Czech PM pushes for Jourova to remain as EU Commissioner

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epa07736837 European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vera Jourova gives a joint press conference on the governance framework for the Budgetary Instrument for Convergence and Competitiveness, the Anti-Money Laundering Package and the application of the new data protection rules at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 24 July 2019. Commission proposes a governance framework for the Budgetary Instrument for Convergence and Competitiveness EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

During a meeting between Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and future EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the former continued to push for Vera Jourova, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, to remain on the Commission once von der Leyen takes the reigns of Europe’s top job.

Jourova is known to want a “different, stronger portfolio,” on the incoming Commission, preferably connected to the “economic department because we are an export-oriented country,” Babis said, adding,  “She was successful as an EU Commissioner and she is a woman.”

Von der Leyen visits Zagreb as she vows to back Croatia’s euro and Schengen ambitions

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epa07748475 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (R) during a welcome press conference prior to their meeting in Zagreb, Croatia, 30 July 2019. Von der Leyen is in Croatia on an official visit. EPA-EFE/DANIEL KASAP

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s President-elect, is continuing her tour of the bloc’s capitals has visited Zagreb to meet with Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

“Following my visits to Berlin, Paris and Warsaw last week, I’m excited to travel to Croatia …and to Spain and Italy later this week. Croatia is the youngest member of our Union and a true European success story,” said von der Leyen, who will replace current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in November.

“My political goal is to rebalance the EU,” said von der Leyen. “Between the East and the West, the South, the North, the small and the largest countries, the young and the old (members of the bloc),” she told the press.

Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, is to take over the rotating presidency of the union in January 2020. Von der Leyen has promised to support Croatia’s membership in the Schengen and Euro zones.

Kurz not against future coalition with Austria’s right-wing FPÖ party

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epaselect epa07653532 Sebastian Kurz, former Austrian Chancellor and leader of the Austrian People's Party (OeVP) arrives for a press statement at the party' headquarters in Vienna, Austria, 17 June 2019. According to Kurz the party has received manipulated e-mails which should reveal a connection between the OeVP and the Ibiza scandal. EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA
With his party ahead in the polls, Austria’s former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he would not be against forming an alliance with the arch-conservative Freedom Party (FPÖ) party to form a coalition in the parliament.
Kurz made clear that his Peoples’ Party (ÖVP) wants to lead the interior ministry in to handle the migration portfolio. In his interview with Austria’s public broadcaster Kurz also said his party open to forming a coalition with partners that would help solidify a strong overwhelming majority in the parliament once new elections are held on 29 September.
The previous ÖVP-FPÖ coalition collapsed earlier in May after a video emerged showing former vice-chancellor and ex-FPÖ party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, receiving illegal party funding from Russia.

German prosecutors investigate Eritrean accused of murdering child and mother

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epa07748915 A regional train stands at the main train station in Frankfurt in Main, Germany, 30 July 2019. An eight-year-old boy and his 40-year-old mother were pushed onto the tracks while a high-speed train was arriving on 29 July 2019. The boy was hit by the train and died while his mother was able to escape. EPA-EFE/ARMANDO BABANI
German prosecutors are investigating an Eritrean man who pushed an 8-year-old boy and his mother into a train while the two were waiting at a railway platform in Frankfurt.

Federal Police President Dieter Romann said the Eritrean, whom he named only as “A”, had previously applied for asylum in Switzerland in 2006. Romann added that “A” had been known to hold a steady job and was considered “well-integrated”, but had recently caught the attention of Swiss police through a series of violent incidents.

Less than a week before killing the young boy and his mother, “A” had threatened one of his neighbours with a knife; an episode, Romann suggested, that may have been the reason why he had travelled to Germany, as he had subsequently been the subject of an arrest warrant in Switzerland.

Japan and Europe jointly launch three Erasmus Mundus graduate programmes

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epa06894453 European Council President Donald Tusk (R) speaks as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) listen during a joint press conference at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 17 July 2018. EPA-EFE/KOJI SASAHARA / POOL

Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the European Commission have teamed up to offer three Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree Partnerships.

“I am confident that the three Joint Master Programmes we have selected, part of our new EU-Japan cooperation model in higher education, will bring superb results by nurturing students’ talents, fostering excellence and boosting science, technology and innovation. I am looking forward to seeing their positive impact in the months and years to come,” said the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics.

Top students from around the world will be able to study in at least two of the universities represented in each programme, with at least one of the universities having to be located in Japan. At the end of their studies, the students will receive either a joint, double, or multiple graduate degree, including a Master of Science in Imaging and Light in Extended Reality from the University of Eastern Finland and Japan’s Toyohashi University of Technology; Master of Advanced Robotics from the École Centrale de Nantes in France and Keio University from Japan; and a Master of History in the public sphere from Budapest’s Central European University and Tokyo University’s foreign studies faculty.

Mogherini at EU-ASEAN summit in Thailand

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epa07751465 South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (R) shakes hands with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini in Bangkok on 01 August 2019. Kang's meeting with the EU's security and defense cooperation representative took place on the sidelines of ASEAN meetings being held in the Thai capital. EPA-EFE/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini visited Bangkok, Thailand, on 1-2 August, to co-chair the EU – Association of Southeast Asian Nations Post-Ministerial Conference and to represent the Union at the 26th ASEAN Regional Forum.

At this meeting, the EU and ASEAN agreed to upgrade their relations to a Strategic Partnership. Mogherini underlined the need for enhanced connectivity between Europe and Asia, the need to support the rules-based international order, and effective multilateralism.

She also held a number of bilateral meetings with top government officials in the margins of the ministerial, including with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand, and the Foreign Ministers of China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Canada, Indonesia and New Zealand.

President-elect von der Leyen meets Orban in Brussels

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The President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen met with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Brussels where the two discussed her plans for climate protection, economic, migration policy, and the role of the EU in the world.

“We have made a good decision so far,” Orban told Hungary’s public broadcaster after the meeting and described von der Leyen as a politician “who has the same thoughts about the future” regarding “children and families, security, and a common European force and the development of the military industry.”

Hungary under Orban has come under increasingly intense criticism from current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for the former’s crackdown on political opponents, as well as attacks on the rule of law and civil society. Juncker has, himself, personally chastised members of Fidesz, the ruling party in Hungary.

Orban supported von der Leyen’s candidacy to succeed Juncker and later described her with his MEPs votes in the European Parliament. Orban had at the time described her victory as an important development that would help strengthen the 28 member bloc.

However, the political guidelines of the von der Leyen will be no different to those of Juncker, while the First vice-president for the rule of law, Frans Timmermans, is set to remain as a deputy head of the College of Commissioners.

After von der Leyen’s election, Orban said it was a good decision to keep “ideological gorillas” – in reference to Juncker’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans – away from the Commission presidency and nominate someone with a “pragmatic instinct”.

Europe provides aid to fight deadly dengue outbreak in Philippines

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epa07719998 A government worker carries out fumigation using a fogging device to eradicate mosquitos on the island of Samal, Zamboanga del Norte province, Philippines, 16 July 2019. The Philippine health department declared a national alert on 15 July due to an outbreak of dengue fever, with over 106,630 cases recorded in the first half of the year and 456 deaths, most of them children under five. The incidence of dengue has grown 85 percent with respect to the same period last year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said. Dengue is the world's fastest-growing infectious disease, causing an average of over half million potentially fatal infections annually and around 20,000 deaths, most of them children. EPA-EFE/CERILO EBRANO

In response to the ongoing dengue outbreak in the Philippines, the European Union is providing €100.000 in humanitarian aid funding to assist the most affected communities, as part of the EU’s overall contribution to the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The aid will directly and indirectly benefit 300.000 people in some of the hardest hit areas, by strengthening of public health services and the provision of nursing staff. In addition, potential mosquito breeding grounds, as water sources, will be cleaned and treated with a biological control agent to eliminate mosquito larvae.

Germany is the top beer producer; Dutch are number 1 in terms of exports

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epaselect epa07296210 A person passes by in front of bottles of beer of diffrent brands and brews stand in a shelf during the International Green Week fair in Berlin, Germany, 18 January 2019. The International Green Week fair runs from 18 to 27 January 2019. This year's partner country is Finland. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN
According to data by Eurostat to coincide with international beer day, Germany is the biggest producer of the much-loved beverage, with production hitting 8.3 billion litres in 2018, figures that represent 21% of the beer market in the EU.
The UK was the second-biggest producer 4.5 billion litres of beer brewed over the course of the year. Britain was followed by Poland’s 4.0 billion litres, 3.9 billion litres from Spain,  and 2.4 billion litres each from the Netherlands and Belgium.
Traditionally a wine-producing superpower, Italy saw its beer production increased by 21% in 2018. Hungary and the Czech Republic – two nations with centuries-old beer traditions – each saw their production significantly tick upwards.
Though the UK and the Netherlands still made it onto the list of top producers, the two joined Austria and Slovakia as the countries that registered the largest drop in production.
Despite the production decrease, the Netherlands exported 1.9 billion litres of beer in 2018, making the Dutch, Europe’s top beer exporters. Trailing closely behind the Netherlands were Belgium and Germany, with each having exported 1.6 billion litres of beer.
The main importers of beer made in Europe include the US, which received 1 billion litres – roughly 29% of all exports from the EU – of beer in 2018. The Chinese were the second biggest importers of European-made beer, having brought in 453 million litres in 2018.
Russia, Canada, South Korea, Australia, and Taiwan were the European beer market’s other main buyers.

Frontex tests use of aerostat for border surveillance

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The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, in partnership with the Hellenic Coast Guard, has launched on 31 July a one-month trial of an aerostat and other equipment for border surveillance on the Greek island of Samos.

The aerostat will be used as surveillance to detect unauthorised border crossings, support sea rescue operations and combat cross-border crime.

This project supports one of the core tasks of Frontex, to identify various technologies that can be used for border control.

EU urges Sudan negotiators to hasten agreement

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Amid heightened tensions between opposition campaigners and Sudan’s military rulers, 8 people, among which 5 schoolchildren, were shot dead when security forces broke up a student protest in the city of El-Obeid on 29 July.

The European Union expressed its support to the African Union and Ethiopian mediation efforts and called on the Transitional Military Council and the Forces for Freedom and Change to pave the way for a civilian-led transition in Sudan.

“The perpetrators need to be promptly brought to justice by the Sudanese authorities, the TMC having the duty to ensure the safety of all in Sudan.

The EU will only be able to engage with a Government in which civilians exercise demonstrable authority.”, the statement reads.

EU funding to upgrade Portugal’s railway line

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The European Union’s Cohesion Fund invests almost €68 million in northern Portugal, to upgrade the 92-km section of the Minho single-track line between Nine and Valença, on the Spanish border.

The project is part of the Porto-Valença-Spain rail corridor, which plays an important economic role in the region. The upgrade will improve the line safety and will support the development of intermodal transport by linking important nodes.

This investment represents the second stage of a cohesion project overall worth €125 million, which includes the electrification of the line and the construction of four stations.

EU to support development of ultrafast broadband network in Greece

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The European Commission has approved on 31 July €300 million of public support for Greece’s Ultrafast Broadband Infrastructure Scheme.

The scheme will bring ultrafast broadband services to customers in areas with insufficient connectivity in Greece, and will encourage investments. It is financed through the European Regional Development Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and private investments.

The European Commission approved the measure under EU State aid rules based on the conclusion that the scheme’s positive effects on competition in the Greek broadband market outweigh potential negative effects brought about by the public intervention.

Europe’s unemployment rate drops in June

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According to figures published by Eurostat on 31 July, the euro area (EA19) seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 7.5% in June 2019, down from 7.6% in May 2019 and from 8.2% in June 2018. This is the lowest rate recorded in the euro area since July 2008.

The EU28 unemployment rate was 6.3% in June 2019, stable compared with May 2019 and down from 6.8% in June 2018. This remains the lowest rate recorded in the EU28 since the start of the EU monthly unemployment series in January 2000.

More informaition is available on the Eurostat website.

 

Kazakhstan ready for 13th round of talks on Syria on 1-2 August

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – All participants of the process toward a peaceful settlement in Syria, also known as the Astana process confirmed their participation in the 13th round of talks on Syria, which will be held in the capital of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan, on 1-2 August, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said on 31 July.

Iran, Turkey and Russia, as well as representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition will join the international high-level meeting on Syria, the ministry said.

At the moment, all previously invited parties have confirmed their participation. Russia’s Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev will attend the session while the Turkish and Iranian delegations will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal and Foreign Minister’s Senior Aide for political affairs Ali Asghar Khaji, respectively, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said. In addition, both parties to the conflict in Syria – a government delegation headed by Syria’s UN Envoy Bashar Jaafari and an armed opposition led by Ahmad al-Touma will be attend the planned meeting, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said.

For the first time during the upcoming meeting, the delegations of Iraq and Lebanon will take part as observers. A decision to join the negotiation process was taken on the basis of the previous meeting in Astana.

The UN Secretary-General’s Syria envoy, Geir Pedersen, is not going to attend the Syrian talks in Nur-Sultan, due to health reasons, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said on July 31. “We regret to say that the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, will be forced to skip the upcoming talks. The UN delegation will be led by his deputy,” the ministry said in a statement.

US representatives will not attend the 13th meeting on Syria in Nur-Sultan.

In addition, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will arrive in Nur-Sultan to participate in the regular meeting of the working group on the release of detainees/hostages on the fields of inter-Syrian talks.

Russia, Iran and Turkey launched the Astana Process in January 2017 in Kazakhstan to bring all parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

 

 

EU supports building maritime capacities in Somalia

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epa05873833 A photograph made available on 27 March 2017 shows the coastline of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, 23 March 2017. EPA/DAI KUROKAWA

The European Union’s Mission in Somalia donated a radar scanner to the Maritime Police Unit of Bossasso, on the northern Somali coast, to enhance the port authorities’ capability to observe maritime activity in the near waters on the Gulf of Aden.

The donation is by EUCAP Somalia, a civilian mission under the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, that the EU launched in July 2012 to assist host countries develop self-sustaining capacity for enhancement of maritime security.

The radar scanner is part of a larger EUCAP-Somalia project on maritime situational awareness.

When an independent competition authority becomes politicised – The troubling example of Greece

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epa04942827 Greek SYRIZA party leader and newly sworn-in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) enters the Prime Minister's office accompanied by former caretaker Prime Minister Vassiliki Thanou (L), during a handover ceremony, in Athens, Greece, 21 September 2015. Alexis Tsipras is set to return to power in Greece with another emphatic election victory, vindicating his decision to seek a new mandate after yielding to the demands of European leaders for more austerity in the crisis-hit country. EPA/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU

In recent months, the Greek Competition Authority (HCC) has been in turmoil over the appointment of Vassiliki Thanou at the helm of the Agency, amid heavy criticism that her selection was politically-motivated. And while things initially seemed to run smoothly despite the politicization of the theoretically independent authority – simply because government and regulator were under the same political banner, independent regulatory authorities must be able to transcend national electoral cycles and guarantee interest-free continuity. This is especially true of the all-powerful competition authority which can make or break entire markets, or even act as a political tool for governments and opposition.

Critics of the focus particularly on Thanou’s close ties to ex-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the SYRIZA party, while drawing attention to the fact that the selection of vice-president in early 2017, Anna Nakou, was also politically-driven. As a result, critics say, trust has broken and the perception is that the Competition Commission cannot perform its tasks in an impartial and effective way.

We launched a fact-finding exercise, based on publicly available records, to determine whether these concerns hold true.

Thanou claims that both she and other Board Members act independently in the performance of their duties. But research reveals a disconcerting pattern of top management appointments within the Agency in recent months (both at the level of the Board, the body that decides competition cases, and the level of the Directorate-General, the body that investigates cases) which justifies the deep skepticism expressed around the questions of independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the Greek competition regulator.

Recent appointees for top management posts in the competition agency indeed appear to have close political ties with members of the SYRIZA government and, most of them, relatively limited or no prior management experience before their appointment. Findings also cast doubt as to whether recently enacted EU legislation meant to empower national competition authorities is sufficient and capable of protecting the independence and effectiveness of competition authorities in Europe.

 The Hellenic Competition Commission Board Members appointed by the SYRIZA Government

Thanou, a former Supreme Court Chief Justice, was appointed as President of the Hellenic Competition Commission on 3 January 2019, prompting protests from opposition politicians and commentators that she was too enmeshed with the SYRIZA government to be able to carry out her duties independently and impartially. In a letter addressed to EU Commissioner Vestager at the time of her nomination, then centre-right party leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, now elected prime minister, warned that Thanou’s candidacy is absolutely incompatible with the role and mission of an independent regulator. Transparency International has also criticised the Greek Government at the time, finding that her appointment ultimately challenged the independence of the institution.

Indeed, during his time as prime minister, Tsipras appointed Thanou to a string of influential posts, inciting each time vocal criticism as to the circumstances leading up to her selection. After being appointed to head the Supreme Court, a selection amongst more senior peers that also gave rise to controversy, she served as caretaker Prime Minister of Greece from 27 August to 21 September 2015, in the run-up to the September 2015 snap elections. Her later judicial career was accompanied by controversy and allegations of interference with ongoing investigations. Upon retirement from the bench, Tsipras appointed her on 11 July 2017 as Head of his Legal Office (Legal Office of the Secretariat-General of the Government), a position she subsequently left to take up her new role as President of the HCC.

Already in April 2017, Nakou had been selected and appointed by the SYRIZA Government as Vice-President of the Agency. Nakou entered the HCC service in 2011 and has never held a management position (e.g. Head of Unit or Director) in the Directorate-General of the HCC. Her appointment at the top management position raised a lot of political controversy at the time, with opposition parties claiming that her only credentials for the job have to do with her close political affiliation with the SYRIZA government and, in particular, with the second most powerful man in the then SYRIZA-led government Minister Nikos Pappas. This is because, before taking up her duties, she had been seconded for a number of years to the political office of Pappas as his adviser:

  • On 13 May 2015, only a few months after the SYRIZA Government took office, Nakou was seconded to the political office of Pappas, then Minister of State.
  • Following the September 2015 General Elections, she was re-seconded (12 October 2015) to the political office of Pappas, again Minister of State (SYRIZA).
  • Following a Government reshuffle in 2016, Nakou was again seconded (1 December 2016) to the political office of Pappas, then Minister of Digital Policy, Telecoms & Media (SYRIZA).
  • She continued to be a secondee adviser to Pappas up until her appointment as Vice-President of the HCC on 6 April 2017 – her secondment to the Minister actually being repealed 2 months after her appointment to the HCC Board, on 2 June 2017, with retroactive effect.
  • While at the service of Pappas, she worked on a highly controversial legislative initiative of the SYRIZA Government regarding the auctioning of TV licenses, which effectively limited the number of free-to-air nationwide licenses to only 4. The Law was eventually challenged at Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court and was struck down as unconstitutional.
  • Recently, Nakou’s participation in the adjudication of cases in the media sector attracted new criticism, because her former boss, Nikos Pappas, exercised oversight precisely over the media sector while she was at his service.

Moreover, Ioannis Pavlovits, another SYRIZA appointee, held various advisory posts within the General Secretariat of the Government, immediately before being appointed to serve as Board Member of the HCC on 7 January 2019:

  • On 6 March 2015, only a few months after the SYRIZA Government took office, he was appointed by the prime minister to serve as a special advisor to the General Secretariat of the Government.
  • On 7 October 2015, he was appointed by the prime minister as Head of the Office for Administrative and Financial Support of the General Secretariat of the Government, a position he held until 4 January 2019.
  • That same date, the prime minister accepted his resignation and relieved him from his duties, only to assume a few days later, on 7 January 2019, the position of Board Member of the HCC, appointed by the Minister of Economy and Development (SYRIZA) Mr Dragasakis.
  • There is no indication that Pavlovits had no prior knowledge and expertise in competition law or economics.

 

Selections subsequently made by the new HCC Board Members for top management posts within the Directorate-General

 

In the course of the first 5 months after taking office (Jan – May 2019), the new HCC Board filled 3 vacancies for top management posts within the Directorate-General of the HCC: one post of Director-General and two posts of Directors (out of four directorship posts in total).

The selections again exposed the politicization of the HCC and raised concerns about its impartiality and effectiveness. In particular, at least 2 appointees have similarly served until recently as advisors to Ministers or advisors to other high-ranked members of the SYRIZA government. The pattern is the same: they were both HCC officials who have left the Agency soon after SYRIZA came into power in January 2015 to be seconded to serve at the executive branch, and later returned to the Agency to take up top management posts. They had no prior management experience, or relatively very limited management experience, within the Directorate-General. Meanwhile, other applicants with several years of management experience and honourable service within the Directorate-General (consecutive terms as Heads of Units or Directors) were ignored. A 3rd appointee is also said to have had connections with the SYRIZA government.

These findings cast a political shadow over the independent agency’s recent management changes. Without taking a stand on whether these changes may be affecting the investigation or outcome of pending cases, appearances do matter. The said pattern of top management appointments could undermine the perception and trust of stakeholders and the society at large that the competition regulator performs its duties in an impartial and effective way.

Greece’s HCC is independent only in name, and the EU has long turned a blind eye to such situations, choosing to focus on the big picture and leave internal clashes for power to the local players – even in the organizations made to protect citizens free of political dependence.

It is an uphill climb for the newly elected government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and he is called upon to fight decades of such models of governance in Greece. Restoring the independence of such regulatory authorities, for the long-term good of the country rather than his political party, is an important battle that sooner or later he will have to fight if he seeks to recreate Greece’s paradigms of democratic governance, and reach European levels of functionality and efficiency in the administration.

East Med Gas Forum wants worldwide upgrade

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Energy ministers of the East Med Gas Forum (EMGF) met in Egypt on 25 July, agreeing to access the possible upgrade of the forum to the level of an international organisation, the first of its kind in southeast Mediterranean, and form a committee with the natural gas industry, which would include the participation of state and private companies from the forum member countries.

Egyptian Energy Minister Tariq el-Mulla and his counterparts Greece’s Costis Hatzidakis, Cyprus’ Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, Israel’s Yuval Steinitz, Jordan’s Hala Zawati, and Italy’s Deputy Minister Andrea Cioffi attended the forum, which is supported by the United States and the European Union.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Frank Fannon attended the session on 25 July, which follows the joint declaration of the 20 March 2019 summit between Cyprus, Greece, and Israel, with the participation of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. At that session, Pompeo underlined Washington’s support for the trilateral mechanism and noted the importance of increased cooperation.

Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on 29 July that the meeting formalised the setting up of the EMGF and agreed to set up committees to take its objectives forward. “However, it was useful in terms of regional politics but vague and lacking on practicalities, especially given the region’s burning problems in need of urgent resolution,” he said. “It is a talking shop and as such it will help improve cooperation among its members, but it will not have a direct effect on the development and export of hydrocarbons from the region,” Ellinas said, adding that is still subject to the commercial challenges of global markets and the effects of the global shift to clean energy.

Greece, Cyprus and Israel to meet in Athens on 7 August

The European Commission announced in Egypt on 25 July that the EC would support the Forum’s activities with significant financial assistance while the ministers also approved the first study to be conducted on behalf of EMGF in cooperation with the World Bank to examine the potential of the region’s natural gas and possibilities for natural gas development and export, the Greek Energy Ministry said in a statement.

Hatzidakis also has a bilateral meeting with Perry and Fannon in Egypt where they discussed US-Greek energy relations and their geopolitical significance. The Greek Energy Minister highlighted the importance of the EastMed gas pipeline for Europe’s energy security and called for the need to overcome the current delay due to the pending signing of the intergovernmental pipeline agreement between Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Italy, the Greek Energy Ministry said, adding that Fannon will lead the US delegation to the trilateral meeting of the energy ministers of Greece, Cyprus and Israel in Athens on 7 August. That meeting, according to Ellinas, is a continuation of previous tri-partite meetings between these countries with US support. “It will probably concentrate on the East Med gas pipeline, but the project can progress only if it can provide gas to Europe at prices that can compete with existing gas prices. This is where the challenge lies,” he said.

Ellinas noted that Washington would like to see East Med gas exported to Europe to lessen dependence on Russian gas. But this can happen only if East Med gas can compete with prices prevalent in Europe, which is a challenge. However, LNG from Egypt’s existing LNG plants at Idku and Damietta may be exported to Europe because very low liquefaction costs make it commercially viable, but other potential gas exports from the region cannot benefit from this advantage. This does not need the cooperation of Turkey,” Ellinas said.

Turkey’s role in the East Med

He noted that Turkey’s impact is on what happens with exploration and export of gas from Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). “The EMGF cannot help with such problems, especially as Turkey is not a member of EMGF,” Ellinas argued. “The EU and US might have been able to use their influence, but pressure and sanctions so far have not had any impact. It anything, it would appear that they have lessened their ability to influence Turkey, which says that it no longer sees the EU as an independent arbiter,” he said.

At the Forum on 25 July in Egypt, Hatzidakis also discussed Greek-Egyptian energy cooperation with el-Mulla, focusing on marketing, exploration and production of hydrocarbons, regional cooperation in the gas sector as wells as investments in renewables and electricity.

El-Molla and Perry also met in Egypt with the latter reportedly stressing the role of Egypt as a reliable source of energy, pointing out the US readiness to provide all the expertise and technologies to Egypt to enhance its natural position as an important energy hub in the region, and highlighting Egypt’s role as a cornerstone of energy cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean.

El-Molla said that the fact that Cairo is the permanent host for the newly found forum, confirms its centrality as a regional centre for trading of gas and oil.

Ellinas noted that Egypt is becoming a major player in its own right. “Not only it has become self-sufficient in gas, but it is fast promoting renewables and by removing subsidies it is containing its growing domestic energy demand. This has freed gas for exports from its existing liquefaction facilities. With increasing gas discoveries and production, it expects these to reach full utilisation be next year,” he said, adding that some gas from its neighbours, Israel and Cyprus, may reach Egypt if prices make it commercially viable.

Russia, Turkey mull joint exploration in Mediterranean

Meanwhile, Russian oil companies could roll out exploration in offshore Mediterranean in cooperation with Turkey, Anadolu news agency quoted Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak as saying in an interview on 26 July. Russian state oil giant Rosneft is working at Zohr gas field in Egypt.

Asked if Moscow is trying to involve Ankara in order to get a foothold in the region, Ellinas said at present such cooperation is for exploration in Turkish waters. “It is difficult to see how this can provide Russia with a foothold in the region, if indeed it wants to. Russian companies had chances to complete for blocks in Cyprus EEZ but did not use them,” he said, adding “And (Russian gas producer) Novatek is in Lebanon already.”

 

 

 

EU reacts after bus hits roadside bomb in Afghanistan

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epa07671317 A general view of the Polyclinic Farah in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 24 June 2109, where ten young Spanish students injured are treated. According to reports, a Spanish woman has been killed and 10 Spanish students were injured in a road accident on 22 June, as they were on a trip to Yamoussoukro Ivorian economic capital. EPA-EFE/LEGNAN KOULA

At least 35 people, including women and children, lost their life when a bus transporting civilians was the target of an attack on 31 July in the Farah province of Afghanistan.

The European Union expressed in a statement its condolences to all those affected, as well as its support to the Afghan people in their desire for peace:

“Such an indiscriminate attack on civilians, which follows an attack on a vice-presidential candidate three days ago, undermines current efforts to achieve a durable peace, and mars the positive achievements of the intra-Afghan dialogue held in Doha earlier this month, where Afghan representatives, including of the Taliban, agreed on the need to reduce the number of civilian casualties to zero.”

Eurozone members’ economic sentiment declined in July

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epa07223323 A bureau de change displays currency prices in London, Britain, 11 December 2018. The pound has dropped to an 18-month low against the euro following British Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to postpone the Brexit deal Meaningful Vote, due to risk of rejection from Members of Parliament. Theresa May is currently on a whistle stop tour of Europe calling on the leaders of the Netherlands, Germany and EU in Brussels looking for new guide lines for her Northern Ireland backstop. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL
The European Commission’s monthly sentiment survey showed the overall index for the 19 member states of the Eurozone at 102.7 points in July, down from 103.3 in June and 105.2 in May.
The summer’s expected economic slowdown aligns with the seasonal trend and with what the economists anticipated as a deterioration.
Worries about Eurozone’s economic growth persists in the third quarter of 2019, as the economic sentiment continues to decline in July. While consumer confidence improved, businesses shared a view of deteriorating sentiment across sectors, sending worrying signals to the service sector. Cautious optimism is partly justified as the deterioration was seen as a decrease of future demand expectations.
Last week, European Central Bank’s President Mario Draghi proposed a further easing of the monetary policy amid the deteriorating growth outlook. Draghi even hinted at a reinterpretation of the inflation target, while a cut in interest rate this September is highly anticipated by economists.
The fall of the sentiment index in July was caused mainly by lower optimism in industry, where the index fell to -7.4 from -5.6, an easing in services to 10.6 from 11.0 a fall in retail trade to -0.7 from 0.1 an in construction to 5.0 from 7.6.
The sentiment among consumers, however, has improved to -6.6 from -7.2.from June to July.
The European Commission’s business climate indicator, which points to the phase of the business cycle, plunged to -0.12 points in July from 0.17 in June, has reached its lowest reading since September 2013.
The EU executive’s inflation expectations among Eurozone consumers a year ahead fell to 20.6 in July from 21.9 in June and 23.2 in May and selling price expectations in the manufacturing sector declined to 1.7 in July from 3.2 in June and 5.3 in May.

EIB to help Middle East and North Africa countries fight climate change

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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 Green for Growth Fund has attracted €4 million from the initiative Climate Action in the Middle East North Africa, or CAMENA, which is managed by the European Investment Bank to help countries in the Southern Mediterranean fight climate change by funding targeted climate initiatives and vehicles.

The investments will be used to attract private capital to support transformative green energy projects in the region.

The Green for Growth Fund was initiated as a public-private partnership in December 2009 by the EIB and Germany’s KfW Development Bank, with the goal to help reduce the use of energy. Its capacity has been further increased with €5 million EIB investment through the Luxembourg-EIB Climate Finance Platform in 2018.

Eurostat finds rise of GDP in euro area

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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 a preliminary flash estimate published by Eurostat, seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 0.2% in both the euro area (EA19) and the EU28 during the second quarter of 2019, compared with the previous quarter.

In the first quarter of 2019, GDP had grown by 0.4% in the euro area and by 0.5% in the EU28.

The flash estimate is available on the Eurostat website.

EU states harden migration policies, warns Agency for Fundamental Rights

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epa06294595 A member of the Portuguese Navy accompanies a litle girl migrant aboard the Viana do Castelo Oceanic Patrol Ship, off the coast of Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy, 27 October 2017, (issued 28 October 2017). Reports state that 48 migrants were rescued on 27 October 2017 by the Portuguese Navy in the Mediterranean landed in Pozzallo on 28 October 2017 and were handed over to the Italian authorities 19 hours after being picked up from a vessel at risk of fire. EPA-EFE/JOSE SENA GOULAO

In its latest quarterly report on migration, the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights found that EU states continue to harden their migration policies and laws.

Food deprivation, removals with no prior notice and the arrest of humanitarian workers carrying out search and rescue operations at sea are some of the main concerns that the report identifies.

In particular, it has been found that authorities in Hungary are denying food to rejected asylum seekers waiting in transit zones. In France, authorities are removing irregular migrants without giving them prior notice, contrary to the law. The migrant reception center in Greece continues to host five times as many people as its capacity. Migrants crossing the sea to reach Italy and Spain also remains a concern, as many ships sank on these dangerous routes.

The report also emphasizes the need to address problems resulting from overcrowding and asylum processing.

EU urges China to release activist sentenced to 12 years for leaking state secrets

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epa07614084 An area aboard the Correctional Services Department new launch, Seaward, is fitted with benches, at the Government Dockyards in Hong Kong, China, 31 May 2019. The Correctional Services Department recently commissioned the new boat to replace an older launch used by the department. Seaward will primarily be used to transport people in custody to and from the island of Hei Ling Chau, where a medium security correctional institution is located. EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE

A Chinese court has sentenced on 28 July Huang Qi, a civil rights activist whose website reported on sensitive topics, to 12 years in prison for leaking state secrets.

The 56-year-old Huang was widely referred to as the country’s “first cyber-dissident” for running a human rights news website called 64 Tianwang, named after the bloody 4 June 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters.

The European Union called for the immediate release of Huang and other convicted human rights defenders, in its statement:

“In line with their declared aim of strengthening the rule of law, we expect the Chinese authorities to abide by China’s international law obligations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and respect the rights of all citizens as guaranteed by China’s Constitution.”

Pro-democray protesters in Hong Kong have also demanded Huang Qi’s release.

EU warns Belarus to abolish death penalty

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epa02502745 Police officers enter the prison as the gates close in front of where the relatives and friends (not pictured) of arrested Belarussian opposition supporters are placed in Minsk, Belarus, 20 December 2010. About two dozen relatives of the detained activists milled around a detention center in western Minsk, hoping to find news of their loved ones. A wide-reaching crackdown on opponents to Belarussian President Aleksander Lukashenko was in progress on 20 December amid criticism from the US and the European Union. EPA/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

Despite the European Union’s repeated calls for the abolition of capital punishment in the only European country that still carries out executions, a man was sentenced to death in Belarus for double murder on 31 July.

The EU reiterated its opposition to the death penalty in a statement, in which it expressed its sincere sympathy to the families and friends of the victims.

“Tangible steps taken by Belarus to respect universal human rights, including on the death penalty, remain key for shaping the EU’s future policy towards Belarus.”, the statement reads.

Johnson to apply additional pressure to negotiate a “better Brexit deal”

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epa07737778 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech at Downing Street following his appointment by the Queen in London, Britain, 24 July 2019. Former London mayor and foreign secretary Boris Johnson is taking over the post after his election as party leader was announced the previous day. Theresa May stepped down as British Prime Minister following her resignation as Conservative Party leader on 07 June. EPA-EFE/VICKIE FLORES

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to pressure Brussels to actually negotiate a better, a Brexit deal, while hinting that no talks would take place if the EU won’t accept the pledge for a different agreement.

Ahead of a farm trip in Wales, 10 Downing said that Brexit would allow the Britain to scrap the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and export more food and farm produce around the world when his government is free to sign new trade deals outside the EU. “We will have a historic opportunity to introduce new schemes to support farming – and we will make sure that farmers get a better deal,” Johnson said. “Brexit presents enormous opportunities for our country, and it’s time we looked to the future with pride and optimism.”

Ahead of the 31 October Brexit date, Johnson is making more money available for contingency planning and as well as a mass public information campaign to advise businesses and citizens how to prepare.

Johnson reiterated that he wants the UK to leave with a deal, but a different one that would scrap the so-called backstop guarantee for the Irish border.

“The prime minister will be happy to sit down with leaders when their position changes, but he’s making it clear to everybody that a change first needs to happen,” Johnson’s spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told the press on 29 July.

Report shows online markets need to do more to protect customers

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epa06243864 (FILE) - Workers at the Amazon e-trader's new logistics center in Sady, near Poznan, Poland, 24 October 2014 (reissued 04 October 2017). The Euroepan Commission on 04 October 2017 order e-commerce giant Amazon to repay 250 million euro in back taxes as it amazon was givent an unfair tax deal in Luxembourg. EPA-EFE/Jakub Kaczmarczyk POLAND OUT

One year after the signing of The Product Safety Charter and committing to speed up the withdrawal of dangerous products sold on their sites, AliExpress, Amazon, eBay and Rakuten France have submitted on 30 July a report to the European Commission.

The report shows that the four online markets successfully use the EU Safety Gate for the removal of dangerous goods from their sites, and that they can further improve their product safety business by organizing prevention actions, strengthening their cooperation with market surveillance authorities and using artificial intelligence to detect dangerous products more quickly.

The European Commission will continue its efforts to convince other companies to join the charter, including social media, such as Facebook, to improve consumer protection online.

Total, KMG, Kazakh Energy Ministry sign MoU

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – France energy giant Total has signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the field of digitalization in the oil and gas industry with Kazakhstan’s national oil and gas company KazMunayGas (KMG), and the Ministry Energy Kazakhstan on 30 August.

The memorandum was signed during the visit of France’s Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire to Nur- Sultan.

In accordance with the signed document, the parties intend to assist government agencies and other organisations in the implementation of the state programme “Digital Kazakhstan”” and the further process development of digitalization of the oil and gas industry.

“Total is among the top 10 largest oil and gas companies in the world. Therefore, their experience in the issues of digitalization of the oil and gas industry and the application of modern technologies will allow Kazakhstan to adopt the best practices in order to improve operating efficiency and increase in oil and gas assets,” the deputy chairman of the KMG Management Board for production, Zhakyp Marabayev, said after the signing ceremony. “The signed memorandum will not only strengthen cooperation between the two companies, but also significantly expand its borders,” he added.

 

France, Kazakhstan to further boost cooperation

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan –France’s Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire met with Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev in Nur-Sultan on 30 July with the latter noting that a very serious reserve has been created between Kazakhstan and France for bilateral cooperation, in particular, in the trade, economic and political spheres.

“France is the main our partner within the European Union. The EU is the main trading partner of Kazakhstan. The volume of bilateral trade between our countries amounted to 4.5 billion dollars, and the volume of direct investment from France to our economy exceeded 15 billion dollars,” Tokayev said.

French companies are successfully operating in Kazakhstan and the authorities of the Central Asian country are ready to continue to create all the necessary conditions for their effective work, according to the presidential service of Kazakhstan.

Le Maire thanked the Kazakh president for the warm welcome and stressed that France and Kazakhstan are linked by a long-term mutually beneficial strategic partnership.

France’s Economy and Finance Minister also expressed his desire to increase the fruitful cooperation between the two countries in every way.

In conclusion, Tokayev conveyed greetings and best wishes to French President Emmanuel Macron.

 

Europe strengthens business cooperation with India

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epa07653708 A statue of Mahatma Gandhi is seen from behind at the Parliament House on the day of the first session of 17th Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, India, 17 June 2019. The first session of the Lok Sabha (the lower house of India's Parliament) was held in which the new lawmakers took the oath after Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) emphatic win in the recently held Lok Sabha elections. EPA-EFE/STR

The Ambassador of the European Union to India, together with Indian government officials, announced on 24 July in New Delhi, the launch of the European Economic Group, a working group positioned as the single European business voice in India aimed at enhancing Europe-India business cooperation.

This is a first of its kind working group that serves as a synergizing channel addressing critical points of interventions to support European businesses in India. It will have a sub-group focusing on market access of small and medium-sized enterprises, to give impetus to Europe-India business collaborations.

The EU is India’s first partner in terms of trade and actual investment inflows. Bilateral trade in goods and services amounts to €125 billion and 6.000 EU companies account for almost 7 million jobs in India.

Juncker Plan supports rental industry in the Netherlands

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epa04360361 A boat carrying a 360-degree Google camera sails through the city canals of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 19 August 2014. The camera, mounted on a small vessel, takes photos for the Google Street View service. EPA/REMKO DE WAAL

The European Investment Bank is lending €50 million to the Dutch company Boels Rental, which promotes the circular economy model, to acquire new vehicles, machinery and related equipment for its rental and leasing activities.

The loan is guaranteed by the European Investment Fund for Strategic Investments, or Juncker Plan, which is currently supporting 967.000 small and medium businesses across Europe.

As of July 2019, the Plan has mobilized €424 billion of additional investment, including €11.8 billion in the Netherlands.

Italy makes huge cocaine bust with Eurojust’s support

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epa07143111 Police near a post office, where a man took hostages in Reggio Emilia, Italy, 05 November 2018. According to reports, Francesco Amato, the man convicted last week in the sprawling 'Aemilia' trial on 'Ndrangheta mafia infiltration, entered a post office and took hostage five staff members threatening with a knife. One of the five hostages was released after an hour. Police on the site is negotiating with Amato and is considering wether to send in special forces. EPA-EFE/ELISABETTA BARACCHI

Thanks to Eurojust’s support in coordinating judicial cooperation among Colombia, the USA, France, Spain and Italy, 368 kg of pure cocaine with a street value of €100 million, were seized in the Port of Genova, and three men of Italian nationality were arrested.

Cash in excess of €950.000, three cars and a jammer to block transmission signals were seized as well.

One of the suspects is connected to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta mafia clan.

Boris Johnson promises to “never” restore physical checks at Irish border

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epa07474078 A house bears an Irish flag near the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland outside the city of Newry in Northern Ireland in Britain, 03 March 2019. Neither the UK nor the EU wants a hard border, and the Irish backstop is the mechanism that negotiators agreed upon to prevent that from happening. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL
According to the readouts obtained by the British and Irish governments, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his counterpart in Ireland, Leo Varadkar, that he would never to allow physical checks to be put in place at the UK/Irish border after Brexit becomes official on 31 October.
Johnson said his government would “never put any physical controls or physical infrastructure on the border” between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland even if it leaves the UK.
The British premier told Varadkar that “The UK will be leaving the EU on October 31, no matter what,” Johnson told Varadkar, adding that his government will be steadfast in its commitment to the 1998 Good Friday peace deal that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and that he “will never put physical checks or a physical infrastructure on the border”.
Johnson made clear that his government will approach any possible negotiations with Brussels in “a spirit of friendship”, and that his clear preference is to leave the EU with a deal, but it must be one that abolishes the Irish backstop – the proposed safety net designed to ensure an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing a deal.
Varadkar emphasised to Johnson that “the backstop was necessary as a consequence of decisions taken in the UK and by the British government” while adding that the EU was united in its view that the Withdrawal Agreement could not be renegotiated.
“Alternative arrangements could replace the backstop in the future, as envisaged in the Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration on the future relationship, but thus far satisfactory options have yet to be identified and demonstrated,” said Varadkar, who reminded Johnson, that the agreement requires that the individual sovereign governments have the right to exercise power on behalf of their citizens.

EU, UN condemn hospital and school attacks in Libya

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epa03941192 Libyan Military Police checks cars at a checkpoint in a street of the capital after a night of heavy clashes between rival militia groups in Tripoli, Libya, 08 ovember 2013. At least one person was killed during overnight clashes between rival militias in the Libyan capital, a medical official at Tripoli's Central Hospital said 08 November. The fighting, which took place in the district of Suq al-Juma, in eastern Tripoli, also left several people wounded. Heavy weapons were used in the gun battle, which continued until the early hours of 08 November, according to witnesses. Several buildings, including the Radisson Blue Hotel, were slightly damaged by the gunfire. EPA/SABRI ELMHEDWI

The European Union and the United Nations condemned on 29 July the rebel attacks on a school and on a field hospital on the Airport Road that cost the lives of four doctors and one paramedic, and injured eight medical personnel.

The European Union condemned the attacks in a statement, saying: “The interest of the Libyan people must be put first by de-escalating the situation and resuming dialogue in order to identify a lasting political solution to the conflict as part of the UN-led process”.

Fighting in Libya “shows no signs of abating”, the head of the United Nations Support Mission told the Security Council, reminding of the worsening humanitarian conditions, and warning that the instability and influx of foreign weapons is fueling a proxy war in the north African country.

EIB to support construction of new school buildings in Italy

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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 and the Council of Europe Development Bank are making available €1.555 billion (€1.255bn from EIB and €300m from CEB) for the School Buildings Plan, prepared and coordinated by the Ministry for Education, Universities and Research.

The funds will be deployed by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti in support of local authorities that own their school buildings. The loans will modernize Italian schools by restructuring, compliance with safety and seismic standards, energy efficiency and the construction of new school buildings.

Thanks to the School Buildings Plan and economic cooperation between the relevant players, there are advanced IT systems, highly valued in Europe, mapping all school buildings across Italy and monitoring infrastructural work.

More than 130 illegal migrants are stuck in a Sicilian port

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epa04713980 A migrant who survived recent ship sinkings looks on upon arrival onboard the Italian Coast Guard's vessel Bruno Gregoretti at Catania's port, Sicily, Italy, early 21 April 2015. The migrants are among 27 survivors from a shipwreck off the Libyan coast believed to have caused hundreds of deaths. EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
An Italian coastguard vessel was stranded in the Mediterranean Sea with more than 130 illegal migrants aboard after the Italian government refused to let 130 illegal migrants to disembark in Sicily. The authorities, however, later allowed the vessel to dock in the Sicilian port of Augusta and have already evacuated several of those onboard who needed immediate medical attention, including a woman who is seven-months pregnant woman, her two children, and her partner.
“The Gregoretti berthed in the port of Augusta overnight, as is the normal procedure for a military vessel. Now the EU has to act because the migration question concerns the whole continent,” said the Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said in a statement.
The ship took part in a rescue operation at the weekend after 115 other migrants drowned off the coast of Libya. the deadliest event in 2019, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has taken a hard line against illegal migrants rescued at sea and has blocked recent moves  by the EU to have them settled in Italy.
The European Commission will “support and coordinate among those that are willing to participate in solidarity efforts,” said a Commission official.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced last Monday that 14 EU members have approved a plan to redistribute refugees rescued in the Mediterranean, with eight countries saying they would actively take part.

Belgian nuclear plant reactors to may remain open until 2025

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epa06731294 The nuclear power plant in Doel, Belgium, 12 May 2018. According to news reports on 30 April 2018, the operator of the Doel 1 nuclear power plant admitted that the water coming from a leak inside the emergency cooling system could be radioactively contaminated. The plant near Antwerp was shut down a week earlier, allegedly due to maintance works, according to the operator Engie-Electrabel. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ
According to the European Court of Justice. two of the reactors at Belgium’s two Doel Nuclear Power Station may remain open until 2025 until an assessment on how the closure would affect electricity supplies in the country.
In June 2015, the government of Prime Minister Charles Michel, who is also the president-elect of the European Council, extended the lifespan of Doel’s number 1 and 2 reactors without making an environmental assessment. Two Belgian organisations – Bond Beter Leefmilieu and Inter-Environnement Wallonie – later asked the European Court of Justice whether an environmental impact assessment should be carried out before an official extension could be made.
Because the power stations are close to the border with the Netherlands, a cross-border procedure was also required.
The nuclear power stations can remain open, according to European regulations.