Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

France, Germany ‘jumping the gun’ on EU army: Dutch PM

November 16, 2018

France and Germany are jumping the gun with calls for a European army, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday, asserting that the continent’s safety could be guaranteed only through NATO.

“The idea of a European army is going way too far for the Netherlands,” Rutte said at his weekly post-cabinet press conference.

“France and Germany are really jumping the gun. As far as the Netherlands is concerned, NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy,” he told journalists.

© Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/File | Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, pictured October 2018, says the concept of a European army is “going way too far” for the Netherlands, and insists that NATO remain the primary guardian of Europe’s safety

French President Emmanuel Macron sparked controversy last week with his proposal for a “European army” to “protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States”.

He said he wanted to reduce Europe’s dependence on the US and US weapons for its own security.

Macron’s call reflected a desire among several European countries to more autonomously handle their own collective defence, after US President Donald Trump’s criticised Europe for what he sees as inadequate contributions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence alliance.

Trump called Macron’s idea “very insulting”, tweeting that Europe should “first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidises greatly”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has seconded Macron’s proposal.

During a European parliament session, she emphasised the need for Europe to bolster its self-defence capabilities, and said that a European army could run parallel to NATO.

“Europe must take our fate into our own hands if we want to protect our community,” she said.

But Rutte insisted NATO remained the primary guardian of Europe’s safety.

“As far as I am concerned, it is an illusion to think that the European Union without NATO can guarantee her safety,” Rutte said.

“NATO, and the United States within the organsation, remains a crucial partner for peace and security in Europe and we will continue to point that out to our partners in our discussions,” he said.



Companies Start to Sweat Prospect of No-Deal Brexit as Deadline Looms

November 16, 2018

While some firms in U.K. and elsewhere fail to set plans for potential EU roadblocks, others stockpile goods like car parts, medicine—and oatmeal




LONDON—With Prime Minister Theresa May’s government in turmoil over the terms of a Brexit agreement, the prospect of “no deal” is getting real—spooking companies big and small, including some far from Britain’s shores.

Once seen as an unlikely outcome, the prospect of the U.K. crashing out of the European Union early next year without an agreement spelling out the terms of its exit is now being considered as a plausible scenario inside boardrooms.

“We didn’t have many no-deal queries ’til about a month and a half ago,” said Allie Rennison, head of EU and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, a British organization that represents business leaders. With political uncertainty climbing, “people are becoming much more aware of it,” she said.

Britain is slated to leave the EU on March 29. It would represent the first departure of a major economy from a comprehensive free-trade bloc in decades. On Thursday, a preliminary dealMrs. May struck with Brussels on the terms of the exit triggered cabinet resignations. That heightens uncertainty about whether she can get the agreement through Parliament, or even retain power amid a revolt over the deal from a bloc inside her Conservative Party.

The government still has options, and parliamentary approval of the current draft deal isn’t impossible. But with less than five months to go, the costs and logistical challenges for businesses of a no-deal Brexit are coming into sharper focus. The British pound, a sort of barometer for how Brexit talks have fared in recent months, fell sharply against the dollar on Thursday.

Under an extreme no-deal scenario, companies in the U.K. will suddenly no longer get seamless access to EU markets. Executives and government officials on both side of the English Channel have warned of huge backlogs if customs officials must start inspecting goods moving between the U.K. and Europe. The U.K. government has warned that without a deal, goods that now move duty free would be subject to default World Trade Organization tariffs.

The transport, manufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors would be the hardest hit by a disorderly Brexit, some analysts say. BMW AG , which makes its Mini in England, is stockpiling parts and scouring the U.K. and Europe for warehousing space and parking lots—in case trucks hauling cars or parts get stuck traveling between the two. Pharmaceutical firms have been ordered to stockpile drugs, and food companies are hoarding ingredients.

The British government has published dozens of technical papers outlining the different sectors affected once the U.K. exits the regulatory umbrella of the EU. They range from U.K. imports from Danish sperm banks to how London’s massive derivatives market could be affected if suddenly cut off from EU clients.

A shipping document sits behind the windscreen of a BMW-made Mini Countryman automobile in Killlingholme, U.K.
A shipping document sits behind the windscreen of a BMW-made Mini Countryman automobile in Killlingholme, U.K. PHOTO: JASPER JUINEN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

But given the uncertainty about how Brexit plays out, a large number of smaller businesses aren’t doing anything to prepare. A recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry found that 42% of British businesses had made no contingency plans for Brexit. Many can’t afford the cost of making detailed fallback plans for something that may never happen.

Many others are, though. James Flahavan, the seventh-generation owner of Edward Flahavan & Sons Ltd., an Irish maker of oatmeal, said his company is doubling stockpiles at warehouses in the U.K. ahead of the Brexit deadline.

Image result for Edward Flahavan & Sons, oatmeal, photos

Irish businesses are especially vulnerable. Britain is Ireland’s biggest export market after the U.S., but Irish businesses also move much of their non-U.K. destined orders through British ports. Multihog Ltd., an Irish tractor maker, has spent €5 million ($5.7 million), a third of the company’s annual revenue, on preordering parts and stockpiling them, just in case.

“We do not want to store parts,” said Jim McAdam, Multihog’s chief executive. But if a no-deal Brexit triggers new tariffs, or delays shipments at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., “our whole business has to be turned off.”

In some instances, the possible business repercussions of a no-deal Brexit are rippling beyond Europe. Kevin Hopper, managing director of Brian Yeardley Continental Ltd., a trucking company that specializes in transporting musicians and their gear, is flying this week to meet music executives in New York. Huge waits at British ports could make it slower to bus rock stars between gigs in London and Paris if Brexit goes badly, he plans to warn them. The situation is “very difficult to explain to American production managers,” he said.

The U.K. government is drawing up its own contingency plans—moves that seemed far fetched a year ago. The transport ministry is looking at leasing ferries to help bring in food and medicine, should London and Brussels fail to agree on customs regulations that would ensure exports and imports continue uninterrupted. The British army says it will help if need be.

Some issues probably can’t be mitigated by businesses alone. Take the trucking industry, for example. Once outside the EU, British truckers will need special permits to drive in the bloc. There are around 1,000 such permits allocated to the U.K. but some 38,000 trucks that regularly cross the English Channel, said Rod McKenzie at the U.K.’s Road Haulage Association.

“There is a disgraceful lack of government guidance,” he said. “It has been left too late.” Resolving the issue would likely require a bilateral treaty with France and Belgium, something that could take a while to negotiate.

Write to Max Colchester at

See also:

Europe’s Biggest Port Says Companies Not Doing Enough for Brexit

Have European Leaders Lost The Will To Defend Western Civilization?

November 16, 2018

Image result for emmanuel macron, world war I centennial, photos, podium

The Western world would have succumbed over 1,000 years ago had its leaders and citizens not made a brave stand in the face of foreign invasion.

Today, no less dangerous invaders than those from the past have succeeded where their forebears could not, and without the force of arms.

The history of Western civilization has been interspersed with episodes of military conflict on such a monumental scale that any defeat would have reversed the course of history forever.

Consider the Battle of Tours. Beginning in 711 AD, a Muslim army under the Umayyad caliphate conquered a large swath of what is known today as Spain and Portugal, or the Iberian Peninsula. The tide began to recede only in 732 when the Germanic statesman and military leader, Charles Martel, with a force of some 20,000 men, emerged victorious against Muslim forces on a battlefield in southwestern France in what is known as the Battle of Tours.

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson emphasized the importance of the conflict when he wrote that“most of the 18th and 19th century historians, like [Edward] Gibbon, saw (Tours), as a landmark battle that marked the high tide of the Muslim advance into Europe.”

Martel’s victory represented the first chapter in a protracted effort – known as the Reconquista – a 780-year campaign on the part of the Christian kingdoms to uproot the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula. And it wasn’t until 1492, the year Columbus set sail to discover the New World, that the peninsula was fully controlled by Christian rulers.

It makes for a compelling thought experiment to consider how a powerful historic figure, like Charles Martel, one of the founding figures of the European Middle Ages, would be received by today’s mainstream media, which has a acquired a very particular way of reporting on those modern European leaders – like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – who are simply motivated by the desire to strengthen Europe’s borders from illegal aliens. For an answer, one need only consider the breathtakingly biased BBC interview where Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó was told that his government was guided by “xenophobia” in its decision to prevent illegal migrants from entering the country.

Judging by its blood-stained history, however, Hungary has good reason for being concerned about foreign invasion. That’s because the threat of foreign invasion against the European continent did not end in 1492. In fact, overlapping the defeat of the Muslim invaders in Western Europe, a concomitant development was occurring in Eastern Europe with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, which defeated the Byzantine Empire in 1453.

By 1541, the Ottoman Turks had conquered Hungary and at this time were on their way to creating one of the largest empires of all time. After declaring Hungary a vassal state, the Ottoman army marched up the Danube towards the famed ‘Gates of Vienna.’ It was here the Ottomans would meet their match, thanks to the timely intervention of King John Sobieski of Poland.

Upon reaching Vienna on September 12, 1683, with the Ottoman army about to breach the city walls, Sobieski ordered his roughly 75,000 troops to charge at the very heart of the enemy force, which numbered some 350,000. Sobieski’s plan worked and he successfully routed the Ottomans, a momentous event that began the liberation of Eastern Europe from the Turkish yoke.

To understand the significance of the victory, the Pope hailed Sobieski as the “Savior of Vienna and Western European civilization.”

Once again, we must ask: how would the Western media today treat such a historic figure, who led Europe and Western civilization to ultimate triumph against a foreign invader? After all, Sobieski didn’t merely construct a barbed-wire fence against an invading horde as Hungary’s Orban did, and too much outcry and even retribution from his European peers. Sobieski went so far as to put an intruder to the sword.

In a letter to his wife, Queen Marie-Louise, Sobieski described the sheer mayhem and bloodshed that accompanied the battle:

“Our Lord and God, Blessed of all ages, has brought unheard victory and glory to our nation. All the guns, the whole camp, untold spoils have fallen into our hands…They left behind a mass of innocent Austrian people, particularly women; but they butchered as many as they could…”

Now of course some will argue that we are talking about apples and oranges here. A marauding army simply cannot be compared to an influx of desperate migrants looking to better their lot in life.However, I would argue that the two groups, while employing radically different methods, nonetheless produce roughly the same results: both groups have a massive impact upon the native population in terms of problems with assimilation, as well as the expenses involved in playing ‘host’ to people from radically different cultures, religions and backgrounds.Most importantly, however, is that in both cases the native population suffers the risk of being completely displaced by the influx of foreigners, especially if the latter is more prolific when it comes to reproducing its numbers.

There is yet another point to consider. As the Hungarian foreign minister emphasized in his interview, much of the migrants who entered Europe arrived by ‘invitation’ of sorts in that they knew the larger European countries, namely Germany, England and France, in tandem with non-profit organizations like George Soros’ Open Society, would provide them with a relatively respectable stipend once they breach the borders of some European country(it should be no surprise that Germany is viewed as the ‘Holy Land’ as far as these economic migrants are concerned). In a report detailing the outlays provided to migrants arriving in Germany, it was reported that “a single adult receives € 408/month on average for everything but rent and health insurance, which the state pays for.” Now if that doesn’t set the conditions for a full-blown exodus into Europe I really don’t know what will. And it has. To date, millions of undocumented migrants have spread out to the four corners of Europe, the consequences of which nobody can predict.

One thing can be said with certainty, however. The great sacrifices of great European men, like John Sobieski and Charles Martel, seem to have been utterly wasted by modern leaders who simply do not have the best interest of their state, not to mention Western civilization, at heart.The site of German Chancellor Angela Merkel snatching the German flag from one of her colleagues during a political assembly, or French President Emmanuel Macron insisting that there is “no such thing as French culture” tells us everything we need to know about these so-called ‘leaders,’ who have betrayed the spirit of European fortitude that allowed Europe to survive and flourish in the first place. Europe should be thankful there are leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Sebastian Kurz, 31, the new Austrian chancellor who soared to victory by campaigning on stricter border controls in Europe.

Why is common sense in such short supply these days in the Western world?

It cannot be denied that much of Europe’s problems with the migration crisis are the result of it hitching its wagon to the falling star of US foreign policy. However, that does not serve as a reasonable argument for Europe to open its doors to a migrant invasion.  If Europe, as well as some of the more notorious NGOs, really want to help migrants from the Middle East, they could start by demanding their governments stop supporting military operations abroad. This is exactly what our modern ‘social justice warriors’ should be demanding, yet they are absolutely silent on the war front. And if they insist on paying these war victims, who are certainly deserving of sympathy, then better to send the humanitarian assistance to those war-torn places instead of inviting hordes to European shores.

As things stand, or fall, Europe’s ultimate survival will come down to brave and courageous men, the Martels and Sobieskis of our times, to thwart any new foreign invasions being delivered to Europe’s doorstep inside the Trojan Horse of ‘good intentions,’ which we all know where ultimately leads.

Is Europe Falling Apart?

November 16, 2018

The EU: “No. We’re not in negotiation. We’re not in a discussion. The rules are the rules.”

Brussels is standing tough, but moderates like Theresa May are gradually being pushed out of power in Europe.

British Prime Minister Theresa May at a press conference at 10 Downing Street in London on Nov. 15. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)

British Prime Minister Theresa May at a press conference at 10 Downing Street in London on Nov. 15. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)

One thing you can say: The center is holding. For now at least, Brussels is standing tough. After all, one could not always say that about Europe, where so rarely in history has there been a firm center at all. But this time the falcons can surely hear the falconer.

The falcons in this case are two major, wayward countries, the United Kingdom and Italy. The first wants to leave the European Union painlessly (and many would say delusionally) while the second simply wants to break its rules—also painlessly. Like a tag team, Britain and Italy have been trading crisis headlines day by day, while Brussels’s bemused bureaucrats hold their ground.

Late this week it was London’s turn as Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tory government all but imploded over her Brexit proposal, which both Conservatives and Labourites dismissed as too beholden to EU rules. After a five-hour cabinet meeting that followed two years of fitful negotiations with Brussels, four high-profile ministers including Brexit secretary Dominic Raab quit the cabinet on Thursday, and pundits expressed doubts May could get the deal through Parliament or even survive politically herself.

Waiting in the wings was Britain’s version of U.S. President Donald Trump (albeit a far more erudite one), MP Boris Johnson, the passionately nationalist Brexiteer who quit as foreign secretary last July, claiming in his resignation letter that the U.K. was “headed for the status of a colony” if May’s Brexit compromise plans are adopted.

Like most of May’s critics, Johnson has not offered an alternative plan. Even so, despite May’s pledge on Thursday to fight for her deal “with every fiber of my being,” speculation is rife that Johnson could take her place. If that happens, it would almost certainly mean a “hard” exit that might leave the British economy in shambles. Already the pound is plunging.

Farther south, the Italian government is pushing for greater deficit spending, which the European Commission said is not permissible because it would ostensibly violate the rigid rules laid out in the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact. Commission officials rejected Italy’s budget because it increases the deficit to 2.4 percent while Italy’s government debt is more than double the eurozone limit of 60 percent. Italy’s populist government, in a response Tuesday, made a couple of minor adjustments and then defied Brussels to fine it.

Asked last week whether a compromise might be found, EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici responded, “No. We’re not in negotiation. We’re not in a discussion. The rules are the rules.”

Which, of course, is a pretty good opening position in a negotiation (because that’s what it was). Italy may now suffer the first penalties ever imposed under the budget rules, putting all that Italian debt at risk and the eurozone’s integrity in crisis at a time when Italy has the fourth-largest sovereign debt in the world.

Fortunately, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi is Italian and has proven in the past he’s willing to buy up a lot of debt. According to Harold James, a Princeton University historian who specializes in Europe, what both the Italy and U.K. cases “really show is how absolutely impossible it is to try to leave the EU. And what bad things would happen if you try to do that.”

So perhaps these national flare-ups shouldn’t be terribly concerning to the outside world, except that it’s all happening at a time of economic slowdown and rising right-wing populism that could further fracture the EU politically. That’s especially true in Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, where it was the EU’s previous bailout of Greece, pushed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, that turned the far-right Alternative for Germany party into a major player.

According to German commentator Stephan Richter, the attitude in Berlin now is “if Britain and Italy want to commit seppuku, we can’t stop them.”

Worse, this is happening as other renewed right-wing forces are mounting while prominent moderates are leaving the stage.

Until now the far-right in power has been largely confined to Eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary. That’s no longer true: One half of Italy’s coalition government is the right-wing, anti-immigration Lega. The moderates, by contrast, are embattled. Merkel recently announced she’s stepping down as party leader in Germany, May is crippled, and in France President Emmanuel Macron—who after his 2017 election was seen as Europe’s centrist, liberal antidote to Trump—is deeply unpopular while his right-wing rival, Marine Le Pen, is surging back into contention in the polls.

And of course, Donald Trump is loving it—and openly encouraging it. After Macron, speaking in Paris last week at a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, indirectly criticized Trump’s proud declaration that he is a “nationalist” by saying “nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Trump all but called on French right-wing forces to defeat the French leader.

“The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%,” Trump tweeted. “By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!……..”

During her failed presidential campaign in 2017, Marine Le Pen described Trump’s election as “an additional stone in the building of a new world.”

Or perhaps in a vast pile of rubble. Only the months ahead will tell.


Brexit November summit announced for EU leaders

November 15, 2018

European Council President Donald Tusk has announced the date for the summit of EU leaders to discuss the UK’s exit from the bloc. The announcement comes as the UK government presents the plan to parliament.

A protester with a megaphone in front of parliament in the UK. (Reuters/K. Coombs)

President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced on Thursday that the planned meeting for EU leaders in Brussels to discuss the draft Brexit agreement reached between the EU and the UK would take place on Sunday, November 25.

“Let me say to our British friends,” Tusk wrote on Twitter “as much as I am sad to see you leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us.”

Donald Tusk


Let me say to our British friends: as much as I am sad to see you leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us.

1,008 people are talking about this

Tusk met the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Thursday.

Barnier said the agreed text would allow an orderly departure from the bloc for Britain, including a 21-month transition period. He called the deal “fair and balanced.”

He insisted the new plan to prevent a border on the island of Ireland would be beneficial to the economies of Northern Ireland and Ireland.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday he was “very pleased” with the draft agreement, even if he regretted Brexit. “We will now look carefully with the other member states at the text that has been decided,” he wrote on Twitter.

“We want to continue to have as close a relationship as possible with our British friends,” Maas stated. “With Brexit, it is important for us that the rules of the internal market are not affected.”

“The single market is a key achievement of the European project,” he remarked.

Heiko Maas


Ich freue mich sehr über die vorläufige Einigung in den Brexit-Verhandlungen – auch wenn ich den an sich bedaure.
Wir werden uns nun mit den anderen Mitgliedsstaaten den vorgelegten Text sorgfältig ansehen und dann im Europäischen Rat darüber entscheiden. (1/2)

26 people are talking about this

May’s parliamentary challenge

The UK government is presenting the 585-page withdrawal agreement to parliament on Thursday, after Prime Minister Theresa May put the proposal to her cabinet on Wednesday.

While there were reports of dissent to the deal from within her cabinet with up to 10 ministers saying they were not happy, there was only one, minor resignation. This came from Shailesh Vara, a minister in the Northern Ireland office who quit on Thursday over what he called a “halfway house” agreement.

May faces a challenge getting the deal approved by the House of Commons. There are reports of challenges both to the deal and her leadership. The prime minister presented the deal in terms of being the only option: “The choice before us is clear,” May said after the 5-hour cabinet meeting on Wednesday. “This deal …. or leave with no deal, or no Brexit at all.”

jm/msh (AFP, Reuters)

Western envoys seek meeting on Xinjiang human rights concerns

November 15, 2018

A group of 15 Western ambassadors in Beijing, spearheaded by Canada, are seeking a meeting with the top official in China’s restive, heavily Muslim Xinjiang region for an explanation of alleged rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs.

The envoys are making their request in a letter to Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang’s Communist Party boss, according to a copy of a draft letter seen by Reuters.

Image result for Chen Quanguo, photos

FILE PHOTO: Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) Party Secretary Chen Quanguo attends a group discussion session on the second day of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

The move represents unusually broad, coordinated action by a group of countries over a human rights issue in China, and illustrates the mounting backlash Beijing is facing over its crackdown in the western region.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, academics, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.

In August, a United Nations human rights panel said it had received many credible reports that a million or more Uighurs in China are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”.

China says it is not enforcing arbitrary detention and political re-education, but rather some citizens guilty of minor offences were being sent to vocational centers to provide employment opportunities.

Beijing bristles at criticism of its human rights situation, espousing a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries. China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Tuesday the world should ignore “gossip” about Xinjiang and trust authorities there.

Image result for wang yi, photos

Wang Yi

It was not clear if the letter had been sent yet or if it contents could be revised. One diplomatic source said it was being passed around for more countries to potentially sign.

Several other diplomats familiar with the letter would only confirm its existence and refused to discuss it further, citing its sensitivity. All of the diplomats declined to be identified.

Many foreign governments have refrained from speaking out over the Xinjiang situation, with diplomats saying countries are fearful of angering China, an increasingly weighty diplomatic player thanks to its economic heft and initiatives such as the Belt and Road infrastructure program.


In the draft letter addressed directly to Chen, who outranks the region’s ethnic Uighur governor Shohrat Zakir, the ambassadors said they were highly concerned by the U.N. findings on Xinjiang.

“We are deeply troubled by reports of the treatment of ethnic minorities, in particular individuals of Uyghur ethnicity, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” the draft reads, using an alternate spelling for Uighur.

“In order to better understand the situation, we request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience to discuss these concerns.”

The letter is copied to China’s Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Public Security and the Communist Party’s international department.

It is not possible to directly contact any senior Chinese leader for comment. The Xinjiang government, ministries of foreign and public security, the party’s international department and party’s spokesman’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China has said Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority.

The letter carries the names of 15 Western ambassadors, including the Canadian, British, French, Swiss, European Union, German, Dutch and Australian envoys. The other countries’ ambassadors names in the letter are Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, Finland and Denmark.

Four diplomats familiar with the letter and its contents said Canada had taken the lead in its drafting.

Canada’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters, did not comment directly on the letter but expressed deep concern over the reports of detention and mass surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.

“The Minister of Foreign Affairs raised the situation faced by the Uyghurs directly with China’s Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly. Canada regularly raises concerns about Xinjiang with Chinese authorities both publicly and privately, bilaterally and multilaterally, and will continue to do so.”

The EU, British, German, Swedish, Swiss, Belgian, Dutch, Finnish and Norwegian embassies declined to comment on the letter.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the government was concerned about the situation in Xinjiang and officials had conveyed these concerns to China on a number of occasions.

The Irish, Danish, French and Estonian embassies did not respond to requests for comment.

The United States is not represented on the letter, although non-U.S. diplomats say the country has been deeply involved in advocacy on the Xinjiang issue.

“We remain alarmed that since April 2017 the Chinese government has detained an estimated 800,000 to possibly more than 2 million Uighurs, Kazaks and other Muslims in internment camps for political re-education,” a U.S. embassy spokesman said, responding to a question regarding the letter.

“The United States will continue to call on China to end these counterproductive policies and free all those arbitrarily detained. We are committed to promoting accountability for those who commit human rights violations and abuses, including by considering targeted measures against Xinjiang officials.”

The United States has said it is considering sanctions against Chen, other officials and Chinese companies linked to allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Migrant arrivals in EU set to reach 5-year low

November 15, 2018

Illegal border crossings have continued to drop, putting this year on track to be the lowest rate since 2013, Frontex has said. Despite the trend, an EU dispute over the arrivals continues to feed anti-migrant sentiment.

Refugees and migrants sit on a rescue boat after being pulled from the sea off of Italy (Getty Images/C. McGrath)

Unauthorized migrant arrivals in the European Union are down significantly compared to last year, with 2018 likely to hit a five-year low, the EU’s border agency, Frontex, announced on Wednesday.

Frontex logged 118,900 illegal border crossings in the first 10 months of the year, which is more than 30 percent lower compared to the same period in 2017.

The agency attributed the trend to a steep drop in migrants and refugees taking the dangerous central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy. The number of people arriving in Italy is down 87 percent compared to last year.

Italy’s populist government has taken a hard-line stance on immigration, with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini vowing to stop arrivals and banishing migrant rescue boats from the country’s ports.

Rise in Spain arrivals

While Italy’s stance may have helped dissuade some from taking the dangerous crossing, Frontex noted there has been a rise in the number of people crossing the Mediterranean to enter Spain.

In October, almost 60 percent of all unauthorized migrant arrivals in the EU took place along the route between Morocco and Spain.

Some 9,400 people used the western Mediterranean route this October — over double the number at the same time last year.

Despite the steady drop in arrivals, EU member states continue to fiercely disagree over how to handle migration in the bloc. The dispute has continued to stoke anti-migrant sentiment across Europe.

Last month, the UN’s refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration warned that the “political discourse concerning refugees and migrants, particularly those arriving by boat, has become dangerously toxic.”

They added that although the rates of boat arrivals had fallen, the number of deaths at sea had risen.

rs/aw (AP, dpa)

EU lawmakers seek checks on arms exports fuelling Yemen conflict

November 14, 2018

Tougher checks on European Union arms exports are needed and sanctions should be imposed on those countries that flout the bloc’s rules, the European Parliament said on Wednesday.

EU lawmakers said European arms were stoking the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi Arabia-led coalition is battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Arms sales to Saudi Arabia by EU states undermined the European arms control effort, they said.

Yemeni pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida, as they continue their battle to wrestle control of the city from Houthi rebels, Nov. 8, 2018.

Yemeni pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida, as they continue their battle to wrestle control of the city from Houthi rebels, Nov. 8, 2018.

“In Yemen, European weapons are fundamentally responsible for the war taking place,” said German EU lawmaker Sabine Losing, who is leading efforts to hold EU governments to account.

The European Parliament’s call to strengthen checks is non-binding but it is the second time in less than a month that EU lawmakers have passed a resolution urging limits on arms sales following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The EU is the second largest arms supplier in the world — exporting more than a quarter of all global arms — after the United States, according to the EU’s annual report on weapons exports.

That has pitted its values of peace and support for human rights against business interests.

The European Union’s so-called Common Position on arms exports lists eight criteria governments must apply when taking a decision on an arms export license. Sales to Saudi Arabia violated six out of the eight, lawmakers said.

“The Common Position on arms exports must be implemented effectively. That includes, among others, a sanctions mechanism,” Losing said.

French President Emmanuel Macron‘s government has come under fire from rights groups and opposition lawmakers over sales of French arms to Saudi Arabia.

>> Read more: France’s Macron evades questions on halting Saudi arms sales

Paris has sought to increase its diplomatic weight in the Middle East through the sale of naval vessels, tanks, artillery and munitions to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that the government adhered to strict rules that “stop us selling weapons that might impact civilians”.

Image result for Houthi rebels, weapons, pictures

Houthi rebels

Hodeida offensive ‘suspended’

The push for tougher checks on arms exports comes amid reports Yemen’s Saudi-backed loyalist forces have suspended their offensive on the rebel-held port city of Hodeida.

Three military officials reached by telephone told AFP the pro-government forces had been “ordered” to halt their offensive against Houthi rebels in the Red Sea city until further notice, but operations would resume if they came under attack.

This follows diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Hodeida, whose Red Sea port serves as a key lifeline for the impoverished country.

The United Arab Emirates, a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, said Wednesday it supports a UN plan for peace talks to be held in Sweden by the year’s end.

After failed peace talks in September, the UN is pushing to host a new round of negotiations between the government, backed by the coalition, and the Iran-linked Houthi rebels by the end of the year.

The United States, Britain and France have also called for an end to nearly four years of conflict in Yemen, particularly in Hodeida.

The Hodeida campaign has sparked fears of a new humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where 14 million people face the risk of starvation.


Government pledges billions aimed at bringing Germany up to speed on AI

November 14, 2018

Germany is often criticized for sluggish levels of digital investment, particularly in AI. The government wants to invest €3 billion before 2025 to try and close the knowledge gap with world leaders in the field.

Deutschland Hannover Messe 2017 (Getty Images/AFP/T. Schwarz)

“Made in Germany” — as manufacturing seals of approval go, those three words are pretty valuable. Over the centuries, Germans have shown themselves to be quite adept at building things, from the diesel engine to the helicopter, the Bunsen burner to the microphone.

But how is that noted prowess holding up in the digital era, particularly in the increasingly prominent area of artificial intelligence (AI)? Many critics say not very well, with the United States, China, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and France all ahead of Germany in the “race for AI leadership,” according to a 2018 study by online publishing platform, Medium.

According to another study, by the consulting firm McKinsey, if Germany is not quick enough in its implementation of AI across various industries, from medicine to transport, over the next decade, its current GDP target for 2030 may ultimately lag by up to one-third. In other words, German growth depends on how quickly it catches up on AI technology.

That helps to explain why the German cabinet will spend Nov. 14 and 15 holed up in Potsdam, where the primary topic of consideration will not be Brexit, migration or the future of diesel, but rather how Germany will become a global leader in AI.

Artificial ambition?

AI is not new but in the last few years, its future importance has become more immediate, underlined by the volumes of investment being poured into research and development in China, the US and elsewhere.

Germany, perhaps belatedly, wants to get in on the act. A major reason for the Potsdam gathering is that the government will discuss how best to invest a fund of €3 billion ($3.4 billion) into AI research and development between now and 2025.

Back in April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of the need to compete with China on AI and in an interview with online magazine ahead of the Potsdam meeting, she emphasized that Germany is making significant progress in the area and plans on doing much more in the years ahead.

Read more: Humanity disrupted? Berlin conference explores AI possibilities

“We have excellence clusters in the field of artificial intelligence and here we will develop an overall strategy,” she said. “There is a lot going on, but we need to accelerate our efforts once again.”

In July, the German government released details of a strategy paper on artificial intelligence, due to be completed this month and presented at the 2018 Digital Summit in Nuremberg in December.

If the stated policy goals are to be believed, Germany has serious ambitions in the field. The government says it is committed to “achieving and maintaining leading global excellence in the research and development and the application of AI in Germany and Europe” and even says that “‘Artificial Intelligence (AI) made in Germany’ is to become a globally recognized quality mark.”

A good start, but still not enough

But does the rhetoric match reality?

“It is a good start so I don’t want to criticize it, but €3 billion is not very much,” Michael Feindt, founder of Blue Yonder, a German company specializing in AI solutions for retailers, told DW.

Panel-Diskussion zum Thema künstliche Intelligenz (DW/A. Sullivan)Michael Feindt (second from right) believes the €3 billion investment is a good start, but says more needs to be done

“Politicians are trying to find out what they have to do, what is good and what is not good and I think that is the right way to go, even if you may argue that it is a little late,” said Feindt, who is also a professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

“But this amount is much less than companies such as Microsoft or Google invest in AI in a single year. So people should not think that Germany will suddenly become a world leader in the field, able to compete with the US and China.”

Read more: Conference debates how AI can shed its ‘black box’ image

When it comes to preeminence in AI, the USA and China feature prominently in every discussion, and with good reason. According to Times Higher Education magazine, academic papers on AI development from China and the US far outweigh those from the rest of the world year after year.

The Chinese government has a wide-ranging national plan aimed at making the country the world leader in AI, with its plans including the building of a €2 billion AI research park in Beijing. The US has no one singular government policy for AI research, but strong academic programs from various US universities, as well as major private investment from business sectors, have made the country a powerhouse of AI innovation.

Cultural misgivings

If Germany is arriving late to the party, it has cultural reasons for doing so, according to Feindt. He believes that a national obsession with privacy has made German citizens particularly wary of AI, which has a strong reliance on data. He also thinks Germany’s manufacturing prowess means it is a country that tends to focus on hardware above software.

“If it is about data in Germany, then you have to explain it and show that it is not dangerous,” he said.

“The other thing is that it has taken a long time for people to realize that value can be in abstract things like software, algorithms and data. It is quite deep in the German mentality that they value hardware more than abstract things like software. In the USA, the top companies are all software companies.”

Dr Aljoscha Burchardt, from the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, tends to agree on the German cultural resistance to AI and other forms of digital technology.

“While all political parties agree that we have to digitalize and that AI is a motor for progress, the population remains skeptical,” he told DW. “That has to do with fears of job losses, fears about data protection. Maybe also with a generally skeptical attitude towards technology.”

Moving with the times

Yet things do appear to be changing. The Potsdam meeting indicates some kind of momentum is building with the government’s digitization drive. Peter Altmaier, the Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, said before the start of the two-day think-in that he believes the government commitment will be backed by that of private and business investors, hitherto sluggish in their willingness to invest in AI start-ups when compared to the world-leading nations.

It is also worth pointing out that while Germany is behind the leading nations when it comes to its AI sector, it is not exactly bottom of the league either.

In the Medium study, Germany ranked eighth in terms of global distribution of AI-focused startups.Then there are initiatives such as that between Amazon and Germany’s Max Planck Society, whereby the US tech giant plans to build an AI research center next to the Max Planck Institute for Intelligence Systems in Tübingen, in the south of Germany.

“When I started, there was virtually nothing,” said Feindt, who founded his company in 2008. “But slowly, it is getting better.”

There is hope for an orderly Brexit: German minister

November 14, 2018

German Justice Minister Katharina Barley said there was hope that Britain would leave the European Union in an orderly fashion, harshly criticizing “Brexiteers” for their opposition to the withdrawal agreement reached between London and Brussels.

Image result for German Justice Minister Katarina Barley, pictures

German Justice Minister Katharina Barley

“There is hope for an orderly Brexit. It would be good for Britons and for European cohesion,” wrote Barley, who is half-British by her father, on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Even before they see the agreement, the Brexiteers are vilifying it. They still don’t understand,” she added.

Reporting by Michelle Martin, editing by Thomas Escritt