Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

Merkel sends positive signal to May on Brexit talks

October 20, 2017


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a markedly positive response on Friday to an EU summit appeal by Prime Minister Theresa May for help with Brexit, said talks with Britain were moving forward and were unlikely to break down.

Macron, May and Merkel

May shares a joke with Macron and Merkel on Day 1 (Thursday)

Merkel made her comments at the end of the first day of a European Union summit and after May had appealed to her fellow leaders to help her silence critics at home and break a deadlock in the talks.

“In contrast to how it is portrayed in the British press, my impression is that these talks are moving forward step by step,” Merkel told a late-night news conference, dismissing as “absurd” suggestions in Britain that the talks should be broken off.

“I have absolutely no doubts that if we are all focused … that we can get a good result. From my side there are no indications at all that we won’t succeed,” she said.

Arriving for the second day, others emphasized the positive too: Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called May’s speech her “best performance yet” and “a warm, candid and sincere appeal”. Ireland’s Leo Varadkar said it was “very strong”.

But others complained they had heard little new of substance and rejected May’s repetition of London’s view that demands for money from Brussels have “no legal framework”. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said “rhetorical progress” needed to be followed by “tangible conclusions”.

After May leaves the summit on Friday, the other 27 leaders are expected to rule that there has not been sufficient progress to push the talks forward but will call on their staff to prepare for talks on a transition period that would smooth Britain’s exit in 2019.

May made no comment as she arrived for a breakfast meeting with summit chair Donald Tusk. Near midnight, speaking at the end of a dinner of butternut squash gnocchi and pheasant, she had sought to calm fears Britain would use its departure in March 2019 to undercut the EU economy by lowering standards.

She appealed to EU leaders to respond in kind to her efforts to break the Brexit stalemate, making clear she was disappointed at their plan to announce on Friday that talks have not yet made enough progress to move on to a discussion of future trade ties.

The EU is seeking a clearer commitment from Britain that it will settle financial obligations linked to its exit. Leaders will on Friday set a target of December for London to improve its divorce settlement offer.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and European Council President Donald Tusk pose before a bilateral meeting at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Olivier Hoslet/Pool

But they will also make a gesture by launching internal preparations for the next phase of the negotiations.


In choreography that contrasted with images of May standing isolated in Brussels at previous summits, Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were filmed by television cameras engaging the British prime minister in an animated conversation at the start of the summit.

Merkel said the three had been discussing the need to safeguard the Iran nuclear deal after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last week to “decertify” it.

It was a response May was looking for after explaining over dinner the “difficult political background” she faces if she returns home empty-handed and how she had worked hard to get the talks back on track after realizing their perilous state at the end of the summer.

“I took stock, listened to what the people in the UK were saying and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying and I made a step forward,” she was quoted as saying by a British official, referring to a speech she made in Florence on Sept. 22.

There was no discussion after May spoke, according to an EU diplomat. Tusk said only that the leaders took note of her comments.

Weakened after losing her Conservatives’ majority in a June election and by failing to rally support at a party conference, May needs to keep the talks on the road to silence the voices calling for her to walk away from the negotiations.

Unwilling now to increase her offer on the divorce bill, May instead proposed more moves to protect the rights of EU citizens in Britain — one of three issues the bloc says must be settled before moving to discuss a future trading relationship.

“There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” May told the other leaders, according to the British official.

Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Jan Strupczewski and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Catherine Evans


 (Day 1)

See also:

EU SUMMIT 2017: Theresa May faces Tusk as Juncker says there will be NO Brexit ‘miracle’

May and Tusk have met for a 15 minute meeting EP

May and Tusk have met for a 15 minute meeting

Angela Merkel EBS

Merkel arrives in Brussels for the second day of talks


Theresa May at European Council admits for the first time that Brexit negotiations have been in ‘difficulty’ — Angela Merkel says the UK has not done enough

October 20, 2017

PM makes urgent plea to leaders over dinner

By Jon Stone Brussels
The Independent


Theresa May has admitted for the first time that Brexit negotiations have hit “difficulty” as she beseeched European leaders to give her a deal she can sell to the British people.

The Prime Minister explicitly conceded last night that talks were in trouble ahead of her key intervention in Florence two weeks ago, prompting her to try and get negotiations back on track.

She told Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders that there is now the “urgent” need for progress with the threat of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal looming.

Speaking on Thursday evening at a working dinner with other heads of government in Brussels, Ms May said that at the end of the summer she “recognised the difficulty the process was in”.

“I took stock, listened to what the people in the UK were saying, and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying, and I made a step forward,” she said.

 Image result for Theresa May ,, october 20, 2017, photos

“There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” she said, adding that when the 27 remaining member states convene tomorrow to discuss Brexit in private “the clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together”.

The PM and world leaders dined on gnocchi and pheasant supreme at the dinner, followed by fresh pineapple.

European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier has repeatedly said he is “worried” about “deadlock” in negotiations, but the line from the UK government has always been significantly more optimistic, stressing “concrete progress”.

The PM’s intervention comes as the European Council appears set to refuse to allow the UK to move to trade and future relationship talks – which it has said can only start once “sufficient progress” has been made on settling the divorce bill, Northern Ireland border, and EU citizens’ rights.

The 27 remaining EU leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss Brexit without Ms May, whose address to dinner was not followed by any discussion or debate.

Theresa May: No Brexit breakthrough on the cards

They are expected to tell Britain to come back in December once more progress has been made for another assessment of whether it is ready for trade talks.

Senior UK government officials also admitted that the prime minister was “working against a difficult political backdrop” at home – an apparent reference to Tory MPs who were pushing her for a no deal.

Arriving at the summit on Thursday Angela Merkel said she believed there were “encouraging” signs that sufficient progress could be made in December. Ms May said the summit was a time to take stock of the progress that had been made in talks so far.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte however told reporters in Brussels that Ms May had to “come up with more clarity on what she means by ‘other commitments’ in her Florence speech”.

“I phoned her last week, and tried to encourage her to do that and so far she hasn‘t,” he said.

Image result for Theresa May ,, october 20, 2017, photos

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson told journalists in Brussels: “The Florence speech intended to create momentum and we achieved that. In all our talks with EU leaders they have been responsive and we hope that will continue.”

Other issues such as forest fires and migration have dominated the first day of European Council discussions, with Britain’s departure not even getting a mention in the first press conference between Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk after hours of talks.

See also:

Theresa May calls for new dynamic for Brexit deal – but Angela Merkel says it’s ‘still not enough’


The Prime Minister has played down hopes of a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations as she arrives at this week’s European Council summit.

On her way into the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels on Thursday the Prime Minister said the summit was an opportunity to “take stock” of progress in talks.

The Independent confirmed yesterday that the PM would have no opportunity for a direct dialogue with EU leaders about leaving the EU at the summit – sticking to the strict framework of negotiations.

The PM said she would be setting out “ambitious plans” for further negotiations in the weeks ahead, and said she wanted to inject a new “urgency” into discussions on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens living in the UK and Britons on the continent.

It had previously been hoped that the UK would be judged to have made “sufficient progress” in Brexit talks at the summit, so that negotiations could move to trade and transition. The latest indications are that this next phase has been delayed until at least December, however.

The two-day European Council summit comes as Ms May spoke directly to the estimated three million European Union citizens living in Britain, to tell them that she wants them to be able to stay after Brexit and that a deal on their rights are “in touching distance”

Britain’s hopes of getting the green light for trade talks at the European Council meeting in Brussels were dash after a series of top EU figures came out against them. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Council President Donald Tusk, European Parliament Brexit Chief Guy Verhofstadt, and European Parliament president Antonio Tajani also said talks had not reached a mature enough stage.

But Ms May is hoping to persuade the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to at least agree to begin discussions among themselves on the transition to Brexit and the future trade relationship. She will address them in an after-dinner speech on Thursday evening but there will be no discussion or reply from the leaders, a spokesperson for the European Council presidency confirmed.

The other 27 EU leaders will then discuss Brexit in full without Ms May on Friday – sticking to the strict protocol of only conducting negotiations within the framework agreed by the Council.

Arriving in Brussels, Ms May said: “This Council is about taking stock. It is also about looking ahead to how we can tackle the challenges that we all share across Europe.

Corbyn Beats May to Brussels, Getting His Brexit Pitch in First

October 19, 2017


By Thomas Penny and Nikos Chrysoloras

Follow @Brexit for all the latest news, and sign up to our daily Brexit Bulletin newsletter.

Introduced as the next prime minister of the U.K., Jeremy Corbyn received a standing ovation from European Socialists in Brussels, hours before the actual head of government could make her case to fellow leaders.

In a piece of political theater that aims to undermine Theresa May at a key European summit, the leader of the Labour Party hammered away at the theme that she should get out of the way and let him lead talks with the European Union.

Jeremy Corbyn in Brussels on Oct. 19.

Photographer: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

“As the government’s splits and Brexit bungling become ever more damaging, Labour stands ready to take up responsibility for the Brexit negotiations,” Corbyn said. “We are clear in our priorities: a jobs-first Brexit which maintains free access to the single market.”

He went further: “I am unapologetic in taking every opportunity to seek to influence the final Brexit deal in the interests of the many, not just the few.”

Still, when Corbyn said he was going to respect the results of the Brexit referendum, he was met with complete silence.

— With assistance by John Follain


No Brexit Deal Would Be A Disaster


British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Thursday that failing to reach a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for industry, as London’s divorce negotiations with the European Union teeter on the brink.

Corbyn, in Brussels to meet fellow left-wing European politicians on the sidelines of a crucial EU summit focused on Brexit, told Britain’s Sky News he had come to the heart of Europe to “make sure that negotiations get on track”.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to plead with the other 27 EU leaders at a dinner on Thursday to unlock the second phase of negotiations about Britain’s future relationship with the bloc — and crucially the issue of trade.

As May fights growing rebellions in her Conservative Party and increasing frustration from Brussels about the lack of progress in Brexit talks, Labour Party leader Corbyn said May had “managed to upset just about everybody”.

“It is up to her to get the negotiations back on track. We cannot countenance the idea that we just rush headlong into no deal with Europe,” Corbyn said.

“It would be catastrophic for manufacturing industry jobs and we would have real problems all through the economy.”

The other EU nations are set to say that not enough progress has been made on divorce issues to move on to the second phase of talks, and the most they can do is to start internal preparations to discuss trade and a transition deal in December.

Five rounds of Brexit negotiations have produced limited results and fears are growing that Britain may fail to strike a withdrawal agreement before its formal departure on March 29, 2019.

Brexit: What’s the ‘no deal’ fallout for the UK and EU?

October 19, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

The UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has admitted that a “no deal” on Brexit would be better than a bad deal. Apart from being delusional, how damaging will it be for all concerned?

Deutsche Welle

If you thought the scenario of the UK leaving the EU with all that entails was bad enough, think again: If there is no deal at the end of negotiations to formally finalize the UK’s exit in March 2019, many observers believe the apocalypse could be upon us.

So what exactly would a “no deal” mean in practice?

Steve Bullock, who worked at the UK Representation to the EU from 2010-2014 where he negotiated several EU regulations for the UK in EU Council working groups, describes it thus: “People have made the analogy of buying a car, but not coming to an agreement. What Theresa May is about to do is drive a reliable, working car down to the car dealer, set fire to it right there, and then say to him ‘You have to sell me a car, or else I’m walking home.'”


With no deal in place, trading would defer to World Trade Organization rules. Tariffs and customs checks would be slapped on UK exports to the EU and vice versa. And this is where the problems become meaty, if you’ll excuse the pun. Tariffs on agricultural products such as lamb and beef could be as high as 50 percent — effectively putting supply industries out of business. On the upside UK consumers could feast upon cheap, unsaleable Welsh lamb for the foreseeable future.

And it’s far from plain sailing for the fishing industry. On the surface (okay, no more puns) British fishermen could theoretically catch more fish because EU member states would lose their automatic right to fish in UK waters. But here’s the downside: When it came to selling the fish, the fishermen would face tariffs on sales to their largest export market — yes, that would be the EU.

And it doesn’t stop there. A no-deal scenario would be a major blow to the services industry, with businesses losing their passporting rights which currently allow them to sell their services across the EU without having to acquire licenses in each country.

And, says Bullock, the effects and losses “of a no deal in terms of GDP would be much higher on the UK than on EU27 states.”

Infographic of UK exports for the first quarters of 2016 + 2017


The other main bone of contention. With no agreement in place, there would be no legal obligation for the UK to shell out billions of pounds as part of a financial settlement. While that would make the UK treasury happy, it would tear a huge hole in the EU budget and pour more salt on the wound. And let’s not kid ourselves: German and French taxpayers would be asked to plug the hole.

In terms of the financial burden on British households, Steve Bullock says the additional cost, especially on poorer households “is absolutely gigantic. Something in the range of 500 pounds (€560; $660) per year worse off. And there have already been increases in food prices.”

Citizens’ rights:

In a nutshell, a lot of people will be sitting on packed suitcases. Without an agreement on residency, the rights of EU nationals to live in the UK or those of UK nationals to reside in the EU could, technically, disappear overnight. This would affect more than 3 million EU nationals in the UK and over 1 million UK citizens in the EU. To avoid this nightmare scenario, individual EU countries would probably try to strike deals with the UK to guarantee citizens’ rights.

“I mean I am one of them. I’m self-employed, I run a recording studio. And my right to do that would just cease instantly. I would certainly temporarily have to close my business,” says Bullock, who lives in Brussels.

Read more: ‘Talk in the UK is misleading’: ex-ECJ judge


Tariffs on many of the UK’s exports would amount to around 2-3 percent, and as this is a two-way street, those tariffs would also apply to European goods entering the UK market. While that looks good on paper, those 2 or 3 percent would actually go towards financing a new customs operation and an armada of HM Revenue and Customs officers to ensure that trade continues to flow and to avoid congestion and long lorry queues at border ports such as Dover and Calais.

Infographic Brexit timeline

Nuclear energy:

Not top of the “to-do-list” but important all the same. If the UK is no longer a member of Euratom, the body that oversees nuclear energy, it will lose access to crucial safety procedures and systems for operating power plants. Those plants would have to shut, and the UK would have to find alternative energy sources quickly.

The EU certainly has its faults, and its detractors are many. But at the moment any kind of deal seems better than the bleak alternative, which would be detrimental to businesses and consumers on both sides of the Channel. As Steve Bullock says the erosion of trust and the sentiment of “the good will burnt over this, not only in Europe, but the rest of the world” is almost as damaging as the actual impact of Brexit.

Brexit: EU leaders refuse face-to-face talks with Theresa May in latest rebuff

October 19, 2017

Prime Minister wants ‘a discussion’ with her counterparts to try to break the deadlock – will be listened to in silence

By Rob MerrickJon Stone

The Independent

theresa-may-eu-dinner.jpgTheresa May will make her pitch to EU leaders over coffee PA

EU heads of government will deliver another rebuff to the Prime Minister today by refusing face-to-face discussions to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks.

Theresa May will try to bypass the stalled negotiating process by appealing directly to her counterparts in the other 27 countries, at a summit dinner in Brussels.

She will hope to engage them “in a discussion” to end the impasse, a senior UK government official said, ahead of the EU leaders’ own Brexit talks in Britain’s absence.

But The Independent has learned that the EU will stick to its strict rule that negotiations must be carried out only with Michel Barnier – the European Commission’s chosen representative.

The Prime Minister would be invited to raise her offer on Brexit, but there would be no discussion afterwards, a spokesman for the European Council’s presidency said.

Furthermore, the dinner will be short, after the evacuation of the main European Council building – because of problems in the kitchen – forced it to be moved to an older building.

It is likely to be “cold service” only, one Brussels source said, with Ms May’s speaking slot limited to the coffee at the end.

The set-up raises the prospect of a repeat of what happened at last October’s summit, when the Prime Minister was given just five minutes to speak – with no debate – at 1am on that occasion.

It comes after Brexit preparations were plunged into further chaos after the key legislation was shelved for up to a month, because of Commons revolts.

The EU Withdrawal Bill is unlikely to go back before MPs until mid-November, after an avalanche of amendments – some signed by Tory backbenchers – threatened the Government with defeat.

The Prime Minister will attempt to change the conversation, by promising the 3.2 million EU citizens in Britain a closer involvement in a “streamlined” process to obtain “settled status” to stay after Brexit.

In an open letter, sent directly to 100,000 citizens who have asked to receive updates, Ms May said an agreement with the EU on their future rights was within “touching distance”.

And she announced a new “user group” would be set up with officials, to give EU nationals a direct say over how the processworks, to ease their “anxiety”.

In a message also posted on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page, she wrote: “With flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks.”

However, the official confirmed Ms May did not plan any policy change, after criticism that EU citizens will lose some rights – particularly over family reunions – after Brexit.

And, crucially, there is still no unilateral guarantee of future rights should the withdrawal talks collapse and Britain leaves with “no deal”.

In Brussels, Ms May is not expected to budge on the key dispute of money, refusing to go beyond her offer to pay “subs” of around £9bn a year, if a transition period of “about two years” is agreed.

The EU has demanded the UK also set out the “liabilities” it agrees it must pay, prompting the president of the European Parliament to brand Britain’s offer “peanuts”.

On Friday, the heads of government will confirm that “sufficient progress” has not been made on divorce terms, dashing Ms May’s hopes of moving on to talks about a future trade deal.

Leaked versions of the draft council motion are highly unlikely to be changed, after they were toughened up against Britain’s interests by France and Germany.

The motion does allow for preparatory work on the next phase of talks to begin behind closed doors in Brussels, potentially allowing trade talks to begin in January, if the “sufficient progress” test is passed in December.

Despite that, the Government official set a high bar for a “successful” summit, saying Britain was seeking a clear commitment to “swift progress” on reaching an agreement.

By the time EU leaders deliver their “not yet” verdict, Ms May will be back in London. She was said to have an “incredibly busy diary”.

Before she leaves, the summit will also discuss the migration crisis in the Mediterranean and defence, with Britain pledging to “always stand alongside the EU”.


LONDON — With less than 18 months to go before Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union, and with British businesses growing increasingly concerned about the future, this was the moment Prime Minister Theresa May hoped for a breakthrough in the paralyzed negotiations on the process known as Brexit.

Instead, she is fighting a tense battle to stop the talks from collapsing.

After phone calls to Berlin and Paris, and the first of two visits to Brussels in three days, the most Mrs. May accomplished on Tuesday was a promise to keep talking. However, this dialogue does not yet include the subjects Mrs. May wants to discuss: a transition deal to prevent an economically damaging “cliff edge” Brexit and future trade relations.

This week, she is to make her pitch to European Union leaders at a summit meeting in Brussels, but the main discussion of Britain’s departure from the bloc will happen after Mrs. May has left the room.

Both at home and abroad, Britain’s prime minister is hamstrung by her political fragility. She is constantly forced to mediate between warring factions in her cabinet, some of whom want a quick, clean break with the bloc, while others fret about protecting the economy. She must also fend off doubts on the Continent about her ability to deliver a deal, even if one is agreed to.

“Britain is not seen as a credible negotiating partner,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute. “Continental Europeans read Britain’s newspapers and watch its TV news, and it seems very confused. They don’t know who is in charge, and who speaks for the government.”

Jens Geier, who leads Social Democratic lawmakers from Germany in the European Parliament, has a similar perspective. “Looking at the never-ending internal divisions within the Conservative Party, we in Brussels are wondering how much leeway Theresa May has at all,” he said, “and if she is actually able to deliver, or whether she will be undermined by other members of her cabinet.”

Read the rest:

No Brexit breakthrough coming at summit: EU’s Tusk — “We need more concrete proposals from the British side to be honest”

October 18, 2017


© AFP | EU President Donald Tusk said he does not expect a breakthrough on Brexit at the European summit

BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU President Donald Tusk on Wednesday warned Britain not to expect any breakthrough in Brexit negotiations at a European summit this week, saying London needed to come up with more concrete proposals.

Leaders of the other 27 EU members meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday are set to postpone until at least December a decision on whether enough progress has been made in talks to move on to discussing Britain and the EU’s future relationship.

Fears are growing that Britain may fail to strike a withdrawal agreement before its formal departure on March 29, 2019 and London had hoped the summit — where Prime Minister Theresa May will plead her case at a working dinner — might clear the logjam.

“I don’t expect any kind of breakthrough tomorrow — we have to work really hard in between October and December to finalise this so-called first phase and to start our negotiations on our future relations with the UK,” Tusk said.

Five rounds of talks have made some progress but major differences remain on the key issues of citizens’ rights, the future of the Irish border after Brexit and in particular how much Britain will pay in to EU budgets as it leaves the bloc.

Britain wants Brussels to acknowledge the progress made in talks, particularly since May’s speech in Florence last month in which she pledged that no other country would have to pay more into the EU or receive less from it as a result of Brexit.

But EU leaders and officials insist that London needs to translate the goodwill into detailed commitments.

“I am absolutely sure that it’s still possible to achieve this final of first phase in December but for this we need more concrete proposals from the British side to be honest,” Tusk said.

Underlining the increasingly tense atmosphere around the talks, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani ignited a fresh row late on Tuesday when derided Britain’s 20 billion euro offer on the financial settlement as “peanuts”.

“I have never seen 20 billion peanuts in my life,” Tusk joked when asked about Tajani’s comment.

His comments came on the same day that the British and EU chief negotiators clashed over a claim by London that Brussels is deliberately stalling the divorce haggling to extract more cash.

‘Czech Trump’ fans eurosceptism two days before vote — “Czech Republic will not adopt the euro”

October 18, 2017


© AFP/File / by Jan MARCHAL | Czech billionaire and leader of the ANO 2011 political movement Andrej Babis is the clear favourite for prime minister in the October 20-21 general election

PRAGUE (AFP) – A billionaire populist known as the “Czech Trump” wooed eurosceptic voters on Wednesday with promises of a “fair” deal from Europe if he wins this week’s general election as expected.

Andrej Babis, 63, who heads the ANO (Yes) movement, is the clear favourite for prime minister in the October 20 and 21 ballot where traditional pro-EU parties are forecast to take a thrashing.

Analysts say that already-strong eurosceptism in the EU member country could further intensify, echoing trends in neighbouring countries in the bloc.

Voters on Wednesday received a letter in the mail from Babis vowing that “the Czech Republic will not adopt the euro” should he take office.

But he insisted he is “all for a single Europe which plays fair and where nobody is a second-class member”.

– ‘Czexit’ chatter –

After Britain’s vote to leave the EU in the Brexit referendum, some have even started to talk about the prospect of “Czexit”.

Two-thirds of Czechs said the EU’s decisions were not in the interest of their country in an April survey by the independent CVVM pollsters.

“Some voters, politicians and journalists are inclined to present these elections as a kind of referendum on Babis, but what’s worse and more dangerous is that topics like the migrant crisis and criticism of the EU are gaining more ground,” Charles University analyst Josef Mlejnek told AFP.

Babis echoes other eastern EU leaders — especially in Hungary and Poland — who also oppose mandatory EU refugee quotas and various rules they see as attempts by Brussels to limit national sovereignty.

While Babis has ruled out “Czexit”, he does want changes to the bloc’s rules on free movement of capital, goods, labour and services.

– Far-right rise –

An openly far-right anti-EU party with links to Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France is also set to gain ground, thanks in large part to its staunchly anti-migrant stance.

Led by Tokyo-born entrepreneur and lawmaker Tomio Okamura, Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD), has scored between 7.3 to 10.5-percent support in the polls, which would take is past the five-percent threshold needed to enter the 200-seat parliament.

In a recent poll by the Czech Academy of Sciences, ANO scored 30.9 percent — more than the combined support for two traditional heavyweights in Czech politics, the Social Democrat CSSD and the rightwing ODS. They scored 13.1 percent and 9.1 percent respectively.

– Corruption scandals –

ANO already held key posts in the current rocky centre-left coalition under Social Democrat Bohuslav Sobotka, with Babis holding the finance portfolio between January 2014 and May this year.

The Slovak-born tycoon — ranked by Forbes as the Czech Republic’s second wealthiest citizen — is riding high on “strong voter aversion to political parties tarnished by corruption scandals,” analyst Mlejnek told AFP.

So far, Babis’s popularity has not been touched by various scandals, including recent fraud charges over EU subsidies received by one of his companies.

Voter support for ANO has surged as he sticks to his promise to fight graft in public life and to “manage the state like a family business”.

“He offers the voters a populist alternative by presenting himself as someone capable of managing the state because he has already successfully managed his conglomerate,” Mlejnek said.

Heavily dependent on car production and exports to the eurozone, the Czech economy has fared well in recent years.

Unemployment stood at just 3.8 percent in September and economic growth is expected to pick up to 3.1 percent this year after 2.6 percent in 2016, according to the finance ministry.

– Anti-EU coalition? –

Babis insist he “can’t imagine” forging a governing coalition with anti-EU parties like Okamura’s far-right SPD or the far-left KSCM communist party, which scored up to 14.4 percent in recent polls.

But critics noted that the three parties joined forces in parliament on Monday to oppose granting an Australian company mining rights to a Czech lithium deposit.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that he “sees the seeds of a coalition between Babis, (communist head Vojtech) Filip and Okamura.”

Sobotka, who handed the leadership of his struggling CSSD Social Democrats to pro-European Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek during the elections, insists that any possible future coalition deal with ANO would not include Babis.

Three months after this week’s general election, Czechs will choose their new president in the second-ever direct presidential election.

Outspoken leftwinger Milos Zeman, a 73-year-old pro-Russian, pro-Chinese, anti-immigration Babis supporter, will compete for his second five-year term in that vote.


Xi Jinping hails ‘new era’ at opening of China congress — Xi now a transformative leader alongside Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.

October 18, 2017

Party conclave likely to cement president’s status as a transformative leader

China anti-corruption purge hits Central Committee

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, suit and indoor

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the opening session of the Chinese Communist Party’s five-yearly Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2017. Credit Wang Zhao – AFP – Getty Images

By Tom Mitchell and Lucy Hornby in Beijing
FT (Financial Times)

President Xi Jinping declared that China had “entered a new era” as he opened a landmark Communist party congress that he hopes will cement his status as a transformative leader alongside Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.

“The Chinese nation now stands tall and firm in the east,” Mr Xi said on Wednesday in Beijing at the opening of the party’s 19th congress, marking the formal start of his second five-year term as party leader. The congress, attended by about 2,300 delegates, will deliberate for one week before Mr Xi’s new party leadership team is revealed on October 24.

In an address that ran for more than three hours and was attended by his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, Mr Xi urged his party colleagues to “work tirelessly to realise the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation” and hailed the economic progress made during his administration’s first term.

Image result for Xi Jinping, young school children sitting at attention in their classrooms, October 18, 2017, photos

President Xi Jinping’s (right) first term line-up was influenced by his predecessors Jiang Zemin (centre) and Hu Jintao. Photo: Reuters

“The Communist party is entering the Xi era,” said Sima Nan, a patriotic blogger. “Mao and Deng’s shadows still loom large, but Xi is his own man.”

As the hours ticked by, pictures circulated on social media showing young school children sitting at attention in their classrooms as they watched the president’s address on television.

Image result for chinese school children sit at attention, photos

AFP Photo

Mr Xi, however, offered little in the way of concrete plans and warned that “severe challenges” awaited China’s ruling party. “We have a long way to go in protecting the environment,” he said as air pollution in the Chinese capital hovered at officially “unhealthy” levels.

This is an era that will see China move closer to the centre of the world and make more contributions to humankind

“The last leg of a journey just marks the halfway point,” Mr Xi added, quoting a Chinese proverb. “Achieving national rejuvenation will be no walk in the park; it will take more than drum beating and gong clanging to get there.”

Upon assuming power in November 2012, Mr Xi declared China’s rejuvenation as one of the world’s great powers to be the “dream” of the Chinese people.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

After a stock market crash and run on China’s currency in late 2015 and early 2016, which marked the low points of Mr Xi’s first term in office, the party’s confidence surged as economic growth stabilised and Europe and the US were rocked by the rise of economic nationalism.

Mr Xi indirectly alluded to these events, most notably Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 US presidential election, in Wednesday’s address.

“China’s cultural soft power and the international influence of Chinese culture have increased significantly,” Mr Xi said. “China’s international standing has risen as never before.”

Mr Xi noted that, during his time in office, China’s annual economic output surged from Rmb54tn to Rmb80tn ($8.2tn-$12tn), accounting for about one-third of total global growth.

“China has seen the basic needs of over 1bn people met,” the president said. He added that an average of 13m new urban jobs had been created each year, while some 60m people have been lifted out of poverty.

The Chinese president also highlighted the accomplishments of his signature anti-corruption campaign, which has ended the careers of more than 150 senior officials including 18 members — or about 9 per cent — of the party’s outgoing Central Committee.

One of the speech’s biggest applause lines was Mr Xi’s pledge to maintain the campaign’s “unstoppable momentum”. He said anti-graft investigators would continue to “take out tigers, swat flies and hunt down foxes”, referring to officials of all ranks and corruption suspects who have fled abroad.

“We have solved many tough problems that were long on the agenda … but never got done,” the president added.

“The focus for Xi has clearly been party-building and cleaning out corruption,” said Andrew Polk at Trivium China, a Beijing-based consultancy. “Everything else has been secondary.”

Mr Xi also outlined a vision for China through the middle of the 21st century, predicting that the world’s most populous nation would be “moderately prosperous” by 2035 and “prosperous, strong and democratic” by 2050. “It will be an era that sees China moving closer to centre stage and making greater contributions to mankind,” he said.

The president’s long-term vision has stoked speculation that he might seek to stay on as party leader beyond the traditional 10-year term.

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu

OECD advocates ‘closest possible’ EU-UK relationship

October 17, 2017


© AFP | Britain voted to leave the EU in a June 2016 referendum and is due to exit the bloc in March 2019

LONDON (AFP) – Britain should seek to maintain close economic ties with the European Union to weather the impact of Brexit, the OECD said on Tuesday.The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development left its growth forecasts for Britain unchanged from its previous prediction of 1.6 percent in 2017 and one percent in 2018.

But Britain’s planned departure from the EU has worsened the country’s existing productivity problem by increasing uncertainty and reducing business investment, said the Paris-based OECD, which advises industrial nations on economic policy.

Reviving the growth of labour productivity is a challenge “compounded by Brexit”, it said, and exiting the EU could reduce total factor productivity by about three percent after 10 years due to reduced trade.

The organisation also warned that a “disorderly Brexit”, one in which no trading relationship is arranged, would constitute a medium-term shock to Britain’s economic growth prospects.

“Business investment would seize up, and heightened price pressures would choke off private consumption,” the organisation said in a report.

“Negotiating the closest possible EU-UK economic relationship would limit the cost of exit.”

Britain voted to leave the EU in a June 2016 referendum. It is due to exit the bloc in March 2019.

A decision to stop Brexit would have a positive impact on the British economy, the OECD claimed.

“In case Brexit gets reversed by political decision (change of majority, new referendum, etc), the positive impact on growth would be significant,” the report said.

Ahead of British finance minister Philip Hammond’s annual budget on November 22, the OECD also said that the Treasury has a buffer of 1.25 percent of gross domestic product relative to its structural deficit target of two percent of GDP.

It recommended investment targeted at increasing productivity, such as “spending on repair and maintenance or soft investment” if growth weakens further ahead of Brexit.

Hammond highlighted the issue before the Treasury parliamentary scrutiny committee on Wednesday, saying: “we do have a fundamental underlying problem about productivity growth in the UK economy”.

“The UK distinctive issue is regional disparity,” he added.

Brexit talks will remain deadlocked unless Theresa May stands up to Boris Johnson, says key Merkel ally

October 17, 2017

‘Whatever she is offering, Boris Johnson is saying it’s too much’

By Rob Merrick Deputy Political Editor

The Independent


Boris Johnson is the obstacle to breaking the Brexit deadlock – in German eyes Getty

A key ally of Angela Merkel has warned the Brexit talks will remain deadlocked unless Theresa May is brave enough to stand up to Boris Johnson.

Michael Fuchs, the vice chairman of the German Chancellor’s party, blamed the Foreign Secretary for the impasse – because he was preventing the Prime Minister from making a proper financial offer.

“Theresa May has to come up with decent proposals,” Dr Fuchs said. “Whatever she is offering, Boris Johnson is saying it’s too much,”

Theresa May asked if Boris Johnson is unsackable

Arguing his influence was “pretty strong”, Dr Fuchs added: “Otherwise she would come up with other proposals. The problem is she has internal trouble in the Tories.”

He stopped short of suggesting Mr Johnson should be sacked, but added: “What he said was not a single cent to the EU – and that’s not, of course, acceptable.”

The comments, from such a powerful figure in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), offer fresh evidence that Ms Merkel is now Britain’s toughest opponent in the negotiations.

Senior figures in Brussels were mystified that Ms May’s last-gasp dash to try to revive the talks was to join a dinner with the European Commission chief and his negotiator.

In fact, only if Ms Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron budge, can the talks progress onto a future trading arrangement – and there is no sign they will.

Last night, a 90-minute dinner in the Belgian capital with Jean-Claude Juncker, and Michel Barnier, from the Commission, failed to achieve any breakthrough.

It produced only a bland statement, saying both sides “reviewed the progress made in the article 50 negotiations so far and agreed that these efforts should accelerate over the months to come”.

Downing Street stressed the Prime Minister had gone no further than her offer to plug any hole in the EU’s budget if it agrees a transition period, after Brexit Day in 2019, of “about two years”.

But this would cover only Britain’s “subs”, of about £9bn a year – without addressing liabilities, such as for EU programmes and pension costs.

Meanwhile, the latest leak of a draft statement from EU leaders, ahead of a crucial summit on Friday, toughened the language against the British position.

Following pressure from France and Germany, it demanded progress on all three “divorce issues” – including EU citizens’ rights and the Irish border – as well as money.

The carrot is that the EU will give Mr Barnier, the chief negotiator, a mandate to open talks on trade in December, if “sufficient progress” is made by then.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Fuchs insisted Germany did not want a hard Brexit – and, in fact, regretted Britain leaving the EU more than any other country

But he added: “If you choose this way, it’s going to be like this. It’s going to be very tough for your country I think. I’m pretty sure we have to find a better solution.”

No 10 was pleased that the Commission had agreed the talks “should accelerate” and an agreement that dinner “took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere”.