EU invests €210 million for innovative and ambitious projects

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epa06292366 EU Commissioner responsible for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas gives a press briefing on the 2018-2020 work programme of Horizon 2020 at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 27 October 2017. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The European Commission announced on 17 September that it will invest a total of €210 million to 108 innovative projects helping them to reach the market faster.

The funding is provided through the pilot phase of the European Innovation Council, which supports innovators, entrepreneurs, small companies and scientists with ambitious ideas. The projects include a hybrid simulation platform for neurosurgery, a technology replicating the rain process to supply sustainable drinking water, an anti-metastatic cancer vaccine and more.

“Each of the companies receiving funding through the European Innovation Council is offering a solution to a problem that affects the daily lives of Europeans, be it in the area of health, environment, energy and more”, said EU Commissioner for research, science and innovation, Carlos Moedas.

The projects will be funded under two strands (the EIC Accelerator and the Fast Track to Innovation) of the €3 billion pilot of the European Innovation Council, which runs from 2018 to 2020, under the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.

Faith roundtables provide open forum for believers and non-believers

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epa07725146 Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon Gebran Bassil (C) joins other delegation leaders during a plenary session of the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, at the State Department in Washington, DC, USA, 18 July 2019. Delegations from around the world attend the meeting, to address challenges facing religious freedom, to identify persecution and promote religous liberty. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

The US State Department organised the Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington DC during the summer, an annual event that is the largest religious freedom gathering of its kind in the world with more than 1,000 civil society and religious leaders and more than 100 foreign government delegations in attendance.

Participants in the event were reminded that the Pew Research Center, the most renowned and reliable think regarding statistics on religion, found that 80% of the world’s population live in a religiously restricted environment.

In an effort to raise awareness about the current state of religious freedom in the world, the ministerial acts a platform to discuss civil society initiatives, including the creation and of 100 International Religious Freedom Roundtables around the globe to help empower civil society to organise around the principle that every person has a right to their religious beliefs.

As expressed by the State Department, roundtables and other similar networks currently exist in Nigeria, Colombia, Brussels (EU), Geneva (UN), Sudan, Ukraine, New York (UN), South Korea, Taiwan, and Italy. More roundtables are expected to launch soon in Romania, Hungary, Iraqi Kurdistan, Indonesia, London, Mexico, Paris, and Mongolia.

The roundtables were first set up in Washington DC more than 10 years ago and quickly became a focal point for the topic of religious freedom for politicians, NGOs, and activists in DC who would have an interest in the issue. The one based in Brussels covers the EU institutions and has existed for several years. Known as the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Roundtable Brussels-EU, it acts as an informal group of individuals from civil society who gather regularly to discuss FoRB issues on a non-attribution basis. The participants gather, speak freely when sharing ideas and information, and propose joint advocacy actions to address specific FoRB issues and problems globally.

The participants are free to propose initiatives regarding the protection and promotion of freedom of religion, conscience, and belief in Europe and around the world, and other participants have then the possibility to join these initiatives and self-select into coalitions of the willing on such initiatives”.

The EU Roundtable is chaired by Evangelical Archbishop Thomas Schirrmacher of Germany, who is also President of the International Society for Human Rights and Chair of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.

“Freedom of religion and belief needs all actors to sit together and exchange knowledge and ideas, government officials, MPs, multi-state actors, large and small religious and secular worldview actors, official representatives of religions or secular worldview, human rights and advocacy organisations, experts, journalists and many more. Only a rather loose roundtable can guarantee space for all to speak, to interact and to arrange ever new coalitions for specific letters, actions and summits and I am glad that this is working more and more in Brussels,” Schirrmacher said while speaking with New Europe.

“FoRB is a really important issue in the world of today. Discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation exists everywhere in the world, persecution exists, and too many people are killed every day because of their religious choices. This is not something that governments alone have been able to solve until now. This is not something that NGOs or activists alone have been able to solve. So we expect that together, activists, NGOs, faith-based or not, and governments, we will be able to have more concrete results in getting rid of this issue. The Roundtable is open to all good-will, and honestly, it is maybe the only place today that is really all-inclusive on the topic of FoRB and it already has a track of good results and achievements,” said Eric Roux, one of Schirrmacher’s five co-chairs, after being contacted by New Europe.

The main principle of these roundtables is all-inclusiveness, and in order to make it a safe space for all, they apply the Chatham House Rule—discussions are off the record and any information disclosed during these meetings may be reported by those present, but the source of that information may not be explicitly or implicitly identified.

 

EU to invest in world-class health research centre for children in Croatia

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epa07182767 EU Commissioner for Health and Food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis gives a news conference on the Health report in Brussels, Belgium, 22 November 2018. The report of the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that the steady increase of life expectancy has slowed down and that large gaps across and within countries persist, notably leaving people with a low level of education by the wayside. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

The European Union announced on 17 September that it is investing more than €48 million from the European Regional Development Fund to extend the Children’s Hospital in Srebrnjak, Croatia.

The project involves the construction of a facility and the purchase of research and medical equipment, to transform the hospital into a research centre for development of new medicines, with an expected increase in hospital staff by 67%. Once completed in 2022, the hospital will focus on treating common and chronic diseases in children and adolescents.

“The EU Cohesion Policy is about improving peoples’ lives, and in this case, about saving lives.”, said EU Commissioner for health and food safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis.

The new facility will also have an eco-friendly design, with reduced waste and water consumption.

EU to help modernise Czech Republic’s electricity system

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epa03123312 A worker repairs high voltage electricity lines near the northern Bohemian town of Trutnov, Czech Republic, 26 February 2012. EPA/FILIP SINGER

In an effort to increase energy security in the Czech Republic, the European Union is investing more than €46 million from the European Regional Development Fund to modernise and extend the electricity substation of Kočín, southern Bohemia, Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič said on 16 September, adding that this one of the most important node in the Czech transmission system.

According to the Commission, when completed in November 2023, the project will increase the country’s energy security, ensuring reliable operations even in extreme conditions.

“This EU investment will boost energy security of the Czech Republic as well as the region by reducing the risk of blackouts and by facilitating the import of clean energy from neighbouring countries,” Šefčovič said. “It is yet another example of the Energy Union delivering on the ground.”

In addition to improving the quality, reliability and sustainability of electricity supplies to customers, this project will indeed increase the country’s capacity to access renewable energy from neighbouring countries.

The extension of the Kočín substation will enable the implementation of two other Projects of Common Interest: the connection of a second circuit on the existing Kočín-Preštice power line and the new 120 kilometre-long Kočín-Mírovka overhead line, the Commission said, adding that these two projects will reinforce the Priority Corridor for north-south Electricity Interconnections in central-eastern and south-eastern Europe, increasing the Czech Republic’s access to renewable energy – mainly wind energy from Germany and solar power from Italy – and helping cut greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Europe welcomes Norway-mediated talks to end Venezuela crisis

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epa07746934 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during the closure of the XXV Sao Paulo Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, 28 July 2019. The Sao Paulo Forum is a gathering of Latin American and Caribbean left-leaning political parties and organizations. EPA-EFE/RAYNER PENA

A minority group of opposition parties in Venezuela agreed on 16 September to enter Norway-mediated negotiations with President Nicolas Maduro‘s government, by setting up a “national table”.

The European Union welcomed the move, and expressed its belief that a political negotiated solution is the only peaceful way out of the crisis.

“However, to succeed and be trusted, it’s important that any negotiated process has the necessary political representatives, the backing of the National Assembly, as well as the clear political objective of bringing the country to credible presidential elections”, the Union said in a statement.

The Union reiterated its support to an inclusive, serious and results oriented process such as the one undertaken by Norway:

“The EU will consider the appropriate measures at its disposal to foster the restoration of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Venezuela”, the statement reads.

Mogherini hosts high level meeting with women leaders

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epa07803810 Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland Pekka Haavisto (not pictured) during the press conference an Informal Meeting of Foreign Affairs ministers in the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, Finland, 30 August 2019. EPA-EFE/KIMMO BRANDT

The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, on 16 September hosted women leaders from almost 20 countries as part of a two-day meeting in Brussels on “The Role of Women in Peace and Transition Processes“.

The participants discussed the role of youth and women in the fields of conflict prevention, mediation, political transition processes, and peace-building. They also discussed common challenges, including the lack of physical protection for peace-builders and the need for easier access to funds for women when they involved in peace and security initiatives.

Mogherini emphasised that the European Union was committed to working towards having women account for a minimum of a third of all EU activities related to peace initiatives. In this context, Brussels has already launched various initiatives and projects that include coaching and mentoring activities for women leaders from around the world.

EU Parliament backs Lagarde as next ECB chief

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epa05726620 Christine Lagarde, Managing Director International Monetary Fund IMF, listens during a panel event at the 47th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, 18 January 2017. The annual meeting brings together business leaders, international political leaders and select intellectuals, to discuss the pressing issues facing the world. The overarching theme of the 2017 meeting, which takes place from 17 to 20 January, is 'Responsive and Responsible Leadership'. EPA/GIAN EHRENZELLER

In a plenary vote on 17 September, the European Parliament approved Christine Lagarde‘s appointment to succeed Mario Draghi as President of the European Central Bank.

In the secret vote, MEPs voted 394 in favour, 206 against and 49 abstentions to recommend Lagarde to head up the European Central Bank. Earlier in the day, the plenary held a debate on her suitability for the position.

Lagarde, 63, was nominated by European governments to succeed Draghi on 1 November, as head of the central bank for the 19 countries that use the euro. She served two terms as chief of the International Monetary Fund, and resigned on 12 September. She has stated that she intends to maintain continuity with the policy line of her predecessor, but is also ready to innovate and change the monetary policy toolbox if necessary.

Lagarde’s candidature will now be put on the agenda of October’s European Council summit.

Europol launches exercise to eliminate terrorist content online

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epa05289234 Students with their computers of Alexandria Park Community School in Sydney, Australia, 04 May 2016. EPA/PAUL MILLER AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Europol’s Internet Referral Unit, organised a tabletop exercise with EU states’ law enforcement authorities, third countries and online service providers on 11 September in The Hague, aiming to develop an EU-led voluntary mechanism to enable a coordinated response to the cross-border abuse of the internet in the context of violent extremism.

The initiative was inspired by the frequent terror attacks, including the one in March in Christchurch, New Zealand, that highlighted the need for a coordinated cross-border response across online service providers and EU law enforcement. The attack was livestreamed online and demonstrated how an offline event in one country can have an immediate negative impact across the globe. In this context, Europol promoted closer cooperation between all parties involved in the fight against terrorism online.

The exercise was attended by representatives of national authorities, third countries, and major online service providers, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter.

EU updates policy on arms exports

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epa06800890 Models of riffles made by US manufacturer Century Arms, on the opening day of the Eurosatory international Land and Air-Land Defense and Security fair in Villepinte, north of Paris, France, 11 June 2018. The trade fair runs until 15 June. EPA-EFE/JULIEN DE ROSA

The Council of the EU adopted on 16 September a decision amending the Council Common Position of 2008 on the control of arms exports, conclusions on its review, as well as a revised user’s guide.

The decision takes account of developments at both EU and international level that have resulted in new obligations for national authorities, that include, in particular, the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty, which regulates the international trade in conventional arms.

The Council reaffirms that military equipment and technology should be traded in a responsible way, and recalls its commitment to strengthening the control and to reinforcing cooperation in the field of export of military technology, within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Will the IMF finally learn from Argentina?

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epa06794433 People walk in the financial district of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 08 June 2018. Argentina has announced an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to a 50 billion US Dollars financing deal to help avoid an economic crisis. EPA-EFE/DAVID FERNANDEZ

Argentina’s politically intractable foreign-debt crisis serves as a powerful reminder that the International Monetary Fund still has no answer for dealing with the volatility of international capital flows to emerging economies. It also underscores the need for reform at the Fund itself.

Given that debt defaults have littered Argentina’s history, we need to go back at least two decades to understand the current situation. For most of the 1990s, Argentina had successfully implemented a fixed exchange rate, which the IMF saw as a sensible option for containing inflation. The approach proved so successful that Argentina attracted substantial international capital inflows, allowing it to fund a large external deficit.

But by 1998, the exchange rate was looking overvalued in the context of adverse terms of trade, a strong US dollar, and capital-flow crises in Asia and Russia. It seemed that some flexibility should be added to the exchange-rate regime, but it wasn’t clear how to do it. Departing from a fixed rate is always a traumatic experience, with obvious winners and losers.

Meanwhile, the IMF remained sympathetic to Argentina’s woes, because the country had followed its recommendations and had friends in Washington, DC. Enjoying the benefit of the doubt, Argentina clung to the fixed-rate regime. The IMF extended generous support and urged its usual all-purpose policy prescription: fiscal tightening.

Austerity might have worked if the only problem had been temporary illiquidity. But Argentina had borrowed too much, and its lenders realised that its exchange-rate regime was unsustainable. In December 2001, the IMF reluctantly ended its support. Argentina’s then-president, Fernando de la Rúa, made a dramatic helicopter departure as the economy descended into chaos. Amid bank closures, 20% unemployment, and a 28% decline in GDP, the country defaulted on its foreign debt.

By 2010, the mess had been sorted out and the foreign debt rescheduled. With the arrival of a new business-oriented president, Mauricio Macri, in 2015, the cycle could start again. This time, at the IMF’s urging, Argentina adopted a pure floating exchange rate. With the external debt trimmed by rescheduling, foreign capital flowed in once again. Investors were willing to buy even 100-year bonds from a country with eight sovereign defaults in the last two centuries.

Investor enthusiasm and the domestic political honeymoon lasted as long as the international environment remained benign. But when inflows faltered in 2018, the IMF had to step in once again, closing the external funding gap with a stunning $50 billion loan program (later raised to $57 billion).

But, again, the external funding problem was not a temporary phenomenon, and the Argentinian electorate soon began to bristle at the reforms demanded by the IMF. With accumulated foreign debt over $100 billion and most of the Fund’s money already disbursed, Argentina announced a unilateral debt “reprofiling” late last month.

For the Argentine people, this is grim news; for the IMF, it represents a fundamental policy failure. It is now clear that fiscal austerity and a floating exchange rate are inadequate to cope with capital-flow volatility. The only question is what should come next, not just for Argentina, where the IMF will struggle to salvage its loan program, but for the Fund itself.

For starters, the IMF must devise better ways of resolving unsustainable sovereign debt burdens. Unsustainable domestic debt can always be resolved through rescheduling or bankruptcy. But international debt is another matter, and here the IMF’s record leaves much to be desired. In the 1998 Asian crisis, the Fund strongly resisted rescheduling. In the 2010 Greek crisis, it allowed creditors (mainly foreign banks) to protect themselves from their own foolishness. And in Argentina’s case, it refused to use its clout to override vulture bondholders who had subverted the 2010 rescheduling, even as it rolled out a massive loan program.

Second, the IMF should face up to the fact that unconstrained international capital flows are too volatile for fragile emerging economies. Having long opposed capital controls, it has belatedly – and unenthusiastically – endorsed “capital flow management,” but only as a last resort when all other measures (namely, painful austerity) have been exhausted.

Rather than being at the bottom of the policy toolbox, inflow constraints should be routine for many emerging economies. The IMF should articulate its support when countries apply such constraints to fickle portfolio inflows. Emerging economies should not run substantial external deficits just because foreign investors feel euphoric. The same investors will depart en masse when conditions change.

Third, instead of reluctantly tolerating exchange-market intervention, the IMF should actively promote it when market volatility is clearly disruptive. A number of Asian economies have demonstrated the benefits of well-disciplined market intervention. The Fund should use their experiences to develop operational guidance.

Fourth, IMF shareholders need to review the organization’s internal governance. The Argentine program is merely the latest in a series of decisions in which larger members’ politically motivated interests seem to prevail, while the unwieldy Executive Board is largely sidelined.

Traditionally, Argentina has been treated favourably in Washington, DC (relative to, say, the Asian crisis countries in 1997-98). The swift approval of the $50 billion programmes and its casual enlargement to $57 billion has added to the impression that the country receives special treatment despite its chronic inability to manage its debt.

When the time comes for a post-mortem, the victim will be blamed. Argentina’s political and governance deficiencies will be held up as evidence of what went wrong, and not without justification. But that is beside the point. It is the IMF’s job to operate in challenging environments. To do so effectively, it must reform itself alongside Argentina’s troubled economy.

Snowden seeks asylum n France

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“The saddest thing of this whole story is that the only place an American whistle-blower has the chance to be heard is not in Europe but here in Russia,” Edward Snowden said in an interview with France Inter radio broadcasted on Monday.

Snowden’s interview was conducted on Saturday. In it, he reflects that it is “sad” that in Europe only Russia would grand an American whistleblower asylum. The fugitive first left for Hong Kong where he elicited WikiLeaks assistance to find refuge in Moscow.

The former US intelligence contractor has been in Russia since leaking a trove of classified documents showing the scope of post-9/11 US surveillance. The trove was accompanied by a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation on how the NSA carried out mass surveillance on American citizens.

Washington is accusing Snowden of endangering thousands of US agents while unveiling PRISM, that is, an electronic surveillance system used by the NSA and the CIA that Snowden helped develop. The US Justice Department under President Barack Obama revoked his passport and charged him with violating the Espionage Act. President Donald Trump has said that he would favour Snowden’s execution.

Snowden’s first application for asylum in France was rejected in 2013, under President Francois Hollande. He hopes that President Emmanuel Macron may review his case.

Snowden is due to publish his memoirs on Tuesday.

Hong Kong Stock Exchange campaigns to push through London Stock Exchange takeover

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epa07379765 Lord Mayor of the City of London Peter Estlin appears at a British Consulate-General press conference to drum up business with China in spite of Brexit, Hong Kong, China, 19 February 2019. Estlin said that foreign direct investment into the United Kingdom remains at a record high. He also distanced himself from remarks made by UK Defence Minister Gavin Williamson, who is at the center of a growing row for offending the Chinese government by suggesting that a British aircraft carrier will be sent to the Pacific, causing the cancellation of a crucial trade visit to Beijing by British Finance Minister Philip Hammond. EPA-EFE/ALEX HOFFORD

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX) is seeking to persuade the London Stock Exchange shareholders to accept a $39 billion cash-and-share takeover bid.

The initial offering, which was submitted early last week, was quickly rejected by the LSE board due to what the LSE said was its “fundamental flaws”, including regulatory objections.

The HKEX claims there have been constructive initial consultations with regulators, but objections may arise from Consob – the Italian regulator – given that the LSE owns Borsa Italiana.

HKEX has until 9 October to make a firm counter-offer or walk away.

Meanwhile, the LSE is working towards a $27 billion merger with the data company Refinitiv. There are signs that the HKEX may not be more open to discuss the terms of the planned takeover, but will embark on a three-week campaign to change the view of 25 key investors.

The HKEX aspires to emerge as the main conduit of Chinese capital markets and the global financial system. If the LSE takeover succeeds, the new platform would be the largest exchanges operator in the world by revenue.

Mass demonstrations by pro-democracy protestors in Honk Kong have complicated the HKEX’s chances to acquire the LSE as seven members of its 13-member board were appointed by the pro-Beijing rubber-stamp government.

Under the circumstances, the UK government is not likely to give its consent to a deal.

Germany wants to cap EU budget to 1% of GDP

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epa07645184 EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger speaks during a press conference on the budgent proposal in Brussels, Belgium, 13 June 2019. The Commissioner called on leaders to intenisfy efforts to reach an agreement on the Union?s long-term budget for 2021-2027. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

Germany wants to cap the EU’s next seven-year budget (2021-27) at 1% of GDP, Reuters reports.

In 2018, the Commission proposed a seven-year budget of roughly €1.1 trillion or 1.11% of the bloc’s Gross National Income (GNI).

Given that the UK was the EU second-biggest economy means that Germany needs to contribute an additional €10 billion a year. The Netherlands, Sweden, and other net contributors have echoed Germany’s cautious approach to the EU budget.

Berlin views increased contributions as going hand-in-hand with increased leverage for a rules-based EU order, with more solidarity on migration policy, bolder action on climate change, and greater commitment to rule of law.

EU members in eastern and southern Europe want a bigger budget, to the tune of 1.3% of the bloc’s GNI.

The Amazon and you

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epaselect epa07827072 Prevfogo firefighters, an Ibama forest brigade formed by indigenous people of the Tenhari ethnic group, participate in fire fighting efforts fire in an indigenous reserve located in Humaita, state of Amazonas, Brazil, 07 September 2019. EPA-EFE/FERNANDO BIZERRA JR

Nearly everyone has seen the dramatic images of the Amazon ablaze. Tens of thousands of fires – intentionally started or caused by logging, farming, mining, and other human activities – have broken out over the past year alone.

This matters a great deal because forests absorb gases that increase global warming if released into the atmosphere. Reduction of the Amazon rainforest by fire adds to the problem of climate change in two ways: the fires themselves release gases and particles that accelerate the earth’s warming, and the elimination of the trees by definition means they cannot absorb carbon dioxide.

The issue gripped last month’s G7 meeting in France. The leaders of many of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged just over $22 million to help Brazil, home to the bulk of the Amazon rainforest and nearly half of the world’s tropical forests, combat the fires. Brazil angrily rejected the offer.

Brazil’s populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, stated that his country would not allow the G7 countries to treat it as if it were a colony. “Our sovereignty is non-negotiable,” the government spokesman declared. In the end, Brazil did accept some $12 million in assistance from the United Kingdom, but it did not reach a compromise with the G7 or with France, which hosted the meeting.

What is going on in Brazil highlights a fundamental tension in the world. Brazil’s government holds to the view that what happens inside the country’s borders falls within its purview alone. This is the traditional notion of sovereignty, one largely shared by most of the world’s governments, including the United States, China, Russia, India, and others.

But it is an increasingly inadequate, if not obsolete, notion in today’s globalised world, where just about anyone and anything can reach almost anywhere. As a result, what happens within a country can no longer automatically and unconditionally be considered its concern alone.

Consider terrorism. In the late 1990s, the Taliban government then controlling Afghanistan allowed al-Qaeda to operate freely from Afghan territory. Al-Qaeda did just that, mounting an operation that led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent men, women, and children in the US on September 11, 2001.

The US, then led by President George W. Bush and backed by much of the world, delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban government: hand over al-Qaeda’s leaders and deny it future use of Afghanistan to promote terrorism or face removal from power. Put differently, the government was told that the benefits and protections of sovereignty obliged it not to provide sanctuary and support to terrorists. The Taliban refused to accept this demand; within weeks, a US-led international coalition forcibly removed the group from power.

The lesson for Brazil is clear: what its government chooses to do and not to do vis-à-vis the rainforest has consequences for the entire world. If the issue were “merely” one of local environmental degradation and pollution, it would be solely a Brazilian matter, as bad as that might be. But as soon as the effects of deforestation spill across borders, what happens in Brazil becomes a legitimate concern of others. Pollution is mostly about local results of local activities; climate change is about the global results of local activities.

And we know that the results of climate change are costly: more frequent and severe storms, floods, droughts, and other extreme weather. More people are being internally displaced and turned into refugees as a consequence. Significant swaths of the globe may soon be uninhabitable. Climate change, like terrorism, has become everyone’s business. Brazil should be viewed as the Amazon’s custodian, not its owner.

So what is to be done? One approach is to create incentives for countries like Brazil to act more responsibly. This was behind the G7’s offer to help Brazil, and it underpins long-standing EU aid programs designed to curb forest destruction and promote planting new ones.

But it is clear that Brazil’s government is not responding the way it should. Removal of legal barriers to deforestation has added to the problem, as has a dearth of government resources to enforce the law and stop those who are illegally clearing trees and starting fires.

Again, sovereignty entails obligations as well as rights. And where compliance cannot be induced, pressure must be applied. The time has come to consider penalties against a government such as Brazil’s if it refuses to meet its obligations to the world. Penalties could include tourism boycotts, sanctions, and tariffs. Obviously, positive incentives to encourage and enable desired actions would be preferable. But there must be sticks where carrots are not enough.

Many governments take this approach to deter or respond to genocide, terrorism, and weapons proliferation. Brazil’s behaviour has raised the question of whether those who fan climate change ought to be treated similarly.

Kazakhstan’s Kashagan will produce 500,000 barrels of oil per day in 2027

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epa06019559 The Bayterek Tower is seen in Astana, Kazakhstan, 09 June 2017, on the eve of the opening of the 'Astana EXPO', the Astana's World Fair. The Astana EXPO 2017 International Specialized Exhibition 'Energy of the Future' takes place from 10 June to 10 September 2017. EPA/ZOLTAN BALOGH HUNGARY OUT

The level of daily production at the Kashagan oil field reached the 380,000 barrels, the press service of Kazakhstan’s oil ministry said on 16 September.

The North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC) international consortium plans to reach 420,000 barrels per day by 2022 and 500,000 barrels per day in 2027.

Covering the Kashagan, Kalamkas, Kairan, Aktoty, and Kashagan south oil fields, the North Caspian Project is the first major offshore oil and gas development in Kazakhstan.

The giant Kashagan field ranks as one of the largest oil discoveries of the past four decades with approximately 9-13 billion barrels (1-2 billion tonnes) of recoverable oil. The Kashagan reservoir lies 80km offshore from the city of Atyrau in 3-4 meters of water and is more than 4km deep.

In 2016, the first offshore oil in the history of Kazakhstan was commercially produced from Kashagan. The operator of the project, North Caspian Operating Company N.V. (NCOC), completed a major pipeline replacement project ahead of schedule and on 28 September re-opened the first wells offshore.

The first 1 million tonnes were exported in the first days of 2017, and NCOC safely reached actual production levels of over 200,000 barrels per day in mid-2017. Given its scale and technical complexity, the North Caspian project will be developed in phases. The estimated cost of Kashagan Phase 1, which began commercial production in 2016, is about US$55 billion.

Rohingya still in Myanmar face genocide threat, UN warns

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epa07170061 A Rohingya woman carries her child as she arrives to the Shwe Hmaw Won community hall at the KyaukTan township, south of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 November 2018. More than a hundred Rohingyas, including children and women believed to have fled the state of Rakhine, have been arrested on a shore in KyaykTan township about 100 kilometers from downtown Yangon. EPA-EFE/LYNN BO BO

Hundreds of thousands of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingyas are facing a greater threat of genocide than ever, amid government attempts to “erase their identity and remove them from the country”, the UN-appointed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission said on 16 September.

Following the killings, rapes, torture, and forced displacement by Myanmar’s military, which prompted 700,000 of the Muslim Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh in 2017, the mission highlights that many of the conditions that led to the grave rights violations are still present.

According to the report, this ill-treatment has strengthened, and that there is a serious risk that genocidal actions may recur. Among the threats that the Rohingya face is a continuation of hate speech and discrimination that obstructs them to take part in society, the report notes, and calls on the Myanmar government to “to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide”.

In response to the allegations, the delegation for Myanmar maintained that the 2017 tragedy had been exploited by the press for political purposes.

EU reinforces policy towards third countries on torture and ill-treatment

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A view of the outside double barbed wire fence guarding the Jilava Penitentiary, near Bucharest, Romania, 28 February 2013. Jilava penitentiary may be one of the city?s oldest, as well as most infamous, prisons, but it boasts one of the most progressive programs of rehabilitation for its inmates thanks to a grant from Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway through the EEA Financial Mechanism. Through this financial help the penitentiary has developed an in-house therapeutic community made up of staff members to help inmates overcome their problems with narcotics. The project at Jilava enables a maximum of 26 inmates to receive essential therapy for a period of six months ? but at a cost estimated at 360,000 euros. Only inmates who have six months of detention left are eligible to participant in the program, so long as they have not been drug dealers or convicted for either rape or murder. The drug therapy offers psychological assistance to the residents, group and art therapy and therapies organized by the Romanian anti-Drug Agency and re-integration programs.
A view of the outside double barbed wire fence guarding the Jilava Penitentiary, near Bucharest, Romania, 28 February 2013. Jilava penitentiary may be one of the city?s oldest, as well as most infamous, prisons, but it boasts one of the most progressive programs of rehabilitation for its inmates thanks to a grant from Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway through the EEA Financial Mechanism. Through this financial help the penitentiary has developed an in-house therapeutic community made up of staff members to help inmates overcome their problems with narcotics. The project at Jilava enables a maximum of 26 inmates to receive essential therapy for a period of six months ? but at a cost estimated at 360,000 euros. Only inmates who have six months of detention left are eligible to participant in the program, so long as they have not been drug dealers or convicted for either rape or murder. The drug therapy offers psychological assistance to the residents, group and art therapy and therapies organized by the Romanian anti-Drug Agency and re-integration programs. EPA/ROBERT GHEMENT

The Council of the EU on 16 September adopted its conclusions on the revised Guidelines on EU policy towards third countries on torture or cruel forms of treatment or punishment.

The bloc said the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is absolute in international law and promises to oppose the use of torture and other ill-treatment by state and non-state actors. In this context, the Council underlines the importance of procedural safeguards to prevent torture, in particular in the first hours of detention.

The EU also called on the 28 members of the union to fully comply with their human rights obligations under international law.

Mogherini meets with deputy PM of North Macedonia

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epa07837855 Colombian President Ivan Duque (Unseen) and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini offer a press conference in Bogota, Colombia, 12 September 2019. EPA-EFE/Mauricio Duenas Castaneda ALTERNATIVE CROP

The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, met on 16 September in Brussels with Bujar Osmani, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of European Affairs of North Macedonia.

She commended Osmani on North Macedonia’s progress on its EU integration path and reiterated her determination to support the country in this goal.

During the meeting, they also discussed the situation in the region, where the historic Prespes agreement, together with the bilateral Treaty with Bulgaria, continues to set a positive example for the entire region.

No breakthrough at the Johnson-Juncker meeting in Luxembourg

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epa07846671 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after a meeting with Acting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg, 16 September 2019. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on a one-day visit in Luxembourg to discuss the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, dubbed Brexit. EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay met with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barmier on Monday.

The three men met over a working lunch in Luxembourg. The three men posed for photos before entering Le Bouquet Garni restaurant in Luxembourg’s old town went in for lunch and came out without any formal statements.

Upon arriving, Johnson told reporters he was “cautiously” to which Juncker quipped “cautiously optimistic.”

The scene was politicized by UK expatriates who had gathered outside the restaurant to protest the fact that they could not vote in the 2016 EU referendum, singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, The Luxembourg Times reports.

In a brief statement issued later on, Mr Juncker reiterated “that it is the UK’s responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions” if it wants to do away with the Irish backstop.

Johnson wants a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement that does not include the Irish backstop clause, set there to guarantee no hard border in Ireland.

Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost has made references to “positive progress,” a view that is confirmed by EU sources, the Irish public broadcaster RTE reports. London appears to be willing to concede an all-Ireland agri-food regime, aligned with EU regulations, which will replace the backstop.

But No. 10 Downing Street continues to sustain that failing to secure an agreement the UK is still committed to leaving the EU on October 31st and will not ask for an extension.

Towards securing an agreement, agriculture is a major stumbling block for Dublin and Brussels, but it is not the only one. President Juncker reiterated on Monday that no proposals have been put forward that could replace the Irish backstop.

According to BBC’s reporter in Brussels, Adam Fleming, EU officials continue to view the UK’s proposals as “vague and insufficient.”

EU’s tax transparency tools prove effective, report shows

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epa03824316 (FILE) A file photo dated 02 March 2012 shows the building of the European Central Bank (ECB) reflected in the Euro sign logo by artist Otmar Hoerl in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The eurozone pulled out of its longest-ever recession in the second quarter, powered ahead by a stronger-than-forecast pickup up in the region's two biggest economies - Germany and France, the European Union's statistics office Eurostat said 14 August 2013. The 17-member eurozone economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the three months to June after six consecutive quarters of contraction. This beat the forecasts of analysts, who had been expecting the currency bloc to expand by a slightly more modest 0.2 per cent. However, four eurozone states remain stuck in recession as their governments attempt to patch up state finances against the backdrop of fiscal austerity and high unemployment. EPA/MAURITZ ANTIN

According to an evaluation published on 16 September by the European Commission, EU’s tax transparency rules on the exchange of information between its states are useful when tackling tax avoidance.

The report provides a snapshot of the legislation underpinning the automatic exchange of tax information on non-financial income and assets of some 16 million taxpayers within Europe, of information exchanges on financial accounts, as well as on the tax rulings that EU States provide multinational companies.

The evaluation shows that EU states now receive considerably more information that can help fight tax fraud, evasion and avoidance, but, they are still in the process of finding the most efficient ways to use the data.

The Commission continues to encourage all EU countries to make full use of their access to the tax information being made available through the new channels. From next year, EU states will also start sharing intelligence on the tax planning advice being provided by intermediaries in each country.

Brussels adopts action programme for the Turkish Cypriot community

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epa07627333 EU Commission Vice-President for Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, Valdis Dombrovskis give a press conference with fellow Commissioners on the European Semester Spring 2019 package at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 05 June 2019. The European Commission recommended disciplinary proceedings against Italy because the country was breaking fiscal rules over its rising public debt. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The European Commission adopted on 16 September an Annual Action Programme for a total amount of €35.4 million for new projects aiming to boost the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community with emphasis on the economic integration, on improving contacts between the two communities and with the EU, and on preparation for the acquis communautaire.

The new set of projects seeks to “improve infrastructure, support economic development, foster reconciliation, and bring Turkish Cypriots closer to the EU”, said Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, responsible for the Euro and Social Dialogue.

Assistance to the Turkish Cypriot community is provided through the EU’s Aid Programme and is managed by the Commission’s Structural Reform Support Service. Between 2006 and 2019, €555 million has been allocated for projects under this programme.

EU launches in-depth investigation into Belgian tax system

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epa05547948 EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager speaks at a news conference in which she addressed the Apple tax case and accusations that US companies have been targeted, at the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to the United States, in Washington, DC, USA, 19 September 2016. Vestager discussed the Apple tax case and accusations that she has targeted US companies. On 30 August 2016, Vestager announced Ireland gave illegal tax benefits to Apple worth up to 13 billion euros. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

The European Commission has announced on 16 September that it has opened separate in-depth investigations to assess whether “excess profit” tax rulings granted by Belgium to 39 multinational companies gave those companies a selective advantage over their competitors, in breach of EU State aid rules, allowing them to pay less tax.

The Commission has also appealed the judgment of the General Court to the European Court of Justice to seek further clarity on the existence of an aid scheme. These proceedings are ongoing.

Since June 2013, the Commission has been investigating individual tax rulings or rulings granted under tax schemes of Member States under EU State aid rules. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.

EU, UN condemn attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia

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epa07844126 A handout photo made available by NASA Worldview shows a satellite image of smoke from fires at two major oil installations in eastern Saudi Arabia, 14 September 2019 (issued 15 September 2019), following alleged drone attacks claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels. According to Saudi state-owned oil company Aramco, two of its oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, Khurais and Abqaiq, were set on fire on 14 September after allegedly having been targeted by drone attacks. In picture is seen Bahrain (island, top) and Qatar (peninsula, R). EPA-EFE/NASA WORLDVIEW HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for drone attacks on 14 September, on a huge Saudi Arabian State-owned Armco petroleum processing facility, which threatens to disrupt global oil supplies.

Both the European Union and the United Nations called for maximum restraint:
“It is important to clearly establish the facts and determine responsibility for this deplorable attack”, the EU stated.

Iran denied responsibility on 15 September, and increased tensions by pointing out that US facilities were within range of Iranian missiles.

The UN chief, António Guterres, condemned the attacks and called upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint, prevent any escalation amid heightened tensions, and to comply at all times with International Humanitarian Law.

Tensions rose in June between Iran, the US, Saudi Arabia and nations involved in the global oil trade, over the key oil shipping lanes around the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, involving tankers damaged at sea, leading to the downing of both Iranian and US drones, while other tankers were seized.

EU reaffirms support to media freedom in Western Balkans

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epa06728333 European Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn (C) makes a statement to reporters after the meeting with Montenegrian journalist Olivera Lakic (not pictured) at the newspaper Vijesti in Podgorica, Montenegro, 11 May 2018. Hahn visited the newspaper company Vijesti after unknown assailants shot and wounded a prominent crime and corruption reporter, Olivera Lakic, the latest attack on journalists in the small Balkan country. EPA-EFE/BORIS PEJOVIC

The third EU-Western Balkans Media Days took place from 12-13 September in Montenegro and gathered some 350 representatives of media and civil society organisations as well as policymakers from the Western Balkans and the EU.

The European Commission confirmed its support to the region with new initiatives focusing on media accountability, literacy and governance, as well as the promotion of regional cooperation.

The ongoing EU support to media freedom and independence of journalism in the Western Balkans amounts to over €20 million, including €11.5 million through 5 regional programmes and €8.2 million for initiatives in the six Western Balkan partners.

Johnson led Leave to prevent Gove from taking the Eurosceptic crown, according to Cameron

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epa05656163 A b/w version of epa05387258 Former London Mayor Boris Johnson departs his home in London, , 24 June 2016. Britain's Leave Campaign won the UK EU Referendum by 52 to 48 per cent 24 June. Prime Minister David Cameron has anounced his resignation effective October 2016, EPA/ANDY RAIN

Boris Johnson is a “truth twisting” populist that chose to lead Leave in the UK’s 2016 EU referendum to prevent anyone else from doing so, according to former prime minister David Cameron.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Cameron says that Johnson did not want anyone else emerging as the “darling of the party,”  as the Leave campaign was “loaded with images of patriotism, independence and romance.”

Johnson “risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career,” Cameron argues, touring the country with his red bus while “leaving the truth at home,” said the former prime minister.

Above all, Johnson wanted to prevent Michael Gove from winning the party’s Eurosceptic “crown,”  Cameron argues, referring to Gove as a “disloyal” man and a “foam-flecked Faragist” who lied about Turkey joining the EU by 2020.

Cameron dismissed to both Johnson and Gove as “ambassadors for the expert-trashing, truth-twisting age of populism,” admitting that he was hugely depressed with the referendum result. However, he did not concede that calling the referendum was a mistake.

Cameron is credited with creating a less “toxic” brand of Conservatism, leading a coalition government with the Liberals that implemented a far-reaching fiscal consolidation campaign, albeit at a significant social cost.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Johnson reiterated his conviction that a last-minute deal with the EU could be reached by October 17, suggesting there was movement in Berlin, Paris and Dublin. Johnson also made clear that he does not intend to form an electoral alliance with the Brexit party ahead of the forthcoming elections, whenever they come.

Johnson expressed no regret for expelling 21 Conservative backbenchers who voted to remove “no-deal” of the table as he believes that they undermined the UK’s negotiating position.

Eurozone divided over stimulus policy

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epa07839505 (L-R) Benoit Coeure, Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice President-Designate of the European Commission, Eurogroup Mario Centeno President, and Klaus Regling, Managing Director of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) during the press conference in an EU Informal Meeting of Ministers for Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN) in the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, Finland, 13 September 2019. EPA-EFE/KIMMO BRANDT

Mario Draghi’s monetary policy package announced last week is fiercely contested and may no longer be sufficient to stave off recession across the Eurozone.

Draghi is arguing that the eurozone economy is weak and with low inflation, which necessitates a monetary policy response that includes cutting interest rates and launching a new round of bond purchases. But the ECB’s board is deeply divided over the commitment to buying €20bn a month of sovereign debt.

The Dutch finance minister Klaas Knot has called ECB policy “disproportionate” and went to argue on Friday that it could also be “ineffective.” The Bundesbank’s President Jens Weidmann is accusing Draghi of “going overboard, while the German tabloid Bild likened Draghi to Dracula, for sucking interest out of savings. For both countries, the main issue at hand is that pension funds are under pressure, as government bonds do not offer yield.

Unexpectedly, French governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau also opposed quantitative easing last Thursday. On Friday, the Governor of the Austrian central bank Robert Holzmann said that the ECB’s package is a “possible mistake” that Christine Lagarde should reverse.

Balancing the diverging priorities of the 19-member Eurozone appears increasingly difficult. The Netherlands and Germany are facing a real estate boom, accentuated by full employment, cheap liquidity, and soaring rental prices.

But the Eurozone’s periphery is facing high borrowing costs and chronically high unemployment and underemployment. A “systemic approach” is not the norm. Latvian governor Ilmars Rimsevics and Finland’s Governor Olli Rhen are publicly siding with Mario Draghi.

In fact, many favour coordinated budgetary policy to complement monetary policy. During her confirmation hearing in the European Parliament, the incoming President of the ECB Christine Lagarde insisted that governments needed to do more to stimulate growth.

Once again, Germany will run the world’s largest current account surplus in 2019 for the fourth consecutive year, according to an Ifo economic institute report published on Friday. But the Eurogroup on Friday made no commitment towards a coordinated fiscal stimulus, despite the fact that Eurozone growth has halved to 0.2% in the second quarter.

The German economy is driving the contraction, falling to minus 0.1% in the second quarter and projected to shrink by a further 0,3% in the third.

Draghi has urged governments to spend, that is, a view echoed by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. On the last Eurogroup meeting on Friday Le Maire called on “countries with fiscal space” to spend more, in a reference to Germany, The Netherlands, and Austria.

Italy’s new finance minister Roberto Gualtieri also demanded a more expansionary fiscal policy.

But Mario Centeno said that whilst Eurogroup member states “stands ready to act,” they are not currently planning coordinated action. Centeno expressed the hope that the timid eurozone budget that will come into being in 2021 could help bolster the economy.

The EU responded to the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2009 with a coordinated €200bn stimulus program, equivalent to 1,5% of GDP. This sum is smaller that the German current account surplus. Furthermore, Germany’s sovereign bond yields are negative, which would make a public investment program cost-effective.

Italy reopens ports to migrant rescue boats

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epa07789530 Officials on board an AFM vessel after some 356 migrants, who had been stranded on the NGO rescue ship Ocean Viking for 13 days in the Mediterranean, arrived at Hay Wharf maritime base in Floriana, Malta, late 23 August 2019 (issued 24 August 2019). Some 356 African migrants aboard the rescue ship Ocean Viking migrants will be re-distributed to six other EU states (France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania), the Maltese government said. EPA-EFE/STRINGER

Italy’s new government allowed the French Ocean Viking vessel to bring ashore 82 migrants on Saturday, in what constitutes a policy U-turn.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said the Ocean Viking was granted access to Lampedusa island because European states had agreed to share the migrants on board. The vessel belongs to non-governmental organisation Doctors Without Borders.

Germany’s Conservative Minister of Interior Horst Seehofer committed to taking one in four migrants reaching Italy by sea on Friday.

The EU is a major destination for migrants fleeing North and East Africa, as well as the Middle East and Central Asia. In a statement to Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Friday, Germany’s Interior Minister argued that a 25% share of those rescued at sea would not overwhelm the system.

Since 2015, European Union countries are seeking a workable solution for the distribution of new arrivals in a manner that is viable for Greece and Italy. Such a quota system has been resisted by eastern European countries. Next stop in this ongoing negotiation is a meeting between Home Affairs ministers in Malta on September 23.

The new Italian government formally took office on Tuesday, promising a policy change compared to the no-access clampdown championed by former interior minister Matteo Salvini, who imposed a million Euro fine to boats docking in Italy with migrants.

“The new government is reopening the ports,” Salvini Twitted on Saturday, accusing “abusive ministers” of hating Italians.

Interview with Tiago Guedes

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At last month’s 76th Venice Film Festival New Europe’s Federico Grandesso sat down for an exclusive interview in the famed lagoon city with Portuguese director Tiago Guedes about his new film A Herdade (The Estate) which was presented in competition at the festival.

Starring Albano Jerónimo, Sandra Faleiro, and Miguel Borges the film tells the story of family “ruled” by the charismatic João, a pseudo-anarchist and progressive rich landowner who owns one the largest estates in Europe on the south bank of the Tagus River.

Set in the second half of the 20th century, the story begins with a brief post-World War II prologue and moves to tell the story of the Fernandes family following the death of Portugal’s Fascist dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, during the rule of the far-right Estado Novo government and the disastrous colonial war in Angola. It then moves on to the period leading-up to and immediately after the 1974 Carnation Revolution that ushered in Portugal’s modern era as a democratic republic and carries on to the early 1990s.

New Europe (NE): How did you address the family issue in this film?

Tiago Guedes (TG): For me, this film is talking about a very important part of Portuguese history, but my main interest in this film was the family. When we receive our heritage and we pass it on to others, the family plays such a key role. I was interested about the way people interact and influence each other without noticing…that happens in a lot of families.

NE: In this family there is a sort of dominant “macho” character and everybody is under his rule. Is that the right interpretation?

TG: It was very historical in a way. This kind of behaviour was very common in the past and women, in particular, were much more submissive at that time. I also wanted to portray how wrong that was and how there has been a slow end to the powerlessness of women in Portuguese society. In Portugal now, the gender situation is far more balanced. There are still some issues, but we are absolutely getting there.

NE: How did you show the historical facts in the film?

TG: I wanted to show the important political moments, like the revolution, and the other situations that influenced a change in this family. It is important to stress that these kind of men were like petty monarchs in their little kingdom. The revolution was very positive for Portugal, but it was also bad for a group of people and it was nice to show the other side of the coin. The revolution happened mainly in Lisbon and Porto. For me it was interesting how people far from the big cities felt about the revolution. For them it was something happening far out in the distance, but it changed everything around them.

NE: Why did you construct a character that is not assimilated or attached to the government?

TG: This makes him special. He is his own master and he does things in his own way. Everything that he does is to save and protect his little “kingdom”. He would do whatever not to surrender when the government is asking him to do something he doesn’t believe in. He doesn’t believe he is going to help the war effort in Angola because it’s already lost and he knows that.

NE: How did you come up wth the characters in relation to the political power around them?

TG: This was a big challenge because I could have created some funny clichéd-type of characters and the way I chose the characters could have ended up in that direction. The thing was that I didn’t want to make them laughable and weak because they (the government) really had power. They were influencing you in a way that you couldn’t refuse.

NE: You also wanted to address the topic of torture, how did you approach this subject?

TG: We didn’t talk too much in the film about torture, but there is a little scene. During that time this was part of the game and it is a historical reality that the secret police was really brutal. They learned from the CIA their torture techniques. I think that every family in Portugal had someone who went through it. We all know someone who was arrested, tortured, or silenced. That led to an entire country that wanted change.

NE: After the revolution there were some tensions when it came to working the lands. Why?

TG: After the revolution there was a lot of starvation and a lot of people didn’t have any jobs, so the new government tried to make a reform that would give people the right to work on land that wasn’t theirs. They were trying to free up all the lands for everybody and in some cases they were imposing themselves. The problem was that people were already there and they also didn’t want to lose their livelihood. It was a very difficult period.

NE: Did you ever speak with someone from the old regime?

TG: I didn’t talk to them directly, but we tried to be very correct with them, I didn’t want to make them funny or weird. Most of the old generals are not alive anymore and it was not at all easy to find or approach people who were part of the regime. I didn’t talk to any of the leaders because I didn’t want to make a docudrama or a biopic. It wasn’t really the point of the film to talk about every detail of the revolution.

NE: How was the work on set?

TG: It was a very free process. I started with a script that was a work in progress, then we were writing when shooting. It was very organic and it was not a pre-formatted film that wants to achieve something that was already planned. Even in the editing, there were lots of reconstructions because we wanted to get a certain tone for the film.

NE: Were you influenced by other masters from the world of cinema?

TG: I was really inspired by Vincente Minelli’s melodramas and Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. I also admire people like Paul Thomas Anderson, David Cronenberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Fellini. I was inspired by all the old Italian and American movies. I had all these influences, but I’m not sure they are all in the film.

NE: What was your ultimate goal with this movie? Which elements did you want to present to the audience?

TG: I wanted to show how life in a mysterious way takes control of you and how things escape your control. You don’t know how you get to certain points. You don’t know what you’re going to leave to your kids and you don’t know what you got from your parents.

Lessons from a summer university

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epa04083087 A picture made available 17 February 2014 shows students of the University of Geneva listening to a lecture in Geneva, Switzerland, 18 March 2004. The European Union has halted talks to include Switzerland in multi-billion euro research and education schemes in retaliation of last week's Swiss vote to impose limits on the movement of EU citizens across its borders. Participation in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ projects required a commitment to the free movement of people principle as they involve the transfer of researchers and students between states, the European Commission said on 16 February 2014. EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI

Once again, Portugal’s iconic capital Lisbon hosted a summer university for teachers and students who discussed both ideas and solutions for Europe.

Reinventing Europe and giving the EU’s main actors – the states, universities, enterprises, and civil society – the opportunity to develop new challenges that are focused on innovation and creativity is, in a large sense, giving a central role to the development of a new global order.

This coincides with the reinvention of Europe, which is in essence the reinvention of its people and institutions.

The main takeaways from the summer’s lessons in Lisbon: 

1) Social Innovation – Europe must know how to integrate its citizens using a method of social cohesion that is done with their constructive participation as this is increasingly necessary for the effective mobilisation of European society. Education must be the right tool for this strategic ambition.

2) Competitiveness – Innovation and technology are the main facilitators for competitiveness in Europe. Universities and companies must also create a new strategic partnership centred on the objectives of the added value, creativity, and knowledge. This is the basis for the future effective implementation of an agenda of innovation.

3) Intelligent Cities – Europe excellence is in the strength of its diverse regions. The development of strategic projects like the poles of competitiveness, clusters of innovation, and knowledge cities is an effective confirmation that the basis for a new agenda in Europe depends on the capacity of its regions.

  4) Cultural Identity – Europe has a unique identity based on its strong culture and European Culture should be seen as a unique and strategic asset. Europe must be able to involve other global partners in the construction of integrated projects that are focused on the development of culture as a driver for development. The reinvention of culture is, itself, an innovative way to involve a greater number of uniquely European actors in projects for the future.

  5) Strategic Majority – We want a Europe that is fundamentally for its citizens; a place where people know who they are and have a strong commitment to the values of freedom, social justice, democracy, and development. This is the reason to believe that a new Europe is an individual and collective necessity for all of us as European citizens.

Europe is facing a new chapter in its long history and it is imperative that European institutions embrace a new contract of trust both with its citizens and society as a whole.

Serbian cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo and Metohija

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Kosovo and Metohija are the cradle of both the Serbian state and church, as well as of the spiritual home of the centuries-old culture of the Serbian people. Around 1,300 churches, monasteries, and other sites comprising Serbia’s cultural heritage are located there. The tangible and non-tangible Serbian cultural heritage in Kosovo and Metohija is an authentic and fundamental part of its national identity and our major contribution to the cultural heritage of Europe and the world.

The indivisible bond between the spiritual tradition of the Serbian people with Kosovo and Metohija is also evidenced in the etymology of the very name of Serbia’s most southern province. Metohija is a word of Greek origin meaning “the land under monastic administration”.

The rich Serbian heritage in Kosovo and Metohija is of immeasurable importance to the cultural and national history of the Serbs and is crucial for understanding its past, present, and future. In the centuries of Turkish and Austrian rule, both which followed in the wake of the historic 1389 Battle of Kosovo, it was this heritage that had a decisive impact on the spiritual and cultural life of Serbs. To this day, remains the key feature of the Serbian national being and identity. Much like the French cultural heritage cannot be imagined without Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, neither can Serbia begin to comprehend its existence without the holy sites of Dečani, Gračanica, Zočište, and the Patriarchate of Peć, where Serbia’s Patriarch has resided since the 13th century.

The many medieval buildings erected by Serbian rulers, members of the nobility, and high religious dignitaries testify to the fact that the Serb people have been present in these place for many centuries. It is important to bear in mind that today many of these sites are still not only cultural and historic monuments, but also active places of worship and homes to monastic communities.

In this sense, the acts of vandalism and attempts to destroy centuries of Serbia’s cultural heritage in Kosovo and Metohija are above all attacks against the Serbia’s cultural and national identity Furthermore, these places are not only part of the Serbia’s own heritage, but also an intrinsic historical and civilisational legacy of modern Europe and the world and it is an inalienable right of every nation to foster and preserve cultural heritage of such importance. This ultimately necessary protection must also be in line with the relevant standards of international law.

I would like to remind you that as of June 1999 – after the end of the decade’s armed conflicts – as many as 236 churches, monasteries and other properties of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as cultural and historical sites, were attacked. A total of 174 religious buildings and 33 cultural and historical sites were destroyed, more than 10,000 church icons, religious artefacts, and art objects were stolen.

Four of these gems of world heritage – the Monastery of Dečani, the Patriarchate of Peć, Gračanica, and the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš – are now all on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. In the area south of the Ibar River, not a single Serbian historical monument remains undamaged. The extent of the destruction of anything that serves as a reminder of the centuries of a Serb presence in Kosovo and Metohija is demonstrated by the fact that a pine tree believed to have been planted by medieval Serbian leader Dušan the Mighty in 1336, in the village of Nerodimlje, was cut down in 1999. In the towns south of the Ibar there is not a single street bearing a Serbian name or one named after an important Serbian historical or cultural figure.

The physical destruction of cultural monuments is not the only method used to wipe out the evidence of centuries of Serb existence on the soil of Kosovo and Metohija. Unfortunately, the goal has remained the same, but the means are becoming more and more sophisticated. Violations of property rights, usurpation of church property by institutions, denying Serbian Orthodox believers the right to practice religion, and may others examples continue to be the means to deny Serbs their rightful 1,000-year claim to a very deep cultural and spiritual bond to the region.

Particularly worrying is the continuous, systemic and strategically planned and carried out attempts at covering up or even forging historical facts in regards identity and ownership of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people over the cultural heritage and the monasteries and churches of Kosovo and Metohija.

Contrary to historical facts, Serbian cultural heritage sites are being falsely presented as either Albanian, Byzantine, Catholic, Illyrian, and many others, which introduces a new, no less dangerous, aspect of Serbian cultural heritage annihilation in the province. Regrettably, there are many such examples.

In the database of the so-called “Kosovo” cultural heritage, the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List at the request of Serbia, has been renamed into the “Church of Saint Paraskeva”. The database description makes no mention of the fact that this is the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church. When it comes to the “reconstruction works” undertaken by the order of King Milutin, nowhere does it say that he was a Serbian medieval monarch. Furthermore, the above database includes information that the church suffered through a fire in 2004, while at the same time evading an explanation as to the concrete circumstances of this event.

One of the most beautiful and most valuable Serbian medieval art and culture monuments, as old as the Notre Dame in Paris, was set on fire during a March 2004 pogrom by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians. The underreported event saw both civilians and numerous Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries subjected to two days of violence and destruction.

The trend of tampering with historical facts to erase any trace of a Serb presence in Kosovo and Metohija had its latest example during an attempt to present the Romanesque Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas in Novo Brdo, which was erected in the 14th century by the Serbian high nobility, as well as other key Serbian religious heritage sites from the same period, as Catholic churches.

The Gračanica Monastery, built by Serbian King Milutin in 1321 and dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, or the Visoki Dečani, part of the endowment of Serbian King Stefan Dečanski, cannot belong to the heritage of any other people but Serbian. The cultural and historical identity of so-called “Kosovo” cannot be artificially built on historical revisionism and the forcible physical destruction of material signs of Serbs’ presence in the area. Culture needs to be fostered and protected as a bridge between people and not, as is the case present-day Kosovo and Metohija, as an object of politically motivated abuses that would serve as a way to eliminate any reminder of Serbia and Serbs as the original majority population in the province.

Such an approach where the cultural heritage of one people is subject to a kind of cultural genocide is inadmissible and unthinkable in any democratic environment. As numerous activities are being undertaken at the international level to prevent the theft of cultural goods, we are faced with an unprecedented attempt of forcible appropriation of an entire cultural heritage of one people in a certain territory.

If the provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo and Metohija are not ready to accept the fact that this is and always has been a land of Serbian cultural heritage, how are we to expect them to provide it with suitable protection.

With all the above in mind, the international community must not turn a blind eye to the threats that a small nation’s cultural heritage is having to endure, particularly when that nation made a major contribution to European and world culture. 

Interview: ‘Adults in the Room’ director Costa Gavras on political movie making

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Famed political director returns home to bring the Greek financial crisis to life

At 86-years-old Greek-born French director Costa Gavras has been one the most widely-acclaimed directors of political drama of the last 50 years. A self-professed staunch Communist, his storied carrier includes Z, which garnered him a best director and adapted screenplay Oscar nomination for a fictionalised account of the assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakisin 1963 and the military dictatorship that ruled Greece in the late 1960s and 1970s.

In 1982, Gavras directed Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek in Missing, a film that told the true story of the search for American journalist Charles Horman who was disappeared by the CIA-backed military junta that overthrew Chile’s Marxist President Salvador Allende in 1973.

Gavras continued to mine deeper political material in 1989’s The Music Box with Jessica Lange and Armin Mueller-Stahl, which told the story of an American-Hungarian lawyer who later discovers that her elderly father was a member Hungary’s Nazi-collaborationist Arrow Cross Party.

Though born in Greece, Gavras left for France at age 18 to study law. As the son of a prominent member of the Greek Communist Party, or KKE, Gavras was unable to study or work in Greece and has spent his adult life outside of his home country. In his latest production, however, his attention has taken him back to his place of birth as he has created a cinematic adaptation of the namesake book by Greece’s former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Adults in the Room is Gavras’ first film to be shot in Greece and recounts the torturous negotiations between Greece and the EU during the country’s debt crisis in 2015.

New Europe’s Federico Grandesso sat down with Gavras at the recently completed Venice Film Festival for an exclusive interview to discuss the director’s latest film and his view on where Europe is headed after a decade of economic hardship and a new Commission preparing to take over the reigns of the EU institutions.

New Europe (NE): How much was the former Greek Finance Minister (Varoufakis) involved in your project?

Costa Gavras (CG): About the role of Varoufakis in the film, I used his book, but he did not write the screenplay. I just asked him about some technical or economic issues that were very complex. He gave me some suggestions about the way they were speaking because they used a special language among them.

NE: Do you think that there was a strategy, even in the press, during those days in 2015 to “boycott” Varoufakis?

CG: Yes, and a Greek journalist wrote a large article explaining that there was a strategy to stop him. There was also a French journalist based in Brussels, Jean Quatremer, who also wrote about that. To tell you the truth, it was necessary to read different media and put everything together. Varoufakis had to leave, but at the same time there were people in the Greek government who had to stay in the cabinet just to accept the EU deal.

NE: Who is the “bad guy” in the film?

CG: I was not interested in the personal life. I never approached the EU leaders you see in the film. This is not a tribunal and I don’t want to condemn anyone. For my story I was interested in the how, what, and why they did what they did. I don’t think these EU leaders are bad people. They are only doing their job defending something, even if it is against the society. They just have to follow the rules. I think (German) Chancellor Angela Merkel and (France’s then-) President François Hollande were able to succeed in pushing their idea that Greece must stay in Europe. They won out against Germany’s former finance minister (Wolfgang Schäuble), who had 80% of Germans backing a Grexit (a forced Greek exit from the EU).

NE: There is a lot of truth in the film. Which parts are fictional?

CG: I didn’t want to do a documentary or a historical movie. This a show and what you see in the meeting rooms and during the political dialogues I tried to keep it very real. Then there are some moments, for example, when they go to the ECB they start speaking about money, money, money so I made a kind of joke with a carousel when Varoufakis is talking with his wife.

NE: In the film we see a discussion about a possible Plan B for Greece. Was there ever a real alternative option?

CG: Yes. They studied the possibility to change to a sort of abstract currency because it wasn’t possible to create paper money in only three days. The other option was to keep euros in circulation, but with a stamp on them to note a different price. All these possibilities, however, were impossible in the end. In the EU legislation, you can bring a country into the Eurozone but you can’t throw a country out. So the only way to kick Greece out from the euro was to block the economy through the ECB.

NE: How was to shoot your first film in Greece?

CG: We were obliged to shoot a large part of the movie in Greece because the Greek theatre actors had a very small salary and were unable to come to the rest of Europe. These very talented actors are paid only €10 every evening by the theatre. It was a good experience. I found very good technicians in Greece and we very easily built the set for the Eurogroup meeting room in the centre of Athens.

NE: Did you ask to shoot the film in any of the EU buildings or try to collaborate with the institutions in Brussels?

CG: I was there and I visited everything and I took photos everywhere. The problem was, like I said, that several theatre actors couldn’t travel from Greece to Brussels. So, it was better to shoot in Greece. At the end, I didn’t officially ask to shot on the premises of the EU buildings, but I suppose that they wouldn’t have allowed us anyway.

NE:What do you think about the European Left as it is now?

CG: The Left was not very coherent with its own philosophy and values, I think. Recently, the Left’s policies are very close to the Right’s, and sometimes even close to the extreme Far Right. There are no clear delineating lines any more.

I think the economic agenda of both the Left and the Right is the same. Europe is built up only on its economy, it’s like a supermarket. I don’t see any policies for culture, education, social issues, etc. This situation started 15 years ago with EU Commission President (José Manuel) Barroso and continued with President (Jean-Claude) Juncker.

NE: Is there still hope for a major change with more citizen-oriented reforms in Europe?

CG: After Barroso and Juncker, now I have some hopes with Mrs Ursula von der Leyen. That’s firstly because because she’s a woman and she has an interesting past. There are lots of EU decision makers who are ready to reform Europe. The proposals of President Emmanual Macron are very interesting, but it will not be easy and it will take time.

NE: Can cinema change society?

CG: I think that cinema, on the whole, has changed the world since the very beginning because we were able to “meet” other people, but I don’t think that a movie can change society. I think that all movies are political, even the most stupid ones. Art means dealing with thousands of people, and there is a political responsibility there.

NE: Is what happened to Greece a modern version of a Greek tragedy?

CG: Yes, this is a real Greek tragedy because 500,000 highly educated people left the country and are now in France or Germany enjoying a good financial situation, but they will never come back.

Italy – EU turn the page, for now

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A few years ago, my son who has passion for watches, went to our family house in Corfu and returned to Brussels wearing a beautiful, antique Omega watch that he proudly showed me. I told him, “This belonged to your grandfather, my father, and thus it’s mine”. For my son to reply with apathy, “Yours. Yes, Indeed… But for how long?” Italy’s new Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri from the Democratic Party proudly declared, “Il tempo degli scontri con Bruxelles è finito” (The times of confrontation with Brussels are over). Yes, but for how long?

Watch your language CJEU!

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Because Kassandra can always have more friends

Kassandra gets some fan mail, and sometimes even hate mail. What we love most is communication from concerned citizens and stakeholders. A few days ago, Kassandra was made aware that the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a €25 million tender (around 5 weeks ago) to buy a brand new IT system (SIGA: sisteme integre de gestion des affaire).  “Contrary to ALL business practices in the IT sector“, as the letter of complaint read, the bulk of tender documentation was issued in French (and some in Spanish!). Only 38 documents (out of a total of 100 documents) are available in English. Moreover, the [low-quality] English translation are rather difficult to understand.”

The documents are available here: http://tiny.cc/cjeusiga

The letter told us that the stakeholder requested translations in German and English, but received negative answers, without explanations. And then when a mail to the President of the High Court, Dr Koen Lenaerts was sent, no reply was received at all.

Can the Court of Justice of the European Union claim that they lack translators? The CJEU issues over a million translations per year, pay hundreds of internal translators and spends millions. It does indeed seem strange selective translations should happen, or indeed not happen, for selected projects.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has been working with French and French-Belgian IT companies for years. Do they really intend to look for new suppliers? Or is the public tender just a mere formality?

Alas, unsuccessful tenderers can lodge a case… before the Court of Justice of the European Union… Good luck to them!

Greek tax collectors prepare for hand-to-hand combat

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Over the summer, as the Greek government sought to curb tax evasion during its peak season, several incidents of attacks of tax collectors took place. Some came away unscathed, being chased out of restaurants, or nightclubs, while others were beaten, and had limbs broken during altercations.

To better prepare its tax collectors for combat, the responsible national body, Greece’s Independent Authority for Public Revenue, announced last week that it will be launching free self-defence classes for its staff on 25 September, 2019.

What can possibly go wrong?

Houthi drone attack on Saudi energy infrastructure affects global oil prices

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epa07844126 A handout photo made available by NASA Worldview shows a satellite image of smoke from fires at two major oil installations in eastern Saudi Arabia, 14 September 2019 (issued 15 September 2019), following alleged drone attacks claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels. According to Saudi state-owned oil company Aramco, two of its oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, Khurais and Abqaiq, were set on fire on 14 September after allegedly having been targeted by drone attacks. In picture is seen Bahrain (island, top) and Qatar (peninsula, R). EPA-EFE/NASA WORLDVIEW HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure on Saturday by Yemen’s Houthi rebels reduced oil production by 5,7m barrels a day which, according to analysts, is sufficient to trigger a hike in international prices by $5-to-$10.

According to a Yemeni Houthi rebel spokesman, Yahya Sarea, 10 drones were deployed in the attacks in the Abqaiq refinery and the Khurais oilfield. Abqaiq is Aramco’s largest oil refinery with the capacity to process 7% of the world’s global supply. Khurais is the Kingdom’s second-largest oil field, producing 1% of the global oil supply.

This is the latest attack on a string of Saudi energy infrastructure. Houthis were blamed for drone attacks on the Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility in August and other oil facilities in May. In May, four Saudi-flagged tankers were also attacked within UAE territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman.

A rebel spokesman told the Lebanon-based al-Masirah TV on Saturday that further attacks should be expected. There were no reported casualties as a result of the attack.

The state-owned oil company ARAMCO has announced that some of the reduction in oil production will be compensated from the company’s reserves. Saudi Arabia produces 10% of the global crude oil supply.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo branded the drove strike as an attack to “world energy supply” and blamed Iran, suggesting the drones may not have come from Yemen at all. By Sunday evening, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed U.S. allegations as “pointless”.

Washington is blaming Tehran for over 100 attacks in Saudi territory. Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman told US President Donald Trump that the kingdom will defend itself, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reports.

Yemen is ravaged by a prolonged civil war since 2015, in a proxy standoff between Iran-backed Houthis and the government of the Saudi-backed President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Riyadh’s stock market opened with losses on Sunday with big losses for the petrochemical industry. The negative climate also affected Dubai and Kuwaiti capital markets. The attack could undermine the valuation of Saudi Aramco on the Tadawul bourse in Riyadh later this year but the event does not seem sufficient to delay the initial public offering.

Mission for God: Rebuilding Sofiko’s Monastery

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Untouched Corinthian mountain, coastal town lures tourists.

SOLYGEIA, Greece – When Greek Orthodox nun Lidia arrived alone at the deteriorating convent of The Assumption of the Virgin at Sofiko 40 years ago, she did not have the knowledge or the experience to undertake its renovation but knew she was up to the task.

“I have dreamt about this place in detail, so when I first arrived here I knew I had to try to fix it as I envisioned it,” she told New Europe, while walking with a tray of full Greek coffee cups and homemade glyka tou koutaliou, the traditional Greek spoon sweets that she prepared from the fruits of her monastery garden.

Sofiko is a small town in Solygeia, near Corinth, in Greece’s Peloponnese Region. The hills surrounding the town also are lined with pine trees that belong to the Sofiko Forest, one of the area’s major sources for the production of pine resin or pitch.

The town played s leading part in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Turks in 1821 and there are many historical churches and monasteries in the area with rare architecture and religious paintings.

The 12th century convent, known as Kimiseos tis Theotokou in its original Greek form, is situated at a crossroads where the road from Epidauros meets the road to Sofiko and is built with materials from the great Ancient Greek temple of Aphrodite.

“I came here 40 years ago. The convent was in… well, you can also see in the pictures the condition that it was in. After many years of effort, it has become as you see it, having a different appearance, which is what I wanted,” the nun said. “It has a long history and many people have passed through here, many saints, many people left their lives, their prayers.”

Solygeia also consists of the communities Korfos and Agelokastro. After a scenic route over the mountain, the coastal village of Korfos appears ahead with beaches that surround the piney slopes of the mountain. The village is known for its good climate, plethora of small hotels, and fish taverns. A recent population increase is due to the continuous reconstruction of tourism facilities and cottages that belong to both locals and foreigners.

Giorgos Goumas, a former captain in his late 50s, who is also the mayor of Korfos, is very proud of his village. “We are about one hour and fifteen minutes from Athens. We’re very close Epidauros. We’re a nice small village. A lot of tourists come here, especially in the summer, and we’re living from tourism. We have small, beautiful hotels and many fishing boats. We have things to spend your time – you can rent boats and visit our monuments. The most important of that is the Panagia of Steiri, which is a very important church. I want to tell people that we have very good hospitality and you must come to Korfos,” Goumas said before driving a few kilometres to the north of Korfos, where the Byzantine church of the Dormition of the Virgin at Steiri is located.

The church dates to the second half of the 11th century and has been declared a protected historical monument since 1951. Its name is connected to Hosios Loukas Steiriotis, or Luke of Steiris, the 10th century Byzantine saint and founder of a famous namesake monastery in Boeotia, a region in central Greece and home to the ancient city of Thebes. Loukas Steiriotis lived in Corinthia for 10 years from 918-928 C.E. and the local Church Dormition of the Virgin has has religious paintings dating from 1668.

South of Korfos, the main road leads to the bay of Seloda, where a fish farm with the same name is presently situated.

Back at the convent, nun Lidia, who was once a medical student, said philosophically that people come here to pray but you don’t have to be a saint to pray. She smiled, saying: “We’re all saints.”

Change on the horizon; brace for impact

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The European Union has entered into a phase of critical uncertainty.

The Brits made the second blunder in their post-war history with Brexit and are totally confused. The first mistake was that upon the end of World War II. They voted out the winner of the war, Winston Churchill, which cost the entire European continent heavily and is something that since then, nobody dares to say.

The British are coming, and the British are going

UK citizens are totally disorientated. European citizens in other countries, particularly in the south and the Balkans, all of whom claim to have bad quality politicians – are looking at the House of Commons and are very happy in the realisation that their political elites are angels in comparison.

The United Kingdom is walking on quicksand in the lobby of the Hotel California – where you can check-out, but never leave. As a result, all options are open. From a hard-catastrophic Brexit, to a revocation of article 50 which would return the UK to the same status it had before the entire issue began.

The political elite is dangerously divided, even more-so than the highly polarised electorate.

One unlikely scenario – which under the desperate circumstances cannot be excluded, and even seems logical – is that after a highly contentious election, the new government calls for a second referendum the week after with the question of whether or not to stay in the EU. If the result is to remain, things for the UK will be easy, and provide a sense of relief to the bloc.

The only thing the UK will have lost is two agencies on its territory, and the career advancement and appointments of its nationals in the EU civil service duringthe post-referendum time period.

The pendulum swinging from Germany to Italy

Germany seems to have entered into a mode of high political fluidity, while the rest of Europe – after the experience of two world wars that ended with 120 million victims – is increasingly concerned with the rapid growth of the German far-right. 

There are serious concerns about the political future of Germany which, after dominating Europe economically, would also dominate the EU politically without the United Kingdom.

Ordinary Germans are hard-working and very disciplined. Realising that the outcome of their hard work is being dissipated by endemic austerity and overregulation, have begun to react and are moving with increasing pace to the far-right, having this as the most efficient and accessible means to express their disgruntlement.

The signs for Germany are not good. Only last week, Stefan Jagsch of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), was unanimously elected to a position in Waldsiedlung district of Altenstadt, in central Germany’s Hesse state. The decision was supported by the vote of seven council members that also included representatives of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP). After the political party headquarters understood what had happened, they scrambled to reverse the vote, reportedly unsuccessfully so far. Even technically stripping Jagsch of the nomination is meaningless. The damage, even of a preliminary tacit acceptance of his political ideals, will have already been done. And this despite the after-the-fact condemnation by the mainstream parties.

At the same time, and this the real problem, the main far-right party – Alternative for Germany (AfD) – is striving to expand its influence from its stronghold in the former East Germany and is quickly gaining ground and building political capital all over the country. The rest of Europe is watching and worrying about what can happen in the post-Merkel era.

In Italy, the Christian-Democrats of Partito Democratico (PD), or the Democratic Party in English, made a suicidal attempt to return to power and associated with their political archenemy, the anarchist Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S), known more commonly as the 5-Star Movement. To please Brussels, the new government appointed as Italian Commissioner former PD Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. It is a Pyrrhic victory as they cut bridges with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the Fratelli d’Italia party. This may result in a dreaded landslide victory in the next general election for now-former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and his Lega party. Once again, Europe is watching, and worrying.

We are forcing Europe to change for the worse, based on the puny interests of a few big business and financial conglomerates which, compared to the future of Europe, are irrelevant. Indeed, a shift of European society to the far-right will be catastrophic, whether it happens by many aligning accidents and coincidences, or a strategic shift. If that time were to come, the big conglomerates would think that they were once able to make a deal with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party and, as such, can make a deal with everybody.

 Wrong. The Nazis were very disciplined, styling themselves on a politicised militarystructure,  and thus could make and keep deals. The new far-righters are not Nazis but could prove to be even more dangerous. And if one looks closely at many of the individuals involved in these movements, networks, and parties, many have a common ideology of convenience that runs like a thread throughout Europe – ‘anarcho-autonomy’. This has one and only target – not a fairer redistribution of wealth, but the total change of ownership of wealth.

If you scratch a little under their often densely inked skin, you will discover no right, left or centre, but an anarchist ‘puro’, to use some of their jargon of self-definition.

The future is coming, slowly and quickly

There are many scenarios as to what may happen in the medium to long term, but the alarming to the business community and the 1% is that political messiahs and even mainstream parties are more and more often talking about extreme measures to achieve a redistribution of income. Whether we look across the Atlantic at the ideas of Elizabeth Warren (and not only), or the UK Labour Party’s reported plans for the confiscation of about £300bn of shares in 7,000 large companies and hand them to workers.

The changes that are coming may seem subtle and gradual. They will be, until they are not.

Brace for impact.