France and other governments pressured over coronavirus response

A French court has launched an inquiry into the alleged mishandling by the outgoing French government of the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes while elsewhere in Europe, and the former Soviet Union, tensions also rise over the way leaders deal with the crisis.

By Stefan J. Bos   

The French court investigation focuses on three senior officials, including outgoing Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. It follows complaints from unions and doctors about shortages of medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. Authorities say nearly 30,000 people died in France of the coronavirus disease Covid-19. 

The Law Court of the Republic also looks into possible misconduct by Agnès Buzyn, the former health minister, and her successor Olivier Véran. 

The announcement came after France’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex warned that the “economic crisis of the pandemic is already here.” Speaking outside his official residence, he added: “Priorities will, therefore, have to evolve, ways of working will have to be adapted. We will have to unite the nation to fight this crisis that is setting in.”

Castex also said he would continue the structural reforms undertaken by Philippe, who stepped down on Friday under pressure from the president. Elsewhere in Europe, government leaders and other officials also struggle to deal with the pandemic impact.

In Spain, the government of the Catalonia region re-imposed coronavirus controls on an area of 210,000 people after a sharp rise in infections. President Quim Torra said no-one would be allowed to enter or leave Segrià, an agricultural area west of Barcelona, which includes the city of Lleida.

More tensions

Tensions are also rising between EU nations. Portugal’s foreign affairs minister, for instance, has said his country’s exclusion from a list of nations for which quarantine will not apply for people returning to England is “absurd.” 

Critics cite examples that even British officials or their family members violate rules. In the latest such case, the father of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended his decision to fly to Greece via Bulgaria.

He wanted to “COVID-proof” his property there before he potentially rents it out. However, commentaries said that violated — at the very least — the spirit of Greece’s coronavirus restrictions as well as the current travel guidance in Britain. 

All is also not well outside Western Europe, in the former Soviet Union: In Russia, a Russian Orthodox Church court has expelled a coronavirus-denying cleric from the priesthood after he seized control of a convent.

And in Armenia, police showed up at the offices of two independent television stations critical of the government to check into their alleged violation of infection-prevention rules during the coronavirus pandemic – move the media outlets denounced as political pressure by the prime minister.

The developments underscore broader concerns that the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on policies and economies in Europe, and beyond, is far from over.