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Featured Image: The Agora Building, the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. Attribution: photo by Chaim Gabriel Waibel shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

This Week in Europe brings you a rundown of the biggest or most interesting stories in Europe from the week, every weekend.

Ukraine and Russia sign cease-fire…then break it

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin of Russia shared a phone call Sunday night, agreeing to a cease-fire in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, the conflict between the two states has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced 1.5 million. The cease-fire was to take hold from 12:01 a.m. on Monday. Although the two leaders agreed to hold off on fighting, they still disagreed over the implementation of the Minsk peace plan that was brokered by Germany and France in 2015.

On Monday, hours after the cease-fire became effective, Ukraine military reported two breaches by separatist groups overnight and around midday. These violations were followed by at least 100 others in the following days, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In the six years since the conflict began, Russia and Ukraine have tried 20 cease-fire agreements. Each attempt has failed, however. Although it’s not yet a week old, it seems this most recent cease-fire might be a failure as well.

Poland comes under fire for LGBTQI+ rights, withdrawal plan from Istanbul Convention

On Wednesday, the EU’s Equality Commissioner, Helena Dalli, announced that applications for grants in six Polish cities would be rejected. The authorities in each of these municipalities have adopted “LGBTQI+ free zones” or “family rights” resolutions that openly discriminate against LGBTQI+ people. The six cities and municipalities had applied for a grant of between €5,000 and €25,00 under the Europe for Citizens project. The program stipulates that funding is only available if it’s “accessible to all European citizens without any form of discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation” according to a Commission spokesman.

Poland also announced plans this week to formally withdraw from a Council of Europe convention that aims to prevent violence against women. Known as the Istanbul Convention, the landmark treaty is a binding instrument that 34 European countries have signed. Poland’s announcement alarmed the Council of Europe, the Continent’s largest intergovernmental human rights organization. Other countries have expressed sentiments echoing Poland’s when it comes to the treaty. Human rights and gender equality activists worry that the withdrawal will jeopardize women’s security both in Poland and across Europe.

Covid restrictions tighten all over Europe as cases increase again

Countries throughout Europe reported increases in the number of coronavirus cases this week, causing alarm. Travel restrictions and local measures were tightened again as countries responded to the rising cases. Spain took a hit as countries like Belgium, France, and Norway have advised against traveling to certain areas of the country. The UK went further by imposing a 14-day quarantine on anyone returning from Spain. The order is a blow to the Spanish tourism sector, which was already struggling. British travelers account for 20 percent of Spain’s tourists this time of year.

The COVID-19 situation grows grim in Belgium as well, as the average number of cases per day has been steadily rising the past two weeks. Cases soared in the province of Antwerp, where authorities established a nighttime curfew and made remote working mandatory. Coronavirus measures were beefed up elsewhere in the country, but not to the same degree as Antwerp. Provincial and local officials throughout Belgium warn that similar restrictions might be put in place if the number of cases continues to rise, however.

Germany’s health minister also expressed concerns about the coronavirus situation in his country this week. Germany recorded 3,611 new cases in the past week. Like other European nations, the country has put more travel restrictions in place, notably in Spain. Germany will also introduce free but mandatory coronavirus testing for travelers returning from high-risk countries, including Brazil, Turkey, and the U.S.

Other Interesting Stories This Week

Quality French wine is sold off to be hand sanitizer

Sleeper trains see resurge in popularity amidst coronavirus

Read last week’s edition of This Week in Europe.

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Welcome to All Abroad

Thanks for stopping by! My name's Courtney. I'm a travel and politics writer based in Brussels, Belgium. I write about travel, culture, expat life, and food & wine - infusing a bit of politics into each. Learn more about this blog here.