Brussels targets vaccinating at least 70% of EU adults by summer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union states should aim to vaccinate at least 70% of their adult populations against COVID-19 by the summer, the European Commission recommended on Tuesday.

Each of the EU’s 27 governments are managing their own vaccination campaigns, including their pace and which groups get priority. The Commission’s recommendations are not binding.

The 70% goal could mean inoculating over 200 million people, most likely with vaccines which need two doses per person. The EU has so far given a first dose to about 5 million people since it started its rollout at the end of December, the Commission said.

To meet its ambitious goal, the EU executive said it will work to boost the production capacity of vaccine makers with measures that could include investment in plants and faster regulatory procedures to authorize them.

As a mid-term target, by March at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of healthcare workers should also be vaccinated in each EU state, the Commission said.

The EU has ordered nearly 2.3 billion doses of approved and candidate COVID-19 vaccines, but only the shots developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have so far received regulatory clearance in the bloc. They both need two doses to provide full protection.

The EU has secured 600 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and, despite early snags in deliveries, expects them to be delivered by the end of this year.

Moderna said it expects to deliver at least 80 million doses to the EU by the third quarter. Decisions on EU approvals of the vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are expected in coming weeks.

The Commission is also urging EU states to boost their capacity to sequence the coronavirus in order to detect new variants.

It called on EU governments to sequence at least 5% of all positive tests whereas at the moment many states test less than 1% of samples.

“Vaccinations will still take time until they reach all Europeans,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said, adding that meanwhile testing and sequencing must be increased.

The Commission also said it was working with EU states to adopt a common approach by the end of the month on vaccination certificates to facilitate travel.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; editing by Philip Blenkinsop, John Stonestreet, Philippa Fletcher, Alexandra Hudson)

EU kicks off debate on vaccine travel certificates

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries kicked off a debate on Monday on whether people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine should have greater freedom to travel in the summer than those not immunized.

Europe ministers from the 27 EU nations held a video conference to discuss greater coordination for the roll-out of vaccines, a topic to be picked up by EU leaders who will meet online on Thursday.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis floated the idea last week in a letter to the European Commission of an EU-wide vaccination certificate to help restore cross-border travel that has been crippled by the pandemic.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Sunday that vaccinated people should be able to return sooner to restaurants and cinemas, although other ministers have criticized his view.

Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice president, said it was important to stress that vaccination is voluntary – some people were unable or unwilling to receive a vaccine.

Sefcovic told a news conference after Monday’s meeting such people should not have their rights limited. However, vaccination could become a condition for travel, like current requirements in many countries for a negative COVID test.

“There will be different options how we handle travel … the possibility of the electronic vaccination certificate could be added,” he said.

Michael Roth, representing Germany on Monday, said it was vital to establish if vaccinated people could still transmit the coronavirus to others.

The EU executive is working to ensure that vaccination data can be collected electronically in a common form.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will start collecting data from this week on vaccines delivered and vaccinations per country.

Sefcovic said EU countries needed to be largely synchronized to help keep open its single market, which allows freedom of movement of people and workers.

Many EU nations say they are receiving lower-than-expected supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and complain of uncertainty over future deliveries, EU officials have told Reuters.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Giles Elgood)

J&J COVID-19 vaccine could be available in Europe in April: source

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson could deliver the first doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to Europe in April, an EU official told Reuters on Wednesday after a top lawmaker said the U.S. healthcare company was likely to seek EU regulatory approval in February.

Clinical data on the vaccine has been assessed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) since Dec. 1 under a rolling review to speed up possible approval.

A senior EU official, who is involved in negotiations with vaccine makers and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the J&J shot could be available from April 1 in Europe.

Earlier on Wednesday, an EU lawmaker said J&J could seek EU approval for its one-shot vaccine in February.

“EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides announced during our (EU lawmakers) group meeting this morning that the vaccine manufacturer Johnson & Johnson is likely to submit an application for approval to the EU for their vaccine in February,” said Peter Liese, who speaks on health matters for the EU’s center-right group, the assembly’s largest.

Following Liese’s comments, a spokesman for Kyriakides said: “We cannot give any precise indications regarding an application for conditional marketing authorization, but we of course hope that an application could be submitted in the coming weeks.”

EMA, in a statement, said “a date for submission of a marketing authorization application has not yet been confirmed.”

J&J had no immediate comment on the timeline described by the EU source and the lawmaker, which appeared to be slightly behind expectations for the vaccine in the United States.

J&J Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels told Reuters the drugmaker expects to have clear data on how effective its vaccine is by the end of this month or early February and was on track for a U.S. rollout in March.

The EU drugs regulator had said in December it expected the J&J to apply in the first quarter of this year.

It took EMA 20 days to approve the vaccine developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc, and just over a month to authorize the Moderna Inc shot after their applications were submitted in early December. The two vaccines are so far the only ones approved in the EU, while AstraZeneca submitted its application on Tuesday.

“If all goes well, we will already have the fourth corona vaccine available in a few weeks,” Liese added.

The EU has booked 200 million doses of the J&J vaccine and has an option to order another 200 million shots. The J&J vaccine is administered as a single shot, while those from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech require two doses three or four weeks apart for full protection.

The EU has invested about 360 million euros ($438 million) to secure the J&J vaccine with a down payment that would need to be complemented with payments by EU governments willing to buy the vaccine after approval.

The U.S. government secured 100 million doses from the company for $1 billion in an August agreement, with an option to buy an additional 200 million doses.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Jason Neely, Louise Heavens and Bill Berkrot)

“The deal is done”: EU and UK clinch narrow Brexit accord

By Guy Faulconbridge, Elizabeth Piper and John Chalmers

LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain clinched a narrow Brexit trade deal with the European Union on Thursday, just seven days before it exits one of the world’s biggest trading blocs in its most significant global shift since the loss of empire.

The deal means it has swerved away from a chaotic finale to a tortuous divorce that has shaken the 70-year project to forge European unity from the ruins of World War Two.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters: “It was a long and winding road. But we have got a good deal to show for it. It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a picture of himself inside Downing Street, raising both arms in a thumbs-up gesture of triumph, with the words “The deal is done”.

“We have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade and our fishing waters,” a Downing Street source said.

“We have delivered this great deal for the entire United Kingdom in record time, and under extremely challenging conditions … all of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved.”

While the last-minute deal prevents the most acrimonious ending to the saga on Jan. 1, the United Kingdom is set for a much more distant relationship with its biggest trade partner than almost anyone expected at the time of the 2016 referendum.

A deal had seemed imminent for almost a day, until haggling over just how much fish EU boats should be able to catch in British waters delayed the announcement of one of the most important trade deals in recent European history.

The UK formally left the EU on Jan. 31 but has since been in a transition period under which rules on trade, travel and business remained unchanged until the end of this year.

The details of the accord have yet to be made public, but if the sides have struck a zero-tariff and zero-quota deal, it will help to smooth trade in goods that makes up half their $900 billion in annual commerce.

Even with an accord, some disruption is certain from Jan. 1 when Britain ends its often fraught 48-year relationship with a Franco-German-led project that sought to bind the ruined nations of post-World War Two Europe together into a global power.

Tony Danker, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, gave the deal a grudging welcome:

“Coming so late in the day, it is vital that both sides take instant steps to keep trade moving and services flowing.”

After months of talks that were at times undermined by both COVID-19 and rhetoric from London and Paris, leaders across the EU’s 27 member states have cast an agreement as a way to avoid the nightmare of a “no-deal” exit.

But Europe’s second-largest economy will still be quitting both the EU’s single market of 450 million consumers, which late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher helped to create, and its customs union.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Guy Faulconbridge, Elizabeth Piper, Conor Humphries, Kate Holton, John Chalmers, William Schomberg, Paul Sandle and Michael Holden; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and John Chalmers; Editing by Alison Williams)

In blow to WHO, EU seeks powers to declare health emergencies

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission on Wednesday proposed rules which would give the EU the power to declare a health emergency and stress test national plans to tackle pandemics, in a potential blow to the World Health Organization.

The move follows an often uncoordinated reaction by the 27 EU governments to the COVID-19 pandemic, which at the beginning of the crisis led to competition on vital medical gear and export bans on medicines.

It also comes after the WHO was criticized for having declared the pandemic, which first emerged in China at the end of last year, too late. The U.N. agency has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Under the proposals, the EU would be able to declare an EU-level public health emergency, which would in turn trigger more coordination among EU states.

Currently, the EU relies on the WHO to declare such an emergency.

“The new rules will enable the activation of EU emergency response mechanisms (..) without making it contingent upon the WHO’s own declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” an EU document says, adding that such a move would be coordinated with the WHO.

If adopted, the overhaul would partly take away a major power from the WHO, as EU states call for reform of the organization to address shortfalls in emergencies.

“We relied too much on the WHO for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Peter Liese, a top EU lawmaker from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, said.

“Under pressure from China, the WHO declared the health emergency too late. It is therefore very important to have the possibility to act at European level in future similar situations.”

The WHO, which the Trump administration has labelled a puppet of China, was not immediately available to comment.

COORDINATION ON VACCINES

Under the commission’s proposals, the EU would help governments prepare pandemic plans and would audit and stress test them, an EU document says.

EU states have traditionally been reluctant to give more powers to Brussels on the matter.

During the pandemic, they have applied different national measures on a series of issues, including testing policies for COVID-19 cases, quarantine rules and travel restrictions.

But they have shown good coordination on procuring vaccines.

If approved by EU governments and EU lawmakers, the commission said the proposals would be immediately applicable and could strengthen EU powers to tackle the current pandemic, in which most European countries are seeing a surge in cases.

Brussels wants to strengthen the EU public health agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, whose non-binding advice, such as on the length of quarantine after contact with an infected person, has often been ignored.

It also wants more power for the EU Medicines Agency to prevent risks of shortages of medicines and medical devices.

Brussels also said it would unveil by the end of next year plans for a new health authority modelled after the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which has played a vital role in procuring experimental dugs and vaccines.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Alison Williams and Nick Macfie)

EU set to impose tariffs on $4 billion U.S. goods next week

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is likely to impose tariffs on $4 billion of U.S. imports including planes and plane parts next week in retaliation over U.S. subsidies for aircraft maker Boeing, EU diplomats said on Friday.

A majority of EU governments have already backed the tariffs, which are expected to be put in place after a meeting of EU trade ministers on Monday.

“I would expect the tariffs to be imposed next Tuesday or Wednesday,” an EU diplomat said.

The move will echo U.S. tariffs on European goods over subsidies for Boeing’s rival Airbus. Combined, the two cases represent the world’s largest ever corporate trade dispute.

The World Trade Organization gave the European Union the right to impose counter-measures, but the United States said that there was no legal basis this and that, if the bloc chose to impose measures, it “will force a U.S. response”.

The move puts the long-running transatlantic trade dispute on the radar of the next U.S. administration, whoever wins the closely fought election.

The European Union could have acted at the end of October, just days before the U.S. election, but chose to delay in order to avoid potentially impacting the outcome. EU governments formally cleared the move on Tuesday, election day.

Tariffs are due to be placed on U.S. planes and parts, fruits, nuts and other farm produce, processed products such as orange juice, certain spirits and a range of other goods, from construction equipment to casino tables, diplomats said.

The European Commission said it was finalizing the process to exercise its retaliation rights in case no agreed solution could be found with Washington, including the immediate suspension of U.S. measures.

The United States Trade Representative had no immediate comment.

The United States already has tariffs on $7.5 billion of EU and British goods in relation to a parallel case over subsidies for European plane maker Airbus.

Chris Swonger, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., said any tariffs on spirits would further devastate an industry that has already seen a 41% drop in U.S. whisky exports to Europe due to previous EU tariffs.

The tariffs also hand Britain, which left the EU this year, a delicate decision about whether to join its neighbors in imposing tariffs at a time when it is in the midst of trade negotiations with both the United States and European Union.

Britain’s trade minister said last week it would “keep all options open” to ensure it can respond to U.S. tariffs on Scotch whisky and other industries. Britain is one of four Airbus partner nations alongside France, Germany and Spain.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington, Editing by Tim Hepher)

EU urged to review remdesivir supply deal after COVID trial results

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union should renegotiate a 1 billion euro ($1.17 billion) contract it sealed last week with Gilead for a six-month supply of the COVID-19 drug remdesivir after it showed poor results in a large trial, experts said on Friday.

In a blow to one of the few drugs being used to treat people with COVID-19, the Solidarity Trial conducted by the World Health Organization showed on Friday that remdesivir appeared to have little or no effect on mortality or length of hospital stays among patients with the respiratory disease.

The trial results were disclosed a week after the EU’s executive Commission announced its largest contract to date with Gilead for the supply of 500,000 courses of the antiviral drug at a price of 2,070 euro per treatment, which Gilead said was the standard for wealthy nations.

The Commission “needs to present the reasons behind the rush to conclude the latest contract with Gilead and move to review it in light of the Solidarity Trial findings,” said Yannis Natsis, who represents patients’ organizations on the board of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the EU drug regulator.

The EU announced on Oct. 8 that it had signed the supply contract with the U.S. company on behalf of its 27 member states and 10 partner countries, including Britain.

Gilead had known about the results of Solidarity since Oct. 6, the WHO said, citing disclosure rules under the Solidarity Trial.

Gilead told Reuters it had received in late September an “heavily redacted manuscript” from the WHO which contained different information from the final document published on Friday.

“TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE”

The Commission’s decision was made after EU countries warned of shortages of remdesivir in their hospitals amid a new surge of COVID-19 infections across Europe.

The contract does not oblige countries to buy remdesivir, although it ties them to the agreed price.

Gilead did not comment on whether remdesivir’s price for wealthy countries could change after the WHO trial, and the company questioned its results.

“As time is of the essence – we are in a situation of a public health emergency – we have to not only invest up-front in vaccine development but also in access to therapeutics,” a spokesman for the European Commission said.

He added the EMA would look into the Solidarity results and data available from other studies on COVID treatments “to see if any changes are needed to the way these medicines are used”.

But the spokesman did not comment on whether the EU was aware of the Solidarity results before it signed the contract with Gilead. He also did not reply to questions on whether the price agreed with Gilead could be renegotiated.

“The EU should revisit the prices to be paid for Remdesivir. Why pay 1 billion euros for a drug with no effects on survival?” said Andrew Hill, a senior visiting research fellow in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Liverpool.

He said generic versions of the drug manufactured in India were sold at 200 euros per course.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; additional reporting by John Miller; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Washington hits Belarus with sanctions as Minsk retaliates against EU measures

(Reuters) – The United States imposed sanctions on eight Belarusian officials on Friday, accusing them of involvement in rigging President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election victory in August or the violent crackdown on protests that followed.

The move came after the European Union announced sanctions on 40 people, including the interior minister and the head of the election commission, achieving a breakthrough on the issue at summit talks in the early hours of Friday morning.

Lukashenko was spared, in line with the EU’s policy of punishing powerbrokers as a last resort. He denies electoral fraud and says the protests are backed from abroad.

Lukashenko’s government announced retaliatory sanctions against unidentified officials, recalled its ambassadors to Poland and Lithuania for consultations and nudged both countries to reduce the size of their embassy staff in Minsk.

Lukashenko is grappling to contain nearly two months of street protests that pose the biggest challenge to his 26-year rule. More than 13,000 people have been arrested, and major opposition figures jailed or exiled.

“The United States and our international partners stand united in imposing costs on those who have undermined Belarusian democracy for years,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The U.S. sanctions also targeted Belarusian Interior Minister Yuri Karaev and his deputy. Those under sanctions are subject to asset freezes and a ban against Americans doing business with them.

Washington had originally been expected to impose sanctions in concert with Britain and Canada, which went ahead on Tuesday with travel bans and asset freezes on Lukashenko, his son Viktor and other senior officials.

Washington has had sanctions on Lukashenko since 2006 but the president was spared in the latest round of measures.

LUKASHENKO SPEAKS TO PUTIN

The crisis has pushed Belarus back towards traditional ally Russia, which has propped up Lukashenko’s government with loans and the offer of military support. Moscow sees its ex-Soviet neighbor as a strategic buffer against the EU and NATO.

Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Friday, expressing confidence that “the problems that have arisen will soon be resolved”, the Kremlin said.

Lukashenko’s government announced it had drawn up a list of people who were banned from travelling to Belarus in retaliation for the EU sanctions. It did not name the officials or the countries they were from.

“…we are imposing visa sanctions against the most biased representatives of European institutions, including the European Parliament and the states – EU members,” foreign ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz was quoted by the official Belta news agency as saying.

“The list is symmetrical in many ways. We have decided not to make it public for now.”

Russia’s foreign ministry said the Belarusian sanctions would apply in Russia as well.

Lukashenko’s government also asked the Polish and Lithuanian embassies to reduce their staff. Both countries refused.

“We are not going to summon our ambassadors for consultations, and we will definitely not do anything to reduce personnel,” Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Linas Linkevicius told reporters.

“We are not interested in reducing our communications channel,” he said. “If the advice becomes a request, then we will take appropriate measures.”

The Belarusian authorities have detained journalists or stripped them of their accreditation as part of the crackdown on the unrest that followed the Aug. 9 election.

On Friday, the foreign ministry announced it was stripping journalists working for foreign media organizations of their accreditation, and asked them to reapply for their permits.

“I would like to make it clear that it is in no way some attempt to cleanse the news reporting field,” Glaz was quoted by Belta as saying.

The EU sanctions had been held up by Cyprus due to an unrelated dispute with Turkey. The delay dented the credibility of the EU’s foreign policy, diplomats said.

“That we could now agree to those sanctions is an important signal because it strengthens the hand of those who are protesting for freedom of opinion in Belarus,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists.

Merkel will meet on Tuesday with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main electoral opponent who fled into exile after the vote in the ex-Soviet republic, fearing for her family’s safety.

French President Emmanuel Macron met Tsikhanouskaya on Tuesday, pledging European support for the Belarusian people.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Daphne Psaledakis and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Vladimir Soldatkin, Alexander Marrow and Polina Ivanova in Moscow, Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw, Thomas Escritt in Berlin; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Mark Potter)

EU privacy rules no obstacle to coronavirus fight; smartphone tracking a no-no

By Douglas Busvine

BERLIN (Reuters) – Europe’s privacy rulebook does not create obstacles to taking action to curb the coronavirus epidemic but mass tracking of people’s movements and contacts using smartphone location data would represent a clear violation.

Technophiles support the use of such data to reconstruct the movements of people exposed to the flu-like virus and identify others at risk of infection. Privacy advocates counter that this approach, used in China, subjects people to the kind of digital surveillance that has no place in a Western democracy.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in the European Union in mid-2018, states that people’s data is their own and requires anyone seeking to process it to obtain their consent.

WHAT DO EMPLOYERS HAVE TO DO?

Companies should take action to minimise both the risk of infection and violations of privacy. They can obtain information on whether an employee has travelled to a region with confirmed coronavirus cases, according to law firm CMS https://cms.law/en/nld/publication/coronavirus-employer-measures-and-policies.

Some systemic data collection may also be required, such as through workplace questionnaires or requiring staff to report their travel plans.

This is covered under Articles 6 and 9 of the GDPR, which cover workplace health and safety, and using preventive or occupational medicine to address serious cross-border health threats.

WHAT CAN’T THEY DO?

Employers are not allowed to take mandatory readings of the temperature of employees or visitors, nor can they require them to fill out compulsory medical questionnaires, according to French data protection office CNIL.

In practical terms that means a receptionist may only take the temperature of a visitor under certain conditions, as this may require processing of health data that can only be done by a doctor, said Holger Lutz, partner at law firm Baker & McKenzie.

CAN NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS OVERRIDE THE GDPR?

Italy, the European country hardest hit by coronavirus, has passed emergency legislation requiring anyone who has recently stayed in an at-risk area to notify health authorities either directly or through their doctor.

Germany, meanwhile, recently inserted wording into its GDPR enabling legislation that specifically allows for the processing of personal data in the event of an epidemic, or natural and man-made catastrophes, said Lutz.

COULD SMARTPHONE TRACKING HELP?

The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s main public health body, caused a stir last week by suggesting that smartphone location data could be used to track people as a tool for curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The technology exists – Google Maps for example uses smartphone GPS location data to estimate traffic congestion and calculate journey times.

A Hamburg geotracking startup called Ubilabs is working with the Hannover School of Medicine on a data analysis platform that could track people who have tested positive for the coronavirus and their contacts, Der Tagesspiegel reported on Tuesday.

HOW COULD TRACKING COMPLY WITH THE GDPR?

Such smartphone tracking would in all probability require people’s consent to have a valid legal basis, Federal Data Protection Officer Ulrich Kelber told Reuters.

Any tracking-based system would need to undergo detailed analysis to ensure an acceptable level of data protection, Kelber said. It should also be proportionate, both in terms of whether the accuracy of the location data gathered serves the intended purpose and whether a less intrusive method is available.

WHAT ARE OTHER COUNTRIES DOING?

China, the source of the coronavirus epidemic, has introduced a mandatory traffic-light system https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/01/business/china-coronavirus-surveillance.html that uses smartphone software to determine whether people can move about or meet.

Individuals rated red or yellow on the Alipay Health Code app are not allowed to travel or visit public places such as restaurants or shopping malls for 14 or 7 days respectively.

In Taiwan, visitors are required https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762689 on arrival to download a questionnaire using a QR code and report the airport they came from, their 14-day travel history and health symptoms.

Those assessed to have low risk receive a text message telling them that they are free to travel. Those deemed to pose a risk are required to self-isolate for 14 days, with their compliance monitored using location data from their smartphones.

(This story has been refiled to clarify comment from legal expert, paragraph 8)

(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Europe to Britain: So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu

ATHENS/MADRID (Reuters) – With sorrow, some support for Brexit and even hope of a return, Europeans from across the EU’s 27 remaining members bade farewell to the United Kingdom on the eve of its historic departure.

The United Kingdom leaves the European Union an hour before midnight on Friday, casting off into an uncertain future that also challenges Europe’s post-World War Two project of forging unity from the ruins of conflict.

“Farewell, bye bye my love!” said Rudolf Stockey, speaking to Reuters in German.

From across Europe, EU citizens wished the United Kingdom the best after 47 years of membership. Some expressed hopes that the British might one day return to the European fold.

“Come back. I have no idea. We are not so different,” said Madrid resident Marcos Leon.

Some expressed concern that one of Europe’s biggest powers was leaving the club.

“I am very sorry that the United Kingdom is exiting. I think it is a very, very bad thing for Europe, for the United Kingdom, for everything,” said Sara Invitto, from Milan. “Goodbye!”

“I think it’s a great waste,” said Belgian Francois Heimans, who expressed worry over populism.

But some in Greece and Poland said the British were doing the right thing.

“Have a good Brexit guys,” said Petros Papakyriakos from Greece. “They are doing what is right for their economy, and I think a lot of countries will follow their lead.”

Gdansk resident Henryk Kulesza said: “It’s good that Great Britain is leaving the European Union. It’s about time. I think that Poland should do the same thing.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Reporting across Europe by Antonio Denti, Emily Roe, Christian Levaux, Ciara Luxton, Deborah Kyvrikosaios, Vassilis Triandafyllou, Lewis Macdonald, Dominik Starosz, Polly Rider, Ben Dadswel; Editing by Giles Elgood)