Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Germany: Angela Merkel’s Ruling Christian Democrats In Dispute Over Migrants, Asylum Policy

November 19, 2018

Migrants, Asylum Policy — Leading Christian Democrats are warning their colleagues not to call Germany’s participation in the UN’s Global Compact for Migration into question. Jens Spahn and other CDU members have gone rogue on asylum policy.

Refugees and migrants try to warm themselves through fires in the makeshift camp in Idomeni

Members of Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) are hitting back at Health Minister Jens Spahn’s suggestion that Germany should not sign on to the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration after all. Norbert Röttgen, who heads the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, said the agreement, which is not legally binding, would be an important step by the international community in controlling migration and was therefore in Germany’s best interest.

“To put off signing the migration pact would be a lack of leadership that Germany cannot permit,” Röttgen told daily Bild for an article published on Monday.

Spahn, who hopes to take the reins of the CDU when Merkel relinquishes them at the end of the year, has called for further debate on the pact when the party convenes to choose its next boss in December. Other members of the CDU have also criticized Germany’s participation in the pact, which was set for ratification in December and in part “intends to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities migrants face at different stages of migration,” according to the UN.

The pact calls for nations to take voluntary measures to help improve the conditions in migrants’ countries of origin that are frequently cited as the primary motivators of emigration, as well as to help destination countries better assimilate migrants and provide them with sustainable conditions. Its 23 objectives, in the UN’s words, strive “to create conducive conditions that enable all migrants to enrich our societies through their human, economic and social capacities, and thus facilitate their contributions to sustainable development at the local, national, regional and global levels.”

Deutschlandtrend: Leader CDU

‘The populist hysteria’

Perhaps inspiring the rogue members of Merkel’s coalition of the CDU, Social Democrats and Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), three of Germany’s neighbors — Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria — and nearby Hungary, have already pulled out of the pact. But now the conflict is coming from within her party, representing yet another dispute among the nominally allied factions that have sought to steer Germany through a series of crises over the past five years.

“Striving for the right way in the party is always smart,” Thomas Strobl, the CDU’s second-in-command, told Bild. “With that in mind, it was clearly a mistake that the migration pact was not openly and positively advocated for early on.”

Strobl said that “we should not allow ourselves to be driven mad by the populist hysteria of the right.” He referenced the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has played on xenophobia for political gain, in adding that he was “absolutely opposed to the idea that, in fear of the misleading AfD campaign, we would execute even a partial withdrawal” from the agreement.

Those words may not be enough to convince the further-right elements of the uneasy alliance that currently governs Germany. As the CSU Bundestag deputy Peter Ramsauer, who opposes the pact, told daily Die Welt for an article published in Monday’s edition, “throughout the entire document, there’s a stance that sees migration as something normal and even desirable.”

mkg/aw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)



Di Maio says EU election will shake up politics, help Italy

November 18, 2018

European parliamentary elections in May will shake up the political landscape and help Italy in its budget battles with Brussels, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday.

The European Commission last month rejected Italy’s 2019 budget, saying it flouted a commitment to lower the deficit and did not guarantee a reduction in the debt, the second highest in the euro zone as a proportion of GDP.

Italy’s coalition, comprising the anti-establishment 5-Star-Movement and far-right League, has refused to change the main points of the budget, saying it will boost the economy via tax cuts, a lower retirement age and higher welfare spending.

Di Maio told Corriere della Sera daily he was confident that Rome and Brussels could avoid a collision, predicting that the Commission would take a different approach after May’s elections which might boost anti-austerity parties.

Image result for Luigi Di Maio, pictures

Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini

“…citizens will vote in the European elections and will cause a big shake up,” said Di Maio, who is also leader of the 5-Star. “We are ready to discuss things around a table, but they cannot ask us to massacre Italians.”

Di Maio reiterated that the government was willing to sell real estate assets, reduce waste and introduce safeguard clauses to ensure the deficit will not exceed the target of 2.4 percent of output in 2019. But he said: “The main reforms of the budget must remain in place”.

The European Commission is expected to start disciplinary steps against Rome next Wednesday, a procedure which could eventually end in unprecedented fines for Italy.

The European elections are shaping up to be a battle between centrist, pro-EU parties and nationalist far-right formations that want to stop immigration.

Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Janet Lawrence



Libya is ‘hell’: Migrants barricaded in cargo ship refuse demands to leave

November 18, 2018

Migrants on the Nivin ship tell MEE they are injured and having to urinate into bottles

Migrants still on board the Nivin cargo ship in the port of Misrata (MEE)
Francesca Mannocchi's picture

TRIPOLI –  They left Libya in a rubber raft 10 days ago. From Ethiopia, Pakistan and beyond, they sought to take the well-worn passage across the Mediterranean to Europe and, as one passenger said, escape hell.

Now more than 70 migrants, including children, are in a stand off with Libyan authorities in the northwestern port of Misrata, refusing to disembark from the Nivin, the Italian cargo ship that rescued them.

‘We won’t get off this ship. We won’t return to that hell’

– Dittur, 19, migrant from South Sudan

Many have already spent months travelling across dangerous terrain at the whims of smugglers or been detained in Libyan detention centres. Some, say aid workers, have been tortured by traffickers trying to extort money.

Barricaded inside the ship, using plastic containers in place of toilet facilities, with the crew on the upper decks, and surrounded by Libyan armed forces awaiting orders from Tripoli, they now refuse to return.

“We won’t get off this ship,” Dittur, a 19-year-old from South Sudan who remains onboard, told Middle East Eye by phone. “We won’t return to that hell.”

In the Mediterranean, where there are no longer NGO rescue ships on patrol, the incident sheds light on the moral maze in which merchant ships now find themselves in the absence of aid workers. It may be easier for crews to pretend not to see rubber boats rather than lose time on their course. Six ships passed the migrants before the Nivin rescued them, migrants told MEE.

Injured migrants on board the Nivin ship (MEE)

However, human rights advocates said on Friday, the standoff is also a testimony to the continuing problems within Libya’s detention centres, which the UN described earlier this year as horrific. One of the migrants told MEE smugglers picked him up from one of the centres with full knowledge of authorities.

The protest, said Middle East and North Africa director for Amnesty International, Heba Morayef, “gives a clear indication of the horrifying conditions refugees and migrants face in Libya’s detention centres, where they are routinely exposed to torture, rape, beatings, extortion and other abuse”.

As the standoff continues, there are concerns that the protest may end in violence.

Like six ships in the night

The migrants’ journey began on 6 November when 95 people, including 28 minors, set off in a raft from the coastal Libyan city of Khoms.

Dittur, one of those on board, told MEE that the group had been at sea for several hours when they realised they were in danger and tried to get help from passing ships.

‘Six ships passed by us that night and no one rescued us. They have seen us without saving our lives’

– Dittur, 19, migrant from South Sudan

“We called the emergency number saying we were on the rubber boat, which was already in very bad condition. Six ships passed by us that night and no one rescued us. They have seen us without saving our lives,” he said.

Finally, he said, a merchant ship arrived. It was the Nivin, a cargo ship flying a Panamanian flag, which had left the Italian city of Imperia on 7 November with a load of cars destined for the North African market.

The crew helped everyone on board. “‘We wil bring you to Italy. Do not worry,'” Dittur said they were told.

Intead, several hours later, the Libyan coastguard arrived. “It was our nightmare,” the migrant from South Sudan said. As the coastguard started to attempt to transfer people off the boat and the migrants realised they would be returning to Libya, they refused to disembark, a Nivin crew member and passengers told MEE.

Communication between the Nivin and Italy’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) reviewed by MEE shows the MRCC acting on behalf of the Libyan coastguard.

In their first contact via a cable seen by MEE, the MRCC told the Nivin to rescue the migrants on board the rubber raft and urged the crew to contact the Libyan coastguard. The number the MRCC gave for the coastguard, however, was Italian.

Copy of cable sent from Italy’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to Nivin

At 7.39pm on 7 November, MRCC writes to Nivin: “On behalf of the Libyan Coast Guard… please change course and drive at maximum speed at the indicated latitude.” The MRCC shared another Italian phone number as a point of contact.

At 9.34pm in an email seen by MEE, the Libyan Navy, with the Maltese navy, Eunavfor Med and the Italian Navy copied in, tells Nivin: “As a Libyan authority, I order you to recover the boat and we will give instructions to disembark.”

‘They are desperate’

The cargo ship arrived in Misrata on 9 November. On Wednesday, after days-long mediation between Libyan authorities and the migrants, a Somali woman and her three-month-old baby, along with 12 others, disembarked.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staff at the port of Misrata negotiated with Libyan authorities, who carried food and medicine on board to injured migrants who have burns and abrasions. Now 70 remain barricaded in the ship.

A patient in serious condition refused to be taken to a medical facility in Libya. He said he would rather die on the merchant ship

– Julien Raickman, MSF

“They are desperate,” Julien Raickman, MSF’s head of mission, told MEE. “In the group, there are several people, including children, tortured by traffickers to extort money. A patient in serious condition refused to be taken to a medical facility in Libya. He said he would rather die on the merchant ship. ”

There are no toilets, so the migrants are using plastic bottles to urinate. Journalists have not been allowed to access the ship, the port or even the city of Misrata. Outside at the port, armed forces wait for instructions from Tripoli, according to a source inside the port.

From Tripoli, Libyan naval commander Anwar El Sharif told MEE: “They are pirates, criminals. We do not consider them migrants and this is no longer a rescue operation for people in danger. They set fire to the ship’s cargo and attempted to kill the crew,” he said.

“We will treat them as they deserve, that is, as terrorists. It is a work of special forces, counterterrorism. They will be in charge of evacuating the ship.”

Migrants without access to bathrooms on the Nivin are urinating in plastic bottles (MEE)

But those still onboard deny that they set cars on fire or tried to kill anyone. Instead, they say that they were burned by fuel from the rubber raft they originally set sail on.

They also sent photos to MEE showing scratches and scars which they say are wounds they sustained in detention centres in Tripoli and Tajoura, a nearby town that many of them, including Dittur, were trying to flee.

Impossible escape

Two years ago when he was 17, Dittur said he escaped from South Sudan, crossed a desert and was arrested the first time he tried to cross the Mediterranean. He was imprisoned for seven months in Bani Walid detention centre in Libya.

That first attempt, he said, was followed by another. And then another, even as he continued to be extorted by smugglers.

“Every time, more torture, and more money to ask my family to let me go, and every time, they [the smugglers] let me go. I worked, free, to try to leave again,” he said.

When [Libyan authorities] held me again in a prison, I asked to be able to give my documents to humanitarian organisations, they told us that they would help us out, to get away from there. But months went by, no one showed up,” he said.


Italy accused of bribing Libyan militias to stop migrants reaching Europe

Passengers with him on the raft, he said, were kept in a shed in the countryside before smugglers transported them to the coast.

Dittur said he had been picked up by smugglers at the Tariq al-Sikka detention centre in Tripoli, which is managed by the Government of National Accord’s Ministry of the Interior.

“Smugglers can enter whenever they want in prisons,” he said. “They come to make arrangements with those who want to leave and enter to take away who can pay his share, with me they did so, two weeks ago.”

Italy’s economic woes present opportunity for EU

November 18, 2018

The spectre of Italy and its struggling economy has haunted European policy makers ever since the dawn of the euro crisis in 2008. That the country – one of the EU’s six founder members and its fourth largest economy – is unequivocally ‘too big to fail’ has been apparent for the last decade. And now, finally, we have reached the moment from which this slow-burning crisis can no longer be deferred.

It has arrived as a result of the budget proposed by Italy’s populist coalition, which would raise borrowing to 2.4% of GDP – triple the 0.8% to which Rome had previously committed itself – in a country whose debt already stands at 2.3 trillion euros.

The rejection of these initial proposals by the EU has sparked fears of a renewed euro crisis and raised the prospect of a political and economic reckoning for Rome and for Brussels.

By Paul Knott

Image result for Italy, EU, Flags, pictures

The departure – if it goes ahead – of a large member state like Britain from the EU would be a blow, but not a fatal one for the Union. Britain was a latecomer to the organisation and has often been a peripheral and reluctant partner since it joined in 1973. Italy, by contrast, has been one of the EU’s most committed members from the start. Its estrangement would create an existential crisis for Europe.

Equally, Italy’s economy is far too substantial to allow it to be endlessly clobbered with austerity like poor Greece. Persisting to the point of Italy’s economic collapse would seriously damage the countries wielding the sticks too.

Contrary to the popular perception in northern Europe, Italy’s current economic woes are not caused by careless spending.

Italy is the only eurozone member, along with Germany, to have recorded a primary budget surplus almost every year since the euro’s inception in 1999. This means it brings more revenue in to its government treasury than it spends, before interest payments are taken into account.

And it is those interest payments that are the key to Italy’s issues. The real root of the country’s economic problems is the large debt burden stacked up during the decades before the euro existed. In those years, successive Italian governments often relied on devaluing the currency, the lira, to get themselves out of trouble – an option that is no longer available as a euro member.

Italy’s attempts over the last few years to use spending cuts to reduce its crippling inherited debts have failed. Worse still, they have contributed to creating an economic and political crisis in the process.

Italy’s economic output is now less than it was in 2000 (when measured by GDP per head and adjusted for inflation). Unemployment has doubled over the past decade to more than 10%. The impact falls disproportionately on the young and the true jobless figure is probably higher, once those scraping by informally are taken into account. Meanwhile, prices have risen markedly and the wages of those in employment have failed to keep pace.

There are, of course, numerous other causes for Italy’s economic stagnation, most of which are its own responsibility. Its education system is badly outdated and its pension costs are too high. Inefficient public administration and legal systems drastically increase the cost and difficulty of doing business.

But reforms to tackle these structural problems are difficult to implement while also pursuing debt-driven austerity. And, given the timeline, the inevitable conclusion drawn by many Italians is that the EU and the euro are at least partly responsible for their struggles.

This situation has caused Italian voters to lose faith with the traditional political parties. Earlier this year they elected an unstable coalition of populists. The ensuing battle for leadership of the coalition between the erratic, inexperienced Five Star Movement and the far-right Lega led by Matteo Salvini, has resulted in them presenting a budget to the EU that deliberately defies eurozone rules on overspending.

Their motivations for doing so are as much political as economic. In particular, the eurosceptic and deeply cynical Salvini sees great personal political advantage in stirring up nationalism by provoking a public row with the EU.

The rest of the EU would be well-advised not to give him one. Heated rhetoric in response to Salvini’s attempts at provocation should be avoided. The EU cannot afford to play into his populist hands by allowing itself to be portrayed, however unfairly, as an adversary of the Italian people.

Instead, the EU would be wiser to deal calmly with the Italian coalition’s economic proposals on their merits.

The coalition claims its budget is designed to kick-start the economy by putting more money in people’s pockets. Generating dramatic economic growth, they say, is the only way it will eventually be able to bring down Italy’s debts.

Unfortunately, the governing parties have diametrically opposing ideas for doing so. Five Star wants to implement its expensive promise to the electorate of a universal basic minimum income. The Lega favours a hefty tax cut. Putting both in the proposed budget adds up to an enormous deficit.

Nonetheless, it is possible to construct a deal on the Italian budget that would benefit all concerned. While the Italian government’s current proposals are unreasonable, there is some leeway to allow the government to spend more to stimulate the economy without wildly overshooting the deficit rules.

Preserving the euro’s economic credibility depends upon adhering to these rules as closely as possible. But they have been stretched before – notably by France and Germany – when the overriding circumstances demanded it and without bringing the system crashing down.

As the German economist David Folkerts-Landau proposed in the 
Financial Times, the eurozone’s European Stability Mechanism could acquire some of Italy’s historic debt at much lower interest rates. This would reduce the burden on Italy and allow its economy to grow, without imposing huge costs on other Europeans.

Such a solution is essential to move forward. The Italian governments of the 1980s which caused these difficulties cannot now be punished and futilely perpetuating Italy’s debt problem fuels the anti-EU populists.

In exchange for this support Italy must, of course, agree to strict conditions on stimulating its economy sensibly and to reform its malfunctioning public sector.

The EU would also be helping itself by compromising on the Italian budget proposal and cooperating to resolve Italy’s long-term debt problems. Such steps would directly address a widespread criticism of the EU – that it is insufficiently responsive to the democratically-expressed concerns and economic needs of its citizens.

None of this will be easy. The partners in government in Rome are far from ideal. And sceptical voters in some other EU countries will need to be reassured that the debt relief arrangements will not impose significant costs on them.

But allowing the Italian people, who have always been consistently amongst the most committed supporters of the EU, to become irretrievably alienated from it would be a catastrophic failure for the whole continent.

As the old adage goes, one should never let a crisis go to waste. The Italian budget dispute offers an ideal way for the EU to prove anew that it has the interests of all Europeans at heart.

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.


Amid your complaints, a reason to give thanks

November 16, 2018

“It was the worst of times.” The words are Charles Dickens’, from the opening paragraph of a novel set in the 1790s, but the sentiment is familiar today. Americans are divided as never before, we are frequently told, angrily at odds with each other, polarized politically, economically, culturally, and in our entertainment preferences.

By Michael Barone

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Family elders fret about getting through Thanksgiving and the holidays without violent arguments, and more parents than ever say they’d be upset if their children marry across political lines.

But are things really so bad? Last week’s ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I — or, rather, the Armistice that stopped the fighting on the Western Front but not farther east — suggest that they could be a lot worse, and they have been within the memory of some people only recently departed.

n many ways, today’s troubles look like miniature versions of the woes of the 20th century.

In what was called the Great War, the horrors of trench warfare in Western Europe and rapid reversals in the East left about 100 million people (mostly men) dead. Although the United States entered the war late and suffered only a little more than a year’s combat, some 110,000 Americans died.

That’s more than 10 times the Americans killed in Afghanistan and Iraq over 18 years. Each death is a tragedy. But the 300 million-plus Americans of the 2010s suffered far, far fewer such tragedies than the 100 million-plus of the 1910s.

And American losses were far smaller than those of other countries: Germany and Russia may have lost 2 million each, France 1.5 million, Britain and its dominions 1 million. The fact that these numbers are only estimates just accentuates the horror.

Combat was not the only cause of death. The Nov. 11 Armistice occurred just after the worst weeks of the worldwide influenza epidemic, dubbed Spanish flu though it may have first been observed in Kansas. Some 10 to 20 percent of those exposed to the virus died: More than 500,000 in the United States, 50 to 100 million worldwide. People in the prime of life were struck especially hard.

The movement of troops obviously created an environment that helped the flu spread, just as frequent air travel does today. But modern epidemiologists, though not perfect, do a far better job of containing outbreaks of deadly disease.

Politically, we have been pummeled with complaints about the policies of established political and financial leaders — and with complaints about the complaints.

Voters have successfully challenged globalization, submission to international organizations, and high rates of immigration. Examples include Britain’s Brexit referendum, major victories for nationalist parties in Poland and Hungary, declining support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the installation of the odd duck coalition government of Italy. And of course the election of President Trump.

In the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, advocates of freer trade and greater immigration were confident these policies would produce greater and broader prosperity and would continue to be widely respected. Now they are angrily playing defense against voters who believe they have benefited only the elites and have ripped apart communities.

But the threats to legitimacy of established governance were much greater and more destructive 100 years ago. As strange as it may seem to 21st century readers, before World War I European hereditary monarchs, who to varying degrees made government policy, were a widely respected legitimizing force. Allegiance to a ruling family mostly overrode ethnic loyalties.

The Great War put an end to that. The Romanoff dynasty in Russia fell before the Armistice, replaced after civil warfare by the murderous Communist regime for 70 long years. The German Kaiser, Queen Victoria’s oldest grandchild, was ousted in November 1918, as was the Habsburg monarch of Austria-Hungary, whose predecessor Franz Josef reigned for 68 years.

Dynasties were not replaced by stable democracies. Hitler maneuvered into power in Weimar Germany, and his Nazis took control of the multiple nations carved out of Austria-Hungary between 1938 and 1941. The defeat of Hitler was followed by America’s Cold War with its wartime ally, the Soviet Union.

These struggles, gigantic in stature, grave with dangers, dwarf the unpleasant but not existential struggles of our own time. As Steven Pinker argues in The Better Angeles of Our Nature, we live — and mostly thrive — in a far less violent world than our ancestors did 100 years ago. Happy Thanksgiving.

Lockheed Martin awarded $22.7 billion Pentagon contract

November 15, 2018

The Pentagon on Wednesday announced it had awarded Lockheed Martin a $22.7 billion contract for 255 F-35 fighter jets.

Of the aircraft, 106 are destined for the US military: 64 F-35As for the Air Force, 26 F-35Bs for the Marines, and 16 F-35Cs for the Navy, while the rest are destined for foreign customers, the department said in a statement.

Image result for F-35, photos

A major Pentagon supplier, Lockheed Martin will receive a $6 billion advance for the order, due to be completed in March 2023. Most of the work on the jets will be performed in the US, with some will be carried out in countries including Britain and Italy.

Launched in the early 1990s, the F-35 program is considered the most expensive weapons system in US history, with an estimated cost of some $400 billion and a goal to produce 2,500 aircraft in the coming years.

Once servicing and maintenance costs for the F-35 are factored in over the aircraft’s lifespan through 2070, overall program costs are expected to rise to $1.5 trillion.

According to Pentagon figures from early October, 320 F-35s have been delivered worldwide, including 245 in the US.

The Pentagon also announced it ordered eight MH-60R helicopters from Lockheed Martin for $382 million.



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)

Libya’s PM Sarraj meets eastern commander Haftar in Palermo

November 14, 2018

Italy’s premier on Tuesday hosted a meeting of Libya’s rival leaders on the sidelines of a conference aimed at helping its former colony crack down on extremists and human trafficking.

Photos of the encounter showed Premier Giuseppe Conte presiding over a handshake between the Tripoli-based UN-backed prime minister, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and rival Gen. Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army that is based in Libya’s east.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C) posing with head of the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli, Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj (L) and Libya Chief of Staff,Khalifa Haftar in Palermo. (AFP)

Later, UN Libyan envoy Ghassan Salame said Haftar, had committed himself to a UN action plan and to holding a national conference early next year prior to elections.

“Haftar is committed to the political process,” Salame told reporters at the end of a reconciliation conference in Italy. “His representatives said that.”

The exclusion of Turkey from the mini-summit prompted the Turks to pull out early, adding drama to the two-day conference at a resort on the picturesque Sicilian seaside.

Other leaders attending the Palermo conference, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who backs Haftar, confirmed he joined the “mini-summit” Tuesday with Conte and other leaders.

Alistair Burt


Welcome today’s conference for in Palermo. Underlined international support for UN Envoy’s Action Plan, including his plans for an inclusive Libyan National Conference which we hope will help create conditions for elections in the course of next year.

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Italy’s populist government organized the two-day conference in hopes of making progress on ending Libya’s lawlessness and promoting a UN framework for eventual elections.

But expectations were limited, with Haftar’s camp making clear that he wasn’t participating in the conference itself but rather meeting with leaders of neighboring countries on the sidelines. Neither Haftar nor El-Sisi posed for the final conference group photo.

And Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay pulled out before it ended, citing his exclusion from the morning mini-summit.

“The informal meeting, held this (morning) with a number of players and having them presented as the prominent protagonists of the Mediterranean, is a very misleading and damaging approach which we vehemently oppose,” he told reporters.

“Turkey is leaving the meeting with deep disappointment,” he said.

An Italian diplomatic official, briefing reporters in Palermo, said the atmosphere of the mini-meeting was cordial and collaborative and that Haftar told Sarraj to stay in charge until the elections.

A statement on social media Tuesday by a spokesman for Haftar’s army, Ahmed Al-Mesmari, suggested that Haftar was snubbing the broader conference because he accuses representatives from the Tripoli side of working with militias he considers illegitimate, as well as extremists backed by Qatar.

In an interview provided by his media office, Haftar said he wanted to meet with African leaders in particular to discuss migration.

“We are still at war, and the country needs to secure its borders,” Haftar said.

Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and it is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west with both relying on the support of militias.

It has also become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking, particularly in the remote south of the country.

Italy’s anti-migrant government is keen in particular to stem the Libyan-based migrant smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of would-be refugees to Europe via Italy in recent years.

Associated Press

Italy defies EU’s request for smaller budget

November 14, 2018

Italy has stuck to its big-spending budget plan, despite demands for changes from the EU and the threat of financial penalties. The move has sparked concerns over Italy’s debt, and uncertainty from investors.

The Italian government vowed to stand firm on its 2019 draft budget on Tuesday, ignoring a deadline set by the European Commission to revise its plans.

Italy set to defy EU as budget deadline looms
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C) with his deputies Luigi Di Maio (L) and Matteo Salvini (R). Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Although Italy did make minor adjustments, the revisions are not likely to persuade the Commission, putting Italy in a high-stakes standoff with Brussels that could result in financial sanctions.

Arm wrestling between Italy and the EU

  • Shortly before the midnight deadline, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio announced that the government would not change its ambitious social spending plan, arguing that the increased spending is necessary to promote growth after years of austerity.
  • Italy’s draft budget will raise the budget deficit to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) — a stark increase compared to the previous government’s target of 0.8 percent
  • The European Commission’s forecast, on the other hand, expected a higher budget deficit which would breach the EU’s 3.0 percent limit by 2020.
  • Italy now runs the risk of being fined up to 0.2 percent of GDP — which would amount to about €35 billion ($39.5 billion).
  • The Italian government did make some adjustments, saying that it plans to sell some government real estate to raise cash. Di Maio did not detail what would be sold, but said the properties won’t include “the family jewels.”

‘The budget will not change’

Deputy Prime Minister Di Maio, who leads the populist 5-Star Movement, announced the move in Rome on Tuesday evening following a ministerial meeting.

“The budget will not change, neither in its balance sheet nor in its growth forecast. We have the conviction that this is the budget needed for the country to get going again,” Di Maio said on Tuesday evening after a ministerial meeting.

Speaking at the European Parliament on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU wanted to reach out to Italy, but that the eurozone will only work “if every individual member fulfills their responsibility for sustainable finances.”

Why is a higher deficit in Italy a problem? A rising budget deficit inflates a country’s public debt. As it stands, Italy has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the EU — 130 percent of GDP, second only to Greece. Within the Eurozone, the recommended debt-to-GDP ratio is 60 percent. Rising levels of public debt would threaten Italy’s credibility in global markets and, according to economists, be a hindrance to growth.

Why does Italy’s government want to increase spending? The country’s coalition government, formed through an alliance between the populist 5-Star Movement and the far-right League, believes increased spending is the only way to jump-start the country’s economic growth. The government’s plan to increase spending is aimed at implementing a series of electoral promises, including lower taxes, a lowering of the retirement age, and a universal income.

What happens next: If EU officials reject the budget again, the Commission can trigger legal action under an excessive deficit procedure. EU member states would then have to approve the Commission’s proposal and Italy would be given another deadline to make the necessary amendments. If Italy still refuses to comply, the Commission can then apply fines up to 0.2 percent of GDP or cut EU regional subsidies.

rs, gs/ (AFP, dpa, Reuters)