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EU border control plans & end of year Summit


Posted 19/12/2015

European Union leaders have pledged to fast-track the establishment of an EU border and coast guard force.

At a summit in Brussels, they urged each other to implement measures agreed this year to curb migration across the Mediterranean.

By the middle of next year, they decided, they would agree the details of the new border force which was proposed by the EU executive earlier this week.

Some leaders, including Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, made it clear, however, that they wanted to strike out a controversial element of the proposal which would give Brussels power to send in EU border guards without a country's consent.

Summing up the three-hour discussion, the summit chairman, European Council President Donald Tusk, said leaders had agreed there was a "delivery deficit" in making good on a series of measures agreed over recent months to stem chaotic movements that have put Europe's Schengen open-borders area in jeopardy.

"Over the past months, the European Council has developed a strategy aimed at stemming the unprecedented migratory flows Europe is facing," the final agreement read.

"However, implementation is insufficient and has to be speeded up. For the integrity of Schengen to be safeguarded it is indispensable to regain control over the external borders."

Donald TUSK, President of the European Council, Jean-Claude JUNCKER, President of the European Commission, and Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, welcome EU leaders' decision to rapidly examine the Commission's proposal of strenghtening the bloc's external borders, including the European Border Guard idea. The European Council also exchanged views on the UK plans for the referendum and agreed to find solutions at their February meeting.

United Nation's special envoy on migration Peter Sutherland has described the joint border and coastguard announcement as helpful.

Mr Sutherland said creating a common border and a common EU policy in relation to migration is better than building individual fences around countries.

"Without a common border and without a common EU policy, the emergence of what we're already seeing in terms of national borders springing up, and fences and walls, all over Europe is inevitable.

“The only way to deal with that is to be able to ensure that the external border takes proper measures in terms of looking at those who are coming in and creating a common policy in Europe."

Greece and Italy are under pressure to do more to manage and identify those arriving, a million or more so far this year, while governments in general have yet to make good on promises to help take in asylum seekers and deport unwanted migrants.

There are only two fully operational "hotspots" for screening of migrants arriving to Italy and Greece from eleven that are supposed to be set up.
Only about 200 migrants who have already arrived to the two states were relocated to other EU countries under a deal that is intended to cover 160,000.

Greece and Italy have been overwhelmed by the arrivals and shift the blame on other EU members for encouraging the flows or not offering the right assistance.

The leaders urged more security checks against databases and fingerprinting - a procedure those who make the perilous journey to Europe often try to avoid as, under EU rules, it would require them to claim asylum in Greece or Italy, while many aim for Germany or other wealthier states to the north.

The EU says it wants to help Syrians and others fleeing wars and therefore potentially eligible for asylum but wants to separate those coming from places where they are less at risk.

Leaders agreed that their envoys in Brussels should try to agree quickly on how to fund €3bn promised to Turkey for helping curb migrant flows to Greece.

Diplomats say a deal is in the works under which possibly €1bn will come from central EU funds and the rest direct from national treasuries.

 



 

French regional election tests far-right strength


Posted 13/12/2015

Polls opened in France with the far-right National Front (FN) hoping to win control of a region for the first time, giving leader Marine Le Pen a launchpad for her presidential bid in 2017.

The anti-immigration FN topped the vote in six of 13 regions in last weekend's first round, capitalising on security fears in the wake of last month's jihadist attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives.

But it faces an uphill battle to convert that performance into victory after the ruling Socialist Party withdrew its candidates from two key regions and urged their supporters there to back former president Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative Republicans.

A poll on Wednesday showed Ms Le Pen -who heads the party list in the economically depressed northeastern Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region -would be beaten by the Republicans' Xavier Bertrand by 53% to 47%.

In the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen was trailing the Republicans' Christian Estrosi, with 46% to his 54%.

Other polls gave similar results.

Both women had easily outpaced their conservative rivals in the first round, each grabbing more than 40% of the vote, but the party's hopes of winning its first-ever region could be crushed by its opponents' political manoeuvring.

The Socialists have pulled out their candidates in the regions where Ms Le Pen and her niece are running.

Some 45.3 million people are eligible to cast their ballots.

 



 

 

Meeting of the EU heads of state or government with Turkey


Posted 29/11/2015

This Summit was organised to decide in the first place what the EU and Turkey must do together to cope with the migration crisis. The main goal is to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. After many weeks of hard work and tough talks the EU and Turkey have reached an agreement which they hope will be accepted today by all parties concerned.

This Summit however is also about a wider dimension, namely re-energising our relations with Turkey, including the accession process. Turkey is a key partner regarding counter-terrorism. The EU Council President, Donald Tusk, also insisted on the need for better cooperation when it comes to the situation in Syria and of course the Cyprus factor. Recent days have also shown how important Europe's geopolitical and strategic cooperation is.

The President also said: “Let us not be naïve, though. Turkey is not the only key to solving the migration crisis. The most important one is our responsibility and duty to protect our external borders. We cannot outsource this obligation to any third country. I will repeat this again: without control on our external borders, Schengen will become history.”



 

Views of the week from the two largest groups at the EP 


Posted 26/11/2015

Courtesy of the S&D Group

The European Parliament today backed a report focused on tackling radicalisation and recruitment of young Europeans by extremist groups. Socialist & Democrat MEPs criticized the simplistic security dominated approach pushed by right wing groups in the last few weeks. Interviews with Hocine Ben Abderrahmane, historian and Imam at Al-Azhar mosque in Brussels, Ana Gomes, S&D spokesperson on radicalisation and Christine Revault d'Allonnes-Bonnefoy, Member of the S&D Group.

Courtesy of the EPP Group / epptv

Following the Paris terrorists attacks, the EPP Group promptly condemned the barbarian acts and reacted immediately by updating its policy paper on terrorism, which was adopted last March by all of its Members.

The EPP Group presented the main points of a report on the prevention of radicalisation and the recruitment of European citizens by terrorist organisations at a press conference this week.

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EU unanimously supports France assistance request


Posted 17/11/2015

European Union defence ministers on Tuesday unanimously backed France’s request for help with military missions in the wake of the Paris attacks, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said. 

France has requested aid and assistance in accordance with article 42-7. It’s an article that has never been used before in the history of our union,” Mogherini said, referring to part of the EU treaties that provides for solidarity of member states in the event one of them is attacked.

“Today the EU through the voices of all the member states unanimously expressed its strongest full support and readiness to give the assistance needed,” she told a press conference in Brussels with French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“France will be in contact bilaterally in coming hours and days to express the support it requires and the EU will ensure the greatest effectiveness in our common response,” former Italian foreign minister Mogherini added.

Arrival yesterday by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and VP of the EC.

Video courtesy of EC.

The French minister said the EU’s support was a “political act of great significance.”

Le Drian said it would “allow us in the hours to come to have bilateral talks where necessary” with other EU states to establish what aid France needed.

This aid could either be in support of France’s Syria airstrikes but also in other theatres, adding that France “can’t be everywhere at the same time.”

“I felt a lot of emotion from my colleagues” over the Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group which left 129 people dead, he said, adding that many of his counterparts had addressed him personally in French to pay their respects.

 



 

G20 meeting marked by Paris attacks


Posted 15/11/2015

Leaders of the 20 wealthiest nations gathered this weekend in the Mediterranean resort town of Antalya for a meeting that will divert from the initial focus of climate change and economy, turning discussions into the most vexing global problem at this moment, this is how to fight ISIL and tackle the situation of the war in Syria.

The two-day Summit discussions were targeted to spur broader economic growth and find common ground to combat climate change in the lead-up to the much-anticipated United Nations conference in Paris.

However, the horrific Paris attacks have led to centre Antalya discussions in the just 500km away, Syria, where a four an a half year conflict has transformed Islamic State into a global security threat and spawned Europe's largest migration flows since World War Two.

Three intertwined issues linked to Syrian war have provoked havoc around the world, and particularly here in Europe. After Friday’s Paris attack, an unhesitant François Hollande defined the murders as an act of war, something that without any doubt will lead to a reinforcement of three essential pillars: ending the war, stemming the flow of refugees, and stopping terrorist outfits such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Already in Turkey, President Barack Obama vowed today to step up efforts to eliminate Islamic State in Syria and prevent it from carrying out attacks like those in Paris, while European leaders urged Russia to focus its military efforts on the radical Islamists.

 

Speaking at a G20 leaders summit in Turkey, Obama described the killings in Paris, claimed by Islamic State, as an attack on the civilized world and said the United States would work with France to hunt down those responsible.

Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said at a joint press conference with European Council President Donald Tusk condemning the brutal Paris attacks ahead of the meeting of G20 leaders in Antalya “it is imperative to see that those who organised the attacks and perpetrated them are precisely the ones the refugees are trying to flee.” Today he also claimed that these events will not put into question the existence of EU’s borderless Schengen area.

“Schengen is under threat, but not because of this attack [in Paris], but because the border controls are not effectively used,” Juncker told journalists.

He added that people who conduct terror attacks must not be confused with asylum seekers fleeing from violence. “The one who is responsible for the attacks in Paris, cannot be put on equal foot with real refugees. He is a criminal, and not an asylum seeker. I would like to invite those in Europe who try to change the migration agenda we have adopted, I would like to invite them be serious about it,” Juncker added.

“This is a global problem which invites us to give a global answer.”

At the press conference, the EU President also urged progress on reforms to global tax policy and a legally-binding climate deal in Paris in December.

Although the G20 usually focuses on economic issues, the summit comes immediately after the despicable Paris attacks but also two weeks after a suspected bomb attack on a Russian airliner, and two suspected Islamic State suicide bombers blew themselves in the capital of the host country killing more than 100 people.

Hopes for a major breakthrough fruit of the Summit are evidently softened by the remaining open questions such as Assad's future and the list of opposition groups to be deemed terrorists and barred from participating. These are the main matters that highlight the differences of though amongst the main powers in the world, one can only hope that there is enough common ground for collaboration in order to put one and for all an end to the barbarity that enables us to move towards a better world.

 



 

 

Valletta Summit on migration  


Posted 12/11/2015

EU and African leaders have met in Malta to try hammer out some cooperation to tackle the migration crisis. The EU is pledging cash in exchange for help to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean. But is it enough to slow down the biggest refugee crisis since World War II? EU leaders also met for an emergency migration summit in the afternoon in Valletta. 

So far, however, the response of the EU and its member states to the influx of refugees and migrants has focused on keeping people out, by preventing their arrival and facilitating their return, with no meaningful steps taken to increase mobility nor safe and legal routes for refugees. 

Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions office had said “stated commitments to human rights at Valetta will be nothing more than hollow words unless the Summit concretely results in an increase in the availability of resettlement places and watertight safeguards for human rights in any agreements made on border and migration management.” 

“Clear and concrete proposals on safe and legal routes are glaringly absent from the Valetta agenda and declaration, and backroom bilateral agreements in the margins risk having serious adverse human rights impact. The lack of transparency around so many of these agreements is already a red flag.”

However, an agreement was signed today for the creation of an Emergency Trust Fund, initially of €1.8 billion, to assist African countries in their development and encourage them to take back nationals who migrated to Europe. Malta had pledged €250,000 to the fund.

The signing was the highlight of the Valletta Summit on Migration, which ends later today with a final declaration and action plan.

Meanwhile temporary border controls began in Sweden today to help stem the flow of refugees. The restrictions began at midday and  will last for the next ten days. The Swedish Interior Minister has denied they're trying to limit the number of asylum seekers, and claims they just want to get better control of the problem. Elsewhere, Slovenia has begun building a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia. 

The developments coincide with the final day of a migration summit of European and African leaders.

 



 

David Cameron says Britain will end its welfare 'pull' for EU migrants


Posted 10/11/2015

British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to end the draw that Britain's generous welfare system has on European migrants as part of his renegotiation of the country's deal with the EU.

He said 40% of EU migrants coming to Britain were helped by claiming benefits with the average claim of £6,000 (€8,437) per family.

And he said the new figures showed that it was time for Britain to reduce the taxpayer subsidies to stem the flow of EU migrants placing too great pressures on the country.

In a speech in London, in which he set out his wish list of four EU reform demands, Mr Cameron said the way to lessen the number of EU citizens coming to the UK was "by reducing the draw that our welfare system exerts across Europe."

He insisted he would deliver Conservative manifesto pledges to curb the number of European citizens coming to Europe by welfare reform - including banning EU citizens from claiming in-work benefits for the first four years.

His pledge on tackling the Freedom of Movement rules one of four objectives he has set out in a letter to the European Council President Donald Tusk.

 

It is this objective which is the most controversial, since other EU leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel, regard it as breaching the principle of free movement of labour across the EU.

 

Mr Cameron's four objectives are:

  • Protecting the single market for Britain and others outside the Eurozone
  • Writing competitiveness into the DNA of the whole European Union
  • Exempting Britain from an "ever closer union" with a legally binding and irreversible agreement with other EU states
  • Tackling abuses of the right to free movement, and enabling Britain to control migration from the EU

Mr Cameron demanded a legally binding, irreversible agreement with other EU states that would exempt Britain from "ever close union"and called for groups of national parliaments to come together to block the EU.

He said that Europe should have the "flexibility of a network not the rigidity of a bloc."

And for the first time, Mr Cameron tied Britain's role in Europe to national security saying: "Membership of the EU is a matter of national security too."

He said there would be no second referendum and that this was a once in a generation decision for the British people. He said: "If we vote to leave, we will leave."

And he told the EU: "This is our only chance to get it right."

In an attempt to head off criticism, the Prime Minister said: "There will be those who say - here and elsewhere in the EU - that we are embarked on mission impossible. I say: why?"

"I do not deny that seeking changes which require the agreement of 27 other democracies, all with their own concerns, is a big task. But an impossible one? I do not believe so for a minute."

His attempts to win reforms ahead of an in-out referendum on Britain's EU membership will come under attack almost immediately in the House of Commons.

After Europe Minister David Lidington makes a statement to MPs, eurosceptic Tory backbenchers will claim Britain cannot get a better deal in Europe without changes to treaties.

Responding to David Cameron's letter setting out proposals for EU reform ahead of a British in/out referendum, Syed Kamall MEP, Leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament, said:

"This process is about more than one letter. It is not a tick box exercise, but a wider debate about the relationship between euro and non-euro countries, whether all EU countries need to commit to "ever closer union", and whether we want to close ranks in a globalised world, or take a more open approach.

"Too many people in the UK and across Europe feel the EU is remote, and granting more powers to the European Parliament has not closed that gap, so David Cameron is right to seek to involve national parliaments far more in the EU's functioning. Many national parliaments should also take their role far more responsibly in scrutinising the EU.

"Free movement is a tenet of the EU that many British people have concerns over while others take advantage of it to live and work in other EU countries. If we are to maintain confidence in free movement we need to ensure it is free movement to work and contribute, not to move for benefits. David Cameron is reforming welfare in the UK so that it pays to work and make a contribution to the system, and his proposals would ensure the same is true with residents from other EU countries as well.”

 



 

 

Observers praise election fought on issues that matter to Azerbaijanis


Posted 03/11/2015

By Martin Banks

Azerbaijani voters have overwhelmingly returned the ruling New Azerbaijan Party in Sunday’s Parliamentary elections.

It was a surprising outcome perhaps, to European insiders but totally consistent with the findings of international pollsters and one that has been accepted by international election monitors.

While Western politicians and the media have bemoaned the lack of political freedom in the oil-rich nation and the pace of political reform, voters told international polling giants America’s Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates and France’s Opinion way that the continued occupation or Nagorno-Karabakh, the refugee crisis, and regional security in such a volatile region were the "issues that mattered most to them."

Sixty to seventy per cent of voters found these to be the decisive issues and, as the outcome of the election suggests, they trusted the present government – made up of New Azerbaijan Party candidates and independents that vote with them - as the best option to steer them through these challenges.

George Birnbaum, Executive Director of Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates, noted ahead of the poll that the Azerbaijani voters clearly had a different view of what matters than that seemingly held by the rest of the world.

“Economic security mattered less to (opinion polls) respondents than security. Voters tend to support those who keep them safe,” he said.

By Monday, the New Azerbaijan Party was on course to be returned with 74 to 75 per cent of the vote in an election that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe (PACE) observer delegation found to have been "peaceful and professional."

The Election Observation Mission, comprised of 28 members and was led by Jordi Xuclà (Spain, ALDE).

PACE was invited by the Azerbaijani authorities to monitor the parliamentary elections.

The members were deployed in several areas of the country and the capital, Baku, and observed in a wide number of polling stations. PACE concluded that the elections were held in accordance with the Election Code of Azerbaijan, which provides a legal framework for the democratic conduct of elections.

After observing election day on Sunday, PACE concluded in a statement on Monday that the “the significant increase in voter turnout and the transparency of voting and counting procedures demonstrate another step forward taken by the Republic of Azerbaijan towards free, fair and democratic elections and that the results of this vote express the will of the Azerbaijani people.”

The PACE delegation noted that the European Parliament, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly and OSCE/ODIHR had refused to deploy their own observation missions but the PACE delegates welcomed the chance to observe alongside other groups that also endorsed the conduct of the poll.

In a statement, PACE said, "it is the consensus of this mission that election day was calm and peaceful across the country.

"The voting process was observed to be adequate and generally in line with international standards. Voters had full and unimpeded access to polling stations and there were no incidents reported by the observers.

"The observation mission therefore congratulates the Azerbaijani people for their peaceful and orderly conduct during this electoral process. The Central Election Commission contributed to the transparency of the process by releasing updates from the opening of the polls until the end of the counting and tabulation of the results."

The statement went on, "no acts of pressure on voters or any other incidents in or near the polling stations were observed. There was no police presence around the polling stations or any campaign and electoral materials nearby.

"A welcome development was the introduction of web cameras in 20 per cent of polling stations, as specifically requested by the Venice Commission."

Veteran Austrian election observer and member of the European Academy of Election Observation, Wolfgang Grossruck, told the media in Baku on Monday that his group had found no interference with the electoral process, adding: “I want to stress that in general, the election was held at a high level."

“The votes were counted transparently and there were no problems,” he said.

The PACE delegation’s reference to those who stayed away is a none-to-subtle dig at OSCE/ODIHR. The PACE team believe that while Azerbaijan still has some shortcomings, it is better to remain engaged, and turn up for such important events, than to cut it off completely.

 

 



 

 

EU risks disintegration over migrant crisis


Posted 29/10/2015

The European Union risks disintegrating if it fails to respond to its worst migration crisis since World War II collectively, its top foreign policy chief warned today.

Federica MogheriniFederica MogheriniThe High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, said that if the EU merely relied on national responses to a European issue, "the crisis will get worse, with chain reactions from public opinion and national governments."

To prevent this, she said, the bloc needed to be equipped with "instruments up to the challenge" without which, she warned, "there is the risk of disintegration."

The comments came a day after Austria announced plans to build a fence at a major border crossing with fellow EU state Slovenia to "control" the migrant influx.

The move would be a blow to the bloc's cherished passport-free Schengen zone.

After hastily arranged talks between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, the two issued a statement stating that "fences have no place in Europe."

This comes only a day after Germany criticized an Austrian border fence plan.

Germany said Europe's ongoing migrant crisis cannot be solved through the construction of fences or walls at borders, after Austria announced plans to fence up its border with Slovenia to slow the flow of migrants.

Speech by Donald TUSK, President of the European Council, at the European Parliament on the outcome of the European Council, which took place on 15 October 2015.

Yesterday Austria said it will build "technical barriers" on its border with Slovenia to help control the flow of thousands of migrants crossing daily into Austrian territory.

Over 680,000 asylum seekers fleeing war and deprivation in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have poured into Europe this year, with Slovenia and Austria currently bearing the brunt of a migrant tide along a corridor towards the North West from the Balkans.   "I have commissioned plans for special construction measures," Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told reporters, according to Austria's APA news agency.

"The situation here is especially dynamic. We've had between 3,000 and 8,000 people crossing the border (a day).

But we also need to prepare ourselves (in case numbers rise) to 12,000."

Ms Mikl-Leitner, who was speaking to reporters at the Spielfeld border crossing with Slovenia, offered no details or time frame for the new measures. The interior ministry had no immediate comment on her remarks when contacted by Reuters for details.

Also yesterday, the Premier of the German state of Bavaria criticised neighbouring Austria for failing to coordinate a tide of migrants into southern Germany even as he renewed a challenge to German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her management of the refugee crisis.

Slovenia has said that about 14,500 migrants were currently in the tiny Alpine state, hoping to continue their journey to Austria later in the day or on Wednesday. More were on their way to Slovenia from Croatia. Since Hungary's anti-immigrant government sealed off its border with Croatia 10 days ago, causing the migrant tide to shift westwards to Slovenia, 86,500 have streamed into the country, almost all of them bound for preferred destinations in the wealthier west of the European Union, especially Germany.

Many migrants are refugees fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The UN refugee agency says the world is currently grappling with its worst refugee crisis since World War II.  

 



 

Leaders' meeting in Brussels on refugee flows along the Western Balkans route


Posted 25/10/2015

In view of the unfolding emergency in the countries along the Western Balkans migratory route, there is a need for much greater cooperation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action.

Following discussions with several leaders, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker therefore called a Leaders' Meeting for today the 25th of October to discuss the refugee flows along the Western Balkans route.



 

Views of the week from the two largest groups at the EP 


Posted 22/10/2015

Courtesy of S&D Group

Monetary union requires a political centre. Such a new institutional architecture is unlikely to come into being without a bold Franco-German initiative. This was the point of departure of the high-level discussion of the "Next Left Economic Circle" this Tuesday. 

Courtesy of epptv and EPP Group

The EPP Group's economic and social welfare policies are working and have been successfully proven in Europe despite a gloomy economic environment. At the Group's Study Days in Madrid, MEPs discussed their successes and reflected on the future.

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EU approves Turkish action plan on migrants


Posted 16/10/2015

Yesterday evening the European Union offered Turkey a possible €3bn in aid and the prospect of easier travel visas and     "re-energised" talks on joining the bloc in return for its help in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe.

The EU leaders meeting, yet again, at the summit in Brussels, said they agreed on an “action plan” with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in order to cooperate on improving the lives of two million Syrian refugees in Turkey and encouraging them to stay there.

They also agreed to coordinate border controls to slow the influx of migrants crossing Turkey from Asia. Though the plan put no figure on the "substantial and concrete new funds" that the EU would offer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the figure of €3bn, which EU officials said Turkey had requested, had been discussed and seemed reasonable.

Our intensified meetings with Turkish leaders ... in the last couple of weeks were devoted to one goal: stemming the migratory flows that go via Turkey to the EU. The action plan is a major step in this direction," said summit chairman Donald Tusk, expressing “cautious optimism.”

In formal conclusions agreed by the 28 national leaders at a meeting that ended after midnight, Turkey was offered an accelerated path to giving its citizens visa-free travel to the EU, provided it met previously agreed conditions.

Progress would also depend on Turkey showing real help in slowing migration and would be reviewed next spring.

Ms Merkel, who will visit Istanbul for talks with Mr Erdogan on Sunday in a political gesture two weeks before a Turkish general election, said it was clear that Europe's efforts to filter and process refugees would not work without Turkey's cooperation.

French President Francois Hollande stressed that Turkish citizens would not be granted visas on easier terms.

One condition still to be met is for Turkey to first stop granting easy entry to Pakistanis, Afghans and others who ultimately travel to Europe.

It must also first sign and implement a previously agreed deal to take back from Europe migrants who fail to win refugee status. "There must be no misunderstandings," Mr Hollande said.

European governments are wary of granting full visa-free access to 78 million Turks. Any liberalisation is likely to be limited at first to business travellers and students.

Leaders also agreed to "re-energise" negotiations on Turkey's application for membership of the European bloc, though they left open exactly how to do that.

Turkish President Erdogan today mocked the EU's contribution to easing the Syrian refugee crisis, saying the bloc had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for accepting just a tiny number of asylum seekers.

"They announce they'll take in 30,000 to 40,000 refugees and then they are nominated for the Nobel for that. We are hosting two and a half million refugees but nobody cares," Mr Erdogan said.

Speaking after Turkey and the EU agreed a plan for improving the handling of the refugee crisis, Mr Erdogan also questioned whether Brussels treated Ankara's long-standing membership application seriously.

He said: "They keep saying 'we can't do without Turkey'. It's very clear but they are not being clear. Then why don't you let Turkey in the EU?"

"Many EU countries are far behind us ... we are more advanced in terms of economy and [meeting] the membership criteria. But unfortunately, they are not being sincere."

Meanwhile, Hungary said it would close its southern border with Croatia from midnight. It is pressing ahead with a unilateral crackdown on the flow of migrants to Europe.

The move comes a month after Hungary's government shut its frontier with Serbia to migrants.

 



 

EU leaders to discuss migration crisis


Posted 15/10/2015

European Union leaders are meeting in Brussels today for a summit that will focus on the migration and refugee crisis.

In a letter to EU leaders ahead of today's summit, EU Council President Donald Tusk warned of a new migratory wave that could mean millions of new arrivals in the spring.

Nearly 600,000 migrants have reached the EU by sea so far this year, most via Turkey, and EU leaders are seeking closer co-operation with the government in Ankara.

The summit will discuss strengthening the EU's external borders - including a possible EU border guard.

Nearly 600,000 migrants have reached the EU by sea so far this year, most via Turkey, and EU leaders are seeking closer co-operation with the government in Ankara.

The summit will discuss strengthening the EU's external borders - including a possible EU border guard.

The EU leaders will also be informed about talks on new EU membership terms for Britain ahead of its in/out referendum, to be held by the end of 2017.

Many of the elements of Europe's response to the crisis have been hammered out in recent weeks.

A plan to relocate 160,000 refugees across the EU, more funding for the UN refugee agency and the world food programme and greater resources for the EU's external border agency Frontex have been discussed.

But European governments have been slow to follow up the hard-fought agreements with the actual cash and manpower needed.

The European Commission has complained that member states have only offered 48 personnel to help boost Frontex - the numbers needed are closer to 800.

There is also little sign of the €2bn pledged to help African countries limit migration and people smuggling and to directly help Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

From a European Parliament perspective, MEP and Vice-President of the EP, Mairead McGuinness, said today that the European economic debate has been totally wiped off the table giving priority to the continuingly urgent refugees/immigrant issue.

 



 

Hollande and Merkel address the EP in Strasbourg


Posted 07/10/2015

As the German Chancellor and French President prepared to deliver their speeches to the Chamber in Strasbourg they got a generally positive response from MEPs, but there was some notable booing also.

It was the first such joint appearance in Strasbourg since 1989, when West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand spoke days after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In perhaps a desperate effort to heal divisions within the EU and trying to turn tide of European scepticism in Europe, Merkel and Hollande urged European lawmakers today to work together to create a stronger Europe to cope with the influx of migrants that is raising tensions and dangerously straining the union.

With the spectre of a UK referendum on EU membership looming, Merkel began her speech with an appeal to emotion and spoke of a "test of historic dimensions" and Hollande evoked the "end of Europe" if it is not set right.

The separate addresses to the European Parliament in Strasbourg by the most powerful proponents of European unity underscored the risks now besetting the EU's 28 nations, including rising nationalism across the bloc.

Those tensions were reinforced within the chamber, when a French far-right leader insulted Hollande, addressing him as "Merkel's vice-chancellor, administrator of the province of France."

Marine Le Pen, who heads a far-right group in parliament seeking increased sovereignty for the 28 member states, told Merkel that "German interests don't justify turning other people of Europe into vassals."

The bitter retort after the two leaders' speeches underscored the encroaching nationalist sentiment within the European Union, fed by the arrival of some half-million migrants.

Hollande said Europe ensures against the "return of nationalism, populism, extremism."

"If (you) don't want a stronger Europe ... the only possible path is simply to leave Europe," Hollande said to a standing ovation.

Merkel told European lawmakers that Europe faces "a test of historic dimensions" with the influx of migrants seeking shelter from war and poverty. She urged "a determined contribution by Europe to resolving these crises."

"It is precisely now," she said, "that we need more Europe ... If we overcome that, we will be stronger after the crisis than before."

The conservative German Chancellor and the Socialist French President ironically have come to symbolize the kind of Europe they want to see succeed, where differences are set aside for the common good.

The Polish vice-president of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, Ryszard Legutko, advised the German and French leaders not to forget "the difference between leadership and dominance."

"We altogether are 28, and 28 is far more than two," he said during the debate, alluding to concerns by some members that a handful of countries run policy.

 



 

Follow up comments to Erdoğan talks with EU representatives


Posted 06/10/2015

During the Turkish President's visit to Brussels, he stressed the discord between Turkey and EU countries over their approaches to the refugee crisis, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the intractable Syrian conflict is the root cause of the crisis, and without dealing with the Syrian aspect of the problem, there is no tangible solution to the crisis that has bedeviled Europe.

President Erdoğan was in Brussels for a series of high-level talks with top leaders of the EU as the bloc struggles to cope with a simmering refugee crisis amid an unabated flow of refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and most notably Syria.

Erdoğan first met with Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde at the royal palace, and held meetings with Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament. Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Minister of EU Affairs Beril Dedeoğlu accompanied Erdoğan in the meetings.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Tusk, Erdoğan renewed his criticism of the EU's handling of the refugee crisis, and boasted about Turkey's record in taking in over two million refugees from neighbouring Syria and Iraq, and contrasted it with the numbers passing through the bloc.

“We have been looking after refugees for more than four years after refugees fled conflicts in Syria and Iraq,” Erdoğan said.

“We have done this without discrimination," he added. He also said that Turkey has received only $417 million, while it spent $7.8 billion on Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The Turkish President stressed that the root cause of the refugee crisis is state terrorism and President Bashar al-Assad's atrocities against his own people in Syria.

 



 

Portugal Election: Government Wins Re-Election


Posted 05/10/2015

Portugal's centre-right coalition government won another four-year term Sunday, the Associated Press reported. The government won the general election behind the message that the country's economy had begun improving despite often panned austerity measures.

The AP reported that with 98 percent of districts reporting, the government had earned 39 percent of the vote, compared with 32 percent for the opposition centre-left Socialist Party. The BBC reported the same figures. Socialist leader Antonio Costa admitted defeat Sunday and congratulated incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, according to the BBC.

While the centre-right coalition won, it was not a complete victory. Projections indicated the government would likely to fall short of earning an outright majority in Parliament, which required 44 percent of the vote. The government would then likely be outnumbered in the 230-seat chamber by lawmakers who skew left of centre and could block proposed policies.

Amid the euro zone's debt crisis, Portugal received a 78-billion-euro bailout in 2011. The government complied with a German-led austerity plan that cut pay, pensions and public services while increasing taxes, which helped send the economy into a three-year recession, the AP reported.

The Socialist Party had hoped it could benefit from the backlash to the austerity measures and win the election. While the centre-right coalition won, it did not come close to achieving the results of the last election in 2011, when it won 50.3 percent of the vote, Reuters reported.

Portugal's economy is improving, which perhaps provided a boost to Passos Coelho, who was able to suggest the austerity had begun to pay off. The coalition has vowed to continue the policies. The economy grew by 1.5 percent in the first half of 2015, compared with last year, and record levels of unemployment fell.

Socialist leader Costa warned that while the government had earned re-election, it would have to change its ways without an absolute majority. "The government has to understand that things are different now," he said, according to the AP. He added that he also did not aim to make the country impossible to govern.

Portugal did not vote in support of new, more radical choices, like Greece's Syriza party and Spain's Podemos party -- that have challenged the mainstream parties in Europe amid the debt crisis.

 



 

Views of the week from the two largest groups at the EP 


Posted 03/10/2015

Boosting competitiveness in the pharmaceutical sector is key to European health and economy

Circular Economy: MEPs want a new lease of life for products

Video courtesy of epptv & EPP group

The healthcare sector has huge potential to improve the quality of life of Europeans and to strengthen Europe’s economy. EPP TV spoke to participants in a hearing organised by the EPP Group on tackling the challenges of the European pharmaceutical.

A strong EU pharmaceutical sector is essential to ensure Europe’s disease prevention capabilities, preparedness and assure our health 'independence'. If we want to foster medical research, facilitate patient access and boost the competitiveness of Europe’s life sciences industry, a sectoral political approach is needed. This can be facilitated by the launch of a new EU strategic dialogue between key stakeholders.

Video courtesy of S&D group

MEPs reiterate their call for a binding legislation on waste-reduction and a clear strategy to build the path towards a circular economy.

A showcase held in the main building of the European Parliament has been inviting staff members and visitors to bring their broken devices to get a free reparation. The initiative aims at promoting a new lease of life for products and to demonstrate the social, economical and environmental potential of a circular economy at the European scale.

Interviews with Socialist & Democrat MEP Jo Leinen and with Marc Demuyser, Instructor at “Horizon”, training Workshop through work (supported by the association « Les petits riens »).

 



 

President Tusk addresses UN Summit on Peacekeeping


Posted 29/09/2015

President Tusk at the 70th UN General Assembly (UNGA), New York, from the 26th to the  30th of September 2015 

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, yesterday addressed the 70th UNGA on behalf of the EU. In June, the Council adopted EU priorities at the UN and the 70th UNGA focusing on:

  • international peace and security
  • global issues such as climate change, the post-2015 development agenda, and human rights
  • effective multilateralism

On the 27th of September, President Tusk attended an informal summit on climate change with other heads of state or government. His trip to New York also gave him the opportunity to attend high-level meetings with other heads of state and government.

Peacekeepers at UN summit

President Barack Obama announced on Monday more than 50 countries have pledged some 40,000 peacekeepers for possible deployment on United Nations missions, as well as helicopters, medical units and training and equipment to deal with roadside bombs.

Obama chaired a summit of world leaders at the United Nations to garner commitments to boost the capacity and capabilities of UN peacekeeping and to allow the world body to deploy forces more rapidly if a new operation is created.

"Our goal should be to make every new peace operation more efficient and more effective than the last," Obama said.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said in addition to some 40,000 new troops and police, more than 50 countries had pledged to provide more than 40 helicopters, 15 military engineering companies and 10 field hospitals.

China made one of the biggest commitments. President Xi Jinping pledged to set up a "permanent peacekeeping police squad and build a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops."

More than a dozen European countries stepped up on Monday. British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to send 70 troops and experts to the UN and African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia and up to 300 troops to the UN mission in South Sudan.

"I believe these things are in our own national interest," Cameron told the summit. "When countries break up, we see the problems of migration can affect us all. When countries become havens to terror, we all suffer as a result."

 



 

 

Migrant crisis: a step ahead but solution still far off


Posted 24/09/2015

Over the last few months the EU has been confronted with an unprecedented number of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe.

The EU, together with the member states, has taken a range of measures to address the challenges created by migration.    The Council and European Council are intensifying efforts to ensure an adequate and appropriate response to the current refugee crisis and establish a credible European migration policy.

EU leaders met in Brussels on 23 September 2015 to:

  • decide on practical priorities for immediate application
  • discuss how to respond to long term migratory challenges, the protection of the EU external borders and the external assistance to refugees and countries in our neighbourhood

EU leaders agreed on a list of priorities:

    • assist Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis
    • mobilise at least 1 billon additional funding for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food program
    • reinforce cooperation and dialogue with Turkey at all levels
    • assist the countries of the Western Balkans in the management of refugee flows
    • increase funding to address the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa
    • tackle the dramatic situation at the EU external borders and strengthen their control
    • assist frontline member states in the establishment of hotspots, to ensure a correct identification of migrants and at the same time ensure relocation and returns

They also called for renewed diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis in Syria and ensure the formation of a government of national unity in Libya.    

Migration will be again on the agenda of the European Council on 15-16 October 2015.

 

Source: European Council 



 

Views of the week from the two largest groups at the EP 


Posted 23/09/2015

Video courtesy of the S&D Group

The European Year for Development 2015 is a great opportunity to talk about Solidarity & Development. This important year coincides with the expiry date of the Millennium Development Goals 2000-2015 and the formulation of the new UN global development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030.

Video courtesy of epptv - EPP

The European Parliament’s call to resettle refugees is a step forward toward solving the crisis, says the EPP Group’s Roberta Metsola. She also calls for stronger and concerted action to fight traffickers and repatriate migrants who don’t qualify for asylum.

The political factions of the European Parliament as of July 24, 2015, with the number of MEPs and the percentage they represent inside the EP



 

EU welcomes Tsipras' Greek election victory


Posted 21/09/2015

The EU congratulated Alexis Tsipras on his left-wing party's election victory and said Greece has "no time to lose" in implementing the reforms under its international bailout.

Mr Tsipras secured his second mandate as prime minister this year at a snap general election yesterday that should allow him to drive through the unpopular reforms under a third bailout worth up to €86bn.

"The commission congratulates Alexis Tsipras for his victory," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told journalists.

He recalled that under Mr Tsipras's previous leadership, Greece already "committed to ambitious programme of reforms" to revive the country's economy as he led the negotiations that culminated in the bailout deal signed in Brussels in August.

 

"The new government will now have the mandate to carry out those reforms... There is a lot of work ahead and no time to lose."

Mr Schinas said Greece's creditors, the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund were expected to meet over the next few months to conduct a review aimed at releasing new funds under the bailout deal.

With around 90% of votes counted, the Syriza party looked set to secure close to an absolute majority in the country's 300-seat parliament, with a smaller nationalist party expected to join forces and push it over the top.

The commission also welcomed what it saw as the "ample representation of pro-European parties" in parliament that are committed to a strong Greece within the 19-country Eurozone, Mr Schinas said.

He added that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has already written to Mr Tsipras and will talk to him later in the day.

Mr Tsipras is expected to form a government in the coming days following his decisive election victory.

 

The far-left party secured 35.5% of the vote, well ahead of its nearest rival New Democracy, which won just over 28%.

Speaking to jubilant supporters last night, Mr Tsipras said that Greeks were now synonymous with dignity and struggle, but he warned of difficult times ahead.

It was a resounding and surprising victory. Mr Tsipras took a risk after 25 members of his party split over the bailout he signed up to, and it has paid off.

Party officials were nervous before the result that a low turnout and a sense of betrayal among core supporters could mean a narrow defeat.

However, the electorate appeared to keep their faith in Mr Tsipras, although Syriza will have a smaller majority than before, even as it accepts the Independent Greeks as its coalition partner.

In contrast to his ebullient predictions back in January, when he promised to end bailouts and austerity, Mr Tsipras tempered his victory speech with a reminder that there are tough times ahead.

He directed his rhetoric not against the eurozone or bailouts but against what he called the old corrupt ways of the Greek political system.

In words which could have been written by the country's creditors Mr Tsipras said recovery would not come magically but through hard work.

The result is likely to be welcomed in eurozone capitals since Syriza now has a mandate to implement the painful reforms that come with the third bailout, but many within the party are still deeply opposed to those reforms.

 



 

 

EU parliament backs refugee relocation plans


Posted 17/09/2015

Amid chaotic scenes in Croatia, MEPs have backed a European Union plan to distribute 120,000  refugees aimed at relieving pressure on Greece, Italy and Hungary.

The European Parliament met this morning for an emergency session to approve the proposal from the European Commission.

It comes as an emergency summit of EU leaders has been called to discuss the continuing refugee crisis.

European Council President Donald Tusk has convened the meeting which will be held next Wednesday - a day after justice ministers meet to discuss new plans for dealing with the crisis.

The news comes as riot police have been forced to stand aside after they failed to hold back the latest wave of refugees and migrants that has been pushing into Croatia.

More than 6,000 migrants have entered Croatia since Wednesday after many were unable to pass into Hungary from Serbia.

It prompted the Croatian interior minister to announce: "Croatia cannot receive any more people."

As around 2,000 migrants and refugees gathered at Croatia's Tovarnik railway station waiting for onward travel, heavily armed police officers initially held back a large crowd who had been told transport was available.

Children were in tears as they struggled to cope with the crush and the guards eventually had to let hundreds of people through, unable to maintain control.

One man was seen passed out on the ground.

In Batina, border guards were also forced to stand down after hundreds more refugees broke through the frontier with Serbia.

In Zagreb, meanwhile, riot police surrounded a hotel housing migrants, many of which occupied balconies shouting: "Freedom! Freedom!"

The police took up positions as hundreds of migrants and refugees threw toilet paper from upper storeys.

Migrants force their way through police lines at Tovarnik station to board a train bound for CroatiaMigrants force their way through police lines at Tovarnik station to board a train bound for Croatia

Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013 as its newest member, had previously said it would not halt the passage of refugees heading further into the bloc.

But as number swelled, it first attempted to stop them entering and then had to relax its borders again due to the overwhelming numbers.

Many of those who entered Croatia were thought to be heading towards Slovenia, which unlike Croatia is a member of the border-free Schengen travel zone, and has ruled out making itself a "corridor" for migrants.

Meanwhile, police in Hungary have detained 150 migrants and refugees who have broken through a fence on the border with Serbia.

 

 

 

Austria has called for 'better rules' on migration

In the midst of the ongoing migrant/refugee drama, Austria has called for "new and better rules" on migration, urging a European Union summit on the issue as thousands of migrants streamed into Croatia in search of new routes to Western Europe.

The influx into Croatia puts Slovenia next in line on the route to Austria and the chosen destination of most migrants and refugees, Germany.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, speaking after talks with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann in Ljubljana, said Slovenia would stick to the rules of Europe's Schengen zone of border-free travel.

His government has said it will receive asylum requests, but not create a "corridor" for refugees to simply pass through Slovenia and into Austria.

"We need to deal with the problem where our (the EU's) external borders begin," Mr Faymann said.

 



 

No unanimous agreement on EU refugee plan


Posted 15/09/2015

In the fallout from Germany’s over ambitious, however well- meaning, offer to open its border to 800,000 plus refugees, which has gone horribly wrong, EU ministers failed yesterday to break a deadlock over sharing out responsibility for sheltering some of the hundreds of thousands of people who have sought asylum in Europe this year, leaving the shape of a final deal in doubt.            

Determined opposition from a core of ex-Communist eastern states blocked efforts by Germany and France to secure agreement for a proposal by the EU executive to relocate 120,000 people from frontier countries according to mandatory national quotas.            

After six hours of heated argument, ministers put off a decision, saying they hoped to agree on a deal to find places for the asylum seekers at another meeting on the 8th of October, a time lapse that has been heavily criticized by many commentators, given the urgency of the current crisis.  

Yesterday, a delegation of Socialists & Democrats MEPs, led by their President Gianni Pittella, visited a refugee camp and the newly constructed border fence between Serbia and Hungary, a few hours before the official closing of the border.


Elena Valenciano, Chair of the Parliament sub-committee for Human Rights, Greek MEP Miltiadis Kyros, and Hungarian Members István Ujhelyi and Péter Niedermuller, were part of the delegation.

The migration crisis in Europe has grown to unprecedented proportions.
Member States must take common action to deal with refugees.     This implies a fairer distribution of asylum seekers and better protection of EU external borders.
Monika Hohlmeier, MEP and the EPP Group Coordinator in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, says the root causes of migration must be addressed.

____________________________________________________________

Officials said that following a final legal endorsement of an earlier plan to relocate 40,000 people to countries that volunteer to take them, Hungary and Slovakia led resistance to pleas to accept a quota system for the larger new number.

They argue such schemes will draw more migrants and lead to further mass movements that threaten Europe's open borders system.            

"We did not find the agreement we wanted," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters.

"The majority of member states are ready to move forward, but not all," he said.

Officials put a brave face on the divisions after a day in which a German decision to re-impose frontier controls with Austria to check a flow of refugees triggered a domino effect that threatens Europe's cherished Schengen area of open borders.            

The ministers did agree to increase manpower and resources protecting the external frontiers as well as aid to the United Nations refugee agency, Turkey and other states sheltering millions of Syrians fleeing civil war. 

More refugees should be transferred directly from the Middle East, officials said, sparing them life-threatening journeys and denying business to the people-smugglers who prey on them. 

Ministers also agreed to finalise soon a list of "safe countries" whose citizens would not normally be entitled to asylum. But in a snub to Turkey, the EU presidency said Turkey would not be classified as "safe" for now due to its current military action against Kurdish militants.             

The EU's critics have seized on bitter divisions, notably between the wealthy west and poorer east, led by Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose government has fenced off its EU border with Serbia.            

"The world is watching us," Mr Avramopoulos said. "It is time for everyone to take their responsibilities."            

Mr Orban has refused to take part in the larger relocation programme even though the EU executive's proposal would have made Hungary a major beneficiary by taking 54,000 asylum seekers off its hands, along with people from Italy and Greece.            

"The quota system isn't the solution," Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak said as he arrived for the meeting.            

European Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday he would summon EU leaders for an emergency summit if their ministers could not agree a solution.

However, many governments question the value of such a meeting before interior ministers meet again for a regular council in Luxembourg on the 8th of October.

 



 

Catalans march in Barcelona for independence


Posted 13/09/2015

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans marched in Barcelona rallying for independence.

Pro-independence supporters gathered by the hundreds of thousands in Barcelona on Friday afternoon to hold a march that has become an annual tradition on the 11th of September, but which takes on added meaning this year because of the 27th of September elections that could lead to Catalonia’s secession from Spain.

Catalonia's National Day, known locally as La Diada Nacional de Catalunya, is a fiesta (festival) held in the region every year on the 11th of September. It has always been an occasion to celebrate Catalan culture and customs but the debate over Catalonia's right to vote on independence from Spain has transformed it into a politically charged event.

Throngs of crowds in white t-shirts had completely filled the four traffic lanes of Meridiana Avenue by 5.14pm, when the main event of the Diada – Catalonia Day – got started.

As demonstrators chanted “Independence!” and waved esteladas (the unofficial flag of an independent Catalonia), a giant yellow arrow was carried five kilometers by a group of athletes from the northernmost point of Meridiana Avenue to the Catalan parliament, along a route christened Via Lliure (Liberty Road).

Strange as it might seem for a massive holiday, la Diada marks the occasion of a military disaster. Catalan troops fighting the Bourbon King Philip V of Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession were finally defeated on the 11th of September of 1714 after the 14-month Siege of Barcelona. The surrender marked the dissolution of autonomous Catalan institutions, the removal of Catalan as an official language and the imposition of new laws from the newly centralised Spain. 

Although the first celebration of La Diada took place in 1886, it was officially suppressed in 1939 and throughout the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. The Catalan regional government reinstated the fiesta in 1980, five years after Franco's death and it is an occasion to celebrate Catalan culture and language, as well as a day to pay tribute to the 4,000 people that died defending the city during the Siege of Barcelona. Now, a memorial plaza, the Fossar de les Moreres, covers the cemetery where these people are buried and thousands of Catalans lay flowers there every year on La Diada.

However, this year, for Artur Mas, Friday’s planned march was the “most noteworthy” act of the entire Diada.

Prominent pro-independence politicians marched at the head of the group, including Catalan government official Francesc Homs and the three top candidates in Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), the secessionist bloc that is running in this year’s elections: Raül Romeva, Muriel Casals and Carme Forcadell.

Undoubtedly, Friday was day one of the campaign to regional, on which the regional premier is casting as a de facto plebiscite on independence.

Conspicuously absent from the march was Josep Antoni Duran, leader of Democratic Union of Catalonia, a Catalanist party that ruled the region almost uninterruptedly for 37 years in tandem with Democratic Convergence of Catalonia, as CiU.

Through his Twitter account, Duran called on Catalans to “defend the land” using “dialogue, cohesion and common sense.” The CiU coalition broke up in June due to disagreement over the independence drive, which Duran does not support.

Meanwhile, the Spanish government casted the Diada’s pro-independence acts as “a campaign event for Artur Mas.”

In a press conference with international media outlets, Mas reasserted that if his Junts pel Si bloc wins an absolute majority of seats in the Catalan parliament, he will feel legitimized to press on with his secessionist drive – even if he does not technically obtain a majority of votes – and the latest polls suggest that he might, if only by a thread.

At the same time, Catalonia’s business sector is increasingly concerned about the impact that independence could have on the economy. On Wednesday, a group of entrepreneurs and liberal professionals who were once CiU voters presented a new citizen group called Catalans Pel Seny (or, Catalans for common sense), which advocates political dialogue to gain further self-rule for the region while avoiding outright secession.

Notwithstanding the warning signs, according to the latest poll carried out by Spain’s Centre for Sociological Research (CIS), the parties running on a joint pro-independence ticket in the Catalan regional election that will take place on the 27th of September are likely to win a narrow majority, thus paving the way for a possible unilateral declaration of independence from Spain.

The survey also asked respondents what kind of state they would prefer Spain to be. A total of 46.1% answered that they wanted “a state in which autonomous regions are given the possibility of converting into independent states.”

The second most popular response – with 27.8% support – was for “a state in which autonomous regions have greater autonomy than they do now.”

Catalonia has been ramping up the pressure on the central government to be allowed to decide on its future for months now. An informal referendum on self-rule was held late last year, but ran afoul of Spanish prosecutors, who filed charges against Mas and several aides for organizing it.

The centre-right Popular Party government, which is headed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, is fiercely against independence for Catalonia, and recently announced plans to give the Constitutional Court powers to fine or suspend elected officials and civil servants who fail to comply with its rulings.

Though applicable to all public administrations, the initiative has been devised to deal with a possible unilateral declaration of independence from Spain in Catalonia.

 



 

Juncker calls for humanity over refugee crisis


Posted 09/09/2015

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, urging Europeans to show humanity and dignity, said the EU executive would offer better protection for refugees but also improve its frontier defences and deport more illegal migrants.

In his first State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Mr Juncker outlined an emergency plan for the compulsory distribution of 160,000 refugees among the 28 EU member states.

He also promised a permanent asylum mechanism to cope with future crises.

He urged Europeans to welcome the refugees and not take fright.

Europe was a continent where almost everyone had been a refugee at some time or another, and it was rich enough to cope with a challenge far smaller than the one facing Syria's neighbours - Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

"It is Europe today that represents a place of hope. This is something to be proud of and not something to fear," the former Luxembourg prime minister said in an 80-minute speech.

"The Europe I want to live in is illustrated by those who want to help," he added, denouncing calls to discriminate among refugees according to religion.

Mr Juncker mentioned historic huge waves of Irish, Scottish and Polish immigration to the United States.

He said: "We Europeans should know and never forget why the right to asylum is one of the fundamental, most important rights. We should not forget that."

He said: “It is true that Europe cannot house all the misery in the world. But we have to put it into perspective.”

"This still represents just 0.11% of EU population. In Lebanon refugees represent 25% of population which has just 1/5 of the wealth of the EU. Who are we to never make such comparisons?"

"As long as there is war in Syria, the refugee crisis will not simply go away," Mr Juncker said.

"We are fighting the Islamic state, why are we not ready to accept those fleeing the Islamic State?"

Listing the problem top among a written list of priorities, before the economy, Ukraine, climate change and a looming vote on the UK’s membership of the bloc, he said the crisis was caused by "war, terror and instability in our neighbourhood."

Mr Juncker acknowledged the European Union was in a bad state, saying "it is lacking Europe and it is lacking Union."

He confirmed plans for a common EU list of "safe countries of origins" whose citizens would be subject to fast-track deportations if they breached EU immigration laws.

He also urged EU member states to allow refugees to work from day one while their asylum applications are processed.

Mr Juncker, whose proposals face opposition from several governments whose interior ministers will meet on Monday, pledged to improve the management of the bloc's external frontiers, bolster its Frontex border agency and take "steps toward the creation of European coastguard and border guard systems."

He also proposed a "more effective approach to return" -addressing complaints that too many people not entitled to asylum enter the Union illegally and remain there often despite legal proceedings that conclude they should return home.

Juncker called for efforts to strengthen the EU's common asylum system and a scheduled review of the so-called Dublin system, which stipulates that people may request asylum only in the state where they first enter the EU, straining resources in frontline countries in the south and east.

Answering criticism from refugee and migration agencies, he said the EU would "develop safe legal avenues for those in need of protection" - reducing the temptation to risk dangerous sea crossings and smuggling networks - as well as a permanent scheme to resettle refugees from other regions and better protection for refugees living in regions neighbouring Europe.

He also renewed a proposal to review the system by which workers can apply to migrate to the EU addressing concerns on an ageing continent that it needs to attract new people.

The detailed proposals may provoke new wrangling among EU states and between national leaders and the EU executive.

Former communist central European states vehemently oppose any mandatory distribution of refugees. Mr Juncker reminded them pointedly that refugees fleeing Soviet repression in their countries had been welcomed in large numbers in Western Europe.

And he took a swipe at Hungary's building of a frontier fence by saying desperate families fleeing Syria would cross any barrier and brave many dangers to escape their homeland.

 



 

EU at loggerheads over refugee crisis


Posted 05/09/2015

The publication of pictures of a deadtoddler on a Turkish beach may have set the tone of the meeting between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Martin Schulz in Brussels.

Aylan’s death may be changing politicians’ mind as Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström was moved to tears when discussing the image on a TV show. Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said: “Aylan made me and my family cry.” However, Berthold Kohler in FAZ criticises that the picture of the young Syrian boy has been exploited by the media.

Jean-Jacques Mével explains in Le Figaro that Europe now has ten days to regain control of the migrant crisis and make up for “two years of finding excuses and burying its head in the sand.”

Turkish authorities revealed that Turkey is at the forefront of this humanitarian emergency; on Wednesday, the Turkish National Security Council expressed concern over the EU’s “worrying attitude” towards the refugee crisis and urged Europe to take action. 

There was widespread European, if not global, press coverage of the meeting in Brussels between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and EU representatives from the highest level, during which they discussed the migrant crisis.

Viktor Orbán’s latest declarations are still concerning for Europe: he said that European citizens fear that European leaders might not be able to manage the migrant crisis, which “is not a European, but a German problem.” In reply, European Parliament President Martin Schulz asked Mr Orbán to contribute to finding a common European solution to the crisis instead of “throwing the ball into Germany’s court.” Mr Orbán said that it was no use to talk about refugee quotas until Europe is able to defend its borders. He continues to be described as a "European troublemaker" for Peter Riesbeck in Berliner Zeitung, and one who goes against European values, according to EP President Schulz in an interview to ARD and in another interview with NPR said “what we are seeing is egoism instead of common European service.” However, Peter Riesbeck concedes that Mr Orbán is not wrong in stating that Germany is partly responsible for the escalation of the refugee crisis. 

Angela Merkel’s attitude towards migrants continues to receive support. Konrad Handschuch comments in Wirtschaftswoche that Angela Merkel "has given up hope" that Europe will tackle the refugee crisis jointly. “Germany has made a brave decision when suspending the Dublin regulations in favour of refugees coming from Syria,” European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told Zeit Online.    

And Delfi.ee reports on President Juncker’s words to De Volkskrant on Thursday. He said he believes that greater contribution is necessary because the influx of immigrants has become entirely uncontrollable in the past few weeks.

Mr Schulz states that the European Parliament has long criticised the Dublin Regulation, and he claims that Europe's population is large enough and that distributing 500,000 refugees should not be a problem.

In an interview on Deutschlandfunk European Commissioner Günther Oettinger notes that one has to convince national politicians that there must be solidarity in Europe. If this does not succeed, one must "overrule" opponents. 

The International New York Times' front page features a news analysis piece by Steven Erlanger, in which he writes that "this is exactly the kind of crisis, requiring urgent action, that the EU ... is not designed to handle." He goes on to explain that the problem is exacerbated by David Cameron having such a slight majority, and his party being so divided over EU membership. 

The split between Germany and Eastern European countries has been brought into sharp focus. Mr Orbán made it clear that his country does not intend to take part in the solidarity effort for migrants, and that it does not want to take in Muslims. While Ulrich Krökel headlines his article in Salzburger Nachrichten “Solidarity becomes an alien concept in Poland,” Poland’s PM Ewa Kopacz announced that Poland is ready to accelerate works on implementations of decisions taken in June and July and added that Poland has always supported solidarity and European values for which Poland also fought during its history.

Hungary’s latest trick is widely covered. Indeed migrants have been misled and got in trains marked for Germany but police waited for the refugees to take them to the refugee camp in Bicske and Vámosszabadi. Angela Merkel’s meeting with François Hollande received extensive coverage also. They defended a system for an "equitable, compulsory distribution" of asylum seekers among member states, helping relieve the most pressured countries while avoiding having refugees trying to reach those countries who give them the best attention.

European Council President Tusk appealed to EU members to “double their efforts” and to relocate at least 100,000 people. When European Council president required a "fair distribution of at least 100,000 refugees," President Juncker spoke of 120,000 refugees "The politics have changed," an EU source said. "There is opposition but it is a minority now. Binding quotas are needed," reports The Times. Even the UK is changing its mind. Indeed PM Cameron has made a retreat over the migration crisis and an apparent backtrack on policy as he admitted that Britain would accept its "moral obligations.”

There are almost as many opinions and proposed solutions to this refugee/immigrant crisis, as there are citizens of the EU itself. However, one thing is blindingly clear, post the Euro financial crisis, this current dilemma has sadly, once again, exposed the terribly weak central fabric of the EU founding principles. 

 



 

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko visit to Brussels


Posted 27/08/2015

The EU is seeking an increasingly close relationship with Ukraine, going beyond co-operation, to gradual economic integration and a deepening of political co-operation. Ukraine is a priority partner country within the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).



 

Migration: Dublin III regulation

 


Posted 20/08/2015

The Dublin III Regulation provides the legal basis for establishing the criteria and mechanism for determining the member state responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the member states by a third country national or a stateless person.

This mechanism is known as the Dublin procedure. The Dublin III Regulation applies to 32 countries which include the EU member states, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. In this document, they are referred to as the Dublin countries.

Video courtesy of the EC Audiovisual Service



 

Midday Press Briefing from the European Commission Q&A


Posted 18/08/2015

FINANCIAL AFFAIRS - Greece

FOREIGN AFFAIRS – Libya

AGRICULTURE - Dairy farmers' protests in UK / Milk and meat price

Videos courtesy of the European Commission Audiovisual Services

 



 

 

Greece and the euro


Posted 16/08/2015

A third bail-out gets the green light

A month ago Greek membership of the euro was in peril, as Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s powerful finance minister, argued that Greece should leave the monetary union for at least five years in what he euphemistically called a “time out.”

Any such exit, which would almost certainly have turned out to be permanent, would have undermined a founding principle of the monetary union—that those joining the euro do so irrevocably.

Even after euro-zone leaders meeting at a crucial summit managed to agree upon a framework for a bail-out agreement on July 13th the chances of it actually being concluded and avoiding a “Grexit” seemed slim. Mr Schäuble made clear in the following week that he still thought Greece should be temporarily expelled from the euro while Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, said he did not believe in the agreement he had just made at the summit.

Yet, on August 14th, the Eurogroup of euro-zone finance ministers gave the green light to the bail-out, the third since May 2010, in which Greece will get up to €86 billion ($95 billion) in rescue funding over the next three years. The next hurdle is getting the consent of the German Bundestag, but this is unlikely to be a problem since the bail-out now has the support of Mr Schäuble.

Even if national parliaments in smaller countries were to balk at the agreement this would not derail it because the voting procedures of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro zone’s rescue fund, allow decisions to be passed in an emergency with 85% of the votes, which are weighted by capital shares reflecting the size of economies. This means that whereas a large country like Germany can block such decisions smaller states cannot do so.

As a result, Greece looks set to get a disbursement of €13 billion ($14.4 billion) by August 20th, in time to redeem €3.2 billion of bonds held by the European Central Bank (ECB), which come due that day. A further €10 billion will be set aside immediately at the ESM to cater for a portion of  expected bank recapitalisation needs in an economy traumatised by the events of late June and July when the banks were closed for three weeks and capital controls were introduced. Greece will get a further €3 billion in the autumn, subject to the government complying with “key milestones” in the formal agreement, the memorandum of understanding. Altogether then the first tranche of funds will amount to €26 billion. An additional amount of up to €15 billion will also be made available to bolster the banks (taking the total to €25 billion) no later than mid-November following a thorough appraisal of the banks including stress tests.

Unlike the first two bail-outs, the IMF is not involved, as yet. The fund remains scarred by its experience in the first one, in May 2010, when it sanctioned its contribution in order to prevent wider financial and economic contagion even though this meant breaking one of its cardinal rules, since it could not state with a high probability that Greek public debt was sustainable in the medium term. Now the IMF is insisting that euro-zone countries commit to significant debt relief going well beyond what has already been provided (for example by lengthening the maturities of European loans) as a condition for joining the new bail-out. This creates a dilemma for the Germans in particular.

 

 

On the one hand they would like to have the IMF on board because they believe it would be a sterner taskmaster than the European Commission in monitoring Greece’s compliance with the agreement and would also contribute some of the bail-out money. On the other hand they are reluctant to offer the scale of debt relief that the IMF has in mind not least since this might spur similar demands from other rescued countries.  

Even though the IMF’s role is yet to be determined the Eurogroup’s decision on August 14th marks an extraordinary turn of events, enabling Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission’s president, to claim that Greece was now “irreversibly” part of the euro area. What has made the difference is the change of heart by Mr Tsipras, who had won power in January this year promising to end the era of reviled memorandums and bail-outs. That led to almost half a year of confrontation with international creditors, reaching a climax when he called a referendum in late June on their proposal and campaigned against it. Even though he prevailed in the referendum, with a 61% no vote, it was a Pyrrhic victory as the economy was strangled through capital controls while Germany backed by several other euro-zone countries sought to force Greece out of the euro. That forced the prime minister to junk his previous strategy and to accept the harsh terms set by creditors.

That decision on the part of Mr Tsipras has made the third bail-out agreement possible but it has split the ruling Syriza party, which has 149 seats out of a total of 300 in the Greek parliament, exposing the underlying divide between a majority of relatively pragmatic MPs in the party and a significant minority of vociferous and hard-line dissidents. On three occasions now, the Greek prime minister has had to rely upon the votes of the opposition parties to force through the harsh measures demanded by the rest of the euro area in order to pave the way for a final bail-out agreement. The dissent within Syriza has swelled. On the first crucial vote, just days after the summit, taken in the early hours of July 16th, 32 members voted against legislation and six abstained (while one was absent).

In the vote of August 14th, preceding the Eurogroup summit, 32 voted against and 11 abstained, taking the total number of dissidents to 43.

The scale of the revolt is such that Mr Tsipras will probably have to call a vote of confidence in parliament. If that goes against him, it will precipitate an early election. Since the prime minister remains remarkably popular, that could reinforce his position as the leader of a more realistic party, shorn of Syriza’s hard-left wing, auguring well for the chances of Greece’s third bail-out agreement working. But this outcome cannot be taken for granted. Just as before, political risk could blight Greece’s prospects.

 

Source The Economist



 

EU Commission protects producers to face impact of Russian ban


Posted 07/08/2015

The European Commission has today formally extended until the end of June 2016 the safety net measures for the European fruit and vegetables sector.

First introduced last year in response to the Russian ban on the import of EU agri-food products, today's decision follows Russia's decision to extend its restrictive measures for a further 12 months.

Today, the Commissioner responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan said: "The significant actions taken to date by the European Union have demonstrated the solidarity of the EU with farmers most affected by the Russian ban. These actions also played an important part in mitigating the effects of the ban. Now, with the ban prolonged, we need to continue to provide a safety net in order to give security to producers who continue to face difficulties in relation to the ban."

The measure approved today covers a wide range of products and reference volumes have been allocated to Member States on the basis of exports to Russia in the three years prior to the ban, with an additional quantity of up to 3,000 tonnes for all Member States.

Media today reported Russia’s destruction of tonnes of foreign food imports.

 

The action follows last year's ban on the imports of meat and other products from western nations that imposed sanctions on Russia. The destruction of the food has attracted opposition in Russia, where poverty is on the rise,

More than 250,000 people have signed a petition against the destruction of food products that entered Russia from the EU and on which the trade embargo applies. The authors of the initiative propose to cancel the order and to pass the products to residents with low income.

In the meantime conflict continues between France and Russia over Mistral. France has reportedly reimbursed Russia the sum of €1.16 billion for two Mistral warships that were being built for the country but were never delivered due to economic sanctions imposed over the annexing of Crimea. Something that can be described as a mutually satisfactory conclusion, yet, there has been much speculation about the future of the Mistrals. The silent settlement of the Mistral conflict between France and Russia was the most reasonable way to handle the issue. However, in a guest article in SZ, former European Commissioner Günter Verheugen writes that while a political and social crisis looms in Ukraine, the European Union is ignoring the signs.

Also, in some media can be read that while the success or failure of Europe´s tough stance in the Ukraine crisis will not reveal itself for a few years, European sanctions against Russia have kept Vladimir Putin from further escalating the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. This would not have been possible without a tight agreement between Germany and France, with the latter struggling to cancel the sale of two helicopter carriers to Russia. 

The truth is that since the implementation of the sanction policy, which is like a two-faced head, not much has changed in the conflict. Some European sectors are hurt but sanctions also provide Putin with an excuse for Russia's poor economy.

 



 

North Atlantic Council meeting on threats against Turkey


Posted 28/07/2015

The North Atlantic Council met today in Brussels at Turkey’s request to hold consultations under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty, which states that “the parties will consult whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the parties is threatened.”

Turkey requested the meeting in view of the seriousness of the situation after the recent terrorist attacks, and to inform Allies of the measures it is taking. 

At its meeting today, the North Atlantic Council discussed the threats against Turkey.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in an opening statement offered his condolences to the Turkish Government and the families of the victims touched by these terrible acts of terror. Mr Stoltenberg also underlined NATO strong solidarity with its ally Turkey.

He said “terrorism in all its forms can never be tolerated or justified. It is right and timely that we hold this meeting today, to address the instability on Turkey’s doorstep, and on NATO’s border.”

After the meeting, which lasted approximately an hour, in a Statement, NATO Secretary General said “we strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against Turkey, and express our condolences to the Turkish government and the families of the victims in Suruç and other attacks against police and military officers.”

He added “terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of NATO countries and to international stability and prosperity. It is a global threat that knows no border, nationality, or religion – a challenge that the international community must fight and tackle together."

"Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations can never be tolerated or justified.”

NATO is helping countries threatened by terrorism to defend themselves. They are doing that in Afghanistan through their Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan Security Forces.

Additionally, the Alliance has stepped up their defence capacity building to support Jordan, one of their closest partners on the front lines against ISIL.  They are equally working with the Iraqi Government on its request to enhance Iraq’s defence capacity, as well as supporting in this regard other key partners, as for instance Tunisia.

Mr Stoltenberg also claimed that the security of the Alliance is indivisible, and that NATO stands in strong solidarity with Turkey. NATO will continue to follow the developments on the South-Eastern border of NATO very closely.

 



 

President Donald Tusk visits Armenia, Georgia and AzerbaijanRandall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 24/07/2015

By Randall Calvin

On the 22nd of July, President Aliyev and EU Council President Donald Tusk had a wide-ranging conversation covering the extensive bilateral relationship.

This was part a visit to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan on 20-22nd of July 2015 to follow up on the results of the Eastern Partnership Summit held in Riga on 21-22nd of May 2015.

Mr Tusk said “Azerbaijan is our reliable and strategic partner in the energy field, and we want to take this partnership further. One aim of the European energy union is to exclude the possibility of using gas as a threat. The conflict in Ukraine shows that such threats are still possible.”

Highlights of the visit of Donald TUSK, President of the European Council, to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan

 

The EU is determined to diversifying its energy supplies and Azerbaijan is considered a main partner in this endeavour.          

He added “we agreed to stand united on developing the Southern Gas Corridor - a project which is in our common strategic interest - and to make sure it is completed on time, whatever our competitors do. For Europe, it is a question of diversifying supply. For Azerbaijan, it is a question of diversifying demand.”

The EU is already Azerbaijan's main trade partner and one of its most important investors. The intention is to expand these commercial relations further in the coming years. Mr Tusk further remarked that good governance and rule of law are important for creating a favourable commercial and investment climate and that the EU is ready and willing to assist.

The EU would like to accelerate the pace of talks towards the signing of an Agreement on Strategic Partnership. On the subject of the Eastern Partnership, Mr Tusk underlined the intention to better reflect the individual wishes and interests of each partner as the EU develops this policy.

After the meeting, he meet with representatives of the civil society.

Finally, they discussed the mobility of people and their strong common wish to facilitate travel and direct contacts between our peoples.           He applauded the entry into force of the Visa Facilitation Agreement and the Readmission Agreement in the autumn of last year.

Last year there were 70,000 visitors from Azerbaijan to the Schengen area, 20% more than last year, and one third of the visas the EU issues are now long-term multiple entry visas. 

 



 

 

Draghi - Greece will repay ECB, IMF loans


Posted 16/07/2015

European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi has said he has no doubt that Greece would repay its loans from the ECB and the International Monetary Fund.

On 20 July, we will be paid,” as would the IMF, Mr Draghi told a news conference, referring to the deadline for Greece to pay back around €4.2 billion in loans from the ECB.

However, he conceded that doubts remain about the willingness and capacity of the Greek government to push through the economic reforms demanded by creditors.

No matter whom you talk to, there are questions about implementation will and capacity,” Mr Draghi said, adding that it was up to Athens to assuage such doubts.

He also said it was “uncontroversal” that some form of debt relief for Greece - whose debts amount to 180% of economic output - was “necessary.”

The Greek government is in talks with its European partners to find bridge financing to meet its immediate financial commitments until a third bailout can be reached with its creditors.

Earlier, an EU spokeswoman said last night's vote by the Greek parliament satisfies the initial terms of the reforms-for-bailout deal agreed at a 17-hour summit earlier this week.

"The authorities have legally implemented the first set of four measures agreed at the euro summit in a timely and overall satisfactory manner," spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt told reporters.

The Greek parliament adopted the set of reforms after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged them to back the unpopular measures.

The package of measures, which had to be approved to open talks on a new multi-billion euro bailout, was passed with 229 votes for and 64 against in the 300-seat chamber.

Mr Tsipras required the support of pro-European opposition parties to push the measure through, leaving a question mark hanging over the future of his government.

Among the 38 Syriza rebels was former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who denounced the bailout deal as "a new Versailles Treaty" - the agreement that demanded unaffordable reparations from Germany after its defeat in World War I.

Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said he would quit if Mr Tsipras sought his resignation.

“Alexis Tsipras is the prime minister of this country because of the will of the Greek people. We support him, we support the government, and even those of us who voted 'No' support the effort to exit the crisis,” he said.

One Syriza member of parliament, Ioannis Balafas, described the result as “positive.”

The main opposition party, New Democracy, voted with the leftist government, in a move their acting leader Evangelos Meimarakis said was a duty to the country.

"Parliament took the first important step towards a deal [with creditors], approving difficult measures. But the results of today's vote constitutes a serious division in the unity of Syriza's parliamentary group," a written statement by government spokesman Gabriel Salelaridis said.

In exchange for funding worth up to €86 billion, Greece has accepted reforms including significant pension adjustments, hikes to value added tax, an overhaul of its collective bargaining system, measures to liberalise its economy and tight limits on public spending.

It has also agreed to sequester €50 billion of publicly owned assets into a special privatisation fund to act as collateral on the deal.

Meanwhile, the head of the European Stability Mechanism has warned of a collapse in the Greek banking system if the country does not secure a third bailout, saying this would have consequences for the entire euro zone.     

“If everything should fail, then the Greek banking system will collapse,” Klaus Regling, head of the ESM, told German broadcaster ARD, adding that the four biggest Greek banks were systemically relevant.

"If the four biggest systemically relevant banks in a country no longer work, this has grave consequences not just for Greece (...) but also for the whole eurozone," he said.

Calls for Tsipras to hold discussions with rebels MPs

Constantine Micholos, President of the Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Greece, has said it was imperative that tough austerity measures were passed in parliament to secure a new bailout.

Speaking to RTÉ's News at One, he said the revolt by some Syriza MPs against the reforms is an internal issue and that the most important factor is that there is an agreement, so that the necessary procedures can go through the eurozone.

He says it is now up to Mr Tsipras to hold discussions with the 39 rebel MPs as far as the continuation of this government.

"It is all very well for them to say they are against these austerity measures. I imagine every single Greek citizen is against austerity measures. The question is how necessary are they."

Mr Micholos said he believes the Greek opposition will remain on side as long as this deal is executed as per the agreement with the EU and the lenders.

In relation to the capital controls currently imposed in Greece for over two weeks, he says they will remain for quite some time.

Adding that crucial matters need to be addressed like import documents and export orders to be processed.

"We need to have the banking institutions up and working once again so we can return to a normal life."

 



 

 

Iran and major powers reach agreement on nuclear programme


Posted 14/07/2015

EU Spectator Correspondent

Tehran granted sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on nuclear programme

Six major powers have reached an agreement with Iran on the country's nuclear programme.

Tehran has been granted sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, a source told Reuters.

"All the hard work has paid off and we sealed a deal. God bless our people," he said.

Foreign ministers of Iran and the six powers, including ministers from Britain and the US, met in Vienna to ratify the deal which has taken months to finalise.

Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed the deal, saying: "I believe this is a historic moment. Today could have been the end of hope, but now we are starting a new chapter of hope."

The EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the deal provided an opportunity to open a new chapter in international relations.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been a long-standing critic of the talks, described the deal as a bad mistake of historic proportions.

He said: "Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons. Many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted.

"Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world," he added.

US President Barack Obama made a statement on Iran at noon GMT.

“After two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Obama said.

“This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change, change that makes our country and the world safer and more secure,” he said.

The deal faces political headwinds in Congress, where criticism crosses party lines. Lawmakers have 60 days to review and vote on whether to approve it. Mr. Obama vowed Tuesday morning to veto any rejection of the deal. 

As part of the final deal, lawmakers also will be asked to lift congressional sanctions on Iran. Some of the toughest punishments against Iran were imposed by Congress.

Early reaction from Capitol Hill was limited. But several provisions in the deal are likely to draw sharp criticism, including ones that lift an arms embargo on Iran in five years.

Mr. Obama defended the deal as the only viable alternative to a military confrontation with Iran.

“No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” Mr. Obama said.

Sources are saying that the deal includes a compromise between Washington and Tehran that will allow UN inspectors to request visits to Iranian military sites as part of their monitoring duties, but not have an automatic right to visit whenever they choose.

In the event that Iran refuses a request to visit, an arbitration board composed of Iran and the six world powers will have to decide on whether a visit should go ahead.

Analysts say that the lack of an automatic right to visit is likely to be seized upon by critics, as it could give Tehran time to cover up any non-compliance by the time a visit takes place.

A concession by Iran is that missile sanctions will not be lifted for another eight years and a general weapons embargo will remain in place for another five years.

But Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that during the five years deliveries of arms to Iran would be possible if the UN Security Council approves the import.

According to Russia, Iran has been allowed to continue nuclear enrichment and researching centrifuges in a manner that does not allow it to accumulate enriched uranium.

 

 

Iran said it will slash by around two-thirds the number of centrifuges from around 19,000 to 6,104 and will stick at this number for 10 years.       A total of 1,044 of the centrifuges will be used for other purposes than uranium enrichment.

In the event that Iran breaches the agreement, a 'snapback' clause is in place that will allow sanctions to be reinstated within 65 days of Iranian non-compliance, Reuters reported.

A roadmap has been drawn up to tackle remaining issues, which will be resolved by the end of 2015, including the issue of access to the Parchin military base, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

Many other countries welcomed the deal, hopeful that it could unlock trade after years of being unable to do business with Iran because of international sanctions.

Tehran and the six world powers have been holding marathon negotiations at the ministerial level for more than a fortnight to resolve a 12-year stand-off.

The six countries are Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

The West has long been concerned that Iran holds ambitions to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely to generate energy for civilian purposes.

Netanyahu says Iran nuclear deal 'a bad mistake of historic proportions.'

"Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world," the premier said.

Netanyahu's comments came at the start of a meeting with visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders.

Netanyahu, who said that he would relate to the details of the accord at a later time, said that it is the result of wanting to reach an agreement “at any price.”

Of course it is quite normal for the hawkish Netanyahu to condemn the deal, even though he has not yet even seen the detail of the exhaustive report. If we were to rely on his powers of prophesy, Iran should have had nuclear weapons capability every year for the last ten years, but no doubt the American government will offer him an increase in defence aid to calm his fears.

 



 

Greek PM says debt deal averts collapse of banking system


Posted 13/07/2015

EU Spectator Correspondent

So Greece has finally secured debt restructuring and medium-term financing in a package worth €35 billion in a deal with its creditors that will allow the country to stay in the euro, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said.

Speaking in Brussels after agreement was reached, Mr Tsipras said the deal could bring new investment to help the country pull itself out of recession and avoid the collapse of its banking system.

"The deal is difficult but we averted the pursuit to move state assets abroad. We averted the plan for a financial strangulation and for the collapse of the banking system," Mr Tsipras told reporters after marathon talks. Mr Tsipras said Greece fought "to the end" for the deal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Greece and its European partners still faced a challenging road ahead to finalise what would be a third bailout for for the country.

"The road will be long, and judging by the negotiations tonight, difficult," Ms Merkel told reporters, after bailout talks ended after more than 17 hours.

Ms Merkel said she would recommend "with full conviction" to parliament to authorise the opening of negotiations on a third bailout once the Greek parliament approves the programme and enacts initial laws.

Ms Merkel would not say when that would happen but said she would give a positive report to a parliamentary committee this week. It was better not to recall politicians from the summer recess until they were sure the Greek laws had been passed, she said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has ruled out any possibility of Greece leaving the euro after the deal was agreed.

The International Monetary Fund said it was prepared to work with Athens and its European creditors to help resolve Greece's debt crisis now that a conditional agreement has been reached on a new bailout.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said the Fund's managing director, Christine Lagarde, had briefed the global lender's board on the outcome of weekend talks.

"The IMF stands ready to work with the Greek authorities and the European partners to help move this important effort forward," he said in a brief statement. British Prime Minister David Cameron has said the task of implementing a deal between Greece and their eurozone leaders is a task that should not be underestimated.

Mr Cameron said: "We are glad an agreement has been reached but there is still more to do."

Meanwhile, the deal has sparked a backlash on social media, with the hashtag #ThisIsACoup being used on Twitter to criticise the deal.

Prominent commentators such as Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist who writes for the New York Times, helped propel the term into the mainstream.

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage said: "If I were a Greek politician I would vote against this deal. If I were a Greek 'no' voter I would be protesting in the streets. Mr Tsipras's position is now at stake.

 This conditional deal shows that national democracy and membership of the Eurozone are incompatible."

Responding to the news that negotiations have agreed on measures that will allow the opening of negotiations for another Greek bailout, European Conservatives and Reformists Group leader Syed Kamall MEP said: "If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of that can being kicked a little further down the road.

"The Greek parliament must now vote on a package that was far tougher than the one rejected by the Greek people a week ago. The Greek people will be scratching their heads this morning asking why they bothered with the antics of the last few weeks.

"Even if the Greek parliament jumps through all of the hoops, the best it can hope for is another expensive sticking plaster. Countries that themselves are facing austerity are rightly asking how much longer they will have to foot the bill.  

"At the core of this crisis is a complete lack of honesty from many European leaders. Tsipras has been telling his people that they can end austerity whilst staying in the euro. Merkel will not tell her taxpayers that in a currency union with such disparate economies they are going to have to pay, not just bailouts, but fiscal transfers.

"The Eurozone and national democracy have now become disparate concepts. Perhaps that was what its founders wanted, but the price being paid is extremely high."  

 



 

Perspectives of the week from the European Parliament in Strasbourg


Posted 09/07/2015

Conclusions of the European Council (25-26 June) and of the Euro Summit (7 July) and the current situation in Greece

Political group speakers (ECR, ALDE, GUE/NGL, Verts/ALE, EFDD, ENF, NI)

Debate on Greek crisis; EU-US trade talks boost; Backing for Carbon Emissions Trading

In a fierce debate on the Greek crisis, the EPP Group accused Greek Prime Minister Tsipras of lying to his people that European taxpayers won't pay billions for a Greek debt haircut. The Parliament finally approved guidelines for the EU-US trade talks, with an investor claims system to be revised. And the Parliament backed an EPP Group-drafted plan to stabilise the carbon trading market to save the Emissions Trading System aimed at getting industries to cut CO2 output - an important move prior to the climate summit in December.

Video courtesy of epptv / EPP Group

MEPs set benchmark for a good and fair TTIP

 

Yesterday, during a crucial vote on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament forced the Commission to exclude ISDS from the agreement and replace it with a public, democratic and transparent mechanism. Interview with S&D President Gianni Pittella and EP Rapporteur on TTIP Bernd Lange.

Video courtesy of SocsandDems / S&D Group



 

 

Europe: divide and conquer – peace in our time!Randall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 08/07/2015

By Randall Calvin

Tonight there was no decision taken, but to realign. For once we had Prime Ministers speaking out. Amongst them, Matteo Renzi, in simple and in clear English he recalled that this is not a problem of Greece alone, but for all of Europe. We need policies for growth, not austerity, he said.

 

At an incredibly depressing and disappointing press conference of the main heads of the European Union, Donald Tusk sent a clear yet again reconciliatory message of openness towards a Greek deal, while Juncker is still spiralling towards strong-liners of the Troika, with strong words indeed.

Earlier in the day at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, he had made a plea to the Greeks to modify their language, and be a little more temperate for the tense Summit. Yet stunningly at this press conference, he finally let his guard down, as you can see for yourself in this video.

Good police, bad police tactics, not sure. But the face of Tusk after the press conference revealed disappointment, he was willing to stay for a bit, maybe to echo to the press the reconciliatory messages heard from some Member States.

Perhaps we are witnessing the first signs of cracks within the internal EU governing system, perhaps, we are only seeing personal differences in opinions or ideology, but what it is at stake is the overall concerns of millions of European citizens. Goodness forbid that matters!

 



 

The story behind the poignant photo


Posted 06/07/2015

Giorgos Chatzifotiadis said he had broken down because he 'cannot stand to see my country in this distress'

Retiree Giorgos Chatzifotiadis had queued up at three banks in Greece's second city of Thessaloniki on Friday in the hope of withdrawing a pension on behalf of his wife, but all in vain.

When he was told at the fourth that he could not withdraw his € 120, it was all too much and he collapsed in tears.

The 77-year-old told AFP that he had broken down because he "cannot stand to see my country in this distress."

"That's why I feel so beaten, more than for my own personal problems," Mr Chatzifotiadis said.

The image of him sitting outside the bank, openly crying in despair with his savings book and identity card on the floor, was captured by an AFP photographer illustrating how ordinary Greeks are suffering during the country's debt crisis. Athens had imposed capital controls and shut all banks since Monday to stem a hemorrhage of cash, but on Wednesday allowed some branches to reopen for three days so retirees who have no bank cards could withdraw their pensions - capped at €120.

Recounting how he had gone from bank to bank in a futile attempt to collect his wife's pension, Mr Chatzifotiadis said when he was told at the fourth "that I could not get the money, I just collapsed."

Both he and his wife, like many Greeks in the north of the country, had spent several years in Germany where he "worked very hard" in a coal mine and later a foundry.

And it is Berlin, which is being blamed by many in Greece for its hard-line stance in demanding the government impose more austerity measures for fresh international aid, that Chatzifotiadis is receiving his wife's pension.

"I see my fellow citizens begging for a few cents to buy bread. I see more and more suicides.

I am a sensitive person. I cannot stand to see my country in this situation," he said.

"Europe and Greece have made mistakes. We must find a solution," he added.

But Mr Chatzifotiadis feels he can do little to change the situation, and he is not even sure if he would be able to vote at Sunday's referendum on whether to accept international creditors' bailout conditions.

European leaders have warned that a 'No' vote would also mean no to the eurozone.

Pointing out that the polling station was 80km away, Mr Chatzifotiadis said: "I have no money to go there, unless perhaps if my children would take me in their car."

 



 

Perspectives of the week from two groups in the European Parliament


Posted 03/07/2015

Video courtesy of epptv and EPP Group                                                                    Video courtesy of euobservertv

 

Note: the concept of this format is to demonstrate impartiality, and to inform EU taxpayers.

 



 

Juncker 'betrayed' by Greek failure to agree bailout deal


Posted 29/06/2015

EU Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has said he felt "betrayed" by the failure of Athens to agree on a bailout deal with EU ministers, despite the huge efforts made.

"After all the efforts I deployed from the commission, I feel betrayed because these efforts were insufficiently taken into account," Mr Juncker said at a news briefing.

Jean-Claude Juncker said if Greek voters reject proposed reforms in Sunday's referendum they would also be rejecting the European Union.      "A 'No' would mean, regardless of the question posed, that Greece had said no to Europe," Mr Juncker said in Brussels.

In response, a spokesman for the Greek government cast doubt on Mr Juncker's "sincerity," saying "An essential element in indicating good faith and reliability in negotiations is sincerity."

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is still prepared to hold talks with her Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras, despite the breakdown in debt negotiations at the weekend.

A spokesman for the German leader said Ms Merkel was willing to speak to Mr Tsipras, "if he would like to." It comes as Greek banks are to remain closed until 7 July, the day after a referendum on bailout proposals.

According to an official decree published early today, ATM withdrawals will be limited to €60 a day in the same period.

The decree on capital controls was published in the official government gazette and titled 'Bank Holiday break.'

It lists the measures imposed on financial institutions lasting from the 28th of June to the 6th of July and was signed by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

It cited "the extremely urgent and unforeseen need to protect the Greek financial system and the Greek economy due to the lack of liquidity caused by the Eurogroup's decision on 27 June to refuse the extension of the loan agreement with Greece."

Banks will reopen on Tuesday July 7th, a government statement said.

It said cash machines, many of which are dry after massive withdrawals this weekend, will "operate normally again by Monday noon at the latest." Pension payments will be exempt from the bank transaction restrictions, while there will be "no problem for wages paid electronically into bank accounts," the statement said.

Internet banking transactions inside Greece will work normally, as will card payments in shops, but transfers abroad will require approval from a Ministry of Finance commission, it said.

Earlier, Athens sought to reassure thousands of tourists currently staying in Greece, saying that people with a credit card issued in a foreign country will not be affected by the limits on ATM withdrawals.

The radical measures have been imposed to protect the banking system against the threat of mass panic at the prospect of a possible default by Greece, and the impact of the referendum announcement on negotiations with creditors.

Meanwhile, European stocks were sharply lower today as investors fear Greece could be heading for a euro zone exit. 

 



 

Proposals to extend Greek bailout are rejected


Posted 27/06/2015

Eurozone finance ministers have refused to extend Greece's bailout programme beyond Tuesday - meaning Athens is at risk of defaulting on a €1.6bn (£1.1bn) IMF payment.

The Greek government have announced a snap referendum on the 5th of July - and the country's Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, had requested an extension of several weeks until it had taken place.

However, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijisselbloem has said it will not be possible to provide a temporary extension until the result of the ballot is known.

The referendum was so voters could decide whether to accept a deal offered by Greece's creditors, which would see the current bailout scheme extended by five months, with an additional €12bn pumped into the economy. However, a series of reforms would have to be implemented in exchange.

Eighteen finance ministers continued informal talks in Brussels. Mr Varoufakis, who is not believed to be in attendance, said their rejection risked "permanent" damage to the Eurozone.

The fact that no progress has been made ahead of Tuesday's deadline for Greece's €1.6bn payment means there is a possibility that Athens will be unable to receive emergency support for its banks.

But Mr Varoufakis has told reporters that Greece was "still fighting" for a bailout deal, adding that there is still "the possibility of negotiating in the coming days to improve the agreement."

On Friday, Mr Dijisselbloem had warned that an agreement "must happen" on Saturday, otherwise there would not be enough time for any deal to work its way through parliaments in Greece and several other Member States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had urged Greece to accept the €12bn lifeline, describing it as "extraordinarily generous."

But in a televised address, Mr Tsipras said the Greek government had been asked to accept "unbearable burdens" that would hit the job market and force tax hikes on workers.

He said he was obliged to respond based on the sovereign will of the Greek people, who would be asked to accept or reject the offer in the referendum question in just over a week.

The Prime Minister urged Greek voters to send a "sound response" to the world and sought to reassure them that whatever the outcome, "Greece will stay part of Europe."

Greece had put forward plans to make €8bn in savings through VAT increases, taxes on the wealthy and a cut in defence spending.

But the IMF claimed the proposals were insufficient and said further cuts to salaries and pensions were needed in exchange for the €7.2bn Greece badly needs to keep its economy afloat.

Speaking earlier in Brussels, Mr Tsipras slammed his country's creditors, telling reporters: "The European Union founding principles were democracy, solidarity, equality and mutual respect. It was not based on blackmail and ultimatums."

Greek ministers Nikos Pappas and Panayiotis Lafazanis both said they expected Greece to vote "no" to the terms for the referendum.



 

Extraordinary Eurogroup meeting


Posted 22/06/2015

The President of Euro Summit and the European Council, Donald Tusk, has convened the Euro Summit to discuss the situation of Greece. The decision was taken following the Eurogroup meeting on 18 June. The Eurogroup noted that not enough progress has been achieved in talks between the Greek authorities and the institutions (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) on Greece's reform plan, which should be submitted under the agreement of 20 February 2015. 


 

At a press conference this afternoon, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, said: "It is a welcome step and a step in a positive direction, so I think it is also an opportunity to get that deal later this week."

The Dutch hardliner said however that more work was needed and the Eurogroup would probably have to meet again later this week, before another summit of all 28 EU leaders on Thursday.


 

Greece told to accept debt deal or 'head towards default'


Posted 20/06/2015

European Council President Donald Tusk told Greece to accept a debt deal with its international creditors or face defaulting.

An emergency summit will be held on Monday to address Athens' future in the eurozone.

"The situation of Greece is getting critical," Mr Tusk said in a video message.

"We are close to the point where the Greek government will have to choose between accepting what I believe is a good offer of continued support or to head towards default."

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank has raised the level of emergency funding for Greek banks by an unspecified amount following a request from the Bank of Greece, a Greek bank source said.

"There was no problem with the financing of Greek banks," the source said, adding that bank governors were expecting a "positive result" at an emergency eurozone leaders summit on Greece on Monday. 

According to state agency ANA, the funding cap was increased by €3.3 billion.

The Bank of Greece had earlier insisted that the country's banking system was stable amid a rush of deposit withdrawals this week fuelled by fresh deadlock in Greece's loan talks with its EU-IMF creditors.

"The governor of the Bank of Greece has confirmed the stability of the banking system, which is fully safeguarded by the joint actions of the Bank of Greece and the European Central Bank," Greece's central bank said.

Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras had earlier met with the top Greek negotiator in European Union-International Monetary Fund talks, junior foreign minister Euclid Tsakalotos.

Greece today insisted a last-ditch deal on its debt was possible and dismissed "terror scenarios" of a default that is looking increasingly likely unless an accord is concluded.

Meanwhile, eurozone leaders will hold an emergency summit on Monday to try to avert a Greek default.

It comes after bank withdrawals accelerated and government revenue slumped as Greece and its international creditors remain deadlocked over a debt deal.

Finance ministers of the 19-nation currency bloc failed to make any breakthrough on a cash-for-reforms agreement at talks in Luxembourg yesterday.

Greece must make a crucial debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund within the next two weeks.

"Regrettably ... too little progress has been made. No agreement is in sight," Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chairman of the Eurogroup, told a news conference.

Ministers sent a strong signal that it is up to Greece to make new proposals, he said.

 

The European Central Bank told the meeting it was not clear whether Greek banks would be open on Monday, officials said.

The ECB's governing council will hold a special conference call today, the second in three days, to consider adding more emergency liquidity for Greek banks facing a quickening drain on their cash, two people close to the situation said.

Earlier, Mr Tusk said in a statement he had summoned heads of state and government of the euro area to meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss Greece "at the highest political level."

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said further dialogue was needed "with adults in the room."

Greece said it had put a "radical proposal" for budget monitoring on the table to show its willingness to reach a deal, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said.

He accused his European peers of being dangerously close to accepting "an accident", saying they had refused to discuss his idea for braking public spending.

Mr Dijsselbloem said if there was a last-minute deal next week, there would have to be some extension of the current bailout to allow time for disbursement.

Greek savers pulled out about €2bn between Monday and Wednesday after weekend negotiations collapsed in Brussels, senior banking sources said.

That is double the amount that the ECB granted Greek banks in extra emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) only on Wednesday.

The IMF dashed any hope that Athens could avert default if it fails to repay a €1.6bn loan by the end of June, piling pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who shows no sign of yielding to the lenders.

If deposit flight continues to outpace ELA, it could force Greece to impose capital controls, as Cyprus did in 2013, to ration cash withdrawals and stop money fleeing the country.

The €2bn taken out in just three days represents about 1.5% of total household and corporate deposits of €133.6bn held by Greek banks as of end-April.

Mr Tsipras, elected on a promise to end austerity, is demanding a "political level" bargain in which European creditors promise Greece debt relief before he will make any more concessions.

 



 

ECB's Draghi urges all sides 'to go extra mile' in Greek talks


Posted 15/06/2015

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi has today urged all sides in the negotiations on Greece "to go extra mile" to reach a deal, but insisted the ball was in Athens' court.

"A strong and credible agreement with Greece is needed, not only in the interest of Greece, but also of the euro area as a whole," Mr Draghi said.

"While all actors will now need to go the extra mile, the ball lies squarely in the camp of the Greek government to take the necessary steps," the ECB chief added.

He made his comments at a meeting of the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.

Mr Draghi also said that Greece's major banks are currently solvent and the ECB will continue to provide liquidity to them to help finance the economy.

"At this stage, major Greek banks are solvent and the collaterals that they provide are adequate," Draghi told the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.

"Liquidity will continue to be extended as long as Greek banks are solvent and have sufficient collateral."

Earlier, the Greek government stuck to demands today that its creditors propose less harsh terms for a cash-for-reforms deal after talks collapsed, bringing Athens one step closer to a default that could tip it out of the euro zone.

The latest in a series of talks broke down after the European Commission dismissed proposals from the Greek side in Brussels over the weekend.

Creditors said Athens had failed to offer anything new to secure funding to repay €1.6 billion to the International Monetary Fund by the end of June.

Following what it called a last attempt at a solution, the Commission said euro zone finance ministers would address the issue when they meet on Thursday.

In his first public comments since the talks broke down, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras today said Greece would wait for its creditors to become more realistic and accused them of making unreasonable demands for political ends.

"One can only see a political purposefulness in the insistence of creditors on new cuts in pensions after five years of looting under the bailouts," Mr Tsipras said in a statement to Greek newspaper Ton Syntakton.

"We will wait patiently until the institutions accede to realism," he said.

"We do not have the right to bury European democracy at the place where it was born," he added.

However the European Commission has said that Greece's creditors have already made substantial concessions in talks on new funding in exchange for reforms, stating its position for the first time to correct a "misrepresentation" of facts by Athens.

The package proposed to Greece by the institutions representing the EU-IMF creditors was substantial, valid and made full economic sense, she said.

The Commission's economic policy spokeswoman, Annika Breidthardt,  said "the proposals meet the needs of the Greek people, the Greek government, but also of the other 18 (euro zone) Member States."

She said Greek politicians saying that the lenders demanded pension and wage cuts were not telling the truth.

EU preparing for "state of emergency" after talks collapse

Meanwhile, Germany's EU commissioner said today it was time to prepare for a "state of emergency" after talks collapsed at the weekend to rescue Greece from default and ejection from the euro.

Athens now has just two weeks to find a way out of the impasse before it faces a €1.6 billion bill due to the International Monetary Fund, potentially leaving it out of cash, unable to borrow and cast out of the single currency.

While there was little sign of open panic in Athens as Greeks held out hope for a last-minute solution - a familiar theme over the past six years as Athens lurched from one crisis to the next - the latest impasse triggered a selloff in European and Asian shares and weighed on the euro.

Greek stocks fell 6%, while banking stocks tumbled as much as 12%. 

"We should work out an emergency plan because Greece would fall into a state of emergency," Germany's EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger said. "Energy supplies, pay for police officials, medical supplies, and pharmaceutical products and much more" needed to be ensured.

Tsipras will meet his negotiating team later today as his government plots its next move before a make-or-break meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Thursday to discuss Greece's fate and make a final attempt to bridge differences.

Athens has baulked at demands to raise taxes and cut pensions to narrow a projected budget gap and laid the blame squarely on European and IMF creditors for insisting on politically unpalatable pension cuts.

It says years of cuts have only made its situation worse by shrinking the economy, making it harder to pay off debt.

Greece's creditors argue the country must reform its pensions system if it is to put government finances on a sustainable footing.

They say many Greek workers retire younger than in other European countries, collecting pensions that require unaffordable government subsidies.

"Why insist on pensions? Pensions and wages account for about 75% of primary spending; the other 25% have already been cut to the bone," IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard wrote in a blog post.

"Just as there is a limit to what Greece can do, there is a limit to how much financing and debt relief official creditors are willing and realistically able to provide given that they have their own taxpayers to consider."

The prospect of snap elections or a referendum to allow Tsipras a face-saving way out of the crisis returned as an option in popular debate in Greece, as the leftist leader faced calls from the opposition to secure a deal to protect the country from an economic collapse.

Although many economists predict that, as in past crises, a way will be found to avert default, European politicians sound more determined than ever to resist compromising with demands they consider unreasonable.

Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said in Berlin that the euro zone's credibility would be damaged if agreements with Greece were changed, and radical forces in other countries would be emboldened.

Jens Weidmann, the head of Germany's central bank, said: "Time is running out for Greece. The willingness to do a deal and act is lacking."

Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis retorted in an interview with Germany's Bild newspaper that it was possible to reach a deal quickly if Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in the talks.

"I rule out a 'Grexit' as a sensible solution," Varoufakis said, referring to a possible Greek exit from the euro zone. "But no one can rule out everything. I can't even rule out a comet hitting Earth."

 


 


 

European Parliament - TTIP debate suspended


Posted 10/06/2015

The political drama in Strasbourg this week knows no bounds. There were angry scenes in the European Parliament this morning following a decision to suspend a debate on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

MEPs voted to suspend a debate on TTIP by a margin of just two votes, prompting a furious reaction in the chamber.

The decision to postpone the debate was supported by the centre-right and conservative groups.

The eurosceptics, some of the socialist and democrats and the left-wing parties wanted to continue to have a discussion this morning.

The suspension came following a last-minute decision yesterday, that will mean MEPs will not now be voting on the TTIP resolution today, as had originally been planned.

Parliament President Martin Schulz claimed it was due to the large number of amendments to the text that had been tabled.

The target – the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group – which is being blamed for the cancellation last night of today’s European Parliament vote on the Transatlantic Trade and Partnership agreement.

In an unprecedented move, European Parliament President Martin Schulz emailed MEPs to inform them of the cancellation.

It was an action which Marian Harkin, one of the longest serving Irish MEPs, said she had never seen happen before.

So what did the S&D do to “scupper the deal” as one Parliament representative described it and to cause jaws to drop in the European Parliament press room, as reporters dashed to rework their reports?

Within TTIP – the proposed free trade agreement currently being negotiated by the European Commission and the US – one of the mechanisms for resolving disputes between foreign investors and states is known as the Investor-state Dispute Settlement (ISDS).

The S&D MEPs – the Parliament’s second largest political group after the European People’s Party – were never entirely unanimous in their support of ISDS.

They feared that it would result in trade lawyers deciding legislation governments could and couldn’t enforce.

Despite their reservations, the Trade Committee, led by its chairman S&D MEP Bernd Lange from Germany, backed the proposed agreement last month.

As this week’s vote approached however, amendments to the resolution arrived en masse, complete with split votes.

Martin Schulz took the decision, as is his right, when the number of amendments reach 50 or higher, to cancel the Parliament vote.

Why take the decision so late, members of the press asked?

The political groups tried and failed to agree a compromise, we were told.

The TTIP debate was scheduled to go ahead this morning despite the cancellation of the vote. As if the carpet in the press room hadn’t been sufficiently worn down by the dropped jaws of shocked journalists, it was threadbare after it filtered through that the debate was to begin an hour earlier in the morning, to facilitate the number of speakers.

So what can be gained by not going ahead with the vote? For those opposed to TTIP, quite a lot.

Politically, it’s a chance for members of the two largest groupings, the S&D and the EPP, who are deeply divided over the issue, to bide for some time.

Sending the report back to the Trade Committee is in Lange’s best interests. As Rapporteur, he wants a strong mandate which means a strong majority. That wasn’t going to happen this week.

While most accusatory fingers are pointing at the S&D, it is not alone in its reservation over aspects of TTIP. Indeed, the Greens have been highly vocal in their opposition over the ISDS, as has GUE/NGL.

Ailbhe Conneely - RTE Ailbhe Conneely - RTE Indeed, the Parliamentary division over TTIP is reflected in the division of many MEPs. The EPP Group backed the pro-TTIP stance from the outset, arguing that the trade agreement would lead to more jobs and a better economy. So the big question in Strasbourg this evening, as many deputies have posted on their Twitter accounts is “what will happen now?”

 

Text by Ailbhe Conneely - Strasbourg



 

EU officials dismiss Greek reform offer


Posted 09/06/2015

European Union officials today swiftly dismissed new Greek promises of economic reform.

The EU officials said the proposals were not enough to unlock funds that Athens urgently needs to avoid defaulting on its debts.

There are signs that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is adopting a more conciliatory line as time runs short for a deal.

But the officials in Brussels were quick to declare that Greece's international lenders would not accept the latest proposals on tax, debt and the budget.

The chief spokesman for the European Commission said the EU executive was still studying the suggestions and stressed that other officials do not speak for the Commission.

But the EU officials passed judgement only hours after Athens announced it had sent the plan to Brussels.

"What has been submitted is not sufficient to move the process forward," said one EU official. Another said it was "not sufficient and not acceptable to member states."

A source then said Greece was working to revise the proposals.

Athens would talk with creditors today with the aim of narrowing differences so Tsipras can finalise a deal at a meeting in Brussels tomorrow, the source close to the talks said.

Frustration is growing among Greece's fellow euro zone members who have footed a large part of the €240 billion bill for bailing out Athens since it sank into a debt crisis in 2010.

"We will do everything to keep Greece in the euro zone, but our patience is running out," Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said.

The proposals sent to Brussels had marked a further attempt by Tsipras to compromise with EU and IMF lenders as time runs out to reach a deal to prevent his country going bankrupt.

The Greek leader, who will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande tomorrow, agreed to further raise value-added tax rates and proposed higher budget surplus targets to bridge the gap with the creditors.

European leaders led by Merkel have stressed the urgent need for a settlement.

The bailout programme with the EU and International Monetary Fund expires at the end of this month, and Athens must make big debt repayments to the IMF by then that will probably be impossible without funds from its creditors.

Default would endanger Greece's future in the euro zone, but Tsipras has to win over not only the lenders but also members of his Syriza party who are resolutely opposed to the punishing austerity terms that the EU and IMF have insisted on in return for bailout funds.

Last week, Tsipras dismissed as absurd the creditors' most recent cash-for-reform offer, but today he offered hope that his counter-proposal would seal a deal, and warned the cost of failure would be enormous.

Signalling room for compromise, he singled out Greece's budget surplus before its debt repayments, which Athens wants to keep as low as possible to free up funds to help a population that has suffered badly during five years of economic crisis.

But he showed no sign of yielding to the creditors' demands that Athens cut pensions.

"I think we're very close to an agreement on the primary surplus for the next few years," he told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"There just needs to be a positive attitude on alternative proposals to cuts to pensions or the imposition of recessionary measures," he added.

Since Syriza won elections earlier this year, Tsipras has repeatedly denounced the futility of imposing waves of austerity on a country whose economy has already shrunk by a quarter, radically reducing living standards and sending unemployment soaring.

But Greece has received nothing from its creditors since last August and they are unwilling to release the remaining bailout funds without Athens making the reforms that they believe are essential if it is to stand on its own two feet.

Tsipras warned against assuming that if Greece defaults it could be allowed to fall out of the euro zone without profound consequences.

"It would be the beginning of the end of the euro zone," he said.

"If Greece fails, the markets will immediately go to look for the next one. If negotiations fail, the cost for European taxpayers would be enormous," he stated.

The European Central Bank said earlier this week that Greece could have only a minimal effect on the euro zone due to its small size and the fact that the bloc has erected financial "firewalls" to stop the spread of crises.

However, some economists agree with Tsipras's view that a Greek exit would only encourage speculation on financial markets about who was next to leave, meaning more countries might have to be bailed out.

 



 

Greece will not accept agreement without promise of debt relief


Posted 06/06/2015

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has told his parliament he would not accept an agreement with lenders that did not include the promise of debt relief that has been his government's long-standing demand.

Greece's eurozone and IMF creditors have been resisting efforts to include debt relief in negotiations to unlock aid.

Mr Tsipras also reiterated he would not accept a new bailout when the current one expires at the end of June.

Mr Tsipras earlier told the chamber that he could not accept an "absurd" cash for reforms proposal tabled by the euro one and the International Monetary Fund, but he still expressed confidence a deal could be found.

"This government and this parliament is not going to vote a new bailout," Mr Tsipras said.

He added that with Greece was now facing a level of "liquidity asphyxiation we have never had before."

Earlier today, Greek Economy Minister George Stathakis said the country cannot accept the latest proposals for a cash-for-reforms deal put on the table by its international lenders but was prepared to negotiate a compromise.

Greece delayed a key debt payment to the International Monetary Fund due today as Mr Tsipras demanded changes to tough terms from international creditors for aid to stave off default.

Mr Stathakis said Greece had the money to pay, but had accepted an offer from the IMF to bundle four payments due in June into a single €1.6 billion lump sum due at the end of the month.

"We are looking forward to getting a deal as soon as possible," he told BBC Radio, but said that while Greece was ready to discuss compromises, it would not accept proposed fiscal adjustments for 2015 and 2016.

"It was actually included in their proposal without being on the negotiation table during the last month ... the Greek government cannot accept these new proposals," he said.

Asked if Greece was prepared to leave the eurozone, Mr Stathakis said his Syriza party, elected in January on a promise to end austerity, had not been given a mandate to do that by the Greek people.

"Our government has a mandate to remain in the euro and get a better deal to ... try to change the terms of the agreement that we have with European partners," he said. "Greece has to remain within the euro."

Earlier, the country’s deputy Social Security Minister said the government may resort to early elections if its international lenders do not soften their terms for a cash-for-reforms deal.

Dimitris Stratoulis said: "The lenders want to impose hard measures. If they do not back down from this package of blackmail, the government ...will have to seek alternative solutions, elections," he told Antenna TV.

Mr Stratoulis is close to the far-left faction of the ruling Syriza party. It was not clear if his statement represented a wider view within the move.

 



 

Crisis of power in UkraineRandall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 04/06/2015

By Randall Calvin

Why Ukrainian regions seek autonomy

This was the vexed question up for discussion yesterday at the press club Brussels Europe.

The event was chaired by EU Reporter, with publisher Colin Stevens as moderator.

The event lasted for just ninety minutes, but there was plenty of heated debate as one would expect with such a current contentious subject.

The invited panel consisted of: Pavel Chernev, a former Bulgarian MP, Oleksii Tsvetkov, a Ukrainian public activist. Alexander Del Valle, French writer. Andrea Villotti, economist, political scientist from Italy, and another Italian political scientist, Alessandro Musolino. Last but not least the panel also included, French MEP J-L. Schaffhauser.

To cool things down after, there was a pleasant cocktail, with fine wine and excellent tapas. In our video here hopefully you get just a short flavour of the discourse. 

Meanwhile in the real world there has been a serious escalation of fighting in Ukraine today.

It is the most significant escalation of the conflict in around three months.

Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists have fought their first serious battles in months, while Ukraine's defence minister has said an attempt by rebels to take the eastern town of Maryinka has been thwarted.

Ukraine's military said the Russian-backed rebels had tried to advance using tanks and up to 1,000 fighters west of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

It is the most significant escalation of the conflict in around three months and is in defiance of a ceasefire deal.

Separatists denied their forces had launched an assault on government-held Maryinka.

The town had a pre-conflict population of around 9,900 and lies 15km west of Donetsk.

The separatists accused government troops of firing artillery at rebel territory around Donetsk, killing 15 people.

Electricity supplies have been cut off, trapping hundreds of miners underground in two mines, they said.

The fighting, in which both sides used heavy weapons, went far beyond the regular low-level skirmishing which has regularly punctuated a ceasefire brokered in February by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, but which has none-the-less claimed lives on an almost daily basis.

The fighting started around 3am (1am GMT) and ended almost 12 hours later.

"For the moment, storming operations have been halted," Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak told journalists.

A military spokesman was later quoted by Interfax news agency as saying that separatists had launched fresh attacks on Maryinka and that parts of the town were on fire.

Other spokesmen said government troops were still in control.

Many heavy weapons have been pulled back, under the ceasefire agreement brokered in Minsk, Belarus, to put the warring sides out of range of each other's big guns.

But the Ukrainian military acknowledged it had used heavy weapons.

"For the purpose of appropriate response, we were forced to use heavy artillery," military spokesman Oleksiy Mazepa said on television channel 112.

The Russian government has accused Ukrainian forces of "provocative actions" after the clashes.

"In Moscow we are observing and feel acute concern over the provocative actions of the Ukrainian army, which, as far as we can judge, is to a large extent provoking the situation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Senior rebel commander Eduard Basurin said separatist forces had only used weapons in defence, denying any attempt to advance.

"We are not carrying out offensive actions," separatist press service DAN quoted him as saying.

He said 15 fighters and civilians had been killed as a result of shelling on rebel territory and more than 900 miners had been trapped underground after the clashes caused a power failure at two larges mines, Skochinsky and Zasyadko, in Donetsk.

The 376 people trapped at the Skochinsky mine are being evacuated, emergencies service in the separatist-controlled territory said.

 



 

EU status quo not good enough -David Cameron


Posted 30/05/2015

David Cameron has warned the EU must be "flexible and imaginative enough" to respond to demands for reform, as he visited Paris as part of a two-day diplomatic tour.

Mr Cameron is attempting to negotiate with other EU leaders so that they will back his reform drive, something he has promised to complete before giving Britons an EU membership in-out referendum by the end of 2017.

Addressing the media alongside French President Francois Hollande, the Prime Minister said the status quo was "not good enough."

But he expressed confidence that solutions could be found to make Europe more competitive and "address the concerns of the British people" ahead of an in-out referendum on membership.

After Mr Hollande stressed France wanted the UK to remain in the EU and signalled that he was ready to look at "suitable" proposals for change, Mr Cameron said: "My priority is to reform the European Union to make it more competitive, and to address the concerns of the British people about our membership."

"The status quo is not good enough. I believe there are changes we can make that will not just benefit Britain, but the rest of Europe too.

"Of course the priority for Francois is to strengthen the eurozone to ensure a successful single currency, and Britain supports that.

"We want to help the eurozone work better and we do not want to stand in the way of closer integration. So we have different priorities but we share one objective, which is to find solutions to these problems.

"What matters is that the EU and its 28 members are flexible and imaginative enough to respond to these issues and to work together to find answers that will make the EU more successful.

"That is the challenge of our times and I believe strongly that we can meet it."

Speaking earlier British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the European Union must amend its founding treaties to accommodate Britain’s renegotiation drive.

Video courtesy of YouTube user ArguingFromIgnorance

Mr Hammond warned the UK needed a meaty deal to persuade voters to stay in the bloc.

Speaking to BBC radio, Mr Hammond said "if our partners do not agree with us, do not work with us to deliver that (reform) package, then we rule nothing out."            

"The advice we're getting is that we will need treaty change," he said, explaining it was necessary to render changes Mr Cameron wants irreversible and safe from legal challenge.

The British government has confirmed that it will pass an early law to hold an in/out referendum on European Union membership by the end of 2017.

An address from Britain's Queen Elizabeth to parliament this week set out the plans of the Conservative government for the coming parliamentary term.

The speech marks the formal opening of the British parliament.

The queen said: "Early legislation will be introduced to provide for an in/out referendum on membership of the European Union before the end of 2017.

"My government will renegotiate the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all member states."

The government also outlined its plans for legislation to give effect to the Stormont House Agreement.

The speech contained a pledge to "take forward" the "historic agreement" reached last December.

But whether a series of new bodies envisaged in the accord between the five parties in the Stormont Executive and the British and Irish governments ever get up and running remains in doubt, due to a destabilising row in Belfast over welfare reform.

It was the first time in almost 20 years that the queen's speech set out the plans of a majority Conservative government.

That majority - although slim - allows it to enact some of the policies promised in the party's election manifesto.

Prime Minister David Cameron has already begun a charm offensive across Europe as he battles for reform of the EU that would allow him to support the UK staying within the union.

The queen's speech also confirmed a Scotland Bill that will extend devolution in the wake of the "vow" made by Westminster leaders in the run-up to last year's independence referendum.

Mr Cameron said the overall package of legislation is "the bold first step of a One Nation government" for working people across Britain.

He said the bill, expected to be published tomorrow, would make Holyrood "the most powerful devolved parliament in the world."

 



 

 

Cameron expects ups and downs in EU negotiation


Posted 24/05/2015

David Cameron backs staying in the EU as long as he can secure reforms such as controlling migration

British Prime Minister David Cameron has begun his campaign to persuade European leaders to make changes to the European Union before he holds a referendum to decide whether Britain should stay in or quit the bloc.

Mr Cameron was due to hold talks with European Council President Donald Tusk and a handful of EU government heads on the sidelines of a European Union summit with six ex-Soviet republics in Latvia.

There were no formal meetings planned with EU power brokers Germany and France, but Mr Cameron will travel to Berlin and Paris next week for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande, British officials said.

Mr Cameron said the negotiations would have "ups and downs".

Arriving at the summit, he told reporters: "One thing throughout all of this will be constant and that is my determination to deliver for the British people a reform of the EU so they get a proper choice in that referendum."

Mr Cameron's Conservatives won an unexpected parliamentary majority and he is now committed to a pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017.

He also wants to restrict EU citizens' access to Britain's welfare system and to cut EU "red tape", but countries may be reluctant to make more concessions to London, which already does not participate in the euro currency or the passport-free Schengen area.

Mr Cameron held talks with Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and is due to meet Hungary's Viktor Orban, along with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Latvia's Laimdota Straujuma.

Mr Cameron, who intends to set out his reform plans in more detail at an EU summit in June, has said he wants Britain to remain in a reformed EU, but has not ruled out campaigning for an exit if he fails to get the required changes.

A number of EU leaders said they would listen to Mr Cameron but there were limits to what they could agree to.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said free movement of workers was a core value of the EU.

She urged everyone to "be consensual and not just try to receive additional opt-outs" at other countries' expense.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz told reporters debates with Mr Cameron were "always difficult".

Meanwhile, UK's Labour party seems to be doing a U-turn over EU referendum.

 

Harriet HarmanHarriet HarmanBritain’s Labour party has dropped its opposition to an in/out referendum on EU membership, its acting leader has said.

Harriet Harman said her party would now support Prime Minister David Cameron's planned referendum bill, clearing a path for a UK-wide ballot by the end of 2017.

It marks an about turn for the party, which had rejected the idea under Ed Miliband's leadership during the general election campaign.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Ms Harman and the shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn admitted voters wanted a say on membership, but warned against a "Brexit".

 

 

"We have now had a general election and reflected on the conversations we had on doorsteps throughout the country. The British people want to have a say on the UK's membership of the European Union. Labour will therefore now support the EU referendum bill when it comes before the House of Commons. The Labour Party doesn't want to see the UK stumble inadvertently towards EU exit. We will make the case for our continued membership."

"The notion that Britain's future and prosperity and security lies shutting itself off from this market and a world that is increasingly interdependent makes no sense. And in an age of powerful trade blocs, with the growing economies or Asia and Africa, we have more power by being in the EU than we could ever hope to have by acting alone."

"That is the argument we will make in this referendum, as the British people make their decision," she wrote.

 



 

European Agenda on Migration


Posted 21/05/2015

Summary of contributions at the Strasbourg plenary session 

Members of European Parliament debated on Wednesday the new European Agenda on Migration proposed by the European Commission.

Among the measures announced by Brussels, the creation of an emergency quota system for the equal sharing of migrants has divided the European Parliament and raised opposition from several member states of the European Union.

"Our immediate neighbourhood is ablaze and Europe is seen as a refuge in these times of instability," declared Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration.

The temporary relocation mechanism aims to "help to reduce the pressure which is being put on the countries which have external borders," insisted the First Vice-President of the EC Frans Timmermans.


 


This plan proposed by Brussels seeks to distribute in a directive manner the refugees arriving in a "massive influx" between member states of the EU, as determined by several criteria like the GDP, population size, unemployment rates and the "effort" already consented to in terms of reception.

"To attack the roots of illegal immigration means to secure our borders and save lives, but also to correctly apply our shared regulations related to asylum, and we need a commitment from the member states," pleaded Timmermans.

Zanda Kalnina-Lukasevica, representing the Latvian Presidency of the European Council, praised the EC's initiative and the tripling of resources dedicated to the European agency for border management, Frontex. She recalled that the governments have also decided to launch a European military operation seeking to "put an end to the economic model of the smugglers."

"We are ready to continue to study the good work begun by the Commission," declared the German Christian-Democrat MEP Manfred Weber who praised "the mechanism of solidarity" that had been proposed.

In France, the debates around migration policy have been particularly turbulent. Prime Minister Manuel Valls, alongside Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve, visited the Italian border on Saturday, May 16. This system of quotas "has never corresponded to the French proposals," he affirmed.

Following Wednesday's meeting of the Council of Ministers, France had to clarify its position. "On the proposal to put into place a temporary quota system in the EU for asylum seekers with a clear need for protection ... France is decidedly favourable toward it in which these persons - and only these - can be, in a temporary manner and according to parameters to be discussed in greater depth, distributed more equitably," clarifies a press release.

Several political analysts affirm that these declarations from Manuel Valls are partially determined by internal politics. Valls would most likely to give the impression that his policies are not being dictated from Brussels while still keeping his opposition at bay.

Nigel Farage (European Freedom and Direct Democracy Group, United Kingdom), for his part, affirmed he had alerted the EC that the common asylum policy did not include measures for security and that there was "a veritable threat that the Islamic State would use this policy to infiltrate our countries and present significant dangers for our societies."

According to the criteria put forward in the proposal from Brussels (GDP, population size, unemployment rates and "effort" already consented to), France should accept 14.17 percent of people in cases of "massive" arrival, Germany 18.42 percent, Italy 11.84 percent, Spain 9.10 percent and Poland 5.64 percent.

In addition to the quota system, the "NAVFOR Med" naval operation has stirred controversy. Its objective aims to "identify, seize and destroy" the boats used by the smuggling networks before they are used to transport migrants.

Navfor Med should enter into action in June, since the EU is waiting for a resolution from the United Nations in order to have a legal basis for the operation.

According to several European diplomats, Russia being until now in the ranks of those opposing such a resolution, could soften its position if it did not include reference to the destruction of vessels.

June 15, the whole of the EC's plan will be put before the Ministers of the Interior gathered in Luxembourg, before being examined by heads of state and government during a June 30th summit in Brussels.

France, Great Britain, Hungary, and Poland have already made the opposition known. Britain, Ireland and Denmark retain the right to opt out on questions of asylum and immigration.

 



 

Britain - The Balkans of Europe?


Posted 14/05/2015

EU Spectator is delighted to collaborate with, support and promote, our favourite economist David McWilliams.

In this video David gives his unique colourful perspective post the recent UK elections.

From the fallout of the elections, he sets out his stall thus. 

Welcome to new Britain, Europe’s 21st century version of the Balkans!

"When you have anti-English, pro-European nationalists in Scotland and anti-European, pro-British nationalists in England, spiced up with a few anti-English, pro-European nationalists in Wales and of course, the anti-each-other, pro-whatever your having yourself, British and Irish nationalists in that blissfully incoherent chunk of Ulster - Northern Ireland, you know you’re not in the old UK.”

David McWilliams (born 1966) is an Irish economist, writer, broadcaster and journalist.

McWilliams initially worked with as an economist with the Central Bank of Ireland, UBS bank and the Banque Nationale de Paris. Since 1999, he has been a broadcaster, writer, economic commentator and documentary-maker. He has written four books, The Pope's Children, The Generation Game, Follow the Money and The Good Room, writes two weekly economic columns and has made various documentaries. McWilliams is credited with being one of the first economists to predict the 1990s boom in the Republic of Ireland's economy when working at UBS and he is arguably most famous for his predictions of an Irish property bubble building from between 2000 and 2007 which would ultimately crash.

He is known for making economics both accessible to, and popular with, the layman. McWilliams has coined many acronyms about modern Ireland which are so accurate that they are now part of everyday Irish speech such as "Ghost Estates" and "Breakfast Roll Man". In January 2007, McWilliams was selected as one of 250 Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum and is a regular in the international speaker circuit.



 

Eurogroup ministers talks on Greece


Posted 12/05/2015

Euro-zone finance ministers gathered in Brussels for a key meeting on Greece, amid mixed signals about whether an interim deal can be struck to help the cash-strapped country avert default. With Greece facing a € 750 million interest repayment to the International Monetary Fund.

Negotiations between Greek officials and representatives of the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF took place in Brussels in a bid to strike a compromise on a number of key areas – pension reforms, labour market changes and VAT. With Greece still reluctant to cut pension and increase VAT rates, both sides accused the other of stalling progress.

“If it fails, it won’t be because of us,” German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. 

Though reiterating his commitment to keep Greece in the euro, he warned of the dangers of default. “Experience in other parts of the world has shown that a country can suddenly slide into bankruptcy.”

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the Greek parliament on Friday that a solution to the almost four-month impasse was now a question of “political will”.

With an interest repayment of € 750 million due to the IMF, Greece has another month before it technically is in default. Last week, the Greek government paid a € 200 million interest repayment to the Washington-based fund.

Despite his dismissal from the Greek negotiation team, Yanis Varoufakis will attended the meeting in his capacity as finance minister, though he was accompanied by senior negotiators on the bailout.

 



 

Farage to remain UKIP leader as resignation offer is rejected


Posted 11/04/2015

Nigel Farage's is to remain as leader of UKIP after his offer to resign was rejected, according to a statement from the party.

Mr Farage announced he would quit the post in the aftermath of his election defeat in South Thanet, as he had repeatedly promised to do if he failed to enter the Commons.

However, party chairman Steve Crowther said the party's national executive committee believed the election campaign had been a "great success" and said members of the committee "unanimously" rejected Mr Farage's letter of resignation.

 

Mr Farage had recommended Suzanne Evans, the party's deputy chairman, should take over until a leadership contest is held in September.

He left open the prospect of returning to the role by competing in the election after taking the summer off politics.

Mr Crowther said: "We have fought a positive campaign with a very good manifesto and despite relentless, negative attacks and an astonishing last-minute swing to the Conservatives over fear of the SNP, that in these circumstances, four million votes was an extraordinary achievement.

"On that basis, Mr Farage withdrew his resignation and will remain leader of UKIP. In addition, the NEC recognised that the referendum campaign has already begun this week and we need our best team to fight that campaign led by Nigel.

"He has therefore been persuaded by the NEC to withdraw his resignation and remains leader of UKIP."

Earlier today, Mr Farage took part in a TV debate on the BBC and was interviewed on Sky News, while taking part in VE Day commemorations over the weekend.

Ahead of and during the general election campaign Mr Farage repeatedly said he had no intention of staying in the leader's job.

In his autobiography, The Purple Revolution, he wrote: "The consequences of me failing to secure a seat for myself in the Commons would be significant for both myself and the party."

"It is frankly just not credible for me to continue to lead the party without a Westminster seat... if I fail to win South Thanet, it is curtains for me.  I will have to step down."

He later said he would resign "in ten minutes" if he lost the election.

Last Friday, his resignation statement followed within about an hour of the result.

Mr Farage said: "There hasn't been a single day since 1994 that hasn't been dominated by UKIP. I have tried to mix that with family, I tried for nine years to mix it with running my own business.

"It really has been seven days a week, totally unrelenting, and occasionally let down by people who perhaps haven't always said and done the right things.

"So I feel a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

"I haven't had a fortnight's holiday since October 1993, I intend to take the summer off, enjoy myself a little bit, not do very much politics at all."

Mr Farage has left the role of UKIP leader before - quitting in 2009 only to return after a disastrous general election campaign in 2010.

David Miliband critical of brother's campaign

David Miliband has criticised his brother Ed's general election campaign but ruled himself out of running for Labour leader.

Mr Miliband, who runs a charity in New York after quitting British politics when his brother beat him to the Labour leadership in 2010, said voters "didn't want what was being offered."

He added: "I'm clearly not a candidate in this leadership election, the commitment I have to the job I've got doesn't change."

 



 

Polling Day UK General Election 2015Randall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 07/05/0215

By Randall Calvin

Finally the big day has arrived, thank goodness! It has only been just over four weeks since the election campaign proper started in the UK. Even for a political nerd like myself, who has covered many an election in different EU Member States, I have to say that I found this much anticipated political joust quite painful; and far too long. From the election debate fiasco, to the constant polls, and more polls, ad nauseam, I dare say tomorrow will not provide a definitive outcome. It was an incredibly dull, inflexible, lack-lustre campaign.

Brexit, as it turned out, was not a central theme for the main Parties, and UKIP lost most of its shine compared to its 20% share in the European elections. The real story of this campaign is of course Scotland and the rise of the SNP.

The number of undecided voters polled in the dying days of the campaign, would of course tend to favour the incumbent, which I predict will come to pass. The conservatives will get a higher share of the vote, but will not be able to form a government alone. I would offer the reason the polls didn’t move very much is because this was a highly staged election strategy, where the Party leaders were almost totally insulated from the public, and thus were only surrounded by their own people, with the exception of those carefully managed TV debates. This for me has been a real frustration during the campaign, meaning the Conservatives, and Labour constantly insulting the intelligence of the British public, with their tedious manta “we are going to get an outright majority” as if this fiction would beguile the voters, never mind journalists, and political commentators.

Tomorrow will tell, and enough has been said, so I thought we might defer to some of the background as to how a British Government is formed; for those who may not know.

Unlike many, if not most first-world countries, the UK does not have a written constitution, although a disturbing numbers of Britons don’t know that. Instead the UK system works from a long history of legislation and legal “precedents,” in plain English, a long series of traditions. This may seem bizarre, but it works for the Brits.  

What the British still charmingly refer to as a hung-parliament, most of Europe call a coalition government. Come Friday morning if neither David Cameron or Ed Miliband have conceded to each other, Cameron could actually stay on at number 10, and even begin working on a Queen’s speech for Parliament on May 27th.  Without a written constitution, provision for this is set out in the Cabinet Handbook, which is essentially arbitrated by the Secretary to the Cabinet, a very powerful and influential figure, and the Private Secretary to the Queen. And what the Cabinet manual says, in two crucially important circumstances, quote – “An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new parliament has met, to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but it is expected to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to be able to command that confidence, and there is a clear alternative.” Gordon Brown was in precisely this situation five years ago.

When there is a clear change of power, the Prime Minister of the day is literally moved out, bag and baggage, out of No. 10 Downing Street, within hours, as the votes are being counted.

 

The new Prime Minister designate arrives at No. 10, then goes to Buckingham Palace, Kneels on both knees before the Monarch, kisses her hand, and asks for the privilege to form a new government; in her name. It is so because in the UK, the government is not directly elected by the people, but appointed by the Queen.

The new PM then goes back to Downing Street to appoint his Ministers and form a Cabinet. In this election the critical thing for David Cameron is, will he be able to command that majority in the House of Commons, and if not, critically at what point it becomes apparent that he cannot, he would be therefore duty bound under the rules of the Cabinet Handbook, to move out, and make way for Ed Miliband.   

I am not a betting man, but my money would be on a Conservative government with Northern Irish DUP support.

 

For an excellent, in depth analysis see video below - courtesy of fellow YouTube user: ArguingFromIgnorance



 

Earlier this year...

European Parliament heated migration debate in Strasbourg


Posted 30/04/2015

The Heads of State of the European Union want to save refugees, but what they really decided is to fight smugglers with the military and to stop refugees from reaching Europe. Is that really the answer? Where is the humanitarian rescue mission? Where are the safe and legal access points for refugees? "The answer from the Heads of State is a disgrace and not much came out of the European Council meeting!"

Included we have chosen just a limited perspective from three of the political groups at the EP, for a flavour of the debate

...watch the videos...


 

No more aid for Greece until agreement on reform plan – EU


Posted 26/04/2015

Eurozone finance ministers have warned Greece that its leftist government will get no more aid until it agrees a complete economic reform plan, as Athens lurches closer to bankruptcy.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis faced a harsh morning in which eurozone ministers bemoaned talks they felt "were going nowhere" and one minister said that maybe it was time governments prepared for the plan B of a Greek default.

 ...read more...


 

EU leaders meeting on migrant crisis in Brussels

Randall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 23/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

The emergency summit was called by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, to look at ways of limiting the waves of migrants travelling by sea from North Africa to Europe. The meeting was called following the disaster last week, when as many as 900 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya.

The ten-point plan before the delegates discussed prevention of more deaths, including increasing Frontex’s resources and extending the EU’s Mediterranean rescue service...read more... 

 

 


 

Migration crisis - EU unveils plan


Posted 20/04/2015

The EU has unveiled a ten-point action plan to stem the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean after the latest disastrous loss of life, promising to step up both control and rescue operations.

The European Commission said the plan, approved by EU foreign and interior ministers at an emergency meeting in Luxembourg, will be submitted to a summit on Thursday as the 28-member bloc tries to halt a growing death toll off its southern shores.

New proposals to tackle a migration crisis include destroying smugglers' boats and a new programme to send migrants home.

...read more...

 


 

UK Election: Tories announce Thatcher-style social housing policy


Posted 14/04/2015

British Prime Minister David Cameron. Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press British Prime Minister David Cameron. Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press

David Cameron says he leads the "party of working people" as he unveils a Conservative policy to extend the Right-to-Buy scheme

David Cameron has announced a future Conservative government would give 1.3 million housing association tenants the chance to buy their homes.

So what is Right to Buy?

The existing scheme allows council tenants to buy their home at a discount of up to 70 percent - a maximum of £102,700 in London and £77,000 across the rest of of the UK...read more...

 


 

UK Elections: How social media impacts elections


Posted 11/04/2015

A social media strategy is seen as a "must have" for the majority of political parties

The 2008 US Presidential Election was one of, if not the first social media election. There were 1.8 million tweets sent on that particular election day. Things have changed dramatically since then, with around 500 million tweets sent out per day.

Obama’s appearance at the 2012 Democratic National Convention caused four million tweets during his 40 minute speech alone.

Twitter reported that the election was the most tweeted-about event in U.S. political history. There were more than 31 million tweets sent, with a peak of 327,452 tweets per minute shortly after the television networks called the race for Obama...read more...

 


 

IMF welcomes Greek agreement not to default


Posted on 06/04/2014

Policy discussions over the terms of Greece's €110bn debt resumed in Brussels today.

The head of the IMF has welcomed a promise by Greece not to default on its debt repayments.

Christine Lagarde says she's pleased that part of the money owed to the Fund will be paid in just three days time.

 She's also praised Greece's Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, saying she "exchanged views on current developments and we both agreed that effective cooperation is in everyone’s interest."

"I reiterated that the Fund remains committed to work together with the authorities to help Greece return to a sustainable path of growth and employment,” she said...read more...

 


 

Slow walk to European Energy UnionRaquel JimenezRaquel Jimenez


Posted 02/04/2015

By Raquel Jimenez

Last month European heads of state largely backed European plans for an energy union. This is one of the ten main priorities of the Juncker’s Commission focusing on ensuring security of supply, sustainability and competitiveness.

The proposal of a single market for energy, based on improving connections between member states, includes options for collective purchasing of gas during a crisis and where member states are dependent on a single supplier. However Heads of States during the last Summit were hesitant of the idea of the EU negotiating energy contracts on behalf of the bloc or interfering with member states’ energy mix...read more...

 

 


 

Putin allies publically criticise the economic damage done by Russia's foreign policy


Posted 01/04/2015

The country's economy is currently experiencing its steepest decline since Vladimir Putin took office in 2000

Two former allies of Vladimir Putin have publicly criticised the Russian president's foreign policy - particularly the impact that it is having on the country's economy.

In a rare act of public dissent, Alexei Kudrin who acted as Russia's finance minister between 2000 and 2011, and also served as deputy prime minister, said that the country is likely to experience a long period of stagnation - and that current policies do not "reflect Russia's ability to be competitive in the global economy."...read more...

 


 

Brexit - How Britain will leave Europe Randall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 27/03/2015

By Randall Calvin

Britain makes its choice on Europe, and its future place in the world.


Will Britain leave the EU? Commentators now talk seriously about the possibility of 'Brexit' - a British exit from the EU. At his book launch at the Press Club Brussels, former Labour MP & Europe Minister Denis MacShane set out his stall from the pages of his book, looking at the history of Britain's troubled relationship with Europe, and makes his point that a 'Brexit' has in recent times become ever more likely...read more...

 


 

 

 

Sense of déjà vu while Greece bailout talks continue


Posted 22/03/2015

By Raquel Jimenez

On the eve of Alexis Tsipras first official visit to Germany, it has been reported that Greece has enough liquidity to last only two more weeks before Brussels reclassify its financial situation as “critical”;           One more reason to maintain the collegial spirit during the next meeting between Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel.

From April 9, Greece must repay a 467-million-euro loan to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It must also refinance short-term government bonds in the days following the IMF deadline...read more...

 


 

Clashes between protesters and police ahead of opening of new ECB headquarters


Posted 18/03/2015

Protesters have been arrested, while several police officers are reported to have been injured

 

350 anti-austerity protesters have been arrested in clashes outside the new European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt. Activists from around Europe have gathered under the "Blockupy" banner to voice their anger over the ECB's role in the implementation of austerity measures in the euro zone...read more...

 


 

New political party formed in Ireland


Posted 13/03/2015

After more than a year of political procrastination, and perhaps symbolically on the eve of the St. Patrick’s festival independent Irish MP Lucinda Creighton officially launched her new political party - Renua Ireland - in Dublin this morning. The party's policies and its 'declared candidates' line-up so far have been revealed today after two months of planning and regional tours.

Deputy Creighton - who will lead the new party - was joined by a group of declared candidates at the Science Gallery on Pearse Street.
Declared candidates include Mrs Creighton, economist Eddie Hobbs, Jack and Jill foundation co-founder Jonathan Irwin, Wicklow MP Billy Timmins (who will also serve as the party's deputy leader) and Offaly County Council's John Leahy...read more...

 


 

Eurozone ministers to discuss Greek reform proposals


Posted 09/03/2015

Eurozone finance ministers are meeting in Brussels today to examine a list of reform proposals submitted by Greece which could trigger the release of funds the country needs to repay a significant IMF loan this month.

However, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis warned that the far-left government could call a referendum or fresh elections if its reform proposals were rejected by the Eurogroup of finance ministers...read more...

 


 

To Debate or Not to Debate!Randall CalvinRandall Calvin


Posted 07/03/2015

By Randall Calvin

With just a couple of months to go to the British general election in May, unless one has been living under a rock recently, one could not but stand back in total bewilderment at the arguments between the parties and the broadcasting authorities regarding who might be invited to participate, under what conditions, or if any televised debate will ever materialize, and not a party manifesto in sight!

Dizzy from trying to keep up with the fiasco I have decided for this article to distract from whether or not any debates take place or with whom and instead shine a little light on the history of the linguistic term "hustings" and an account of where and when this famous TV debate concept started - the most famous of all broadcast confrontations!...read more...

 


 

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