IMF calls on Finland to seize environmentally harmful subsidies

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epa04824587 (FILE) A file photo dated 18 May 2011 showing the logo of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the entrance of the Headquarters of the IMF, also known as building HQ2, in Washington, DC, USA. Greece will not make the 1.6-billion-euro (1.8-billion-dollar) repayment due 30 June 2015 to the International Monetary Fund unless it strikes a deal in the coming hours with its creditors, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in Athens as the deadline loomed. He implied that his left-wing government would resign if Greeks vote 'yes' in a planned 05 July referendum on a renegotiated bailout. The Greek vote is widely seen as deciding whether the near-bankrupt country stays in the eurozone. No country has left the currency bloc since its founding in 1999. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called on the Finnish government to review a policy of environmentally harmful subsidies, including €3,5bn those for peat production a year.

Finland is committed to becoming a carbon-neutral society by 2035.

Overall the IMF expresses scepticism over the ability of the Finnish government to deliver on its stated ambition of a balanced budget over the next four years.

“The budget will not be in balance in 2023,” IMF senior economist Alasdair Scott said on a visit to Helsinki on Tuesday.

Anti Rinne’s centre-left government plans to achieve a balanced budget by leading the economy closer to full employment by 2023. To balance the budget, the government will have to create 60,000 new jobs, raising employment to 75% of the active population from 72,8% today.

The Finnish economy is decelerating but growing. The IMF predicts the economy will grow by 1.25% in 2019, rising to 1.5% in 2020.

The IMF applauds the government’s recommendation that banks limit the ratio of household debt to income, as there have been serious concerns about both the overall level of household debt and housing market overheating.

Documents reveal how China sends Uyghurs to camps

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epa07428611 Former camp prisoner Omer Bekali (L) speaks with his translator Asgar Can (R) during a news conference of the Society for Threatened Peoples and the World Congress of the Uyghur people on the theme of re-education camps in China, in Berlin, Germany, 11 March 2019. The former camp prisoner talked about the so called rehabilitation camps in the Chinese province of Xinjiang where more of a million ethnic Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz people are believed to be held. EPA-EFE/FELIPE TRUEBA

Over 400 pages of internal documents have provided unprecedented insight into the Chinese Communist Party’s oppression of ethnic minorities in the country’s western Xinjiang region.

According to the documents, the authorities in China have a special manual that contains instructions for officials on how to deal with Uyghurs, the 12-million strong indigenous community of Xinjiang, who are both Turkic-speaking and Muslim.

The leaked documents show that the Chinese Communist Party targets Uyghur students’ families. Upon the students’ return from their university holidays, they find that their families have been taken away for having “unhealthy thoughts”.

Local officials are then tasked with stopping the student from speaking out about their families’ detention. The young Uyghurs are usually told by government officials that their loved ones are undergoing “training” to keep them “safe from Islamic extremism” and were detained “for their own good”, the documents reveal.

Included in the documents is a seven-page manual for officials in Turpan, in eastern Xinjiang, about what the students need to be told when they ask about why their family members were disappeared. The officials have been instructed to tell the young students that “they’re (the family members) in a training school set up by the government to undergo collective systematic training, study, and instruction” and that they “have been given very good conditions to study and live normally while they’re being quarantined”.

Systemic persecution of ethnoreligious groups

Former Uyghur prisoners have described how the detention centres are grossly overcrowded and are utterly bereft of normal hygienic facilities. They also recall being chained to chairs and forced to sing Communist propaganda songs to get food.

The documents also state that the political indoctrination that goes on during the so-called “training” in the camps needs to be done behind closed doors to “completely eradicate this stubborn cancer in their thinking”.

China has acknowledged the existence of some “re-education training centres”, which they say were designed to combat religious extremism, but have repeatedly denied that either torture or indoctrination is used in the camps.

Beijing’s mass detention of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Uzbeks began in 2017 and has been widely condemned by other countries as a major human rights violation. Since the Chinese Communist Party began rounding up the Muslim communities of Xinjiang, which the local Uyghur population refers to as East Turkestan, at least 1 million people have been put into re-education camps.

Pope Francis travels to Thailand and Japan

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Pope Francis (C) boards an airplane at the Leonardo da Vinci airport in Fiumicino, near Rome, Italy, 19 November 2019. Pope Francis' begins his three-day visit to Thailand to mark mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of 'Mission de Siam'. EPA-EFE/TELENEWS

Pope Francis visits Thailand and Japan this week, where Christians make up a small minority in places dominated by Buddhism.

Pope Francis will become the second pontiff in 38 to travel to East Asia. John Paul II was the first head of the Catholic Church to visit Japan and Thailand in 1981 when both were on the frontlines of the Cold War.

Francis is due to arrive in Thailand on November 20 for a three-day visit, before moving on to Japan on the 23rd. In a pre-trip video posted on the Vatican’s website, the Pope spoke of peace and stressed the need to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The pontiff went on to praise Thailand for his commitment to “harmony and peaceful coexistence,” and said he wanted to “strengthen the bonds of friendship that we share with our many Buddhist brothers and sisters.”

“Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be revealed again in the history of mankind. The use of nuclear weapons is immoral,” Pope Francis said in an address to the Japanese in their own language.

Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya-anan, the general coordinator of the papal visit and deputy secretary-general of the Thai bishops’ conference, stressed that the region’s Buddhists also have a great deal of respect for the Pope and consider him “a great religious leader.”

The large Catholic community in Thailand is busy preparing for the papal visit. Francis will visit monuments to victims of religious persecution and meet with bishops from Thailand and the neighbouring countries at the Temple of St. Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, a priest who died in 1944 after several years in prison.

While in Japan, the Pope will visit Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki – the latter two cities were destroyed by atomic bombs near the end of World War II in 1945. Francis will give a speech on nuclear weapons at the place where the bombs were dropped and later pay tribute to 16th-century Catholic martyrs that were crucified on February 5, 1597, in Nagasaki.

Pope Francis has visited Asian countries, including the Philippines and South Korea, where a significant number of Catholics live.

 

 

Thousands of accounts stolen by hackers as Disney rolls out new streaming service

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A large Disney Plus logo is displayed during D23 Expo at the Convention Center in Anaheim, California, USA, 23 August 2019. The D23 Expo provides fans with access to Disney films, television, games and theme park experiences and runs from 23 to 25 August. EPA-EFE/ADAM S DAVIS

The start of a highly anticipated streaming service from The Walt Disney Company endured an unsuccessful rollout as thousands of Disney+ user accounts were stolen and put up for sale on the so-called “Dark Web” after it first went live.

Disney+ is the new subscription-based streaming service that was officially launched on November 12. The service, although available only in the United States, Canada and the Netherlands, attracted more than 10 million subscribers in the first 24 hours.

Just a hours after the launch of the service, attackers hacked user accounts and offered them for free on hacker forums or sold them at prices from $3 to $11, which is more than the official Disney+ account price of $7.

Many users reported that the hackers gained access to their accounts, logged them out, and then changed the email addresses and passwords, which effectively seized the account and blocked access for the actual owner.

A Disney spokesperson emphasised that the company “takes the privacy and security of users’ data very seriously and there was no indication of a security breach to Disney+”.

The fear now is that some users often use the same email address and password for several sites, including Disney+, which would leave their confidential information exposed to a major security breach.

Disney+ is the Walt Disney Company’s addition to the ever-growing landscape of on-demand streaming content, which already includes Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, amongst others.

Varhelyi joins Breton and Valean as EU Commissioner

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epa07994871 European Commissioner-designate in charge of neighborhood and enlargement policy, Oliver Varhelyi from Hungary during his hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 14 November 2019. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

Oliver Varhelyi struck a reassuring note with the EU’s parliamentarians during his confirmation hearing when he told MEPs that “a Commissioner cannot take instructions from the national government of a Member State and reiterated that he would obey the European Union’s rules during his mandate.

Varhelyi, who serves as Hungary’s ambassador to the EU, helped quell many of the MEPs’ concerns, given his warm relations with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, when he firmly stated his decidedly pro-EU stance regarding Turkey’s antagonistic relationship with Brussels and Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine.

When asked about the EU’s accession process for Albania and North Macedonia, Varhelyi’s said he supported the opening of the negotiation process for both countries and that the accession process, itself, needed to be both reformed and overhauled.

Varhelyi also answered additional written questions by MEPs from the Greens, Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left. Apart from the Greens and the leftist parties, the others concluded that Varhelyi’s written answers were enough of departure from Hungary’s arch-conservative government that they allayed concerns about his independence from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policies.

Incoming Commission taking shape

France’s Thierry Breton and Adina-Ioana Valean of Romania, both Commissioners-designate under incoming President Ursula von der Leyen, received the nod from the European Parliament’s committees on November 14 to be given portfolios in the incoming  Commission.

Breton, who said under his watch that “5G, blockchain, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, cloud and quantum technologies” would enable the EU to be a key industrial player, takes over as the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market Portfolio.

As the Commissioner-designate for the transport portfolio, Valean said she would focus on a Green Deal for Europe while also improving the bloc’s working conditions and connectivity.

Moving forward

While the hearings for von der Leyen’s cabinet are almost over, questions still remain regarding the UK and whether it will name a Commissioner-designate before Brussels launches infringement proceedings against the former.

The Council must approve the new list of 27 Commissioners before the European Parliament confirms von der Leyen and her College of Commissioners in Strasbourg.

 

 

 

Targets acquired: NATO open to new nuke deals with Russia, China

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epa07363996 US Permanent Representative on the Council of Nato Kay Bailey Hutchison gives a press conference ahead of a Defense Ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 12 February 2019. NATO Defense Ministers will gather for a two-day meeting on 13 February in Brussels. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

NATO is open to new arms control agreements with Russia and China, Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, US Permanent Representative to NATO, told a telephonic press briefing on 18 November.

Asked by New Europe, if she sees any partnership with Russia on nuclear proliferation issues, and how can conflicting issues be overcome, Hutchison said, “Well, certainly, we are open to new arms control agreements.  The INF Treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) that has been our treaty with Russia for years had to – we had to see, and NATO did look at the evidence that Russia had been violating the treaty for so long that they really had a number of the ballistic missiles that could reach any European country, and this was a violation of the INF Treaty, so it has now been disbanded, which means that we need to look for new treaties where we can include China as a major now owner and operator of missile systems that could harm any of us, if used.”

The Ambassador was speaking ahead of the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels on 20 November to finalise preparations for the meeting of NATO leaders in London.

NATO is now looking at other arms control treaties, Hutchison continued, that could be with Russia and China, “the main ones that have capabilities that could be harmful to our security. And now that we don’t have the INF and we are looking at the – how we might address the New START Treaty, all of that is in the discussion phase now and I would just say that we all are in favour of nonproliferation and arms control.”

The ambassador said in her opening statement that China has been much more active in global security issues and that now that means that NATO is going to have to assess what the risk is of China if they don’t stay within the rules-based order.

Turning to NATO-EU relations, Hutchison said the US brings a lot to the NATO alliance. “So I think that if you look at the adaptability, how we are able with our – with our umbrella of security to adapt to Russia’s malign influence and hybrid and cyber-attacks, the – we’re the ones standing for Ukraine and Georgia as the Russians have taken over that country; we’re the ones who expelled Russian spies all over the alliance when the UK got the Russian chemical agent put in its country to kill one of its former Soviet citizens. We stood firm with the UK on that, and I think that it shocked Russia that we were so unified against that horrendous act,” Hutchison said.

“We need to face China together,” she added. According to the Ambassador, the EU alone should not think that they will be able to meet the challenges of a rising China without the Transatlantic bond.

European experts discuss telecom security

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epa07611984 An image taken with a tilt-shift lens shows a general view of the residential block 23 built in the 1970's in Belgrade, Serbia, 25 February 2019. One of the buildings of the residential blok 23 built in the 1970's in Belgrade, Serbia, 25 February 2019 (issued 30 May 2019). Tourists visiting Belgrade can experience the city as it was during the Yugoslav era, allowing visitors a chance to admire the buildings, objects and even vehicles of a bygone socialist state. Specialized tour operator YugoTour offers insight views of different experiences people had living here. EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC ATTENTION: This Image is part of a PHOTO SET

The European Union’s agency for cybersecurity, ENISA, together with the national communications regulator of Serbia, RATEL, last week held the 29th ENISA Article 13a meeting in Belgrade, Serbia.

Experts from the telecom sector across Europe discussed the challenges to be addressed by a group set under the new legislative framework, such as the new definition of security in the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) , the new reporting parameters in the Code, as well as the new ENISA tool for EECC breach reporting, CIRAS (Cyber Incident Reporting and Analysis System).

The expert group was set up in 2010. The next meeting will be held on 12-13 February 2020 in Brussels. In the next year, the group will work toward updating the guidelines for security measures and adapting the incident reporting process to the new provisions.

Observers say Belarus election did not comply with democratic standards

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epa08003040 A Belarusian soldier casts his ballot at a polling station during parliamentary elections, in Minsk, Belarus, 17 November 2019. The elections are being closely watched by the West to see how much leeway country's President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for 25 years, is willing to give to opposition candidates. Around 300 opposition candidates are running in the election. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

Parliamentary election in Belarus did not show respect for democracy, international observers said on 18 November, after the opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko failed to win a single seat.

“These elections have demonstrated an overall lack of respect for democratic commitments”, said Margareta Cederfelt, leader of the observer mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

According to the European Union, the vote was “a lost opportunity to conduct elections fully in line with international standards”.

“A number of key OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission recommendations remain unaddressed. In view of the presidential elections of 2020, it is crucial the Belarusian authorities resume work on comprehensive electoral reform without delay. This will also be key for achieving the full potential of EU-Belarus relations, building on the positive cooperation of the last three years”, the EU stated, underlining that it is “committed to supporting a stable, democratic, sovereign and prosperous future of the country”.

EU and Eastern Partner countries discuss media independence

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epaselect epa05744383 The image taken with a fisheye lens shows the atrium of the new Europa Building in Brussels, Belgium, 23 January 2016. Located at the heart of the European district, the Europa building combines a new part, a lantern-shaped structure designed by the consortium of Samyn and Partners (Belgium), Studio Valle Progettazioni (Italy) and Buro Happold (UK) with a renovated section of Art Deco complex designed by architect Michel Polak in 1922. The building is plan to host European council and summits. EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

EU experts, donors and media professionals met for “The Eastern Partnership Media Conference 2019: Business and Sustainability” on 13-14 November, in Riga, Latvia.

The participants discussed strategies for increasing the independence of media in Eastern Partnership countries, presented successful examples, and proposed solutions to challenges faced by journalists, such as digitalisation, better access to data analysis, diversification to new platforms and services, and skills development.

The event was organised by the EU Commission with the support of the European External Action Service and Latvia’s government. The recommendations of the conference aim to contribute to shaping EU’s media assistance in these countries.

Europol helps bust archaeological artifacts trafficking group

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epa07769948 A view of archaeological artifacts on display, in Pompeii, southern Italy, 12 August 2019. Archaeologists, during excavations in Regio V, la Casa con Giardino, in the ancient city of Pompeii, have uncovered a trunk containing a vast variety of fascinating objects, trunk with stones, bones, objects thought to be used in rituals, that may have been part of a 'sorcerer's treasure trove', the site's director Massimo Osanna said on the day. EPA-EFE/CESARE ABBATE

An international police operation supported by Eurojust and Europol dismantled a major organised crime group involved in large-scale trafficking of Greek archaeological items from Calabria, Italy.

Operation “Achei” was carried out on 18 November and resulted in 23 arrests and 103 searches and seizures, yielding approximately 10.000 archaeological goods.

The group was led by two Italians and the key facilitators were from Italy, France, the UK, Germany and Serbia. Their looting over the course of several years caused considerable damage to the Italian cultural heritage.

Eurojust arranged a coordination centre that enabled simultaneous arrests in the five countries, and coordination of investigative judges, prosecutors and law enforcement authorities. Europol coordinated the information exchange, held several operational meetings, and provided analytical information from its databases.

EU condemns escalating violence in Hong Kong

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epa08008185 A view of the damaged facilities inside the Polytechnic University after a three-day stand off between protesters and police in Hong Kong, China, 19 November 2019. Hong Kong is in its sixth month of mass protests, which were originally triggered by a now withdrawn extradition bill, and have since turned into a wider pro-democracy movement. EPA-EFE/BING GUAN

About 100 anti-government protesters remain holed up in a Hong Kong university while searching for escape routes on 19 November, the third day of clashes with police.

About 1.100 protesters were arrested in the past 24 hours on charges including rioting and possession of offensive weapons.

In light of the continuing rise in violence, the European Union called for restraint and respect for the fundamental freedoms, including the right of peaceful assembly of the protesters.

“Only confidence building measures, including an inclusive and sincere dialogue, reconciliation and community engagement, can lead to a sustainable solution”, the EU stated, and added that “every effort needs to be made to ensure that the District Council elections on 24 November proceed as planned”.

“The European Union has close relations with Hong Kong under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and strongly values its continued stability and prosperity. Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy must be preserved in line with the Basic Law and international commitments”, the EU said.

The demonstrations began as a movement to block a controversial extradition bill, and escalated into a call for greater democratic rights in Hong Kong and a pushback against the growing influence of China.

Last week, police shot a protester and demonstrators set a pro-Beijing activist on fire.

New oil field discovered in South Kazakhstan

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – A new oil field was discovered in southern Kazakhstan, the spokeswoman for the Kazakh Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, Samal Ibraeva, told New Europe on 19 November.

According to Ibraeva, oil seepage was found at a shallow depth in the Turkestan region in southern Kazakhstan.

The expedition, which worked in this mountainous area, studied the issue of the presence of bauxite, lead and zinc deposits in the Leontief depression, south of Kazakhstan.

The expedition drilled 39 wells to a depth of 300 metres, oil was found in eleven wells at different distances from the surface.

“Such evidence of the presence of oil was first discovered in the mountains of Kazakhstan, which pleases us with its future prospects for the search and development of new deposits in the Syrdarya and Shu-Sarysuyskaya depressions (south of Kazakhstan),” Ibraeva said, adding that research will not stop in the area.

Kazakhstan is an oil producing country. Today’s annual oil production is 90 million tonnes in Kazakhstan. The republic has a goal to reach the mark of 100 million in the coming years. Kazakhstan has large oil fields like Kashagan, Tengiz and Karachaganak. All oil and gas fields are located in the west of the country.

 

UN to discuss steps toward nuclear-free Middle East

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epa07934573 United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres attends the International Monetary and Financial Committee plenary session at the IMF World Bank Annual Meetings in Washington, DC, USA, 19 October 2019. EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER

The first conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction kicked off on 18 November at the United Nations’ headquarters.

Representatives from across the Middle East gathered in order to negotiate a legally binding treaty establishing a regional zone free of nuclear weapons.

UN chief António Guterres explained the zone would have significance beyond the region, as concerns over nuclear programmes continue to drive tensions.

Currently, there are five nuclear-free zones worldwide: in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. Guterres warned that there are “signs of active arms competition, including the acquisition and use of new weapon technologies”.

The first Middle East-focused conference will be held annually until a legally binding treaty for the nuclear-free zone is agreed.

Brussels facilitates cross-border mobility of companies

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epa06470294 EU Commissioner in charge of Justice, consumers and gender equality, Vera Jourova, speaks at a news conference on the 'Commission guidance on the direct application of the General Data Protection Regulation', in Brussels, Belgium, 24 January 2018. The Commission published guidance to facilitate a direct application of the new data protection rules across the EU as of 25 May 2018. Jourova also announce the adoption of a decision to transfer the back-up site of the Galileo Security Monitoring Centre from the United Kingdom to Spain. The Galileo Security Monitoring Centre (GSMC) is a technical infrastructure which plays a key role in ensuring the security of the EU's satellite navigation programme Galileo. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

The Council of the European Union adopted on 18 November a directive on cross-border conversions, mergers and divisions that provides clear procedures for companies to merge, divide or move within the single market. It also ensures that cross-border operations cannot be abused.

The Directive removes unjustified barriers to EU companies’ freedom of establishment, and includes safeguards to protect employees’ rights to be informed and to participate in the boards of companies.

“The new rules will give EU businesses more opportunities to move and grow by providing clear procedures for companies, which will cut costs and save time”, said Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality.

Because of the considerable savings envisaged by the directive, it will be beneficial to small and medium business, which are the backbone of Europe’s economy, representing 99% of all businesses in the EU.

EU reaches deal on 2020 budget

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epa07998643 Kimmo Tilikainen, the Finnish Secretary of State, during a European economic and financial affairs council on budget in Brussels, Belgium, 15 November 2019. The European Parliament and the Council are currently in a three-week conciliation period ending 18 November, to bridge differences on the 2020 budget between the two institutions. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

The Council of the EU and the European Parliament have reached a last-minute agreement on the 2020 EU budget, on 18 November, focusing on growth and fighting climate change. The 2020 budget is the last annual spending plan of the Union’s seven-year budget.

Lawmakers and government officials from EU states agreed to spend €168.7 billion, of which 21% will go to climate. Total payments amount to €153.6 billion, a 3.4% increase from 2019.

“Next year’s budget strengthens support for the EU’s priority areas and best-performing programmes. It also ensures a realistic approach, taking into account the interests of taxpayers and the need to cater for new challenges that may arise in 2020. I would like to highlight in particular the move to further “green” the EU budget and ensure that it works in support of the EU’s climate agenda”, said Kimmo Tiilikainen, the Finnish Secretary of State and chief Council negotiator for the 2020 budget.

The budget envisages some €60 billion support for farmers, fisheries and biodiversity and almost €59 billion to reduce economic differences between EU regions. Almost €25 billion will go to support research and innovation, youth education programmes, small and medium businesses and Europe’s Galileo satellite scheme. Another €14 billion will finance EU security, humanitarian aid and the newly created European border guard.

This year, the negotiations for the 2020 budget were parallel to the negotiations of the EU’s next long-term budget for the period 2021-2027.

“We should now focus on a timely adoption of the next long-term budget so that we can provide certainty and stability for our beneficiaries and continue creating an EU added value for all”, said Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for budget and human resources.

German business calls for bigger deficits

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epa07623863 (L-R) Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of the Federation of German Industry (BDI) Dieter Kempf attend the Day of the German Industry, in Berlin, Germany, 04 June 2019. The convention is the most important event of the Federation of German Industries, the leading organization of German industry and industry-related service providers. Politicians, entrepreneurs and businessmen discuss and present industry related issues. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz brushed aside demands by both unions and businesses On Monday to ditch the balanced budget policy as the economy is slowing down.

Germany’s BDI business lobby and DBG union are calling for an end to the so-called “black zero” policy of no net new borrowing. Instead, they are calling for public investment in infrastructure, taking advantage of negative bond-yields.

The BDI is calling for €17bn investment in digital and transportation infrastructure, which corresponds to 0,5% of GDP, on the top of €43bn earmarked for public investments in 2020.

The rare social partners’ joint call comes as Germany narrowly avoided a technical recession in the third quarter of 2019 posting 0,1% growth. Growth in Europe’s biggest economy will remain weak in the fourth quarter the Bundesbank said on Monday.

With over a decade of monetary expansion and a cheap euro, Germany had lowered its debt and increased its exports without substantial investment. According to Germany’s state-owned development bank KfW, German municipalities have unmet public investment needs of about €138bn.

On Monday, Merkel and Scholz insist that public investment has increased to record levels without borrowing. Germany’s so-called debt brake rule allows a federal budget deficit of up to 0.35% of the gross domestic product alone.

The new president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, has called on Germany and the Netherlands to invest their budget surpluses to help growth in the bloc.

Italian coalition government faces crisis on two fronts

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epa07822154 People walk past the latest mural by Italian artist Tvboy displaying Pd secretary Nicola Zingaretti, premier Giuseppe Conte and FM minister Luigi Di Maio while Matteo Renzi as Cupido and shoot her arrow, in downtown Rome, Italy, 06 September 2019. EPA-EFE/ANGELO CARCONI

The Italian coalition government is fighting two battles, one in Brussels and one in Rome.

The leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) MS5) Nicola Zingaretti and the leader of the Five Star Movement (MS5), Luigi Di Maio, clashed on Monday over citizenship law. The issue of migration is deeply divisive for the two coalition partners.

The centre-left wants the introduction of an ‘ius soli’ regime (law of the soil), that would give second-generation migrants an entitlement to citizenship. Echoing Greek legislation, Zingaretti proposes an automatic entitlement to citizenship after five years of schooling in Italy.

But M5S leader and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio dismissed the idea, expressing confidence that “on real issues” the coalition government is cooperating smoothly.

Polling suggests that MS5 is sliding on the polls, even though it has been able to push through flagship measures such as a guaranteed minimum income (“citizens’ income”), curbs on temporary contracts, and a cut in the number of parliamentarians.

Meanwhile, the whole government is facing a potential standoff with Brussels.

The 2019 Italian budget was rejected by the European Commission with the Vice President of the European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis, calling for “a considerable correction.”

The budget foregoes a planned hike in value-added tax, introduces a reduction on the payroll tax, and creates space for a modest surge in public investment. This mildly expansionary budget could see the country’s deficit increase, undermining the objective of reigning over the138% debt-to-GDP ratio.

Last week, Italy submitted a revised budget plan to the European Commission, which was founded on a series of optimistic projections about tax receipts, including a promise to go after tax evasion. In what could very well be an election year, the Italian government is unlikely to introduce fiscal consolidation measures.

Airbus books $30bn in orders at Dubai Air show

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epa08004165 Visitors gather at Airbus pavilion during the Dubai Airshow 2019 at Dubai World Central - Al Maktoum International Airport, in Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 17 November 2019. The airshow will run from 17 November to 21 November 2019. EPA-EFE/ALI HAIDER

Airbus has secured orders for 170 aircraft worth $30 billion at the latest Dubai Air Show. The orders include 50 Airbus A350-900 XWB by Emirates Airlines worth $16 billion and 170 Airbus A320s from Air Arabia for $14 billion.

Air Arabia is said to be expanding into Southeast Asia and Africa while the Emirates wants to change the makeup of their fleet to adjust to slowing regional demand. Emirates is the biggest owner of the A380 super-jumbo jet, with more than 100 of the aircraft in its fleet.

The first of the A350 aircraft, which can fly for 15 hours without refuelling and are expected to cover long-haul routes, will be delivered by 2023

France wants to change the rules on enlargement

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epa07990625 French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski (L) during a bilateral meeting as part of the Paris Peace Forum, in Paris, France, 12 November 2019. The international event on global governance issues and multilateralism takes place on 12 to 13 November in Paris. EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL MAXPPP OUT

Following the French decision to block EU accession talks with Albania and N. Macedonia, France proposes to change the policy of enlargement.

In a non-paper shared with EU member states, Emmanuel Macron’s government proposes a shift from a chapter-by-chapter accession process with a seven-stage process.

The process would entail convergence with EU norms and standards and would not be unidirectional. If a candidate country’s government backslides, the EU can reverse the process to the previous stage.

The idea of “stages” replacing “chapters” would mean that reforms would be cohesive and thematically linked rather than scattered in different policy directions.

The stick and carrot approach remains, as the French proposal envisages widening the scope of opportunities for candidate states to participate in sectoral EU policies as they progress, complete with targeted financial instruments. This echoes the principle the “more for more” underpinning Eastern Partnership Association Agreements.

Today, both the Commission and EU member states consent for a country to begin accession negotiations. First, the Commission judges the country is aligned with the acquis, then an accession treaty is drawn and, finally, the Council must approve it.

The French proposal is said to be the product of consultation with Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. The question now is whether this is a proposal to end enlargement or a sincere attempt to make the process of accession more effective in achieving convergence.

In any event, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov hailed the French proposal. Russia also hailed Macron’s dismissal of NATO as “brain dead” and his call for “strategic dialogue” with Russia during an interview with The Economist suggests a clear departure from a Euro-Atlantic trajectory.

North Macedonia has just joined NATO, a step that since the collapse of the Berlin Wall has been considered the first step towards EU membership. Last week President Stevo Pendarovski said his country does not oppose a more thorough methodology of engagement in the process of enlargement. The priority appears of maintaining the prospect of membership open.

However, it is feared, an EU departure from the Balkans could pave the way for the regions’ deeper engagement with Turkey, Russia, and China.

The incoming President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has promised to be more “geopolitical” in her approach to EU policy, while Macron’s recent reflections bear direct resemblance to a speech by Germany’s defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Trump is considering linking US foreign aid to religious freedom

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President Trump meets with survivors of religious persecution at the White House
Sam Brownback, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, speaks as US President Donald J. Trump welcomes survivors of religious persecution to the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 17 July 2019. EPA-EFE/KEVIN DIETSCH / POOL

White House officials are reportedly preparing plans that would see the release of US foreign aid tied to how countries treat their religious minorities.

White House officials emphasised that the idea is at an early stage and an executive order is still under development, but if it takes effect, they will use the lists of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to determine which countries should be denied assistance.

The proposal could also be extended to American military assistance, which could have an impact on countries from Iraq to Vietnam to India.

If it comes into force, this proposal can have a wide impact on US international relations with various countries as it increases the uncertainty regarding foreign aid, which could lead to the affected countries diversifying their military and economic ties outside the United States.

Efforts to tighten foreign aid and limit it under the country’s religious freedom come because Trump is facing an impeachment investigation, which partly depends on whether he froze military assistance to Ukraine, an American ally currently at war with Russia and its local separatist proxies, as a way to put pressure on the Ukrainian government of Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate its political rivals.

Linking aid to religious freedom was not an unexpected step on the part of Trump. During the UN General Assembly in September, the American president made it clear that this issue is a priority for his administration and announced the allocation of $25 million to support religious freedom.

Trump noted that it’s “hard to believe” that most people in the world live in countries “where religious liberty is in significant danger or even completely outlawed” before adding “Americans will never tire in our effort to defend and promote freedom of worship and religion.”

The United States has long used foreign aid to establish bilateral relations with countries around the world, but the Trump administration takes a more transactional approach to foreign aid depending on its specific foreign policy goals.

The Trump White House has long sought to slash American foreign aid programmes as part of its isolationist “American First” doctrine which claims that the aid is wasted or ineffective. Trump has also regularly suggested that US foreign aid often goes to countries that fail to support American foreign policy interests.

Freedom of Thought Report warns of “growing divide” on blasphemy laws

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epa05233665 Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, a police guard who was executed last month for killing former Governor of Punjab province over a blasphemy row, chant slogans during a sit-in protest outside the Parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan, 28 March 2016. Thousands of pro-Qadri supporters put Islamabad's Red zone under siege demanding the government to implement Sharia (Islamic laws) in the country and declare Qadri a martyr. Pakistan had on 29 February hanged Mumtaz Qadri, the ex-police guard who killed Salman Taseer, a former governor for opposing the country's blasphemy laws, which impose the death penalty in some cases. EPA/SOHAIL SHAHZAD

At the European Parliament in Brussels, The Freedom of Thought Report by Humanists International revealed that the human rights of non-religious people are being threatened while the world remains divided on blasphemy and apostasy laws, “with many states still enforcing these laws, and several states actively tightening or introducing new ‘blasphemy’ legislation in the past few years”.

The 2019 edition celebrates the fact that eight countries have actually abolished ‘blasphemy’ laws in the past five years, but it also warns of a growing divide on the issue. Globally, 69 countries still retain such laws and the penalties and prosecution of minority religious groups are hardening in a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The two Sunni Muslim nations were named by the report as “perennial” blasphemy prosecutors.

Despite the well-publicised release of Christian farm-worker Asia Bibi, the ongoing imprisonment of several accused atheists and many others in Pakistan, as well as extrajudicial violence against both humanists and religious minorities related to blasphemy accusations, is a troubling trend that must be condemned, according to the report.

The Report also highlights a deterioration in other countries. Both Brunei and Mauritania have actually increased the penalties for ‘blasphemy’ and ‘apostasy’ in the past two years.

Brunei’s new 2019 penal code renders blasphemy and apostasy, as well as other crimes like adultery and homosexuality, that are now punishable by death. Mauritania introduced a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy in April 2018.

High-profile ‘blasphemy’ prosecutions are also cited as a cause for concern in Indonesia, as is the backlash against demonstrators protesting forced hijab in Iran, and prosecutions and intercommunal violence related to Hindutva beliefs demonstrates a deteriorating situation in India.

Europe does not entirely escape criticism, despite the overall positive trend in the region, with Italy and Spain singled out for prosecutions against artists and protesters in recent years.

“Blasphemy and apostasy laws are an injustice in themselves, but they also lend false legitimacy to those who commit acts of murder and terrorism in their name. As our report notes, when governments prosecute under these laws it only exacerbates the problems of religious extremism. Repealing these laws as per the human rights treaty obligations that nearly all countries are signed up to must be a priority,” said Humanists International President Andrew Copson.

Crans Montana “African Women’s Forum” hosted in Brussels

epa07880134 A member of the CAMA choir performs during a visit of Britain's Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex (unseen) to the Nalikule College of Education to learn about the CAMA network and how it is supporting young women, in Lilongwe, Malawi, 29 September 2019. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are on a 10-day tour of southern Africa. EPA-EFE/DOMINIC LIPINSKI / POOL

The city of Brussels hosted on 14 – 16 November the African Women’s Forum, organised by the Crans Montana Forum, in association with the New Leaders for Tomorrow.

Important personalities extending beyond the African landscape, took the word stating the state-of-play for women in African countries, the challenges they face and the changes needed to achieve gender equality.

Among the topics discussed during the sessions were giving priority to women and girls’ education, providing access to employment and societal responsibilities, empowering rural women Empowerment, promoting women’s entrepreneurship and professional equality and encouraging women leadership in the maritime industry.

The Forum was opened by Jean-Paul Carteron, Chairman and Founder of Crans Montana Forum. Carteron highlighted the significant role women play in today’s societies, praising African women and characterising them as a ‘‘decisive element in building African societies’’ as well as ‘‘bearers of values essential for Africa but also for the world’’.

The Forum highlighted the need for a robust education and health strategy in Africa that will mobilise the means to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and will foster a peaceful, just and inclusive society.

Without education there is no development
The view that reforming the education system by making it more inclusive and adopting smart technology is a prerequisite for the development of the workforce and women’s advancement was shared by all speakers. The educational system in Africa still prepares citizens jobs that are not relevant to new markets, leading to an increasing growth of the gap between Africa and the West.

In fact, 30 million of young people still do not have access neither to primary or secondary education, while when it comes to entering university, the number of women that reach this educational level struggles to reach 5%.

Africa needs to respond to the on-going digital revolution. “Africa needs to know what’s happening in the rest of the world to be integrated”, highlighted one of the speakers. To this end, the integration of IT courses into the school curriculum was at the centre of conversation. Yet, when it comes to making choices in Africa, the role of the family is pivotal. There is little encouragement for learning new skills and taking ICT education, while the constantly growing digital divide between Africa and the West is further deteriorated by their cultural background and the poor financial conditions that surpass the continent. Yet, “the solution is not in the technology, is in the human behaviour”, commented a speaker, echoing the opinion that more steps need to be made to build a sustainable future for African women.

Women in leadership
African women are today heads of states, business CEOs, ministers, proving daily the importance of their touch in societies. Yet, under-representation of women both at a political level was agreed to be the core of the challenges Africa is currently facing. Speakers unanimously urged for real women empowerment that will not be limited to high-skilled women and that will significantly improve women’s life. Women’s role as major players is crucial to the battle for development, as they can prove that they constitute an indispensable part of the political life, bridging day by day the gender gap.

Even though in many African countries, the number of women representative is extremely low, some significant steps have been taken to combat the phenomenon, as the case of Senegal which has the highest representation of women throughout Africa, by 42% of parliamentarians being women.

Next steps for Africa
Africa is going to be the most populated continent in the world soon and will have the highest potential of growth in the years to come. “Africa is an engine today, an engine that is not driving in full speed.” So far, significant progress has been made both in terms of educational and societal level, but to find its pace, a common ground among the civil society, organisations and politicians needs to be found, that will coordinate all the stakeholders’ efforts.

Among the suggestions heard was the creation of an institute for digital technologies that will be targeting women with the aim of building their capacities.Women empowerment is the means to responding to Africa’s challenges and opening the door for women to the world is they key to social cohesion and thus, peace.

 

EU, US “fully support” Georgia’s anti-government protests

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Georgian opposition supporters take part in a protest rally in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, 14 November 2019. Georgian opposition demands extraordinary parliamentary elections in Georgia. EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

The United States and the European Union have thrown their support behind Georgia’s anti-government protesters who took to the streets of the capital Tbilisi after the country’s parliament failed to pass an amendment that changes the voting system to proportional representation.

In a joint statement released on Monday, they expressed “full support for the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”

The delegation of the European Union in Georgia and the embassy of the United States of America recognize the “deep disappointment” of the Georgian people due to the inability of the parliament to adopt amendments that will ensure the transition to full proportional representation from the existing mixed system in the 2020 elections.

“In view of the current situation, we consider it essential to immediately work to restore trust through a calm and respectful dialogue between the government and all political parties and civil society with a view to finding an acceptable path forward, “ the statement said.

The statement called the decision taken last summer to switch a majority system of proportional representation “an important step forward in Georgia’s democracy.”

“The unexpected halting of this process has increased mistrust and heightened tensions between the ruling party and other political parties and civil society,”  the statement said and calls on all parties “to act in the country’s best interest.”

Several thousand Georgians gathered in the centre of Tbilisi to protest against the ruling party and demand early elections. The protest rally began a few days after the ruling party Georgian Dream, which makes up the majority in the parliament, failed to keep their promise and pass the planned electoral reforms.

The change was originally supposed to happen in 2024, but the opposition demanded that it be implemented in time for the upcoming parliamentary elections in October 2020 as the opposition believes that the current system only supports the Georgians Dream.

The Georgian Dream, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, has been in power since 2012. The party has lost most of its popularity amid a slowdown in economic development and major rollbacks to democracy, the rule-of-law and the party’s pro-Russian policies.

 

Using mobile money to enhance humanitarian aid in Yemen

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epaselect epa07786168 People collect clean water from a donated source in Sana'a, Yemen, 22 August 2019. According to reports, the UN has warned that it is being forced to close 22 life-saving humanitarian programmes, including clean water programmes, for 12 million people in Yemen unless significant funding is received in the coming weeks. More than four years of escalating fighting in Yemen have created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, where some 80 percent of Yemen's 26-million population are in need of humanitarian assistance. EPA-EFE/YAHYA ARHAB

If they are not considered entirely essential, mobile phones are a basic tool for our everyday life and facilitate how we live. Mobile technology can be a significant driver in terms of our welfare and is, therefore, fundamental in the transformation of a more disadvantaged person’s life.

The use of new technological tools, such as mobile money, is being embraced as a way to better address the needs of people suffering the consequences of a severe humanitarian crisis.

For the population of war-torn Yemen, the new initiatives for the application of mobile money technology are designed to increase financial inclusion across the country and to enforce its ecosystem.

This is the aim of The National Wallet Company, a Yemeni fin-tech company that is currently proposing an innovative mobile money platform to be used by those that are most in need of support.

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is one of the worst in the world

More than four years of civil war has caused mass instability, danger, and insecurity in Yemen. According to the UN, the country is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with the overwhelming majority of its population living on the brink of famine and poverty. Despite a large relief operation in the country led by various international and local partners, an estimated 80% of Yemen’s total population, an estimated 24.1 million people, is in need of some form of humanitarian or protective aid. Of those, 14.3 million are in serious need of assistance.

Yemen’s economy, as a result of the war, has collapsed and exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. A number of currency depreciations in 2018 and 2019 and the destruction of public infrastructure and financial services have contributed to the population’s agony. Almost half of Yemen’s population before the war lived below the poverty line, that number has not risen to 71 and 78%.

During its recent humanitarian update about Yemen, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that relief workers who attempt to operate in the country face serious obstacles when trying to reach millions of at-risk people in hard-to-reach districts. Restrictions on movement prevent humanitarian operations from getting off the ground in 75 of Yemen’s 333 districts. This effectively deprives at least 5.1 million people of the aid they need. The authorities are of little help as Yemen’s wartime bureaucracy is often slow to approve projects and regularly forces aid agencies to file additional documentation and pay unforeseen taxes.

Technological innovation for development

Amid the financial uncertainty and an economy on the verge of collapse, innovation initiatives are trying to fill the financial exclusion gap to reduce poverty and achieve inclusive economic growth by bringing in new and using already established technology that can contribute to meeting Yemen’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Mobile money has brought several benefits to countries with similar humanitarian crises, including Kenya and Somalia, as it can be a driver for financial inclusion. Anyone with a simple mobile phone is able to transfer money, pay bills, and do other types of transactions without requiring a bank account or having to look for cashpoints, particularly in warzones where neither would be easily available.

In Yemen’s scene, the mobile money sector is slowly developing. The National Wallet Company, or NWC, the Yemeni-run business that develops a mobile money e-wallet for the country, is designed to boost financial inclusion across the country, including in hard-to-reach rural communities.

The potential of mobile money in the southern Arabian Peninsula could make a significant impact in Yemen, according to the co-founder of NWC, Mohamed Hayel Saeed, who reiterates that the number of people in Yemen who are without or have no access to a bank account could amount to over 20 million. By bringing this population into the formal economy, this would enable the growth of Yemen’s money supply and provide a gateway to transformative services that would include healthcare, education, financial services, employment, and social protection.

‘‘Personally, every day I learn from the incredible potential and entrepreneurial spirit I see in the Yemeni population, those who want to feel more in control of their future. My brother and I are committed to working with international partners and the local communities to deliver an innovative platform that will kick start the Yemeni economy and enable the recipients of aid to break free from the cycle of poverty which blights the lives of millions,’’ said Saeed before adding, “Yemenis in every town and village across all 22 governorates will be able to carry out everyday necessities such as paying for food and water, bills or paying their workers’ salaries through a simple, secure and accessible platform
that will replace their current dependence on cash.”

The platform could also allow NGO’s and other humanitarian organisations operating in the country to seamlessly provide their assistance to those who are most in need. According to Saeed, these organisations experience significant challenges with cash transfer programmes that use expensive and nonsecure methods to distribute cash and aid.

Using a technology that enables the disbursement of money through a basic mobile phone ‘‘will help to significantly reduce costs for development partners and enable greater investment in organisational growth, increase staff productivity and the capacity to deliver vital services on-the-ground,’’ Saeed said.

The platform’s requirements

The current mobile money regulatory guidelines in Yemen state that banks only have the jurisdiction to operate mobile money platforms from a single pool account. According to Saeed, the ongoing civil war allows for only a limited geographical reach for each individual bank. Updating the guidelines would allow non-bank payment service providers to launch mobile money services in Yemen as part of an effort to reduce any insolvency risks and increase financial inclusion.

The only way this can happen, Saeed adds, is with the scalability of mobile money to the communities on a nationwide scale.

Introducing new technology into a country with major security risks, like Yemen, certainly has its challenges. What’s key to the successful implementation of mobile money is to ensure that the population is equipped with the proper knowledge and expertise that it needs.

‘NWC’s unparalleled insight into Yemen’s local dynamics and cultural nuances will be
combined with financial literacy and education programmes to build trust within communities and protect the many vulnerable people who will be using digital financial services for the very first time. NWC is looking for partners in the international community to help deliver financial education programmes,’’ said Saeed.

NWC aims to launch the mobile money platform by working in partnership with all of Yemen’s major banks, mobile network operators, distributors and retailers. Its investors are fin-tech investment vehicle Murooj Electronic Services, WeNet (the Yemen Financial Services Company), owned by 11 banks operating in Yemen, and Hayel Saeed Anam Group.

Kazakhstan President to visit Germany before year-end

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epa07892554 Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends a plenary session entitled 'The World Order Seen From the East' during the Valdai International Discussion Club meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 03 October 2019. The the Valdai Discussion Club annual meeting titled The Dawn of the East and the World Political Order takes place from 30 September to 03 October. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL chs MANDATORY CREDIT

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – In an effort to boost already strong business relations between Berlin and Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev is expected to pay an official visit to Germany before the end of the year, the official representative of Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry, Aibek Smadiyarov, told a briefing on 18 November. Germany is among the ten largest investors in the economy of Kazakhstan.

“On November 19, a meeting will be held between the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Roman Vassilenko, with the German Foreign Ministry Commissioner for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, Michael Zilbert. The agenda of the meeting is preparation for the visit of the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev to Germany,” Smadiyarov said.

According to him, the visit of the Kazakh President to Germany should take place before the end of this year. The exact date has not yet been determined.

EU police arrests 17 people in human trafficking raids

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MHM02-20010506-LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: Police officers search an area opposite the Post office's sorting centre in London's Edgeware Road, at Hendon, Sunday 06 May 2001, after a bomb went off in the early hours. It was the second device aimed at the building within the last three weeks. Scotland Yard later warned the public of the danger of a terrorist bomb campaign in the run-up to elections after the blast. EPA PHOTO EPA/MARTYN HAYHOW/mh-ao

In a joint action by law enforcement officers from the UK and Romania, Europol and Eurojust, 17 suspects were arrested in the UK and one in Romania.

The suspects are alleged to have participated in modern slavery, controlling prostitution, committing drug and firearm offences, pimping and money laundering. They are aged between 17 and 50 years old and remain in police custody.

Sixteen searches were carried out in the UK and four in Romania, yielding cash, luxury cars and cocaine. The police recovered 29 potential victims of human trafficking, all women aged from 20-40 years, who have been taken to safety.

Two of the leaders of the group, detained in London, were also under investigation, on the basis of European Arrest Warrants for attempted murder.

Eurojust held coordination meetings and provided financial and logistic support for the joint investigation team, among the UK, Romania, Eurojust and Europol. Europol also held an operational meeting.

Annual inflation down in euro area

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epa000345876 The building of the European Central Bank (ECB) towers behind the Euro sign logo by the artist Otmar Hoerl in Frankfurt, Germany on Thursday 13 January 2005. The prime rate which supplies the credit services sector in the euro zone with money from the ECB is at 2,0 percent. A change of the prime rate is not expected. EPA/ARNE DEDERT

According to figures published by Eurostat on 15 November, the euro area annual inflation rate was 0.7% in October 2019, down from 0.8% in September.

The lowest annual rates were registered in Cyprus (-0.5%), Greece (-0.3%) and Portugal (-0.1%), while the highest were recorded in Romania (3.2%), Hungary (3.0%) and Slovakia (2.9%). Compared with September, annual inflation fell in fifteen EU states, remained stable in eight and rose in five.

Annual inflation is the change of the price level between the current month and the same month of the previous year. The euro area inflation flash estimate is issued at the end of each reference month.

Rohingya Muslims get backing of international court

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epa06969136 Rohingyas refugees gather near the fence at the 'no man's land' zone between the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Maungdaw district, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, 24 August 2018. The Rohingya crisis started in August 2017, when Rohingya militants launched a series of attacks on multiple Myanmar government posts in the region, leading the army to unleash a large military campaign that drove around 700,000 Rohingyas across the border and declaration of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya insurgent group active in northern Rakhine State, as a terrorist group on 25 August 2017 by the Myanmar Central Committee for Counter Terrorism. EPA-EFE/NYEIN CHAN NAING

Judges of the International Criminal Court authorized on 14 November an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, namely deportation, which have forced between 600,000 and one million Rohingya refugees out of Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh since 2016.

The ICC is the world’s only permanent criminal tribunal that prosecutes those who participate in genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Court explained that there exists a reasonable basis to believe that “persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion against the Rohingya population” may have been committed.

The top Prosecutor said that sufficient legal conditions had been met to open an investigation under the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, that seeks to protect communities from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

Myanmar has rejected the decision, saying that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the country because it is not a party to the Rome Statute.

EIB to boost communications and innovation across Europe

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epa02773681 An exterior view of the European Investment Bank (EIB) Headquarters in Luxembourg, on 10 June 2011. EPA/NICOLAS BOUVY

The European Investment Bank agreed on 14 November to support €6.9 billion of new investment across Europe and around the world to improve communications, renewable energy, sustainable transport, social housing and education infrastructure.

More than €1.3 billion of the new financing will be used to improve internet and mobile telecommunication services. €1.5 billion of the new financing is planned to support energy efficiency projects around the world, and €1.7 billion will be used for business and corporate innovation investment, through direct financing and credit lines with local banks.

The European Fund for Strategic Investments, the financial pillar of the Juncker Plan will support €2.2 billion of new investment for projects approved by the EU bank.

EU to help Pakistan tackle terror financing

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epa06930723 Security officials escort Imran Khan (in vehicle), head of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf political party, as the convoy passes by the Parliament building, to attend the party's parliamentary board session in Islamabad, Pakistan, 06 August 2018. PTI parliamentary board nominated Imran Khan as the party's candidate for the Prime Minister. Former cricketer Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has emerged as the biggest party, securing 116 of the 272 seats in the National Assembly, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan. EPA-EFE/SOHAIL SHAHZAD

The European Union offered technical assistance to Pakistan for the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) action plan by the nation. The announcement was made during the plenary of the EU-Pakistan joint commission on 13-14 November in Brussels, that was preceeded by sub-group meetings on all areas.

The Paris-based global terror financing watchdog FATF retained Pakistan on its Grey List till February next year for its failure to take action against money laundering and terror financing. The country was placed on the list last year and was given a plan of action to complete it by October, or face the risk of being placed on the Black List with Iran and North Korea.

The two sides also discussed key areas of cooperation, including trade, development cooperation, democracy, governance, rule of law, human rights, migration, and response to natural disasters.

Pakistan’s representatives briefed the EU side on the recent developments in the region and expressed their concerns regarding the situation in Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir. Solutions for Afghan refugees and their host communities were also discussed.

The next dialogue will be held next year in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

Chile’s constitutional agreement welcomed by EU

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epa08000861 People wave flags during demonstrations at Plaza Baquedano, in Santiago, Chile, 15 November 2019. At least 20 people have died since the protest began over a hike in subway fares. EPA-EFE/ORLANDO BARRIA

Chile announced on 15 November a referendum to replace the country’s dictatorship-era constitution, a key demand of protesters after nearly a month of violence.

The European Union welcomed the “Agreement for social peace and a new Constitution“, reached by a broad majority of the Chilean political parties, calling it “a strong commitment to respond to citizens’ demands”.

“This historic and welcome step should now be used to foster unity amongst all Chileans, enhance dialogue over the future of the country, focus on a reform agenda that can bring about a more inclusive social contract and end all forms of violence”, EU stated.

Chile has been torn apart by protests since 18 October. Protesters demanded a new constitution, arguing the current one enshrines an economic system that failed to guarantee basic rights including decent healthcare, education and pensions.

Brussels gives green light to Ireland’s broadband plan

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epa03977537 High winds and sea batter the Antrim coast road in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, 05 December 2013. Thousands of homes are still without power in Northern Ireland after gale force winds ripped down trees, power lines and electricity poles. Gusts of up to 70mph which swept in from the Atlantic have left parts of the north, east and exposed rural areas facing major blackouts. EPA/PAUL FAITH UK AND IRELAND OUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY EDITORIAL USE ONLY

The EU Commission announced on 15 November a €2.6 billion of public support for the Irish National Broadband Plan.

The Commission assessed the plan under state aid rules and its own 2013 broadband guidelines, and found that the plan will eventually provide a network capable of supporting download speeds of at least 150 megabits per second, upload speeds of 30 Mbps, and will aid to “stimulate the development of a modern digital economy” in rural Ireland.

“The National Broadband Plan in Ireland is expected to address the significant digital divide between urban and rural areas in Ireland, enabling Irish consumers and businesses to benefit from the full potential of digital growth. This will help households and businesses in areas of Ireland where private investment is insufficient”, said EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy.

The Commission approved the scheme after concluding that its positive effects on competition in the Irish broadband market outweigh potential negative effects brought about by the public intervention.

North Korean Iskander-like rockets raise regional concerns

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epa07673070 A Russian Iskander-M mobile short-range ballistic missile launcher during the field show programs at the Army 2019 International Military Technical Forum in Patriot Park in Alabino, Moscow region, Russia, 25 June 2019. The Army 2019 International Military Technical Forum are held from 25 to 30 June. EPA-EFE/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

Following North Korea’s launch of multiple missiles in May, observers scrambled to identify the North Korean weapons that bore a resemblance to Russia’s nuclear-capable Iskander missile system. However, that doesn’t mean that the technology or missiles themselves were necessarily sold or somehow provided to North Korea by Russian and further investigation is needed, Igor Mantsurov, Director of Scientific Research for the Institute of Economics at Ukraine’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, told New Europe in an interview on November 13.

“This situation is not new. It occurred half a year ago after the North Korean government made public a video and photo of military drills where new tactical short-range missiles were launched,” Mantsurov said. “Those missiles resembled, very much, Russia’s well-known tactical Iskander missile. Basically, it’s the previous version, the Iskander E, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. This is extremely disturbing and a potentially destabilising factor for the whole region,” he added.

But Mantsurov stressed that exterior resemblance, though very important, doesn’t mean that the technology or the missiles themselves were sold or somehow provided to North Korea by Russia. “A similar weapon is manufactured in China, South Korea…it actually could be sold or stolen from some of former Soviet country. A thorough investigation is needed to come to a conclusion about its origin… and if the investigation proves that Russia was the source of those missiles, its authorities should be punished for committing a gross violation of the international sanctions regime and breaching a United Nations Security Council decision on the sale of missiles and rocket technology to North Korea.”

The fact that DPRK’s missiles bore a resemblance to Russia’s nuclear-capable Iskander missile system, raises the question about whether Moscow is enabling the DPRK’s belligerent and destabilising actions on the Korean Peninsula by providing banned military technology and expertise. “Whether they’re doing it openly or not, I don’t think they would trusted on it, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are breaching sanctions,” Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management in London, told New Europe on 14 November.

He warned that any future Russian involvement with North Korea poses a risk to the Kremlin and Moscow’s international standing as Russia’s companies would face a higher risk of being subject to stiff international sanctions if caught. “But to what extend do the Russians actually care about that?” Urquhart Stewart asked. “They’re very happy, at the moment, providing exports obviously to Syria and other areas,” he added.

Russia claims to be protecting strategic its interests in other global hotbeds like Syria and Venezuela, both of which are close allies of the Kremlin. However, the value of Moscow’s military engagement with North Korea is minimal given the risk of sanctions or financial repercussions for smaller entities that could be connected to DPRK businesses, he said.

Russia cracks down on illegal DPRK activities

In order to ensure that the international sanctions against the North Korea do not hurt Russian equities, Moscow has taken some steps to disrupt illegal DPRK activities. It appears, however, that the negative coverage stemming from Pyongyang’s missile launches and the North Korea-Russia Summit in April risked undermining the steps that the Kremlin has taken to crack down on illegal activities by the North Korean regime.

Given that if Russia is implicated in the DPRK’s illicit actions, that could have a negative effect on Russian businesses, including the natural gas market, Russian banking officials have taken steps against North Korea and Moscow has made progress, spearheaded by Russian Central Bank (CBR) Chairwoman Elvira Nabiullina, cracking down on shady DPRK practices.

The CBR recently took action against Tempbank, and Russian businessmen have acknowledged that they have ceased all engagement with North Korean bankers because Russian banks were seeing their credit lines cut. Financial experts are, however, calling for more sustained progress by Russian banking officials as the DPRK continues to carry out. Its shady practices.

Vladimir Tikhomirov, the chief macroeconomist at BCS Financial Group in Moscow, has hailed Nabiullina’s “impressive achievements in cleaning up the banking system.” He told New Europe earlier that her efforts have resulted in a better monitoring of large banks and a withdrawal of licenses from smaller institutions involved in a variety of shady and semi-legal operations.

Auditors assess EU’s fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

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epa02752033 An undated handout file photo released on 26 May 2011 of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) shows an image of EHEC bacteria, a dangerous version of the harmless bacteria Escherichia coli, taken by an electronic microscope in Braunschweig, Germany. The natural habitats of the bacteria are the intestines of ruminants, especially of cattle. An infection with EHEC causes diarrhea, vomiting, stomach aches and nausea. EPA/MANFRED ROHDE / HZI HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY

According to a report from the European Court of Auditors, published on 15 November, the Union’s fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria has brought little progress to date.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microbes develop resistance to medicine treatment that was previously effective. About 33,000 people die each year in the EU from drug-resistant bacteria infections.

The auditors assessed the EU bodies’ management of key activities to reduce antimicrobial resistance, and found potential for further synergies through targeted investments. They also found certain weaknesses, such as the difficulties national authorities face in collecting data and gaps in the monitoring of resistant bacteria in food and animals.

As the use of some antimicrobials is still too high, the report recommends enhancing support to national authorities, promoting prudent use of veterinary antimicrobials and strengthening strategies for boosting research in the Union.

The ECA presents its special reports to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, as well as to other stakeholders.

Germany targets 55% greenhouse emission cuts by 2030

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epa07998555 The member of the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD), Matthias Miersch, speaks during a session of the German parliament 'Bundestag' in Berlin, Germany, 15 November 2019. The plenary dealt, among other issues, about climate protection, unemployment insurance and energy policies. EPA-EFE/FELIPE TRUEBA

Germany passed a bill on Friday that commits Europe’s biggest economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 55% of the 1990 levels by 2030.

The transition is projected to cost €54bn by 2023 that will be funded by the federal budget and new taxation. The bill will also present the private sector with a series of incentives to reduce the CO2 footprint.

“Every minister who doesn’t stick to the goals will have to explain themselves to this chamber,” said SPD lawmaker Matthias Miersch.

The leader of the Green Party’s parliamentary group, Anton Hofreiter, called into question the credibility of the bill and the ability of the government to deliver. Germany lugs behind on its current environmental transition roadmap, having achieved only 30% of its 2030 objective.

Taking a different line of opposition, the Liberal Free Democrats have accused the government of “climate hysteria” pointing to the new taxation tugged on the bill. In terms of everyday spending,  new taxation will affect aviation with income used to subsidise train travel.

Spending will also have to be allocated to preparations for rising water levels in the North and Baltic Seas.

Sinn Fein calls for Irish unification referendum within five years

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epa07478492 Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald speaks to the press after a meeting with the European Chief Negotiator of the task force for the preparation and conduct of the negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 at European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 1 April 2019. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald called for a referendum on Irish unity over the next five years. Speaking to around 1,500 delegates in the Millennium Forum in Londonderry on Saturday night, McDonald added that power-sharing arrangements in the N. Irish parliament, Stormont, must be restored.

During her party conference, the leader of the biggest Republican party said Brexit has changed the way people thought about a united Ireland, noting that a so-called “unity poll” was no longer a question of “if” but “when.” The Sinn Fein leader went on to assert that “a border poll,” as it is referred to in the UK, must take place over the next five years.

She strongly supported her party’s abstentionist policy on Westminster and said no Irish elected representative could stop Brexit.

McDonald also said that Sinn Fein is ready to “do business” to restore power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland, working with the Democratic Unionist Party.

Scottish court orders release of detained former Catalan minister

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epa07996213 Former Catalan education minister Clara Ponsati (R) and her lawyer Aamer Anwar leave Edinburgh Sheriff Court in Edinburgh, Britain, 14 November 2019. Ponsati was granted bail and allowed to keep her passport, according to media reports. EPA-EFE/ALAN SIMPSON

A Scottish court ordered the release of former Catalan education minister Clara Ponsatí on Thursday, without travel restrictions, as she not considered a flight risk.

Earlier that day, the former Catalan minister and current University of St. Andrews professor handed herself to Scottish police authorities as Spain issued a European Arrest Warrant. The Spanish European warrant was reactivated in early November, a month after the sentencing of 12 other leaders of the 2017 secession bid in Madrid. The UK’s Supplementary Information Request at the National Entries office approved the European arrest warrant on November 8.

Ponsatí will face another extradition hearing on December 12, as Spain wants to put her on trial for her role in 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia.

Ponsatí fled to Brussels with ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont in October 2017, following the foiled unilateral declaration of independence. She then settled in Scotland.