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now on bbc news, it's hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. the covid pandemic has sorely tested governments around the world. the virus has found ways of exposing weaknesses in political and economic systems. so, what are we to make of the european union's handling of this crisis? well, my guest today is france's europe minister, clement beaune. when it comes to the rollout of vaccines or restrictions on internal and external travel, has the european union found a coherent covid strategy?
clement beaune in paris, welcome to hardtalk. good evening, thank you for the invitation. it's a pleasure to have you on the show. minister, i'd like to begin with the covid crisis facing all of europe. would you say you are satisfied with the way the european union has rolled out the mass vaccination programme? listen, i think we have made a choice collectively that was not an obligation, but we chose to do so with all the eu countries, starting with germany, to buy together the vaccines. and now we have six contracts. we will have probably two more with pretty much all the laboratories making all the available vaccines in the world at this very moment. i think this choice remains a relevant choice because, if we had not done so at the eu level, i think we would be now
in a competition between member states between countries states, between countries trying to get the doses that the neighbour would not get. so, i think it gives us strength. it made us stronger in the negotiation to get this access to a diversified portfolio of vaccines. we will need this because we are at the beginning of the campaign. we have now three vaccines available, authorised in the eu and delivered across the member states. we will need more. so, i think this was a relevant choice to have this eu joint purchase agreement. well, you say it gives europe strength, minister, but many european citizens would say that what it has brought to europe is a great deal of delay. and the cold, hard truth is that, in france, only 3% or so of your population has had a first dose of vaccine, while you look across the channel, to the united kingdom, where the number is close to 20%. that suggests to me your
system hasn't worked and it could cost lives. well, you're right to ask a question, because this is absolutely crucial in the debate. i want to explain what is, i think, going on in the eu. we have made choices, which is this common purchase. i think this element remains relevant. we would need it. we have also made choices, which are different from the uk, in terms of scientific procedure, scientific recommendation. it is not, i want to insist on this, a political decision we have made. for instance, if you look at what the scientific authorities are saying to us in germany or in france, they recommend not to use the astrazeneca vaccine for people over 65. it's different in the uk, based on all the recommendations, but we had to follow this advice. if we are not following this advice, i think we are creating a big distrust in the eu. in france, we had a choice to make, which was to follow
scientific recommendation, probably in a more cautious approach than other partners, including the uk. but i think this is the right approach. let me stop you there, because this point about following the science is very important. are you suggesting that the united kingdom, in the way that it authorised its vaccines, which was much, much speedier than the european union, are you suggesting the uk was not following the science, was taking some sort of dangerous shortcut? this is not what i'm saying. i'm saying that de facto as the approach followed in the uk, i'm not saying it's not science—based, i'm saying it's more risky. it's a fact, because you have followed scientific recommendations, mhra recommendations in particular. this is not what our scientists are saying to us. what scientific foundation do you have for saying that the uk approach has been "more risky"? because the scientific evidence and the astrazeneca vaccine, to take this example, is that we don't have enough
data regarding people over 65. then you have a scientific debate, and you have scientific recommendations, which are suggesting to take more risk or less risk. that's a fact. i'm not saying that in the uk it's not scientific, i'm saying it's more risky. i'm struggling to understand the logic of your position, given that the european medicines agency has now authorised the use of the astrazeneca vaccine and also mindful that your president, president macron, claimed that the astrazeneca vaccine was "quasi—ineffective "on people older than 65. "some say older than 60." that was a direct quote from him, based on no evidence whatsoever. so, i'm just wondering whether we can take seriously your idea that you follow the science. oh, yes, please do. to be sure about this, because what is going on in the eu, you have the european medicine agency, which is giving first recommendation authorising the vaccine.
it has authorised the astrazeneca vaccine, it has said that there was less evidence for people over 65. it has not recommended not to use the vaccine for this category of people. exactly. it has left a choice. it has left this choice to national authorities. we have now our own national authorities that have to be fully respected as well. in france, like in other countries, it's not only a french decision, in germany, in poland, in many of the countries across the world actually, these authorities — in our case, it's called the haute autorite de sante — has said to our government and to our health ministry, you should not use it for people over 65 because we don't have enough scientific evidence of efficiency, effectiveness for this category of people. this is the facts. i don't want to get too stuck on technicalities, minister, but this really matters because the citizens of europe and the united kingdom and indeed around the world are trying to figure out which vaccines are effective and safe and whether they should have
scepticism of any vaccines. and the astrazeneca vaccine, of which the eu has ordered at least 100 million doses, is a very important vaccine. the world health organization has now endorsed it. but you, in france, keep sowing these seeds of doubt and your own population is the most vaccine sceptical population in the developed world. i just wonder whether you are entirely sure that you are being responsible here. no, let's be very clear. we are very responsible in this. i think the best choice to create confidence is to follow in each of our countries — i think this is what you are doing in the uk — the recommendation of the national health authorities. it's exactly what we are doing in france, regarding this vaccine, like other vaccines, to others which have been authorised. first point. second point, we are not saying and i can demonstrate it clearly that this astrazeneca vaccine we are talking about is not useful.
it is part of this toolbox of vaccines. certainly what we have been doing after the recommendation of our health authority is to use it for the people they recommend to use it for. so, people under 65, they recommend between 50 and 65 — not to be too technical, but this is important. and for people who are directly exposed to the virus, like people in charge of doctors, nurses and so on, and yesterday our health minister was vaccinated with the astrazeneca vaccine. so, of course, we are using the astrazeneca vaccine. it is coming in france. it is being delivered at this very moment. we are using it. we're using it, taking into account, i think it's the only responsible decision we can make. but minister, address my point. minister, if i may... we're creating doubt for our population. we want to insist on this because this is very important. but hang on, hang on. explaining very clearly the importance of the vaccine. when you use phrases like more risky to refer to one of the most important vaccines around right now, do you think you are helping
or hindering the effort to persuade french people, 40% of whom, according to surveys, say that they won't take a vaccine, do you think you're helping or hindering them to overcome their fears? on this important issue, we have to be very precise. i've not said that the vaccine is risky. i would never say that — i'm not a scientist. i believe in progress in science. i would never say that. i say that the choices made by some countries are more risky than others. there is, of course, a dimension, room for manoeuvre in the scientific recommendation and then the political final decisions. in each country, which are using this room for manoeuvre, it's normal. i'm trying to explain as a french minister to the french population how we should compare the countries between each other because there's a lot of confusion. let me please just take one example. if you compare, for instance, what is happening in israel, i think it's probably the same in the uk, people are saying they are even faster
than the british people, or than what we are doing in europe — but they are faster also because they use one vaccine massively, and they made a deal with this laboratory. this is a public choice, which can be defended, to get scientific data to this laboratory. i think the european population should know that — to make its own choices, because i think this precise element would not have been accepted by the french public or the european public. same here. if we, the government, had said to the french people here in paris, here in france, we are following the british recommendation regarding the public of the astrazeneca vaccine, not the french health authority recommendation, recommending not to use it for people over 65, we would have made a wrong choice because i think we would have created distrust in this case. so, that's the only thing i'm trying to explain is our differences between countries. please, just one word, also linked to the sanitary situation, because, of course, the scientific advice is also linked to this when you have a more difficult sanitary situation than other countries,
and i'm not happy about it for anyone, you have to go quicker in the vaccination strategy. the bottom line is you stand right now at 3% of your population with a first vaccination. we see the rise, the emergence of new variant strains which are worrying scientists across the world. how are you going to speed up your programme urgently to ensure that you are not costing more lives because of the delays, the slowness of your vaccination programme? two things on this. you're very right. it's very important. first, in the very short run. and it's not against the vaccine, of course not, but in the very short run, we need the vaccine and to speed up on the vaccine, i will come to this in one second, but we also need to take some precautions, lockdown in some countries, curfew in our case to make sure the virus, which is still there, even if we speed up the vaccination, is not
circulating too fast, including for the variant. so, i think these two pillars are very important to keep at the same time, and to assess the situation of each country, you have to take into account these two dimensions. of course, the vaccine is a very powerful element and the only element in the long run of this protection strategy. so, this is why we are speeding up. i'm not saying that everything is going well. we are speeding up. it's if you look at the situation and the facts in the eu at the moment, the issue is not the european contracts. the issue is not an element of doubt about the vaccine. the issue is production and deliveries, the pace of production and deliveries. this is where we want to accelerate. this is the point we are focusing on now in this government at the eu level at this moment, to increase our production capacities, putting pressure on laboratories if they can accelerate themselves and making efforts to help them produce more. just one example... minister, be honest with me, do you think that brexit allowed the british government
to be more agile, more nimble and quicker in developing vaccines and pushing ahead with the vaccination programme than you in the eu with your collective approach, your collective procurement and your collective rollout have been able to be? in this particular instance, great britain surely had a key advantage. i don't think so for one second. i think it's not related to brexit in any manner, to be very frank. just take the facts, as well, here. the united kingdom decided to authorise with an emergency procedure. this is a fact. the first vaccine, which was not astrazeneca, which was pfizer—biontech in december, so a few days before the european agency, it was still legally bound by eu rules. any eu country could have done or could still do this emergency procedure. we decided not to do it, because we think in the long run in the eu, it creates more confidence for our public
to have the same procedure between france, germany and other neighbours, to have the same contracts, not to have doubts if, for instance, the german authorities would have loads of vaccine and not the french one, or vice versa. i think here people would be extremely worried about the seriousness of the process. let's move on to brexit, because not only is europe wrestling with the economic fallout from covid, it is also having to adjust to the realities of the post—transition brexit realities. after the turn of the year, the economic and trading realities of brexit have come home both for britain and for the european union. right now, there's a feeling in britain that the eu and france in particular is seeking to implement the agreement struck on trade between the uk and the eu in a way that does as much damage and punishes britain as much as possible for brexit.
can you understand why they're feeling that in the uk? yes, i read and hear about this, but i want to debunk these myths. we have been, i've always been also very honest about it, we have been strong and sometimes tough in the negotiation between the eu and the uk. why? because we had and the uk had, symmetrically, strong national or european interests in our case to defend and to protect, and we had to find a compromise. i think we have found a good agreement in december, which is probably the best outcome for both sides. but, that said, it's not about punishing anyone. it's reality. it's the facts. brexit is not about frictionless trade. brexit is creating disruptions, it's creating problems. we have not decided this, but we are facing this reality. if brexit was exactly the same as before, it would be probably meaningless. so, yes, this is not up to me to say if it's increasing the british sovereignty. i'm not convinced about this,
but this is a democratic sovereign choice by the british people, but on trade, for instance, and the relation with the eu, yes, it is creating disruptions, frictions and difficulties. it's not because we are punishing. are creating difficulties for the sake of creating difficulties. it is because we have checks. we have procedures to follow. sometimes it was not perfectly anticipated. i think we prepared, to be frank, technically, more than the uk did. but hang on... but this is the reality of brexit. yeah, but right now the uk government is looking at disruption of trade between mainland britain and northern ireland, and it's saying that it would like a longer grace period in that particular part of the agreement, which, of course, concerns the northern ireland protocol. are you in europe minded to extend this so—called grace period from three months to two years, as the british government would like? because if you do not,
the british government is threatening to withdraw from the northern ireland protocol. so, are you prepared to be entering into that sort of compromise that the british want? i think we should not enter any blackmail on this, but we are ready to look at the flexi. .. you see the british position as blackmail, do you? no, if you say, "give us a grace period, "longer grace period, or we will go out of the protocol," i think this is not the best way to discuss. yes, indeed. but we are ready to look at possible extensions of grace periods. what we are not ready to look at is to renegotiate legally the protocol, the withdrawal agreement, it's part of it, which was agreed more than a year ago by both sides, celebrated by the british government and supported by the eu, as well. we should stick to it. it is creating controls. we should be honest about it. everybody knew it could create checks and controls between great britain or northern ireland. it's part of this deal which was accepted and negotiated
by both sides. grace periods, we can look at it. flexibilities, we are ready to discuss... you say that, you sound very emollient with me, but the truth is, if one looks at one other specific area of the trading relationship right now, there's a profound problem, and that is for shellfish, different kinds of shellfish which were exported from the uk into the european union. europeans love british shellfish, but now the eu is saying that the rules are going to change from april to do with the purification of the waters in which these shellfish live. and that will mean that the uk shellfish can no longer easily be exported into europe. even one of your french meps, pierre karleskind from brittany, has said that this is absurd, to suggest that uk waters have suddenly become dirty since december and that no longer can easily the shellfish be traded into the eu is absurd. why are you doing it? again, itjust looks like punishment.
no, no, i mean, on some technical issues, shellfish is a technical issue, it's not... don't want to sound too technical, because we do love this shellfish. we can find solutions and i'm sure we can look at some flexibility. but when i hear that we need to renegotiate the protocol, because it's creating tensions or checks or controls i'm just saying this is part of what this agreement is, this is part of what brexit is, you are creating additional difficulties. if there are some difficulties, we are ready to look at them. just to take an example, very concrete, we had discussions between the eu, french authorities on the one hand, and the british authorities on the other hand, to get a licence, to deliver a licence to boats fishing in our respective waters afterjanuary ist. we found concrete solutions in a good negotiating spirit. we can probably do the same with shellfish, but it's not... it should not be about the protocol itself and the mere fact that there
are controls, some controls, between great britain and northern ireland. there's another aspect of the european political scene which i want to ask you about briefly, and that is for more than two years, the european union has been threatening to take sanctions against poland and hungary for violating the values of the european union. procedures have begun in the european parliament, but, frankly, right now they appear to be going nowhere. for you, as a minister in the french government, do you want to see the eu institutions take punitive action for the violations which have been alleged concerning rule of law, independent judiciary, freedom of expression in poland and hungary? yes, i think we need stronger tools. and when there are breaches of rule of law, concretely, independence ofjustice, independence of media, for instance, we need
to take sanctions. we have procedures which are existing at eu level already, which are not able to lead to sanctions, because in the end it's unanimity, so de—facto it's blocked by the countries which are targeted by this programme. so, nothing can happen. no, that's the existing framework. we just added another tool, which i think is very important, not technical, very political, which is a conditionality mechanism between the eu budget, the eu financing and the respect of rule of law. in simple words, if you breach strong elements, central elements of rule of law now, you can get eu financing suspended or to have to be in a situation to reimburse. i think this is very important, because this is more concrete. this is not a unanimity—based decision. this has been voted at the end of 2020, so this is brand—new, and i think we should make this tool work. i'm not only targeting poland and hungary. if there is another country breaching rule of law,
it's for everyone in the eu. but this is more efficient, and i think this is a new element of the tool box. interesting you say that, minister. i just wonder how confrontational you personally are prepared to be. your situation is fascinating in that you are an openly gay politician in france, now you're a minister in france, and you have spoken of your desire to go to poland and to visit one of those towns in poland which has declared itself to be an lgbt—free zone. you say that it would be an important symbol that europe rejects intolerance. it would put you, as a minister in your government, on a direct collision course with the polish government. but is that the sort of confrontation that you now want to embrace? it's not about seeking confrontation. it's about all what we have discussed since the beginning, what the eu is about, if it's about creating protection, protecting common values for european citizens. if it means something, then we have to be strong
when these values are attacked. i'm not trying to get confrontational with any country and i have good relations with my polish counterparts or hungarian counterparts. but what is happening in some areas, in some respects in eu countries, at least these two that you mentioned, is extremely worrying. if you're weak, then i think you are giving arguments to people, to doubts, who are discussing trust and confidence about the eu. you are giving arguments to people who would say, "tomorrow we want frexit, "we want whatever," because people will say, "what is this club about? "it's not able to be strong when necessary. "it's not able to defend its values, it's not able "to speed up when something is needed to accelerate, "it's not able to defend key principles of our democracies." so, that's why i'm so committed to this, not to create clashes, it's not about this. but if we are weak about this, i think we are losing the purpose of the eu
and people need to get what the eu is about to get a sense of belonging and values that we share. clement beaune, we have to end there, but i thank you very much indeed for joining me from paris. thank you. thank you very much. good evening. hello there. after another very cold night, although not quite as cold as wednesday night, it's going to start frosty again through this morning with some ice to watch out for on untreated surfaces. plenty of sunshine through today, but there will be some snow showers — these continuing to affect the northeast of scotland and the northeast of england. a bit more cloud as well
in towards the northern isles. and cloud further west will tend to break away as this drier air moves in from the southeast, so many places should see the sunshine. now, another very cold day when you factor in the wind, which will be a feature throughout friday. it's going to feel much colder than these temperatures suggest, subzero for all areas. now, as we head through friday night, skies will be clear, so those temperatures will fall away again. we'll continue to see some snow showers grazing past eastern scotland and northeast england. the cloud and its snow showers and strong winds push on into the northern isles, and then over to the west, a band of sleet and snow will start to make inroads into northern ireland, the very far southwest of england. so, here, less cold than it will be elsewhere. another widespread hard frost for many of us. now, as we move through the weekend, you'll notice the orange colours, the milder air will start to very slowly creep its way eastwards. and by sunday, many areas will be less cold, certainly away from the east and southeast. so through saturday, it's a cold, frosty start, plenty of sunshine. but further west, this band of sleet and snow will very
slowly make progress. but still some uncertainty on how far east it will get. but we've got early yellow warnings in force for parts of wales, northern ireland, western scotland, northwest england for some snowfall accumulations there. it'll be quite wintry, in fact, with the risk of ice too. further east, we'll have the sunshine, but it's going to be a very cold day. when you factor in the strong southeasterly wind, it's going to feel bitterly cold. in fact, it may feel as low as —10 celsius when you factor in the wind. now, as we move out of saturday into sunday, you can see plenty of isobars on the charts coming in from the south, almost reaching gale force across northern and western areas. and the weather fronts as well will start to make better progress eastwards, so we should see more in the way of rain. and it will be of rain because milder air will be pushing in by this point, although the very far southeast may stay bright and quite chilly on the east coast. it's further west where we'll see that milder air, 8 or 9 degrees. and it turns milder still into next week, double figure values for many. could be quite wet, though, for the first half of the week, and then signs of it turning
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