Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Berlin wants more stick, less carrot for recalcitrant EU members (Like Poland…)

November 15, 2017

Negotiations for the first post-Brexit EU budget will start in 2018. Germany will be the biggest contributor to the budget. Will it use its leverage to make recalcitrant member states like Poland behave differently?

EU, Polish flags (picture-alliance/NurPhoto/A. Widak)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this year that the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) government’s dismissal of an EU inquiry into its judicial changes were “very worrying.”

“However much I want to have very good relations with Poland . . . we cannot simply hold our tongues and not say anything for the sake of peace and quiet. This is a serious issue, because the requirements for cooperation within the EU are the principles of the rule of law,” Merkel said.

Read more: Poland’s judicial reform

And Germany has leverage as the biggest contributor to the EU budget.

A German position paper from earlier this year notes an “additional burden” in order to finance “new challenges” in areas such as migration and security. “Cuts will affect the future Multiannual Financial Framework [MMF] and its expenditures as a whole,” the paper, which was adopted by Merkel’s government on May 11, reads.

The cohesion funds are EU funding for poorer regions. Poland is allocated a total of €86 billion ($98 billion) from various EU cohesion funds in the current seven-year EU budget that runs until 2020.

A net recipient

Poland is the biggest net recipient of EU funds — in 2015 it got €13.4 billion from the EU. The EU budget will come under huge strain when the UK — one of the biggest net contributors — leaves.

In 2015, total EU spending in Poland was €13.358 billion, and a as a percentage of Polish gross national income (GNI) 3.25 percent. Poland’s total contribution to the EU budget was €3.718 billion, while the Polish contribution to the EU budget was 0.90 percent of its GNI.

Warsaw has accused EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans of waging a “personal crusade” against the country.

The ruling PiS party has also taken aim at Germany, demanding war reparations, attacking plans to build a second Nordstream gas pipeline to Russia that bypasses Poland and being highly critical of its Western neighbor’s policies towards refugees.

Read also: Nordstream II gas pipeline in deep water

“As long as Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform, PO, was in power, the idea behind the Polish membership in the EU was to catch up with the West,” Jan Mus, a lecturer at Vistula University in Warsaw, told DW.

Polish workers (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Kaczmarczyk)A lot of money from the EU cohesion funds has gone into helping Poland modernize its industrial base

“The West was the ultimate goal and at the same time served as a social, economic and political model. The dominant public discourse in Poland presented the country as benefiting immensely from European integration,” he said.

“Law and Justice, PiS, won elections in 2015 because it referred to those who clearly saw things differently, bear the costs of the transformation process (including European integration) and who were ignored and forgotten by the PO elites,” says Mus.

Last spring, the Polish weekly Wprost portrayed Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on its cover in Nazi-style uniforms. In August, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski again demanded reparations from Berlin for WWII damages and one pro-PiS weekly suggested a sum of $6 trillion.

Poland’s other rows with the EU include Warsaw’s non-compliance with a European Court of Justice ban on logging in the World Heritage Bialowieza Forest and its refusal to accept 6,200 asylum seekers.

Read also: Can the EU save Poland’s Bialowieza forest?

PiS is accused of having rolled back the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal and tried to do the same with the Supreme Court, stacked the state media, civil service and army with party loyalists, laid out plans to renationalize several major companies and implemented a radically conservative social agenda.

It managed this assault on the separation of powers despite half-hearted opposition from the president, Andrzej Duda. The European Commission and others called on PiS to rein in its attacks on democracy — to very little effect so far.

Confused signals from Poland

But Poland is also ready to increase its contribution to the EU budget and will oppose any politicization of EU funds, Jerzy Kwiecinski, the deputy minister of economic development, indicated in October. Asked if the Polish government would be ready to increase its contribution in the next multi-annual budget, the minister said: “If it’s on the table, I think yes.”

The Polish minister noted that many countries consider the cohesion policy as “the main investment policy” in the EU adding that “nobody questions it.”

He noted that the convergence process is providing good results for Poland, whose GDP per capita is 70 percent of the EU average, against 50 percent when it joined the EU 13 years ago.

“We are not fond of introducing political requirements on investment policies,” Kwiecinski said. “These policies are for the people and the economy, not for politicians.”

Rising tensions

In February Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo accused the then French President Francoise Hollande of trying to blackmail her country. She said it was unacceptable for Hollande to threaten to halt EU funds because Poland was “not behaving properly.”

Read also: PiS popular in Poland, isolated abroad

Poland tried and failed at the time to stop Tusk’s re-election and refused to endorse the summit’s joint statement. Szydlo said Poland would not accept a multi-speed Europe.

 Bialowieza logging in Poland (picture-alliance/AA/O.Marques)Large-scale logging is taking place at the Bialowieza forest, and many policymakers in fellow EU nations are not amused

She said the EU faced new divisions if stronger nations tried to integrate more among themselves at the expense of weaker ones like Poland and fellow ex-communist countries in the East.

There is new momentum behind the idea of EU members moving at different speeds. France, Germany and Italy back it, but Poland is adamantly against.

“A multi-speed EU will mean that the region will be even more divided than it is now,” Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia, told DW.

“It is clear that countries like Hungary and Poland, as long as they remain under (radical) right rule, will not want to join the more integrated part, whereas the Baltic States are more keen to be in the core (in part because of concerns about Russia).”

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

Read more: Poland slams Macron’s ‘arrogant remarks’

“After Britain leaves, the EU will need to raise contributions or cut spending — both of which are difficult, Linda Yueh, adjunct professor at the London Business School, told DW. “That decision, though, would best be done after a review of the entire budget rather than target specific countries such as those in Eastern Europe. After all, cohesion will be more important than ever as Britain opens the door to leaving the bloc.”

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


World’s Largest Air Battle Training Event Ever in Israel’s Skies — Blue Flag 2017 — “Inshallah”

November 9, 2017
 NOVEMBER 9, 2017 17:01


Nearly 100 planes and hundreds of crew from eight countries take part in Blue Flag 2017, Israel’s largest aerial drill ever.

Israeli F16 belonging to Squadron 115, the Flying Dragon (Red Squadron) taxis to runway at Uvda airb

Israeli F16 belonging to Squadron 115, the Flying Dragon (Red Squadron) taxis to runway at Uvda airbase. (photo credit:ANNA AHRONHEIM)

Close to 100 aircraft, including fighter jets from Germany, and hundreds of support crew from eight nations are taking part in the largest air force exercise ever held in Israel and the biggest in the world to be held this year.

“This exercise is an expression of the ever growing international cooperation we share with our foreign partners,” Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin said.

Highlights From the Blue Flag Joint Air Force Drill

Crews from the US, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, India and Italy are taking part in the two-week Blue Flag drill, honing their skills in planning, targeting and coordinated command and control.

Representatives from Israel, France, Greece, US, Italy, India, Germany and Poland stand in front of an Israeli F16 (ANNA AHRONHEIM)Representatives from Israel, France, Greece, US, Italy, India, Germany and Poland stand in front of an Israeli F16 (ANNA AHRONHEIM)

“The countries participating in the drill have understood the regional challenges and understand Israel’s role in the Middle East,” a senior IAF officer told media at Uvda Air Base on Wednesday, adding that this was especially true for countries like Germany, France and India, which are participating for the first time.

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“There may not be a current coalition, but we now have the base for one,” he said.

Maj. Hachmeister, the German delegation representative, told The Jerusalem Post that he felt “honored” to be one of the first German pilots to fly in Israel.

He said it was exciting to fly in a multinational drill with non-NATO partners, which gives pilots an opportunity to perform missions they have never done before, adding with a smile that German and Israeli pilots drilled an hour-long dogfight together.

A pilot in the Israel Air Force gets ready for take off (ANNA AHRONHEIM)A pilot in the Israel Air Force gets ready for take off (ANNA AHRONHEIM)

“We have some similar standards, but tactically it can be very different,” he told the Post.

Another senior IAF officer familiar with the dogfight told the Post that the German pilots, flying the Eurofighter Typhoon, are extremely skilled.

“It is very meaningful to see the Germans here. The past is the past and now we have great relationships with them,” the Israeli officer said.

Blue Flag, whose planning began in January 2016, is designed to simulate a range of realistic engagements, with participants conducting hundreds of sorties in airspace over the southern Arava desert. During the exercise, air crews will encounter various combat scenarios, including offensive counter-air strikes, suppression and destruction of enemy air-defense systems.

Uvda Air Base hosts squadrons training in the Negev and has an advanced training center. Israeli forces participating in the drill include the F-15 Twin Tail Knights Squadron, the F-16I Orange Tail Knights, the F-16C First Squadron and the C-130J Elephants Squadron, along with supporting Blackhawk helicopters. IAF drones are also taking part.

An Israeli F16 stationed next to flags of participating nations (ANNA AHRONHEIM)An Israeli F16 stationed next to flags of participating nations (ANNA AHRONHEIM)

Uvda is also the base of the “Flying Dragon,” or “Red Squadron,” which plays the role of enemy aircraft. The “enemy” Red Forces, which has Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, operates ground weapons, such as missile launchers and radars, and deploys infantry soldiers who act as terrorists.

Greece, Poland and the United States are participating with F- 16s, France with Mirage 2000D fighter jets, Germany with the Eurofighter, Italy will use multi-role fighters and India will use C-130Js.

According to the IAF, the drill not only allows Israel to build relationships with other countries but allows the IAF to see where it stands in its training and gives it the ability to learn different problem-solving methods, confirming that there have been minor altitude and aerial boundary deviations during the drill.

Major “Echo” of the Hellenic Air Force said that while the combination of nations with such a high tactical level means there is a high level of expertise, flying over the Arava poses several challenges.

An Israeli F-15 belonging to Squadron 133 Knights of the Twin Tail gets ready to take off at Uvda airbase (ANNA AHRONHEIM)An Israeli F-15 belonging to Squadron 133 Knights of the Twin Tail gets ready to take off at Uvda airbase (ANNA AHRONHEIM)

“It’s very easy to get disorientated over a desert,” he told the Post, explaining that pilots spend extra time studying the terrain.

Israel maintains broad cooperation with Greece’s air force, and has participated in several military exercises with the Mediterranean country, including the Iniohos exercise in March.

Foreign pilots share insights from joint air foce drill

While not the first time flying alongside the IAF, for Cpt. Kalogeridis, flying in Israel holds special significance for his 335 Tiger Squadron. “Our squadron was established in 1941 at the Tel Nof Air Base, so it is an honor to be back where we were born.”

Lt.-Col. Richard Hecht, the head of the IAF’s International Affairs Branch, told the Post that Israel is “using aerial diplomacy as a bridge for regional stability.”

The IAF has also taken part in the Red Flag aerial exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for the past two years, flying alongside pilots from Jordan, UAE and Pakistan.

According to a senior IAF officer privy to the drill’s planning, IAF Commander Norkin has said “his vision is to see Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian planes fly side by side.”

“I will follow my commander’s vision, but it is complicated, especially with the sentiment on the ground,” he said.

When asked by the Post about future Blue Flag drills, he had one word: “Inshallah,” using the Arabic term for God willing.


Cairo summons European envoys for criticizing arrest of rights lawyer — Torture, forced disappearances are an internal matter

November 6, 2017

In this Feb. 12, 2016 file photo, the family of Giulio Regeni follows his coffin during the funeral service in Fiumicello, Northern Italy. (AP)

CAIROI: Egypt summoned Sunday the ambassadors of Germany, Italy and The Netherlands after they criticized the arrest of an Egyptian human rights lawyer opposed to enforced disappearances, the Foreign Ministry said.

Authorities arrested in September Ibrahim Metwally, who is linked to the case involving murdered Italian student Giulio Regeni, as he was about to fly to Geneva for a conference on enforced disappearances.
The lawyer, who has founded the Association for the Families of the Disappeared, was detained at Cairo airport.
On Friday, the embassies of Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, the UK and Italy issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply concerned” over Metwally’s “ongoing detention.”
“We are concerned at the detention conditions that Ibrahim Metwally… is reportedly enduring, and continue to call for transparency on prison conditions in Egypt,” said the statement.
“We call on the Egyptian authorities to ensure the freedom of civil society and the protection from torture that are enshrined in the Egyptian Constitution,” it added.
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The Foreign Ministry said the summons was aimed at expressing “Egypt’s strong dissatisfaction with the statement’s blatant and unacceptable interference in its internal affairs.”
At the time of Metwally’s arrest, prosecution officials had said Metwally was detained on suspicion of “dealing with foreign parties” and “spreading false news.”
He was also accused of having set up an “illegal” group.
The ministry also denied that “torture” was underway in Egyptian prisons.
Metwally had been in touch with the legal defense team of Regeni’s family.
Regeni, a Ph.D student, went missing in Cairo on Jan. 25, 2015. Egypt has faced accusations that one of its security services murdered the student who was researching trade unions — a sensitive topic in the country — but Cairo denied any such involvement.

Other European regions join Catalonia in push for more autonomy

October 30, 2017


© Pau Barrena, AFP | A flag with the text in Catalan “The people lead” is held up as people gather to celebrate the proclamation of a Catalan republic at the Sant Jaume square in Barcelona on October 27, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-10-30

While Catalonia is still struggling to define what independence will look like after its unilateral declaration of emancipation from Spain on Friday, FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the other independence movements across Europe.

After a first illegal referendum on independence in 2014 – and despite fierce opposition from Madrid, which deemed the vote illegal – Catalonia organised a new vote for self-determination on October 1. Despite only a 42% turnout the government of the autonomous Spanish region voted 90% in favour, making them the envy of many other European independence movements.

For Barbara Loyer, professor at the French Institute of Geopolitics at the University of Paris 8, the Catalan vote might ignite new moves for independence elsewhere on the continent. “The potential for destablisation is very large,” she said. Loyer estimates that the violent scenes witnessed during the Catalan vote are particularly damaging. “It opens the debate on the question of democracy, and we reduce the situation to a confrontation between people and the state and police. It’s a blessing for regionalism in Europe.”

But Vincent Laborderie, lecturer at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, said the historical and cultural contexts across Europe as far too different “for there to be an impact” from one region’s independence push. “Maybe the police crackdown will incite Catalans who were undecided to defend their people,” he said. Laborderie added that the violence seen during the Catalonia vote may even discourage separatists elsewhere in Europe.

Nevertheless, many regional movements have been active for decades and appear unlikely to give up on their dreams of independence. FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of the European regions still seeking greater autonomy.

  • Basque country

After the dramatic referendum in Catalonia, attention naturally turned towards another region of separatist Spain: the Basque country. This autonomous region has had special status since the end of the 1970s. For decades the struggle for independence was epitomised by the struggles of ETA, the separatist movement classified as a terrorist group by Spain as well as the EU and the United States. In the spring of 2017 ETA announced its plans to disarm unilaterally, ending the last armed insurgency in Western Europe.

Both Loyer and Laborderie say the Basque country is unlikely to reignite its calls for more independence in the wake of the Catalan push. “They already have more autonomy than Catalonia, including the tax control long asked for by Barcelona,” said Laborderie, adding that, for now, the Basques are seeking to “heal the wounds of the civil war”.

  • Scotland

Although the Scots voted against independence in a first referendum in 2014, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pushed for a new vote after Brexit, reflecting the determination of many in Scotland to remain part of Europe even if the United Kingdom leaves.

“Scotland is maybe the region best able to take the plunge and organise another [referendum], but we are still far from that point,” says Laborderie. Sturgeon announced in late June that the decision to organise a new referendum would be postponed until autumn 2018, after Brexit negotiations have been concluded. Even if a vote is approved it will not take place until spring 2019 at the earliest, immediately after the UK’s exit from the EU.

Sturgeon expressed her support for the Catalan referendum on Twitter and criticised the heavy-handed security response from the Spanish government. “[I am] Increasingly concerned by images from Catalonia,” she wrote on October 1.


1/2 Increasingly concerned by images from . Regardless of views on independence, we should all condemn the scenes being witnessed

  • Balkans

Hit hard by the civil war of the 1990s, the situation in many nations of the former Yugoslavia remains tense. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, becoming the world’s newest republic at the time. The United States and 23 EU members have recognised its independent status but many other nations – including Russia and five EU member states – continue to consider it a part of Serbia.

And Laborderie said more areas are likely to seek greater autonomy in the future. “We can imagine that Serbia’s autonomous province of Vojvodina wants to claim more control. There is also the Serbian side of Bosnia that could hold a referendum,” he said.

Laborderie added that, unlike in Spain, the Serbian or Bosnian police would be unable to prevent a serious push for independence “because they do not have the means”.

  • Flanders

Flanders, the Dutch region of Belgium, is home to a significant nationalist movement. The region already has its own parliament, where nationalists hold roughly 50 seats of a total of 124.

“The Flemish are ready for independence, but are they interested? They already have a quasi-federalist system under which the central government has almost no powers,” Loyer said.

Laborderie agrees, observing that Flanders has “never been so far from independence”. “After the 500 days of political crisis between 2010 and 2011 that gave way to the 6th reform of the state, Flanders has obtained more control, and its demands have been satisfied,” he said. Moreover, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) has entered the federal government and can influence politics from the inside.

The N-VA criticised police violence during Catalonia’s referendum, declaring on Twitter that there was “no place in Europe for politicians who resort to violence. Those that continue to reject the call for international mediation deny democracy.” Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel, for his part, is one of the only European leaders to have taken a similar position. He wrote on Twitter: “Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue.”

Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reaffirm our call for political dialogue  

  • Veneto and Lombardy

The northern regions of Veneto and Lombardy are some of the Italy’s wealthiest. Unlike Catalonia, the regions are not asking for total independence but want more autonomy from Rome, especially on financial matters. An October 22 referendum saw just over 40% of voters back these aims.

Veneto’s President Luca Zaia hailed the results of the vote but emphasised that his region did not aspire to total secession. While the votes are non-binding, they will give right-wing politicians in the two regions a strong mandate when they negotiate with Rome on the devolution of powers and tax revenue.

  • Corsica

Separatist sentiment remains very much alive on the French island of Corsica. In France’s 2017 legislative elections, three pro-independence candidates were elected to the country’s National Assembly, a first for the movement. Corsica already has special status in its relations with Paris and enjoys certain privileges.

“For the moment, things have stayed quiet in Corsica because the moment is not favourable,” Loyer said. “But if Corsica organised a referendum the situation could be similar to that of Catalonia, where we would see the police facing off against the people.”

The nationalists, who are a majority in the unicameral Corsican Assembly, passed a motion on September 22 highlighting “the undeniable legitimacy of the government of Catalonia” in the face of a “changing and worrying” situation.

Jean-Guy Talamoni, the president of the Assembly, even tweeted his support for “our friends” in Catalonia and condemned Spain’s “aggression … against democracy”.

A Barcelone pour soutenir nos amis Catalans. Nous exprimons notre indignation face à l’agression en cours contre la démocratie. 

Date created : 2017-10-30


France Seeks Funding at UN Monday For African Sahel Anti-Terror Military Force

October 30, 2017



© Pascal Guyot, AFP | Malian soldiers patrol with French soldiers involved in the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in March 2016 in Timbamogoye.


Latest update : 2017-10-30

France is facing a tough diplomatic battle to convince the United States to lend UN support to a counter-terrorism force for Africa’s Sahel region, where insurgents have killed UN peacekeepers and US soldiers.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will lead a UN Security Council meeting on Monday that will look at ways of shoring up the G5 Sahel force set up by Burkina FasoChadMaliMauritania and Niger.

France wants donors to step up, but is also looking to the United Nations to offer logistic and financial support to the joint force — which is set to begin operations in the coming days.

The United States however is adamant that while it is ready to provide bilateral funding, there should be no UN support for the force.

“The US is committed to supporting the African-led and owned G5 Joint Force through bilateral security assistance, but we do not support UN funding, logistics, or authorization for the force,” said a spokesperson for the US mission.

“Our position on further UN involvement with respect to the G5 Sahel joint force is unchanged.”

The vast Sahel region has turned into a hotbed of violent extremism and lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

>> Video: Meet the French troops hunting jihadists in Sahel

Earlier this month, militants linked to the Islamic State ambushed and killed four US soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol with Nigerien soldiers near the Niger-Mali border.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali has lost 17 peacekeepers in attacks this year, one of the highest tolls from current peace operations.

Four options

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has come out in favor of multilateral backing, writing in a recent report that the establishment of the G5 force “represents an opportunity that cannot be missed.”

Guterres has laid out four options for UN support, from setting up a UN office for the Sahel to sharing resources from the large UN mission in Mali.

In response, US Ambassador Nikki Haley wrote to Guterres this month to reaffirm the US “no” to UN involvement, officials said. The United States is the UN’s biggest financial contributor.


The battle over UN backing for the Sahel force is shaping up as Haley is pushing for cost-saving measures after successfully negotiating a $600-million cut to the peacekeeping budget this year.

After leading a Security Council visit to the Sahel last week, French Ambassador Francois Delattre said most countries on the council want the United Nations to help.

“The key question now is not about the relevance of the G5 Sahel force, nor the need to support it, but it is about the best way to convey this support,” said Delattre.

A “mix of both multilateral and bilateral support” is needed, he said.

A long list of gaps

The price tag for the G5 force’s first year of operations is estimated at 423 million euros ($491 million), even though French officials say the budget can be brought down closer to 250 million euros.

So far, only 108 million euros have been raised, including 50 million euros from the five countries themselves. A donor conference will be held in Brussels on December 16.

“UN logistical support could make a big difference,” said Paul Williams, an expert on peacekeeping at George Washington University.

“To become fully operational, the force needs to fill a long list of logistical and equipment gaps,” he said — from funding for its headquarters to intelligence-sharing and medical evacuation capacities.

Williams said US reservations were not just about cost, but also about the mission’s operations, which Washington sees as ill-defined.

The G5 is “a relatively blunt military instrument for tackling the security challenges in this region, which stem from a combination of bad governance, underdevelopment and environmental change,” he explained.

“At best it might limit the damage done by some of the criminal networks and insurgents, but even then, its gains will not be sustainable without adequate funding.”




France, U.N. Want Sahel Army To Fight Terrorism But U.S. Not Eager To Pay

October 30, 2017

Plan for 5-nation force in the Sahel strongly backed by France and Italy but funding resisted by Trump administration

Malian and French soldiers patrol during anti-insurgent operations in Tin Hama, Mali, 19 October.
 Malian and French soldiers patrol during anti-insurgent operations in Tin Hama, Mali, 19 October. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Unprecedented plans to combat human trafficking and terrorism across the Sahel and into Libya will face a major credibility test on Monday when the UN decides whether to back a new proposed five-nation joint security force across the region.

The 5,000-strong army costing $400m in the first year is designed to end growing insecurity, a driving force of migration, and combat endemic people-smuggling that has since 2014 seen 30,000 killed in the Sahara and an estimated 10,000 drowned in the central Mediterranean.

No automatic alt text available.

The joint G5 force, due to be fully operational next spring and working across five Sahel states, has the strong backing of France and Italy, but is suffering a massive shortfall in funds, doubts about its mandate and claims that the Sahel region needs better coordinated development aid, and fewer security responses, to combat migration.

The Trump administration, opposed to multilateral initiatives, has so far refused to let the UN back the G5 Sahel force with cash. The force commanders claim they need €423m in its first year, but so far only €108m has been raised, almost half from the EU. The British say they support the force in principle, but have offered no funds as yet.

Western diplomats hope the US will provide substantial bilateral funding for the operation, even if they refuse to channel their contribution multilaterally through the UN.

France, with the support of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and regional African leaders, has been pouring diplomatic resources into persuading a sceptical Trump administration that the UN should financially back the force.

In an attempt to persuade the Americans, Guterres warned in a report to the security council this month that the “region is now trapped in a vicious cycle in which poor political and security governance, combined with chronic poverty and the effects of climate change, has contributed to the spread of insecurity”.

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Rome to negotiate with regions after autonomy victory in Veneto and Lombardy

October 24, 2017


© AFP/File | “We will discuss how to make Italy function better,” Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said

MILAN (AFP) – Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Tuesday that Rome is prepared to negotiate with two of its wealthiest regions “within the limits of the law”, after voters supported autonomy.

Over 95 percent of those who took part in referendums on Sunday in the northern regions of Veneto and Lombardy, home to Venice and Milan respectively, supported more powers being devolved from the Italian capital.

The leaders of the two regions, which contribute up to 30 percent of Italy’s GDP, want better deals on tax revenues.

“The government is ready to hold talks on the issues of autonomy,” Gentiloni said during a visit to Veneto.

“This will be a complex discussion, but we are ready to carry it out within the limits of the law and the Constitution.”

Turnout was higher than expected in the referendums, and analysts warned that the results should not be underestimated in the context of the crisis created by Catalonia’s push for independence.

Voter participation was 57 percent in Veneto and almost 39 percent in Lombardy.

Both regions are run by the Northern League (LN) party, which was once openly secessionist but has lately shifted its focus to run on an anti-euro ticket in the hope of expanding its influence into the south.

The consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could eventually lead to powers being devolved from Rome.

“We will discuss how to make Italy function better,” Gentiloni said, adding that there would be no discussions on Italy or its constitution.

“We do not need new social divisions, but we need to repair the divisions the crisis has created”.

Both regions will call for a return of a large part of their fiscal balance, as their residents pay about 70 billion euros ($82 billion) more a year in taxes than they receive in social spending.

Veneto President Luca Zaia also said the region would call for Veneto receiving “special status,” which would require an amendment to Italy’s constitution.

Gianclaudio Bressa, the under-secretary for regional affairs pushed back against Veneto’s request for special status, saying it was “against the unity and indivisibility of the country.”

Lombardy President Roberto Maroni said he would not ask for special status because the referendum question did not touch on the issue.

Italy: Regions prepare Rome challenge after autonomy victory vote — Could Veneto and Lombardy Leave Italy? — 95 percent of voters support more autonomy

October 23, 2017


© AFP/File / by Céline CORNU | 95 percent of voters in Veneto and Lombardy support plans for more autonomy

ROME (AFP) – Two of Italy’s wealthiest regions were drawing up plans Monday to claw back power and money from Rome after a victory for autonomy campaigners that could deepen divisions in Europe.

Over 95 percent of voters who flocked to the polls in the Veneto and Lombardy regions, home to Venice and Milan, supported a mandate to negotiate a better deal with the Italian capital.

Turnout was higher than expected and the results should not be underestimated in the context of the crisis created by Catalonia’s push for independence, analysts warned.

Voter participation stood at 57 percent in Veneto and nearly 39 percent in Lombardy.

Both regions are run by the Northern League (LN) party, which was once openly secessionist but has lately shifted its focus to run on an anti-euro ticket in the hope of expanding its influence into the south.

The leaders of the two regions, which contribute up to 30 percent of Italy’s GDP, will now embark on negotiations with the central government on the devolution of powers and tax revenues from Rome.

Once the terms are agreed, they will need a green light from parliament in a process that could take up to a year.

Veneto leader Luca Zaia said the regional council, which was meeting Monday, was aiming to get Rome to agree it could keep ninety percent of taxes, rather than handing them over to a capital it has long accused of waste.

– ‘Growing unease in Europe’ –

“More than five million people voted for change. We all want less waste, fewer taxes, less bureaucracy, fewer state and EU constraints, more efficiency, more employment and more security,” said LN head Matteo Salvini.

He said the party was committed to winning greater autonomy for all regions up and down the country.

Secessionist sentiment in Veneto and Lombardy is restricted to fringe groups but analysts see the autonomy drive as reflecting the same cocktail of issues and pressures that resulted in Scotland’s narrowly-defeated independence vote, Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the Catalan crisis.

“Lombardy is not Catalonia, nor indeed is the Veneto, but the revival of the autonomist flame here takes place in a Europe which tends towards fragmentation and closing in on itself,” Italian political commentator Stefano Folli said.

Economist Lorenzo Codogno, a former senior official in the finance ministry, said the ‘Yes’ victory would likely “add to the sense of uneasiness in Europe”.

“Following the populist wave, now Europe has also to face a nationalist/regionalist wave, which somewhat overlaps with the populist one, and makes European integration even more difficult,” he added.

And Folli evoked the fear in Italy that the results, which “captured a growing divide between the North and South”, could aggravate deeply rooted antipathies that predate the country’s unification in the 19th century.

by Céline CORNU

Italy regions vote on autonomy bid — Sunday could mark the opening of a Pandora’s box

October 22, 2017


© AFP/File / by Celine CORNU and Angus MacKinnon in Rome | Voters in Lombardy and Veneto will be asked to vote Yes or No for greater autonomy

MILAN (AFP) – Voters in the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto vote Sunday in autonomy referendums attracting additional interest against the backdrop of Catalonia’s push for independence from Spain.

The consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could, over time, lead to powers being devolved from Rome. Secessionist sentiment in the two wealthy northern regions is restricted to fringe groups with little following.

Nonetheless, with both regions expected to vote in favour of the principle of greater autonomy, analysts see the referendums as reflecting the centrifugal pressures that resulted in Scotland’s narrowly-defeated independence vote, Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the Catalan crisis.

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Both regions are expected to vote in favour of more autonomy but the level of turnout will have a critical bearing on the significance of the results.

In Veneto, it has to pass 50 percent for the result to be considered valid. There is no quorum in Lombardy but low voter participation would weaken the region’s hand in any subsequent negotiations with the central government.

Lombardy, which includes Milan, and Veneto, which houses Venice, are home to around a quarter of Italy’s population and account for 30 percent of its overall economic output.

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– New powers –

With dynamic economies and lower unemployment and welfare costs than the Italian average, both regions are large net contributors to the coffers of a central state widely regarded as inefficient at best.

“Our taxes should be spent here, not in Sicily,” says Giuseppe Colonna, an 84-year-old Venetian whose sentiments appear to be widely shared in the floating city.

Veneto President Luca Zaia says 30 billion euros ($35 billion) are wasted every year at a national level and fiscal rebalancing will be a top priority for him and his Lombardy counterpart Roberto Maroni if the votes go their way.

Lombardy sends 54 billion euros more in taxes to Rome than it gets back in public spending. Veneto’s net contribution is 15.5 billion.

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The two regions would like to roughly halve those contributions — a concession the cash-strapped state, labouring under a mountain of debt, can ill afford.

The two regional presidents, both members of the far-right Northern League, plan to ask for more powers over infrastructure, the environment, health and education.

They also want new ones relating to security issues and immigration — steps which would require changes to the constitution.

– Pandora’s box? –

All of this will take time if it happens at all. But the referendums could have a domino effect in the shorter term. A similar autonomy vote is being debated in Liguria, the region that includes the Riviera coastline, and Emilia Romagna, another wealthy industrial part of the country, is already trying to negotiate more devolved powers.

Economist Lorenzo Codogno says that while Italian unity is not under threat, Sunday could mark the opening of a Pandora’s box.

“The issue is likely to spread, and eventually, it will require a generalised approach by the next government and a reform of the constitution.”

Although the referendums have been driven by the Northern League, which has long abandoned the secessionist principles on which it was founded, the Yes campaign is backed by most of the centre right and sections of the centre left.

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, says greater self-rule “is an idea shared by everyone, not one that belongs to the League.”

There is also a substantial body of opinion that regards the votes as unnecessary extravagances: organising them will cost 50 million euros in Lombardy and 14 million in Veneto.

The referendum questions are framed differently in the two regions but both ask voters to say Yes or No to “further forms and special conditions of autonomy.”

In a first for Italy, voting in Lombardy will be conducted on computer tablets. Acquiring them raised the cost of the ballot but should ensure an early result after the polls close at 11:00 pm (2100 GMT). They open at 7:00 am.

by Celine CORNU and Angus MacKinnon in Rome

Will Italy’s Lombardy and Veneto follow Catalonia?

October 22, 2017

The Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto are holding referendums on Sunday in a bid for more autonomy from Rome. But has the crisis in Catalonia put a damper on their aspirations? Megan Williams finds out.

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There was a time, late last century, when a brave and free people in the north of Italy dreamed a great dream of a new nation. It was to be called Padania. Followers organized joyful rallies festooned with clover green uniforms and flags where they decried the waste of Rome.

Processions took place where sacred Po River baptismal water was carried to the new land’s “capital” of Venice and legends from the heroic past were shared. Padanian ID cards were handed out. “Northern Bank” notes made a fluttering, fleeting appearance.

Some three decades later, as secessionist tensions erupt in Catalonia, the soaring dream of that folkloric Italian state has, well, not come fully crashing down but largely evaporated.

The party that drove it, the populist, anti-immigrant Lega Nord or Northern League, is instead proposing two modest, legal and nonbinding referendums in the wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto this Sunday. There, they’ll put to voters the question of whether they want regional representatives to negotiate with Rome for more autonomy and return on their taxes.

If Veneto Governor Roberto Zaia and Governor Roberto Maroni of Lombardy feel any solidarity with the plight of their confreres in Catalonia, it’s hardly shone through.

“[Catalan leader Carles] Puigdemont lost an extraordinary chance. He stopped in the middle of the ford and no longer has the strength he had on the first day,” said Maroni, adding that paradoxically, Milan now has a leg up on Barcelona in the cities’ bid to become the new headquarters for the European Medicines Agency, poised to leave the UK after Brexit.

Using the referendums as an election platform

What the Italian referendums are really about, observers say, is political positioning ahead of crucial 2018 elections.

“The Northern League is looking to maximize their gains in the next national election,” says Cristina Fusone, political science professor at Rome’s LUISS-Guido Carli University. “We’re witnessing a new geography of political forces in Italy [with the Five Star anti-politician movement] and the timing of the referendums reflects that.”

For years, the Northern League was a small but critical member of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition. Berlusconi, who has re-emerged on the political scene after he was ousted in 2011 and found guilty of tax fraud, is still an unchallenged leader in his Forza Italia party and has backed Sunday’s vote, promising greater regional autonomy as part of the election platform for the center-right.

The Democratic Party, even in the polls with the Five Stars and the center-right, opposes it.

“The first problem is that the referendum question is too vague,” says Lorenzo Colovini, member of the Democratic Party and Gruppo 7 Luglio [a Democratic Party chapter in Venice — the ed.], which is urging people to boycott Sunday’s Veneto referendum, where a 50-percent turnout is required.

Map of Lombardy and Veneto regions in Italy

“If the referendum were really serious, they should have defined more precisely what more autonomy means. It’s like a blank check. It’s really just political propaganda for Governor Zaia,” said Colovini.

But Cristina Fusone says this is only partially true.

Since 2001, Italian regions have had the constitutional right to request further autonomy, in everything from education to finance. However, the right to financial management was suddenly curtailed with the European financial crisis.

“The problem stems from the austerity measures introduced,” she says. “Re-centralization of financial management has taken place and so this autonomy has been restricted. Every region is now bound to comply with balanced-budget rules.”

It’s a restriction that has rankled the wealthier northern regions, which glaringly outperform the underdeveloped southern Italy in all financial indicators.

North-South divide

Enzo Moavero Milanesi, law professor and former cabinet minister, says while a development and employment gap between the North and South remains, the resentment of the North toward the South is no longer what it was several decades ago.

“The main point is the correct administration,” says Milanesi of the move for autonomy. “These two regions have been ruled by the Northern League for years and they are well-managed. There’s a good health system, low unemployment rate; so the idea is to draw attention to how managed they are and how much better the country could be managed.”

Like Fusone, he says the economic crisis in Europe has largely fueled the drive for more regional autonomy in Italy and elsewhere.

“It has led some to believe that more local autonomy might be a way to escape a political decision far away,” he said. “But the real question is: What is local? Is a country local with respect to the EU? Is it a region? A town?”

A poster on a wall of a house in Venice“No to cruise ships” poster in Venice, whose own referendum to separate from the mainland has yet to be approved

The question is hardly rhetorical. Alongside the issue of more regional autonomy in the Veneto referendum, another question was supposed to address whether the city of Venice should separate from the nearby mainland city of Mestre. Venetians in favor of the move say it would allow Venice to tackle the issue of mammoth cruise ships and tourism causing environmental harm to their harbor. But Italy’s constitutional court has yet rule on whether the question of municipal separation is legal. Consequently, Governor Zaia excluded it from the ballot, to the bitter disappointment of many.

But it’s a question that could well re-emerge — and not the only one.

“There are rumors about other regions, such as Emilia-Romagna, wanting autonomy,” says Moavero Milanesi. “So the mosaic is quite colorful.”

One hopes not quite as colorful as Catalonia.