Posts Tagged ‘Czech Republic’

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

European ministers want ‘code of conduct’ for migrant rescue NGOs

July 3, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A girl disembarks from the Aquarius rescue ship run by NGO S.O.S. Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Italian port of Salerno on May 26 2017 after a rescue operation in the Mediterranean

PARIS (AFP) – France, Germany and Italy said Monday they had agreed to draw up a “code of conduct” for charities operating boats in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants crossing from Africa to Europe.

The code would be an attempt to regulate operations in the sea where the Italian coast guard, European border patrol forces and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) currently operate vessels that pick up stranded migrants.

Italy has also been pushing for other European countries to open up their ports to rescue ships, in order to share the burden around, but the request was declined by France calling it “counterproductive”.

It risked encouraging more migrants to attempt the trip, an aide to French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told AFP on condition of anonymity.

One of the rescue organisations, SOS Mediterranee, which runs an aid vessel along with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has said that forcing rescue boats to go to other European ports instead of Italian ones would be logistically difficult.

More than 83,000 people have been rescued and brought to Italy so far this year after attempting the crossing from Libya, while more than 2,160 have died trying, the UN and the International Organization for Migration says.

The three nations’ interior ministers, who met on Sunday in Paris, also agreed to look into ways to support the coast guard in Libya by increasing financing and training.

They also pledged extra support for the UN refugee agency to improve and expand facilities in its camps in the war-ravaged north African country, a statement from the French interior ministry said.

“The idea is to help slow down arrivals of economic migrants at the departure point,” the aide to Collomb told AFP, while “helping the Italians manage arrivals.”

Their plan, to be presented to all 28 members of the EU at the end of the week, would also suggest ways of improving the process of returning economic migrants to their countries.

The European Union has struggled to put in place a common refugee policy agreed in 2015 that would have seen around 160,000 asylum seekers distributed around the bloc to take the pressure off Italy and Greece where most of them arrive.

Only about 20,000 have been relocated while Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have refused to take part.

“France and Germany agreed to increase their efforts,” the statement from the three interior ministers added on Monday.

Related:

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East-west divide in the EU deepens

June 25, 2017

While the German and French leaders celebrated the close ties between their countries during this week’s EU summit, divisions between western and eastern European leaders grew. Christoph Hasselbach reports from Brussels.

Belgien EU-Gipfel in Brüseel | (Reuters/E Dunand)

The summit was intended to spread a bit of optimism. The professionals, it was announced, would now take care of Brexit negotiations, and the British government even promised to protect EU citizens’ rights in the United Kingdom after withdrawal. Although that proposal is now being criticized as inadequate and vague, it is still being touted as a sign of progress. After that, the remaining 27 member states sought to create momentum for new projects.

The joint press conference held by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron was then appropriately symbolic. Merkel described the mood of the two-day summit, which ended on Friday, as “optimistic and dynamic.” Such words are more easily uttered in the knowledge that economies in almost all member states, even those which were heretofore weak, are starting to grow again. The eurozone has just completed its best quarter in almost six years, which, however, isn’t saying much considering the crisis that has been plaguing the continent for the last several years.

Yet Estonia, which will take over the European Council’s rotating presidency in July, has said that more must still be done. Estonia is considered a role model for EU digitization. In Brussels, Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas urged: “Data is the next steel and coal. So we need to be ready for a next 60 years of digitization in Europe. Europe has to become the world leader in digital.” In the case of German Chancellor Merkel, Ratas is preaching to the converted. She was full of praise, “because Estonia is an example of how digitization is already being lived out.”

The EU also wants to take the lead in maintaining free trade around the world, which member states see threatened by the protectionist tendencies of US President Donald Trump. But, as French President Macron said, the EU is not “naive” either. Openness also necessitates fairness. European governments find it unfair that some countries seemingly flood the European market with dumping prices, or that companies from third states buy European firms while at the same time blocking European takeovers in theirs. The main culprit in both instances is China.

Belgien - EU-Gipfel in Brüssel - Juncker (picture allianceBELGA/dpa/T. Roge)European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also made a relaxed impression

Refugee distribution? Hopeless

But the generally positive mood that has come on the heels of the Brexit depression did not brighten every topic of discussion – such as that of immigration. Macron, who is seen by many as Europe’s new hope, began the conference by angering eastern European countries that have refused to accept refugees from the bloc’s main countries of arrival, Italy and Greece. Macron complained that members were not in a “supermarket” and that the EU was not about “handing out money without regard for European values.”

Although he did not name names, those he was referring to, such as Hungary, felt attacked. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban snapped back that Macron’s comments were a “kick.” He labeled Macron a “newbie” whose start in office was “not very encouraging.” Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, on the other hand, stood by Macron: “I cannot always make demands and then shirk my responsibilities.”

In an effort to smooth over differences, Macron also met separately with heads of government from the so-called Visegrad Group: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Nothing, however, came of the meeting. After the summit, Merkel said that all members were “very, very much in agreement” on the issue of fighting the root causes of migration and the control of Europe’s exterior borders. She resignedly added: “Unfortunately, we made no progress on the question of distribution,” noting that very little time had been allotted for discussing the issue, “since it was clear that we would not be able to make any progress.”

In his joint press conference with Merkel, Macron added: “The current refugee crisis is not a temporary, but rather a long-term challenge, which can be resolved only through long-term stabilization in Africa and the Middle East and through ambitious European development policies.”

Read more: EU leaders agree on trade but remain split over refugees

Symbolbild Flüchtlinge Italien Salerno (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Amoruso/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire)The EU’s system of refugee redistribution is meeting with resistance from some member states

Competition from Eastern Europe

Macron’s discussion with the Visegrad Group was delicate for another reason as well. The French president fears that the entire European project is in jeopardy because workers in wealthy western European countries feel threatened by eastern European competition. Macron recently even cited the issue in explaining the Brexit: “How could Brexit happen? Because workers from eastern European countries were taking British jobs.” Macron is therefore calling for changes to the so-called “Posting of Workers Directive.” He envisions that workers sent to fill western European jobs should be paid according to local wage scales. The proposal was greeted by high-wage countries such as Germany and Austria. But eastern Europeans are vehemently refusing to cede their competitive advantage.

Deutschland Wohnungsbau in Hamburg (picture alliance / dpa)Eastern European competition often makes itself felt in the construction industry

The summit made clear that Emmanuel Macron’s election has given a jolt of energy to the French-German duo that will perhaps be able to drive new European projects. But at the same time, it also highlighted the threat that the divide between new EU member states from the east and old ones from the west could grow ever deeper.

http://www.dw.com/en/the-east-west-divide-in-the-eu-deepens/a-39403028

EU Will Restrict Visas for States Not Taking Back Migrants — Migrant deaths in Mediterranean in 2017 pass 2,000 mark on World Refugee Day after new boat disasters

June 23, 2017

BRUSSELS — The European Union states decided on Friday to restrict visas for foreign countries that refuse to take back their nationals who have no right of asylum in Europe.

The EU is cracking down on immigration following a spike in arrivals across the Mediterranean since 2014.

Italy is now the main gateway to the bloc and most of those reaching European shores after boarding smugglers’ boats in Africa are considered illegal labor migrants.

Some countries, including Bangladesh and Nigeria, are often reluctant to readmit their citizens and the EU has recently doubled down on efforts to expedite such returns.

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Migrant deaths in Mediterranean in 2017 pass 2,000 mark on World Refugee Day after new boat disasters

Humanitarian organisations call on EU to stop ‘demonising’ NGOs for saving lives at sea

By Lizzie Dearden

The Independent Online

2,000 migrants drowned by World Refugee Day

More than 2,000 migrants have died attempting treacherous boat crossings to Europe so far this year, following three more shipwrecks announced on World Refugee Day.

The United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said 129 asylum seekers were missing and presumed dead after a dinghy launched by smugglers in Libya started taking on water and sank, leaving only four survivors from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Two rescued Sudanese men told the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) the boat had been at sea for several hours when a group of Libyans described as “pirates” approached in a speedboat and stole their motor.

Passing Libyan fishermen rescued the pair along with two Nigerian men who were the only other survivors, and put them on another migrant boat.

“They were in shock, traumatised by what had happened, and exhausted,” said IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo, adding that motor thefts had caused several recent disasters.

Another boat was carrying at least 85 people from Syria and North Africa, including families with children, when it broke in two and sank on Monday.

refugee-boat-rescues-mediterannean2.jpg
Migrants rescued by the Vos Hestia ship off Libya coast on Saturday (Reuters)

A third shipwreck is feared to have left at least seven people dead, with survivors including a pregnant woman taken to Sicily.

The UNHCR said the disasters were a reminder of the “grave dangers” facing people forced to flee their countries by war and persecution.

Of almost 83,000 migrants who have arrived by sea in Europe so far in 2017, the vast majority have crossed the central Mediterranean between Libya and Italy – now the deadliest sea passage in the world.

It has claimed more than 2,000 lives since January, according to UNHCR figures, sparking fresh appeals for enhanced rescue operations and the introduction of safe and legal alternatives for a record 65.6 million displaced people around the world.

“More efforts are needed to address the root causes behind these movements of people to Libya, including by solving conflicts and reducing poverty,” said a spokesperson for the agency.

The UN and humanitarian groups have been raising concerns over increased EU support for the fragile Libyan Government of National Accord.

The UK is among countries training its coastguard, while boats, equipment and millions of euros have been handed over in efforts to slow crossings.

refugee-boat-rescues-mediterannean.jpg
Migrants rescued by Save the Children in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday (Reuters)

But as the Libyan civil war continues to rage six years after the UK supported the removal of Muammar Gaddafi, smugglers have set up a ruthless trade with migrants routinely kidnapped, ransomed, forced into labour, raped, tortured and sold at “slave markets”.

A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Libyan coastguard was engaging in “reckless conduct” during operations to force migrant boats back to land – in violation of international laws against refoulement.

It highlighted incidents reported by The Independent in May where the coastguard opened fire while blocking rescues by NGO ships in international waters.

“Recent incidents show how wrong it is for EU countries to entrust the lives of those in need of rescue to Libyan coast guard forces when there are safer alternatives,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, calling for Italian authorities who currently coordinate rescues not to hand over command.

The call was repeated by a group of rescue organisations including Sea-Watch, Jugend Rettet and Proactiva Open Arms, who said European plans to “outsource control” of the refugee crisis to Libyan authorities was not practical or legal.

An open letter to mark World Refugee Day on Tuesday called on European naval forces to conduct rescues, stop boats being illegally pushed back to Libya, develop an impartial monitoring system and “support and decriminalise NGOs rather than demonising them”.

Charities and aid agencies operating refugee rescue ships have been accused of aiding and even directly colluding with Libyan smugglers in the increasingly toxic debate, despite research finding no evidence to support the allegations.

Italy, which is housing more than 190,000 asylum seekers in state-funded accommodation, has criticised other European countries for failing to resettle asylum seekers and help rescue efforts.

“I’m sorry that not everyone, including in Europe, has shown the same willingness to take people in [as Italy has],” Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a message marking World Refugee Day.

“The refugee issue crosses national borders and involves the entire EU and is, in the end, a global phenomenon.”

The Italian navy and coastguard picked up 41 per cent of migrants rescued at sea last year, NGO ships 26 per cent, and ships from the EU-wide Operation Sophia 25 per cent.

But during the first four months of 2017, the proportion of rescues conducted by NGOs has increased to 35 per cent, with Italian authorities carrying out a third and Operation Sophia carrying out just 16 per cent.

EU leaders will meet in Brussels to discuss migration policy on Thursday, after arrivals to Italy jumped by a quarter year-on-year.

Last week, the European Commission opened a legal case against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for refusing to take in asylum seekers under a 2015 plan to relocate migrants from Italy and Greece.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/migrants-mediterranean-sea-crossings-2000-dead-world-refugee-day-asylum-seekers-boat-disasters-libya-a7800376.html

EU leaders will take on the issue of globalisation at a Brussels summit — And how to deal with others seeking more protections like France and the U.S.

June 23, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Alex PIGMAN | EU leaders will take on the issue of globalisation at a Brussels summit

BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU leaders tackle the thorny topic of globalisation at a summit on Friday with deep divisions between proponents of free markets and others seeking more protections, most notably France.

The election of “America First” President Donald Trump has sown confusion in Europe, with free trade advocates asking that the EU take leadership and sign new trade deals with Japan, Mexico and South America.

But French President Emmanuel Macron has warned leaders to prioritise protections for Europeans worried about globalisation or risk a spike in populist sentiment that helped Trump win the presidency and brought on Brexit.

“It’s not a secret that there is not one single view on how globalisation can be better controlled,” a senior EU diplomat said ahead of the summit, on condition of anonymity.

“There are quite a few nuances between those who are more free on trade and those who want to have more controls,” he added.

The most divisive issue is a proposal spearheaded by pro-EU Macron to hand Brussels more powers to control Chinese investments in Europe’s key industries.

“I’m in favour of fair protection… I’m in favour of free trade, not of being naive,” Macron said after a first session of talks on Thursday.

Macron, who beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in last month’s run-off, is asking that the summit launch measures towards screening investments by China in Europe that have startled some Europeans.

– Anti-dumping defenses –

But according to a draft of the summit conclusions seen by AFP, opponents of Macron’s efforts have so far succeeded in blocking the effort, in effect delaying discussion to an unspecified later date.

Instead, leaders will only ask the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to “examine the need” to screen investments from countries outside the EU, with China the main target, the draft said.

Macron’s idea has faced significant opposition from Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, as well as European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, all highly suspicious of French-style meddling in the open market.

“We don’t want to hurt investment,” Malmstroem told a conference organised by Politico on Monday.

Historically, export-driven Germany has steered clear of protectionism, but recently got spooked by the acquisition of leading robot-maker Kuka by Chinese firm Midea, a transaction that caused a stir domestically.

Germany for now has quietly backed Macron in his quest to screen sensitive Chinese investments and will heavily influence the final outcome of the debate.

The summit is less divided on finding ways to set up stronger anti-dumping defenses against China and other countries.

Beijing has faced international condemnation for flooding the world with super cheap steel, solar panels and other products, leaving international rivals on their knees.

EU leaders are expected to urge EU institutions to swiftly implement anti-dumping measures currently under negotiation in Brussels.

by Alex PIGMAN

Hong Kong firms join forces to make deals under Silk Road plan

June 19, 2017

Companies will draw on their experience to initially establish infrastructure projects and industrial parks in Thailand and Vietnam

By Josh Ye
South China Morning Post

Monday, June 19, 2017, 8:48pm

Hong Kong companies will form a consortium to build infrastructure projects and industrial parks in Thailand and Vietnam under mainland China’s Silk Road project, the Trade Development Council says.

Council president Vincent Lo Hong-sui said over 40 business leaders from Hong Kong and Shanghai formed a delegation while visiting the two countries last month and met both prime ministers.

He added that this was one of many steps in further involving Hong Kong companies with the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

Lo said the statutory body was now forming “a consortium of local companies” to help them enter these developing markets as a collective force.

“We are looking to build infrastructure projects and industrial parks in countries under the belt and road initiative.”

The initiative was launched by Beijing in 2013 to promote the building of railways, roads, power plants and other infrastructure projects in 60 countries from Asia to Europe on its old Silk Road to promote trade and economic growth.

The council has identified eight countries out of the 65 under the scheme as the initial destinations for Hong Kong investment – Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Nicholas Kwan, research director at the council, said Hong Kong investors were seasoned in managing supply chain systems across countries.

 Vincent Lo says numerous multibillion-dollar deals will be closed this year. Photo: Sam Tsang

Lo said the development level of many of the belt and road countries reminded him of mainland China three decades ago.

“Hong Kong investors have garnered a lot of practical experience in developing mainland China,” he said. “This experience is unique and will definitely benefit other countries.”

He said the council aimed to close several deals this year and estimated some projects were worth more than US$10 billion.

Lo added that chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had told him the next administration would fully support the council in furthering deals with countries linked to the trade initiative.

The council also announced that it would host its second belt and road summit in September, which looked to introduce more concrete plans for local firms to enter relevant countries.

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/economy/article/2099050/hong-kong-firms-join-forces-make-deals-under-silk-road-plan

Czech Social Democrats pledge to cut tax for workers, tighten control of big business

June 17, 2017

Reuters

PRAGUE: The Social Democrats, the senior partner in the Czech Republic’s ruling coalition but trailing in the polls, will try to lure back voters before the October elections by offering tax cuts for workers while tightening control of big business.

The party unveiled its election programme days after Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said he would step down as leader of the country’s oldest party in an attempt to reverse its slide in opinion polls.

In its programme, the party promised to cut taxes for employees, extend holidays to five weeks, raise the minimum wage to at least 16,000 crowns (536.12 pounds) a month by 2022 and other incentives.

It also repeated a pledge from previous elections to introduce progressive taxation on big banks’ assets and to clamp down on tax evasion by big business conglomerates.

In an attempt to shake things up, Sobotka proposed this week that his more popular and eloquent foreign minister, Lubomir Zaoralek, should lead the party’s campaign into the Oct. 20-21 general election.

Zaoralek said on Saturday that the country needed consensus at home to make progress.

Image result for Lubomir Zaoralek, photos

Lubomir Zaoralek

“The Left will not be convincing if it will not honour national interests,” he said, adding that the party could also borrow the slogan “to help and to protect” from police cars.

Although the government has presided over a growing economy that helped it deliver the first balanced budget in two decades, the Social Democrats have slipped in the polls behind their main rival and coalition partner ANO.

All recent polls have shown ANO leading the Social Democrats, in some cases by a double-digit margin.

ANO was founded and is chaired by billionaire and former Finance Minister Andrej Babis, who has attracted voters with his managerial approach to governing and with his image as a political outsider.

The parties, together with the Christian Democrats, came to power in a centre-left coalition in January 2014 and are on course to becoming the first government in 15 years in the central European country to finish its term.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Adrian Croft)

 

EU Battle Over Migrants Intensifies as European Commission Launches a Legal Case Against Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic

June 14, 2017

Commission moves against Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, which have not cooperated with relocation agreement

.A refugee boy holds his baby brother at the port of Piraeus, Greece, in February 2016.
A refugee boy holds his baby brother at the port of Piraeus, Greece, in February 2016. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

The European commission has launched a legal case against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for refusing to take in refugees, intensifying a bitter feud within the bloc about how to deal with migration.

The Eurosceptic governments in Poland and Hungary have refused to take in anyone under a plan agreed by a majority of EU leaders in 2015 to relocate migrants from frontline states Italy and Greece to help ease their burden. The Czech Republic initially accepted 12 people but has since said it would not welcome more.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, the EU’s migration chief, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said: “I regret to see that despite our repeated calls to pledge to relocate, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have not yet taken the necessary action.

“For this reason, the commission has decided to launch infringement procedures against these three member states … I sincerely hope that these member states can still reconsider their position and contribute fairly.”

The legal action is likely to reinvigorate the debate over the independence of EU states from Brussels. It kickstarts months, or even years, of legal wrangling before a top EU court could potentially impose financial penalties.

Out of 160,000 refugees due to be taken under the scheme agreed in 2015, only 20,869 have been relocated. In theory, countries can be fined for every refugee in the quota they fail to accept.

The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, nosediving in the polls and facing elections in November, claimed the commission was “blindly insisting on pushing ahead with dysfunctional quotas which decreased citizens’ trust in EU abilities and pushed back working and conceptual solutions to the migration crisis”.

He added: “Given the deteriorating security situation in Europe and the non-functioning of the quota system, the Czech government will not participate in it. We are ready to defend our position in the EU and the relevant judicial institutions.”

Read the rest:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/13/eu-takes-action-against-eastern-states-for-refusing-to-take-refugees

Europe’s resolve on fighting climate change seems to be flagging

May 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Céline SERRAT | The European Union took on emissions-cutting targets that analysts say are too low to stay under the ceiling for average global warming set in the Paris pact — no more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels

PARIS (AFP) – The 28-member European Union, the third-largest emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases after China and the United States, has long been held up as the poster child of efforts to save Earth’s climate.

But after years of taking the lead in talks for a global climate pact, and making tough policy and investment choices to lessen fossil fuel reliance at home, the bloc’s resolve now seems to be flagging, analysts say.

Europe is responsible for about 10 percent of global emissions.

As the world’s nations meet in Bonn to negotiate a rulebook for executing the climate-rescue Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015 to limit emissions from burning oil, coal, and gas, here is a look at Europe’s role.

– History –

Having been at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution that sparked the large-scale carbon dioxide pollution of Earth’s atmosphere now blamed for global warming, Europe took the lead hundreds of years later in shifting to cleaner energy generated by sources such as the Sun, waves and wind.

It was instrumental in passing, and keeping alive, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement’s predecessor, despite opposition from the United States and other developed countries.

Europe also created the first, still the biggest, carbon market in a bid to incentivise companies to pollute less.

The Emissions Trading System limits emissions and allows companies to trade in allowances not used.

– Then what happened? –

The carbon market, which covers about 40 percent of Europe’s industrial emissions, has proven ineffective, critics say, and needs urgent reform.

Carbon allowances were too generous, resulting in a carbon price too low to encourage savings.

The bloc also took on emissions-cutting targets that analysts say are too low to stay under the ceiling for average global warming set in the Paris pact — no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

The EU pledged to reduce its own emissions by 20 percent by 2020 over 1990 levels — a goal it is on course to exceed.

With three years to go, the target has already been met even if five countries — Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and Ireland — are not on track to achieve their national goals.

The European Environment Agency expects the bloc will reach 24 percent in 2020.

This goes to show that the target was too “modest” to begin with, according to Celia Gautier of the Climate Action Network, a grouping of NGOs.

By 2020, Europe also seeks to boost energy efficiency (less fossil fuel input for the same energy output) by 20 percent, and ensure that 20 percent of energy consumed is from renewables.

According to Eurostat, an agency of the European Commission, renewable energy consumption in Europe was already 16.7 percent in 2014.

“In the wake of the Paris Agreement’s entry into force, the EU’s climate policy effort appears to be slowing, and it has not effectively responded” to an aspirational 1.5 C lower limit also written into the pact, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a tool created by think-tanks to measure countries’ progress.

– What’s next? –

Europe’s medium- and long-term ambitions are even more problematic.

It is targeting a 40-percent domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 over 1990 levels, which the CAT says is “significantly behind what is achievable and necessary”.

And it is not on track to meet even that — currently steering for 30-39 percent.

According to the CAT, Europe needs to reduce emissions by about two percent per year to achieve a 45-50-percent cut by 2030 — a trajectory more in line with the Paris accord’s objectives.

But emissions are projected to slow only between 0.5 percent and 1.3 percent per year.

Europe is not alone — the CAT says all major emitters, the US, China, India and Russia included, need to do much more for the world to stay under 2 C.

– Further ahead –

For 2050, the EU bloc has set its sights on a 80-95-percent reduction from 1990, which the CAT says would require “significant acceleration”.

According to Climate Analytics, a policy institute, 300 coal-fired power stations have to close in Europe by 2030, if the Paris goals are to be met.

Half of Europe’s coal emissions come from Germany and Poland, the rest mainly from Bulgaria and Czech Republic — countries with relatively smaller reduction goals than their richer European peers.

“To achieve total decarbonisation of the global economy by the second half of the 21st century (as mooted in the Paris Agreement), Europe must, as an industrial leader, be among the first to achieve it,” said David Levai, a researcher at the IDDRI research institute in Paris.

by Céline SERRAT