Finnish Presidency to table EU budget compromise proposal

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epa08005206 Charles Michel (R), President-elect of the European Council, welcomes Finnish Prime minister Antti Rinne (L) ahead to a meeting at the EU Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 18 November 2019. Charles Michel will take office on 01 December 2019 while Finland holds the Presidency of the Council. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

The Finnish EU Presidency will propose raising member state contributions to the EU budget from 1% of GDP to 1,08%, three diplomatic sources told Reuters. That is smaller than the 1,3% advocated for by the European Parliament but bigger than the 1% cap that Germany wants.

The proposal is to be tabled at the last EU summit for 2019 on Dec. 12-13.

The news comes as the EU is about to negotiate a seven-year budget in 2021. The current 2014-2020 budget includes the UK, which was the second biggest contributor to the budget. Brexit forces onto the table a difficult negotiation with significant implications on expenditure.

Germany is reluctant to contribute more to the EU budget and wants common spending capped at 1% of GNI, reducing cohesion and agriculture funds. Other net-paying countries require rebates, following the model of the Netherlands and the UK.

Ursula von der Leyen plans more spending on managing migration, fighting climate change and advancing the digital economy, which may bring additional pressure on cohesion funding.

German grand coalition in crisis following SPD leadership change

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epa08036038 Newly elected co-leaders of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), Norbert Walter-Borjans (L) and Saskia Esken (R) give interviews to members of the media after after the announcement of the new SPD leadership vote results at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, 30 November 2019. The SPD on 30 November 2019 announced that Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans have won the run-off for party leadership against Klara Geywitz and Olaf Scholz. A party conference in December has to formally approve the new leadership. EPA-EFE/OMER MESSINGER

The German grand coalition looks unlikely to survive the change of guard in the leadership of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on Saturday.

The two leaders fielded by the left-wing of the party secured a decisive victory over the so-called realist or centrist wing. Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken secured a 53% share of the 426,000 party-membership votes. Their opponents, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz, narrowly lost with a 45% share of the vote.

The result leaves the governments’ junior coalition partner deeply divided. The entire leadership of the party is on the losing side, leaving the SPD in the position the British Labour Party was left after the election of Jeremy Corbyn.

Many members have left the government while others want to renegotiate the terms of the coalition. They are calling for the unconditional funding of the unemployed – currently only 2,7% of the workforce – and a hike of the minimum wage to at least €12 and hour. They also want to see a wealth tax on the super-rich and a stronger climate policy package reflective of the emergency.

But a renegotiation is not on the cards for the CDU, who are also divided among those sticking to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centrist legacy and those who demand a conservative turn. Merkel cannot weigh decisively on the debate, as it is known that she will be withdrawing from politics after 14 years in office.

The CDU knows it has a strong negotiating hand. The SPD is currently polling at around 15%. At the same time, polls are showing the Greens drawing votes from SPD, the CDU, as well as the Liberals.

A CDU-led minority government may yet try to remain in office through Germany’s EU Council Presidency in 2020 but it would be unlikely to survive further than that.

Germany’s hawkish monetary policy no longer a point of consensus

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epa07976010 Member of the German Council of Economic Experts, Professor of Financial Market Economics at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University Isabel Schnabel attends a press conference on the annual report 2019/2020 of the German Council of Economic Experts in 06 November 2019. Following the handover of the report to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the economic experts presented their assessment during a press conference. EPA-EFE/HAYOUNG JEON

There is no single German position on monetary policy in the eurozone.

While the German nominee for the European Central Bank (ECB) executive board Isabel Schnabel favours expansionary policy, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann sticks to a traditional position of budget surpluses.

On Friday, German economist Isabel Schnabel that is expected to join the European Central Bank’s board in January argued that the eurozone economy depends on monetary policy assistance, including negative rates and bond purchases.

“Given lower inflationary pressure, these decisions can be justified by current inflation data as well as the outlook for inflation over the medium term, which is not yet converging to the objective of below, but close to, 2%,” Schnabel said.

The ECB announcement of the second wave of quantitative easing in September triggered a German and Dutch pushback, culminating with the resignation of German board representative Sabine Lautenschlaeger.

That resignation was becoming something of a tradition. Lautenschlaeger was the third consecutive German board member to resign. Juergen Stark, resigned in 2011 objecting to the original bond-buying program and Joerg Asmussen quit to become deputy labour minister in the German government. The latest member of the board is not aligned to Weidmann’s position.

Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann opposed the second wave of quantitative easing program, as he had opposed the first. Last Thursday, Weidmann reiterated his traditional criticism that quantitative easing is fueling property bubbles, estimating that German house is 15-30% overvalued.

Last week Weidmann took a second step away from the consensus, opposing Christine Lagarde’s call for the ECB to play a role in fighting climate change. Weidmann argued that it was the role of the government to assume environmental policy. However, he did concede that the ECB had to incorporate climate change into its risk management models as, for example, extreme weather events could increase growth and inflation volatility.

The German central banker seems out of step with Germany’s industrial lobby. Germany’s manufacturing output will drop by 4% in 2021, according to German business lobby projections.

“After six consecutive years of growth, Germany’s industrial sector is stuck in recession since the third quarter of 2018,” BDI Managing Director Joachim Lang said two weeks ago, calling on the government to invest more, leaving behind a long-held zero-deficit policy. The BDI business lobby is calling on the government to invest €17bn in digital and transportation infrastructure, which corresponds to 0,5% of GDP, on the top of €43bn earmarked for public investments in 2020.

London attackers’ profile informs campaign debate

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epa08036971 Police at the crime scene at London Bridge in London, Britain, 01 December 2019. At least two members of the public have died and a male suspect has been shot dead by police at a scene on 29 November after a stabbing at London Bridge. EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

The 28-year-old British man who killed two people in a stabbing spree on London Bridge on Friday had a previous terrorism conviction and had been released from prison in December 2018.

The man was in the vicinity attending a rehabilitation conference, as were his victims.

Wearing a fake suicide vest and wielding knives, the 28-year old Usman Khan went on a rampage on Friday before he was wrestled to the ground by bystanders and then shot dead by police. Khan, of Kashmiri origin, was convicted in 2012 for his part in an al-Qaeda-inspired plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange.

The victims of the terrorist attack are Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, both Cambridge graduates, attending a program that focused on prisoner rehabilitation. They will be honoured in a remembrance service at Guildhall Yard in the City of London on Monday morning.

Ms Jones’ family said their daughter had a “great passion” for supporting victims of criminal justice. Mr Merritt’s family said their son died “doing what he loved,” underscoring that he believed in a prison system that was about “redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge.”

The background of the assailant has opened the way for a broader discussion on security policy, ahead of the December 12 general elections in the UK.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC on Sunday he would strengthen prison sentences. Instead, opposition parties have focused their criticism on a decade of cuts to public services, including policing and the prison service.

The leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News said the incident should not necessarily lead to tougher sentencing, which should depend on the nature of the sentence and the behaviour of the inmate in prison.

This is the second time London Bridge is targeted by assailants. In 2017 a van of three militants drove into pedestrians. The toll at the time was eight casualties and 48 injuries.

Malta’s prime minister announces resignation

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epa04225252 Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference after first projections showed that the Labour party won the absolute majority of the votes cast in Valletta, Malta, 24 May 2014. Muscat described the result as a 'convincing victory which his Government greets with humility, satisfaction and courage'. The European elections, which run from 22 to 25 May, will form a new European Parliament, whose 751 members will help set laws in the European Union for five years to come. About 400 million people in the 28-country bloc are eligible to vote. EPA/LINO ARRIGO AZZOPARDI

Joseph Muscat announced on Sunday that he will continue serving as Prime Minister until January 12, that is, until the Labour Party selects his replacement.

Muscat is first stepping down as leader of the Labour party. His resignation comes following a landslide victory in European Elections and two successive landslide victories in national elections: 2013 with 54%, 2017 with 55%.

Much of his success was owed to a booming economy, as his two terms were linked to a dramatic reduction in unemployment, the reduction of the deficit, and a revamp of social services. However, these developments went hand in hand with economic scandals.

The position of the 45-year old Maltese prime minister was untenable following the resignation of his chief of staff, Konrad Mizzi, and two of his ministers. Mass demonstrations in Valletta called for his immediate resignation as the investigation over the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia reached Muscat’s political inner circle.

The leader of the opposition Nationalist Party, Adrian Delia, does not recognise the need for a transition period and is demanding an immediate resignation. The opposition says they no longer recognise Muscat’s legitimacy. Galizia’s son Matthew posted a brief reaction on Twitter, promising that “people will be out in the streets again tomorrow”.

Muscat’s predecessor, Simon Busuttil, called Muscat’s announcement “unacceptable” and echoed the view that the resignation should come with immediate effect.

National Bank Council chairman Mark Camilleri, also said that the 42-day window of “authoritarian rule” was a problem as the country tried to address the systemic challenge of dealing with the mafia.

EU-funded programmes to diversify economies of Central Asian republics

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – Three EU-funded multi-year programmes with a total amount of €28 million, that aim to support trade, rule of law as well as investments and growth in Central Asia were the officially launched in Kazakh capital.

The official ceremony of signing of three agreement was hold within the Regional Conference on Enhanced Integration for Prosperity in Central Asia on 28 November.

“Today, five months after the adoption of the Joint Communication on EU and Central Asia, we want to move to the next level and invest further in regional cooperation. We firmly believe that an enhanced regional cooperation will allow Central Asian countries to better manage their interdependence, address their vulnerabilities and shared concerns, unlock their economic growth potential, increase influence in international affairs while preserving at the same time their independence and identities,” EU Ambassador to Kazakhstan Ambassador Sven-Olov Carlsson, who is responsible for the management of these three programmes, told reporters on the sidelines of the conference. “We expect a lot from the programmes we launch today and not only because they represent a significant investment of EU taxpayers’ money. But also because we understand the importance and relative urgency the beneficiary countries assign to make progress on diversifying and making their economies more competitive,” he added.

High-level government representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan attended the event, as well as representatives from the diplomatic and donor communities.

Recognising the strategic role of Central Asia, the EU has for a long time engaged the governments of the region to help foster integration, support sustainable economic growth and promote shared prosperity. Recent modernisation efforts in the region have led to deeper co-operation with the EU on trade, inclusiveness and economic diversification. Building on these developments, the new EU Central Asia strategy was adopted by EU member countries on 17 June 2019. Among other goals for stronger co-operation, it prioritises the improvement of resilience and prosperity of the region, including regional connectivity, the rule of law, investment attraction and private sector development.

 

An alliance at odds with itself

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With internal tensions running at an all-time high ahead of a key meeting in London, NATO has again found itself in turmoil after Germany and France exchanged terse words over the future direction of the Western Alliance.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron raised eyebrows on November 28 during a meeting with NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg when he doubled-down on his assertion that NATO risks being on life support if it continues to see a waning commitment to its existence from US President Donald J. Trump and announced that the transatlantic alliance should no longer consider Russia and China as enemies.

“Is our enemy today Russia, as I sometimes hear? Is it China? Is it the goal of NATO to designate them as enemies? I don’t believe so. Our common enemy today is terrorism, which has hit each of our countries,” Macron said, before adding that while he acknowledged the concerns of his NATO allies about his friendly overtures to Moscow, Macron asserted that “the absence of dialogue with Russia hasn’t made Europe any safe.”

Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has called Macron’s comments irresponsible, describing his insinuations that NATO is not commitment to collective defence guarantee included in the Alliance’s treaty, known as Article Five, were a threat to the future of the European Union and NATO, itself.

Angela Merkel and the Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg attend a joint press conference at the chancellery in Berlin, November 7, 2019.

Angela Merkel, Germany’s long-time Chancellor, openly berated Macron over the latter’s “drastic comments” about the alliance’s ”brain death” and his open call for improving relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, whose revanchist foreign policy in recent years has seen it openly challenge NATO, interfere in the election process of several NATO members, violate a key Cold War arms treaty, and invade a NATO strategic partner country on Europe’s eastern fringe.

Merkel’s response to Macron’s comment were punctuated by several uncharacteristic, and obviously infuriated, public rebukes of her French counterpart. She has insisted that NATO remains “a cornerstone” of European security and that the Alliance “is a bulwark of freedom and peace. Germany is particularly indebted to our American friends”.

Her words were meant as a pointed admonition of Macron’s recent complaint that he would not go to the London NATO meeting, which was downgraded from a summit to due the current discord, and congratulate NATO’s other members for their unbreakable solidarity in the wake of Turkey’s decision to act against the Alliances’ collective security interests in its purchase of state-of-the-art Russian air defence systems and invaded northern Syria to attack a key NATO ally, the Kurds, and while US President Donald J. Trump ignores his own military and intelligence communities and regularly castigates his oldest allies in ways that cast them as bitter foes instead of old friends.

While the testy exchanges between Europe’s two most powerful leaders highlights the increasingly serious strains in the bilateral relationship between Germany and France, Merkel and Macron’s public displeasure with one another is a window into the uncomfortable discontent that is spreading in NATO just as the Alliance is set to celebrate in 70th anniversary.

Greece, who has had an openly hostile relationship with fellow Alliance member Turkey, is inching towards a point-of-no-return with the Turks’ increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s over his actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, which include having his navy regularly disrupt Cyprus’ attempts to explore it’s own offshore oil reserves and Ankara’s refusal to adhere to an agreement with a European Union to help stem the tide of migrants that have, again, begun flowing across its borders after several years of relative calm.

Merkel has echoed Greece’s frustration with Turkey and has acknowledged that Erdogan’s offensive into northern Syria had deeply alienated most of its NATO allies. She’s gone so far as to call the Turks “difficult partners” and has criticised Ankara’s invasion of the traditionally Kurdish regions on the Syrian-Turkish border, saying the combat operations were causing heavy civilian casualties and have prompted tens of thousands of overwhelmingly pro-Western Kurds to flee their homes. She has, however, refused to acquiesce to growing calls reportedly from within the Alliance to have Turkey expelled from NATO, saying that Ankara’s continued membership is of particular “geostrategic importance”.

Much of Macron’s own criticism has also centred on Syria, but has focused on Trump’s sudden unilateral decision in early October to withdraw American troops from Syria without having first consulted with his NATO allies.

Though many of the NATO allies are likely to agree that Trump’s unpredictability and his moodiness has fundamentally hurt the Alliance and caused unnecessary cracks to its collective security structure, none, least of all Merkel, has gone so far as to pronounce the 29-member bloc to be clinically dead.

Despite being publicly chastised by an isolationist White House, a demonstrative display that regularly delights Putin’s most hardline supporters in Moscow, Merkel has deftly addressed the frequent accusations from Trump that Germany was not spending enough on its military. Merkel reiterated a pledge to raise defence spending from 1.42% of GDP in 2020 to 1.5% by 2024 and to 2%, a target agreed with all NATO allies, by the start of the 2030s.

The calm and steady approach which has characterised Merkel’s relationship with Trump has not been extended to her counterpart in the Elysee. Shortly after Macron first became France’s president in 2017, much was made of a new era of cooperation between the two EU giants. Since then, Macron has grown impatient with Merkel for blocking his EU reform initiatives and his ambitions for a federated European Union, including taking steps to bolster Europe’s ability to do more for its own defence outside of the NATO umbrella.

While Merkel has praised EU initiatives that include the Permanent Structured Co-operation, or PESCO, to plug gaps in Europe’s military power, she remains a steadfast believer in the importance that NATO plays, saying, “It is important to establish a European arm that would co-operate with NATO…But such projects must never be against NATO or instead of NATO”, instead they should act as an “expanded European pillar” in the Alliance.

That sentiment was also echoed by the new European Commission President, and former German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who has distanced herself from Macron’s controversial remarks about both NATO’s death and the need to cosy up to the Kremlin despite continued provocations against both the EU and NATO by Moscow.

Von der Leyen said NATO would remain responsible for European security “without any question” and that “The EU will never be a military alliance. The EU is completely different,” she said, adding that the bloc’s strengths lie in trade, development, and humanitarian assistance.

With a less cohesive NATO looking to enter the next decade with a sense of purpose amid a myriad of security threats from the Eastern Mediterranean to its borders with war-torn Ukraine, the Alliances’ staunchest erstwhile defender in the EU, Merkel, hopes her warning to her fellow Western allies continues to ring true: “The preservation of NATO is in our fundamental interest, even more so than in the Cold War. For the time being, Europe can’t defend itself – we are reliant on the transatlantic alliance.”

An optimistic view of enlargement

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The concept of a perfectly disciplined, regulated, and technocratic Europe, admittedly, must succeed.

The operation was successful, but the patient is about to die.

It’s true that Europe, as a bloc, is in deep decay and the reason that it has not dissolved as of yet is because of the interests that want a united Europe are much stronger than those that would prefer to see it crumble. It’s that simple. This explains why Europe, although permanently sick and moribund, never dies. The interests are all about money and Europe has lots of it. Politics comes after money.

Earlier this month, there was a meeting in Ohrid, North Macedonia that was euphemistically called “Mini-Schengen” in which the leaders of the Western Balkans – Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia, North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Albania’s Edi Rama, and representatives from both Bosnia and Montenegro met to discuss the free movement of goods, services, people and capital in the area.

Kosovo, which keeps Serbia under a crippling embargo, was absent. Shortly before the meeting began the “crown prince” of the George Soros empire, Alexander Soros, met privately with Rama for a few minutes. This was enough for Albania, which is the locomotive and main supporter of Kosovo’s independence, to change its attitude and heavily criticise its erstwhile protégé for its absence.

The fact that the Soros advise was basically right is irrelevant. What is important, in fact very important, is that Rama as the prime minister of an otherwise independent and sovereign state has, without arguing, obediently taken the advice of a foreign businessman. This is a problem. It’s one of those issues that the bloc must address if and when entry negotiations with Tirana begin.

The influence of the Soros financial group in Albania and North Macedonia is such that both are considered protectorates of the Soros Empire.

This, by the way, explains why France vetoed an EU decision to grant a date for entry negotiations to start with both Albania and North Macedonia. The decision was technically fair and honest as both countries do not meet the minimum acceptable standards for European Union membership when it comes to matters regarding the rule of law.

The cardinal element of today’s European ideology, the dual issues of human rights and the environment, are both rule of law matters and are of a major concern for the bloc, not only for the applicants to join, but also for certain new member states.

This is, however, politics and when politics is on the table there is no room for any cartesian logic. In this context, it would be wise on the part of Brussels to grant an entry date to all applicants for EU membership at the next European Union summit in Zagreb early next year.

That will be the way to trap them into the long process of raising all of their standards to those that are in line with European norms. The two would need to start from justice, while at the same time being forced to crack down on the two countries’ narcotics production and trafficking. This will also lead to a more concerted fight to effectively neutralise local mafias and minimize the organised interests’ involvement in the political decision-making process.

It might take decades, but it will bring results. Not granting a date to start entry negotiations does create heroes, but suspending negotiations creates the opposite. This is, indeed, what these courtiers need to succeed in their transition from primitive authoritarianism to democracy.

Getting Turkey on board

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The government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has declared a change of course regarding the management of the refugee crisis that has been characterized by the opening of fenced-off detention centres on the frontline Aegean islands, controlled facilities on the mainland, faster asylum examination processes, and readiness to deport more of the detainees to Turkey and other countries of origin.

The new Greek government is trying to find a way to alleviate the burden from the islands that are closest to Turkey by sending a stern message to Ankara that asylum seekers, who are most likely not to be granted international protection, should not consider trying to illegally cross into Greece. In other words, and in contrast with the previous government of the radical leftist SYRIZA party, the Greek authorities are trying to establish a series of logical disincentives for potential migrants whose asylum applications are likely to be unsuccessful and would have to be returned.

Mitsotakis’ administration hopes that the new strategy will bear fruit within the coming months. The fenced-off detention centres should be fully functioning by the end of next spring, while the new asylum processes will apply coming into effect on January 1, 2019. Mitsotakis has also welcomed the delivery of 10 new vessels for the Greek Coastguard by the Greek Shipowners’ Association.

Most importantly, should Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refuse to adhere to his commitments to halt the migrant flow, the new measures put forth by the current Greek government will be insufficient to deal with the current crisis, a sentiment that is shared by both Mitsotakis’ closest confidants and members of the administration.

Turkey’s unwillingness to cooperate

As noted by Greek officials in recent months, Ankara has refused to fully and properly implement the joint EU-Turkey Statement, and has thus allowed hundreds of asylum seekers to reach Greece’s eastern Aegean islands on a daily basis.

Turkey’s actions have been made known to Brussels by the Greek government, however, with the transition from the Jean-Claude Juncker Commission to Ursula von der Leyen’s administration now in full swing, little has been done to bring Turkey into full compliance with the agreement.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the ex-Commissioner for Migration and Homeland Security, who enjoys a good relationship with Erdogan, has been unable to convince Turkish authorities to fully honour their obligations under the 2016 agreement that was designed to stop the flow of irregular migration from Turkey to Europe. Ankara’s breach of the agreement has been particularly hard on Greece, which shares both a land and maritime border with Turkey. This has been further exacerbated by the refusal of fellow EU members Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland to accept asylum seekers. This has left Greece and its far larger Mediterranean neighbour Italy to shoulder most of the social and financial burden.

Confrontation in London

Mitsotakis has, in recent weeks, sent clear signals to both the establishment in Brussels and the rest of Europe that Greece is no longer willing or able to accept the status quo regarding the migrant situation. Those who are close to Mitsotakis have bitterly noted, however, that there appears to be little will or appetite within the Brussels bubble to listen to Greece’s concerns and the ability of Europe to muster enough solidarity to act decisively.

The Greek prime minister has gone so far as to compare Brussels’ stance on the management of the refugee crisis as resembling ostriches who bury their heads in the sand in times of difficulty.

Mitsotakis is now set to travel to London for a NATO summit on December 3-4 that is likely to be particularly contentious due to growing discord in the Alliance over comments by French President Emmanuel Macron’s that NATO is “bran dead” and that Russia is “no longer an enemy”. Tensions with Turkey are also at an all-time high after the Turks began putting into operation Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries despite the objections of nearly all of the Alliance’s members, particularly the United States.

According to sources close to Mitsotakis, a meeting with Erdogan, though not yet finalised, may be possible. Should it take place, it will be the second in less than three months, given that the two also met in New York in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also expected to meet with Mitsotakis while in London. Both leaders have been in regular contact, and Merkel has been kept up-to-date of the efforts by Greek authorities to enhance their capabilities to manage the migrant crisis and Athens’ attempts to get the Turks to fully comply with the EU-Turkey Agreement.

Turkey’s position and lack of cooperation on the migrant issue has become deeply problematic for many of Europe’s key stakeholders. Because of this, Germany is pushing for a new plan that would replace the now obsolete Dublin Regulation that determines which EU Member State is responsible for processing asylum seekers.

The German government is pushing for a new mechanism that would include an automatic relocation of asylum seekers after they have submitted an application on the EU’s external borders. This new mechanism would, if adopted, become permanent by the time Germany takes over Europe’s rotating presidency after the end of June 2020.

The Greek government is now in the process of waiting for the new von der Leyen Commission to table a proposal on a common asylum mechanism. Von Der Leyen, herself, has said that the EU’s plan will be officially presented by February. The new Commission’s Vice President Margaritis Schinas and the incoming Commissioner for Migration, Ylva Johansson, are responsible for the proposal, with both expected in Athens in early December to discuss the management and current state of the crisis.

Europe’s 5G state-of-play: Interview with Mark Spelman

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Mark Spelman is a British expert focused on key 5G challenges like standardisation and cyber-security. His current roles include heads the Thought Leadership at the World Economic Forum and leading the Forum’s initiative on the future of the digital economy and society. He was also chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Executive Council in Brussels and a non-executive director at Sport England. At a time when 5G rollouts in the EU are dominating the headlines amid concerns about security and data protection, New Europe’s Federico Grandesso sat down with Spelman on the side lines of the Brussels 5G Assembly.

New Europe (NE): Putting aside the potential threats, how exactly do you think that 5G can be a revolution?

Mark Spelman (MS): 5G is without doubt a massive opportunity because it is going to transform our ability to connect everything weather it is in cities, factories, or at home. As a result, there is going to be an explosion of data, but with the opportunities you have to manage the risks like issues of trust and transparency. Security becomes very important. To make 5G happen will require us to have better collaboration models going forward. If we just look this at through the lens of business or regulators we won’t optimise 5G’s abilities going forward. Now my basic message is that we are on the verge of new decade with new opportunities, but we have to be careful not to replicate the mistakes of, for example, artificial intelligence where we have spent all of the time playing catch up. We absolutely need to get ahead of the curve and we need to be thinking about the next 10 years as 5G progressively gets rolled out across Europe. It is necessary to anticipate what the upsides and downsizes of 5G are going to create.

NE: How can Europe contribute to the regulating and monitoring 5G?

MS: The first thing for 5G to work is that you need spectrum allocation frequencies that are organized. This needs to be done in a fair and sensible way across national boundaries. You need to look very carefully at the rules for spectrum allocation and also for local permitting. If you are going to put a load of 5G equipment somewhere that you don’t want in Milan, for example, they are going put it in place very quickly and in Rome very slowly. What can’t happen is that specific equipment is going to be available only for a single player and not for multiple players. The spectrum is infrastructure sharing and also working together to getting the right device standards. It doesn’t matter if those are peripherals devices are sitting in factories or if they’re sensor equipment, all those requires standards. One of the important things about 5G is that we are sending lots more data from these peripheral devices back into the cloud to essentially compute power, and that needs standards in order to manage.

NE: Do you think we need more European standards or different ones?

MS: One of the good things that Europe has shown with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is that it has been able to set a standard. It has created a benchmark which a lot of people follow. My message would be that as Europe is pretty good at setting standards means the more we can set creates a sense of influence which then become a sort of magnet. I think then that in today’s world it is very difficult to get uniformity and therefore if you go from a model that says “you must have uniformity from day one “I think this unrealistic. So my message to the Europeans is the more uniformity you get gives a baseline of standards that are agreed across Europe. It will then be easier to have others attached to that.

NE: What can the US contribute in this matter?

MS: There are lots of natural synergies between the US and EU and if you look at the volumes of data and information, while also not forgetting the huge number of American multinationals that work in Europe and vice-versa, you have an idea about the current opportunities. There are tensions in trade, but when you look at some of the natural underpinnings there are still lots of opportunities for collaboration. You have then to remember that the US isn’t always a unified sort of entity, so if we don’t collaborate on what the standards are, you get fragmentation in terms of applications. 

NE: And what about the Chinese contribution?

MS: We completely underestimated the impact that Chinese R&D will have on the future and they have much longer term and ambitious goals than both the Americans and Europeans. I think that in the future, Chinese and Indian influence will have more of an impact on us. Look at the “One Belt, One Road initiative. The 21st century is a pivot to Asia and we need to think about how we are going to compete in the world. There are countries like Switzerland and Singapore that are very successful and there is no reason why we can’t be successful with the big players. We have to be extremely focused and much more productive while also recognising that the driver of Chinese power will keep on going for the next 15-20 years.

NE: What are the biggest threats in relation to cyber-security?    

MS: Cyber criminals are learning all the time and they are getting smarter. They are using artificial intelligence like business organisations, so we need to look at creating a centre of expertise and we need to share intelligence on cyber-security. Countries must cooperate more and companies must keep updating their processes on how to address cyber-security. We need to set up mechanisms at the national and corporate level to be able to address those attacks. It will be important then to cooperate with China and the US. If you look at the digital development in Africa their capacity to fight these attacks is still limited, so we will have to help then.

Spain wants more equality for thousands of recognised religious entities

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A representative of Spain’s Ministry of Justice has warned of a rise in the number of “intolerant and extremist” speeches about religious identity while representatives from Church of Scientology and the Bahá’í Community warn that there should be more equality.

According to information published by the Spanish daily Diario de Mallorca on the 40th anniversary of the Spain’s Religious Freedom Law, the Law Faculty of the University of the Balearic Islands launched a series of conferences with visiting government officials responsible for inter-religious relations and others from the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation, as well as representatives from the Church of Scientology and the Bahá’í Community

Spain’s Religious Freedom Law was the first law approved under a new constitution that was drafted in the wake of Fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975. At the time of its adoption, the law was unanimously approved.

This illustrates the importance that was given to the regulation of this fundamental right at that time, as highlighted by the different experts who participated in the inaugural session of this cycle of conferences, which were organised by the host university’s Private Law Department.

The conference kicked off on November 15 with Ana Gallego, the Director- General of International Legal Cooperation, Relations with the Faith denominations and Human Rights  of the Ministry of Justice; Mercedes Murillo, the Deputy Director-General of Relations with the Faith Denominations at the Justice ministry; Inés Mazarrasa , the director of the Foundation Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation, and Puerto García, the Foundation’s deputy director all in attendence.

Catalina Pons-Estel, a professor of Civil Law at the UIB and an organiser of the event along with Professor of Ecclesiastical Law at the Autonomous University of Madrid Marcos González both stated that religious freedom enjoys a high degree of protection at the legal level in Spain.

Sikhs from Spain celebrate World Turban Day at Plaza del Sol square in central Madrid. EPA-EFE//JUANJO GUILLEN

“There are still challenges at the sociological level, but not so much in the legal framework,” said Gallego, who added, “normally and without too much tension everyone needs to be alert to certain speeches that try to instrumentalise religious identity as part of an intolerant and extremist discourse”. Gallego went on to say that this was a challenge for all societies and that it “can only be stopped by insisting on the public administration of religious fact, with equality between religious denominations, the neutrality of the State, and social diversity from the viewpoint of religion”.

The number of religious entities listed as of today in the Justice Ministry’s special register total 19,271, with more added every year. Some 12,000 are Roman Catholic entities and another 5,000 linked to other large confessions, including 1,700 related to Islam and 3,200 associated with Evangelical Protestants. There are also Churches and Missions of Scientology, the Baha’is, the Church of Later Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hinduists, and many others.

“Religious communities that are merely registered in the Register of Religious Entities of the Ministry of Justice of Spain are the vast majority,” said Marcos González, a Director of the Methodological Institute of Ecclesiastical Law.

“Although current treatment in general has improved in recent years and there is some sort of cooperation, the situation and equal treatment would improve for all if there would be no different categories based on numbers, and it would reduce social discrimination as well as radicalisation,” said Iván Arjona, the President of the Church of Scientology in Spain and its European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights while speaking to New Europe.

Arjona’s comments were supported by Sergio Garcia, the director of the Public Affairs Office from Spain’s Baha’i community, who said, “The handling of ethno-religious diversity is not only a challenge to strengthen social cohesion and prevent conflicts and the processes of radicalisation, but also an opportunity to use the historical experience of religious groups and communities that have spent centuries trying to contribute to economic and social improvement. When involving religious groups and communities in processes linked to public policies, one has to ensure that the work takes the form of collaboration and selfless action for the common good”.

González and Pons-Estel told New Europe that the presentations have given the attendees the chance to get to know more about the Church of Scientology and the Bahá’í Community, adding, “These religious communities want to have more advantages and be more visible and that there will be more cooperation with them from the public authorities as mandated by the Spanish Constitution”.

Understanding Trump’s negotiating tactics to boost transatlantic trade

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On November 14, US President Donald J. Trump again succeeded in defying everyone’s expectations when he faced a legally imposed 6-month deadline under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to decide whether to impose tariffs on imports of cars and car parts (including from the EU) on the basis of national security concerns. While the whole world was anxiously watching the headlines, preparing for the start of a new trade war, the deadline passed without any decision being taken.

Experts now believe that Trump will no longer be able to legally impose tariffs on cars and car parts based on Section 232. Although uncertainty remains over the next steps, the Trump administration is now reportedly considering the possibility of opening a new investigation that would cover a much broader range of imports from third countries other than cars and car parts.

The “Real Deal”

The real question now is: have national security concerns ever been the real motivation behind the US car tariff threat? One could reasonably doubt this.

In fact, a recent statement by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross can help shed light on the real goal the US is pursuing: “Our hope is that the negotiations we’ve been having with individual companies about their capital investment plans will bear enough fruit that it may not be necessary to put the 232 [tariffs] fully into effect, may not even be necessary to put it partly in effect.”

Ross’ statement confirms that active negotiations are ongoing and they are happening at the individual car manufacturer level rather than at the government level. Moreover, negotiations are focusing on EU car companies’ “capital investment plans”. But what does that mean?

When the threat of additional US tariffs on EU cars and car part imports first surfaced, the reaction in Europe was that European manufacturers already build more than 3 million cars in the US. But let’s face it, in 5 to 10 years, the plants that manufacture f-cars (fossil fuel-propelled cars) will all go the way of the dinosaurs. The future of cars is electric and the leaders in e-car technology are not American car makers, but Japanese and German car manufacturers.

Hence, the real objective of the United States is to make sure that future-proof German technology to build electric cars is developed (also) in the US and deployed (also) on American soil. Japan and South Korea have already signed separate commercial agreements with the American that encompasses the automotive sector. Now it’s the turn of German car manufacturers. Against this backdrop, it is worth noting that in January 2019 Volkswagen AG pledged to invest $800 million and add 1,000 jobs to build electric vehicles in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

At ExportUSA, we have always been convinced that the US would never go as far as to actually impose additional tariffs on car and car parts imports. The fact that Trump let the November 14 deadline pass, likely depriving himself of a legal basis to impose tariffs based on national security concerns, clearly supports our view. The direct US engagement with German car makers makes us even more optimistic. When international trade is concerned, pragmatism and economic convenience combined seem to have a way to get things unstuck better than politics.

The way forward – adapting to Trump’s negotiating style

There is more than just electric cars on the EU-US negotiating table at the moment. Following the agreement between Trump and outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on July 25, 2018, the EU has put forward two mandates for a limited trade agreement with the US. One mandate provides for the mutual elimination of tariffs on industrial goods (including cars), while the other provides for the elimination of some non-tariff barriers, and instead focusing on the conformity assessment of goods.

Unfortunately, the mandates were a non-starter for the US Congress, which is demanding that agriculture be included in the negotiations as well. As a result of the Congress’ stance, the parties have been stuck in a prolonged stalemate with no progress anywhere in sight.

The American decision to hold off on the car tariffs should be taken by the EU as what it is: not only a signal that negotiations to bring capital investments in e-cars on US soil are bearing fruit, but also as a sign that the Americans are willing to negotiate a limited trade agreement with the EU in good faith.

The European Commission should go the extra mile and put on the table one additional negotiating mandate providing for the elimination of tariffs on some non-sensitive agricultural goods. This solution has the potential to make a trade deal acceptable for the US Congress while respecting all the so-called EU “red lines” in the agri-food policy space (e.g. chlorinated chicken, hormone-treated beef) and avoid painful concessions in key EU agricultural sectors (e.g. beef, sugar, rice).

It should be abundantly clear by now that the Trump administration has adopted a negotiating style that borrows heavily from business practices rather than from the rulebook of international diplomacy. Faced with the issue of a lack of investment in electric cars in the US, the Trump White House has decided to hold direct commercial discussions with EU car makers rather than engaging in technical negotiations with EU trade officials.

The EU should acknowledge this and adapt accordingly. The potential US launch of a new broader investigation and the threat of new tariffs should therefore not be regarded as a brutal arm-twisting exercise which goes against the spirit of contemporary international trade diplomacy. On the contrary, this is simple commercial tactics aimed at maintaining the necessary leverage to bring the EU at the negotiating table and gain concessions for American farmers as well.

Large multinational car companies would not be the sole beneficiaries of improved transatlantic trade relations. European SMEs in all sectors of the economy have indeed a lot to gain from a bilateral trade agreement, even if limited in scope.

It is, therefore, for the benefit of SMEs in particular that we call on the European Commission to take an additional small step forward and break the current stalemate with the US by opening a new era in transatlantic trade relations.

Juncker’s legacy

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For more than three decades Jean-Claude Juncker played a key role in shaping the European Union first as Luxembourg’s prime minister, then as Eurogroup President,  and finally, since 2014, as President of the European Commission.

Europe’s 65-year-old grand seignior will now leave the international stage having steered the EU through several crises. His style, coupled with the ability to respond to his interlocutors, has often been successful due to his cunning sense of humour that often drove his counterparts crazy. Many of them were more afraid of his welcome kisses than his poisonous remarks – he once greeted Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban with “Hey dictator“.

Juncker took over what he called “the Last Chance Commission” in 2014 and immediately set out win back citizens’ trust for the European project. His most important achievements since then include the instrumental role he played in keeping Greece in the Eurozone. He also has averted a looming trade dispute with the US and he has thus far prevented an unregulated Brexit, which would also cause great economic damage to Europe.

He described his role in Brexit as his “biggest mistake”, a reference to the fact that he followed the wishes of then-British Prime Minister David Cameron not to interfere in the debate on leaving the EU. Juncker has publicly cast doubt on whether or not he could have influenced the British public’s mood to stay in the EU, saying, “Would I have been able to counter the lies that were massively distributed in the UK? I don’t know.” Instead, Juncker said a Commission President needs “big ears” and a willingness to listen.

That talent, Juncker’s ability to listen, was often successful. In a dispute over Italy’s budget deficit, he first patiently listened to the demands of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, but in the end Conte agreed with the EU’s spending cuts.

His patient demeanour also worked well when negotiating with the notoriously isolationist President Donald Trump, who repeatedly called Juncker a “brutal killer”.

Surprisingly, Juncker has a good connection with Trump largely because he also contradicted him as was able to hammer out a delay on high American tariffs on car imports from Europe. Over the years, Juncker established a trusting relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, particularly in 2015 when he sided with Merkel’s decision not to close the EU’s borders at the height of the refugee crisis.

The migration issue, however, eventually slipped away from all of the EU’s politicians. The redistribution of refugees that had already landed in Greece and Italy, which was a Juncker demand, was met with vigorous resistance in many countries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. Though the directive often involved only a few thousand people per country, the leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia refused to accept any migrants.

The Commission did not have any legal means to sanction the countries who refused to work with the rest of the bloc to find a solution to the migrant crisis. Certain proposals, including by Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger, that would have made EU funding dependent on a country’s willingness to receive migrants have found little support amongst the EU’s 28 members.

The negotiations over a multiannual financial framework for 2020 have sparked similar concerns or, as the EU’s incoming Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn out it, “The EU is misunderstood by many new member states as a kind of bank-ATM.”

Juncker has admitted that he utterly underestimated the cultural and political differences between the new and old member states. Many of the countries that were once a part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc are now seen as taking revenge on the older members of the EU after having felt discriminated against in the years since the joined the bloc.

There have been a few exceptions to this rule, however, including Poland’s Donald Tusk, who served as President of the European Council; former Polish President and President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek; and, most recently, Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva, who is the new head of the International Monetary Fund. Rarely have politicians from Eastern Europe held such high positions in either EU or international committees.

In the past, the European Commission would have had to punish the behaviour of some food companies that produced lower-quality products, especially for those in the located in the EU’s newest members. In hindsight, Juncker should have travelled more often to Eastern Europe to better understand the situation on the ground.

Juncker was also often associated with having alcohol problems because of the sciatic nerve problems that he suffers from. These accusations initially angered him, but later in his term he no longer reacted. Most recently, he survived a dangerous aneurysm operation.

The medical history of the EU was known all too well by Juncker before he became the President of the Commission. In 1999, at an EU summit in Tampere, Finland, he said, “We decide something then put it in the room and wait a while to see what happens. if there is no shouting and are no uprisings, because most do not understand what has been decided, then we continue, step by step, until there is no going back.” That sort of approach could no longer work in a bloc that includes 28 members, Juncker undoubtedly knew that.

The Lisbon Treaty did not limit the responsibilities of national governments to a large extent, especially when it came sensitive asylum or tax policies. If it had, an EU initiative for a tax on financial transactions or a carbon tax would not have failed. Juncker wanted to propose that the member states choose from five options to avoid a blockade, i.e.  should the EU continue as before, provide more or fewer initiatives, or become more active only in key chapters?

Juncker’s push towards direct democracy was also unsuccessful. In an EU-wide referendum, Juncker wanted to find out how to deal with the changeover to summer and winter time in the future, but the bloc could not agree on a unanimous decision.

What Juncker is particularly proud of is touting his “Strategic Investment Plan” where up to €500 billion should be raised by 2020 for new projects. However, the European Court of Auditors criticised the initiative as the fund is mainly used by the older core members of the EU and usually only replaced private financing options.

In the fight against tax privileges for large corporations, Juncker’s past as prime minister of a tax haven eventually caught up with him after investigations were launched into how multinational corporations settle in low-tax countries like Juncker’s native Luxembourg.

Juncker will, nevertheless, go down in European history as an effective Commission President. Whether his successor, Ursula von der Leyen, can continue his course remains an open question. Von der Leyen has signalled that climate protection will be a priority for her Commission. It will have to deal both with trade conflicts that are increasing worldwide and with harsher opposition to global free trade agreements. Von der Leyen will also have to deal with the immediate fallout of Britain withdrawal from the EU and, as a result, how to carve out an even more important role for Germany and France in the years to come, while also extending an olive branch to the EU’s many middle and smaller-sized countries.

Juncker always emphasized the role of the smaller EU states. The son of a steelworker, he also had a sense of social balance in his genes. Europe will miss Juncker and he will go down as an important designer and skilful geopolitical player.

Putin means money

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In her 2014 book Putin’s Kleptocracy, the late Karen Dawisha argued that the key to understanding Vladimir Putin’s Russia is money. While Putin was selling stories to the public about restoring Russia’s global influence, she explained, he and a coterie of trusted cronies were amassing massive amounts of personal wealth. More than an authoritarian, nationalist, or revanchist, Putin, in her view, should be understood as a crook.

At the time, I disagreed: though money was undoubtedly important to understanding the Putin regime, the drive for global influence was not to be dismissed. But in the wake of the security forces’ raid on the Lebedev Physics Institute (FIAN) in Moscow last month, I have changed my mind.

For decades, FIAN has been at the frontier of Russian scientific and technological progress. It would thus seem that the institute is ideally suited to play a central role in advancing the strategic priorities that Putin himself identified in May 2018: science, technological innovation, and export-oriented production.

And yet last month, Russian security forces descended on the institute, in order to find, detain, and question its director, Nikolai N. Kolachevsky, about a supposed plan by the company Trioptics, which rented offices in FIAN’s premises, to export a special type of optical window to Germany. Because the window has applications in space or military activities, the authorities claim, exporting it could undermine national security.

Why are Russia’s security apparatchiks taking actions that contradict the Kremlin’s stated policy goals? Some argue that they have simply escaped Putin’s control. For 20 years, Putin has been installing his former KGB colleagues and friends into powerful positions in Russia’s security and military apparatus. These so-called siloviki, or strongmen, could have accrued so much power that they do what they please, even if it means undermining Putin’s efforts to put Russia on the road to progress.

This is possible, but not likely. A more plausible explanation is that Putin himself is conflicted. While he wants to be able to tout Russian achievements in science and innovation, he also wants to enrich himself as much as possible. And, as Dawisha observed, if he has to choose, money comes first.

With regard to FIAN, Putin’s financial interests seem to be linked to his daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, who directs Innopraktika, a scientific institute that receives state money. Innopraktika is affiliated with Moscow State University, whose rector, Viktor Sadovnichiy, has a long history of catering to those in power.

The institute’s work seems to center on devices that read brain activity. But it also apparently oversees all kinds of construction projects on a vast plot of land adjacent to the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) – the KGB’s successor organization – and the Federal Protective Service.

If we keep following the scientific-money trail, we arrive at the prestigious Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN), which held elections last week. After the organisation’s 2013 elections, in which the Kremlin-backed candidates for membership did not perform well, the government announced major reforms, including a three-year moratorium on RAN elections.

It was then decided that, to ensure “fairness,” the government would approve all candidates, despite the fact that they are academics. The government then attempted to make Mikhail Kovalchuk – the physicist brother of Putin’s billionaire “personal banker,” Yuri Kovalchuk – RAN’s president in 2017.

But, despite all the machinations, the far more distinguished physicist Alexander Sergeev won the election. Although Sergeev had criticized the government’s RAN-reform efforts, as well as its broader control over scientific research – a major reason why young talent flees Russia – his international reputation was so great that Putin had little choice but to approve his candidacy.

The Kremlin did not do the same for Sergeev’s colleague, the well-regarded Alexei Khokhlov. Yet, in another blow to the government, Khokhlov later became RAN’s vice president.

This year, RAN members have continued to push back against the Kremlin’s agenda. Two months before the election, RAN’s anti-falsification commission named 56 candidates for membership as plagiarists or purveyors of pseudoscience. The government ruled that this should not disqualify them. (This stance is no surprise: Putin’s own doctoral dissertation was allegedly copied from a 1978 management textbook.) Ultimately, only six were disqualified.

RAN’s resistance is unacceptable to the Kremlin, as is the high standing of Khokhlov, who, having served as Moscow State University’s vice-rector until last year, is a likely successor to Sadovnichiy. If Khokhlov secures that position, the university may become less open to FSB-related construction projects, less supportive of the First Daughter’s institute, and less willing to hand out fake degrees to Kremlin cronies. The FIAN raid – which, Sergeev laments, further diminished the reputations of Russian scientists – may thus have been orchestrated to undermine him.

In discussing the raid, a journalist friend in Moscow deadpanned, “In Putin’s Russia, physics belongs to spies, history is written by Chekists, and geography by soldiers.” And, indeed, Sergei Naryshkin, Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, is also president of the Russian Historical Society, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu leads the Russian Geographical Society.

Science is still putting up a fight. But, given the insatiable financial appetite of Putin and his inner circle, there is only so much Russia’s honest scientists can do – a message that the FIAN raid conveyed loud and clear. As a retired academic put it to me, “Whatever you say about the Soviet Union, knowledge mattered. Today’s Russia, despite its claims to be a ‘great country,’ resembles a small former colony, where every general in power wants to call himself a doctor of philosophy, just to increase his profits.”

The makings of a “geopolitical” European Commission

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On December 1, Ursula von der Leyen will finally take office as president of the European Commission. She has promised to lead a commission that will avoid a scenario in which, as French President Emmanuel Macron recently warned, Europe might “disappear geopolitically” amid an escalating Sino-American rivalry.

To be sure, the European Union has the largest market in the world, the second-highest defense spending (after the United States), 55,000 diplomats, and the world’s largest development-assistance budget. But these strengths are constrained by the fragmentation of European power both between and within member states and EU institutions. While China and the US are both adept at integrating geopolitics with their economic interests, the EU stubbornly acts as if these were separate agendas.

If von der Leyen is to succeed in building an effective “geopolitical commission,” she will need to pass seven big tests. The first will be to build unity behind her proposed European Green Deal, which she has made one of her central priorities. The question is not just whether she can direct an effective European response to climate change, but whether she can prevent the issue from becoming another front in the culture war between the EU’s western member states and the cohort in Central and Eastern Europe.

Voters in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia are ambivalent about whether climate change needs to be addressed at all. If von der Leyen’s Commission does not take steps to bring these populations on board, the European Green Deal could reprise the politics of the euro and refugee crises, when marginal EU constituencies felt neglected by more powerful actors in the EU core (many of whom were clearly convinced of their own moral superiority).

Second, von der Leyen’s Commission will have to be open to potential counter-measures against America’s weaponisation of the dollar. Since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, his administration has effectively been deciding with whom Europeans may trade, by threatening secondary sanctions against any company that does business with Iran. The challenge for a geopolitical commission, then, is to identify areas where US companies are asymmetrically dependent on Europe, and where European sanctions (or the mere threat of sanctions) could be deployed to maximum effect. This strategy has already proved effective in the standoff over auto tariffs.

Third, von der Leyen’s Commission will have to take up the issue of European defense. There are three discernible camps. The first includes the French, who want to achieve European strategic autonomy and end the bloc’s dependence on the US. The second camp, epitomised by Poland, favors “strategic servitude,” and wants to double down on the transatlantic relationship by purchasing more US equipment and establishing “Fort Trumps” to keep the US engaged on the continent. The third, represented by Germany, advocates “strategic patience,” based on the hope that Trump’s eventual departure will allow for a return to normality. The only way to reconcile these views is to strengthen Europe’s contributions to NATO, so that it is seen as a better partner to the US.

Fourth, von der Leyen’s Commission must reconsider the EU’s competition policy, which currently focuses only on state aid and other unfair practices within Europe, while ignoring unfair competition from abroad. Fifth, and on a related note, the new Commission will need to develop a screening mechanism for foreign investments that both protects sensitive sectors and compensates EU member states that are asked to turn down foreign capital. In addition to establishing common screening procedures, the EU should empower the Commission to veto foreign investments on security grounds, with the European Council retaining the final say (through qualified majority voting).

Sixth, von der Leyen’s Commission will need to develop a European cyber defence agency worthy of the name. Specifically, the EU’s new leaders should transform ENISA (the EU Agency for Cybersecurity) into a well-staffed and well-financed institution with centralised computer emergency response teams (CERTs), cyber forensic squads, and legislative representatives to push for stronger security protocols across the bloc.

Finally, von der Leyen will be tasked with repositioning the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as credible counterweights to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. So far, the EU has not taken a strategic approach to reshaping the global financial architecture, and its response to China’s global investment and development activities has been timid at best. Giving the EIB and the EBRD a global remit to fund projects outside of Europe would help to reverse this failure. Moreover, it would allow Europe to bail out countries facing fiscal or financial crises in the event that the US or China tie the hands of the International Monetary Fund or other institutions.

Each of these seven tests is in an area where the EU could potentially become a key global player, capable of holding its own with other great powers. But each challenge will require genuine unity among Europeans, with EU institutions and member-state governments working together seamlessly.

Rather than dealing with these issues in a piecemeal fashion, von der Leyen should pursue a grand bargain that gives real meaning and shape to the next five years of EU policymaking. Among other things, that will require creative thinking about the next seven-year budget framework, which should be used to marshal the resources that Europe needs to establish itself as a global player, and to advance innovative measures like green bonds, digital taxation, and carbon pricing. Only then will “geopolitical commission” be a turning point, not a sound bite.

Vocational Training for poor people

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The European Union, USA, China, Russia, Japan and Korea have developed their natural resources, created industries and mechanised their agriculture for maximum output to achieve the economic growth in the last fifty years. Some of these countries nationalised land, oil/gas producing companies, coal mines and rail networks. They subsidise their farmers and industries to this day and protect them from international competitors with high import taxes to this day. . Consequences of such rapid development on climate change was not a consideration for these countries until recently. Exploitation of fossil fuels, mining for metals (gold, diamond, aluminium, copper, tin), chopping down millions of trees in rain forests in South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to plant palm trees for oil and hardwood for construction were considered essential for British, French, Dutch and Portuguese colonies. Donor countries like USA choose to tie their aid to investment that does not always target the most essential requirements of poor countries.

In the last ten years, concern about climate change, has become as important as investment in health, education and housing in the rich countries. An international agreement was signed in Paris to secure approval of minimum measures that signatory countries are obliged to comply with. This policy is supported by the UN and other international NGOs. It has been supported by almost all countries in the world to minimise the impact on so   many

poor countries that face desertification, flooding and invasion by the sea of many island nations.

The citizens of rich countries consume more water, food, and fuel than developing countries. Until recently, they exported their plastic waste to poor countries to pollute their land. They have been responsible for plastic pollution of oceans which have consequences They use more plastic and other packaging that pollute the air, land and oceans. Measures to control, pollution and improve and maintain the quality of air, sea and land requires substantial and sustained finance. President Trump’s USA, the richest country in the world, has withdrawn from the Paris Treaty on Climate Change because of the perceived cost to its industries and agriculture. This is outrageous as the USA and China are the biggest polluters of air and oceans in the world. Whilst the EU and other countries have politely criticised the USA , there is no suggestion from any country or international organisation of any financial or diplomatic  sanction against the USA.

Whilst rich countries continue to support high polluting industries and intensive farming using pesticides and fertilisers in their own countries, they tie their aid to and trade concessions for poor countries to compliance of environmental protection outlined in the Paris Climate Change Treaty. They dictate policies on resource management, choice of energy use and agricultural policy for food sufficiency. Poor countries cannot afford to allocate limited funds in their national budgets for protecting their environment as they struggle to provide basic health, food and homes for their poor populations.

All aid to poor countries should be conditional on independent test of good governance and ensure that foreign companies involved in development aid projects  do not exploit by overpricing their inputs and corruption of politicians and bureaucrats of the country receiving aid.

Whilst entrepreneurs in rich countries enjoy freedom to invest, those in poor countries are expected to incur expensive measures to protect the environment. This  extra cost is a burden on corporate taxes making companies in poor countries less competitive. Why should the poor countries prioritise investment environmental protection when they need to invest in their public services, infra structure and development of their economies? Why should their people live without access to water, sanitation and a roof over their head? Why should these poor people not fish in their rivers and oceans to survive whilst rich nations use fishing trawlers equipped with sophisticated sonar technology to identify the location of fish that they plunder for sale in their own countries? Why should the poor not occupy part of their forested land to cultivate food crops for survival when international r companies plant palm trees for oil production for use in food and cosmetics in their own countries? Why do international logging companies exploit the hardwood of ancient trees in the forests of Congo, Brazil and other countries in South East Asia for profit from sale in their own countries?

What does democracy mean to a family who is trapped in a cycle of poverty and dependence? A family sleeping in a tent or mud hut in rural sub-Saharan Africa without access to water, sanitation and fuel is desperate for opportunity to work. This applies to the poor in all developing countries on all continents.

The poor can only liberate themselves from poverty if they opt for fast economic growth even if this means a degree of environmental degradation. They must feed their people, find them sustainable employment and give them an opportunity to create wealth so that every citizen, especially the poor, has a stake in the national economy. Poverty in third world countries will only be eradicated by the sweat and determination of their own people when they realise that production and provision of basic needs  of life are more important than the concerns of the rich!

The rich countries of the world need to invest in developing skills of the poor. They need to invest in vocational training centres in rural areas where the poor, especially the young and women, can acquire skills in plumbing, masonry, construction, carpentry, engineering (mechanical, electrical and electronic), information technology, animal and poultry breeding and care, farming using irrigation and rotation of crops, sanitation,  healthcare and learning to read and write. The poor need these skills desperately to enable them to be self- sufficient by using their land and natural resources in the best way to secure water, food, shelter and work that will finance education and health for their families. The poor in their countries do NOT wish to emigrate to Europe or the USA. Corruption and bad governance in the poor countries forces people into poverty and the brightest and the fittest young people take life threatening risks to cross deserts and oceans to reach the shores of EU countries  or the USA border. This exodus of the young from any poor country is the most serious loss to the economic  and social development of all the people left to continue to suffer forever!

From the d-economy to the d-society

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The Lisbon Council is a dynamic think tank in Brussels that has been discussing the new challenges that Europe is facing for the future. More than ever, we live in a time of digital transformation and it is critically important that we do the right thing and make the much-needed connections between the economy and society. From the d-economy to the d-society we have a long way to build a new agenda for the future.

The idea of a d-economy is essential for a new future. It demands an effective partnership contract between all the actors – Europe’s nation, universities, companies, and civil societies – to build a real strategy of confidence in the implementation of the different policies.

The focus on innovation and knowledge as the drivers of creating added value with an international dissemination is a unique challenge that may be the answer to a new way of interaction between those who have the responsibility of thinking and those that have the responsibility of producing goods and services.

The d-economy must be an idea of change and a strategic challenge that is focused on the capacity of attracting new investments, new talents, and a new ambition for an agenda of the future. Because of this we also need a d-society. The design of a d-society, with a new agenda, cannot be made by law but must be built through a broad and consistent partnership that is the platform for a collaborative network of different operational actors from across Europe.

In a d-society, the key word must be ambition. The state, municipalities, companies, and universities are all, in a word, “civil society”. The must be an example for all and need to promote a new adventure in a complex world.

There is a real sense of urgency in our capacity to be able to do all of these things being able to do it. The idea of collective intelligence must be mobilise the social actors for a new kind of modernity and confidence in the future, open to new ideas and new solutions to our communities.

It´s time to believe in a new cycle for Europe. Reinventing the European Dream and giving the main European actors the opportunity to develop new challenges that are focused on innovation and creativity. This is, in a large sense, giving a central contribution to the reinvention of Europe’s people and institutions. But more than everything, it is a public demonstration of a positive answer for the future.

This is the idea of the d-economy. It is a challenge for the future and is the basis for our present.

Why we strike again

For more than a year, children and young people from around the world have been striking for the climate. We launched a movement that defied all expectations, with millions of people lending their voices – and their bodies – to the cause. We did this not because it was our dream, but because we didn’t see anyone else taking action to secure our future. And despite the vocal support we have received from many adults – including some of the world’s most powerful leaders – we still don’t.

Striking is not a choice we relish; we do it because we see no other options. We have watched a string of United Nations climate conferences unfold. Countless negotiations have produced much-hyped but ultimately empty commitments from the world’s governments – the same governments that allow fossil-fuel companies to drill for ever-more oil and gas, and burn away our futures for their profit.

Politicians and fossil-fuel companies have known about climate change for decades. And yet the politicians let the profiteers continue to exploit our planet’s resources and destroy its ecosystems in a quest for quick cash that threatens our very existence.

Don’t take our word for it: scientists are sounding the alarm. They warn that we have never been less likely to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the threshold beyond which the most destructive effects of climate change would be triggered.

Worse, recent research shows that we are on track to produce 120% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the 1.5°C limit. The concentration of climate-heating greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has reached a record high, with no sign of a slowdown. Even if countries fulfill their current emissions-reduction pledges, we are headed for a 3.2°C increase.

Young people like us bear the brunt of our leaders’ failures. Research shows that pollution from burning fossil fuels is the world’s most significant threat to children’s health. Just this month, five million masks were handed out at schools in New Delhi, India’s capital, owing to toxic smog. Fossil fuels are literally choking the life from us.

The science is crying out for urgent action, and still our leaders dare to ignore it. So we continue to fight.

After a year of strikes, our voices are being heard. We are being invited to speak in the corridors of power. At the UN, we addressed a room filled with world leaders. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, we met with prime ministers, presidents, and even the pope. We have spent hundreds of hours participating in panels and speaking with journalists and filmmakers. We have been offered awards for our activism.

Our efforts have helped to shift the wider conversation on climate change. People now increasingly discuss the crisis we face, not in whispers or as an afterthought, but publicly and with a sense of urgency. Polls confirm changing perceptions. One recent survey showed that, in seven of the eight countries included, climate breakdown is considered to be the most important issue facing the world. Another confirmed that schoolchildren have led the way in raising awareness.

With public opinion shifting, world leaders, too, say that they have heard us. They say that they agree with our demand for urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. But they do nothing. As they head to Madrid for the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, we call out this hypocrisy.

On the next two Fridays, we will again take to the streets: worldwide on November 29, and in Madrid, Santiago, and many other places on December 6 during the UN climate conference. Schoolchildren, young people, and adults all over the world will stand together, demanding that our leaders take action – not because we want them to, but because the science demands it.

That action must be powerful and wide-ranging. After all, the climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice, and of political will. Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fueled it. We need to dismantle them all. Our political leaders can no longer shirk their responsibilities.

Some say that the Madrid conference is not very important; the big decisions will be made at COP26 in Glasgow next year. We disagree. As the science makes clear, we don’t have a single day to lose.

We have learned that, if we do not step up, nobody will. So we will keep up a steady drumbeat of strikes, protests, and other actions. We will become louder and louder. We will do whatever it takes to persuade our leaders to unite behind science so clear that even children understand it.

Collective action works; we have proved that. But to change everything, we need everyone. Each and every one of us must participate in the climate resistance movement. We cannot just say we care; we must show it.

Join us. Participate in our upcoming climate strikes in Madrid or in your hometown. Show your community, the fossil-fuel industry, and your political leaders that you will not tolerate inaction on climate change anymore. With numbers on our side, we have a chance.

And to the leaders who are headed to Madrid, our message is simple: the eyes of all future generations are upon you. Act accordingly.

**This commentary was also signed by Evan Meneses (Australia) and Hilda Flavia Nakabuye (Fridays for Future Uganda).

Are young Slovaks losing interest in the EU?

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Michal Tanáč, 21, is like many young people in Slovakia. A student at the University of Economics in Bratislava, Tanáč voted in Slovakia’s recent presidential elections as well as in the election for mayor of his local village. But he skipped this May’s elections for the European Parliament.

“The people who will be in charge won’t have (that much of an)] impact on me,” he said, explaining his thinking at the time.

Just 10.4% of Slovaks aged 18-24 voted in the EU’s parliamentary elections this year, a quarter of the EU average and the second-lowest of all 28 countries in the bloc. Slovakia’s overall turnout rate was 23%, more than twice as high (although still not high enough to lift it out of last place overall).

Numbers like those have forced many older Slovaks to ask themselves what happened to the smoldering desire for democracy that brought an end to Communism 30 years ago.

In November 1989, students and young people were at the forefront of the Velvet Revolution uprising that paved the way for Slovakia to join the European Union in 2004, which it did resoundingly, with some 90% in favour. Does widespread apathy now threaten to erode that progress? 

It is not as though young people in Slovakia don’t support democracy or democratic values. In fact, their support is quite strong. Only 39% of 18- to 34-year-old Slovaks believe that the changes since the end of Communism failed to benefit ordinary people, compared with 70% of people aged 70 and older, according to a Pew Research survey in October. Older Slovaks are often nostalgic for the days when jobs were guaranteed and a strong sense of national solidarity forged automatic social bonds. Slovakia’s young people, however, have never known anything else but a free, capitalist society.

If there is a clear-cut explanation for young people’s lack of engagement with EU politics, experts haven’t found it yet. To some extent, the problems plaguing Slovakia are inseparable from those of the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, which has similarly suffered from low and declining voter turnout. These countries are not founding members of the EU, nor do they wield great influence in it. This leaves many ordinary perople with the impression that their votes in the bloc do not matter.

What can explain why Slovakia’s young voter turnout is so dismal even compared with neighours like the Czech Republic or Hungary? A 2018 paper by two professors at Bratislava’s Comenius University argued that there is a misalignment between Slovak political parties’ national and EU-level policies. That misalignment, the paper suggests, leads to confusion and “cognitive dissonance” that mucks up would-be voters’ views of how their ballots would translate into EU policies. As a result, many don’t show up.

“The positions of parties on many issues are fuzzy both in reality and in the perception of voters,” authors Olga Gyarfasova and Karen Henderson wrote.

Aside from navigating a confusing policy landscape, new voters need to come to grips with a legacy of corruption.

“People feel traumatised,” said Anton Popovič, a composer and former leader of the November 1989 protests in Bratislava. After the transition to democracy, he said, political leaders such as former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar undermined independent institutions and prioritised personal gain. The trust in the government and media buckled, leaving voters feeling shocked and mistrustful. Young voters have never known anything else.

Some young people say that, ironically, there is so much corruption that to vote would be pointless. “I feel like there’s so much corruption…that it doesn’t really matter which party I’m voting for,” said Natália Štefancová, who recently moved from Slovakia to London for work and does not vote in either the national or EU elections.

Still, there is evidence that young people are finally converting their pro-democracy views into action. In February last year, an investigative journalist named Ján Kuciak was murdered, along with his fiancé, on the orders of a businessman, Marián Kočner, who had sought to stop Kuciak from continuing to report stories he found damaging. In the weeks that followed, tens of thousands poured onto the streets of Bratislava in the largest public protests since November 1989 and the public outcry continues to define the tone of the country’s politics.

“Our country experienced some kind of an awakening when many of us realised that democracy here is threatened,” said Veronika Bérešová, who is living in Bratislava.

Magdaléna Vášáryová, an organiser of the November 1989 protests, and later a Czechoslovak and then Slovak ambassador for many years, says she is not worried that young people today are growing apathetic about politics. In an interview this month, she recalled how she knew little about the watershed protests of her parents’ generation — the Prague Spring of 1968 — and yet how that hardly stopped her from joining and leading the Velvet Revolution protests in Slovakia three decades ago.

“It’s normal,” she said. Young people would eventually be drawn in and participate more, especially by voting. Still, in order to do that, she said, it is important to tell stories. “What we desperately need is to create some fairytale, some new story, because only through stories…will people really understand.”

As for Michal Tanáč, the 21-year-old student, he may have chosen not to participate in this year’s European Union elections, but he has vowed not to miss the next round. “Being part of the EU is really important for such a small country, as Slovakia definitely is,” he said.

Four things you never knew massage could do

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Promoting muscle regrowth after injury, helping premature babies become strong enough to leave hospital, improving sleep quality and creating social bonds. The power of massage is far more wide-reaching than you ever imagined, say the experts at Aspria

Most people see massage as a way to ease aching muscles, to unwind and to promote better sleep – but in fact, there are many other reasons to have a massage that you’ve probably never heard of before.

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#1 – Massage can stimulate muscle regrowth

Massage can boost the regrowth of muscle tissue after an injury, by stimulating protein production in cells.

This in itself is an interesting finding, but it gets even more intriguing. According to the US researchers behind this study, if you injure a limb and it cannot be massaged, you can still benefit from this muscle growth phenomenon: they found that when the opposite, uninjured limb was massaged, muscle in the other leg – that is, the injured, non-massaged limb – also grew faster.

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#2 – Massage can boost growth in premature babies

A 2015 study found that twice daily 15-minute massage therapy sessions, over a period of two weeks, significantly increased weight gain, height and head circumference in premature babies. The number of bowel movements also increased, and infants were discharged sooner from hospital.

Indeed, the findings were so significant that the study authors recommended all NICU nurses be trained in massage therapy techniques, so all pre-term infants could be given this treatment.

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#3 – Massage can improve sleep

You’ve probably experienced for yourself how a relaxing massage can promote a great night’s sleep, but there’s research to show particular benefits for specific groups.

Daily massages for full-term newborn babies, by their mothers, has been shown to improve the sleep patterns not only of the infants, but also of their mothers.

Similarly, for autistic children, studies have shown how massages given by parents before bedtime can improve the children’s sleep – they go to sleep faster, stay asleep for longer, and wake less during the night.

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#4 – Massage is medicine

The above are just a handful of the many hundreds of studies reporting the extensive benefits of massage. The list of goes on and on…. lower blood pressure among those with hypertension and pre-hypertension; improved perceptions of self-efficacy among multiple sclerosis patients; reduced labour pain among women giving birth; improved movement in Parkinson’s sufferers; a positive impact on lung function among asthmatic children…

One could even go so far as to say it’s a form of complementary medicine – one that offers an unparalleled range of proven health benefits for the whole of society.

 

The weeks before the first 100 days of President von der Leyen: Dilemmas and troubles of leadership

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went from zero to hero, with her College of Commissioner’s being approved by the European Parliament with 461 votes in favour, 157 votes against, and 89 abstentions. By comparison, Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission received 423 votes in favour, 209 against and 67 abstentions.

Do numbers matter?

No. The dynamics in the European Parliament change. Yet the Parliament cannot be seen as a whole; as a living organism with tendencies; anger, love, or hate for a candidate. It is about the personalities leading their respective bubbles of influence, and the complex ties between each other, the European political parties, their national governments, and their national party leaders.

Von der Leyen, through no fault of her own, found herself in the eye of several storms. The spitzenfiasco – which created tensions even with her own political family, the European People’s party, was only a problem initially, until some leaders of the EPP and heads of state of the Party came to terms with the de facto dissolution of the most democratic step taken for the EU structures since the turn of the millennium.

A side note: It’s fascinating how much Manfred Weber, the Spitzen candidate first elected by the EPP Party members to lead the charge, only to be thrown under the bus post-election, has since the fiasco grown as a politician in terms of his leadership, oratory, and even likeability (not an easy thing to achieve in the cold corridors of Brussels).

Labelling reality

Alongside the Spitzen row which saw von der Leyen edge a majority in Parliament allowing her to continue to the next phase of actually forming the College – came the completely pointless issue of whether the “European Way of Life” portfolio name should be preceded by the word “Protecting”. Working off previously stored anxiety over the inability to push through a candidate of their own, von der Leyen’s political opponents created absolute chaos over the matter.

To be fair – some of the portfolio names of this new European Commission that were presented to the press are somewhat bizarre. Not in terms of their content – but their labels. Just imagining the press conferences of the EU’s representatives for “A stronger Europe in the world”, “An economy that works for People,” and indeed, “Protecting (or indeed Promoting) our European way of life” alongside their counterparts from different countries around the world invokes a puppy head-tilt sort of reaction.

But alas, this was a non-issue. The content of the portfolios is the same no matter what the label in front of the Commissioners reads. And the same goes for the political positions and preferences of the Commissioners. The debate over the label was a fight for headlines, prestige, and millimeters in the tug of war of European Politics. And indeed, von der Leyen strategically conceded some rope, in a contest that had finished before it had even begun.

Picking Commissioners that would make it through the test of the European Parliament was the next obstacle. There, von der Leyen was called upon to make the best choice based on proposals from the member states and her vision for the European Commission. Again, Parliamentarians were eager to make their mark – each one voting for one or several of the possible complex congruence of events explained earlier.

Of Commissioners and commissioners

Were the rejected Commissioners treated fairly? Were they treated equally? Were they indeed the right choice for the job given the other proposed candidates? This no longer matters. And if errors were made, they were made on both sides. The Parliament certainly went too easy on at least two candidates which Kassandra’s view had much more explaining to do. Croatia’s Dubravka Šuica on the one hand should have erred on the side of caution in terms of finances issues – which there might indeed be nothing wrong with, but national press has had a field day with, and even some eagle-eyed colleagues in Brussels who have done some digging. And secondly, Polish Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who was approved by the European Parliament despite having a damning OLAF investigation recommended that he had to return money to the European Parliament that had been unduly paid to him. It is not that Wojciechowski should not have been approved – after all the OLAF investigation did give a not in saying that “No disciplinary or judicial recommendations  have  been  made  concerning Mr Wojciechowski in person,” but that could mean several things -including that they could have an expectation that the “possible abuse of travel and subsistence expenses” would result in a positive outcome if taken to court given the evidence. Not to mention the political chaos this would cause for von der Leyen (always a consideration since she is in fact the ultimate boss of OLAF). But – and it is quite a big BUT – did they treat the not one, but THREE rejected candidates in the same way as everyone else? Conclusions for our readers to make.

Ultimately, the Commission did get the Parliament’s nod of approval and work has already started. Along with the reshuffles came positive surprises, particularly in the face of the Romanian Commissioner, Adina Vălean, who for Romania is figure that shines bright in the heart of Europe. The country is as polarized as ever in its internal politics, and Vălean, though in the fray – has spent her time in Brussels solidifying herself as in international, and not just national player, that always things of the bigger picture when it comes to politics and policies.

Steering the ship

Von der Leyen is ready to hit the ground running. Insiders describe her as a doer that doesn’t trust easily. That will make things incredibly difficult in the short term, having to learn how to manage not only a diverse College of Commissioners, but also the entire Commission administration. Now former President Jean-Claude Juncker was incredibly lucky to have Martin Selmayr who undoubtedly kept the administration in line (in political and practical terms) as much as possible. Von der Leyen will either have to learn to trust, or learn for herself how to steer the ship. Selmayr had been a crew member for many years before stepping into the role of Juncker’s head of cabinet. Von der Leyen does not have the luxury of time, and is not easily yielding on trust, so she will have to find a solution before she is at an impasse, or wearing the captain’s hat on a ship that other people are navigating, sometimes at their own pace and direction.

Some time in the last 20 years, an incoming Commissioner who was coming from a member state with no idea how things actually run inside the Berlaymont, once told Kassandra that, “I will whip my DG into shape and they will all serve at my command. No more will they do things without my approval … or else their heads will roll on the steps of the Berlaymont.” After explaining that the thousands of people in this Commissioner’s Directorate-General were in a building on the other side of town that they would rarely even be visiting – and that the staff is generally not only unfireable, but have so much discretionary power that the Commissioner will just be unable to know where it was exercised, with what rationale and under whose command (if not their own initiative), the Commissioner was in disbelief.

But they all learn, sooner or later. Some lean into it, and some try and take control.

This will be a defining choice for Von der Leyen, that has the potential to not only make or break her Presidency, but the European Union itself.

Rule of law

A final word on the Rule of Law.  The situation in the European Union is tragic. One long hard look at every single member state and you will find rule of law issues – smaller or larger. Kassandra does not want to name and shame, but some are definitely worse than others. And in those countries where things are indeed worse, it is not enough to just put the pressure on the governments who are facilitating these realities – because the truth is, that those really ruling the countries in question – call them oligarchs, mafia, or vested interests – have and will continue outlasting governments as they rise and fall. The only way to handle such situations is to make rules, and to enforce them. And to do that, we need the willingness and determination to hand over even more sovereignty to European bodies that can take charge of such initiatives. Two problems with that are that (a) Citizens need to first be convinced that the EU is not part of the system, selectively picking and choosing what interests to go up against. Because dethroning one oligarch for another (even if they are slightly better) is not the same thing as fixing a problem. And (b) EU Heads of state have to believe in von der Leyen (or any future President) enough to be willing to sacrifice current equilibria for the chaos and disruption that will lead to the eventual greater good.

Blades of Glory: Denmark to repower Middelgrunden offshore windfarm

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark – The blades of the 20 turbines of the Middelgrunden offshore windfarm, off the coast of Copenhagen, rotated slowly as the boat ‘Langø’ circled around the long line of massive shafts with the Copenhagen harbour and the bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden outlined in the far distance.

While the Middelgrunden windfarm is no longer considered big compared to the new windfarms in Denmark and around the world, it is one of the first offshore windfarms and the world’s largest when it was first inaugurated in 2000-2001. It has a capacity of 40 MW and the park consists of 20 Bonus turbines each with a power of 2 MW.

The Middelgrunden windfarm provides 3% of the electricity consumption of Copenhagen. Ten of the wind turbines are owned by the energy company Hofor and the remaining ten belong to a co-operative that offers Copenhagen citizens a share of the turbines.

“We’re looking to repower the farm. We’re also looking at new developments,” Gordon Pedersen, technical project director offshore wind at Hofor, told New Europe on the boat on November 27 with the blades rotating in the background under the cloudy Danish sky. “It was built in 2000 and it has now been operating for nearly 20 years,” he said, adding that the Hofor, which is the windfarm’s new owner, plans to repower the windfarm to generate more electricity.

“In Denmark we have something like 42% of our energy production is covered by offshore wind. But this wind farm is providing something like 9 KW a year so it’s not a huge production. It’s nothing compared to the bigger wind farms,” Pedersen said. “This one is the only one we have in operation right now but we’re developing wind farms,” he added.

“Our company, we want to produce as much green energy that is produced in Copenhagen and greater Copenhagen. Because Copenhagen wants to be carbon dioxide (CO2) neutral so Copenhagen wants to establish as much green generation as consumed in the greater Copenhagen area,” the Hofor technical director said on in the cold Danish morning.

Hofor’s plans to increase its production of green energy in Denmark, which is a forerunner in offshore wind energy, come as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whose College of Commissioners was officially endorsed by the Parliament on November 27, is about to unveil her first landmark climate policy package.

The plans are also in line with a new report from WindEurope, which was released in Copenhagen on November 26, showing that the European Commission’s big goals for offshore wind – between 230 and 450 GW by 2050 – are achievable provided the right investments in electricity grids and governments take the right approach to maritime spatial planning.

According to WindEurope, the report is a remit from the Energy Ministers of the 10 ‘North Seas’ countries who coordinate their work on offshore wind with each other and the Commission. The report examines where 450 GW of offshore wind could be deployed most cost-effectively around Europe, bearing in mind there is only 20 GW today. 450 GW of offshore wind is part of a European Commission scenario to deliver climate neutrality by 2050.

The report concludes that 212 GW should be deployed in the North Sea, 85 GW in the Atlantic, including the Irish Sea, 83 GW in the Baltic, and 70 GW in the Mediterranean and other Southern European waters. This reflects the relative wind resources, proximity to energy demand and the location of the supply chain.

Meanwhile, a new report from the European Technology & Innovation Platform on Wind Energy (ETIPWind), released on 27 November in Copenhagen, said targeted Research & Innovation is needed to accelerate the large-scale deployment of cost-competitive wind energy and support the existing European supply chains.

According to the ETIPWind report, Europe needs a rapid scale up of wind energy to help keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and deliver on its Paris Climate Agreement commitments. To deliver on its Climate and Energy objectives, Europe needs strong industrial policies and research programmes to further improve wind energy technology and continue to drive down costs.

Targeted support in Research & Innovation will also strengthen supply chains, create local jobs and boost the global leadership of the European wind industry, the report said, adding that by 2050, wind could supply 50% of Europe’s electricity and be the engine of the incoming EU Commission’s Green Deal.

Back on the Langø’ boat off the coast of Copenhagen, Pedersen stressed that the future looks green, saying: “We will have to build nearshore and build farshore.”

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European Commissioner slams Turkey’s internet censorship

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epa04710123 Turkish protestors shouts slogans against censorship during a demonstration in Istanbul, Turley, 18 April 2015. On banner write: 'Let gather against censorship'. The Istanbul Film Festival was forced on 13 April to cancel more than 20 screenings, three key awards and the closing ceremony after the screening of a Kurdish documentary was banned, prompting many Turkish artists to pull their own films in protest. EPA/SEDAT SUNA

Turkey’s continued block of the internet is both unacceptable and a violation of the democratic principles of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects freedom of speech, according to the Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunia Miyatovic.

In observations submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, Miyatovic said Turkey’s denying users access to certain sites is part of a broader pattern to restrict the rights of Turkish citizens to information on the internet. This, according to Miyatovic, “proves a heavy-handed approach by the authorities to block content or information that the Turkish authorities consider offensive.”

The Turkish government has introduced tight regulations of the country’s Internet, blocking hundreds of thousands of sites and domains that criticise the ruling AK Party and the country’s long-time ruler, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including widely used resources such as Wikipedia and YouTube.

“The systemic nature of the problem requires far-reaching measures, including the complete overhaul of the relevant Turkish legislation,” writes the Commissioner.

Meanwhile, Washington-based NGO Freedom House, in a report published earlier this month listed Turkey as one of the most “unfree” countries in the world in terms of internet freedom. The report also says that censorship of the Internet and the blocking of websites in Turkey went beyond what is necessary for a democratic society.

Ankara has repeatedly tried to restrict access to various news websites and social networks, such as YouTube and Twitter, during times of political stress or simply to block content that the Erdogan regime considers offensive.

Facebook’s only Dutch fact-checking partner quits over political advertising policies

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epa07713904 (FILE) - A shadow of a person using smartphone is cast on wall at the Facebook pop-up store in Cologne, Germany, 16 November 2018 with text on glas window reading 'Meet facebook. You ask. We answer' (reissued 13 July 2019). According to reports, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved a five billion US dollars fine on Facebook in a vote. The fine shall settle an investigation into data privacy violations connected to consulting company Cambridge Analytica who had obtained private data of more than 50 million Facebook users. EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH

A partnership between Facebook and the only Netherlands-based fact-checker, Nu.nl, has stopped checking for possible fake news on Facebook, ending a two-and-a-half-year partnership with the social media giant.

“What is the point of fighting fake news if you are not allowed to tackle politicians?” NU.nl’s editor-in-chief Gert-Jaap Hoekman said in a blog post and added, “Let one thing be clear – we stand behind the content of our fact checks.”

The problem began when NU.nl called the advertising of Dutch politician Esther de Lange false, saying that they could not find evidence that the content of the advertisement was based on facts.

In May this year, de Lange wanted to run an advertisement on Facebook stating that 10% of the farmland in Romania belongs to non-Europeans, but fact-checkers could not verify this statement and decided to tag it as unsubstantiated.

“Fighting disinformation takes a multi-pronged approach from across the industry. We are committed to fighting this through many tactics, and the work that third-party fact-checkers do is a valued and important piece of this effort. We have strong relationships with 55 fact-checking partners around the world in 45 languages. We plan to continue expanding the programme in Europe and hopefully in the Netherlands,” Facebook’s statement said following NU.nl’s announcement.

NU.nl became the only Facebook fact-checker in the Netherlands after another group, Leiden University, left last year. The site was only responsible for flagging news content posted on Facebook and Instagram for Dutch users as false or misleading to help social media tools that suppress the spread of disinformation. Facebook did not budge from its position.

Facebook first announced plans to combat disinformation after the 2016 US presidential election and has called for third parties to help with the effort.

Greece champions EU Enlargement in the Western Balkans

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epa08026314 Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias (L) and his North Macedonia's counterpart Nikola Dimitrov (R) hold a joint press conference in Skopje, North Macedonia, 26 November 2019. Dendias is on a one-day official visit to North Macedonia. EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI

As a consequence of French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision in October to call for a temporary hold on EU accession discussions for Albania and North Macedonia, Greece has been able to claim a new role in regard to two of its northern neighbours, one of public advocate. Accordingly, while in Skopje on November 26, Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias was able to reiterate Greece’s full support for the EU accession prospects of North Macedonia.

Dendias emphasised that this depends on Skopje implementing important reforms and on an alignment with the European acquis during eventual accession negotiations.
“I share North Macedonia’s disappointment about the 28 EU member states not reaching a positive decision on starting accession negotiations,” Dendias said and added that “on our part, we have done all we could towards reaching a positive decision on this issue, in coordination with our EU partners.”

He added, “we have a joint future if we act in good faith. Greece supports the EU accession of North Macedonia and other Western Balkan countries. This is our common goal. Starting talks will be a significant step forward, and it’s one of Greece’s main goals.”

Dendias revealed that he invited both his Albanian and North Macedonian counterparts to a working breakfast with EU foreign ministers’ on December 9.

The bottom line is that Greece is once again in a position to advocate EU accession for its neighbours while quietly blaming other member states for any procedural or policy delays, a situation similar to one Greece once faced regarding Turkey’s (potential) EU accession, a process likely delayed for decades by opposition from key EU member states.

Bilateral concerns

Briefly visiting Skopje on November 26 and meeting with Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, Dendias noted that relations with North Macedonia had “dramatically improved” since the Prespes Agreement was signed in June 2018, ending a decades-old dispute between the two neighbours. Dendias added that “some issues” of the controversial deal ratified earlier this year, such as an agreement on trademarks, needed to be dealt with as soon as possible, and explained that Greece was focused on ensuring full implementation of the details of the agreement. Operational level meetings on trademark issues and on the opening of new border crossings are planned to start shortly.

In response, Dimitrov said that he also saw the need for full implementation of the terms of the Prespes Agreement and went on to refer to Greece as a “strategic partner, neighbour and friend” of North Macedonia, noting that both countries must take advantage of the new possibilities opened up by the accord.

When asked about the April 2020 national elections in North Macedonia having a potentially negative impact on the Prespes Agreement, Dimitrov said it must be implemented despite any and all elections, as it had become part of his country’s legal system and accordingly could not be challenged by anyone in North Macedonia.

While in Skopje Foreign Minister Dendias also met with North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

Earthquake diplomacy and Washington’s eye

Dendias left Skopje hurriedly to stop briefly in Albania, expressing sympathy for the earthquake victims and helping to initiate a now massive Greek contribution to the international earthquake relief effort. Dendias visited Durres, near Tirana and close to the quake’s epicentre, the same day that the city had been hit with a 6.4 Richter tremblor.

Washington is surety watching these interactions. It is still unknown whether President Donald J. Trump will reschedule his postponed September meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, but Greece’s positive engagement with its neighbours should increase the possibility that this will happen soon.

Turkey, Libya delimitation deal raises geopolitical tensions

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epa07660175 A worker walks in front of the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz at Dilovasi port in city of Kocaeli, Turkey, 20 June 2019. Turkey's second drilling ship will operate off the Karpas Peninsula to the northeast of the island of Cyprus. Yavuz will be determined by geology and geophysics studies of the vessel and it will take place at a depth of approximately 1,000 meters on the seabed and some 3,000 meters of drilling will be made, Bilgin said, adding that the ship will move to its second location once the first drill is completed. EPA-EFE/ERDEM SAHIN

Turkey has signed an agreement with Libya’s internationally recognised government on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea that could affect oil and gas exploration of other countries and heighten geopolitical tensions in the volatile region.

Ankara reportedly announced the accord and a deal on expanded security and military cooperation on 28 November.

Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on 29 November that the immediate impact of the Libya-Turkey agreement is on the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Greece and Egypt.

Both Greece and Egypt, but also Cyprus, have already strongly condemned this as not being in agreement with international law, blatantly ignoring the rights of islands. Cairo dismissed the deal between Ankara and Tripoli as “illegal” and Athens said the accord is “completely unacceptable” because it ignored the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya and summoned Turkish Ambassador Burak Ozugergin to the Greek Foreign Ministry, Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper reported.

Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry on 29 November also condemned the deal. “Such a delimitation, if done, would constitute a serious violation of international law,” an announcement said, CyprusMail reported. “It would be contrary to the recognised principle of the convention on the law of the sea and the rights of islands’ EEZ,” it added. “With the distortion of the law of the sea and the counterfeiting of geography – Turkey will gain no footing in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it concluded.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed that with the memorandum of understanding on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions Turkey is protecting “rights deriving from international law.” Reuters quoted him as saying that such accords could be agreed with other countries if differences could be overcome and that Ankara was in favour of “fair sharing” of resources, including off Cyprus.

Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on 29 November Turkey’s illegal acts do not have legal repercussions. “Ankara’s attempt to agree with an unstable regime, which represents only part of Libya and therefore any deal it signs is uncertain, is a result of its isolation particularly from energy developments. Given that Turkey cannot agree with any other regional actor not only in the delimitation of the continental shelve or EEZ but also on how to stabilize the region and make it prosperous, it is left with no option but to approach a semi-rogue regime in order to showcase its regional power,” he said, adding that the message it wants to send is that any agreement or plan, including energy projects, cannot be fulfilled without Ankara’s consent.

Ellinas said the Libya-Turkey agreement indirectly affects Cyprus as well, as Turkey uses the same justification to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Mediterranean. “In effect, this ignores the entitlement of islands, including Cyprus and Crete, to an EEZ. Turkey defines its ‘EEZ’ to be coextensive with its continental shelf, based the relative lengths of adjacent coastlines, which completely disadvantages islands. It is a ‘unique’ interpretation not shared by any other country and not in accordance to the United Nations UNCLOS treaty, ratified by 167 countries but not Turkey,” Ellinas said.

He argued that Ankara appears to be picking and choosing, as it has used UNLOS principles to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Black Sea but does not accept them in the Mediterranean. “That may be challengeable under customary international law,” the Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO said.

“In all likelihood Turkey is doing this, as well as through its aggressive actions in carrying out exploration and drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, in order to establish a position of strength from which eventually to enter into negotiations. But also as a reaction to the growing cooperation among almost all the other countries bordering the East Med. Turkey’s claims have no internationally recognised legal basis,” Ellinas said.

According to Filis, it is not clear whether there is an agreement – rather, it seems to be a preliminary step of expressing their intention to sign an agreement in the future. “But the most dangerous repercussion might be Turkey’s attempt to use it as a basis for projecting its supposed sovereign right to proceed with seismic activities in the area between Rhodes and Crete, especially in the southeastern part of the matter, thus confirming its strategic interest for the triangle between Crete, Kastellorizo and Cyprus,” he said.

Asked what could be the US and EU reaction to this agreement and how does it affect geopolitics in the region, Ellinas said both Washington and Brussels, and all other neighbouring countries in the East Med, recognise Cyprus’ and other countries’ rights to their EEZs declared in accordance to UNCLOS. He explained that as UNCLOS is not legally enforceable against a state that declines to sign and ratify it, the way to resolve this may eventually be through negotiations or arbitration on the basis of internationally recognised law and not through aggressive actions as Turkey is now pursuing.

China helps Kazakhstan build solar and wind power plants

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epa07048410 Solar panels are seen at the rooftop of Longi Silicon company in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, China, 26 September 2018. Longi is the manufacturer of mono-crystalline silicon wafer, which is the main part used to assemble solar panels. It is producing now 60 percent of the world's mono-crystalline silicon wafer, according to the company, and exports to the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India. EPA-EFE/ROMAN PILIPEY

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – China has help implement two renewable energy projects in the Almaty region, southern Kazakhstan – the construction of a 5 MW wind farm and a 1 MW solar power station (SES), the Kazakh Energy Ministry said on 29 November.

Following an agreement between the two countries in 2011, the Chinese side donated new equipment for the construction of the wind park and solar park at no cost, the energy ministry said.

The general contractor for the projects was CITIC Construction, which is one of China’s largest state-owned investment corporations in the field of green energy.

The 5 MW wind farm consists of two wind power plants with a capacity of 2.5 MW each. Construction was carried out from March to November 2018. The projected electricity generation is 17 million kWh per year.

The solar power station is located in the territory of the special economic zone Park of Innovative Technologies in Almaty. Electricity is produced by poly- and single-crystal photoelectric modules. Construction was carried out from December 2017 to October 2018. The projected electricity generation is 1.4 million kW/h per year.

“Today, the stations are in test mode. The Government of Kazakhstan decided to transfer solar energy and wind power equipment to Samruk-Kazyna,” the ministry said.

Samruk-Energy is the largest electric power holding in Kazakhstan, 100% of its shares are owned by Samruk-Kazyna, which was established in 2007.

 

 

 

Germany proposes automatic relocation scheme for asylum seekers

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epa07981316 German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and nominated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany, 08 November 2019. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and nominated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met for bilateral talks. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN

Germany has proposed an automatic relocation scheme for asylum seekers, after repeated calls for reforming EU’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

The German proposal is more of a consulting document than an official plan and suggests that asylum applications be examined at EU’s external borders. The distribution of asylum seekers to member-states will be made by EASO, EU’s agency for asylum, on the basis of “fair share”, considering each country’s its population and GDP.

Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister from the Christian Democratic Party had proposed on October that asylum applicants undergo initial assessment at Europe’s external borders and be returned to their countries of origin from there. Seehofer also supported that only asylum seekers with prospects of receiving protection in Europe should be distributed among the group of “willing” EU countries, while measures should be taken to prevent “secondary movements”, meaning to stop asylum seekers moving illegally from one country to another.

Seehofer will present Germany’s plan on Monday and within the week, meetings will be held in Berlin with EU member countries.

Germany was among the countries considering an automatic relocation system for asylum seekers, citing the disproportion of responsibility among EU member states. EU’s previous attempts to impose mandatory quotas of refugees had six countries, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, and Italy citing the Commission’s incompliance with the principle of subsidiarity.

President Emmanuel Macron had announced on July, after the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Helsinki and EU’s “failure” to agree on a common framework, that 14 countries had agreed to participate in an automatic relocation scheme that would replace the EU compulsory relocation mechanism. Yet, only six of them had an active role; the Franco-German duet, Luxembourg, Portugal, Finland, Lithuania, Ireland and Croatia.

EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen is expected to present her migration package in February, while Germany is already preparing for taking over the EU council Presidency in the second half of 2020.

 

Issue 1313: An alliance at odds with itself (Print Edition)

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EU body calls for better cohesion policy to stop brain drain

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epa03062439 Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc makes his first official statement after the previous night violent clashes, at the Government headquarters in Bucharest, Romania, 16 January 2012. Thousands of Romanians gathered on 15 January in Bucharest and large cities across the country for a fourth consecutive day of protests that started out against a controversial health-care reform bill and widened to government austerity measures demonstrations. The protests follow several unpopular measures taken by the government over the past two years. 60 people were injured, from which 10 were riot-policemen, while 283 protesters are being detained by the police, few private stores and the window-shop of a bank have been destroyed along with other public infrastructure damages. EPA/STR

The SEDEC Commission of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) adopted on 27 November an opinion by Emil Boc, mayor of the Romanian city Cluj-Napoca and former prime minister of the country.

In his opinion, Boc stresses the need to address the challenge of “brain drain“, or the emigration of highly qualified people to a more developed country. He explains that one out of four high-skilled workers has left his country, and urges the Union to address the social and economic imbalances between its regions.

Boc warns, that unless addressed at all levels, “the phenomenon will have long-term and permanent effects” on the future of the EU. He, therefore, says that cites and regions should form alliances with all stakeholders, including businesses, universities and NGOs, to implement local policies that would help stop brain drain.

A strong cohesion policy means investing in education, employment, innovation and social inclusion in all EU regions, Boc concludes.

The opinion was adopted by SEDEC, the CoR’s commission for social policy, employment, education, research and culture, chaired by Tanya Hristova, mayor of the Bulgarian city Gabrovo. It will be adopted at the plenary session in February.

New EU defence initiatives presented at high-level event

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epa07720390 Chief Executive European Defence Agency, Jorge Domecq, talks to journalists during a press conference after a meeting with Portugal's Minister of Defense, Joao Gomes Cravinho (not pictured), at Defense Ministry, in Lisbon, Portugal, 16 July 2019. EPA-EFE/MARIO CRUZ

The European Defence Agency’s Annual 2019 Conference entitled “Taking European Defence Cooperation to the Next Level – Prospects for the decade ahead” took place on 28 November in Brussels.

400 representatives from the European defence spectrum, such as governments, armed forces, industry, EU institutions, NATO and think tanks attended the conference devoted to debating the current state and the future prospects of the new EU defence initiatives.

The agency’s outgoing head, Federica Mogherini, opened the event, highlighting the agency’s “unique position to contribute to coherence among the various initiatives”, and praising its “strengthening cooperation with NATO”.

A strategic debate on the future of European defence was held, featuring Luxembourg’s, Portugal’s and Austria’s defence ministers. On the technical level, they stressed the need to smoothen the workflow between the EU’s defence cooperation tools: the Capability Development Plan (CDP), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF). On the political level, they agreed on the need to develop a common European defence policy, which goes beyond national interests.

The event was closed with the speech of the agency’s chief executive, Jorge Domecq, who singled out the key conclusions which could serve to a joint European defence planning framework.

EU, Hong Kong discuss ways to deepen partnership

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epaselect epa08030113 An officer from a bomb disposal unit searches the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, China, 28 November 2019. Police and firefighters entered the besieged university to remove dangerous items on 28 November. Hong Kong is in its sixth month of mass protests, which were originally triggered by a now withdrawn extradition bill, and have since turned into a wider pro-democracy movement. EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE

The European Union’s diplomatic and foreign affairs representatives visited Hong Kong on 28 November, for their 13th annual Structured Dialogue, aiming to deepen EU-Hong Kong cooperation.

The visit comes amid the violent protests in Hong Kong and EU’s repeated calls for restraint and for the need to uphold the rule of law.

“True friends stand by each other at difficult times, and Hong Kong can count on the EU in this regard”, said Gunnar Wiegand, managing director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service.

During the meeting, both sides discussed subjects of mutual interest, such as their trade and investment partnership, tackling human trafficking, the EU-Hong Kong Action Plan against counterfeiting, and best practices to promote circular economy.

“We particularly treasure our strong and longstanding connections with the EU. We look forward to working even more closely with the EU in further strengthening our ties on all spectrum of our bilateral relationship”, said Vivian Sum, deputy secretary for commerce and industry of Hong Kong.

European farmers to be refunded €467mn from EU crisis reserve

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epa04367584 Farmers and helpers harvest tomatoes at the Grzegorz Tokarski farm in Gorne, eastern Poland, 25 August 2014. Tomatoes will go directly to the processing plant. The tomato harvest will last until October. EPA/WOJCIECH PACEWICZ POLAND OUT

The European Commission announced on 27 November a compensation of €467 million to European farmers. The money was dedicated to this year’s agricultural crisis reserve. It was originally deducted from the 2019 budget for farmers’ support under the common agricultural policy.

The crisis reserve mechanism was first applied in 2014. This summer, additional measures were used to help farmers affected by extreme weather, and the crisis reserve for 2019 was not needed.

The EU provides farmers with income support or “direct payments” based on their farm’s size in hectares. The decision means that the amounts deducted from direct payments this year may be reimbursed to farmers by member states as from 1 December.

Juncker Plan to improve Malta’s broadband connection

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epa07486332 Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries gives a press conference on the environmental implementation report and Brexit preparedness in the area of environment and fisheries at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 05 April 2019. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The European Investment Bank and the Maltese telecommunications company GO p.l.c. have signed a €28 million loan on 28 November. The loan is backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments, the financial pillar of the Juncker Plan.

The three-year project will support GO’s investments in telecommunication infrastructure, aiming to improve its customer experience. GO will also use the loan to establish a fixed line and mobile very-high-capacity network throughout Malta, as well as to roll out its Fibre-to-the-Home network to cover more than 70.000 additional households.

This is the first direct EIB loan that Malta has received under the Juncker Plan. EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella encouraged more Maltese companies “to take advantage of the financial support offered both under the Juncker Plan and the future InvestEU Programme as of 2021”. By 2022, the Juncker Plan will have increased EU GDP by 1.8% and added 1.7 million jobs.

Salvini renews attack on the Italian government over ESM reform

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epa08012108 Italian League Party leader Matteo Salvini attends the presentation of the book 'Perche' l'Italia divento' fascista (e perche' il fascismo non puo' tornare), by Italian journalist Bruno Vespa, in Rome, Italy, 20 November 2019. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI

Addressing the Italian parliament on Thursday, Italy’s League leader Matteo Salvini accused prime minister Giuseppe Conte of “an attack against the Italian people.”

Salvini is accusing Conte of failing to stop the reform of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Lega’s shadow Economy Minister, Claudio Borghi, has warned prime minister Conte to that the opposition will sue him if he does not go to parliament and take questions from the opposition on the subject of the ESM reform.

The EU is expected to sign off in December a reform that mandates the bailout fund to demand debt restructuring as a condition of financial assistance.

Italy’s two-trillion-euro sovereign debt – 138% of GDP – means the country is more vulnerable to market pressure. That means that sovereign bond rates could rise as the market needs to factor in the increased possibility of a so-called “haircut” of the Italian sovereign debt.

Conte has repeatedly dismissed the accusations of the leader of the opposition, recalling that Salvini did not oppose the ESM reform in June, while Lega was the junior coalition partner in government.

On Wednesday Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri pointed to the fact that the reform allows for the direct bailout of lenders by the ESM, which is a success for Italy.

In any event, Gualtieri added, the EU was likely to postpone the ESM reform until February, although he does not expect any amendments to the submitted plan.

IFS brands Labour and Conservative economic programs unreliable

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epa07985864 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (L) at the Cenotaph on Whitehall during the Remembrance Sunday day service in London, Britain, 10 November 2019. Britain is remembering its war dead on the 101st anniversary since the end of the first world war. EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour are offering “credible” spending plans, according to a fact-checking report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The IFS also called the Liberal program “radical” although more restrained.

Ahead of the December 12 general election in Britain, the IFS projects that both parties are likely to spend more money than they have promised.

Labour is promising to renationalise rail, mail, water and energy, as well as give a 5% pay increase to public sector workers. The IFS estimates that a Labour government would require “much higher” additional tax revenue than the £80bn a year budgeted. That kind of revenue cannot only come from the top 5% earners. Perhaps as significantly, the IFS says that the objective to abolish poverty for people in work within five years was not achievable.

The Conservatives have pledged to postpone a scheduled corporation tax cut – from 19% to 17% – to increase spending on public services. Altogether, the Conservative plan for healthcare spending would still leave NHS spending 14% lower in 2023/24 than it was in 2010/11.

At the same time, they have pledged money for social care without accounting for additional revenue.

Turkey accuses France of sponsoring terrorism

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epa08030555 A handout photo made available by the Turkish Foreign Ministry press office shows Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at a press conference after a meeting with Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Mesrur Barzani in Ankara, Turkey, 28 November 2019. EPA-EFE/TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTRY PRESS OFFICE / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday of being a “sponsor of terrorism.”

Macron “is already the sponsor of the terrorist organisation and constantly hosts them at the Elysee,” Cavusoglu said.

Last month Macron angered Turkey by hosting the spokeswoman of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Jihane Ahmed, an organisation Turkey regards as a wing of the PKK. Macron said the meeting was a sign of solidarity with the SDF in the eve of the Turkish offensive in Syria.

Turkey on Oct. 9 launched the “Operation Peace Spring” targeting Kurdish forces in Northern Syria with the stated objective of creating a safe zone in which to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

In an interview with The Economist three weeks ago, Macron called NATO “brain dead.” On Thursday, he reiterated that he stands by his statement, pointing to the fact that the alliance is no longer able to cooperate in a number of issues.