World Humanitarian Day praises female aid workers

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epa07297341 The UN logo is pictured prior a press conference of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on the Publication of the Global Investment Trends Monitor at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 18 January 2019. EPA-EFE/SALVATORE DI NOLFI

World Humanitarian Day has been commemorated each year on 19 August to mark the day when the United Nations’ headquarters in Iraq was targeted by a large terrorist truck bomb that killed 22 people.

This year’s event is focusing on the efforts of women who strengthen global humanitarian causes and their contributions to protecting international law.

“Violations of International Humanitarian Law continues to be one of the most important challenges for the protection of civilians, as well as the protection of humanitarian and medical workers,” the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides.

“From supporting civilians caught up in crisis to addressing disease outbreaks, women humanitarians are on the front lines”, said UN chief António Guterres.

The attack on the UN Headquarters in Iraq 16 years ago marked a turning point in how the UN and aid groups operate in the field. In 2017, the EU mobilised more than €1.75 billion for humanitarian aid operations in over 80 countries around the world.

EU to modernise rail infrastructure in Italy

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epa01407182 A woman walks next to the deserted tracks in Genoa's railway station, Italy, on 07 July 2008. Italy on Monday was paralysed by a 24-hour national and urban transport strike called by unions in support of a single national contract for the transport sector. Unions said they had called the strike in the face of 'hostility' declared by employers despite support from Public Works Minister Altero Matteoli for negotiations on the four-year contract, which would cover 250,000 workers in the sector. This is the second strike in two months over contract negotiations after the sector's collective contract expired on December 31 last year. Bus, tram and local train services will be guaranteed during special time windows to allow Italians to get back and forth to work. These windows vary from city to city. National rail services are scheduled to return to normal at 21:00 on Monday. EPA/LUCA ZENNARO

The European Union announced on 19 August that it will invest €114 million from the European Regional Development Fund to build a new 15.5 km section of the railway between Naples and the city of Cancello on the Naples-Bari line, an investment that will directly benefit local businesses in Southern Italy.

The modernized section will be better linked with the high-speed system in the Naples metropolitan area and northern regions. The works should be completed in October 2022.

EU provides humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in the Philippines

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epa07522115 Site of the damaged St. Catherine Parish Church in Porac town, Pampanga Province, north of Manila, Philippines, 23 April 2019. A 6.1-magnitude earthquake occurred on 22 April in the Philippine region of Luzon with an epicenter located northeast of Zambales province, according to data from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs). According to latest data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), at least seven people were killed, 81 were hurt and 24 are still missing. EPA-EFE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

The European Union announced on 19 August that it is providing €90.000 in humanitarian funding, after a series of earthquakes of 5.4, 5.9, and 5.8 magnitudes hit northern Philippines on 27 July.

The aid will directly benefit 1.000 people in some of the heavily hit areas in the remote island of Itbaya, Batanes province. According to data from the government, around 300 houses were damaged, as well as local health facilities and water distribution systems.

The funding is part of the EU’s global contribution to the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Wedding massacre in Afghanistan ahead of Independence day

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epa07780147 A handout photo made available by the Office of the President of Afghanistan shows Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) taking part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Independence Minaret to pay tribute to the martyrs of the freedom on the 100th anniversary of Afghanistan's Independence Day in Kabul, Afghanistan, 19 August 2019. EPA-EFE/AFGHANISTAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

More than 60 people lost their lives and more than 150 were wounded in an attack targeting a wedding ceremony on 18 August in Kabul, Afghanistan. The local Islamic State group’s affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack. The Afghan government has postponed celebrations to commemorate the 100th Independence Day which was scheduled for 19 August.

The European Union expressed its condolences to all those affected, and hailed Afghanistan’s aspirations for peace, stability and justice.

“The European Union will continue to stand by Afghanistan in its fight against international terrorism. It is crucial that the current efforts to achieve a durable peace are not undermined by such indiscriminate attacks on civilians.”, the statement reads.

Sudan celebrates signing of Constitutional Document

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epa07777984 Sudan's Forces of Freedom and Change coalition leader Ahmad al-Rabiah (3-R) flashes a victory sign after signing the power sharing agreement (green document at Top) with Sudan's General and Vice President of Sudanese Transitional Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (3-L), as international guests look on, in Khartoum, Sudan, 17 August 2019. According to reports, Sudan's Military council and opposition are to sign later in the day the power sharing agreement that has been negotiated for many months. The agreement sets up a sovereign council made of five generals and six civilians, to rule the country until general elections. Protests had erupted in Sudan at the end of 2018, culminating in a long sit-in outside the army headquarters which ended with more than one hundred people being killed and others injured. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stepped down on 11 April 2019.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland and the President of the European Council of Ministers, Pekka Haavisto, attended on 17 August in Sudan the signing ceremony between the forces of Freedom and Change and the transitional military council.

Haavisto also visited Ethiopia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to discuss the transfer of Sudan to a civilian-led transition.

Other EU diplomats attended the ceremony as well. The European Union’s high level participation in the signing ceremony shows the Union’s continued engagement on bringing peace in the country.

“The credit goes to the people of Sudan, and in particular its women and youth, who stood firm but peacefully to have their voice heard. Their aspirations should continue to guide all those who will now take responsibility of the governance of the transition.”, the EU stated.

Finland faces harvest crisis due to labour shortage

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epa06984473 Female farmers harvest raspberries at MOEA orchards in Kravarice, Kosovo, 30 August 2018. MOEA it is a private company established in 2006. With more than 500,000 fruit trees planted in active fruit fields over 200Ha, it makes MOEA one of the largest fruit producers in the region. MOEA cultivates strawberries, raspberries, aronia, blueberries, garlic, cherry, apricots, peaches, plums, apples, pears and berries. Starting in 2010, MOEA started processing fruit with a modern line and advanced fruit processing technology in the principle of cold juice extraction and fruit ripening, including in the juice content of the whole fruit, with all the fibers, vitamins and antioxidants. EPA-EFE/VALDRIN XHEMAJ

Finnish berry companies are struggling to recruit seasonal workers as Thailand cut the number of travel visas it issues, according to the national public broadcaster Yle.

Some 2,400 Thai berry pickers arrived in Finland this summer, compared to the 3,500 in 2017. Burry growing firms estimate they are in need of double the number of Asian seasonal workers for this year’s harvest.

The cut in travel visas from Thailand is due to the 2018 conviction of a Finnish burry firm, which was convicted of using its seasonal work program to traffic Thais into the country. The owner of the berry company in central Finland was handed a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay a €200,000 compensation to the Thai pickers. The court decision has since been appealed.

“The poorer the country of origin, the greater the risk of falling victim to human trafficking in Finland or the Schengen area,” said Leena Liukkonen, who heads the Foreign Ministry.

Liukkonen points out that visa applications from some countries may be subject to review by other Schengen states, which complicates matters further.

Spanish illegal migration drops by 40%

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By investing in cooperation with Morocco, Spain has seen irregular migration from by just under 40% in 2018.

According to Spanish official data published last Tuesday, in the first half of 2019 Spain saw a 39% drop in irregular migration compared to the same period in 2018. This means that the Spanish government is closer to its objective of reducing irregular immigration by half in 2019.

With the closing down of Italian ports and heightened security in Morocco, flows seem to be returning to Greece, which has so far seen the highest arrival figures in the Mediterranean in 2019, that is 28,200. According to Moroccan data, Rabat has stopped 42,000 migrants from making the crossing from North Africa to Europe.

The EU has formed a strategic partnership with Morocco, extending €140 million in assistance to facilitate the fight against irregular migration, with Spain adding an additional €30 million. Rabat and Madrid have also reactivated bilateral repatriation agreements, especially in the case migrants manage to jump the fences at the Spanish Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Finally, Spanish search and rescue operations at sea coordinate with the Moroccan Royal Navy, which takes rescued migrants back to their departure point.

Official Moroccan government sources told EL PAÍS that 8,000 people have been rescued at sea. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 208 people have died or disappeared during the crossing to Spain, which is equivalent to 1% of the total who attempt the journey.

European markets surge in expectation of German stimulus package

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The Euro surged against the US dollar on Friday, in anticipation of a U-turn in German budgetary policy, which could end a decade-long zero-deficit policy.

European shares rebounded from a six-month low on Friday, as Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine said that the government was ready to ditch a budgetary surplus policy.

Germany’s debt-break law was introduced in 2009 and was enshrined into the constitution. It prohibits any government from increasing its structural deficit unless the country is facing a natural disaster or a severe recession.

The wisdom of this fiscal orthodoxy is increasingly called into question.

For example, the head of the IW Germany Economics institute, Michael Hüther, told Handelsblatt that the debt brake prevents tax cuts and public investment, limiting the country’s ability to respond to an economic downturn.

The time appears right for a policy change.

In 2009 Germany faced an €86bn deficit and the debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 80%. The debt limit allows Germany to borrow no more than 0,35% of its GDP the 16 federal states were required to bring their deficit to zero by 2020. Germany’s current debt-GDP ratio stands at just under 61% of GDP.

With German 10-year bonds offering negative yield – investors actually paying the security of German sovereign debt – the argument has been made that now is the time to invest in infrastructure and energy transition, boosting domestic demand as the global economy is slowing down.

In fact, the IMF points out that debt-funded investment under such circumstances could end up paying for itself, as it increases Germany’s growth. Even the German industrial federation (BDI) called last week for a stimulus package.

Last Tuesday Chancellor Angela Merkel made the case that Germany does not need a fiscal stimulus package to counter the effects of a slowing economy; however, she did add that the government was committed to a high level of public investment.

To date, according to a report by the KfW think-tank, the national debt brake is responsible for chronic underinvestment in towns and municipalities, to the tune of €138bn. With Europe’s largest economy on the brink of recession, Merkel faces pressure at home and abroad to invest.

Johnson to hold bilateral Brexit talks with Macron and Merkel

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epa07760456 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 07 August 2019. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER / POOL

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to hold bilateral meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday and Wednesday, and later US President Donald J. Trump, before meeting all G7 leaders in France next weekend.

Johnson is expected to reiterate that the UK will leave the European Union on 31 October deadline, which leaves little room for negotiating a new withdrawal deal. In addition, Johnson will make clear that the UK does not intend to hold a second referendum on EU membership.

The European Commission has repeatedly made clear that the deal concluded with former British Prime Minister Theresa May cannot be renegotiated, despite being thrice rejected by parliament.

According to a cross-departmental report leaked to the Sunday Times, the UK faces shortages of food, medicine, and fuel in the event of a no-deal. The Times article suggests that up 85% of lorries using the main channel crossings “may not be ready” for French customs.

Further complicating matters is the push back by a group of conservatives, liberals, labour, independents, Welsh and Scottish nationalists who believe a no-deal scenario would trigger an economic crisis, but the group has thus far failed to agree on a single strategy to stop the prospect of a disorderly Brexit.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to submit a vote of no confidence and form an alternative interim government that will seek another Brexit delay to organise a second referendum.

Liberals and Greens will not accept his leadership in an interim unity government, although the left-leaning Scottish nationalists have taken not taken the option off the table.

Salvini-led government would prioritise tax cuts over deficit

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epa07005272 Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini delivers a speech at the Ambrosetti Economical Forum in Cernobbio, Italy, 08 September 2018. Others are not identified. The 44th edition of the forum with its title 'Intelligence on the World, Europe, and Italy' is held from 07 to 09 September and gathers heads of state and government, top representatives of European institutions, ministers, Nobel prize winners, businessmen, managers and experts from around the world to discuss global political and economical topics. EPA-EFE/DANIEL DAL ZENNARO

An Italian government led by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini‘s Lega party would pursue an ambitious tax cut programme, according to the party’s economic spokesman, Claudio Borghi.

“We need to pursue a tax cut and it is obvious that a small portion will be funded by a deficit,” Borghi told Italian public TV on Monday.

Lega is leading in the polls and has withdrawn from the 14-month-old coalition government with its anti-establishment parter the 5-Star Movement and is calling for immediate snap elections.

Salvini filed a no-confidence motion against current Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on 9 August. Lega is currently polling at close to 38%, just under the 40% threshold that allows a party to form a single-party government. 5-Star’s support has plummeted from 33% in March 2018 to just 16% now after a series of public spats between the increasingly popular Salvini and 5-Star’s leader Luigi di Maio.

President Sergio Mattarella is by definition the arbiter of the government crisis as Conte’s government is unlikely to survive a no-confidence motion. He can now appoint a caretaker government or allow for the formation of a new government led by 5-Star and the centre-left Democratic Party led by Nicola Zingaretti.

Former Prime Minister, and ex-Democratic Party head, Matteo Renzi favours a new coalition that will approve a budget before Italy goes to the polls. Zingaretti, however, has yet to commit but Italy’s leftist press outlets have suggested that he is not interested in a coalition with 5-Star.

The puzzle of economic progress

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epaselect epa07753065 A calendar marks the date of 02 August at Madrid's Stock Exchange in Madrid, Spain, 02 August 2019. Spanish market's main index Ibex 35 dropped 1.48 percent at the start of the trade session affected by the trade tension between United States and China. EPA-EFE/Sebastian Mariscal

Do we know how economies develop? Obviously not, it seems, or otherwise, every country would be doing better than it currently is in these low-growth times. In fact, cases of sustained rapid growth, like Japan beginning in the 1960s, or other Southeast Asian countries a decade later, are so rare that they are often described as “economic miracles.”

Yet when Patrick Collison of software infrastructure company Stripe and Tyler Cowen of George Mason University recently wrote an article in The Atlantic calling for a bold new interdisciplinary “science of progress,” they stirred up a flurry of righteous indignation among academics.

Many pointed to the vast amount of academic and applied research that already addresses what Collison and Cowen propose to include in a new discipline of “Progress Studies.” Today, armies of economists are researching issues such as what explains the location of technology clusters like Silicon Valley, why the Industrial Revolution happened when it did, or why some organisations are much more productive and innovative than others. As the University of Oxford’s Gina Neff recently remarked on Twitter, the Industrial Revolution even gave birth to sociology, or what she called “Progress Studies 1.0.”

This is all true, and yet Collison and Cowen are on to something. Academic researchers clearly find it hard to work together across disciplinary boundaries, despite repeated calls for them to do so more often. This is largely the result of incentives that encourage academics to specialise in ever-narrower areas so that they can produce publications that will lead to promotion and professional esteem. The world has problems, as the old saying puts it, but universities have departments. Interdisciplinary research institutes like mine and Neff’s, therefore, have to consider carefully how best to advance the careers of younger colleagues. The same silo problem arises in government, which is likewise organized by departments.

Moreover, fashions in research can lead to hugely disproportionate intellectual efforts in specific areas. To take one example, the ethics of artificial intelligence is clearly an important subject, but is it really the dominant research challenge today, even in the fields of AI or ethics? The financial incentives embedded in technology companies’ business models seem to me at least as important as morality in explaining these firms’ behaviour.

At the same time, some important economic questions are curiously underexplored. For example, in his recent book The Technology Trap, Carl Frey expands on his gloomy view of what automation will mean for the jobs of the future, pointing to the adverse effects that the original Industrial Revolution had on the typical worker. Yet Frey also notes that a later period of automation, the era of mass production in the mid-twentieth century, was one of high employment and increasingly broad-based prosperity. What explains the great difference between those two eras?

More generally, researchers need to distil their findings in an accessible way for policymakers – particularly when there are significant scholarly disagreements – and persuade decision-makers to act on them. Yet although the public broadly trusts academic research, most academics are poor communicators (which again reflects their professional incentives). Besides, the last thing some politicians want is evidence that disproves a dearly held belief. And even open-minded officials often struggle to find easily digestible academic expertise on the state of knowledge, particularly on questions concerning novel science and technology.

Today, the role of research in changing behaviour – whether that of government officials or of businesses and citizens – is part of the broader crisis of legitimacy in Western democracies. By the early 2000s, technocrats – and economists in particular – ruled the roost, and governments delegated large swaths of policy to independent expert bodies such as central banks and utility regulators. But then came the 2008 global financial crisis. With real incomes stagnating for many, and “deaths of despair” increasing, it is not surprising that expertise has lost its lustre for much of the public.

This leads to a final point about the need for a science of progress: what do we actually mean by “progress”? How should it be measured and monitored, and who experiences it? For many reasons, the standard indicator of real GDP growth, which leaves out much of what people value, will no longer do.

The debate about progress, therefore, raises profound political and philosophical questions about the kind of societies we want. If the global economy falls into recession, as now seems likely, then social divisions and political polarisation will intensify further. And the clear message since the turn of the millennium is that if most people do not experience progress, then society isn’t really progressing at all.

Current academic research – into the impact of new technologies, the economics of innovation, and the quality of management, for example – may be providing ever more pieces of the puzzle. But many crucial questions about economic progress remain unanswered, and others have not yet even been properly posed.

Tilting at more than windmills in South Asia

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epa07340036 US soldiers attends a training session for Afghan Army soldiers in Herat, Afghanistan, 02 February 2019 (issued 03 February 2019). The 12,000 NATO-led troops in the country have a mainly training and backup role in the context of operation Resolute Support, since the withdrawal of foreign combat troops in 2014. EPA-EFE/JALIL REZAYEE

“Tilt” is a word with a history in South Asia. Nearly a half-century ago, Pakistan’s government brutally repressed its citizens in the eastern part of the country. Millions of refugees streamed into India, which mobilized its armed forces. Pakistan attacked, and India responded. Full-scale war ensued. When the dust settled, Pakistan had been dismembered, with its eastern part becoming the independent country of Bangladesh.

The US government watched these events unfold with concern. India’s claim to be non-aligned was not taken seriously, and President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger judged victory for India to be a gain for the Soviet Union. In addition, the South Asia conflict occurred just as the United States (with Pakistan’s assistance) was seeking to establish a relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Nixon and Kissinger feared that China’s interest would diminish if the US appeared unwilling to stand up to India, a country backed by the Soviets and one with whom China had fought a war a decade before.

The US dispatched an aircraft carrier to the Bay of Bengal, ostensibly to deter further Indian military action, but in fact more as a signal of American support for Pakistan. The show of force did not change the trajectory of the crisis, but the US decision to tilt toward Pakistan (a phrase that made its way into newspapers) was infamous in India for decades to come.

The US continued to favour Pakistan in the wake of the 1971 war. Pakistan was a close US partner in the effort to raise the costs to the Soviet Union of its occupation of Afghanistan, teaming up with the Americans to arm the local Afghan opposition. But with the end of the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan in February 1989 – and the end of the Cold War just months later – the US chose to reconsider its stance toward both India and Pakistan.

Successive US presidents sought improved ties with India, owing to India’s growing economy, robust democracy, and the increasing importance of the Indian-American community. More recently, India has come to be perceived in some quarters as a potential partner in balancing a rising China. At the same time, US relations with Pakistan deteriorated, initially over its nuclear program, but, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, also because of its ties to the Taliban and other extremists.

Now, the question is whether thinking in Washington, DC, is again evolving and the US is considering another “tilt.” After nearly two decades of sacrifice, the US is looking for a way out of Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which has provided a sanctuary to the Taliban, is seen as critical to America’s ability to withdraw its troops without enabling the group to overthrow the Afghan government. At the same time, there is frustration with India over its trade policies.

The new tilt was manifested weeks ago when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the White House. US President Donald J. Trump made the stunning declaration that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate the Kashmir dispute, the most sensitive issue dividing India and Pakistan since partition and independence in 1947.

Such a request by India would represent a fundamental shift in its policy, and India’s government was quick to deny that such a request had been made. This was followed by India’s announcement that it planned to strip much of this Muslim-majority region’s autonomy. There is a possibility that Pakistan will respond by renewing its support for terrorism, which could lead to another war between Pakistan and India, two nuclear-armed countries.

Against this backdrop, the US would be unwise to turn to Pakistan as a strategic partner. Pakistan sees a friendly government in Kabul as vital to its security and competition with arch-rival India. There is little reason to believe that the military and intelligence services, which continue to run Pakistan, will rein in the Taliban or rule out terrorism.

Equally, the US would be unwise to alienate India. Yes, India has a tradition of protectionist trade policies and often frustrates US policymakers with its reluctance to cooperate fully on strategic issues. But democratic India, which will soon surpass China as the world’s most populous country and will boast the world’s fifth-largest economy, is a good long-term bet. It is a natural partner to help balance China. India has rejected participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, whereas Pakistan, struggling economically, has embraced it.

The US would also be unwise to race for the exits from Afghanistan. Peace talks with the Taliban mostly look like a means to extract US forces from the country. The process is reminiscent of Vietnam, where a 1973 agreement between the US and North Vietnam provided a pretext for US withdrawal from the South but not a basis for peace. The notion of a coalition government, with power shared by the current government and the Taliban, is optimistic at best, fanciful at worst.

Instead of embracing fantasy, the US should continue to keep a modest number of troops in Afghanistan to ensure the government survives and the country does not again become a terrorist haven. What is required is an endurance strategy, not an exit strategy, based on local conditions, not political calendars. As has long been the case, South Asia is at best a region to be managed, not a problem to be solved.

When Leninists overreach

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epa07627539 Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 05 June 2019. Chinese President is on a state visit in Russia. EPA-EFE/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / POOL

Ongoing street protests in Hong Kong and Moscow have no doubt spooked the authoritarian duo of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Moscow protests, the largest in many years, must be keeping Putin up at night, or they wouldn’t be dispersed with such unabated brutality. Yet rather than hold a dialogue with the people, Putin has been demonstrating that he is in control, even preening for photos in a tight leather outfit with his favourite motorcycle gang.

Nonetheless, the demonstrations have become a poignant sign of Putin’s declining popularity, including among Russian elites, whose views matter in ways that other forms of public opinion do not. For two decades, the Russian elite’s rival factions have generally seen Putin as the ultimate guarantor of their interests – particularly their financial interests. But as Russia’s economy has sunk into sanctions-induced stagnation, Putin’s leadership has started to look like more of a roadblock than a guardrail. Fewer and fewer Russians still accept that “Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin,” a mantra that one heard regularly just five years ago, following the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.

Moreover, Putin’s hope that US President Donald J. Trump would improve relations with Russia has begun to look short-sighted, if not downright delusional. Although Trump has weakened American institutions and undermined Western alliances, which has played into Putin’s hands, the White House has also rendered US foreign policy utterly unpredictable. Worse, the Trump administration is now systematically unwinding the arms-control accords that long brought some degree of certainty to nuclear affairs.

Russian elites know that their country is as ill-prepared to win a nuclear arms race with the United States now as the Soviet Union was in previous decades. The recent explosion of a nuclear-missile engine at a test site on Russia’s northern Arctic coast is a grim reminder of a deep-seated incompetence. And unlike Putin, Russian elites are deeply worried that alienating the US will make Russia a de facto vassal state vis-à-vis China.

The protests in Hong Kong, which show no sign of abating, are likewise the product of authoritarian overreach. They began with a proposed law that would allow Hong Kong citizens and residents to be extradited to the Chinese mainland. Given how clumsily the legislation was presented by Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, it is possible that the Chinese leadership was only dimly aware of it and its potential political impact. Nonetheless, the Chinese government’s response to the protests has been increasingly self-defeating.

For starters, the People’s Liberation Army has been openly threatening to intervene to shut down the protests against Lam’s government. And in cases where pro-government “triad” thugs, most likely based on the mainland, have shown up to assail protesters, the police have been conveniently absent. As everyone in Hong Kong knows, these extrajudicial beatings had to have been sanctioned by Xi’s government.

More ominously, Xi may have already decided that the time for “one country, two systems” has passed. China, he might argue, can no longer tolerate a functioning quasi-democracy within its territory, despite the agreement it accepted as a condition of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Concerned about Taiwan and its political drift ever further from the mainland, Xi may be thinking that a harsh Hong Kong policy will scare the Taiwanese into line. If so, he has forgotten that bullying Taiwan has only ever yielded the opposite of what China intended.

Then again, Xi may be contemplating something even worse. If he has concluded that Trump’s “America First” administration would do nothing to protect Taiwan, he could be considering a lightning military strike on the island to bring it back under the mainland’s control. But this, too, would be a mistake. Given the broader context of Sino-American relations, even the Trump administration would likely respond to Chinese military adventurism in Taiwan. Besides, the US need not engage in an open military confrontation with China to make aggression toward Taiwan more trouble than it is worth. The US Navy still has the capacity to cut off the sea lanes supplying energy and minerals to China, regardless of whether it is actively engaged in the South China Sea.

As with Putin, overreach seems to be Xi’s default position nowadays, judging by his handling of the trade war and aggressive behaviour toward China’s neighbours. In fact, Xi’s muscle-flexing has been so heedless that China now finds itself increasingly isolated diplomatically. Almost all the world’s leading military and economic powers – the European Union, India, Japan, Brazil – maintained pragmatic relations with Xi’s predecessors. But they have since grown increasingly wary of China, with some even moving closer to the US (in the age of Trump, no less).

As in Russia’s case, China’s elite will no doubt have noticed that Xi is turning the country into an international pariah. The outside world may assume that China’s senior leadership is as subservient to Xi as the Kremlin is to Putin. But that is also what many thought about the Soviet politburo and Nikita Khrushchev back in 1964. Khrushchev was ousted before the end of the year.

There is an old joke in which the long-serving Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, quips, “We had to remove Khrushchev. He was so reckless a gambler, we would be lucky to hang on to Moscow if he continued.” Khrushchev was indeed impulsive when he precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis. But he was motivated by a desire to maintain military parity with the US. He did not share the Stalinesque delusions of grandeur that seem to be driving Putin and Xi to wager their own countries’ futures.

Today, no one should assume that either leader will be spared Khrushchev’s fate, or even Stalin’s grim death, which was long rumoured to have been perpetrated by his own entourage, whose members had tired of his despotic overreach.

Juncker forced to return from summer holiday for immediate medical procedure

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epa07736637 European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attends a weekly college meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 24 July 2019. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing President of the European Commission, has had to cut his summer holiday in Austria short to undergo urgent surgery to remove his gall bladder in his home country of Luxembourg.

Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, is just over two months away from stepping down as Commission President. His mandate comes to an end on 31 October when he will be succeeded by Germany’s former defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen – the first woman to hold the European institutions’ top job.

EP president urges Italian government to let all migrant ship passengers disembark

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epaselect epa07774325 A view of Spanish humanitarian ship Open Arms, with 147 migrants on board, in the immediate vicinity of Lampedusa, southern Italy, 15 August 2019. Several patrol boats of the Italian finance guard and the harbor master's office are monitoring the movements of the Spanish NGO boat that headed towards the island of Pelagie, escorted by two military ships, after the Lazio Regional Administrative Court accepted its appeal, suspending the ban on entry into Italian waters ordered by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. EPA-EFE/ELIO DESIDERIO

The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, has urged the Italian government to allow the Open Arms migrant ship to dock on the island of Lampedusa and allow the more than 100 illegal migrants to disembark.

“My office was in contact with the captain of the Open Arms mission who described conditions on board as scarcely tolerable. The situation has become dramatic,” said Sassoli, adding, “The immigrants have been blocked on the vessel 14 days just one kilometre off the port of Lampedusa.” He added: “They are now giving up and are inflicting acts of self-harm, while they lose sense of reality. The hygiene conditions on board are worse than ever and it is necessary to allow for an immediate disembarkation of those on board.”

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini responded to Sassoli by agreeing to let 27 unaccompanied teenagers leave the vessel, which is operated by its namesake Spain-based NGO.

Euro area international trade in goods surplus

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epa01427609 (FILE) Picture dated 27 August 2007 shows the building of the European Central Bank (ECB) behind the Euro sign logo by the artist Otmar Hoerl in Frankfurt, Germany. European consumer prices jumped to a record 4.2 per cent in July, data to be released 31 July 2008, is predicted to say, increasing the pressure on the European Central Bank as it faces up to the threats posed by surging inflation and slumping growth. Analysts? forecasts for consumer prices in July, which are to be released by European Union?s statistics office Eurostat, would leave inflation in the 15-member eurozone at more than double the ECB?s target of 'close to, but just below 2 per cent'. EPA/BORIS ROESSLER *** Local Caption *** 00000401282137

Eurostat’s first estimate for euro area exports of goods to the rest of the world in June was €189.9 billion, a decrease of 4.7% compared with June last year (€199.3 bn).

Imports from the rest of the world stood at €169.3 bn, a fall of 4.1% compared with June last year (€176.6 bn).

As a result, the euro area recorded a €20.6 bn surplus in trade in goods with the rest of the world in June, compared with +€22.6 bn in June last year.

UN calls for investment in education of Rohingya in Myanmar

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epa05225288 Rohingya children play during rain at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp near Sittwe of Rakhine State, western Myanmar, 22 March 2016. According to media reports, the US State Department said on 21 March 2016 that Myanmar is persecuting its Rohingya Muslims, but not at the level of genocide. EPA/NYUNT WIN

The head of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore appealed on 16 August for urgent investment in education of Rohingya youth, as a conclusion of a report marking two years since the arrival of around 745.000 Rohingya civilians in Bangladesh, after fleeing state-led persecution in Myanmar.

According to UNICEF, for the Rohingya children and youth now in Bangladesh, mere survival is not enough. One of the agency’s objectives through education is to give teenagers the skills they need to avoid risks, such as falling prey to drug dealers and early marriage for girls.

In an appeal to the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, UNICEF and other agencies are calling for the use of national educational resources, such as curricula, training manuals and assessment methods, to help provide more structured learning for Rohingya children.

EU’s Burian travels to Central Asia for regional cooperation talks

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epa04316095 Italian Foreign Vice Minister Lapo Pistelli (R) speaks with Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic, Peter Burian (L) during the informal meeting of Ministers of Development Cooperation of the EU in Florence, Italy, 14 July 2014. EPA/MAURIZIO DEGL'INNOCENTI

The EU’s Special Representative for Central Asia Peter Burian was in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan to meet with the country’s president Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev to discuss Europe’s new cooperation strategy for the region.

“I met with EU Special Representative for Central Asia Peter Burian. We discussed further prospects for cooperation in the context of the new EU strategy for Central Asia. The new leadership of the European Union has confirmed its interest in strengthening strategic partnership with Kazakhstan,”  Tokayev wrote on his Twitter account.

Brussels is in the process of approving and moving ahead with a plan to strengthen its economic and security relationship with the five former Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The new strategy mirrors many aspects of the far more robust plan by the United States to focuses on building more comprehensive ties cooperation with the Central Asian nations to help promote stability in the region and peace in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Europe to boost rural development in Tajikistan

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epa03632002 Local residents buy grapes in front of a food store on Rudaki avenue, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 06 August 2012. Reports state Tajikistan is one among the 15 former Soviet republics with the lowest per capita GDPs. Thousands of Tajik citizens work abroad, mostly in Russia, due to lack of employment opportunities in Tajikistan. Not more than seven per cent of the land area is used for agriculture. EPA/IGOR KOVALENKO

The European Commission has announced on 16 August a €59 million support programme to boost rural development in Tajikistan.

Even though agriculture contributes to about one quarter of the country’s GDP, the rural economy suffers from structural challenges, particularly in areas like natural resource management.

The newly approved programme, Rural Development Programme II, will enhance business competitiveness by supporting an equal number of female and male farmers in business management, will strengthen the management of natural resources, and will promote sustainable and efficient use of water through the supply and instalment of equipment.

EU strengthens efforts to protect endangered species

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epa07716958 Indian one horned Rhinos are seen in flood waters inside the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in the flood affected Morigaon district of Assam, India, 14 July 2019. According to the media reports, floods from monsoon rain has affected more than four hundred thousand people in eleven districts of Assam state. EPA-EFE/STR

The European Union is joining other parties at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, in Geneva, Switzerland, to take additional measures to protect the world’s most threatened species against international trade.

The convention seeks to counter illegal trade. The Union retaliates the need for better enforcement of the Convention’s provisions, in particular by those countries that repeatedly fail to implement their obligations.

In this context, the EU is promoting more effective implementation of existing rules, including through a proposed Resolution on measures for ensuring the legality of trade under the Convention.

British Airways faces record EU fine for major data-breach

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The European Commission is ready to impose a £183.4 million fine on British Airways for its failure to protect the personal details of 500,000 customers.

The UK’s Information Commissioner confirmed that since June 2018 the company’s weak security allowed user traffic to be diverted from its website to a fraudulent page. British Airways is planning to contest the fine, which would set a record for violating the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Under EU rules, any organisation that holds or uses data on people inside the EU and fails to protect them can be fined up to 4% of its annual revenue. According to Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, “when you are entrusted with personal data you must look after it.”

To place the EU fine in perspective, before the GDPR came into effect, the UK’s Information Commissioners Office fined Facebook £500,000 for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Markets signal global recession

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epa07197305 Chair of the US Federal Reserve Jerome Powell prepares to speak to students during the 15th annual National College Fed Challenge Finals at the Federal Reserve in Washington, DC, USA, 29 November 2018. Reports state that on 28 November 2018 the dow surged 600 points after Powell said the Fed's interest rate was 'just below' the neutral level. EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO

Markets in Europe fell on Thursday, following a sell-off in Asian and US stock exchanges on Wednesday. The market downturn was triggered by negative growth data in the UK and Germany, culminating with Chinese warnings of retaliation against US tariffs.

There are at least three signs of a global recession.

First of all, the bond markets are in crisis mode. For the first time since June 2007, investors are willing to get lower returns for holding on to US 10-year Treasuries than for two-year bonds, pricing security over yield. The same is true of the British bond market, for the first time since 2008. Over the last 50 years, this has been a sign of an upcoming recession.

Confirming the investors’ quest for security, the price of gold has reached its highest point since April, while the German 10-year Bund is in negative territory, which means investors are willing to pay for the security it offers.

Secondly, both Germany and the UK are on the cusp of recession, the threat of a disorderly Brexit looms, and political volatility is raising concerns over budgetary policy in Italy. Political coordination among major economies appears minimal.

Last but not least, the Sino-American trade war is weighing heavily on business confidence.

Deflecting responsibility for the current downturn in US markets, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to attack the President of the US Federal Reserve Jay Powell, calling him “clueless,” accusing him of raising interest rates “too quickly” in 2018.  This view was echoed by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Wednesday, who told Fox Business Network that the US Fed should cut interest rates further “as soon as possible.”

The US economic downturn comes as the US enters “campaign mode,” with President Trump planning to make economic success a central theme of his 2020 re-election campaign. As the stocks market tumbles and the deficit is expected to grow by $1trillion in excess of the 2018 budget, this narrative is now undermined. Perhaps more significantly, there is little fiscal space for either cutting taxes or boosting expenditure as a reaction to the downturn.

President Trump announced on Tuesday that he will delay imposing tariffs on a range of mass consumer products imported from China to avoid hitting US shoppers this Christmas. These include mobile phones, laptops, video game consoles, toys, computer monitors, and certain footwear clothing. However, this is anything but a sign of de-escalation in the Sino-American trade war, as President Trump moved on Thursday to link a US trade deal with China to a humane resolution of the weeks of protests in Hong Kong. This is unlikely to make a compromise with China politically viable.

Tense encounter between Russian and Spanish jetfighters over the Baltic Sea

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epa07771545 A pilot runs past a JAS-39 Gripen fighter jet of the Hungarian air force during an alert exercise at the air base of Siauliai, Lithuania, 13 August 2019. Between 01 May and 31 August 2019 the Hungarian air force leads the Baltic Air Policing mission of NATO granting air defence service for the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The two other participants of the current rotation are the British and and the Spanish air forces. Since the three Baltic states have limited air force capabilities, the air forces of other NATO member states contribute to the effort to secure their airspace out of a spirit of solidarity in the Alliance. EPA-EFE/SANDOR UJVARI HUNGARY OUT

A Spanish F-18 fighter and a Russian Su-27 were involved in a tense encounter over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday, as seen in a video released by Russia’s Defense Ministry.

The Spanish F-18 took makes part of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission and took off from the Lithuanian base of Siauliai. It is believed that is was tagging a plane that was reportedly carrying Russian Defense Minister Serguéi Shoigu, who was returning to Moscow from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

The F-18 then was encountered and forced away by two Su-27 escort jets, when the incident occurred.

The Russian news agency TASS reports that the Russian plane was over international waters; El Pais reports that the Russian aircraft was flying near the Alliance’s airspace – Lithuania and Poland – without a flight plan or IFF identification.

The Spanish Defense Ministry did not comment on the incident, while a NATO spokeswoman confirmed that a Russian plane was tracked over the Baltic on Tuesday, without making any specific reference to the incident.

Gibraltar releases Iranian tanker despite US objections

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epa07775043 The Iranian oil supertanker Grace 1 is seen in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain, 15 August 2019. According to reports, Gibraltar has released the impounded Iranian oil tanker which was held on the suspicion it was transporting crude oil to a refinery in Syria against EU sanctions. A Gibraltar court has ruled on the release of Grace 1, despite a last minute effort by the US government asking for further detention of the supertanker. EPA-EFE/A.CARRASCO RAGEL

A court in Gibraltar ruled on Thursday that the Iranian tanker Grace 1, seized by British Royal Marines on July 4. The Iranian supertanker carrying 2,1 million barrels of oil was suspected of being bound for Syria, violating EU sanctions on the Assad regime.

The decision came after Gibraltar’s government received written assurances from Iran that Grace 1 would not deliver its cargo to any country subject to EU sanctions. Upon receiving such assurances, Gibraltar’s first minister, Fabian Picardo, stated that there were no longer any reasonable grounds for the legal detention of the vessel.

Gibraltar is a U.K. overseas territory at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. Tehran declared the takeover of the vessel an “act of piracy” and in retaliation seized the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker on July 19, in the Strait of Hormuz.

Asked by CNN on Thursday, Gibraltar’s first minister Picardo denied there was any notion of a swap between the two vessels. For his part, the British foreign secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News that there was never any intention “to barter a ship that was detained legally with a ship that was detained illegally.”

Immediately after the court ruling, Gibraltar’s government confirmed the release of the captain and three officers of Grace 1. However, Gibraltar Chronicle reported that the U.S. Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court of the British overseas territory to delay the release of the vessel. According to Gibraltar’s Chief Justice, without US involvement “the ship would have sailed” immediately.

According to Reuters, the US Department of Justice asked that the ship is not released, making reference to “a number of allegations” against the tanker.

The US has imposed sanctions on Iran with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether. However, European states have not followed Washington in this policy, but have kept in place an oil embargo on Syria since 2011. The US argument was considered by Gibraltar’s High Court but Grace 1 was released.

Throughout this dispute, the British foreign office insisted that the investigation surrounding Grace 1 was exclusively a matter for the government of Gibraltar. Boris Johnson’s new government in the UK has made clear that he is not willing to review British policy vis-à-vis Iran, although it was announced on Tuesday that UK naval forces will join a US-led mission in the Gulf.

The US blamed Iran for a number of attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz in May and June; the passage is a strategic corridor for global oil trade, through which it is estimated that up to 20% of the global oil supply transits.

BACK TO SCHOOL: TIPS FOR A SMOOTH TRANSITION FROM HOLIDAY MODE

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The time is almost here for children to go back to school. Are you ready? Christine Cornet, Academy manager at Aspria Brussels Royal La Rasante, shares six practical tips to ease the transition from holiday to school time

In summer, just like you, your children need a proper holiday to recharge their batteries. But after this well-earned summer break, it can be hard to get them back into the school routine. In fact, this temporary unsettling of their regime – from the freedom of summer back to the structure of school – can be more than just a cause for deflation. It can actually cause anxiety in your child, and it’s important not to underestimate this.

So, how can you ensure they – and you – are ready?

Christine Cornet, Academy manager at Aspria Brussels Royal La Rasante, shares six practical tips to ease the transition from holiday to school time

UNAIDS appoints next executive director

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epa05731235 Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, during the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, 19 January 2017. The meeting brings together enterpreneurs, scientists, chief executive and political leaders in Davos January 17 to 20. EPA/GIAN EHRENZELLER

The UN programme dedicated to the elimination of AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, has welcomed on 14 August the appointment of Winnie Byanyima as its new executive director.

Byanyima, a prominent Ugandan diplomat and humanitarian, will be the first woman executive director to lead the agency since its launch in 1996.

She became the Director of Women and Development at the African Union Commission, in 2004, working on the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, an important tool for reducing the effect of HIV on the lives of women in Africa.

The UN chief, António Guterres, appointed Byanyima as the UNAIDS Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General “following a comprehensive selection process”, the statement says.

Kazakhstan’s new rules for foreign investors aimed at streamlining business activities

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epa07635449 General view of the bridge in the capital of Kazakhstan of Nur-Sultan (formerly known as Astana), Kazakhstan, 08 June 2019. The city, known earlier as Tselinograd, was an agricultural province in the steppe where the former Soviet Union government tried to grow record grain harvests. The former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan chose former Tselinograd as the place for its capital, named it Astana and rebuilt it in an ultra-modern style. In 2019 Astana was renamed in honor of the first President of Kazakhstan Nur-Sultan. EPA-EFE/IGOR KOVALENKO
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan has approved uniform rules for working with foreign investors that will include guarantees that they receive permits and the necessary government services to carry out investment activities.
“These rules define the levels and participants of the front offices, the interaction and functions of the participants, the procedure for processing documents, monitoring investment projects,” Aybek Smadiyarov, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman said following the announcement.
Smadiyarov also noted that Kazakhstan’s diplomatic missions around the world would become front-line offices that provide information and consultations to potential investors.

Kashagan, Tengiz, Karachaganak top Kazakh oil production

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – The volume of oil production in Kazakhstan during the last seven months amounted to 52.23 million tonnes, meaning it has implemented the state’s plan by 101.2%, Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev told the President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev on 13 August.

“Three large oil projects accounted for 31.6 million tonnes,” the minister said, adding that 7.2 million tonnes were produced in Kashagan, 17.5 million tonnes in Tengiz, and about 6.9 million tonnes in Karachaganak.

Since June, after the overhaul of the Kashagan oil field, the production volume reached a stable high level of about 380,000 barrels per day.

According to the results of the past 7 months, gas production amounted to 33.1 billion cubic metres or 101.8% of the plan; commodity gas production – 19.6 billion cubic metres or 104.8% of the plan.

Also at the meeting, Bozumbayev informed Tokayev about investments in the energy sector. The main increase in investment in the amount of $44.5 billion came from the implementation of three large oil and gas projects: the future expansion of the Tengiz project ($38 billion) and projects to extend the level of production at Karachaganak ($4.5 billion).

The Tengiz Future Expansion Project will allow to achieve a quantum leap in production, namely, to increase the annual level immediately by 12 million tonnes from 2023.

Eight investment projects with a total value of $12.3 billion are under implementation in the petrochemical industry.

At the same time, Polypropylene and Polyethylene projects are the largest polymer production projects among neighbouring countries. The volume of investments in the two projects amounts to $9 billion.

Italian snap elections no longer certain

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epa06564544 An EU and Italian flag fly over as participants gather in a rally titled 'Pulse of Europe' with theme focusing on the upcoming Italian General election, in Frankfurt Main, Germany 04 March 2018. The citizen's initiative was founded to encourage EU citizens to promote a 'pan-European' identity. EPA-EFE/ARMANDO BABANI

The Italian Senate on Tuesday postponed a vote on a no-confidence motion submitted by Lega, postponing snap elections.

The Five Star Movement (MS5), Partito Democratico (PD), the leftwing Free and Equal (LeU), and autonomist parties voted against snap elections. Still, the government has effectively collapsed.

Lega’s leader, Matteo Salvini, has withdrawn the support of his party for the current coalition government. While the vote on a no-confidence motion has been postponed, the prime minister does not command a legislative majority, and the vote cannot be postponed indefinitely.

MS5 wants to avoid elections, which polls suggest would see its electoral influence decrease substantially and is exploring an alternative majority in the current parliament. That is a prospect rejected by the leadership of the main opposition party, Partito Democratico (PD), but considered by a significant minority following former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who wants Italy to approve a new budget before the country goes to the polls. In fact, former culture minister Dario Franceschini and PD member Goffredo Bettini are openly calling for an alternative government with M5S that would implement both electoral reform and the budget.

A vote of confidence cannot be postponed for much longer; Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will address the upper house over the crisis on August 20. Little can change by this speech alone but there is some time for MS5 to seek the formation of an alternative government.

To expedite elections and derail the possibility of a new government being formed in the current parliament, Salvini is offering MS5 to support an electoral reform bill. Under the proposal put forward by Luigi Di  Maio, the number of legislators from both chambers of parliament would be reduced from 945 to 600, prior to going to the polls.

That is not a simple proposition as it would require redrawing constituency boundaries, rethinking the electoral system and, not least, holding a referendum prior to a general election. That could take months, although Salvini insists the country could be ready to go to the polls by October.

The League’s leader has every reason to want elections to take place as soon as possible, as recent polls suggest that this government’s junior coalition partner is close to achieving a single-party majority, that is, a rare occasion in Italian politics. Salvini insisted on Wednesday that Italy should have fresh elections as soon as possible, arguing that no “strange governments” — PD and MS5 – can be the answer to the current political crisis. “The best way, the most democratic, transparent, direct one, is to have elections,” Salvini told Rtl radio.

Meanwhile, Salvini appears ready to revive his alliance with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) party for the next election. FI MPs appear reluctant to seal an agreement to form a single election list but not opposed to a post-electoral partnership. The Brothers of Italy are also eager to join a Salvini government.

In Brussels, the main question at hand is what happens to the mini-BOT monetary policy proposal tabled by the League in the event of a Salvini government. Mini-Bot is the informal name of a parallel currency that Lega would like to bring into circulation in Italy. These mini “bills of treasury” would be small denomination bonds issued by the Italian government to pay off some of its debt to commercial businesses and suppliers and could in turn be used to pay off taxes.

Given that Salvini once described the euro as “a crime against humanity,” markets are also spooked, especially given the prospect of an outright majority for Lega. A number of analysts see this proposal as the first step towards exiting the Monetary Union.

Italy’s sovereign debt amounts to €2.06 trillion or 133% of its GDP. While the majority of that stock is owned by Italians banks, European lenders are also exposed to the tune of €285 bn. The OECD projects Italy’s public debt will rise over the next decade, given a prolonged period of sluggish growth.

Johnson faces no-deal push-back by May’s cabinet

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epa05965532 British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives for an EU Foreign Affairs ministers council meeting, in Brussels, Belgium, 15 May 2017. The council 'will take stock of the implementation of the EU Global Strategy in the area of security and defence, in particular on the civilian aspects', the European Council announced in a related press release. EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

Prominent members of Theresa May’s cabinet are rising to block prime minister Boris Johnson from delivering a no-deal Brexit.

Former Chancellor Philip Hammond warned on Tuesday that Westminster will block a no-deal Brexit if Johnson tried to wrench Britain out of the European Union on October 31 without an agreement. Johnson has vowed to leave the bloc in 77 days if the EU does not agree to a new deal that would not entail the Irish backstop.

Mr Hammond told the BBC on Tuesday that parliament is “clearly opposed” to a no-deal exit, calling on Johnson to respect that. In a letter to the Times of London, Hammond said that no-deal would in fact be “a betrayal” of the 2016 referendum.

The House of Commons speaker John Bercow told an audience in Edinburgh Festival that MPs could prevent a no-deal Brexit and that he would fight any attempt to suspend parliament in order to force a no-deal Brexit “with every bone in my body.” In an open challenge to the former Leave Campaign Manager Tom Barton, Hammond told BBC 4 Radio that “the unelected people who pull the strings of this government” are asking the EU for impossible concessions that are leading to no-deal.

Hammond’s views were echoed by Amber Rudd, the Work and Pension Secretary that Boris Johnson kept from Theresa May’s cabinet. Rudd urged Johnson not to attempt to force through a suspension of parliament, warning that she remains “a great admirer of parliament and of parliamentary sovereignty,” concluding that she expects to work with Westminster rather than against it.

There are in total seven former conservative cabinet ministers who signed a letter warning Johnson not to suspend the parliament, including David Lidington, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and Greg Clark, all of whom resigned before Mr Johnson took office.

Responding to the combined offensive, Johnson admitted on Wednesday that there is indeed an increased likelihood of the UK being “forced to leave with a no-deal” in October. Speaking during a Facebook event hosted at Downing Street, Johnson spoke of “a terrible kind of collaboration” between “people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends.”

Furthermore, No 10 accused Hammond of undermining the UK’s negotiating stance by blocking funds required to prepare for no-deal while he was in office. The former chancellor took to Twitter to reply, recalling that he voted three times in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May and cannot be accused of undermining Brexit.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Tory rebels on Wednesday to agree to a caretaking government led by himself that would postpone the UK’s departure, call snap elections, and campaign for a second referendum in which Remain would be an option.

Mr Corbyn outlined his plan in a letter addressing all opposition leaders, which Liberal Democrats were swift to reject, as they do not find the Labour leader credible. Green MP Caroline Lucas welcomed Mr Corbyn’s call for a vote of no confidence but insisted a referendum must be held prior to a general election. The SNP did not dismiss the prospect but called for labour to move first with the immediate threat of a no-deal exit.

Meanwhile, markets are increasingly operating on the assumption that the UK is heading towards a no-deal Brexit. On Wednesday, the European Central Bank blasted UK-based lenders for their failure to adequately prepare for Brexit, calling on them to move additional staff and resources to the European Union before October 31.

The ECB also requires banks to hold enough funds to ensure they can absorb potential losses at their European units.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly said that he wants the UK to leave the EU with a deal, but the UK must leave “do or die” by October 31st.

US freezes tariff hikes on Chinese mass consumer products

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epa05099889 Workers walk at the container port in Qingdao, in east China's Shandong province, 13 January 2016. China's foreign trade surplus surged to 3.69 trillion yuan (562 billion dollars) in 2015, the government said, even as official figures showed that total trade dropped by 7 per cent compared to the year before. The surplus increased by 56.7 per cent from a year earlier, customs data showed. December's trade figures were better than expected amid continued concern over the slowing of the world's second-largest economy. Chinese exports in December rose by 2.3 per cent year on year, for the first increase since February 2015, while imports declined 4 per cent, a smaller loss than the previous month's 5.6-per-cent fall, the customs data showed. EPA/YU FANGPING CHINA OUT

The US announced on Tuesday that it will postpone the introduction of tariffs on a wide range of Chinese products that was due on September 1st, pending negotiations.

This could delay a 10% tariff on popular goods, including cellphones, laptops, strollers, and toys. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday, agreeing to meet in two weeks.

President Donald Trump is accusing China of failing to buy US farm goods, while his policy adviser Peter Navarro accuses China of currency manipulation.

However, the tariff policy is coming under intense scrutiny. Previous rounds of tariffs targeted component parts that manufacturers such as auto companies bring into the United States to assemble their final products.

The new round of tariffs is expected to target popular consumer products.

According to a study by economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Columbia University, and Princeton University, tariffs have led to soaring prices for US consumers and businesses. The US Tax Foundation calculates that an American family of four estimates that the new 10% tariff hike on Chinese goods worth €286bn could cost every family of four $350 dollars a year.

The former Trump adviser who resigned over tariff policy, Gary Cohn, told the BBC that the trade battle is adversely affecting American manufacturing and offers China a “convenient excuse” to slow down credit putting the blame on US policy.

The Trump administration is not clear on how negotiations with China are proceeding. This week the US President said that a new trade deal with Beijing might not happen until after the 2020 election.

Germany forced to rethink export-led growth model

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epa06328369 (FILE) - Employees walk between Golf model cars during the quality check in the production line in the Volkswagen (VW) parent plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, 09 March 2017. The German Federal Statistics agency Destatis on 14 November 2017 said increased exports and higher investments brought an increase of 0.8 per cent in gross domestic product, while economists had expected a lower figure of 0.6 per cent. The inflation rate, as measured by the consumer price index, was up 1.8 per cent in both September and August 2017 said Destatis. The prices of food rose 4.3 per cent, while prices for goods rose 1.9 per cent year-on-year in October. Economists expect growth in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, to continue its upward trend in future. EPA-EFE/CARSTEN KOALL

Germany’s export-led economic model is called into question, forcing the government to rethink its fiscal policy.

Slumping exports have brought Germany on the brink of recession, according to data released on Wednesday. The overall output in the second quarter fell by 0.1%, as a Sino-American trade war and the prospect of Brexit are weighing on global business and consumer confidence. The domestic market is also affected, as construction also appears to be slowing down.

According to the Federal Statistics Office, annual growth had slowed to 0.4% from 0.9% in the first quarter. This has a direct effect on the Eurozone: Eurostat said GDP growth in the 19-country eurozone was 0.2% in the second quarter, down from 0.6% in the first three months of 2019.

In a statement to the populist tabloid Bild, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Wednesday’s data was a wake-up call, calling for a more expansionary budget. His view echoes the opinion expressed by the powerful German manufacturing association (BDI).

In an article by BDI’s managing director Joachim Lang published on Wednesday by the business daily Handelsblatt, it is argued that the balanced budget policy “should be called into question in an economically fragile situation.”

Europe’s foremost fiscal hawk, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, insists that domestic demand remains robust, as the German economy still enjoys record-high employment, inflation-busting pay hikes and low borrowing costs.

But there are now calls to take action before the fundamentals begin to deteriorate. 2019 is now projected to close with 0,5% growth, compared to 1,5% in 2018. Given this negative momentum, 2020 appears to be a year of recession for the German economy.

Weidman was echoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said on Tuesday that there was no need “right now” for an expansionary budget. Instead, the government announced limited tax cuts, removing the Soli income tax surcharge for most employees from 2021, a relief worth €11bn that will take place in 16 months time. This appears to be too little and perhaps too late.

By Tuesday evening Chancellor Merkel seemed less assertive on her commitment to zero-deficit. “It’s true, we’re heading into a difficult phase,” Merkel said at a town hall event in the northern city of Stralsund, promising to “react depending on the situation,” widely interpreted as opening the door to more expansionary budgetary policy.

Ahead of regional elections in Saxony and Brandenburg on September 1, Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc as well as her junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, have plummeted in opinion polls. In both states,

the Alternative for Germany (AfD) could emerge as the main beneficiary of this electoral erosion of the government coalition.

Scientists are a step closer to an Ebola cure

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epa07648554 People are screened by Uganda Red Cross workers at the check point as they cross the border into Uganda from Democratic Republic of the Congo in the border town of Mpondwe in western Uganda, 14 June 2019. World Health Organization (WHO) is considering declaring Ebola an 'international emergency' after two died in Uganda as the virus is spread from DR Congo to Uganda. EPA-EFE/ENID NINSIIMA

The World Health Organization announced on 12 August that two of the experimental treatments for the deadly Ebola virus appear to dramatically boost survival rates.

While an experimental vaccine previously had been shown to shield people from catching Ebola, the new treatments work on people who already have been infected. According to WHO, the risk is still very high at both national and regional levels.

The Data and Safety Monitoring Board has recommended that the study be stopped and that all future patients be randomized to receive the treatments. They are now being offered to all patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the current outbreak is the second deadliest ever.

Eurostat finds decrease in industrial producer prices

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epa01427609 (FILE) Picture dated 27 August 2007 shows the building of the European Central Bank (ECB) behind the Euro sign logo by the artist Otmar Hoerl in Frankfurt, Germany. European consumer prices jumped to a record 4.2 per cent in July, data to be released 31 July 2008, is predicted to say, increasing the pressure on the European Central Bank as it faces up to the threats posed by surging inflation and slumping growth. Analysts? forecasts for consumer prices in July, which are to be released by European Union?s statistics office Eurostat, would leave inflation in the 15-member eurozone at more than double the ECB?s target of 'close to, but just below 2 per cent'. EPA/BORIS ROESSLER *** Local Caption *** 00000401282137

According to estimates from Eurostat, in June compared with May, seasonally adjusted industrial production fell by 1.6% in the euro area (EA19) and by 1.5% in the EU28.

In May, industrial production rose by 0.8% in the euro area and by 0.9% in the EU28.

The full estimates are available on Eurostat’s website.

Brussels steps up its support for counter-terrorism activities in Sri Lanka

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epa07519739 A police officer stands guard in Katuwapitiya St. Sebastian church in Negombo near Colombo, Sri Lanka, 21 April 2019. According to police at least 207 people were killed and more than 400 injured in a coordinated series of blasts during the Easter Sunday service at churches and hotels. EPA-EFE/STR

The European Commission, through its instrument for contributing to stability and peace, has allocated €8.5 million to support Sri Lanka in its efforts to prevent violent extremism and promote peace efforts on the island nation.

The move comes after a meeting earlier this month between the EU’s Foreign Affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, the former underlined the EU’s readiness to support Sri Lanka in its effort to fight terrorism.

Three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo were targeted in a series of coordinated terrorist suicide bombings in April. The attacks killed 258 people and were later blamed on followers of ISIS and the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a local Islamist terror group that has regularly threatened Sri Lanka’s Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians – the country’s three largest religious groups.

Responding to terrorist attacks is an additional challenge for Sri Lanka after decades of bloody conflict between the Hindu and Buddhist communities. The challenge of settling its refugees and displaced persons, as well as de-mining operations, continue to sap resources from the cash-strapped central government.

Europe’s €8.5 million of support will help boost the Sri Lankan authorities’ ability to respond to terrorist threats, while at the same time giving them the means to focus on the prevention of extremism via partnerships with global social media actors.

EU to help Greece fight wildfires with new rescEU system

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epa07772377 A massive wildfire in central Euboea, in the municipality of Dirfys-Messapia burning houses around the village of Makrymallis, Greece, early 14 July 2019. EPA-EFE/WASSILIS ASWESTOPOULOS

With seasonal forest and brush fires raging on the Greek island of Evia, west of Athens, the European Union has mobilised water tanker aeroplanes from Italy and Spain to be dispatched to the affected regions from the bloc’s rescEU reserve after the Greek government requested Brussels’ assistance.

The EU’s Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, met in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and visited the Greek Civil Protection Crisis Centre to be briefed along with the Minister for the Protection of Citizens Michalis Chrysochoidis and oversee the operation carried out by rescEU.

The European satellite mapping system Copernicus is also helping to provide damage assessment maps of the affected areas.

The fires on Evia erupted just over a year after wildfires killed 103 people in areas north of Athens and nearly wiped out the seaside village of Mati. The high death toll was largely due to the construction of illegal buildings that blocked access to the sea and escape routes.

Revelations that the former ruling government, the radical leftist party SYRIZA, had no disaster or evacuation plan in place, angered a wide swath of the population in Greece and left the European Union sceptical that the previous Greek government had the ability to manage the logistics when major natural disasters occur.

US under secretary of state headed to Kazakhstan for key regional cooperation meeting

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epa07714926 David Hale, the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs speaks at meeting with President of Moldova Igor Dodon (not seen), during his visit, in the Presidential building in Chisinau, Moldova on 13 July 2019. EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU

Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry announced on 14 August that US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale is due in Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on 20-21 August for two days of talks with the new leadership of the Central Asian energy giant, which held landmark elections in June that saw Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev elected to replace Nursultan Nazarbayev as Kazakhstan’s president.

An American delegation will also take part in the so-called C5+1 meeting involving the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan to discuss enhancing a multilateral mechanism that would increase cooperation in the fields of economy, environment, and security.

Along with the US-Central Asia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Council, the C5+1 is Washington’s main tool to approach Central Asia as a region. The first meeting took place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in November 2015 and focuses much of its attention to counter-terrorism activities under the auspices of the US Institute of Peace, facilitating private sector development of the internal Central Asian market, promoting low emission and advanced energy solution, and analysing environmental risks under the umbrella of the Agency for International Development, commonly known as USAID.

Recent developments in the American-Central Asia relationship have included official meetings in Washington between US President Donald J. Trump and his counterparts, former President Nazarbayev and Uzbekistan’s reformist leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have taken lead roles in helping to foster some semblance of regional, including with Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who continues to pursue an isolationist foreign policy that has left his energy-rich nation largely closed to the outside world.

Central Asia’s geographic position has made the region an increasingly important partner for the United States as it continues to act as a critical link between Europe and Asia. The US’ New Silk Road Initiative hopes to connect Central Asia with its southern neighbours India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

The enhanced economic cooperation between the United States and Central Asia would benefit both sides economically as large-scale American investment into the region would significantly boost growth in the five Central Asian nations and help ween the local economies off remittances sent from their respective citizens working in Russia, while American businesses would increase their access to and ease of doing business with a market of more than 70 million people.