Posts Tagged ‘Czech Republic’

Populist billionaire Babis wins landslide in Czech Republic’s general election

October 22, 2017

AFP

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© Michal Cizek, AFP | Czech billionaire Andrej Babis (L), chairman of the ANO movement (YES) and his wife Monika smile at ANO headquarter after Czech elections on October 21, 2017 in Prague.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-10-22

The centrist ANO movement led by populist Andrej Babis won the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election Saturday. The vote shifted the country to the right and paved the way for the euroskeptic billionaire to become its next prime minister.

With all votes counted, the Czech Statistics Office said ANO won in a landslide, capturing 29.6 percent of the vote, or 78 of the 200 seats in the lower house of Parliament.

“It’s a huge success,” the 63-year-old Babis told supporters and journalists at his headquarters in Prague.

Babis is the country‘s second-richest man, with a media empire including two major newspapers and a popular radio station.

Although he was a finance minister in the outgoing government until May, many Czechs see him as a maverick outsider with the business acumen to shake up the system. With slogans claiming he can easily fix the country’s problems, he is, for some, the Czech answer to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Since the leader of the strongest party usually gets to form a new government, Babis could be the country’s next leader despite being linked to several scandals, including being charged by police with fraud linked to European Union subsidies.

The charges will likely make it difficult for Babis to find the coalition partners he needs to build a parliamentary majority. He didn’t immediately say which parties he preferred but has invited all parties that won seats in parliament for talks.

In a blow to the country’s political elite, four of the top five vote-getting parties Saturday had challenged the traditional political mainstream. Some have exploited fears of immigration and Islam and have been attacking the country’s memberships in the EU and NATO.

The opposition conservative Civic Democrats came in a distant second Saturday with 11.3 percent of the vote, or 25 seats. They were the strongest mainstream party. The Social Democrats, the senior party in the outgoing government, captured only 7.3 percent   15 seats   while the Christian Democrats, part of the ruling coalition, won only 5.8 percent support or 10 seats.

“It’s a voting hurricane,” analyst Michal Klima told the Czech television, referring to the poor results for the mainstream parties.

The Pirate Party won seats for the first time, coming in third with 10.8 percent of the vote, while the most radical anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, anti-EU party, the Freedom and Direct Democracy, was in fourth place with 10.6 percent support. The two parties won 22 seats each.

Babis’ centrist movement stormed Czech politics four years ago, finishing a surprising second with an anti-corruption message. Babis has also been critical of the EU and opposes setting a date for when his country would adopt the shared euro currency.

Like most Czech parties, ANO also rejects accepting refugees under the EU’s quota system.

But Babis played down his euroskeptic views after his victory.

“We’re oriented on Europe,” he said. “We’re not a threat for democracy. I’m ready to fight for our interests in Brussels. We’re a firm part of the European Union. We’re a firm part of NATO.”

Still, some experts saw a strong shift to the right for the Czech Republic if Babis works out a coalition government with Tomio Okamura, head of the Freedom and Direct Democracy party, who wants to ban Islam and organize a referendum to exit the EU.

“Should (Babis) join forces with Okamura, the Czech Republic would be facing difficult times,” Klima said.

A record nine parties and groupings made it into Parliament. Those included the Communists, who got 7.8 percent of the vote and 15 seats, the pro-EU conservatives with 5.3 percent and seven seats and a group of mayors who won 5.2 percent support and six seats.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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

October 18, 2017

AFP

© 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.

by Jan MARCHAL
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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

EU threatens Hungary, Poland with fines if refuse refugees

September 6, 2017

Image result for refugees, med, boats, photos

File photo — Migrants try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to freedom in the EU. TORM A/S

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The EU executive said on Wednesday it was ready to institute court proceedings within weeks that could lead to fines for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic if they refuse to take in asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece.

Speaking to reporters after the EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), upheld the legality of quotas for states to take migrants relocated from the Mediterranean, Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said:

“If the member states that have not relocated at all or not for a long time do not change their approach in the coming weeks, we should then consider to take the last step in the infringement procedure, taking Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to the European Court of Justice.”

The ECJ has the power to levy financial penalties on governments which fail to comply with EU law.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Lily Cusack; editing by Philip Blenkinsop

Polish PM rejects ‘blackmail’ on EU migrant quotas

September 3, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said the country doesn’t agree to “the forced relocation of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East”

WARSAW (AFP) – Poland’s rightwing premier said Sunday that her country would not be “blackmailed” by its “largest” EU partners into accepting thousands of asylum seekers under a quota system for spreading them throughout the bloc.”We cannot be blackmailed by the threat that part of our EU funds will be cut off as punishment, because we don’t agree to the forced relocation of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East,” Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said in an excerpt of an interview with Sieci, a rightwing news magazine, published Sunday on the wPolityce news website.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in July that Brussels was taking legal steps against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland “for failing to meet their legal obligations on relocation” under the quota program.

The three countries could be brought before the European Court of Justice and eventually fined, something Warsaw argues would be tantamount to a cut in EU funding.

“EU funds and cohesion policy are pillars of the European Union just like the free movement of goods and services. We have a right to them… Therefore, we insist that EU treaties must be adhered to and we reject the diktat of the largest states” on migrant quotas, Szydlo said.

Her remarks come as the ECJ is expected on Wednesday to dismiss a challenge by Hungary and Slovakia to the mandatory quota program, created at the height of Europe’s 2015 refugee crisis.

The wave of people fleeing the war in Syria and conflict and poverty in the Middle East and many African countries triggered Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II.

But of this July, only 24,000 of the 160,000 refugees involved in the EU relocation scheme were moved from frontline states like Italy and Greece to other member countries.

Aside from garnering criticism for its rejection of migrant quotas, Szydlo’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government has come under heavy fire both at home and abroad since taking office in 2015 for a slew of reforms that critics say erode democratic standards and the rule of law.

French President Emmanuel Macron said last month that Poland was going “against European interests”, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Poland a “serious issue”.

The EU launched legal action in July against the government over reforms that it fears will limit judicial independence.

In the interview, Szydlo also rejected claims that her government’s actions were gradually pushing Poland out of the EU, calling the allegations “the greatest of lies, a horrible manipulation” and insisting that “we want to be in the EU, we value it”.

Surveys show that nearly 90 percent of Poles support EU membership, viewing it as a major source of funding and development.

Macron meets resistance to labor reforms in eastern Europe

August 26, 2017

Emmanuel Macron is on a campaign to curtail the export of cheap labor to western Europe. But as the French president takes his tour east, he is running into a less receptive audience.

Emmanuel Macron in Austria (Reuters/H-P.Bader)

It looked like it would be a walk in the park for French President Emmanuel Macron after his early success in Salzburg. Macron swiftly came to an agreement with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern on Wednesday to work together against the export of foreign workers to be used as “cheap labor” in the western EU. He also won support from Slovakia and the Czech Republic during the four-way meeting in the Alpine city.

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, however, cautiously pointed out that Hungary, and above all Poland, which sends particularly large numbers of workers to other EU countries, would have to sign onto any European agreement. Fico understood that Poland would continue to refuse a deal which, according to Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, is against the interests of its own workers.

Eastern Europe works differently

Szydlo reiterated Poland’s opposition in a press conference on Thursday, as Macron was in Bucharest to meet with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. Speaking to reporters in Warsaw, Szydlo stressed Poland would not budge in its resistance to the labor reforms, kicking off a storm unlikely to be dealt with again until the next EU social summit in October.

Emmanuel Macron in Bucharest (picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Ghirda)Macron found less support for his proposed labor reforms in Romania

In Bucharest, and the next day in the Bulgarian city of Varna, support for Macron’s proposals suddenly looked bleak. Both Iohannis and Bulgarian President Rumen Radev admitted to their French counterpart that they wanted to intensify their efforts to eliminate cheap labor exports within the EU. But they cited the rights of workers and companies’ needs to compete on the European free market as stumbling blocks.

Analysis: Macron willing to compromise …

Macron is well aware of the explosive nature of this issue. In order to reform the European labor market, an effort also supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he must be ready to compromise. That is why Macron this week offered his Romanian and Bulgarian counterparts support in their countries’ respective negotiations to join the Schengen visa zone.

But Macron must also recognize that his view of the “European spirit” is seen as one-sided. His attempts to blame cheap foreign labor for France’s unemployment problems is too transparent an attempt to divert attention from the longstanding structural problems in his country. In addition, Macron seems to be deliberately forgetting that French retail chains, such as Carrefour and Auchan, have pushed the local and much weaker companies almost completely out of the market in eastern Europe. These are the rules of the free European Economic Area, from which French companies also fully benefit. To “reform” the labor market in the EU by means of protectionist measures would be the worst possible signal to save the “European spirit.”

Construction workers (picture-alliance/Sven Simon)Eastern European construction workers are often poorly paid in Western EU countries

…but no consensus in sight

It is understandable that Macron was left frustrated by Poland’s resistance to labor reforms while in Varna. He is certainly right when he says that Poland is not the country that “leads the way in Europe.”

But France alone will not be able to dictate the direction the EU is headed. The bloc must come together to find ways to significantly reduce the social and economic disparities within the region. The French president’s tour of central and eastern Europe will surely inject life into the stalled discussions. But Macron’s desire to have labor reform in the bag by the end of the year remains far from finished.

http://www.dw.com/en/frances-emmanuel-macron-meets-resistance-to-labor-reforms-in-eastern-europe/a-40246375

Merkel Warns U.K. It’ll Have to Pay EU Obligations in Brexit

August 26, 2017

Bloomberg

By Richard Weiss

August 26, 2017, 6:26 AM EDT August 26, 2017, 9:24 AM EDT
  • German chancellor says it’s not a ‘divorce bill’ but a must
  • Says Poland in ‘very serious’ EU situation over rule of law

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the U.K. that it must pay what it owes the European Union as part of Brexit talks, saying it’s misleading to view the costs as a divorce bill.

“This is about obligations that Great Britain has entered into and that naturally must remain on the books,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast published Saturday. “It’s not about the cost of divorce — that makes it sound like fines. We’re still at the very start of these negotiations.”

Angela Merkel

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Talks on the U.K.’s exit from the European Union are to resume on Monday in Brussels with little clarity on key topics, including the amount of the financial settlement that’s an early part of the discussions. With Prime Minister Theresa May’s government silent on how much it’ll pay the EU, Merkel said the two are facing a “very difficult issue.”

How much the U.K. owes the EU in leaving the bloc is among the most difficult issues, with analysts estimating the EU will put forward a gross bill of as much as 100 billion euros ($120 billion). Britain’s government acknowledged in July that it will have a bill to pay, saying it wants to “determine a fair settlement of the U.K.’s rights and obligations.”

Separately from any Brexit deals, the EU’s next budget talks will “surely be very difficult” because the 28-nation bloc is losing a net contributor, Merkel said.

As Merkel runs for a fourth term in Germany’s Sept. 24 election on a platform of defending EU values, she joined French President Emmanuel Macron in criticizing Poland for a government push to encroach on the courts.

No ‘False Compromises’

While countries such as Poland and Hungary can always take grievances to the European Court of Justice, “we can’t make any false compromises,” Merkel said in response to questions from a German student in the podcast.

“That’s why we’re in a very serious situation, particularly with Poland,” Merkel said. “But we can’t say that the member states have unlimited plurality. Rather, it has it’s limits at those points where fundamental democratic values might be infringed.”

After a series of government overhauls of Poland’s judiciary raised questions about the independence of courts, the EU’s biggest eastern economy may face EU sanctions over what the union calls an attack on the rule of law. Along with countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, Poland has also ignored EU policy and refused to take in refugees, citing security concerns.

“We can’t pick and choose the areas in which Europe offers solidarity,” Merkel said.

Separately, Spiegel magazine reported that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is preparing a motion that could strip Poland of its voting rights in the European Council if the country doesn’t roll back the reforms of its judiciary system, a move that Merkel opposes and that Hungary may veto.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-26/merkel-warns-u-k-it-ll-have-to-pay-eu-obligations-under-brexit

Poland Asks EU to Drop Legal Case Against Warsaw Over Migrant Quotas — EU Migrant Policy Put The Noose of Terrorism Around Europe’s Neck — Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Berlin, Manchester, Barcelona

August 23, 2017

WARSAW — Poland has asked the European Commission to withdraw its legal proceedings against Warsaw over its migrant relocation quotas and said it was ready to fight its case in court, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

In July the Commission sent so-called “reasoned opinions” to Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary urging them to apply EU migration rules.

“Poland has sent a motion to the European Commission requesting it to discontinue its ongoing infringement procedure. Should it be continued, Poland is prepared to argue its case before the Court of Justice of the European Union”, the ministry said in a statement.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has repeatedly criticized the EU’s relocation scheme for each member state to host a given number of migrants to help ease pressure on Greece and Italy, struggling with mass arrivals of migrants across the Mediterranean.

Earlier on Wednesday, Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said in a statement that the EU’s relocation policy was dangerous.

“Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Berlin, Manchester, Barcelona,” Blaszczak said, referring to recent attacks by Islamist militants which have killed scores of people.

“How many more European cities have to be hit by terrorists so the European Union wakes up? So the European Commission acknowledges that accepting blindly all those who come to the European shores is akin to putting a noose around Europe’s neck?”

(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Lidia Kelly)

Migrant crisis: Italy backs force to police Libya shore — Effort to stem the influx of migrants into Europe

July 29, 2017

BBC News

The Italian navy destroyer Luigi Durand De La Penne in the Mediterranean Sea on 1 October 2015
Libya says Italian plans for a force of ships, planes and sailors led by a frigate would undermine its sovereignty. AFP photo

Italy’s cabinet has backed sending a mission to Libya to try to stem the influx of migrants.

The mission would help Libya “reinforce their capacity to control their borders and national territory”, said Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

It would reportedly comprise ships, planes and at least 700 sailors.

Mr Gentiloni claimed it had been requested by Libya, but the UN-backed government there vigorously denied making any such request.

In an earlier statement, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj said his administration had agreed to receive only training and arms from Italy.

“Libya’s national sovereignty is a red line that nobody must cross,” he said.

Mr Sarraj, whose administration’s control of Libya is limited, held a face-to-face meeting with Mr Gentiloni in Italy on Wednesday.

Mr Sarraj did acknowledge asking Rome for border guards in southern Libya in that meeting.

More than 94,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year, according to the UN. But more than 2,370 people have died trying.

Migrants picked up in Libyan coastal waters – and not international waters – can be legally returned to Libya, but aid workers say that conditions in Libyan migrant reception camps are dire.

The Italian mission to Libyan coastal waters would reportedly be led by a frigate.

A Libyan coast guardsman stands on a boat during the pick-up of 147 illegal immigrants attempting to reach Europe off the coastal town of Zawiyah, 45 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli, on 27 June 2017
European states have already been helping to beef up Libyan efforts to prevent migrants reaching international waters, where international law then prevents them being returned to Libya. AFP photo

The mission would contribute, Mr Gentiloni told the cabinet meeting, to Libya’s “path of stabilisation… and Italy feels it a duty to participate”.

The cabinet had “approved what the [Libyan] government requested, no more, no less,” he said. He later clarified that the initiative aimed to “support Libya sovereignty, it is not an initiative against Libyan sovereignty”.

He said full details of the plan would be presented to parliament on Tuesday.

Push-back plan

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would establish migrant registration centres or “hotspots” in Libya – and in the shorter term in Niger and Chad – to vet asylum seekers prior to their attempt to cross into Europe.

And in a letter to Mr Gentiloni last week, the Visegrad group of four (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) pledged financial support for Italian efforts to reduce the flow of irregular migrants from Libya and elsewhere.

Those efforts, the letter outlined, included “EU activities at the southern border of Libya” and the creation of migrant-vetting “hotspots” outside EU territory.

In remarks on 23 June, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán spelled out this view, telling journalists: “If we don’t want people from Libya to set out for Europe, we have to act accordingly – either on Libya’s northern or southern borders.

“Hungary announced that it supports the Italian-German initiative for us to set up check-points and introduce a monitoring system on Libya’s southern borders. Hungary is prepared to contribute to this with personnel or funding.”

Map showing Central Mediterranean migrant routes

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40750994

EU eastern states say bloc must show more support for Israel — Netanyahu said, “I think Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive or it wants to shrivel and disappear.”

July 19, 2017

Reuters

Marton Dunai and Jeffrey Heller.

July 19, 2017

BUDAPEST/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Europe should better appreciate Israel’s key role in Middle Eastern stability, leaders of four central European nations said on Wednesday in a joint attack with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu on Brussels’ current policy toward the state.

The comments were the latest example of divergence between west and east Europe, where questions of national sovereignty, migration and civic freedoms have also stirred friction. U.S. President Donald Trump lent support this month to Poland, target of criticism by the EU he has disdained, with a visit to Warsaw.

Netanyahu met the Visegrad Four leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who backed Israel and called for an improvement in the EU’s relations with the state.

“I think Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive or it wants to shrivel and disappear,” Netanyahu told the leaders of the eastern EU states behind closed doors in Budapest.

In an audio recording of the remarks obtained by Reuters, Netanyahu goes on to say: “It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth, both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. And both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel.”

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and text

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, listens to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a press conference held after the talks of Netanyahu with heads of government of the Visegrad Group or V4 countries in the Pesti Vigado building in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, July19, 2017. Netanyahu is staying on a four-day official visit in Hungary. MTI via AP Balazs Mohai

Israel has often been criticized in Western Europe on matters such as its settlement policy. The recent closeness of Netanyahu with leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been viewed with suspicion in the European Union.

Support in Brussels

Netanyahu asked the four premiers point blank to support his country in Brussels.

“If you, as the Visegrad group, can begin to advance this conception, I think this would be… beneficial to you but I think it would actually be beneficial to all of Europe.”

“We’re part of European civilization. You look at the Middle East – Europe stops in Israel. That’s it.”

At a later press briefing Netanyahu repeated the statements in a more diplomatic language, saying Israel “serves a unique function in being the one Western country in the region, the one country that is able to limit and fight from within the region this great danger to all of us.”

“We’re often criticized by Europe, (more often) than any other place in the world… It’s time to have a reassessment in Europe about the relations with Israel.”

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

 Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd L), Visegrad Group (V4) Prime Ministers, Czech Republic’s Bohuslav Sobotka (L), Hungary’s Viktor Orban (C to R), Slovakia’s Robert Fico and Poland’s Beata Szydlo attend a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, July 19, 2017

Hungary’s Orban, himself often accused in Brussels of flouting liberal democratic values such as press freedom, said he and other Visegrad leaders would support better relations between the EU and Israel.

The group will meet in 2018 in Jerusalem at Netanyahu’s invitation.

“The Visegrad Four shares the Israeli view that external border defense is key,” Orban told a press briefing. “Free movement of people without controls raises the risk of terror.”

Orban has been criticized in the EU for erecting a razor wire border fence and refusing to accept migrants under EU agreements, preferring “ethnic homogeneity”.

But he backed down from a recent rhetorical overture toward far-right groups amid accusations of anti-Semitism.

“The EU should appreciate the efforts Israel makes for the (Middle East) region’s stability, which serve Europe as it spares us from newer and newer waves of migration,” he said.

Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in BRUSSELS; editing by Ralph Boulton