

“Kick in the Baubles,” said a headline in the Sun, suggesting that France was conspiring to ruin the Christmas holiday for people in Britain. “Monsieur Roadblock Gives Way,” said a headline in the Daily Mail after Mr. Macron agreed to lift the ban, subject to a virus testing program for truck drivers.

Fishing was one of the thorniest issues when Britain negotiated its new trade agreement with the European Union, which came into force in January. The deal ended decades during which Britain’s fishing fleet was under the same system as France, with their catches negotiated regularly among the member countries.

Many in Britain’s fishing industry supported Brexit because they believed that for decades, they had been forced to share too much of the fish caught in Britain’s coastal waters with continental crews.

But the agreement sealed by Mr. Johnson and negotiators in Brussels just before Christmas was a disappointment to British fishing communities, who had been promised a “sea of opportunities” by Brexit supporters.

Instead, the increase in annual quotas for British fishing crews was initially modest. And because Britain has left Europe’s single market for goods, British fish and shellfish require more documentation and checks when sent to markets in continental Europe, making them more difficult and expensive to export.

The trade agreement also addressed the complicated issue of fishing around Jersey. The island has the right to impose its own licensing requirements and has left French fishermen complaining of difficulties in receiving the authorization they need to fish in waters they have worked for decades.

Fishing rights have long provoked acute tensions between Britain and its neighbors. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Britain was embroiled in a confrontation with Iceland that became known as the “cod wars.” At its peak, 37 Royal Naval vessels were mobilized to protect British trawlers in disputed waters.

While these clashes have not mutated into broader military conflicts, analyst and diplomats said there was always a risk of accidental escalation. Others said it served to show the loose ends left by the Brexit process.

“This is the kind of old-fashioned dispute that the European Union was created to prevent,” said Simon Fraser, the former top civil servant in Britain’s Foreign Office. “When you leave the European Union, you risk reopening them.”

“It’s also an extraordinarily retrogressive thing to be fighting over fish in the English Channel, at a time when we’re hosting the G-7 summit and trying to talk about a new global role for Britain,” Mr. Fraser said.

Constant Méheut contributed reporting from Paris.

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Macron Condemns Napoleon’s Restoration of Slavery

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron of France, charting a delicate course between condemnation and celebration of Napoleon Bonaparte on the 200th anniversary of his death, said the emperor’s restoration of slavery in 1802 was a “mistake, a betrayal of the spirit of the Enlightenment.”

It was the first time a French president had specifically condemned Napoleon’s re-establishment of slavery in the Caribbean, after its post-revolutionary abolition in 1794. Mr. Macron used the word “faute,” which in French carries greater solemnity and opprobrium than “mistake” or “error” in English, something closer to an offense.

France, the only country to have ended and reinstated slavery, did not abolish slavery again until 1848. This painful history has tended to be eclipsed for many by the magnetism of the epic Bonapartist saga, which Mr. Macron described as “above all, an ode to political will.” He continued: “Without him the destiny of France would not have been the same.”

Mr. Macron’s comments came as France engages in a debate, encouraged by the president, about its colonial past, and whether the country’s universalist model, which is supposed to be colorblind, in reality masks widespread racism.

Mémoires et Partages, an organization that campaigns for a more complete reckoning with France’s colonial and slaveholding past, said that he supported the commemorations but lamented what he saw as a poor acknowledgment of Napoleon’s racism.

“I am in favor of the government commemorating Napoleon but it has a duty to say that Napoleon was a racist and this was not sufficiently apparent in Macron’s speech, who used words that were too vague,” Mr. Diallo said.

Mr. Macron spoke under one dome, at the home of the Académie Française, representing the revered quintessence of French learning, before proceeding to Napoleon’s tomb beneath the golden dome of Les Invalides. There, in a solemn ceremony, he laid a wreath of red and white flowers, before the Marseillaise was sung.

“Napoleon, in his conquests, never really cared about the loss of human life,” Mr. Macron said. “Since then, we have come to place a higher value on human life, whether in wars or pandemics.”

Millions of lives were lost as Napoleon sought to spread the anticlerical, anti-monarchical message of the French Revolution across the continent before his final defeat in 1815. That he did so as self-proclaimed emperor is only one of the many contradictions of his tempestuous life.

Mr. Macron’s speech followed the pattern he has adopted in confronting difficult passages of French history, including the Algerian war of independence: full and candid acknowledgment without repentance. It was also typical of a leader whose tendency to balance different sides of an argument is so marked that he has become known as the “at-the-same-time” president.

The president’s most serious challenger in the election next year is Marine Le Pen, the rightist leader. She chose to commemorate the anniversary with the words: “Long live the Emperor! Long live greatness!”

Mr. Macron is a centrist, but one most concerned for now by the need to head off the appeal of the extreme right. “One loves Napoleon because his life has the allure of the possible, because it is an invitation to take risks,” he said. He continued: “His life was an epiphany of freedom. Eagle and ogre, Napoleon could be at once the soul of the world and the demon of Europe.”

Napoleon has always been a contested figure in France, even in the perpetual fascination he has exerted, to the point that recent presidents have shied away from honoring him. But that is not Mr. Macron’s style.

At a moment of tense cultural confrontation over whether French universalism masks racism, he condemned Napoleon’s resort to slavery in the Caribbean in newly forthright terms, while also lauding the achievements of a national hero.

The French legal code, lycée school system, central bank and centralized administrative framework are part of Napoleon’s legacy.

But Mr. Diallo said that France’s universalist model was still “locked into a denial” over racial issues, unable to fully acknowledge that the country had for decades promoted racist policies and slavery.

“Napoleon is the man who gave shape to our political and administrative organization, to the uncertain sovereignty that emerged from the Revolution,” Mr. Macron said. “After months of failure, with France besieged, Napoleon was able to incarnate order.”

Constant Méheut contributed reporting.

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Nick Clegg Steers Facebook’s Trump Decision

Facebook wanted Mr. Clegg to help repair its relationships with regulators, political leaders and the media after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when data improperly pulled from Facebook was used to create voter profiles. Mr. Clegg’s international experience and comfort in five languages — English, Spanish, French, German and Dutch — appealed to the American-centric company.

Friends said Mr. Clegg had initially been reluctant to join Facebook, one of the world’s most polarizing corporations. But he wanted to be back at the center of important political and policy debates. In a memo outlining how he envisioned the role, he argued that it was unsustainable for a private company like Facebook, rather than democratically elected governments, to have so much power, especially on speech-related issues.

“My advice was strongly to go for it,” said Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, whom Mr. Clegg spoke with before taking the job, “because you’re going to be part of one of the most powerful companies in the world at a moment of enormous change in the world, and when technology is at the heart of that change.”

Inside Facebook, where Mr. Zuckerberg leans on a group of friends and early employees for counsel, Mr. Clegg earned the trust of his new boss. At the company’s headquarters, where proximity to Mr. Zuckerberg is power, Mr. Clegg’s desk was placed nearby. He orchestrated a trip through Europe with Mr. Zuckerberg, meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels and President Emmanuel Macron of France in Paris.

Since Mr. Clegg’s arrival, Facebook has shifted some of its policy positions. It now appears more accepting of regulation and higher taxes. He overcame reluctance from Mr. Zuckerberg and others in the company to ban political ads in the weeks before Election Day last year. And he was the main internal supporter for recently announced product changes that give users more control over what posts they see in their Facebook feeds.

“He has a track record of knowing what it’s like to work inside a cabinet that needs to make decisions quickly and move at the speed of a country, or in this case a platform,” said Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, who worked with Mr. Clegg on the user-control changes.

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With Napoleon Commemoration, Macron Steps Into National Debate

PARIS — Jacques Chirac couldn’t stand him. Nicolas Sarkozy kept his distance. François Hollande shunned him. But on the 200th anniversary this week of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, Emmanuel Macron has chosen to do what most recent presidents of France have avoided: honor the man who in 1799 destroyed the nascent French Republic in a putsch.

By choosing to lay a wreath Wednesday at Napoleon’s tomb under the golden dome of Les Invalides, Mr. Macron is stepping into the heart of France’s culture wars. Napoleon, always a contested figure, has become a Rorschach test for the French at a moment of tense cultural confrontation.

Was Napoleon a modernizing reformer whose legal code, lycée school system, central bank, and centralized administrative framework laid the basis for post-revolutionary France? Or was he a retrograde racist, imperialist, and misogynist?

By paying his respects to Napoleon, Mr. Macron will please a restive French right dreaming of lost glory and of a moment when, under its turbulent emperor, France stood at the center of the world. The French obsession with the romantic epic of Napoleon’s rise and fall is undying, as countless magazine covers and talk shows have underscored in recent weeks.

Mr. Macron is taking a risk. Officials close to him have portrayed his planned speech as an attempt to look Napoleon “in the face,” light and shadow. Others, however, insist Napoleon should be condemned rather than commemorated.

“How can we celebrate a man who was the enemy of the French Republic, of a number of European peoples, and also the enemy of humanity in that he was an enslaver?” Louis-Georges Tin, an author and activist, and Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, a political scientist, wrote last month in Le Monde.

particularly in Algeria, and a vigorous debate has begun on whether the country’s purportedly colorblind universalist model masks widespread racism.

Josette Borel-Lincertin, the Socialist president of the departmental council in Guadeloupe, told Le Monde that her community would not participate in tributes to Napoleon, whom every Guadeloupian knows reestablished slavery. “We can only send from this side of the ocean the echo of our pain,” she said.

a letter last month from 20 retired generals that described France as being in a state of “disintegration” and warned of a possible coup. Marine Le Pen, the rightist leader who is the strongest challenger to Mr. Macron in next year’s presidential election, applauded it.

This is the delicate context of Mr. Macron’s tribute to a man who came to power in a coup. On May 9, he will mark Europe Day, a celebration of unity in the Europe that Napoleon reduced to the carnage perhaps best captured by Goya’s depiction of an execution in “El Tres de mayo.” The next day, May 10, Mr. Macron will commemorate the law passed in 2001 that recognized slavery as a crime against humanity.

Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman, said: “To commemorate is to have your eyes wide open on our history and look it in the face. Even with respect to choices that today look questionable.”

Mr. Macron’s choice is both political and personal. With the left in tatters, his main challenge is from the right, so laying a wreath at Napoleon’s tomb is also a way to counter Ms. Le Pen. But his own fascination with Napoleon — like him, a young provincial upstart who came to power from nowhere with a mission to remake France and change Europe — has long been evident in his recurrent musings on France’s need for “renewed ambition and audacity.”

“Macron is Rastignac,” said Nicole Bacharan, a political scientist, alluding to the hero of a Balzac novel who conquers Paris with his charm and guile. “And in the literary, political, strategic, military and intellectual range of Napoleon he finds a source of inspiration.” So, too, in the fact that France was then “the center of the world, for better or worse.”

Mr. Macron took former President Donald Trump to Napoleon’s crypt in 2017 — French presidents have tended to avoid accompanying foreign leaders there because Hitler paid homage to Napoleon at Les Invalides in 1940. If this was a history lesson, it had mixed results. “Napoleon finished a little bad,” was Mr. Trump’s summation.

A president born after the trauma of the Algerian war of independence, Mr. Macron wants to confront difficult history because he believes that openness will heal. This determination has prompted much-needed debate, even within his own government.

Elisabeth Moreno, the minister of equalities in France, has called Napoleon “one of the great misogynists.” The Napoleonic Code, long since amended, said “a woman owes obedience to her husband,” not an uncommon view at the time.

François-René de Chateaubriand, the 19th-century French writer and diplomat, observed of Napoleon that, “Living, he failed the world. Dead, he conquered it.” Something in his extraordinary orbit from imperial glory to the windswept island of his death will not let the French imagination be. The reason may be Napoleon’s hard-earned realism, as expressed on St. Helena to his secretary, Emmanuel de Las Cases.

“Revolution is one of the greatest ills with which the heavens can afflict the earth,” Napoleon told his aide. “It is the scourge of the generation that makes it; any gains it procures cannot offset the distress it spreads through life. It enriches the poor, who are not satisfied; it impoverishes the rich, who will never forget it. It overturns everything, makes everyone unhappy, and procures happiness for nobody.”

For Napoleon, as for all human beings, it proved impossible to escape the times he lived in.

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Far-Right French Leader Marine Le Pen Acquitted Over ISIS Tweets

PARIS — Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader, was acquitted on Tuesday in a criminal case involving graphic photographs of acts of violence by the Islamic State that she posted on Twitter in 2015 after comparisons were drawn between the group and her party.

Ms. Le Pen, the head of the National Rally party, was acquitted by a court in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris. The charge against her — the dissemination of violent messages — carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros, about $90,000, but prosecutors had only sought a fine of €5,000.

Rodolphe Bosselut, Ms. Le Pen’s lawyer in the case, said, “The court judged that by publishing the photos, she was exercising her freedom of expression.” He added that the ruling underlined that the posts clearly were not Islamic State propaganda and had an “informative value” instead.

Prosecutors opened their investigation in December 2015, shortly after Ms. Le Pen — furious over a televised interview in which a French journalist compared her party to the Islamic State — posted three pictures on Twitter that showed killings carried out by the group. One showed the body of James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and later beheaded by the group.

deleted that post after criticism from Mr. Foley’s family, but the two other pictures, which showed a man in an orange jumpsuit being run over by a tank and a prisoner being burned alive in a cage, remained online.

“Daesh is THAT!” she wrote, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS.

The pictures — posted just weeks after a string of deadly terrorist attacks in and around Paris — caused outrage in France.

Ms. Le Pen lost to President Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 election in France, and her party has a limited presence in Parliament. But she is still seen as Mr. Macron’s main opponent on the national political scene, and the verdict will most likely help her prospects in presidential elections next year, with early polls suggesting that she will again face Mr. Macron in a runoff.

The killing of a police officer by a radicalized Tunisian man last month in a town southwest of Paris has fueled a resurgent debate about terrorism, security and immigration, all themes that have fed the rise of Ms. Le Pen’s far-right party, despite Mr. Macron’s attempts to court voters on those issues.

appeared increasingly fragile, and Ms. Le Pen has spent years trying to soften her image and pull her party from the extremist fringe into the mainstream.

Unlike other French politicians who have recently been convicted on serious charges like corruption or embezzlement, Ms. Le Pen was prosecuted under a more obscure article in the French penal code that prohibits disseminating messages that are “violent” or that could “seriously harm human dignity” and that could be seen by a minor.

While there is robust support for freedom of expression, laws regulating free speech in France are often considered more restrictive than in the United States, with laws against calls to violence or hate speech.

Ms. Le Pen has called the investigation a political witch hunt aimed at silencing her, arguing that she was being wrongly prosecuted for exercising her free speech, on charges normally meant to protect minors from violent propaganda or pornography.

“The crime is causing harm to human dignity, not its photographic reproduction,” she said during the trial, held in February.

Gilbert Collard, a lawyer and National Rally representative in the European Parliament who had also posted pictures of Islamic State violence on the same day as Ms. Le Pen did, was acquitted of the charges against him on Tuesday, too.

The court’s verdict on Ms. Le Pen comes amid an increasingly heated political climate in France, ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for next year but also regional elections this June.

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Wanted in France: Thousands of Workers as Hotels and Restaurants Reopen

PARIS — For six months, Christophe Thiriet has been waiting for France’s grinding national lockdowns to be lifted so he can reopen his company’s restaurants and hotels in a picturesque corner of eastern France and recall the 150 employees who were furloughed months ago.

But when he asked them to return for a reopening in mid-May, he faced an unexpected headache: At least 30 said they wouldn’t be coming back, leaving him scrambling to hire new workers just as he needed to swing into action.

“When you close things for so long, people think twice about whether they want to stay,” said Mr. Thiriet, a co-manager of the Heintz Group, which owns 11 hotels and three restaurants around the riverside city of Metz, near the border with Luxembourg.

Restaurants and hotels across the country are facing the same problem. After months on furlough, workers in droves are deciding not to return to jobs in the hospitality industry. It’s a particular concern in France, which typically tops the list of the world’s most visited countries.

lost revenue since last year.

“We know we’re going to have customers again this summer — that’s not the problem,” said Yann France, the owner of La Flambée, a restaurant in the popular northern seaside city of Deauville. “The concern is that we won’t have an adequate work force at a time when we need to make up for a huge loss in sales.”

make ends meet, could eventually fill any shortfall.

NT Hotel Gallery group, which owns five hotels and three restaurants around Toulouse. “Will things stay open, or could there be another shutdown because of a new virus?”

For those already facing signs of a labor squeeze, it’s now clear that a generous state-subsidized furlough scheme intended to help French employers keep staff on standby has also created unexpected downsides. In the half year in which hospitality employees received 85 percent of their salaries to stay home, many have had ample time to re-evaluate their futures.

“Many people are deciding they have other things to do than continue in a profession where nothing has been happening,” said Mr. Thiriet, who is also a representative of France’s biggest hospitality trade organization, UMIH, the Union of Hospitality Trades and Industries. He added that thousands of other employers in the organization have reported the same recruiting difficulties.

Catherine Praturlon is among those who decided to shift gears completely during the pandemic. A manager of a hotel in the Moselle region of eastern France for nearly 30 years, she had thought of doing something different but never made the leap.

When the government shuttered hotels on and off for months, and travelers slowed to a trickle, the job became boring, she said. “You had no perspective on the future,” Mrs. Praturlon said.

Instead of returning from furlough, she recently quit her job and took one in a different industry. (She said a confidentiality agreement prevented her from naming the field.) “The pandemic lit a fire under me to make that change,” she said.

announced this past week by President Emmanuel Macron.

imminent lifting of a yearlong ban on all but the most essential travel from the United States to the European Union, just in time for summer vacation, will draw back free-spending Americans after a long absence.

Breakfast in America, a popular pancake restaurant in Paris, said the furlough schemes, while essential to the restaurant’s survival, had paradoxically put some of his higher-paid workers at a disadvantage.

While waitstaff earning France’s monthly minimum wage of €1,539 get their full pretax salary under the furlough program, cooks and managers, who earn more, took about a 15 percent pay cut to stay home until the pancake house reopens.

For one manager, a single father with two children, the reduced pay means “he’s really struggling,” Mr. Carlson said.

At Mr. Thiriet’s restaurants and hotels in Metz, the 30 unexpected job vacancies are not yet debilitating, since restaurant reopenings will come in stages and tourism and bookings at hotels are not likely to return to prepandemic levels quickly.

Still, he said, it’s a challenge to replace employees with years and even decades of experience who decided during the pandemic that the work was no longer what they wanted.

“At first people said this is nice, one or two months relaxing at home,” Mr. Thiriet said. “Now, there’s a lack of long-term visibility about this industry, and some people are not so sure they want to be in it.”

He is working with other hotel and restaurant owners in the area to create retraining programs, in hopes of luring new candidates.

Mr. France said he and local restaurant and hotel owners were also working with unemployment offices in hopes of securing applicants in need of seasonal work to be ready for the anticipated crowds.

“We’ll try to limit the damage that’s been done to our business,” Mr. France added.

“But if we don’t have workers, it will be really hard.”

Gaëlle Fournier contributed reporting.

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Maskless and Sweaty: Clubbing Returns to Britain for a Weekend

On April 29, President Emmanuel Macron of France said he hoped to remove most restrictions in the country on June 30, but nightclubs would remain shut.

Many D.J.s said they wanted clubs to reopen soon as possible, and not just for the sake of their work. Clubbing wasn’t just about music, said Marea Stamper, a D.J. better known as the Blessed Madonna, after performing a set at the Liverpool event. “We come to raves to dance, to drink, to fall in love, to meet our friends,” she said. Nightclubs create communities, she added, “and to have that cut off is dreadful.”

“It’s not just a party,” she added. “It’s never just a party.”

In Liverpool, that sense of community was evident at 7:30 p.m. when Yousef Zahar, a D.J. and co-owner of Circus, the event’s organizer, took to the stage. For his first track, he put on an emotional house tune called “When We Were Free,” which he had made last year in the middle of Britain’s third lockdown.

It seemed an odd choice for an event celebrating clubbing’s return, but as it was finishing, he started to play a sample of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last,” Dr. King said, his voice booming around the warehouse.

Then, as green lights flashed over the crowd, Zahar dropped Ultra Naté’s “Free,” a ’90s dance hit. As soon as it reached its euphoric chorus — “You’re free, to do what you want to do” — confetti cannons went off, spraying paper all over the crowd, and the ravers began to sing along. For the rest of the night they were going to follow the song’s advice.

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Russian Attempts to Expand Sputnik Vaccine Sets Off Discord in Europe

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — When Slovakia’s prime minister welcomed a military aircraft carrying 200,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia in March, he posed proudly for photographs on the tarmac in front of crates stuffed with what he expected to be his country’s medical salvation.

Slovakia at the time had the world’s highest per-capita death rate from Covid-19, and the arrival of the Russian vaccine offered a rare glimmer of hope. For Russia it offered big benefits, too: a small but symbolically important new market for its product in the European Union, which has so far declined to register the vaccine and urged member states to hold off on orders until approval is granted.

But the effort by the Slovakian leader, Igor Matovic, soon blew up in his face, costing him his job and almost toppling the whole government — just three months after it adopted a new security strategy rooted in unequivocal support for NATO and wariness of Russia.

The strongly pro-Western Slovak government, torn between its commitment to abide by European rules and desperation for a way out of the health crisis, spasmed in crisis for weeks.

Sputnik V, the world’s first registered vaccine, is the medical breakthrough proclaimed last summer by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but it has already proved itself to be remarkably effective in spreading disarray and division in Europe.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron talked to Mr. Putin recently about possible deliveries of Sputnik, which Mr. Macron’s own foreign minister derided as a “propaganda tool.” The Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, furious that European regulators have been slow in approving Sputnik, has clashed with Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel, over the bloc’s vaccination program, which so far involves only Western vaccines.

But Slovakia provides the most concrete example of how Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has had side effects that can be highly toxic.

The decision by Mr. Matovic, then the Slovakian prime minister, to order two million doses of Sputnik V set the country at odds with the European Union and brought one of Eastern Europe’s most stoutly pro-Western governments to the brink of collapse as junior partners in a fractious governing coalition, outraged by the import of Sputnik, defected.

said in a tweet in February that Mr. Putin offered Sputnik V to the world as a “weapon to divide and rule.” And Poland said it was considering buying Chinese vaccines, despite similar concerns about it, but would definitely not order Sputnik V.

A recent survey by the Globsec research group found that, among those willing to be vaccinated, only 1 percent of Poles and Romanians and 2 percent of Lithuanians would choose Sputnik over American and European brands. Even in Hungary, the lone European Union member to start inoculating its citizens with Russia’s product, only 4 percent want Sputnik V.

But in Slovakia, around 15 percent of those willing to be vaccinated expressed a preference for the Russian vaccine, offering Moscow an opportunity to break out of the quarantine imposed by deep suspicion elsewhere.

That Russia targeted Slovakia as a place to widen Sputnik’s narrow beachhead in Europe was evident long before Mr. Matovic decided to order the vaccine.

video on Facebook in January saying that he was ready to help broker a deal with Moscow for the delivery of Sputnik.

His pitch appealed to the generally Russia-friendly sentiments of many ordinary Slovaks, particularly those of an anti-establishment bent.

Martin Smatana, a former Health Ministry official in Bratislava, said he had been amazed by how many of his friends want the Russian vaccine and say, “Screw the system, use Sputnik.”

a report this past week, the European Union’s foreign service said that Russia’s drive to promote Sputnik abroad was aimed at “sowing distrust” in Europe’s medicines regulator and stoking divisions.

In response, the Russian state investment agency spearheading Sputnik’s export drive lamented that the vaccine, which it hails as a “vaccine for all mankind,” has fallen victim to “unfortunate daily information attacks.” On Friday, after Brazil raised concerns about Sputnik, complaining of inadequate data, the vaccine’s developer in Moscow, the Gamaleya Institute, issued an angry statement complaining that “unethical forces continuously attack the Sputnik V vaccine for competitive and political reasons.”

The testy arguments in Slovakia over the vaccine reached a peak in April when the country’s drug regulatory agency claimed that Mr. Matovic had fallen for a Russian bait-and-switch. It said the vaccine doses sent to Slovakia at a cost of around $2 million differed from the Sputnik V reviewed favorably in a peer-reviewed February article in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal.

The Slovak claim, denounced by Moscow as “sabotage,” cast doubt on Sputnik’s main selling point: a proven efficacy rate of over 90 percent against Covid-19. The Lancet gave the vaccine 91.6 percent efficacy in February, and Russian scientists have since claimed a “real world” rate 97.6 percent.

But the main issue with Sputnik has never been whether it works — most experts believe it does — but Russia’s repeated failure to follow procedure and provide all the data needed by foreign regulators to assess safety. Slovakia’s regulator made its damning statement not because it had discovered any specific problems with Sputnik but “due to the lack of data from the manufacturer, inconsistencies in dosage forms and inability to compare the batches used in different studies and countries.”

The 200,000 doses that Russia delivered in March were still all unused at a pharmaceutical company in eastern Slovakia as of last week. But Mr. Matovic said Russia had already returned the money paid by Slovakia.

Pavol Babos, a political analyst in Bratislava, said Mr. Matovic was “never pro-Russian” but “very naïve.” Desperate for a way to slow the pandemic and lift his own slumping ratings, the prime minister, Mr. Babos added, “fell into a trap set by Russian propaganda.”

But Mr. Matovic scoffed at accusations that Moscow had played him to promote its own geopolitical agenda. The Russians, he said, “wanted to help, but instead of thanking them we said, ‘You are stupid, and you are cheating people around the world.’”

Most at fault, Mr. Matovic said, was the State Institute for Drug Control, which asserted that the Sputnik V batches Russia sent to Slovakia did “not have the same characteristics and properties” as the version V reviewed by The Lancet. This, he said, “was an extremely incorrect political statement.”

Zuzana Batova, the institute’s director, who has received death threats from aggressive Sputnik fans, declined to be interviewed, saying she did not want to pour oil on the fire.

The head of the Biomedical Research Center, which carried out a series of 14 tests in Slovakia on the Russian vaccine, said she had no concerns over whether Sputnik V works but was troubled by Russia’s lack of transparency.

While the potential side effects of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been documented in detail publicly, the center’s chief, Silvia Pastorekova, said, “We know nothing about Sputnik’s side effects.”

The Russian vaccine, she said, passed all of her team’s tests but failed to win approval from the state regulator because more than three-quarters of the documents required to meet European norms had either not been submitted or were incomplete.

“We are part of the European family and we should accept the rules of the family,” Ms. Pastorekova said.

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Kristina Hamarova from Bratislava.

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France Plots a Path Out of Lockdown

President Emmanuel Macron of France outlined plans on Thursday for the gradual reopening of the country, starting with the reopening of all schools next week, followed by the return of museums, cinemas, shops and outdoor service at cafes on May 19. The 7 p.m. curfew will be pushed back to 9 p.m., he told French newspapers.

“We must recover our French art of living, while remaining prudent and responsible: our conviviality, our culture, sports,” Mr. Macron said, though he added that the reopening in some regions might be delayed if cases rise.

Cafes and restaurants will be allowed to serve patrons inside starting the second week of June, and gyms will also reopen then under certain conditions such as limited number of people. The nighttime curfew and most restrictions on gatherings will be lifted on June 30.

Europe has experienced a significant downturn in coronavirus cases after two months of surging infections. The World Health Organization’s chief European official on Thursday cautioned that infection rates across the region remained high.

vaccinations ramp up, European governments are rolling back restrictions on social gatherings. Britain, which has led the region’s vaccine rollout, has allowed pubs, bars and restaurants to reopen outdoors and is progressively lifting limits on the size of social gatherings.

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