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Greece ‘reaches deal’ with creditors for third bailout

An official from Greece's Finance Ministry has said that a deal has been reached with its international creditors for a third bailout. Initial reports say that talks are still in progress over a few "small issues." The announcement on Tuesday followed marathon talks between Greece and its international creditors, which witnessed rifts between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the EU. "An agreement has been reached. Some minor details are being discussed right now," an official from the Greek Finance Ministry told reporters in Athens, according to Reuters news agency. According to reports on Monday, the deal would witness the dispersal of 86 billion euros ($94 billion) once the Greek parliament passed a set of reforms, including the formation of a controversial privatization fund that nearly froze talks in July. The three-year rescue program is expected to pass through the Greek parliament in a bill split into two articles, one on the loan agreement and the other on the necessary reforms to unlock the loan's first disbursement. The agreement stipulates that Greece is expected to have a budget surplus of 0.5 percent in 2016, followed by 1.75 percent in 2017, and 3.5 percent in 2018, though the balance would not include debt servicing, according to a government source. For 2015, Greece is expected to have a primary deficit of 0.25 percent of the year's output. After the bill passes through the Greek parliament, the deal must be sent to eurozone finance ministers, some of whom - such as Germany - would then have to proceed with having it approved by their respective countries. The deal was expected to be reached ahead of a looming ECB repayment in the amount of 3.4 billion euros ($3.7 billion) scheduled for August 20. Without a deal, debt-stricken Greece would have defaulted on another one of its loans, after becoming the first industrialized nation to fall in arrears with the IMF for failing to meet a June 30 repayment deadline.

An official from Greece’s Finance Ministry has said that a deal has been reached with its international creditors for a third bailout. Initial reports say that talks are still in progress over a few “small issues.” The announcement on Tuesday followed marathon talks between Greece and its international creditors, which witnessed rifts between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the ... Read More »

Germany shuts out refugees with ‘safe’ states list

With refugee numbers on the rise, German political parties have been wrangling once again over which Balkan states to add to its list of "safe countries of origin." But whether there is any point to it is another matter. As conflicts abroad become refugee panics at home, Angela Merkel's government is reaching for time-worn methods of coping. Germany's list of "safe" countries of origin was controversially extended last year to include three Balkan states - Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia - (already on the list were all European Union states plus Ghana and Senegal). Now the conservative Christian Social Union - the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union - would also like to see the other Balkan states - Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro - added to the list. While the Merkel administration tussles with the smaller partner in its coalition, the Social Democratic Party, over whether to extend the list, the Bavarian cabinet last week went ahead and signed off on plans to build special centers close to its borders to fast-track deportations of Balkan refugees. Deserving refugees, undeserving migrants The CSU's argument - picked up by most of the country's right-wing press - is that if Germany doesn't turn away Balkan nationals more quickly, the asylum system will not be able to cope with refugees from war zones in Syria and Iraq. "We have to be able to distinguish between immigrants with a real need of protection and immigrants with no prospect of residence," said CSU leader and Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer in a speech last week. "And that's the point where we say 'that's total garbage'," said Stephan Dünnwald of the Bavarian refugee council. "They're opening up a new category by saying some people are refugees from poverty or something - they're only coming here to scrounge benefits - and the 'real' refugees who are being hunted, or are victims of civil war." The problem of this easy distinction, though, is that it ignores the plight of marginalized groups, most obviously the Roma and Sinti. "It bypasses the asylum process altogether," Dünnwald explained. "And if that happens with Roma, for example, it's a disaster, because in many countries Roma are persecuted." Dünnwald has spent many months researching the situations of refugees across the Balkans, especially in Kosovo, and has seen what happens to Roma there. "If they get abused or attacked and they go to the police, the best case scenario is that the police laugh at them and tell them to go home, and in the worst cases they get charged," he told DW. Not even Europe is safe Herbert Heuss, senior advisor at the German Central Council for Sinti and Roma, admits that this isn't the same kind of political persecution that people experience in Syria or Iraq. But he points out, "If you take into account the cumulative discrimination - being shut out from the health system, the education system, no access to housing, the job market - those are reasons for fleeing that ought to lead to an asylum status in Germany." The truth is that there are few places anywhere in Europe where refugees are treated well - whether they're fleeing President Bashar al-Assad's bombs, or the "Islamic State," or social discrimination. Earlier this year, Amnesty International reported evacuations of camps in and around Belgrade. "We have seen similar evacuation policies being implemented in Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic - people being sent out of city centers," said Heuss. "In Romania, in Kluj, people were sent to a camp right next to a garbage dump. This idea of a safe country of origin doesn't exist. It doesn't even exist in the EU." Meanwhile in Germany, there has been an increase in attacks on asylum seekers' homes. What does "safe" even mean? The concept of "safe" countries first took a legal foothold in Germany in the early 1990s - at the end of the Cold War, when borders opened across Eastern Europe, and war erupted in the Balkans. The net result was circumstances very similar to those today. "There was a high number of migrants to Germany - in those days it was refugees and ethnic German immigrants from the former Soviet Union, today it is Syria, Kosovo and Albania," said Rainer Ohliger, board member at Network Migration in Europe, a Berlin-based network of migration academics and workers. Anyone reading the German news in the past months would also recognize the debates of the early 90s - from the rise in anti-refugee violence to the government's reaction. "Under the pressure of these large numbers, the debate about housing, the burden on local councils, the same debate as we're having today, the basic right to asylum was capped," said Ohliger. "And one of these limitations was the definition of safe countries of origin." The list of "safe" countries was created with the help of an article in Germany's constitution that allowed parliament to introduce a law specifying states "in which, on the basis of their laws, enforcement practices and general political conditions, it can be safely concluded that neither political persecution nor inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment exists." At first, the list included almost every country in Eastern Europe, and they became "safe states" by default when they joined the EU. Now, with Germany steeped in a new refugee panic, the list has been extended once again to include the Balkans. But whether or not it will make any difference to the number of Balkan asylum seekers being accepted in the EU is another matter. As the government itself admitted on the website of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, last year's extension of the list was barely more than a symbolic political point: "The Act does not influence the number of positive decisions. This number is however already very low, regardless of the Act. Only 0.3 percent of applicants from Serbia, the FYR of Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina received any other than a negative decision in their asylum proceedings in 2014 (January-October)."

With refugee numbers on the rise, German political parties have been wrangling once again over which Balkan states to add to its list of “safe countries of origin.” But whether there is any point to it is another matter. As conflicts abroad become refugee panics at home, Angela Merkel’s government is reaching for time-worn methods of coping. Germany’s list of ... Read More »

Disneyland Paris faces EU probe over claims German and UK visitors pay more

The European Union has launched a probe into whether Disneyland Paris is charging customers more depending on their country of purchase. German and UK customers have allegedly been excluded from promotional offers. British newspaper "The Financial Times" reported that Disneyland, Europe's biggest amusement park, had been charging German visitors up to 2,447 euros ($2,711) for a premium package - close to double the price for French consumers at 1,346 euros. Britons have also reportedly been paying rates of up to 1,870 euros for the same deal. Under European law, Disneyland Paris could be taken to court if found to be overcharging customers from certain countries. Taking the Mickey "We are currently scrutinizing a number of complaints, including several against Disneyland Paris," a European Commission spokeswoman said in a statement to AFP news agency. Several of the complaints involved differences in treatment "on the grounds of nationality or residence." "Too often, consumers seeking to buy services or goods in another [EU] member state are prevented from getting the best price," the spokeswoman added. The French government has now been asked to investigate whether the theme park is complying with EU fair trading laws. European crusade for consumers The probe into Disneyland comes amid a huge crackdown by the European Commission on national trade barriers that affect consumers, particularly online. US firms have thus far borne the brunt of the EU-led campaign, with high-profile cases having already been launched against global internet giants Google, Apple and Amazon. Just last week, Disney was also among six top Hollywood studios accused of breaching antitrust laws by of using film licenses to block access to pay TV content in other European countries.

The European Union has launched a probe into whether Disneyland Paris is charging customers more depending on their country of purchase. German and UK customers have allegedly been excluded from promotional offers. British newspaper “The Financial Times” reported that Disneyland, Europe’s biggest amusement park, had been charging German visitors up to 2,447 euros ($2,711) for a premium package – close ... Read More »

Turkish airstrikes ‘very damaging’ to Kurdish peace process

Turkish airstrikes against the PKK Kurdish minority have jeopardized a 2013 ceasefire with the group. EU lawmaker Kati Piri told DW the Turkish response has been "disproportionate." Martin Kuebler reports from Brussels. In the wake of last Monday's suicide attack in the town of Suruc, in which an "Islamic State" ("IS") militant killed 32 Turkish citizens, Ankara has stepped up its campaign against the group in an attempt to create what it has called "a safe zone" across its southeastern border with Syria. But the Turkish government has come under criticism - including from Germany - for also launching airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraq, jeopardizing a 2013 ceasefire with the outlawed group, which has led a decades-long insurgency in support of Kurdish rights and autonomy. Turkey has called for an emergency meeting with its NATO allies to discuss the fighting. Kati Piri, a Dutch lawmaker with the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and responsible for EU-Turkey relations, told DW that Turkey's strikes have put the Kurdish peace process at risk. DW: What do you make of the Turkish response to last week's terrorist attack in Suruc? Kati Piri: While Turkey, in the view of many in the international coalition against ISIL [another term for the "Islamic State" group], was a bit reluctant to enter full scale into the coalition, it was also left with no other choice after this attack in which 32 of its citizens died. On the other hand, after the PKK attacked and killed two police officers [on Wednesday], Turkey started a new spiral of violence also against the PKK. That, to say the least, is very worrying. So you believe that Turkey's response has been disproportionate? It's not just an attack on an organization [the PKK] with, in this case, camps in another country, northern Iraq. We're also talking here about millions of Kurdish people living in Turkey, with whom there was a peace process, although very fragile, during the last two years. There was a truce, a ceasefire agreement between both the PKK and the government. In my view, if [the Turkish government] wants to keep the peace process with the Kurds alive, this full-size attack on the PKK looks a bit, to be honest, disproportionate. What's been happening over the last three days has once again put the peace process very much into question. Is it dead? I hope not, but it doesn't look very alive either. It's very damaging. Did last week's attack in Suruc simply give Turkey an excuse to relaunch its campaign against the PKK? Let's not forget: Turkey does have the right to self defense. When its officers are killed by an organization which is also included on the European terrorist list, this is totally unacceptable. No one is saying that Turkey should just leave this alone and pretend that nothing has happened. On the other hand, knowing that there is such a delicate peace process going on, then you need to have a proportionate response as well. What is much more dangerous to me now is that some politicians from the [ruling Justice and Development party] AKP, along with some politicians from the more right-wing party, MHP, are framing this pro-Kurdish party HDP [People's Democratic Party] now as being directly linked to the PKK, which it is not. [The HDP] has also decried the violence, and [the government] is actually framing the 6 million people who voted for this party as potential terrorists, or terrorist supporters. And this rhetoric is very dangerous for a country which has gone through such a circle of violence. On Saturday, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and HDP head Selahattin Demirtas, stressing the "fundamental importance" of keeping the peace process with the Kurdish people "alive and on track." Has the EU response been sufficient? I think she [called both men] on purpose, to show that this is not just a fight against terrorism, that this is about keeping the peace process on the table…and giving the Kurdish people the rights they deserve as citizens of Turkey. And for me, the signal that Mogherini gave over the weekend shows that the EU has a very strong commitment to the peace process. To what extent will Turkey's recent strikes on IS and the PKK affect its ongoing cooperation with the EU when it comes to counterterrorism operations? The EU's main focus is on ISIL, as a threat to our society. And this is where Turkey now seems to be stepping up its commitment, by opening its airspace, by opening its air base in Incirlik also to the American forces. On the one hand, it's a positive development: we have been pushing Turkey for many months to commit much more to this international coalition. On the other hand, it's also worrying to see [the disproportionate response], that they are not just focusing on ISIL but also focusing on the PKK. Turkey has called for a meeting with its NATO partners in Brussels on Tuesday. How do think the ongoing peace process with the PKK will factor into NATO's decision to intervene? Turkey will want to inform its partners about the threat it perceives, and tell them more in detail about its reaction. But we've already seen some statements [from Turkey's partners] that the attacks on the PKK were not a part of the agreement that Turkey reached with the international coalition against ISIL. In diplomatic words, I think we'll see the same kind of message coming out of the NATO debate. In essence: We support you in the fight against terrorism, but be careful not to let things get out of control? Exactly. And in the fight against terrorism, all countries in the world have in some way been faced with that. For Turkey, we know that many, many lives have been lost [in clashes with the PKK]. But after how far they've come in two years, with no severe violence happening in the country, with a democratic representation of Kurds being elected to the national parliament for the first time, having seen the level Turkey has reached coming close to peace, there's too much to lose now. And I think that, even if not formally, all NATO partners will certainly pass on this message to the Turkish government. Kati Piri is a Dutch MEP with the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and responsible for EU-Turkey relations.

Turkish airstrikes against the PKK Kurdish minority have jeopardized a 2013 ceasefire with the group. EU lawmaker Kati Piri told DW the Turkish response has been “disproportionate.” Martin Kuebler reports from Brussels. In the wake of last Monday’s suicide attack in the town of Suruc, in which an “Islamic State” (“IS”) militant killed 32 Turkish citizens, Ankara has stepped up ... Read More »

No deal yet, but Greece sees euro odds improving

Reforms tabled by the Greek government in a bid to secure a third bailout have sparked positive reactions. But observers have warned a thorough assessment is still necessary and the proposals may not go far enough. If British bookmakers are anything to go by, the chance that Athens avoids having to leave the eurozone is constantly improving. Bookmakers told Reuters news agency the odds of Greece's leaving the common currency area at at 25 percent to 30 percent - the lowest they have been this year. The Greek government's formal request to the permanent bailout fund known as European Stability Mechanism (ESM) along a set of proposals regarding policy commitments and actions, including reforms of value-added tax rates and changes to the pension system, seem to be enough to convince bookmakers, but European officials have said they want to take a closer look at the fine print. Greece had entered the commitment to put forth both the request and the plan for the country's economic reforms at a special summit of Eurozone leaders on Tuesday. Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, had gone into Tuesday's summit saying it was likely going to be "a waste of time," but he seemed more positively inclined towards the Greek proposals. French President Francois Hollande called the Greek proposals "serious" and "credible," though he also added the caveat that "nothing had been decided." No adjectives When asked to provide adjectives describing the proposals, an EU official familiar with the negotiations of the Eurogroup, which brings together the finance ministers of all 19 eurozone countries, said he would volunteer merely a verb: "Arrived." Margaritis Schinas, spokesperson for the European Commission, didn't go beyond stating that the Greek government had sent its reform proposals to the three institutions involved in the process, namely the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as to the president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. "The three institutions are currently analyzing these proposals with the intention to communicate their assessments to the Eurogroup" before the end of Friday, Schinas said. Dijsselbloem's spokesman, Michael Reijns, also refused to provide any further detail about officials' views of the proposals. Aside from evaluating the proposals submitted by Athens, the institutions also have to judge whether the requirements of the ESM treaty are met - namely whether Greece's situation constitutes a threat "to the financial stability of the euro area as a whole," whether Greece's public debt is sustainable and what the country's financing requirements are. Carbon copy of June proposals? On a number of points, the Greek government has proposed to adopt the measures that creditors had requested in order to unlock the remaining 7.2 billion euros of the second bailout two weeks ago - measures that had prompted the Greek government to break off negotiations and that were later overwhelmingly rejected by Greeks in a referendum on Sunday. Pension reform has long been a point on contention between Greece and the international creditors. Greece has now proposed to raise the retirement age progressively to 67 by 2022, as well as to phase out a solidarity payment for pensioners by the end of 2019. On the issue of reforming the value-added tax (VAT), the Greek government has conceded to many of the creditors' demands, and said it will introduce a VAT system with a standard rate of 23 percent. Exceptions will, however, continue to be made as reduced rates of 13 percent will be charged to energy, hotels and water, and pharmaceuticals, books and theaters will be subject to 6 percent VAT. On the divisive issue of a favorable tax status of Greek islands, Athens says it will gradually eliminate the discounts but will not lift the special tax status for the most remote islands. Will it be enough for a bailout? Despite the apparent congruence of reforms proposed by Greece now and those demanded by creditors two weeks ago, it is unclear whether the former will be considered by eurozone finance ministers as providing sufficient basis for opening negotiations. Martin Jäger, spokesman for the German Finance Ministry, said on Friday it wasn't enough to simply "present the June proposals in a new packaging." After the summit on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that requirements of such an ESM rescue program were much more demanding and different from what was being negotiated two weeks ago. "We are not just talking about conditions for a program that would have run only until November of this year," Merkel said. "We are talking about a new program that would stretch over several years." The sum of this new bailout program is widely quoted to be 53.5 billion euros, though neither the letter of request nor the reform proposals put forth by the Greek government make any mention of a specific sum, and the assessment of Greek financing needs by the European Commission, ECB and IMF is still outstanding. "The Wall Street Journal" and "Financial Times" have both estimated that the bailout sum will be considerably bigger than 53.5 billion euros. Steps before negotiations could begin Should the eurozone finance ministers' meeting at on Saturday agree that there is sufficient basis for negotiations about a third bailout, an EU summit scheduled for Sunday would be canceled. But six eurozone members - including Germany - would have to get parliamentary approval before the Eurogroup could actually give a mandate to the European Commission to start negotiating a third bailout program. Even though a standing meeting of eurozone finance ministers is scheduled for Monday, it is highly unlikely that a mandate for negotiations could be made so quickly. "All I can say at this stage about Monday is that there is this agenda item about Greece, and we simply don't know what we will be discussing under this agenda item," the EU official familiar with Eurogroup negotiations said. "I understand that some of the countries that have to go to their national parliaments would be doing so on Monday or Tuesday, so it's obviously something where you can't already start mandating the institutions with commencing the negotiations." Short-term financing needed With Greece due to pay back 460 million euros to the IMF on Monday, and - according to analysts at - an initial payment of civil servants' wages amounting to almost 400 million euros on the same day, the government is in urgent need of cash. If it does not receive additional financing, Greece is widely expected to go bankrupt on July 20 when a payment of almost 3.5 million euros to the ECB is due. These financial realities notwithstanding, the EU official made clear that there would be no discussion about possible "bridge financing" on Saturday. "That will be dealt with if and when there is a program," he said.

Reforms tabled by the Greek government in a bid to secure a third bailout have sparked positive reactions. But observers have warned a thorough assessment is still necessary and the proposals may not go far enough. If British bookmakers are anything to go by, the chance that Athens avoids having to leave the eurozone is constantly improving. Bookmakers told Reuters ... Read More »

Iran nuclear talks to continue for several days

Iran and the world's major powers have decided to continue negotiations on Tehran's controversial nuclear program beyond Tuesday's deadline. It may take several more days to clinch a historic nuclear deal, the EU says. "We are continuing to negotiate for the next couple of days. This does not mean we are extending our deadline," Federica Mogherini, the EU's chief diplomat, said Tuesday. Iran and the P5+1 - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – reached a draft deal on Tehran's nuclear program on April 2 in Lausanne. After missing the initial deadline of June 30 last week, both sides gave themselves until July 7 to reach the final agreement and end the 13-year standoff. "I told you one week ago more or less, we are interpreting in a flexible way our deadline, which means that we are taking the time, the days we still need, to finalize the agreement," Mogherini said. Earlier today, US State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington that Tuesday should not to be perceived as a deadline. "It was an extension of basically seven days of the parameters" of an April 2 framework accord struck in Lausanne, he added. As far as Tuesday was concerned, "Everybody is still, I think, rowing on the oars here to try to get a deal done, but it's got to be the right deal," Kirby argued. The EU diplomat expressed optimism about the talks and said the deal is "something which is still possible even if we are now getting into the difficult time." "I am here to stay, to continue together with all the teams, all the six teams are here," she added. US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif have been in Vienna since June 27 working on the deal. An Iranian spokesman told the AFP news agency that for his delegation there is "no deadline." No 'sacred dates' Abbas Araghchi, deputy foreign minister and a member of Iran's negotiating team, said last month that an additional time would be required to settle the dispute. "The date… was selected for the end of negotiations but we will not sacrifice a good agreement for the sake of schedule," Araghchi was quoted as saying by Iran's state television. "If we need a few extra days, it is not important because there are no sacred dates," he added. A potential deal would lift the Western sanctions on Iran and place long-term limits on Iran's civilian nuclear program, making it difficult for the Islamic country to make nuclear weapons. Iran denies allegations from the West that it has the capabilities to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran and the world’s major powers have decided to continue negotiations on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program beyond Tuesday’s deadline. It may take several more days to clinch a historic nuclear deal, the EU says. “We are continuing to negotiate for the next couple of days. This does not mean we are extending our deadline,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s chief diplomat, ... Read More »

Polls open in Greece’s ‘make or break’ referendum

Greece is about to decide whether to accept creditors' proposal in a referendum that has left the country polarized. While the government has called for a "No," it is unclear if Greeks will acquiesce to their request. Months-long negotiations between the Greek government and the country's creditors - European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - ended in late June after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made a shock call to put a creditors' proposal for extending the debt-stricken country's bailout program to a referendum. Polling stations were scheduled to open at 7:00 a.m. local time (4:00 UTC). Independent polls have shown a tight race between opposing camps ahead of the vote, despite Tsipras urging Greeks to vote "No." In the five months since the prime minister came to power on a platform to renegotiate the terms of Greece's bailout program and end austerity, no deal could be agreed upon during the country's negotiations with its creditors, leading to Greece's failure to meet an IMF repayment deadline of June 30. On that day, Greece made history by becoming the first industrialized country to default on a loan from the IMF#link:18558921, an event that caused jitters in global financial markets, not least in the eurozone. The vote has left Greeks and Europeans divided. On Friday, two mass rallies vying for the opposite camps were held in Athens, the country's capital, and left Greeks outside of the country skeptical. But the referendum has also polarized much of Europe; from thousands demonstrating in several European capitals in support for the "No" vote to leading eurozone officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushing for a "Yes" vote. The referendum has been described as a plebiscite on Greece's inclusion in the eurozone as well as a vote of no-confidence in the government. Only the Greek government's move following the referendum's results will tell.

Greece is about to decide whether to accept creditors’ proposal in a referendum that has left the country polarized. While the government has called for a “No,” it is unclear if Greeks will acquiesce to their request. Months-long negotiations between the Greek government and the country’s creditors – European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ... Read More »

EU-China Summit – Li to pledge billions in investment

As Europe finds itself facing a raft of economic challenges due to the ongoing Greek debt crisis, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to announce a multibillion dollar investment in the EU's new infrastructure fund. China has been a major destination for European investment since the Asian nation opened up and initiated economic reforms more than three decades ago. In recent years, Chinese investments in Europe have also been on the rise, reflecting closer business ties between the two sides. Li Keqiang, the Chinese Prime Minister, now aims to deepen the economic engagement even further by promising billions of dollars to the new European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) - a 315 billion-euro ($354.94 billion) fund focused on reinvigorating growth and job creation in the EU by channeling investments in infrastructure, research and innovation, among other areas. Li is in Brussels to attend the 17th annual EU-China summit on Monday, June 29. He is scheduled to hold talks with European leaders on a range of bilateral and international issues such as intellectual property rights, technological innovation and digital economy. After visiting Brussels, Li will travel to France to strengthen bilateral relations. The Chinese premier's Europe trip comes amid an escalation of the EU debt crisis following Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' announcement to hold a referendum on July 5 to decide whether to accept a bailout deal offered by international creditors. Strong trade ties Any economic fallout from the Greek crisis could also affect China, as the EU is the country's largest trading partner. Trade ties between the two have been robust, with bilateral commerce surpassing $600 billion in 2014. At the same time, total Chinese investment in Europe reached about $55 billion last year, according to a report published by law firm Baker & McKenzie in February 2015. Experts say European nations - confronted by a host of severe economic problems - have welcomed increased Chinese financing for Eurasian infrastructure. Furthermore, as part of its "One Belt, One Road" initiative, Beijing plans to promote connectivity and trade with countries stretching by land and sea from China through Central and South Asia to as far as Europe. And ahead of the EU-China Summit, Chinese officials talked of identifying commonalities between the Chinese and European plans. "We are looking for ways to build up synergies between the 'One Belt, One Road' initiative and the Juncker plan to invest in good products," China's ambassador to the EU, Yang Yanyi, told Reuters news agency. "There is a strong political commitment; there is common ground for cooperation. China is in a position to invest," she added. Meanwhile, a revealed that China's foreign assets are expected to triple over the next five years, from a current total of $6.4 trillion (5.7 trillion euros) to $20 trillion by 2020. It noted that Europe is set to see a surge in Chinese investment, which will provide benefits in a time when many EU countries are lacking capital for urgently needed investment due to the debt crisis. Concerns "The highest priority is to conclude a robust bilateral investment agreement that addresses the existing asymmetries," the report stated. However, the MERICS analysts also say China's authoritarian political system and lack of openness are reasons for concern. Nevertheless, by helping kick-start projects that would otherwise have to wait to be implemented, Chinese investments in Europe are contributing to improve the image of China in the old continent, say experts. "This development is particularly important in some countries such as the UK, Italy, France and Germany where a sizable part of the public opinion has negative views about the Chinese regime," said Casarini. "This has had important implications not only for bilateral relations, but also for EU-China ties," he added. However, many believe closer commercial ties between the EU and China will undercut Europe's ability to adopt a more critical stance towards Beijing, citing the conflict in Ukraine and the EU's failure to devise a unified response against Moscow due to the fear of damaging the bloc's economic ties with Russia. Analyst Casarini cautions: "We should also expect some transatlantic frictions on this matter as the US seems to be heading towards some kind of containment of China - at least in the security realm. But such an approach would be difficult for the Europeans to adopt since EU-China ties - thanks also to Chinese investments in Europe - are quite good nowadays."

As Europe finds itself facing a raft of economic challenges due to the ongoing Greek debt crisis, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to announce a multibillion dollar investment in the EU’s new infrastructure fund. China has been a major destination for European investment since the Asian nation opened up and initiated economic reforms more than three decades ago. In ... Read More »

Greece, EU on brink, Athens low on cash

Greece and lenders remain locked in brinkmanship, with one EU commissioner saying Athens had been only "centimeters away" from a deal to avoid default and euro exit. Greek bank dispensers are low on cash. EU economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici told French radio Monday that Greece's leftist government had been only "centimeters" away from reaching a deal when talks with its international lenders broke down over the weekend. There was still "room for negotiation," Moscovici said, adding that European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker would "indicate the route to follow" at a press conference in Brussels at around midday on Monday. "We must continue to talk," Moscovici said, echoing a remark from French Finance Minister Michel Sapin that talks "could re-start at any moment." German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had openly questioned Greek bank solvency over the weekend, after Athen's decision to test its negotiating stance in a referendum among Greeks next Sunday. That was followed by a European Central Bank (ECB) decision to freeze extra cash for Greek banks. Schäuble said the liquidity of "some Greek banks could be in doubt." Tuesday deadline Greece and its creditors face a Tuesday deadline for Athens to repay 1.6-billion-euro ($1.76 billion) tranche to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or default, thereby raising the prospect of a Greek euro zone exit. On Sunday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged Greeks via television to keep calm after his government imposed capital controls and said it would keep banks closed until next Sunday's referendum. Greeks were told their cash withdrawals from automatic teller machines (ATMs) or bank dispensers were capped daily at 60 euros. Tourists nervous Anxious tourists, a mainstay of Greece's economy, were told the ATM withdrawal limit did not apply to people using foreign credit and debit cards. However, a banking source quoted by the news agency AFP early Monday said only 40 percent of cash machines now had money in them. Canadian tourist Cassandra Preston told Reuters that she had scoured Athens for a machine with cash. "I am here for another month, and I would like to make sure I have some cash on me," she said. An Athens resident, who gave her name only as Anna, told AFP she he searched in vain for a working cash machine. "There is no more money," she said, adding that she hoped for a referendum outcome so that Greece would stay in the eurozone and that the "nightmare will finally end." Since Friday night alone, 1.3 billion euros ($1.45 billion) had been withdrawn from the Greek banking system, according to the head of the bank workers' union Stavros Koukos. More emergency talks Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told the German daily Bild that Athens remained "open to new proposals by the (creditor) institutions." In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called an emergency meeting with the heads of parliamentary groups and party leaders for Monday. In Paris, French President Francois Hollande will chair crisis talks with key ministers. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned of a "real risk" of Greece leaving the eurozone if Greeks vote against the EU's bailout proposals in the planned referendum. Top Japanese government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga said G7 finance ministers had held consultations over the weekend. He described the breakdown between Greece and its lenders over the weekend as "extremely regrettable." Controls 'justified' The EU commission's top official for monitoring financial stability in the 28-nation bloc, Jonathan Hill, said Greece's decision to impose capital controls was "prima facie, justified." "The stability of the financial and banking system in Greece constitutes a matter of overriding public interest, said Hill Free movement of capital should, however, be restored as quickly as possible, he added. Exit fears in Berlin Reuters, in an analytical article, said Merkel - unlike her finance minister Schäuble - was "determined to avoid" a Greek exit from the 19-nation eurozone, because of its potentially severe consequences, including a humanitarian crisis on Europe's southern rim. It quoted Merkel's "closest advisers" as saying her biggest fear was that Germany would be blamed for "blowing up Europe" for the third time in a century."

Greece and lenders remain locked in brinkmanship, with one EU commissioner saying Athens had been only “centimeters away” from a deal to avoid default and euro exit. Greek bank dispensers are low on cash. EU economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici told French radio Monday that Greece’s leftist government had been only “centimeters” away from reaching a deal when talks with ... Read More »

Tsipras to resume Greece bailout talks ahead of EU summit

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was set to meet with EU-IMF creditors early on Thursday with hopes of finally striking a bailout deal. Talks were due to be held just hours before a high-profile EU summit in Brussels. The Greek PM was due to resume negotiations with his country's creditors at 9 a.m. local time (0700 UTC) on Thursday, with economic reforms and austerity at the top of the morning's agenda. According to European Union (EU) sources, Tsipras also met with top representatives of the European creditor countries late on Wednesday night, after an initial five-hour round of intense negotiations failed to produce a breakthrough earlier in the day. "We're making progress, but there are still some outstanding issues to be resolved," European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said late on Wednesday evening. Rejected proposals According to sources in Brussels, differences still remain on issues such as pension cuts, changes to the Greek value added tax and a Greek demand for a shift of its debt from the European Central Bank (ECB) to the eurozone's bailout fund. Greece's latest proposals to the creditors had included a fiscal adjustment of around 8 billion euros ($9 billion) by the end of 2016. The reduction in the government's primary budget deficit would be attained by increasing taxes on consumers, businesses and the wealthy, as well as by passing pension reforms which would focus on phasing out early retirement. Eurozone finance ministers were also due to reconvene at 1 p.m. local time (1100 UTC) on Thursday to assess the situation further, before beginning a two-day EU summit in Brussels. Ahead of Thursday's meeting, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said finance ministers were still "determined" to reach a deal. 'Grexit' still possible With a deadline looming, time is running out for Greece, which is due to repay the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) 1.6 billion euros ($1.8 billion) by June 30. For months, Greece has been struggling to settle an agreement with its creditors, with which it hopes to access the remaining 7.2 billion euros ($8.1 billion) in the IMF's bailout funds. Unlocking the remaining funds would enable Greece to avoid a default on its IMF loan, which analysts fear could force the country to exit the eurozone and possibly even the EU.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was set to meet with EU-IMF creditors early on Thursday with hopes of finally striking a bailout deal. Talks were due to be held just hours before a high-profile EU summit in Brussels. The Greek PM was due to resume negotiations with his country’s creditors at 9 a.m. local time (0700 UTC) on Thursday, with ... Read More »

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