Posts Tagged ‘Cyprus’

Macron’s eurozone plans put eastern EU members on the spot

September 28, 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron is impatient to reinvigorate the eurozone. But this puts the EU’s eastern members in a dilemma: stay out and risk losing clout in Brussels or join and risk losing economic sovereignty?

USA Präsident Macron vor der UN-Vollversammlung (Reuters/S. Stapleton)

Macron reiterated his view this week that a multi-speed Europe led by a core of ‘avant-garde’ countries could be the price worth paying for pushing the eurozone — and the European project more widely — forward in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

“We should imagine a Europe of several formats — going further with those who want to advance, while not being held back by states which want to progress slower or not as far,” Macron said.

“It appears that Macron would like a tighter, more centralized eurozone with France and Germany at its heart,” Liam Carson of Capital Economics told DW. “However, he remained fairly vague on euro-zone specifics, probably because of the worse than expected outcome for [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel in the German election.”

But Macron’s words have fallen on some deaf ears in Central and Eastern Europe, a region struggling with political uncertainty and growing Euroskepticism, despite continued strong growth.

Of the nine new member states that joined the EU in 2004-2009, the Baltic countries, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta have adopted the euro, while Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia have not yet done so.

Critics argue that speeding up the process of monetary — as a precursor to fiscal — integration might fuel the overheating that was seen in Southern Europe after the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession.

But, “if the eurozone can generate growth throughout the 19 nations and not just the center, then any new institutions may prompt the non-euro members to want to join. If not, then the divisions would surely widen,” Linda Yueh, a professor of Economics at London Business School, told DW.

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‘It’s now or never’

Will Hutton, a British economist, told DW that while a two-speed Europe is a risk, “the time has come for this. Macron’s plans are the biggest boost to Europe since the early 1990s, the era of Jacques Delors.”

“Sure, Macron is using Merkel’s weakness, but Europe is on the cusp of an economic run and while some eastern European economies might not be able to stand the pace, Europe can’t go on at the speed of the slowest for much longer,” Hutton said, adding that the UK might even be knocking back on the EU’s door in the next five to ten years.

All non-euro EU member states except Denmark and the UK are already legally obligated to work toward adopting the euro, by satisfying various “convergence criteria,” namely:

Inflation — Member states should have an average rate of inflation that doesn’t exceed that of the three best-performing member states by over 1.5 percent for a period of one year before being assessed.

Government budgets — Member states’ ratio of planned or actual government deficit to GDP should be no more than three percent. Their ratio of government debt to GDP should be no more than 60 percent.

Exchange Rates — Member states should have respected the normal fluctuation margins of the exchange rate mechanism (ERM) and should not have devalued their currency against any other member state’s currency for at least the two years before being assessed.

Interest rates — Member states should have had an average interest rate over a period of one year before being assessed that does not exceed by more than two percentage points that of the three best-performing member states.

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Central & Eastern Europe: weary and ​​​​​wary 

“It seems unlikely that any of the major economies in Central and Eastern Europe will adopt the euro any time soon,” Carson says.

“With respect to the criteria, as things stand, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic all meet the debt, interest rate and inflation criteria for joining,” although he added that there is a good chance that loose fiscal policy in Poland and Romania will cause budget deficits to widen beyond the 3 percent of GDP threshold by next year.

“Hungary’s deficit could also widen beyond 3 percent of GDP and with public debt still well above 60 percent of GDP, it also fails the debt criteria.”

“More importantly, political appetite for joining the euro is generally waning. Accession to the eurozone in Poland and Hungary is unlikely to happen under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) and Fidesz governments, which have both become increasingly hostile towards EU oversight of domestic policy,” Carson says.

“Poland’s opposition is based on ideological grounds, but also public support is not sufficient. In the Czech Republic the main obstacle is public support. Most of the parties would have been open to introducing the euro, but public opinion has prevented that so far. In Hungary there is strong public support and a governmental decision ahead of the 2018 elections might be a popular step,” Daniel BarthaExecutive Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy (CEID)  in Budapest, told DW.

The Palace of Culture and Science in WarsawPoliticians in Warsaw have warned that the creation of a multi-speed Europe could “break apart” the EU.

Poland

“Brexit is not a risk for the EU … A bigger threat is if the EU starts to break apart into a multi-speed union, into blocs where some are stronger and can decide about others,” President Andrzej Duda said this month. “The result could be a divided EU that’s not politically or economically viable, which may break apart the bloc,” he added.

The bedrock of common understanding that Merkel and ex-Polish PM Donald Tusk shared is now long gone. And ties between Warsaw and Paris have been strained since August after Macron’s speech criticizing what he called Warsaw’s attack on democracy and a French plan to tighten rules on EU posted workers, such as Polish truck drivers.

The Law and Justice (PiS) government has also taken aim at Germany, demanding war reparations, attacking plans to build a second Nord Stream gas pipeline to Russia that bypasses Poland and being highly critical of its western neighbor’s policies towards refugees.

Nonetheless, Poland will start to debate whether to join the eurozone when the bloc becomes a stable and transparent entity, Konrad Szymanski, the Polish deputy foreign minister in charge of European affairs, has said.

About 80 percent of Polish international trade is accountable in euros, so entering the eurozone will significantly decrease currency risk and simplify transactions with foreign companies. Despite this, over two-thirds of Poles oppose joining the euro area.

Prague, the Czech capitalA general election to be held October 20-21, will show whether the Czechs will seek to join the EU hard core.

Czech Republic

The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka wants his country to set a date for the adoption of the euro and has “the ambition to belong among the most advanced European countries.”

The Czech Republic has been cautious about joining the euro, on both the left and the right. No firm date has been set and in recent years governments have shied away from making predictions.

The country has a long reputation for running a credible monetary policy and traditionally has had interest rates below those in the eurozone.

“In the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis, who is the heavy favourite to become Prime Minister following next month’s elections, has continued to strongly reiterate that the Czech Republic shouldn’t adopt the currency,” according to Carson.

Hungary

Hungarian economic policy cannot abandon its long-term intention of joining the eurozone, “but there is no rush,” the economy minister, Mihaly Varga, said in June. Vargo said a currency system where monetary policy is unified but fiscal policy is not is also a viable route.

But a senior Hungarian politician said in early August that Hungary could only consider adopting the euro when its level of economic development is closer to that of the eurozone countries.

“That is, if there is genuine convergence,” Andras Tallai, state secretary at the economy ministry, said.

Hungarian parliament bulilding is seen as ice floes float on the Danube river in Budapest In 2013, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proclaimed euro adoption would not happen until the country’s purchasing power parity weighted GDP per capita had reached 90 percent of the eurozone average.

“Otherwise, Hungary could be the loser of accession similar to some Mediterranean countries,” he went on, adding that Hungary won’t yet enter the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) — a kind of ante-chamber for eurozone aspirants — but already meets all of the Maastricht criteria for adopting the euro, with the exception of the forint not being pegged to the euro.

Hungary has to enter to the ERM2 (the exchange rate mechanism) and meet the criteria for 2 years constantly. Hungary meets all other criteria: inflation was 0.1 percent, the deficit 2.4 percent and interest rates are also around 1 percent, and although the debt level is beyond the 60 percent limit, as it is constantly reducing, Hungary also meet that criterion.

Romania

Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has said Romania will adopt the euro only after wages in the country come close to those in other EU member states.

Romania has second lowest minimum monthly wage out of 20 EU member states, of 1,450 lei ($341/321 euro), after Bulgaria, according to a study by KPMG.

A study conducted last November by the European Institute of Romania showed that the country could join the Eurozone 13 years from now – if it sustains the average growth rate of the last 15 years.

Currently, Romania is below 60 percent of the European Union average in terms of GDP per capita.

“The story is slightly different in Romania. The foreign minister, Teodor Melescanu, recently announced that Romania will adopt the euro. However, he stated that this won’t happen until 2022. And given that previous plans to adopt the euro have been shelved, this date could easily be delayed. In short, Romania won’t become a member of the euro-zone any time soon,” Carson says.

Frankreich PK Migrationsgipfel in Paris (Reuters/C. Platiau)Angela Merkel is supporting Macron’s call for a new powerful eurozone finance minister post to oversee economic policy across the bloc. She said the new role could provide “greater coherence” to economic policy.

Merkel holds the key

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also backed a plan for a European Monetary Fund (EMF) that would redistribute money within the bloc to where it was needed.

Macron believes that the monetary union suffers from too little centralization and needs its own budget, while Merkel views the bloc’s problem as over-centralization and too little national responsibility.

Merkel has backed her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble‘s proposal to turn the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s bailout fund, into the EMF, but she does not see the official possessing “expansive powers.”

Merkel has said she wants a budget of “small contributions” rather than “hundreds of billions of euros.”

France will implement these deep structural reforms on the proviso that Germany agrees to modest steps towards fiscal federalism in the eurozone. But many in Germany — and far beyond as well — appear skeptical about Macron’s ability to achieve his domestic goals.

Still, observers say, Merkel will want to help Macron politically as it is in Germany’s interests to see that he is not replaced at the next presidential election in France by Marine Le Pen of the National Front.

http://www.dw.com/en/macrons-eurozone-plans-put-eastern-eu-members-on-the-spot/a-40709205

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Cyprus rescues 305 Syrian refugees in two boats

September 10, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A Syrian refugee walks between tents at a reception centre in Kokkinotrimithia outide the Cypriot capital Nicosia on March 7, 2017

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriot authorities brought ashore more than 300 Syrian refugees early on Sunday after spotting two boats in open water off the northwest coast of the Mediterranean island, police said.It was one of the largest waves of migrants to be received by Cypriot authorities in a single day since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011.

The 305 migrants, who included 30 women and 73 children, said they had set off from the Turkish port of Mersin and paid up to $2,000 (1,600 euros) each for the crossing.

Police arrested a 36-year-old man on suspicion of piloting one of the boats. He was expected to appear before a court in the resort town of Paphos later on Sunday.

Police said the migrants were in good health and would be transported to a reception centre outside the capital Nicosia. A woman and her 10-month-old baby were taken to hospital as a precaution.

Cyprus, an EU member state located 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Syria’s Mediterranean coast, has not seen the massive inflow of migrants experienced by Turkey and Greece.

Since September 2014, however, more than a dozen migrant boats have reached the island, bringing in nearly 1,500 migrants including the latest arrivals.

Some were trying to join relatives on the island while others were seeking refuge in Europe.

Iran-linked cyber spies use simple yet effective hacks: report

July 25, 2017

Reuters

July 25, 2017

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A man types on a computer keyboard in front of the displayed cyber code in this illustration picture taken on March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo REUTERS

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – A cyber spying group with links to Iran and active for the past four years is targeting countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany and the United States, security researchers said on Tuesday.

A new report by Tokyo-based Trend Micro  and ClearSky of Israel detailed incidents as recently as April of this year involving a group known as “CopyKittens”.

The group targets its victims using relatively simple techniques like creating fake Facebook pages, corrupting websites or Microsoft Word attachments with a malicious code, according to the report.

It was seen impersonating popular media brands like Twitter, Youtube, the BBC and security firms such as Microsoft, Intel and even Trend Micro.

“CopyKittens is very persistent, despite lacking technological sophistication and operational discipline,” the researchers said in a statement.

“These characteristics, however, cause it to be relatively noisy, making it easy to find, monitor and apply counter measures relatively quickly,” they said.

Iranian officials were not available for comment.

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Ayatollah Khameini, the Iranian Supreme Leader, pictured at a military parade

The report itself does not link the group to Iran. As a matter of company policy, Trend Micro research into state-backed attacks focuses on technical evidence and forgoes political analysis.

However Clearsky researchers told Reuters that CopyKittens was “Iranian government infrastructure,” adding that the use of “kitten” in the industry indicates Iranian hackers, just as “panda” or “bear” refer to Chinese and Russians, respectively.

CopyKittens is distinct from another Iran-based cyber spy group dubbed Rocket Kitten, which since 2014 has mounted cyberattacks on high-profile political and military figures in countries near Iran as well as the United States and Venezuela.

CopyKittens has been operating since at least 2013, according to the report, though its activities were first exposed publicly in November 2015 by ClearSky and Minerva Labs. Earlier this year, ClearSky wrote another paper detailing more hacking incidents that affected some members of Germany’s parliament.

Eyal Sela, head of threat intelligence at ClearSky, said that once an initial hack against a government or commercial target is successful, CopyKittens uses that access to then attack other groups, though it tries to remain very focused.

As recently as late April, the group breached the email account of an employee in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern Cyprus and then tried to infect multiple targets in other governments, the report said.

Another time it used a document, likely stolen from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, as a decoy.

Reporting by Tova Cohen, Ari Rabinovitch and Eric Auchard; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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A prominent U.S. cyber warfare expert has admonished other cyber security experts for exaggerating the danger posed by Iran’s cyber warfare and espionage organisations and entities.

Dr. Brandon Valeriano, a Reader at Cardiff University in Wales and author of Cyber War versus Cyber Realities published by Oxford University Press in 2015, told the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 10, 2017, in Washington, DC, that Iran’s cyber warfare and espionage capabilities are inferior when compared to the capabilities of countries such as the United States, Israel, Russia, China, and those of a number of European countries.

“Iran is thought to be a serious and sophisticated cyber actor but evidence suggests the contrary to this conclusion,” Dr. Valeriano told U.S. Senators.

Citing the 2012 Shamoon cyber attacks against Saudi Arabia’s Aramco and Qatar’s RasGas thought to have been carried out by Iran, Dr. Valeriano said, “The Shamoon attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco systems were destructive, but did not impede operations or wipe out critical information. Likely launched in response to the Stuxnet operation, it is also telling that the response by Iran was not to attack the alleged perpetrators directly, but to go after an ally indirectly, Saudi Arabia.”

Dr. Valeriano’s assessment is in line with other studies on Iran’s strategic behaviour that note Tehran’s preference to use indirect methods against its adversaries and avoid open conflict with militarily superior powers such as the United States and Israel.

Referencing the recent attempted espionage operation against Israeli targets by the Iranian-linked OilRig hacker group, as well as cyber-attacks carried out by other Iranian cyber proxies against U.S. financial institutions over the past few years, Dr. Valeriano pointed out that Iran’s cyber operations have been less than impressive:

Recent attacks on Israel have been reported as another telling aspect of the sophistication of Iranian cyber operations, but the reality is that the state was using released malware from the Shadowbrokers info dumps and spear phishing techniques. Similar attacks on U.S. networks have failed more often than succeeded as well. To argue that these are sophisticated attacks betrays our ability to judge information and impact in cyber security operations.

Similarly, the ongoing Shamoon II attacks against Saudi Arabian targets, again thought to be carried out by the OilRig hacker group, are underwhelming when compared to the sophisticated, effective, and even damaging cyber operations carried out by the likes of China and Russia. Dr. Valeriano noted that, “Ongoing attacks on industrial and financial networks have recently been dubbed Shamoon 2. Reports highlight that the new version of the operation builds on the 2012 attacks on Saudi oil networks and reuses 90 percent of the known code. This is not a highly new or original operation, but a continuation of old methods because targets are slow to update their systems and patch known vulnerabilities.”

Dr. Valeriano’s assessment is certainly at variance with that of many officials and analysts. Recently, for example, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, told U.S. Senators that:

Tehran continues to leverage cyber espionage, propaganda, and attacks to support its security priorities, influence events and foreign perceptions, and counter threats—including against US allies in the region. Iran has also used its cyber capabilities directly against the United States. For example, in 2013, an Iranian hacker conducted an intrusion into the industrial control system of a US dam, and in 2014, Iranian actors conducted a data deletion attack against the network of a US-based casino.

Such assessments have become the norm among officials and cyber security analysts in the West and Israel, making Dr. Valeriano’s assessment one to seriously consider if only because it is at odds with the dominant narrative on Iran’s cyber warfare and espionage capabilities.

Yet while Dr. Valeriano’s assessment questions the notion of Iranian sophistication and notoriety in cyberspace operations, it is also possible to underestimate their determination and persistence. Writing recently in The New York Times, correspondent Nicole Perlroth notes that, “By most accounts, these [Iranian-linked OilRig] hackers could best be described as the “B Team,” not nearly as sophisticated as the Chinese, Russian or Eastern European hackers whom security firms have been monitoring for more than a decade. But what OilRig’s hackers lacked in sophistication, they made up for in determination. They did their research. They were patient. When they were caught, they would wait for the dust to settle before trying again.”

It should also be pointed out that Iran has demonstrated a particular sophistication in information operations, which are often cyber-enabled, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Bahrain, something that is rarely noticed in the West where attention is often focused on Iran’s often symbolic and indirect cyber warfare and espionage operations.

For Dr. Valeriano, however, the real danger in Iranian cyber operations lurks not so much in their capabilities and direct action, but in their prevalent use of cyber proxies. In his testimony to U.S. Senators, he said, “The main danger from Iran, just as it is in the terrorism threat vector, is the high probability that Iran will use proxy actors to attack Western targets. Enabling these actors, one group being called the Syrian Electronic Army, might be dangerous if Iran was to transfer technology to these groups who could then use known vulnerabilities in their operations.”

“But for now, Iran seems content to harass American allies, probe American networks, and reuse old malware to attack unprepared targets,” he concluded.

Original published at: https://spacewatchme.com/2017/05/analyst-irans-cyber-warfare-capabilities-concern-hardly-sophisticated-dangerous/

https://spacewatchme.com/2017/05/analyst-irans-cyber-warfare-capabilities-concern-hardly-sophisticated-dangerous/

Germany Considering Jordan, Cyprus for Anti-IS Base — After Turkey makes it difficult at Incirlik

May 17, 2017

BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister says her office has drafted a list of eight locations where it could move aircraft supporting the anti-IS mission if Turkey continues to block German lawmakers from visiting troops at the Incirlik base.

Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday a team is already in Jordan to assess a site there for its Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refueling plane, and Cyprus is also being considered.

Nonetheless, she stressed talks with Turkey were still ongoing.

Germany has granted asylum to some soldiers Turkey believes were involved in a failed coup attempt last summer. That has prompted Turkey to block a request for German lawmakers to visit some 270 troops serving with the coalition against the Islamic State group at the Incirlik air base.

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Germany-Turkey Disputes Continue — Blackmail over Incirlik?

May 17, 2017

Germany’s foreign minister has said Berlin may pull its troops out of a base in Turkey if lawmakers aren’t allowed to visit. The latest spat comes as two Turkish generals reportedly applied for asylum in Frankfurt.

Sigmar Gabriel (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel sharply criticized Turkey’s decision to block a parliament delegation from visiting Bundeswehr soldiers stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik base in an interview on Wednesday.

If “the German parliament is to be blackmailed, then the limit of tolerance has been reached,” Gabriel told German newspaper the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.”

“I can only hope that the Turkish government will change its mind in the coming days,” he said. “Otherwise, the German Bundestag will certainly not leave soldiers in Turkey.”

Gabriel noted that if cooperative work is no longer possible out of Incirlik, including that members of parliament can visit soldiers at the base, “then we have to consider alternatives.”

Possible move to Jordan

On Monday, Turkish authorities blocked a delegation of German lawmakers from accessing the southern Turkish air base. The parliamentarians were attempting to visit the 250 Bundeswehr soldiers stationed there as part of the US-led coalition fighting the militant “Islamic State” (IS) group.

German news magazine “Der Spiegel” reported that the Defense Ministry was already scoping alternatives to the Incirlik base in Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus.

Karte Türkei Adana Incirlik ENGLISCH

Jordan is reportedly the top choice for an alternative base, with the magazine reporting that Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will personally inspect the site in Jordan this weekend.

The latest move to block members of the Bundestag, the lower house of German parliament, from visiting the air base was ostensibly a response to the German government’s decision last week to grant asylum to Turkish military personnel.

Turkish generals apply for asylum

The German newspaper “Bild” reported late on Tuesday night that two high-ranking members of Turkey’s military applied for asylum at the international airport in Frankfurt.

According to “Bild,” the two men were Turkish generals who were involved in last July’s failed military coup.

On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told his party members that Berlin’s decision to accept the asylum applications is “a significant development in the regression of our relations again.”

Yildirim said that Germany had to choose between groups Turkey deems terror organizations or strengthening ties with Ankara.

Relations between Germany and Turkey have grown increasingly strained over the last few months and took a nosedive during Turkey’s referendum campaign on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. Turkish ministers who were campaigning for the “yes” vote were later barred from holding rallies in Germany.

Last year, Ankara blocked German parliamentarians from visiting the Incirlik airbase after the Bundestag passed a resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as a “genocide.”

 

rs/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/germanys-gabriel-warns-turkey-against-blackmail-over-incirlik-base/a-38866918

ExxonMobil, Qatar Petroleum sign Cyprus gas deal

April 5, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum said they had begun planning for drilling operations and intend to drill a first exploration well off the coast of Cyprus in 2018

NICOSIA (AFP) – US giant ExxonMobil with Qatar Petroleum on Wednesday signed a licence to explore for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus, and they expect to start drilling next year.

The venture was selected as part of the island’s third licensing round to explore block 10.

Cyprus Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis described as “immense” the firms’ presence in his country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and, for the first time, in the eastern Mediterranean.

“One of our primary goals during the third licensing round was to advance the exploration of our EEZ” aimed at discovering hydrocarbon reserves, he said at the signing ceremony.

“This is precisely what we have achieved.”

Image result for Qatar Petroleum, photos

The minister said a total of 12 exploration wells would be drilled in the newly licenced blocks: 6, 8 and 10.

Exploration and production sharing contracts are to be signed on Thursday by Italy’s ENI and France’s Total for block 6, and by ENI for block 8.

Cyprus would receive a total of 103.5 million euros ($110.5 million) in signature bonuses from the contracts, said Lakkotrypis.

ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum said they had begun planning for drilling operations and intend to drill a first exploration well in 2018.

“We look forward to working with the government of Cyprus to evaluate and realise the country’s hydrocarbon potential,” said Andrew Swiger, senior vice president of ExxonMobil Corporation.

The blocks on offer are close to where ENI made a huge find in Egypt’s offshore “Zohr” field that could hold 30 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The field sits adjacent to a Cyprus block licenced to Total.

The record Zhor find has raised hopes that there is more untapped wealth to be found off Cyprus.

US firm Noble Energy made the first find off the island’s southeast coast in 2011 in the Aphrodite field (block 12), which is estimated to contain around 127.4 billion cubic metres (4.54 trillion cubic feet) of gas.

Israeli firms Delek and Avner have a 30 percent stake in the venture.

Noble has handed over a 35 percent share to the Britain’s BG International.

Block 12 has been declared commercially viable but an action plan on the next steps has yet to be finalised.

Italian-South Korean venture ENI-Kogas has so far failed to discover any exploitable gas reserves in deep-sea drilling off the island.

ENI has the right to exploit blocks 2, 3 and 9 in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone that borders Egypt’s gas fields.

ENI and Total, which have an equal share in block 11, are preparing for exploratory drilling off Cyprus’ southern shore sometime this year in these blocks.

Cyprus needs to find more gas reserves to make a planned onshore terminal financially viable as it seeks to become a regional energy player.

It had planned to build a liquefied natural gas plant that would allow exports by ship to Asia and Europe, but the reserves confirmed so far are insufficient to make that feasible.

Cyprus and energy-starved Egypt are looking into the possibility of transferring gas from the Aphrodite field to Egypt via an undersea pipeline. Cyprus hopes to begin exporting gas, and maybe oil, by 2022.

Eurozone financial crisis? Big budget surplus in Germany but others carry huge debt — German budget surplus highest since 1990

February 23, 2017

ECONOMIC struggles of EU nations were drastically played down by the European Commission this week when it took a surprisingly soft approach amid rising anger at the bloc.

PUBLISHED: 09:32, Thu, Feb 23, 2017 | UPDATED: 13:06, Thu, Feb 23, 2017
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Appearing to recognise the growing hostility around the union, the EC heaped praise on itself and all members for successes and downplayed failures as it announced the latest annual assessments of the economic situation.Understating rule-breaks as “imbalances” the EC swerved the opportunity to lambast 12 nations where rigid guidelines are not being complied with.

Delivering the ‘European Semester Winter Package’, the EC said the entire Union was “making headway” with “the virtuous triangle of boosting investment, pursuing structural reforms and ensuring responsible fiscal policies”.

In reality, tensions are growing over the spending behaviour of neighbouring member states.

While right-wing parties make gains across the bloc, it seems bureaucrats are keen to keep voters onside.

Europe’s approach is actually seeing countries make “real progress”, according to the commission.

EU Commission treading carefully over economies GETTY

EU Commission treads lightly over member states with economic ‘imbalances’ (Pierre Moscovici)

Greeks protest the crisis at homeGETTY

Economic crises’ have rocked the eurozone and turned voters against the Union

Today’s analysis shows that our policy strategy based on boosting investment, pursuing structural reforms and sound budgetary policies is bearing fruit

Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis

Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Today’s analysis shows that our policy strategy based on boosting investment, pursuing structural reforms and sound budgetary policies is bearing fruit.“This is why, rather than giving people false promises that cannot be delivered, we should stay the course and continue to address the legacies of the crisis and structural weaknesses in our economies.

“EU and national policies should aim to make our economies more resilient and ensure that the recovery is felt by all.”

Bulgaria, France, Croatia, Italy, Portugal and Cyprus were named as countries with “excessive economic imbalances”.

But while the current political situation across the Union remains at risk of take-over from the right, the Commission appeared to be treading carefully.

France, where Marine Le Pen’s National Front is creeping ahead of her nearest rivals in the race for presidency, the Commission called for action where it found “excessive” imbalances.

Issues identified included the need to “increase the efficiency of public spending and taxation” and reform minimum wage and benefits.

Brussels predicted a 97 percent GDP rise by 2018.

Despite attempts by Paris to lower debt, the Commission said it was not enough.

Marine Le PenGETTY

The right-wing politicians taking votes across the EU is worrying bureaucrats

Greece desperately needs to pay off a €7 billion debt but with less than 50 per cent of homes paying income tax it is not raising enough.The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Union leaders will travel to Greece in the coming weeks to discuss a third bailout.

Now, unionists fear the debt could spark Greece’s exit.

Germany was also accused of riding roughshod over economic targets set by Brussels.

Government debt it Italy represents a huge problem for the Commission, as it rose again in 2016.

Debt burdens from Italy and Greece have become progressively worse as their economies stagnate.

Italy’s debt has risen to 133 percent from 123 percent.

In Greece, debt has increased to an expected 183 percent of the country’s total economy from 159 percent.

Greece desperately needs to pay off a €7 billion debt but with less than 50 per cent of homes paying income tax it is not raising enough.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Union leaders will travel to Greece in the coming weeks to discuss a third bailout.

Now, unionists fear the debt could spark Greece’s exit.

Pierre Moscovici, EU economy commissioner has denied this saying Greece is making huge progress.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/771111/EU-CONGRATULATES-economic-eurozone-CRISIS-Commission

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German budget surplus highest since 1990

BBC News

German Shoppers at mall in Metzingen, Germany

Higher consumer spending has helped to boost growth in the economy. Getty Images

Germany’s budget surplus hit a post-reunification high of nearly 24bn euros (£20bn) in 2016 boosted by a higher tax take and increased employment.

This is the third year running that German government revenue has outstripped expenditure.

However, there was an increase in spending on housing and integrating refugees.

Under budget law, some of the surplus money will go into a fund to support the refugees.

Separately, official figures confirmed the economy grew by 1.9% last year, mainly because of higher spending by consumers and government.

High employment

The budget figures, published by Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, showed that income was higher than spending in all areas of government – federal, state and local government, as well as social security.

The office said the main factors improving revenues were the large increase in income tax and property tax payments as well as the “good employment situation”, which led to a “considerable growth” in social contributions.

In terms of expenditure, a big factor was increased spending by state and local governments on things such as accommodation for refugees, as well as payments to them for living expenses.

Germany has taken in more than a million migrants over the past two years, mainly from Africa and the Middle East.

Jobs fair for refugees and migrants in Berlin

This jobs fair in Berlin is an example of German efforts to integrate migrants. Getty

The actual surplus figure of 23.7bn euros represents 0.8% of gross domestic product (GDP).

The federal government’s share of the surplus amounts to 7.7bn euros, all of which will be paid into a fund to support refugees.

Chancellor Angela Merkel played down the new figures. “If you look at the federal level alone, the surplus is rather small,” she said.

She said the government would increase spending on defence, as well as on domestic security and social improvements.

“At the same time, we don’t want to take on new debt. So the room for manoeuvre is rather limited,” she added.

The GDP figures showed that the German economy grew by 0.4% in the final quarter of 2016, primarily because of strong domestic demand.

As well as higher consumer spending, there was an increase in federal, state and local government expenditure.

Germany’s economic strength has traditionally been bolstered by exports.

In the final quarter of last year, however “the development of foreign trade had a downward effect on growth”, the Statistical Office said.

While exports of goods and services rose by 3.3% from a year earlier, imports increased by 4.5%.

Too strong

Thursday’s figures follow European Commission criticism of Germany’s relative economic strength within the eurozone.

On Wednesday the Commission said Germany’s current account surplus – which measures the balance of goods, services and investments into and out of the country – was too big.

It said that cutting that surplus would help the whole of the eurozone.

It also said Germans were saving too much and not investing enough in both the private and public sector.

The Commission acknowledged that steps had been taken to reverse that situation, but more could be done.

To address the economic “imbalances” the Commission said: “Further policy action should aim at further strengthening investment, including by reforming the services sector and improving the efficiency of the tax system, as well as stimulating labour market activity of second earners, low-income earners and older workers to boost households’ incomes and counter the effects of ageing.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-39064795

Italy and Spain to seek ‘a key role’ in revitalizing Europe

January 28, 2017

Published January 27, 2017

Associated Press
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The prime ministers of Italy and Spain are seeking a bigger role in strengthening the embattled European Union during upcoming summits with leaders of other EU countries.

Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni said at a news conference after talks in Madrid with his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, on Friday that their nations Spain “can play a key role in the coming months, primarily as protagonists in the European Union revival.”

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

Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni

Gentiloni and Rajoy are scheduled to join the leaders of Portugal, France, Greece, Malta and Cyprus for a one-day summit in Lisbon on Saturday.

They also plan to attend a meeting of all the EU’s 28 leaders next month in Malta and for a March gathering in Rome to mark 60 years since the establishment of a European economic union.

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Southern EU nations gather in Lisbon as storm clouds gather — EU needs urgent reforms to “surpass the economic, social and political legitimacy crisis”

January 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Daniel SILVA | Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa will host leaders of seven southern EU nations in Lisbon ahead of a February 3 meeting of EU leaders in Malta
LISBON (AFP) – Leaders of seven southern European Union nations meet in Lisbon on Saturday to forge a common approach to deal with Britain’s looming exit from the bloc and the new protectionist administration of US President Donald Trump.

The mostly centre-left leaders taking part in the gathering — the second by southern EU leaders in four months — are also expected to renew their push for action to boost flagging growth in the EU and tackle the ongoing migrant crisis.

Faced with the rise of “protectionism and populism”, the EU needs urgent reforms to “surpass the economic, social and political legitimacy crisis which is weakening it,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, the summit’s host, said Tuesday.

French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni are scheduled to take part in the talks, which are due to start at 11:00 am (1100 GMT). Also holding court are the leaders of Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta.

The leaders will issue a joint statement after the meeting that is expected to focus on the need to boost growth and investment in Europe.

This is a follow up to a first gathering held in Athens in September 2016 as part of a push by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to create a strong southern “axis” to counter the influence of nations in northern Europe.

The group is often referred to — sometimes dismissively — as “Club Med”, even though one of its members, Portugal, is not on the Mediterranean.

It includes some of the nations which were hit hardest by the financial crisis. Portugal and Greece both got international bailouts worth tens of billions of euros which came with demands for tough austerity measures and economic reforms.

The Lisbon summit comes ahead of a February 3 meeting of EU leaders in Malta to reflect on the future of the bloc without Britain, its second-largest economy and its richest financial centre.

– Politically weak leaders –

Analysts said forging a common front will be hard as southern EU nations have different priorities and many of the leaders who will be at the Lisbon summit are politically weak.

Hollande is not a candidate in France’s presidential election later this year and his Socialist party is trailing in the polls.

“So whatever Hollande promises or agrees this weekend will probably be forgotten by the middle of the year,” Adriano Bosoni, senior Europe analyst at US private intelligence firm Stratfor, told AFP.

“The Italian government is also fragile. The Greek prime minister is struggling to keep his government alive.”

Paris is not interested in breaking its traditional partnership with Germany which has long set the pace for the EU, said Guntram Wolff, director of Bruegel, a Brussels-based think thank.

“France is both a nation of the south and the north, she creates bridges between the two regions. There is no reason for her to seek confrontation with Germany,” he told AFP.

– Trump challenge –

Hollande travelled to Berlin on Friday on the eve of the summit for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a sign of the continued importance which Paris puts on the French-German axis.

During a joint press conference with Merkel he warned Trump’s administration poses “challenges” to “our trade rules, as well as to our ability to resolve conflicts around the world”.

Trump has rattled his traditional European allies with a range of radical policy plans, from calling NATO “obsolete” to announcing he would rip up a planned transatlantic trade plan and supporting Britain’s move to leave the EU.

Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem warned Thursday that Europe was “on its own” after Trump took over as US president, but said it could be an opportunity to strengthen the EU.

by Daniel SILVA

Hundreds flee wildfires near Jerusalem

November 25, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | Israeli authorities evacuated 60,000 people from Haifa because of a spate of wildfires

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Hundreds of people were evacuated from an Israeli village near Jerusalem overnight, police said Friday, as firefighters battled wildfires that have forced tens of thousands to flee around the country.

The evacuations in Beit Meir, a cooperative village of religious Jews, came after 60,000 people in Israel’s third-largest city Haifa were moved to safety on Thursday because of a spate of fires.

“All the Beit Meir area has been evacuated — several hundred people, maybe 400,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Rosenfeld said that a suspect had been arrested in connection with the blaze, but did not elaborate.

Police have arrested a number of people in connection with the fires across the country.

Some are suspected of criminal negligence leading to accidental fires in tinder-dry woodland and undergrowth, while there are also suspicions that some may have been deliberate and related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Police on Friday morning reported the outbreak of a new fire near the southern town of Kiryat Gat.

In the north, thousands of residents of the mixed Jewish-Arab coastal city of Haifa spent the night in temporary accommodation.

The Haifa fires were “under control” on Friday morning, Rosenfeld said, but he cautioned that “things can change and develop as we speak.”

Firefighters and rescue services say strong and changeable winds make developments hard to predict.

“At the moment, (Haifa) residents who were evacuated from their homes are not allowed to go back,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.

Entire neighbourhoods of the port city have been evacuated, along with Haifa University and local prisons.

Meteorologists say a long dry summer and so-far rainless autumn have brought about ideal conditions for fires to spread — whether sparked by accident or on purpose.

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