Women on top in the world’s democracies

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epa07721864 German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R), outgoing Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (L), and incoming Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (C) arrive to the handing over of the certificate of discharge to von der Leyen and appointment to Kramp-Karrenbauer by the German President, at Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, 17 July 2019. German President Steinmeier signed and handed the certificates of discharge and appointment to the Ministry of Defense to outgoing von der Leyen and incoming Kramp-Karrenbauer. EPA-EFE/FELIPE TRUEBA

US President Donald J. Trump’s recent declaration that four Democratic congresswomen of colour – Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib – should “go back” to their countries was another reminder of his blatant racism and sexism. (Three of them were born in the United States, and the fourth became a US citizen as a teenager.) But it also highlighted the rising profiles of women in politics – a trend that will continue, no matter how much it terrifies insecure men like Trump.

A century ago in Europe, leading suffragists – such as Inessa Armand, Rosa Luxemburg, and Clara Zetkin – had little choice but to seek powerful men to validate their aspirations. One such man was Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, who advocated the elimination of “old laws which placed a woman in inequality in relation to man.” Armand was (allegedly) romantically involved with Lenin, and Zetkin interviewed him on “the women’s question” in 1920, following his 1919 speech on the “tasks of the working women’s movement in the Soviet republic.”

This approach was understandable, but it proved ineffective. Lenin insisted that only socialism – with its promise of equality for all – could liberate women. “Wherever the power of capital is preserved,” he declared in that speech, “the men retain their privileges.”

But, while over 80% of women in the Soviet Union aged 15-54 had jobs (as of 1983), few had careers. During the Stalinist era, women were explicitly told to return to the “family front.” My own grandmother was forced to give up her position as an educator after my grandfather, Nikita Khrushchev, was appointed the head of Ukraine’s Communist Party in 1937. She was supposed to serve as an example for other working wives of political functionaries.

Today, not only are there very few women in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government; their roles are largely ceremonial. Tellingly, in a country where domestic abuse kills a woman every 40 minutes, on average, an amendment decriminalising some forms of domestic violence sailed through the Duma (Russia’s parliament) in 2017, before being signed by Putin.

By contrast, while many European democracies lagged behind the Soviets on women’s suffrage – Belgium, France, and Italy granted women full voting rights only in the 1940s – they have turned out to be far more conducive to women’s professional rise. Forty years ago, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, though often inflexible and dogmatic, helped to break the proverbial glass ceiling. And, in the last 15 years or so, the ladder has gotten higher – and more crowded – than ever. Angela Merkel has become Germany’s third-longest-serving chancellor since becoming the first woman to fill that post in 2005. Another woman, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, currently Germany’s defence minister, is likely to succeed her in 2021.

The surge of women in politics spans Europe – and the political spectrum. Dalia Grybauskaitė, Lithuania’s own “Iron Lady,” who became her country’s first female president in 2009 (she left office this month), holds centre-right views but is not affiliated with any political party. The conservative Erna Solberg, who became Norway’s prime minister in 2013, has managed to strike a balance between libertarianism and the welfare state. Yulia Tymoshenko twice became Ukraine’s prime minister in a political environment saturated by male chauvinism.

The liberal-conservative Kersti Kaljulaid became Estonia’s first female head of state and its youngest-ever president in 2016. And last month, the social democrat Mette Frederiksen was elected as Denmark’s youngest-ever prime minister, and the second woman to hold the office. Meanwhile, another powerful female politician, the nationalist Pia Kjærsgaard, who co-founded the Danish People’s Party, resigned as the speaker of Denmark’s parliament after holding that post for four years.

Yet another far-right party, France’s National Rally (formerly the National Front), also has a woman leader, Marine Le Pen, who in 2011 succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, with the goal of making his extreme views more palatable and broadening the party’s appeal.

Likewise, former British Prime Minister Theresa May was tasked with cleaning up the mess made by her male predecessor, David Cameron. Having called the Brexit referendum to appease the Euroskeptics in his Conservative Party, his only choice was to resign when the vote didn’t go his way. May, who also opposed leaving the European Union, was somehow supposed to make it work. (It couldn’t, so she didn’t.)

Female representation is also on the rise at the European level. During her tenure as Europe’s competition commissioner, Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager took bold steps to rein in Big Tech. Former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who became the International Monetary Fund’s first female managing director in 2011, is now set to be confirmed as the European Central Bank’s first female president. And Merkel’s protégé, Ursula von der Leyen, will take over as the European Commission’s first female president.

As for the US, though former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in 2016, she set an important precedent (and won more votes). The 2018 midterm elections brought a record number of women to the US Congress, including those four congresswomen who have been in Trump’s crosshairs. And two of the five frontrunners to take on Trump in the 2020 election are women.

None of these women needs men’s validation. But that does not mean that they would not welcome men’s support, whether political, personal, or even artistic. For example, Philipp Stölzl is staging a contemporary adaptation of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto in Austria. In his viewRigoletto – in which a court jester attempts to end the licentious activities of his powerful employer – is the ideal opera for the #MeToo era. Perhaps that is why a woman, Australian opera director Lindy Hume, is bringing her own adaptation of Rigoletto to Seattle next month.

In today’s world, as in Rigoletto, men continue to hold disproportionate power, which they often use in ways that prevent women from gaining more. But, judging by the fast-growing number of women on the political stage – and given that they include Fascists, Liberals, Greens, and Socialists – the days of male supremacy are numbered. No wonder that we are witnessing a backlash from “alpha males” like Trump.

Ukraine’s new president must stop the cover-up of journalist’s murder

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epa05433743 A person holds a portrait of killed journalist Pavel Sheremet during a gathering in memory of Sheremet at Independence Square, in Kiev, Ukraine, 20 July 2016. According to Ukrainian media, Belarus-born Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed early on 20 July in a car explosion in the center of Ukraine's capital city of Kiev. The exploded car belonged to Olena Prytula, an owner of online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda. However, Prytula was not in the vehicle at the moment the blast occurred, at 07:45 Kiev time. The car is reported to have been set off as Sheremet was driving. Pavel Sheremet has lived in Kiev for the past five years, working for Ukrainska Pravda and hosting a radio show on Radio Vesti. EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

Three years after the murder of Belarusian-Ukrainian journalist Pavel Sheremet, time is up for Ukrainian law enforcers.

It’s hard to imagine a more utter failure: not a single person has been charged for the killing of the journalist in a car explosion in central Kyiv on 20 July 2016. There can be only one plausible explanation for this failure: top officials or people close to them may be involved.

Sheremet was critical of several governments, including those of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. He worked in Belarus until 1998; Russia from 1998 to 2014; and Ukraine between 2014-2016.

Several hours before Sheremet’s murder, he met several veterans of Ukraine’s far-right Azov Regiment. One of them, Sergei Korotkikh, used to be a self-proclaimed national socialist in both Belarus and Russia and studied at the academy of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the successor of the Soviet Union’s KGB. He has been accused of links to Belarus’ KGB, which he denies.

Korotkikh and other Azov fighters are close to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Ironically, it is Avakov’s police who are investigating the murder.

“In Belarus, Korotkikh is considered a neo-Nazi,” Sheremet wrote in 2015. “…Korotkikh was accused of beating up a group of Belarusian opposition activists in 1999 and assaulting Belarusian anti-Fascists in 2013.”

Sheremet wrote that Korotkikh was acquainted with Valery Ignatovich, another national socialist who had been given a life sentence for kidnapping Belarusian journalist Dmitry Zavadsky.

Zavadsky disappeared without a trace in 2000 – like many other critics of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

“My comrade and colleague Dmitry Zavadsky left his home at 10 a.m.,” Sheremet wrote in 2015 as if predicting what would happen to himself. “He kissed his wife and went to an airport to meet me. In an hour I found his car parked right in front of the airport but Dima was nowhere to be found.”

To be fair, Sheremet then said that he had talked to Korotkikh and did not believe the accusations against him. Korotkikh denies any accusations of wrongdoing.

Sheremet was the common-law husband of the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper’s owner Olena Pritula and the newspaper’s executive director. Ukrainska Pravda criticised many Ukrainian top officials, including Avakov.

Prior to his murder, Sheremet had been followed by the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, employee Igor Ustymenko, according to an investigation by The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

At a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on 23 July, National Police Chief Sergey Knyazev read a report on Sheremet’s murder, which was mostly irrelevant gibberish without any substance. Then he showed Zelensky some secret materials about the investigation but no one knows what they are.

Zelensky, who had previously lashed out at minor officials, was very friendly with Knyazev and Avakov. This is a bad sign – apparently, Zelensky intends to let influential heavyweight Avakov, who helped him during the 21 April presidential election, keep his job.

 If the murder suspects are not identified soon, this will indicate that Zelensky’s administration is not interested in any real progress in the investigation, just like his predecessor Petro Poroshenko. This will mean that the corrupt establishment will remain intact, and impunity will reign supreme.

The dismissal of those responsible for the cover-up of the murder – Avakov, Knyazev and Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko – is the first necessary step towards progress.

If there is no progress in the Sheremet case, European governments and journalist organizations should see it as the first sign that Zelensky’s administration is no different from his predecessor’s. This case must become a global issue, with every journalist in the world paying attention to it and demanding that the Ukrainian government solve the murder.

A year after Trump-Juncker meeting, the European Commission assesses joint trade statement

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epa06910344 US President Donald J. Trump (C) meets with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L), in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 25 July 2018. EPA-EFE/KEVIN DIETSCH / POOL

One year after US President Donald J. Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s joint statement on trade, part of the two side’s attempt to ease trade tensions, the EU executive has released a full report on the current state of play of the relationship.

The Commission has insisted that its assessment of the statement made in the White House a year ago is not intended as a negotiating ploy which is aimed at further avoiding an escalation of the situation as several key deadlines are rapidly approaching, which could see both sides impose additional tariffs on one another.

The EU’s 28 members gave the Commission a mandate to start negotiations on reducing trade barriers on industrial goods in April, but subsequent talks have yet to begin. Several of the bloc’s members are unhappy with the lack of progress in the discussions. France, in particular, has tried to block any decision by the Council of Ministers after the US opted to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade commissioner, admitted to the European Parliament earlier in July that the negotiations with Washington have reached a stalemate due to Europe’s refusal to negotiate Brussels’ large agricultural subsidies, a key sticking point in the talks with the US.

The Americans declared in May that some imported vehicles and European-made car parts pose a major threat to the US market, putting a decision regarding additional tariffs on hold until mid-November.

“We welcome the decision by the US not to impose duties on cars and car parts. Of course, the very notion that European cars can be a national security threat is absurd,” Malmstrom said, adding that the talks have made no progress towards a proposed deal that would remove tariffs on industrial goods.

Talks aimed at reducing red tape for companies in the EU and US for products that require third-country assessment have been ongoing. Technical contacts have taken place in this area, with full negotiations expected to start in the autumn.

The EU also wants to import more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US to diversify its energy supply away from Russia, a development that would be a key victory for the US. LNG imports have tripled since last year’s EU-US joint statement, reaching a record of more than 1.4 billion cubic meters valued at around €0.3 billion in March, while the import of American soybeans to the EU has almost doubled.

Speaking about WTO reform, Malmström acquiesced to complaints from the White House that the World Trade Organization is in dire need of being recalibrated to better reflect today’s trade dynamics but insisted that the framework that is in place remains the best possible system to work from.

The US, EU and Japan have jointly proposed to enhance WTO members’ compliance with transparency requirements. Europe and Canada announced on 25 July that they have reached an agreement on an interim arbitration appeal arrangement that would be applicable to disputes between both partners if the situation at the WTO does not improve.

Don’t fear the scooter

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epa07647970 A dock-free electric scooter by Lime-S rental company is seen on a street, in Paris, France, 14 June 2019. Dockless electric scooter companies have been emerging quickly, with more and more devices adorning the streets of Paris - becoming a fast growing headache for Paris authorities trying to implement safety regulations. Earlier in June, Paris saw its first fatality after a man riding a scooter was killed in a traffic collision in the city center. Fines have already been implemented for riding scooters on the sidewalks, and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo announced a ban on parking scooters on the pavement. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON

Electric bicycles and scooters are taking a lot of heat. Concerns about traffic fatalities, terrorised pedestrians, and urban lawlessness has led to a growing chorus of politicians and media commentators to conclude that the technology should be banned outright. But these critics are missing the point. Small, portable, electric transportation options are a tremendous opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, avoid traffic jams, and relieve human frustration.

A scooter that averages 16 kilometres per day produces 3,500 grams less carbon dioxide than a car travelling the same distance. If 10,000 people were to switch from cars to scooters, their combined CO2 emissions would decline by 35 metric tons per day; if five million people did so, they would produce a mere 370 metric tons per day, or just 2% of that generated by the equivalent number of cars. The problem, of course, is that transportation managers, and the politicians who set their budgets, have not yet made the policy and infrastructure adjustments to accommodate such a transportation revolution.

For lessons on maximizing the benefits of this technology without compromising public safety, they can look to Tel Aviv, which is now home to more than 5,000 rental electric scooters. To help the city’s transportation and police departments formulate the best policies for managing them, my graduate students and I have delved into the usage data.

For starters, we find that while electric two-wheelers can indeed be dangerous, the hazard is primarily to the rider. Since 2014, the number of riders in Israel who died in accidents has increased from one per year to 19. And last year, an additional 414 people were hospitalised as a result of reported accidents involving scooters, almost a quarter of them under the age of 16. Of the cases involving head injuries, 95% involved riders who were not wearing helmets; and most were the result of riders being forced into the street, owing to a lack of proper bike lanes and a prohibition against riding on the sidewalk.

These findings suggest that most accidents and injuries are preventable, either through the enforcement or proper infrastructure. In Israel, the number of citations filed against riders (most of them for riding on the sidewalk) increased from 12,356 in 2015 to 30,178 last year. Municipal governments have also introduced new laws requiring riders to wear a helmet; setting the minimum riding age to 16; barring scooters from pedestrian crosswalks; prohibiting more than one rider per scooter, and banning the use of cellphones or headphones in both ears. As an additional measure, two-wheelers should also be required to have a license plate to enable police and municipal authorities to bring some order to the chaos.

These enforcement measures are prudent and justifiable. But by focusing solely on scooter riders, they tend to contribute to the broader vilification of those who have embraced a socially optimal form of transportation. In Israel, the media have led the charge against scooter riders. In our analysis of scooter-related coverage in the country’s main online newspapers over the past few years, we found that 67% of articles have been uniformly negative, 13% neutral, and only 20% even remotely positive. Worse, the scorn heaped on this promising new transportation technology has generated a wave of disinformation.

So, a few facts are in order. First, more scooters actually mean fewer accidents. Countries with the highest number of cycling trips per inhabitant have the fewest fatalities per billion kilometres of bicycle travel. The cycling fatality rates in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland are one-quarter that of the United States, even though per capita bicycle travel in each country is about 20 times higher. When bicycle travel reaches a critical mass, drivers are more aware, and policymakers are compelled to provide the proper infrastructure.

Such awareness can also be legislated. In 2014, Queensland, Australia, passed an ordinance requiring motorists to keep at least one meter between themselves and cyclists whom they are passing; and at speeds above 60 kilometres per hour, the required distance increases to 1.5 meters. Within a couple of years, the new rule reduced cycling-related traffic fatalities by 35%, while halving collisions requiring hospitalization. Several cities across North America have since adopted similar rules.

Moreover, contrary to the usual complaints from politicians, protected bicycle lanes are not a budgetary or economic burden. By reducing traffic jams, infrastructure that encourages cycling can yield impressive economic dividends.

In Israel, a recent report from the Ministry of Environmental Protection finds that Israeli car drivers spend an average of 40 minutes per day sitting in traffic. And, owing to the rapid growth in population and car ownership rates, this daily dead time is expected to increase to 90 minutes by 2030, implying tens of billions of dollars in lost output per year. Given that people who must sit through daily traffic jams are prone to higher rates of depression and even domestic violence (in the case of men), it stands to reason that more commuters would readily adopt an alternative if they could.

Finally, scooters and electric cycles have a crucial role to play in combating climate change. For countries as hot as Israel is in the summer, banning these forms of transportation would dramatically reduce non-car vehicular traffic just when it is most needed. A far more environmentally- and economically-friendly strategy is to invest in the infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms needed to maximize the benefits of scooter usage. Rather than denounce those who have already opted for a more ethical and efficient form of urban transport, smart municipal governments should clear a path for them.

Kazakhstan cleans up Arys from ammunition

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev met with Defence Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev on 25 July in Nur-Sultan where he was briefed on the state of alert of the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan, as well as on the progress of reconstruction in the city of Arys.

In particular, Tokayev was briefed on measures to search for and clean up the territory from elements of ammunition, as well as on restoring the activities of the military camp in Arys, the presidential service said on 25 July.

According to the Minister of Defense, for the moment, about 3000 tonnes of ammunition has been taken out of the warehouses located in military arsenals to safe places.

Tokayev instructed to ensure the timely execution of all works to eliminate the consequences of explosions and the removal of ammunition, as well as to award the dead and most distinguished during the rescue and recovery work of military personnel and representatives of relevant services.

On 24 June, an explosion at an ammunition depot on a military base just outside of Arys killed two, injured dozens and resulted in the evacuation of tens of thousands of city residents.

Tokayev was informed on 25 July about the preparations for the upcoming army games, some of which to be held in Kazakhstan.

 

 

Non-religious activists call for UK government to protect them from violence

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epa07415191 Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion of Belief, speaks during press conference after the presentation of expression of religion and belief report, at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 05 March 2019. EPA-EFE/SALVATORE DI NOLFI

As the world’s religious communities continue to fight for their rights, few, it seems, speak out for those who identify as being non-religious, which has slowly led to the further deprivation of their fundamental human rights.

Because of this, 17 victims of both harassment and persecution have sent a letter to the British government asking for a global review into the persecution of those who express non-religious beliefs.

The group of 17 say that in many countries it is impossible to be openly non-religious, and many have been murdered for merely identifying as such.

“Humanists, when they are attacked, are assaulted far more viciously and brutally than in other cases.”, said signatory Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

As the activists consider the UK to be one of the least religious countries on Earth, the group asked for high-level support in the form of a review similar to what was provided by the Foreign Commonwealth Office when it came to the persecution of Christians.

Europe reacts after shipwreck kills 150 migrants off coast of Libya

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epa07699399 The Italian NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans' Alex migrant rescue ship carrying 41 migrants rescued off Libya Thursday enters the port of Lampedusa, Sicily island, Italy, 06 July 2019.The boat carrying 41 migrants has docked in the Italian port despite a ban by Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister, who had vowed to block them. EPA-EFE/ELIO DESIDERIO

About 150 migrants seeking to reach Europe drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya on 25 July. The European Union expressed its concerns by the failure of regional authorities to address the dangerous migrant sea route, that led to what the United Nations called the worst migrant shipwreck this year.

“Libya’s current system of managing irregular migration and arbitrarily detaining refugees and migrants has to end and needs to be brought into full compliance with international standards.”, the Union’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Commissioners Johannes Hahn and Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with IOM and UNHCR in the context of the AU-EU-UN Taskforce to support and protect migrants and refugees in Libya. We expect parties to accelerate humanitarian evacuation and resettlement from Libya to third countries. “, the statement reads.

Sanchez loses second vote to be confirmed as Spain’s PM

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epa07739900 Spanish acting Prime Minister and aspirant for re-election Pedro Sanchez (L) and acting Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo (R) leave the second and last investiture vote after not achieving enough support to form a Government at Lower Chamber of Spanish Parliament in Madrid, Spain, 25 July 2019. Sanchez faced his re-election vote at Lower Chamber without enough support from other parties, as the socialists have no reached an agreement with left coalition Unidas Podemos (United, We Can) yet. EPA-EFE/BALLESTEROS

Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist leader and acting prime minister of Spain, has lost a second bid to be confirmed by the country’s parliament – the Cortes – and will not be able to form a government, a move that will force Spain to hold fresh elections in November.

The new poll will be the fourth time that Spaniards have been called to vote to choose a government in four years, and the fifth election held this year alone.

Sanchez was backed by his own 123 lawmakers and by one representative from a small regional party in Cantabria but was unable to garner enough support to win the required 176 votes to be confirmed.

The Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos (Citizens), the far-right Vox, Junts per Catalunya, Navarra Suma and Canaries Coalition voted no. There were abstentions from Unidas Podemos, Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Compromís, Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Bildu.

“Today is not a good day, not for anybody who considers themselves progressive,” summed up Socialist spokesperson Adriana Lastra. “This is the second time, Mr Iglesias, that you are going to prevent a leftist government in Spain,” she added in a direct address to the leader of Unidas Podemos (UP), Pablo Iglesias.

Two months of negotiations between the Socialists, or PSOE, and UP were unsuccessful as the two were unable to form a left-wing government.

Sanchez now has until 23 September to form a new government before new elections are officially called for November.

Johnson doubles-down on hardline no-deal Brexit

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epa07740073 A handout photo made available by the UK Parliament shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson making his first address to Parliament as Prime Minister at the House of Commons in central London, Britain, 25 July 2019. EPA-EFE/JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT / HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: UK PARLIAMENT / JESSICA TAYLOR HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

In his first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons, Britain’s new leader Boris Johnson said he is willing to pursue a no-deal divorce by 31 October unless he can replace the controversial Irish backstop and renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement of his predecessor, Theresa May.

“I would prefer us to leave the EU with a deal. I would much prefer it. I believe that is still possible even at this late stage and I will work flat out to make it happen. But certain things need to be clear,” Johnson said in Commons. “The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by my predecessor has been three times rejected by this House. Its terms are unacceptable to this Parliament and to this country. No country that values its independence and indeed its self-respect could agree to a Treaty which signs away our economic independence and self-government as this backstop does. A time limit is not enough.”

Johnson, who earlier chaired the first meeting of his new Cabinet, said Chancellor Sajid Javid had agreed to provide the necessary funding to ensure the country was ready to leave at the end of October.

“By 2050 it’s more than possible that the United Kingdom will be the greatest and most prosperous economy in Europe and be at the centre of a new network of trade deals which we have pioneered.”

The discussion in Brussels is now centred on Johnson’s ability to harden London’s stance on a no-deal Brexit, a move that the EU sees as being damaging to its future relations with the UK.

The EU is already preparing to mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit, even after a no-deal Brexit, but remains open to the idea that the two sides could come back to the table to further clarify certain parts of the agreement.

Brussels presents progress on fighting corruption in the private sector

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epa000413344 Employees of the 'FIFA World Cup 2006 Ticketing Center' administer the ticket lottery for the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany in an office in Frankfurt Main, Germany, Friday 15 April 2005. An official surveyor of the German State of Hesse started the lottery draw for 812,000 tickets for all 64 matches of the Soccer World Cup 2006 in Germany. Worldwide 10 million ticket orders were registered - 95 percent via Internet. EPA/Kunz/Augenklick

According to the European Commission’s third report on fighting corruption in the private sector, published on 26 July, many EU states have stepped up their efforts to bring sanctions linked to corruption in line with the standards set out by the Council Framework Decision.

However, work must continue to eliminate limitations to the scope of the Decision, such as specifying certain conditions of the offence. The Commission reiterated its support to the authorities in implementing EU legislation in this field.

The report focuses on the national authorities’ efforts to criminalize various aspects of corruption in the private sector, to penalize the encouragement of corruption, and to implement legal penalties for individuals.

Ze’s perfect storm

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epa07732045 Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky greets media at his party's headquarters after the parliamentary elections in Kiev, Ukraine, 21 July 2019. According to exit polls, President's Zelenskiy Servant of the People party won the elections and will have majority in parliament. Ukrainians voted in extraordinary parliament's elections after President Volodymyr Zelensky dissolved parliament during his inauguration on 21 May 2019. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

Volodymyr Zelensky, or “Ze”, as he is called by his supporters, started his entry into the Ukrainian politics earlier this year by impressively winning the presidential election in April. On July 21, the former entertainer, who until recently was looked on with a mixture of amusement and contempt by the Ukrainian political elites, struck again. His party received 247 seats in 450 seats Ukrainian parliament.

Earlier this year Zelensky had no political party. Not in a conventional sense. His support group consists of millions of TV viewers and social media users. His campaign messages were disguised for high voltage political satire. At the time his party, the Servant to the People (“SP”), named after his film, existed only on paper and in the heads of Zelensky and of his confidants. Who these people still remain unclear, but together they have just completed a perfect storm changing the Ukrainian elites.

Two-thirds of the new MPs are new to politics. Like Zelensky, seven of them are leading stars from the show business. Eleven new MPs are associated with 1+1, the TV empire of Igor Kolomoysky, a Ukrainian tycoon. A number of MPs moved to SP from Kolomoysky’s Ukrop party. Being elected as new MPs, 23 deputies have received a serious promotion after being unemployed. All in all, the voters gave Zelensky’s party an unprecedented one-party majority in the Ukrainian parliament. Very seldom nowadays do modern democracies give such absolute and unbalanced power to one party. And Ukrainians just did.

During his campaigns, Zelensky had been uncharacteristically shy, avoiding debates with other candidates or being quizzed by journalists. He assumed different guises at different times. He hung out with cosmopolitan start-uppers preaching the advantages of technology and libertarian ideas. But then he criticized the Ukrainian red tape using the vocabulary of an authoritarian ruler. He promised to ban some of his predecessors from the public service, but then brought some of those on his team. He spoke to Western business people about building the laisse-fair economy but promised lowering gas prices when talking to the voters. In his bid for the votes, he talked up the prospect of joining the EU and NATO but is seemingly unclear on any roadmap.

Being vague about his intentions has become quintessential to Zelensky’s success. Because he is all but unclear on his plans and sometimes even of his convictions, people use him as a repository for their own.

The anti-corruption activists have seized on the idea that he will put old officials in jail, while the officials see no imminent threat in him. The peaceniks whisper to themselves that he surely will finish the war, while the nationalists applaud his tough rhetoric on Russia. The progressives claim that he is a liberal and they pretend they do not hear when he talks about lustrating his predecessors. That he has never committed to anything is taken by all sides as a sign that he might eventually do what they hope.

President Zelensky will start governing by appointing the prime minister and the government. This would make it slightly easier to guess what is in store. Whomever the new prime minister and the cabinet will be, they will fully depend on Zelensky and SN in the parliament.

What influence Kolomoysky exercises over them remains to be seen. This government will not be the result of a balanced political compromise between the parliamentary factions. It will be formed by the decision of the presidential circle. The new prime minister and the cabinet members will be easy to replace if they fall out of favour.

Both the domestic and international issues that Zelensky, his party and the new cabinet will have to tackle are real and serious. The country remains under-reformed, its economy is archaic, and its population is poor. The war with Russia is still simmering in the country’s east. On the key issues, Zelensky often seems to lack both strategies and good options.

Despite the numbers received by Zelensky and his party, Ukraine is growing more polarized. The second biggest group in the parliament, with 43 seats, is the party favouring a closer relationship with Russia. On the other side of the spectrum with 27 seats is the party of Petro Poroshenko, whom Zelensky decisively defeated in the presidential election runoff in April.

Zelensky’s own electorate is also seemingly divided. And in a divided country, which gallery Zelensky chooses to play to remains an open question. One thing is certain – he will need to pursue a policy that will always be highly unpopular to some. How he will deal with the dissent is also unclear.

The most important issue for the Ukrainian voters is the war. The voters’ expectation is that he will find a way to finish it. His approach to the Minsk Agreement implementation will be one of the thorniest issues. The so-called ‘Minsk process’ is a reference to peace talks in the Belarusian capital. The process only managed to reduce the tensions but was unable to create the conditions for a durable peace. This did not stop the Minsk Agreement from becoming internationally accepted as the only viable approach to resolve the Donbass conflict.

So far, Zelensky and his party have had a very vague position generally supporting the Minsk Agreement but rejecting some of its key elements, such as the special status for Donbas, amnesty for the insurgents and some other political agreements. This leaves it unclear what they are actually supporting in the Minsk Agreement. If he thinks he may renegotiate, it is not clear what new leverage Ukraine has got in the meantime.

The West should not be supportive of such a move unless Zelensky can demonstrate some other unambiguous and viable peace plan. More importantly, he should be advised that deviating from the Minsk Agreement is likely to bring more hostilities and tension on the country’s east.

In parallel to looking for the elusive peace, Zelensky should be advised to pursue liberal economic reforms. He should first fix the basics and introduce the rule of law without venturing into adventurous or reckless economic experiments. He ought to know that it is hard enough to reform such an archaic economy, and the reforms are likely to put some additional pressure on society.

Zelensky, the new prime minister, and the cabinet should be prepared to share the responsibility and not point fingers at each other, as it often is in Ukraine. The opposition has to stay focused and sharp, as often they may feel being sidelined or even irrelevant.

If there is one clear upside for Zelensky and his faction – at least for now they will not have to face ruthless jokes from talented political satirists as Zelensky and six of his colleagues have become politicians. Their satirist group has been seriously depleted and there will be a shortage of actors for playing the main roles.

In times of crisis, like in today’s Ukraine, events unfold based largely on ideas that are floating in the political air and take root in the fertile minds of creative individuals who can give them birth, articulate them with power, and forge them into effective tools for historic change.

For a very long time, the West hoped that these individuals will be hand-picked Ukrainians – fluent in foreign languages, graduates of Western universities, and activists from the country’s vibrant civil society. Alas, the Ukrainian voters had a different idea and put in charge untested actors with unclear ideas.

Western leaders will need to learn to work with them. They should advise Zelensky that absolute power tends to quickly become authoritarian if it is unchecked. They should keep telling these new Ukrainian politicians that populism has a tendency to blindside the reforms. Zelensky and his circle need to be constantly reminded that in democratic societies opposition has to be respected and consulted on key policy issues. The new prime minister has to have a free hand in forming the cabinet and in formulating economic and other policies. He or she will need to have an opportunity to debate with the president and the parliament and speak directly to the nation.

The authority of the president has to be balanced by the judiciary branch and the National Bank has to be independent in forming the country’s monetary policy. Zelensky has to use his powers responsibly and democratically or he will quickly start looking like a leader of some of Ukraine’s neighbouring countries.

EIB and EU to support climate change resilience in Dominican Republic

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epa06220772 View of the damage caused by the passage of Hurricane Maria in the city of Nagua, Dominican Republic, 22 September 2017. A total of 38 localities in the Dominican Republic continue to be isolated due to the flooding of rivers, streams and canyons caused by Hurricane Maria. EPA-EFE/Orlando Barria

The European Investment Bank is backing a and climate change resilience programme in the Dominican Republic, to finance the rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by natural disasters.

In addition to the $50 million EIB loan, $20 million will be provided through grants from the EU-Caribbean Investment Facility, which will support the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure and housing. This financing will deliver 1.100 new affordable houses, and 55km of new and upgraded roads.

EU’s partnership with the Dominican Republic will also contribute to achieving objectives identified in the Dominican Republic’s National Development Strategy 2030 and the Cotonou Agreement, that aims to eradicate poverty in the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.

In the Dominican Republic, the EIB has provided a total of €409 million to projects, including in the energy, small and medium sized business and transport sectors.

Juncker tells Johnson Brexit deal won’t change

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epa07740175 (FILE / COMPOSITE) - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) at the start of the weekly college meeting of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 03 July 2019, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) arrives in Downing Street following his appointment by the Queen in London, Britain, 24 July 2019 (reissued 25 July 2019). New British Prime Minister Johnson and outgoing President of the European Commission Juncker are expected to have a telephone call on 25 July 2019 regarding the UK leaving the EU, dubbed Brexit. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET/WILL OLIVER

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has told the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a day after the latter succeeded Theresa May at 10 Downing Street, that Brussels will not reopen Brexit negotiations and reiterated that the deal signed by May and Juncker late last year was the EU’s final offer when it comes to the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU, a European Commission Spokesperson told New Europe.

“Juncker congratulated Prime Minister Johnson on his appointment,” the spokesperson said while adding that Juncker was firm in his stance that the Brussels’ position on the Withdrawal Agreement remains unchanged.

The Commission, according to the spokesperson, remains open to “adding language” to the Political Declaration in line with the EU leaders’ decisions, but that they must be compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement.

“President Juncker reiterated that the Commission remains available over the coming weeks should the United Kingdom wish to hold talks and clarify its position in more detail,” the spokesperson before hinting that Johnson is unlikely to travel to Brussels within the next few days.

Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU on 31 October with or without a formal withdrawal accord.

Six EU nations will implement energy efficiency regulations

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epa07679208 European flags in front of European Commission headquarters B in Brussels, Belgium, 28 June 2019. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL
The European Commission has requested Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom to request that the community energy efficiency regulations be transposed according to the bloc’s rules.
The 2012 directive establishes a common framework for measures to promote energy efficiency within the EU in order to ensure the bloc’s energy efficiency target by 2020.
In October 2012, the EU agreed that all members are required to use energy more efficiently in all phases of the energy chain, from production to final consumption. Each of the countries cited by Brussels’ request now have two months to respond to the allegations presented by the Commission, otherwise, it may decide to bring the matter before the European Court of Justice.
The Commission has also decided to send letters of formal notice to Belgium, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Slovakia, Spain, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Romania for not improving the connection between their respective national road transport registry and the new version of the European Register of Road Transport Undertakings (ERRU).
The ERRU allows the exchange of information on road transport companies. The application of a new version of the ERRU requires each of the EU’s 28 members to integrate the regulations into their national systems.

Commission gives boost to farmers to help with drought

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epa07733603 Dried up part of the Var riverbed due to low water level and recent hot temperatures in Saint-Laurent-du-Var, southern France, 22 July 2019. The south of France is experiencing dry weather and drought with record temperatures. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

Farmers affected by drought will be able to ask for larger advances in EU aid for direct payments and payments for rural development, according to a statement by the European Commission on 25 July.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said that the prolonged weather conditions that have developed “are of concern to our farmers”, adding, “As always, we stand ready to help farmers affected by the drought. That’s why we decided to put in place higher payment advances as well as exemptions from certain greening rules to facilitate the production of animal feed.”

Brussels warns that several EU members could be sent to Court of Justice over sale of firearms

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epa04578544 A Bonham's auction house holds a Peter Doig painted M-16, titled 'Lion in the Sand M16', (2014) at Bonham's in London, Britain, 23 January 2015. Doig's painted decommissioned M16 is expected to fetch 8,000 euros, is part of a contemporary art auction sale on 28 January at Bonham's with part of the proceeds going to charity. EPA/ANDY RAIN

The European Commission has threatened 19 of the EU’s 28 members that they could be sent to the bloc’s Court of Justice if they continue to fail at cracking down on the sale of firearms.

Brussels signalled out Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, and the UK for the violations, saying each country failed to enforce stricter controls on the acquisition and possession of firearms and improve their traceability by marking their components.

The regulations prohibit the sale of military-use firearms, including the widely available Kalashnikov assault rifle, as well as dangerous semi-automatic weapons that can easily be transformed into automatic firearms with a fixed magazine.

The most dangerous firearms can only be acquired if an exemption is made for certain, limited cases, including for national defence or the protection of critical infrastructure.

To legally acquire a firearm, the person must receive a European firearms card that is valid for a maximum of five years, which can later be extended.

Greece and Spain referred to EU Court for failing to enact Personal Data Protection regulations

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epa03436654 Flags of Greece, Spain and France are seen near the European Parliement in Brussels, Belgium, 17 October 2012. The members of the European Council will be in Brussels on October 18 for their usual Autumn meeting. They are expected to focus on economic and monetary policies. They may also address specific foreign policy issues. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND
The European Commission on Thursday announced that it will refer Greece and Spain to the EU’s Court of Justice for failing to enforce the bloc’s Data Protection Law Enforcement Directive.
According to a decision granted by the Council and the European Parliament in 2016, each member of the EU has agreed to make the Directive a national law by 6 May 2018. “The protection of personal data is a fundamental right enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU,” the European Commission said in an announcement.
The Commission is calling on the Court of Justice to impose financial sanctions in the form of a lump sum of €5,287.50 per day for each country – Greece and Spain – who have continued to be in violation of the regulation.
Facilitating exchanges of personal data between national law enforcement authorities is meant to streamline the processing of personal data by law enforcement authorities for the purposes of the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences through cross-border cooperation.
The lack of transposition by Spain and Greece creates a different level of protection of peoples’ rights and freedoms and hampers data exchanges between Greece and Spain, as well as the rest of the members of the European Union.

Nur-Sultan airport to get a new IATA code in October 2019

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – Civil Aviation Committee (CAC) Chairman Talgat Lastaev met on 24 July with the newly appointed regional manager of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Funda Chalishir, and discussed further cooperation in the field of civil aviation.

“In particular, they discussed the issue of changing the three-letter code of the airport of the city of Nur-Sultan,” the Civil Aviation Committee reported.

The committee also announced that the free NKZ, QAZ, NNZ, NZR, NRZ and NNV are considered as the new three-letter code instead of the existing TSE (Tselinograd). An IATA airport code, also known as an IATA location identifier, IATA station code or simply a location identifier, is a three-letter code designating many airports and metropolitan areas around the world.

Airlines flying to Nur-Sultan supported and approved the change of the airport code. The issue is expected at the Passenger Standards Conference (PSC), which will be held in October 2019.

“Following the meeting held between Talgat Lastaev and Funda Chalishir, an agreement was reached to jointly coordinate the issue of changing the three-letter code, as well as actively cooperate on tariff policy, flight safety and aviation security,” the committee added.

Europol helps bust international Balkan cocaine cartel

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epa02804675 An exterior view of the new Europol headquarters, the alliance of the European Union police and a multinational research organization, in The Hague, The Netherlands 01 July 2011. The headquarters were officially opened 01 July. EPA/Lex van Lieshout

Agencies from Asia, Europe and South America teamed up against a Balkan organized crime network suspected of cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe using private planes.

Operation Familia was coordinated by Europol and the United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration agency, or DEA. It has seen a total of 16 arrests, 11 in Europe and 5 in Asia, and the seizure of more than one tonne of cocaine and €2 million in cash.

The investigation was launched and led by the Croatian authorities in early 2018, and involved authorities from Czechia, Serbia and Slovenia.

Under the coordination and lead of Europol’s Drugs Unit, several other Europol teams were involved in providing the support of this international investigation.

EIB reaffirms commitment to boost economic growth in Mexico

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epa07734143 President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) Werner Hoyer takes part in a press conference in Bogota, Colombia, 22 July 2019, during the signing of an agreement that establishes Bogota as the regional headquarters of the body in Latin America. Hoyer declared that the agreement 'is an opportunity to highlight the magnificent relationship between the European Union and Colombia'. EPA-EFE/Mauricio Duenas Castaneda

The President of the European Investment Bank Werner Hoyer, and Vice-President Emma Navarro, have met with senior officials of the Mexican federal government and of the state governments of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Mexico City, to highlight the EIB’s commitment to boosting economic growth, employment and prosperity in Mexico and across the region.

The European Union is the principal development investor in the region and the EU Bank has provided over €8.4 billion to promote economic and social development in Latin America.

Prior to the visit to Mexico, the delegation visited Colombia to sign a host country agreement for the new regional office in Bogota, that will be the Bank’s first office in the region.

Hungary taken to EU top court over anti-migrant policies

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epa05891795 A Hungarian police officer patrols the enlarged barbed wire transit zone set up for migrants at the Hungary's southern border with Serbia near Tompa, 169 kms southeast of Budapest, Hungary, 06 April 2017. The complex is one of two new detention centers for asylum seekers in the Hungarian transit zone and contains shipping containers that are used to automatically detain migrants in the transit zone while their claims are investigated. EPA/SANDOR UJVARI HUNGARY OUT

The European Commission decided on 25 July to refer Hungary to the Court of Justice after Budapest tightened eligibility requirements for asylum seekers.

The Commission considered that the majority of the concerns raised have still not been addressed and has decided to refer Hungary to the Court of Justice after analyzing the Hungarian authorities’ reply to the two letters of formal notice the Commission sent.

The Commission found that Hungarian legislation is incompatible with EU law in the restriction of the asylum applicants’ right to communicate with relevant organizations, as well as in the restriction of the right to asylum only to people arriving in Hungary directly from a place where their life or freedom are at risk.

Europe adds 4.9 GW of new wind energy capacity, sees low German volumes

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epa05727810 A general view for wind turbines in Montplaisir, south western France, 18 January 2017. The French Minister of the Environment Segolene Royal announced that France will not be affected by electricity cuts, despite the wave of severe cold and the unavailability of six nuclear reactors, thanks to renewable energies, wind turbines and solar energy will produce the equivalent of eight nuclear reactors, eight gigawatts. EPA/CAROLINE BLUMBERG

Europe added 4.9 GW of new wind energy capacity in the first half of 2019, WindEurope said on 25 July, releasing new data, which also showed the combined installations of new onshore and offshore wind capacity is up on the same period last year (4.5 GW), but onshore installations were down due to serious issues in Germany.

According to WindEurope figures, Europe installed 2.9 GW of onshore wind in the first half of the year. This is down on the 3.3 GW installed in the same period last year. Installations were particularly poor in Germany, which had its worst first half of the year since 2000, WindEurope said, adding that industry expects installations to pick up in the second half of the year, but German grid connected volumes for 2019 as a whole will be lower than historical levels. Of all European countries, France had the most onshore installations with 523 MW.

“It was a good start to the year for offshore wind growth. But onshore wind installations were poor these past six months,” WindEurope Chief Policy Officer Pierre Tardieu said, adding that Germany had the lowest first half of the year for new onshore wind installations since 2000. “Permitting challenges remain the key bottleneck: 11 GW of onshore wind are stuck in the permitting process in Germany. And the transition to auctions, where so-called ‘community projects’ were allowed to bid in auctions without a permit back in 2017, has been messy. Many of these projects still need to be built,” he argued.

“With France, which had a good first 6 months, Spain, Norway and Sweden will now have to help pick up the slack in the second half of the year,” Tardieu said. “The EU has set a renewable energy target of 32% for 2030 and is talking about a net zero economy by 2050. The rate of installations we’ve seen so far this year won’t get us there,” he argued.

He called on European countries, which are finalising their National Energy & Climate Plans to 2030, to give as much detail as possible on the policy measures that will allow a smooth and robust deployment of renewables. “The auction schedule, what they will do to streamline permitting, how they will replace the wind farms that are coming to the end of their operational life. It’s this kind of detail the industry needs to plan ahead and help deliver on Europe’s climate and energy ambitions cost effectively,” Tardieu said.

Onshore wind installations are typically stronger in the second half of the year, WindEurope said, adding that this tendency is particularly pronounced in Nordic countries where installation activity is strongest in Summer months.

“Turbine orders and market activity suggest we will see significant volumes grid connected in Sweden and Norway in the second semester. Large volumes are also expected in Spain on the back of the 4.1 GW auctioned in 2017 and 2018,” WindEurope said.

According to the latest data, 1.9 GW of new offshore wind was installed in the first half of the year, up from the 1.1 GW added in the same period in 2018. The UK (931 MW), Denmark (374 MW), Belgium (370 MW) and Germany (252 MW) accounted for these installations. This includes Hornsea 1 in the UK which, when completed, will be the world’s largest wind farm with 1.2 GW.

In the first half of 2019 Europe invested €8.8bn in the construction of future wind farms, €6.4 billion in onshore wind and €2.4bn in offshore wind. These investments will result in 5.9 GW being installed and grid connected over the next two to three years. France and the Netherlands led investments.

 

BP and Bunge plan major renewable energy expansion in Brazil

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BP announced on 22 July that the British energy giant has agreed to form a 50:50 joint venture with US-based agriculture, food and ingredients company Bunge that will create a leading bioenergy company in one of the world’s largest fast-growing markets for biofuels.

“This is another large-scale example of BP’s commitment to play a leading role in a rapid transition to a low carbon future,” BP CEO Bob Dudley said. “Biofuels will be an essential part of delivering the energy transition and Brazil is leading the way in showing how they can be used at scale, reducing emissions from transport. This combination will unlock new possibilities for improved efficiency and future growth in this key market,” he added.

According to BP, the UK company will combine its Brazilian biofuels and biopower businesses with that of Bunge to create a world-scale, highly-efficient producer of sugarcane ethanol in Brazil, BP Bunge Bioenergia. BP’s interest in the new venture will grow its existing biofuels business by more than 50%.

Brazil is the world’s second largest and most integrated market for ethanol as a transportation fuel with demand forecast to grow rapidly. The majority of vehicles in the country – around 70% – are already able to run on ethanol and the country’s demand for ethanol is estimated to increase by around 70% by 2030.

Bunge CEO Gregory A. Heckman said this joint venture with BP represents a major portfolio optimisation milestone for Bunge. “We are proud of what our team has done to evolve our sugar and bioenergy business as an industry leader. I am confident that this team, and the strong commitment from a global leader such as BP, will create even greater shareholder value,” he said.

BP Bunge Bioenergia will have 11 biofuels sites in Brazil. With 32 million metric tonnes of combined crushing capacity per year, the joint venture will have the flexibility to produce a mix of ethanol and sugar. It will also generate renewable electricity – fuelled by waste biomass from the sugar cane – through its cogeneration facilities to power all its sites and sell surplus electricity to the Brazilian power grid, BP said.

In 2018 the Brazilian production of ethanol was some 26 billion litres, produced almost entirely from sugarcane grown in-country. The Brazilian government is introducing a new low carbon transport policy, known as RenovaBio, to establish the first regulated carbon credits market in the country.

Europe to support DR Congo in fight against deadly Ebola outbreak

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epa07725809 Health workers work at the treatment center set up at the Goma General hospital in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, 18 July 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) on 18 July announced that the Ebola epidemic is a public health emergency of international concern. EPA-EFE/SALYM FAYAD

The European Union announced on 25 July a further €30 million in humanitarian aid for Ebola response in efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, after the second deadliest Ebola outbreak on record has claimed so far more than 1.700 lives.

The Union’s assistance will step up support for infection prevention and control measures, access to health care, safe and dignified burials, and support to Ebola survivors and their families.

The funding will also address urgent humanitarian needs in the country that is facing a dire situation, by providing food and access to health services and clean water.

This brings the total EU humanitarian aid to fight against Ebola to €47 million since 2018, when the current outbreak was declared.

EU condemns Syria market bombing

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epa06776614 Rescue personnel continues to search for victims and clear the site from rubble after an explosion at a building in the town of Ariha, Idlib province, Syria, 31 May 2018. According to local reports, at least three people were killed in the explosion - of which the reason is still not known - that destroyed a multi-sotrey building in the Ariha district of Idlib. EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED BADRA

Air raids on a popular market and residential neighborhoods on 22 July in Syria’s Idlib province have killed at least 50 people and wounded scores more, rescuers said.

The European Union condemned the attack in a statement, saying: “As the UN points out, this is another shocking escalation in the worsening conflict in north-west Syria. There is a worrying pattern of attacks on critical civilian infrastructure, including health facilities, school and water facilities by the Syrian regime and its allies and such attacks have to stop.”

“We expect the Syrian regime and the Astana guarantors to fulfill immediately their responsibilities and commitments, and ensure the immediate protection of civilians.”, the statement reads.

EIB to improve transport connectivity and safety in Belarus

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epa07201293 Cars drive along a circle road around Minsk on a snowy day, in Minsk, Belarus, 01 December 2018. According to a report by the UN, CO2 emissions have gone up for the first time in four years. The report comes just days ahead of the COP24 United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Poland from 02 to 14 December. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

The European Investment Bank is extending a loan of €110m to Belarus to finance the rehabilitation and upgrade of a 91 km long section of the M7 highaway. This is part of the extended Trans-European Transport network.

The investment will increase road transport capacity and create safer driving conditions. Over 2 million transits per year will benefit from the upgraded infrastructure.

The EU bank is also lending €66m to improve water supply and sanitation services for 500.000 people.

Deutsche post losses as major restructuring gambit begins

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epa06948842 The logo of German bank Deutsche Bank on top of a building in downtown Frankfurt Main, Germany, 14 August 2018. EPA-EFE/ARMANDO BABANI

Deutsche Bank’s second-quarter loss of €3,1bn has been explained on the basis of yet another restructuring overhaul, but it was still higher than originally projected.

Europe’s fourth-largest lender is still struggling to recover from the 2008/9 financial crisis, being at the epicentre of a string of global banking scandals ranging from subprime mortgages to money-laundering. In 2016, the International Monetary Fund signalled out Deutsche as the most dangerous bank in the world and a threat to global financial stability.

CEO Christian Sewing is committed to shedding 18,000 jobs globally while creating a bad bank to offload toxic assets. The deepest cuts will be in investment banking, with a 32% cut in overall share of the revenue. Overall, the bank plans to isolate €74 billion in toxic assets but the lender, which is considerable but not systemically significant in the context of the lender’s €1.34 trillion total assets.

Deutsche Bank expects falling revenues and a negative bottom line throughout the year, but the management is confident the Deutsche has sufficient capital reserves to weather the market storm.

The latest restructuring plan comes in the aftermath of failed merger talks with Commerzbank in April. For Germany’s biggest systemic lender this is the second bad bank. The first was created in 2012 when Deutsche isolated €125bn of high risk-assets, from which the lender recovered €14bn. That proved to be merely a preamble to systemic challenges to come.

Current EU regulation championed by Germany prevents the state from stepping in to infuse its biggest systemic lender with additional equity. A merger with the capital-rich Postbank has not addressed all the systemic risks posed by Deutsche. Politically, the lender could present Berlin with a stark choice: lose face by bending EU rules or expose the EU banking system to massive systemic risk.

Can Europe become a global player?

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epa07567239 Spanish Foreign Affairs minister, Josep Borrel arrives for a meeting With European Foreign Affairs ministers in Brussels, Belgium, 13 May 2019 EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The last five years have not been kind to the European Union’s foreign-policy prospects. A new great-power competition is shunting aside the international rules-based order, and aspects of globalisation – from trade to the Internet – are being used to divide rather than unite countries. Meanwhile, the EU’s geostrategic neighbourhood has become a ring of fire.

These challenges mainly reflect a shift in the global balance of power, which has fundamentally changed the United States’ foreign-policy outlook. As the European Council on Foreign Relations explains in a new report, global developments have left EU countries increasingly vulnerable to external pressures preventing them from exercising sovereignty.

Such exposure threatens the EU’s security, economic, and diplomatic interests, by allowing other powers to impose their preferences on it. Making matters worse, the EU’s governing institutions have done little to overcome the divisions among member states, and they have not played a relevant role in responding to crises such as those in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya.

With the nomination of Josep Borrell to serve as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU has an opportunity to relaunch its foreign policy. Currently the foreign minister of Spain – itself one of the EU’s new power centres – Borrell’s task will be to unite EU institutions and national foreign ministries behind a common EU-level foreign policy.

Beyond that, Borrell will face three challenges. The first is to secure Europe’s strategic sovereignty. From day one, Borrell will need to start developing strategies for managing the bloc’s most vexing diplomatic and security issues, from the threats posed by Russia and China to the potential powder kegs in Syria, Africa, and the Balkans. Borrell must chart a new course forward, neither ignoring dissenting views from member states nor settling for the lowest common denominator of what all members say they can accept.

To that end, Borrell should consider offering a package deal, similar to the one agreed by the European Council in nominating a new EU leadership team. Any such compromise should balance a tough stance on Russia with creative engagement on the EU’s southern flank. The EU doesn’t necessarily need new foreign policies, but it does need new mechanisms for implementing its agenda, as well as competent leadership that can inspire confidence within all the member states. In reasserting the EU’s sovereignty, the new high representative will have to deal with everything from US secondary sanctions and the weaponisation of the dollar to growing cyber- and hybrid-warfare threats from around the world.

Borrell’s second main challenge will be to re-operationalise European defence. While the EU has made progress in launching defence-related industrial projects, its operational capacity has shrunk. To reassure its Russia-facing flank, all member states will need to increase their forward presence there; simply establishing a small “Camp Charlemagne” in Poland would serve as a powerful symbolic gesture.

Europeans could also take over certain military operations from the US, not least the mission in Kosovo, where Europeans already provide most of the troops. Moreover, with the US vetoing United Nations support for the G5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) and potentially planning a troop drawdown in some of those countries, the EU may need to increase its presence in Africa.

In fact, this may be a good time for the EU’s high representative to take up the idea of a “European security council,” which was originally floated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron last fall. Such a body could offer a forum for honest strategic discussions among the member states, while also leading the diplomatic engagement with the United Kingdom after Brexit.

Borrell’s third challenge will be to restore trust between member-state foreign ministries and the European External Action Service. He cannot possibly tackle all of the EU’s foreign-policy issues on his own; he will need a strong team and broad-based support within the EU. In appointing his deputies, he should choose members of the Commission who already have a mandate covering the key regional issues of the Sahel, the Balkans, and the Eastern Partnership.

Better yet, Borrell should assign specific policy issues to individual foreign ministers, who would then have to report back to the member states and the EU Political and Security Committee. There are some precedents for this, such as when former High Representative Catherine Ashton assigned the Georgia brief to Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and then the Moldova brief to Sikorski and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

Finally, Borrell should consider appointing core groups of member states to convene workshops on divisive issues, with the goal of identifying common positions and raising the lowest common denominator. At a minimum, this could give each member state some “skin in the game,” possibly discouraging them from abusing EU processes or pursuing unilateral action.

By adopting the broad agenda outlined above, Borrell can help the EU confront the challenges of the coming years as a united bloc. His top goal should be to secure Europe’s strategic sovereignty.

The EU is still the world’s largest market, comprises some of the largest national aid budgets, accounts for the second-highest level of defence spending, and can deploy the largest diplomatic corps. If it can put these assets in the service of a larger strategic agenda, it can become a player in the twenty-first century, rather than the plaything of other great powers.

Boeing posts $3bn loss due to 737 Max affair

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epa07426640 Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max (ET-AVM), the same type of aircraft that crashed in Ethiopia on 10 March 2019, is seen at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when it was first delivered to Ethiopia on 02 July 2018 (issued 10 March 2019). Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 en route to Nairobi, Kenya, crashed near Bishoftu, some 50km outside of the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 10 March 2019. All passengers onboard the scheduled flight ET 302 carrying 149 passengers and 8 crew members, have died, the airlines says. EPA-EFE/STR

The grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max has cost Boeing $3bn in losses in the second quarter.

Boeing posted losses on Wednesday, as the company has booked a $5bn charge following the fatal crashes of the 737 Max in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

The 737 Max is the company’s best-selling aircraft in history. The company is now paying compensation for delayed deliveries as well as the grounded fleet. Overall sales have dropped by 35%.

The 737 Max experience has caused Boeing to also delay the launch of the 777X widebody aircraft from June 2019 to early 2020, due to problems with the General Electric engine.

Banks feel the growing divide between the Eurozone’s core and periphery

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epa07017814 Art installation of one EURO coin display on the street in the capital of Skopje, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 13 September 2018. EPA-EFE/NAKE BATEV

A cheaper Euro does not necessarily mean cheaper liquidity will make its way to the real economy across the Eurozone’s member states. In that respect, the situation is worse in the southern periphery than in western and central-eastern Europe.

There is a growing divide between lending rates and the appetite to borrow between the Eurozone’s core and its periphery.

According to European Central Bank (ECB) data, while corporate lending is increasing in France (7,4%) and Germany (7,1%), it is shrinking in Italy (minus 1,3%) and Spain (1,7%). Declining levels of corporate lending may reflect diverging interest rates and a reluctance of corporates in the South to accumulate more debt.

Unemployment remains low across the Eurozone, albeit relatively high in Italy, Spain, and Greece. Manufacturing data seem to be collapsing across the Eurozone, with domestic consumption and the service sector unable to stop the overall negative trend.

The euro fell to a two-month low against the dollar on Wednesday with the single currency losing a cumulative 2% in July.

The weak Euro reflects the expectation of a relaunch of quantitative easing measures by the ECB, but also declining business confidence. Quantitative easing is supposed to make the cost of borrowing cheaper, to the benefit of EU industry. However, weaker demand and a global trade war mean there is little appetite for risk taking and investment.

BMW sponsorship of Finnish Council Presidency triggers EU probe

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epa07724063 Finnish Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen rings the bell as she chairs the Council meeting during Finland?s Presidency at a European general affairs council in Brussels, Belgium, 18 July 2019. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly is launching a probe on Finland’s BMW-sponsored six-month European Council Presidency.

BMW will be providing 100 vehicles for EU delegations in Helsinki. Corporate sponsoring of the EU presidency is a practice not yet regulated by EU law. The Romanian Presidency was sponsored by Coca-Cola.

The European Council told the Finnish News Agency (Yle) that sponsorship is “in principle” a matter for EU member states. Opposition to the sponsorship was initially raised by the Finnish Green Party MEP Heidi Hautala, raising questions of “conflict of interest.”

The Finnish left-wing government has made clear that no money is involved in the sponsorship deal, but a number of Finnish MEPs consider it politically damaging.

The Secretary of the Finnish Council Presidency, Anja Laisi, defended the BMW deal on the grounds that for security and scheduling reasons, transport for EU delegations must rely on cars. The Finnish Presidency also made clear that BMW will not have specially arranged opportunities to meet with government ministers in Helsinki as part of the deal.

BMW was one of three car-makers accused of breaching EU competition regulations by working together to delay the introduction of new emissions-reducing technologies in their vehicles. This has raised a number of questions, as the Finnish Presidency is expected to focus on climate change action.

Johnson forms a Leave government and prepares for elections

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epaselect epa07737662 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the media in 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/WILL OLIVER

Boris Johnson‘s new cabinet meets on Thursday with 17 ministers losing their job just a day before; the true test for Johnson will be later on as he must prove that commands a majority in the House of Commons.

That Johnson will secure and hold on to a majority is anything but certain. In fact, his cabinet seemed to be more about a forthcoming electoral campaign than running the business of government. Johnson’s cabinet had dropped any pretence to being balanced and is solidly committed to Brexit, with old hardline names returning in government to manage Brexit in less than one hundred days.

Dominic Raab is the new foreign secretary, Priti Patel the new home secretary, and Sajid Javid the new chancellor. Jacob Rees-Mogg will be invested with the role of managing the Conservative party, reaching out beyond his so-called “European Research Group (ERG)” to master a majority.

The biggest surprise in this cabinet will be Michael Gove, a committed campaigner to Leave, but a long-time friend who derailed Johnson’s chances to run against Theresa May by splitting the Eurosceptic camp in 2016.

Another impressive addition to the team is a former Gove advisor and the man who run the Leave campaign, Dominic Cummings. Cummings was the man behind the “take back control” motto, the red bus, and the claim Turkey was about to accede in the EU.

Johnson’s main opponent, Jeremy Hunt, refused an offer to serve as defence secretary and will be heading for the backbenches. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, will also be heading home. Despite being an ardent Brexiteer, he sided with Jeremy Hunt, questioning Johnson’s legitimacy.

The team around Johnson appears more ready for elections than for the government. As he entered the most famous door in the world yesterday, Johnson noted that “no deal” would be “forced upon” the UK. He promised better schools, more productivity, more infrastructure, and made little reference to taxes and fiscal consolidation. It appears that Johnson wants to make clear, to both Brussels and his party, that he means business when he talks about “no deal.” Naturally, he reiterated that the UK is leaving the EU by October 31, “no ifs, no buts.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that should Mr Johnson campaign on a Leave platform, Labour would campaign to Remain. Nicola Sturgeon warned Boris Johnson to give Scotland an alternative to Leave or she would move ahead with an independence referendum.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage extended his support for Johnson’s uncompromising position in an electoral campaign and, perhaps, the possibility of an electoral pact. Farage secured a 32% share of the vote in the recent European elections, leaving the Conservative Party with 9%. It is clear that Boris Johnson has little scope for a compromise.

Ilze Juhansone to serve as interim EU Secretary General

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Latvia’s former permanent representative to the European Union, Ilze Juhansone, has been named interim Secretary-General of the European Commission, following the departure of Martin Selmayr, a close all of outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, from the bloc’s top administrative post.

Previously, Juhansone served as a Deputy Secretary-General of the Commission, and will now step in to replace Selmayr, who resigned from the post earlier this month after the European Council tapped Germany’s former defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to replace Juncker in the EU’s top post.

“I am very pleased with today’s decision by the European Commission to entrust the task of Secretary-General to Ilze Juhansone. This is one of the highest civil servant positions in the EU, leading to a very high level of professional appreciation. Congratulations and good luck. Let’s work together!” tweeted the European Commission’s Latvian-born vice-president, Valdis Dombrovskis.

The most credible long-term successor for Selmayr is the current Director-General of the Financial Stability, Financial Services, and Capital Markets Union Olivier Guersent.

Juhansone has been serving as a Deputy Secretary-General for Selmayr in 2015. She was Latvia’s ambassador and served in her country’s with foreign ministry as well as Deputy Secretary of State and Head of the EU Directorate.

EU reiterates need for continued efforts on security priorities

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epa07450471 EU Commissioner for migration and home affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos (L), European Commissioner for Security Union, British Julian King (R) and The EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel (C) attend a press conference on the Security Union at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 20 March 2019. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The European Commission reported on 24 July on the progress made towards an effective Security Union. The Union has taken significant steps for this goal, implementing a wide range of measures to enhance security for its citizens.

The report identifies areas where further work is needed to address security threats, and highlights the key areas in need of action: countering terrorist propaganda online, boosting cybersecurity, strengthening digital infrastructures and reinforcing anti-money laundering framework.

Following the horrific attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, the report reiterates the urgent need to tackle terrorist content online and radicalization.

On 20 June, EU leaders adopted “A new strategic agenda 2019-2024”, in which the objective of protecting citizens and freedoms ranks top of 4 main priorities for the Union.

Switzerland the world’s most innovative in UN ranking

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epa07662789 Swiss H55 company?s electric flight trainer, a fully electric powered two-seater propulsion airplane, is presented during a press conference in Sion, Switzerland, 21 June 2019. The technology used in the aircraft is derived from the 'Solar Impulse' airplanes, the first electric powered planes of which the 'Solar Impulse 2' (HB-SIB), co-piloted by H55 chairman Andre Borschberg and Swiss psychiatrist, balloonist and adventurer Bertrand Piccard, successfully circumnavigated the world in 2016. EPA-EFE/VALENTIN FLAURAUD

The World Intellectual Property Organization named Switzerland as the world’s most innovative country during the launch of its latest Global Innovation Index on 24 July in the Indian capital New Delhi.

Following Switzerland are Sweden, the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The Index also finds that innovation is “blossoming” in Asia, but trade disruptions are putting this at risk.

The Index has been published for the last 12 years, and is designed to help policy makers better understand innovation, which is described as the “main driver of economic and social development”, and is rated in the report by using 80 indicators. This year, the authors have focused on the future of medical innovation.

EU, Norway condemn attacks on health facilities in Afghanistan

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epa07596647 Ambulance vehicles wait outside a mosque after an explosion targeted people during Friday prayer in the outskirt of Kabul, Afghanistan, 24 May 2019. According to the initial reports at least nine people were killed and 17 others wounded. EPA-EFE/JAWAD JALALI

The European Union states, heads of missions and Norway expressed in a statement on 24 July their concerns for the attacks on health facilities in Afghanistan, most recently in Wardak province, as well as by the subsequent closure by the Taliban of 42 health clinics.

“The increased level of combat related violence that affects civilians reported by the UN and attacks against healthcare facilities and aid workers are a cause for great concern.

All involved parties must comply with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.”, the statement reads.

EU updates budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness

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The Berlaymond Building in Brussels, Thursday 26 January 2006. The Berlaymond building is the European Commission headquarter, home for 2,700 bureaucrats and the 25-members of the EU executive. EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

The European Commission proposed on 24 July a governance framework for the Budgetary Instrument for Convergence and Competitiveness, that will enhance the resilience of the participating states’ economies through support to targeted reforms.

The new framework will enable euro area states to set investment priorities, to provide country-specific guidance about investment objectives, and to receive information from the Commission on how euro area states have followed up on previous strategic orientations.

The proposal puts in place the governance for the new instrument, which represents a significant innovation for the euro area.