Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Trump May Have To Grow Up, Do More Than Tweets: Send a Clear Meassage To Iran, Hezbollah and Assad

February 19, 2018
BY JOSHUA S. BLOCK
 FEBRUARY 18, 2018 21:50

 

Breaking this dangerous cycle will require diplomatic intervention from the US and, more importantly, Russia with its direct line to the Assad regime in Damascus.

A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter in Afrin, Syria

A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter in Afrin, Syria. (photo credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)

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A week ago we saw the inherent danger of a permanent Iranian presence in Syria. Iran launched its first direct military operation against Israel, dispatching a drone from the Tiyas Airbase in Syria’s central Homs region. The Israelis used an Apache helicopter to intercept and destroy the drone, then sent eight fighter jets to destroy the Iranian command center. One of the Israeli F-16s was abandoned by its pilots over Israel and Syrian anti-aircraft fire reached Israeli territory, triggering extended emergency activities in Israel’s northern communities.

In a dangerous escalation, Iran tested Israel’s red lines in preparation for a new war on Israel’s northern front – a question of “when,” not “if” – a development which the Israeli government has repeatedly warned it will not tolerate. The government in Jerusalem has demanded time and again that any agreement mediated by world powers to end the civil war in Syria must include a specific stipulation preventing Iranian-backed forces from establishing a permanent military presence along the border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent an explicit message ahead of the February 11 cabinet meeting. “We inflicted on Saturday [February 10] a heavy blow to Iranian and Syrian forces,” he said. “We made clear to everyone that our rules of engagement will not change in any way. We will continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us. This was our policy and this will remain our policy.”

But the mullahs’ regime was not the only audience for this message. Hezbollah is already threatening Israel from Lebanon, where the terrorist group has stockpiled more than 150,000 rockets and missiles and transformed hundreds of civilian villages into “military strongholds” to guarantee mass casualties during their next war with Israel.

In a similar vein to its support for Hamas, Iran has also bankrolled Gaza-based terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with hundreds of millions. It is believed that Iran’s funding package to PIJ is in the order of $70 million per annum out of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) budget.

Iran’s leadership owes a great debt of gratitude to Western powers for bolstering the Islamic Republic’s dream of linking Tehran, Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut in a Shi’ite arc of influence.

The 2015 nuclear accord between six world powers and Iran revived Iran’s ailing economy, and the lifting of international sanctions triggered a stampede of European companies beating a path to Iran to secure lucrative business contracts. And all the while Iran remains a nuclear-threshold state that threatens regional and international security.

After the signing of the nuclear deal, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made no secret of his country’s true intentions. Israel “will not see [the end] of these 25 years” he vowed in July 2015, adding that “Iran will support anyone who strikes at Israel.” Two-and-a-half years down the line, we know that Khamenei wasn’t just paying lip service to popular demands. The territorial expansion of Iran and its allies in the Middle East has brought the Islamic Republic closer to Israel’s border than ever before.

Again, the short-sighted policy of Western powers aided the mullah regime’s grand plan of ascendancy. The obsessive focus on the war against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria left the door wide open for Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militia. In Iraq, the Obama administration even provided air cover to the same groups that during the 2003 US-led intervention murdered American troops.

Khamenei could not have hoped for a better outcome.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the terrorist group in complete political and military control of Lebanon, has over 10,000 troops stationed in Syria. Together with the Quds Force, the extraterritorial wing of the IRGC, and local Shi’ite militia, Hezbollah played a central role in the survival of the regime.

Now that Assad’s position seems to have stabilized after the regime recaptured large swaths of territory, Iran appears to be aiming for more than just regime survival. In October 2016, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Muhammad Bagheri, floated the idea of establishing an array of military installations on Syrian soil, as well as a naval, air and intelligence base. And in November, aerial images emerged of a permanent Iranian base south of Damascus, only 50 kilometers from the Israeli Golan Heights.

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Muhammad Bagheri

Given the growing military capabilities and territorial expansion of these hostile elements, Israel and the United States, along with Europe and allied Arab states in the region, must together send a clear message to Iran, Hezbollah and Assad: any attack on Israel’s sovereignty comes with a very heavy price.

Breaking this dangerous cycle will require diplomatic intervention from the US and, more importantly, Russia with its direct line to the Assad regime in Damascus. The most effective way to prevent a future escalation with potentially catastrophic consequences for the region is to dismantle any Iranian presence along Israel’s border altogether.

The author is CEO and president of The Israel Project. This article originally appeared in The Hill.

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European Diplomats Aim to Curb Iran Actions, Save Nuclear Deal

February 18, 2018

Talks intended to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to preserve the Iran nuclear deal

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MUNICH—European diplomats met with a senior Iranian official Saturday in a bid to curtail Iran’s regional muscle-flexing and meet a key Trump administration demand.

The push by the European diplomats to check Iranian meddling in Yemen, Syria and other parts of the Middle East is aimed at persuading U.S. President Donald Trump to preserve the Iran nuclear deal and show the U.S. that there are other ways to check Iranian aggression.

Mr. Trump has threatened to kill the Iranian nuclear deal in May, when he must decide whether to keep in place sanctions waivers required under the 2015 agreement. He has made Iran’s regional actions a focus of his foreign policy, committing the U.S. to pushing back Tehran’s regional role.

Saturday’s meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference is a new channel of discussions intended to address Iran’s activity.

Chaired by the European Union, it brings together senior diplomats from Italy, Germany, Britain and France—the E4—and Iran, represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. The focus of Saturday’s discussions was the conflict in Yemen.

The meeting comes as concerns rise about Iran’s role in southern Syria and the possibility of direct conflict there between Iran and Israel.

In Munich on Saturday, U.S. national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster said Iran is building a network of proxy forces, like Hezbollah, throughout the region and arming them with increasingly sophisticated weaponry.

“So the time is now…to act against Iran,” Gen. McMaster said.

H. R. McMaster, National security adviser to the US President, delivers his speech on day two of the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on Feb. 17, 2018. (AFP)

European governments, who have strongly supported the Iranian nuclear agreement, have pledged to work with Washington to address nonnuclear concerns, such as Iran’s missile program and its regional activities. The U.K., France, Germany and the U.S. set up working groups last month to discuss this although people close to the talks say work is at a very early stage.

At the same time, the Europeans agreed in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that they would open a channel for discussion of regional issues. Saturday’s meeting was the first one.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

According to officials, European governments are looking to broaden the talks over coming months to cover the conflict in Syria, where Iranian forces and proxies have helped give the Assad regime the upper hand.

Those discussions could include the situation in southern Syria, one of the officials said.

Last weekend, Israel launched attacks on Syrian air defenses and Iranian fighters in Syria after Israel intercepted an Iranian drone fired from Syria. An Israeli jet was shot down during the attacks.

Iran Recruits Afghan and Pakistani Shiites to Fight in Syria

Israel has warned repeatedly it won’t accept an Iranian presence close to its border in southern Syria and said it would strike Iranian built precision missile factories for Hezbollah and other military infrastructure.

On Saturday morning, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that while the EU would maintain its support for the Iranian nuclear deal, Europe was ready to work with the U.S. against “the destabilizing influence of Iranian policies in the region and to push them back.”

A senior German diplomat said Berlin had warned Tehran after last weekend’s events in southern Syria that Europe could step up pressure if Iran seeks to entrench its presence there.

Most European sanctions against Iran were lifted after the nuclear deal was concluded. France has said Iranian firms or people could be targeted with sanctions over Iran’s missile program.

Iran has refused to enter discussions on ballistic missiles, saying it won’t compromise on its national defense. Iranian officials have said Tehran can’t rein in its missile program when the U.S. is selling arms to regional rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Trump has also pressed European countries to agree to a follow-up agreement to the nuclear deal that would threaten action if Tehran ramps up its nuclear activities once the original limits start to expire. Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program under the deal.

European governments have said they won’t renegotiate the nuclear deal. Officials warn that they want firm commitments from Washington that if they address their concerns, Mr. Trump will stand by the deal. There is still uncertainty among European governments about precisely what commitments Washington is demanding to stand by the deal.

In Munich on Saturday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said Washington was seeking “a commitment that we can credibly show to the president (that) we’re making progress to address” flaws in the nuclear deal and to counter Iran’s nonnuclear activities.

He said that could eventually lead to direct talks between the U.S. and Iran but “there will need to be significant progress” in Iranian discussions with Europe first.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/european-diplomats-aim-to-curb-iran-actions-save-nuclear-deal-1518899767

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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (AP-Hussein Malla)
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Global powers must address ‘episodes of cyberwar’: UN chief — “An existential threat for humankind.”

February 16, 2018

AFP

© AFP | UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned the Munich Security Conference of the dangers of cyberwar

MUNICH (GERMANY) (AFP) – World leaders must lay the groundwork on how countries respond to cyberattacks that have proven to be a daunting threat, whether by state actors or criminal enterprises, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said Friday.”It is clear we are witnessing in a more or less disguised way cyberwars between states, episodes of cyberwar between states,” Guterres said during one of the opening speeches at the Munich Security Conference.

“It’s high time to have a serious discussion about the international legal framework in which cyberwars take place,” he said.

“The fact is we haven’t been able to discuss whether or not the Geneva convention applies to cyberwar and whether international humanitarian law applies to cyberwar.”

The United States and Britain on Thursday blamed the Russian military for last year’s devastating “NotPetya” ransomware attack, calling it a Kremlin effort to destabilise Ukraine, which spun out of control.

The attacks ended up crippling computer networks in the United States and Europe, including those of some big companies.

Washington has also blamed North Korea for the huge “WannaCry” ransomware attack last May in which more than 300,000 computers were struck in some 150 nations.

“How to respond in cases of permanent violations of cybersecurity? What are the different uses that criminal, terror organisations are making of the web?” Guterres said.

Finding a consensus on how to respond to such attacks is urgent, he said, “especially now that artificial intelligence, that is providing enormous potential for economic development, social development, for the well-being of all, is also in the opinion of many an existential threat for humankind.”

“It is necessary to bring together governments, the private sector, those involved in civil society, academics, research centres, in order to be able to establish at least some basic protocols to allow the web to be an effective instrument for the good,” he said.

EU decision to curb palm oil imports could impact Malasian elections — Is the future of palm oil cooked?

February 16, 2018

Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – An EU decision to curb palm oil imports was the last thing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak needed ahead of a coming election, with rural voters already aggrieved over financial scandals at state-owned palm oil agency Felda.

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Palm harvest in Malaysia

Around 10 percent of Malaysia’s 30 million people belong to families who own smallholdings dedicated to harvesting palm oil, and they account for the majority of voters in nearly a quarter of the national assembly’s 222 seats.

Girding for a general election due by August, Najib was given a taste of the discontent rife in the countryside when hundreds of farmers flocked to Kuala Lumpur last month to protest a pending EU move to phase out the use of palm oil in biofuel.

“I will not support the government if they don’t resolve this issue,” said Abdul Rahman, a farmer who runs a smallholding in Negeri Sembilan, a state an hour’s drive south of the capital.

“The failure and inexperience of the government led to the EU’s boycott of our palm oil,” hen told Reuters.

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Malaysian President Najib Razak with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Najib can ill-afford to lose votes from Malays in rural areas that have hitherto been a rock-solid votebank for the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party that has led every multi-ethnic coalition since Malaysia emerged from British colonial rule in 1957.

Aged 92, and having stood down in 2003 as Malaysia’s longest serving premier, Mahathir Mohamad has come out of retirement to lead the campaign against his one-time protege Najib, having forged an unlikely alliance with jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Malays’ loyalty to UMNO has been tested by the steady flow of stories over the past three years about 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), a state investment firm whose funds, critics say, were used by Najib to boost his campaign for the 2013 election, which he narrowly won while losing the popular vote to an opposition bloc led by Anwar.

Najib, who chaired 1MDB’s advisory board until it was dissolved in 2016, has consistently denied any wrongdoing over the billions of dollars lost by the fund, but an ongoing kleptocracy investigation into 1MDB in the United States – the biggest mounted by Department of Justice – has kept on the frontburner.

To cement authority and protect himself, analysts say Najib needs to lead UMNO to a convincing victory.

“LOSING $500 MILLION”

The 1MDB controversy has damaged Najib’s standing more among urban Malays, but over the past year rural Malays have found their own reasons to be upset.

Malaysia’s 650,000 smallholders, who cultivate 40 percent of acreage dedicated to palm, fear they will bear the brunt of the EU ban, which William Simadiputra, an analyst at DBS Vickers, reckons could cost Malaysia about $500 million annually in export revenue.

Malaysia’s plantations minister Mah Siew Keong told Reuters the government is working on expanding export markets to other non-traditonal palm buyers like Iran, Vietnam and Japan in a bid to shore up demand.

But the government’s threat of retaliatory trade measures against the EU has been scorned by critics, who say it will lead to further loss of palm oil business to competitors.

“By saying you will ban EU imports you are just pushing away the palm oil business to Indonesia,” said Wong Chen, a lawmaker with the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) party.

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FILE PHOTO: A Felda signage at the Felda headquarters outside Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Emily Chow/File Photo

Malaysia hasn’t given up trying to persuade the EU to think again, raising its objections with a visiting French defense minister last month. France is hoping to sell Malaysia fighter jets worth about $2 billion.

FELDA SCANDALS

Smallholders have seen monthly incomes drop as low as 1,000-2,000 ringgit ($256.81-$513.61) when palm prices were low, forcing many into debt over the years.

And when allegations of corruption surfaced last year at the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), a state plantation agency founded to alleviate rural poverty, the government came under fire in the small towns and villages that make up the Malay heartland.

Many of Felda’s 112,000 settlers took loans to invest in Felda Global Ventures, a listed unit of Felda that raised $3 bln when it was launched in 2012 and has since seen its share price plunge by 60 percent.

FGV’s chairman was forced to quit last year, and its chief executive was suspended for four months during a government probe into suspicious transactions at a subsidiary. He later resumed his role.

Najib moved to appease Felda settlers last July with cash handouts, subsidies and debt waivers totaling nearly 1.5 billion ringgit ($383 million).

“The game is to constantly to keep the palm planters happy,” said PKR’s Wong Chen.

But they are far from happy. The controversies at FGV have barely abated. Critics say it overpaid buying assets, notably the $505 million purchase of a 37 percent stake in an Indonesian palm oil firm.

Questions have also been raised last month over a Felda land deal in Kuala Lumpur, which allegedly points to criminal fraud.

Felda did not reply to a request for comment.

But, on this most recent land deal scandal, Najib said in a blog post that the government would “ensure the interests of Felda and the settlers are not compromised”.

However, this core constituency’s patience with the government may have run out.

“These issues have raised anger among the settlers,” said Mazlan Aliman, president of the National Felda Settlers’ Children Society (ANAK). “They see the government is not serious in addressing these issues, but instead try to cover up.”

“The damage that has been done is too big. It will influence the mood of voters in the upcoming elections, especially in Felda areas,” said Mazlan.

($1 = 3.8940 ringgit)

Additional reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

US concerns over EU defence pact cloud NATO talks

February 14, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Lachlan CARMICHAEL | NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insists there’s ‘no way’ “no way” the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security
BRUSSELS (AFP) – NATO defence ministers gathered for talks Wednesday amid US concerns over the EU’s landmark defence cooperation pact and increasingly strained relations between Washington and Turkey.Washington and Ankara, two of the transatlantic alliance’s most important members, are at loggerheads over Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria, which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday warned was detracting from the fight against the Islamic State group.

The two-day meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels is expected to approve changes to NATO’s command structure aimed at making the alliance fit for the challenges of warfare in the 21st century, particularly cyber tactics and hybrid warfare, as fears grow about Russian assertiveness.

But a working dinner with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini later Wednesday has taken on greater significance after senior US officials voiced fears about the bloc’s defence pact.

Despite concerns from the alliance’s biggest power, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the right balance could be struck.

“Done in the right way, these efforts can make a contribution to fairer burden-sharing between Europe and North America,” Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived for talks with NATO defence ministers on Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged allies to increase their share of spending to ease Washington’s burden.

On Tuesday Stoltenberg said efforts to boost EU defence spending were welcome, but only if they were coordinated with NATO plans, warning there was “no way” the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security.

“It will be absolutely without any meaning if NATO and the EU start to compete,” the former Norwegian premier told reporters.

“European allies are absolutely aware that the defence, the protection of Europe is dependent on NATO.”

The EU’s so-called permanent structured cooperation on defence agreement, known as PESCO, has projects in view already to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.

But on Sunday a senior official working with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Washington had concerns some of the proposed initiatives risked “pulling resources or capabilities away from NATO”.

– Turkey row –

And on Tuesday US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison ramped up the pressure, warning the EU there could be serious consequences if it shuts US defence companies out of cooperation projects.

“Certainly we do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for the EU and we’re going to watch carefully, because if that becomes the case then it could splinter the strong security alliance that we have,” she told reporters.

The US concerns have surprised some European diplomats, with one insisting that EU defence cooperation poses no threat to NATO, adding that “a little explanatory work” is required to clarify matters with the Americans.

Wednesday’s dinner now represents an important chance for Mogherini to reassure the United States, which is NATO’s biggest contributor.

Potentially more serious is the festering row between the United States and Turkey over Ankara’s “Operation Olive Branch” launched last month against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

While Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist” group, the United States has been working closely with the militia against Islamic State in Syria and giving it weapons, infuriating Ankara.

US ambassador Hutchison said Turkey remained an important ally and the two sides were trying to resolve the dispute.

Mattis is to meet his Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of the meeting on Wednesday.

A diplomatic source said that while the row was “a topic of concern for NATO”, it was not a matter for the alliance to resolve.

“The issue will be solved bilaterally between the US and Turkey,” the source said.

The talks also aim to prepare for a NATO summit in July and involve what Stoltenberg called “regular consultations to keep NATO nuclear forces safe, secure and effective.”

by Lachlan CARMICHAEL

Could a German 28-hour work week make waves across Europe?

February 6, 2018

AFP

© DPA/AFP/File / by Daphne ROUSSEAU | IG Metall boasts almost 2.3 million members, making it Europe’s largest trade union
FRANKFURT AM MAIN (AFP) – Germany’s powerful metalworking union IG Metall agreed Tuesday with bosses on a new right to switch temporarily to a 28-hour week.Could the example from Europe’s largest economy — often a trailblazer in labour relations — be echoed by other countries?

– What’s new about Tuesday’s deal? –

As well as a pay rise, metalworkers in prosperous southwestern state Baden-Wuerttemberg agreed with bosses that they can in future switch temporarily to shorter hours.

Part-time working is not a new concept in German labour law, but it’s the first time employers will not have a veto even if they fear it will disrupt business.

Employees would switch from the present 35-hour limit to 28 hours per week for up to two years before a return to full-time work.

Until now, those switching temporarily to shorter hours have enjoyed no guarantee they could reclaim their full-time post.

Their salary will fall in line with the shorter number of hours, but some beneficiaries like young parents, those caring for elderly relatives or people doing shift work, will be able to take more paid holidays.

Baden-Wuerttemberg’s deal is likely to be extended to the rest of Germany, as the state is often used as a test case by employers and unions.

– Could the 28-hour week spread? –

Germany is basking in a period of high growth, historic low unemployment at 5.4 percent in January and a shortage of skilled labour, meaning workers could bring maximalist demands to talks with employers.

But the deal “is not transplantable to France” where unemployment is close to double its neighbour’s rate despite accelerating growth, said Pierre Gattaz, head of French employers’ association Medef.

With unemployment at 8.7 percent across the 19-nation eurozone — and almost 18 percent among under-25s — the same pressure on wages does not exist elsewhere, say analysts.

“Germany is the only one of the big countries where total slack in the labour market has fallen well below the pre-crisis levels of 2007-08,” ABN Amro economist Aline Schulling pointed out.

“Germany can afford pay rises,” acknowledged European Trade Union Confederation deputy general secretary Peter Scherrer.

But the deal “encourages workers and trade unions to organise for a fairer deal in all EU countries,” he continued.

“This agreement should inspire pay rises and better working time conditions not only across Germany, but in companies across Europe,” Scherrer insisted.

– Why is IG Metall so effective? –

IG Metall boasts almost 2.3 million members, making it Europe’s largest trade union.

It negotiates the employment rules for as many as 3.9 million in sectors ranging from engineering to textiles manufacturing to car production.

In Germany, the deals it strikes with bosses usually set the tone for labour relations in other parts of the economy, especially public-sector employees.

The union has long broken new ground in Europe, striking in 1982 for a 35-hour work week for the first time using the slogan “More time to live, love and laugh”.

It took until 1995 to wring a 35-hour deal out of bosses, but Germans were still five years ahead of France’s adoption of a shorter week.

IG Metall has also adapted its demands to the changing work/life balance of the digital economy, clinching a deal with Volkswagen in 2011 to ban email outside office hours.

by Daphne ROUSSEAU
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German pay deal heralds end of wage restraint in Europe’s largest economy

February 6, 2018

Reuters

STUTTGART, Germany (Reuters) – A hard-fought deal on pay and working hours for industrial employees in southwestern Germany sets a benchmark for millions of workers across Europe’s largest economy and heralds wage growth in the coming years.

The agreement between labour union IG Metall and the Suedwestmetall employers’ federation, struck overnight, foresees a 4.3 percent pay raise from April and other payments spread over 27 months.

Tough pay negotiations are expected to end years of wage restraint in Germany, potentially aiding the European Central Bank as it tries to get euro zone inflation back up to the bank’s target rate of just below 2 percent.

On an annual basis, the agreement is equivalent to a 3.5 percent increase in wages, according to Commerzbank analyst Eckart Tuchtfeld, well below IG Metall’s initial demand for a 6 percent hike over 12 months, but was still seen as a good deal.

“The agreed pay rises, and accompanying measures, are at the top end of expectations and should result in annual wage increases of close to 4 percent over the next couple of years,” Pictet economist Frederik Ducrozet said.

The “pilot” deal, struck against a backdrop of a strong economic recovery and the lowest unemployment since German unification in 1990, covers half a million employees in southwestern Germany, home to industrial powerhouses like car maker Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE).

It is expected to be applied in the rest of Germany as well and is likely to influence negotiations in other industries.

Germany’s second-biggest union, Verdi, is due to publish its wage demand for public sector workers on Thursday. Verdi and IG Metall together account for about 15 percent of the German workforce.

 Image result for IG Metall, photos

IG Metall’s deal will reinforce market expectations for the ECB to dial back stimulus further this year as growth in the bloc is now self generating and wages are moving slowly upwards.

It comes as world stock and bond markets are selling off on fears that a jobs bonanza in the United States may force early interest rate hikes there.

But the euro zone outlook is much different with the jobless rate still at almost 9 percent and the broader slack, which includes part-time and temporary workers, perhaps twice as high, economists say.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Employers also agreed to give workers the right to reduce their working week to 28 hours from the standard 35 to care for children, or for sick or elderly relatives, for up to two years, which had been a major sticking point in negotiations.

“Workers’ priorities have shifted. Instead of higher wages, work-life balance is now in focus,” BayernLB economist Christiane von Berg said.

In return for bowing to IG Metall’s demand on working hours, employers have been given the ability to take on more staff willing to work for up to 40 hours – creating the flexibility they need to ramp up production during periods of high demand.

IG Metall had staged a series of 24-hour strikes and threatened to ballot its members for extended industrial action if employers failed to offer concessions at Monday’s sixth round of pay talks.

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Last week’s strikes cost carmakers, automotive suppliers and engineering firms almost 200 million euros ($249 million) in lost revenues, affecting big firms like Daimler, BMW (BMWG.DE) and Airbus (AIRG.DE) and dozens of smaller suppliers.

As is often the case in Germany’s ritualised system of wage bargaining, the details of IG Metall’s wage deal were highly complex.

At the end of the day, regional employers’ association Suedwestmetall’s negotiator Stefan Wolf said, the cost to employers would work out at below 4 percent per year, which industry players said will push companies to their limit.

In addition to April’s 4.3 percent pay rise, employees will receive a one-off payment of 100 euros extra for the first quarter.

From 2019, they will receive an additional fixed annual sum of 400 euros as well as a payment equivalent to 27.5 percent of their monthly pay. Some workers can choose to have more time off instead of receiving the additional money.

“This wage agreement hurts especially the many Mittelstand companies in the machinery and plant engineering sector,” Thilo Brodtmann, managing director of engineering association VDMA, said on Tuesday.

This may prompt more companies from the Mittelstand – the many medium-sized, privately held businesses that form the backbone of Germany’s economy – to seek labour agreements with their workers without the involvement of unions like IG Metall, he said.

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Reporting by Ilona Wissenbach; Writing by Douglas Busvine and Maria Sheahan; Editing by Susan Fenton

Europe Joins Global Stock Selloff With Biggest Drop in 20 Months

February 6, 2018

Bloomberg

By Blaise Robinson and Aleksandra Gjorgievska

 Updated on 

European stocks headed for their worst drop since the aftermath of the Brexit referendum as traders in the region caught up with an overnight selloff in the U.S. and Asia.

 Image result for european stock exchange, photos

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell 2.6 percent as of 8:16 a.m. in London, with all industry groups firmly in the red. After a strong start to 2018, most European stock benchmarks have wiped out gains for the year in a rout that is extending into a seventh day for the broader regional benchmark. Sentiment has been hurt by worries over rising government bond yields and the outlook for the trajectory of interest rates.

“There is a sense out there that this is, in a way, a release of some of the pent-up low volatility we’ve seen over the past year,” said Ben Kumar, an investment manager at Seven Investment Management in London, which oversees about 12 billion pounds. “We have been sitting on quite a large cash pile for some time and at some point, we will look to invest that. There may be a bit more pain to come before we start seeing a real dip to buy.”

Cyclicals including automakers, technology and basic resources were among the worst sector performers. Still, data on Monday showed economic momentum in the euro-area climbed to the fastest pace in almost 12 years, and German factory orders surged in the last month of 2017. That’s leading some fund managers and traders to bet that equities are experiencing an overdue pullback rather than a deeper correction.

“Market tops have probably been set for a pretty long time now on many equity indexes,” Stephane Barbier de la Serre, a strategist at Makor Capital Markets, said by phone.

— With assistance by Namitha Jagadeesh

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-06/european-stock-index-futures-tumble-along-with-global-markets

Brexit talks to resume next week as uncertainty continues

February 2, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File / by Dario THUBURN | Britain has said it wants to leave the European single market and customs union and retain strong economic ties with the EU after Brexit

LONDON (AFP) – The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator will hold talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London on Monday as the two sides resume negotiations on post-Brexit ties in a climate of deep uncertainty.”The Prime Minister will welcome Michel Barnier to Downing Street on Monday,” read a tweet on the official Downing Street account on Friday.

Barnier and the UK’s Brexit Minister David Davis “will discuss the upcoming negotiations on the implementation period and the next steps in building a new partnership between the EU and the UK,” it said.

The European Commission said there would also be negotiations between British and EU officials in Brussels from Tuesday to Friday and these would include a “UK update on the future relationship”.

Britain has said it wants to leave the European single market and customs union and retain strong economic ties with the EU but has given little detail.

Downing Street on Friday rejected a Financial Times report that ministers are privately considering a customs union deal for post-Brexit trade.

In an interview in Shanghai with Bloomberg TV, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox also ruled this out saying: “We have to be outside of that to take advantage of those growing markets.”

“One of the reasons we are leaving the European Union is to take control and that’s not possible with a common external tariff.”

– Brexit ‘isn’t deliverable’ –

Britain voted to leave the European Union in a momentous referendum in June 2016 that bitterly divided the nation, sparked tumultuous period in British politics and caused global shockwaves.

London and Brussels struck a preliminary deal on key Brexit issues in December but are yet to discuss the conditions for a post-Brexit transition period and future trade relations between Britain and the EU.

May has faced growing public calls from across her Conservative party this week to set out her vision for Brexit more clearly, amid media reports of increasing discontent with her leadership.

Tensions were fuelled by a leaked internal government assessment earlier this week suggesting that the options on the table so far for a trade deal with the EU would all leave Britain worse off.

The prime minister also sparked concern in Brussels by questioning the rights of EU citizens who arrive in Britain during the post-Brexit transition period.

May insisted Friday she was “doing what the British people want” and going nowhere despite the pressure.

In a BBC interview at the end of a three-day trip to China, May declined to detail exactly what she wants from negotiations on future ties.

Asked whether she would favour a deal that limited disruption to trade, or one that emphasised Britain’s power to forge its own path, she said: “These are not the options we have before us.

“The option that we have before us is to go in there with the EU and negotiate a good trade deal.

“What the British people voted for is for us to take back control of our money, our borders and our laws and that’s exactly what we are going to do.”

Sensing a lack of coordination in government on Brexit, pro-EU politicians have become increasingly vociferous in Britain in recent days.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, head of a new coalition of pro-EU groups formed this week, told AFP on Friday that the government was “trying to deliver something that isn’t deliverable.”

“If the people started this in 2016, they should be the ones who decide how we end it, and whether or not we do actually leave,” Umunna told AFP while out campaigning in Brixton in south London.

by Dario THUBURN

Teen killed in Turkey by rockets from Syria: official

January 31, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Ankara began a cross-border operation dubbed “Olive Branch” supporting Syrian rebels with air strikes and ground troops in northern Syria against the People’s Protection Units militia and its western enclave of Afrin on January 20.

REYHANLI (TURKEY) (AFP) – A 17-year-old girl was killed in a Turkish border town on Wednesday by rockets launched from Syria, officials said, as Turkey presses its offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia.Ankara began a cross-border operation dubbed “Olive Branch” supporting Syrian rebels with air strikes and ground troops in northern Syria against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and its western enclave of Afrin on January 20.

Another individual was also hurt after two rockets hit Reyhanli in Hatay province from northern Syria, the district mayor Huseyin Sanverdi said in a statement.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told a press conference in Ankara that 17-year-old Fatma Avlar was killed in a rocket attack.

According to state-run news agency Anadolu she died after she was taken to hospital.

The agency added that the rockets were launched by the YPG and hit two different houses.

Ankara views the YPG as a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but the militia has been working closely with the United States to recapture swathes of territory in Syria from the Islamic State extremist group.

But the PKK is proscribed as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the European Union.

Multiple rockets have hit the Turkish border provinces of Hatay and Kilis, and already killed at least four people before Wednesday.

A Turk and a Syrian were killed after two rockets hit Kilis on January 24.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said the operation would “not stop until we eliminate the terror threat from our border and ensure a secure return for our Turkish brothers to their country”.

“The Afrin operation is a security issue for us,” Yildirim said.

The Turkish military said earlier on Wednesday that 712 “terror organisation members had been neutralised” since the operation began.

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