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UK Tory government has ‘clear mandate’ on EU referendum

UK Finance Minister George Osborne has said his government has been given a clear mandate to renegotiate British EU membership. A referendum is set to take place by the end of 2017, although it could be even sooner. Osborne on Tuesday warned that the British government was determined to seek EU reforms ahead of a planned referendum on continued membership. On his way into a meeting with counterparts from other EU nations, Osborne said his party would only support remaining in the EU if sufficient changes could be made to the terms. "We come here with a very clear mandate to improve Britain's relationship with the rest of the EU and to reform the EU so that it creates jobs and increases living standards for all its citizens," said Osborne. The Conservatives won a surprise absolute majority in Britain's lower chamber, the House of Commons, in the UK general election on Thursday. The party has promised that it will allow an in/out referendum on continued membership of the EU by the end of 2017. Taking back powers British Prime Minister David Cameron, who retained Osborne as his Chancellor of the Exchequer on Friday, has said he would seek changes on migration and benefits - as well as the repatriation of certain powers from Brussels to London. "We go into these negotiations aiming to be constructive and engaged but also resolute and firm, and no one should underestimate our determination to succeed for the working people of Britain and indeed for the working people of the European Union," Osborne, who is likely to be one of the lead negotiators, said. Osborne refused to address speculation that the referendum on the so-called "Brexit" might be brought forward to 2016. Many in his party and in the business community have argued that the referendum should take place much earlier than the "end of 2017" deadline" because that would reduce uncertainty. A vote before April 2017 would avoid the possibility of it clashing with elections in France and Germany - both polls that could introduce complications to negotiations. Setting an early date? The Reuters news agency on Thursday reported that Cameron's spokesman had not ruled out the possibility of an earlier referendum - and that he wanted treaty change. Cameron is due to set out further details to his EU colleagues in a meeting of EU leaders at the end of June. "He will set out some further details to EU colleagues at that end of June EU council," the spokesman said. "He wants treaty change. All the advice that he has had is that treaty change is required, for example in terms of some of the changes that we want to see in welfare," said the spokesman. EU President Donald Tusk, who chairs leaders' meetings, has said he shares many of Cameron's concerns and will be of importance in arriving at any consensus. However, another key player will be recently-elected European Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker, who Cameron last year tried to block from the role, without success. Juncker has said he wants to offer Britain a fair deal, although that would be without major changes to EU treaties.

UK Finance Minister George Osborne has said his government has been given a clear mandate to renegotiate British EU membership. A referendum is set to take place by the end of 2017, although it could be even sooner. Osborne on Tuesday warned that the British government was determined to seek EU reforms ahead of a planned referendum on continued membership. ... Read More »

Saving migrant lives is ‘first priority’: EU foreign policy chief

The EU's foreign policy chief has told the UN Security Council that the first priority in confronting the Mediterranean migrant crisis is to save lives. Some 5,000 refugees have died in the last 18 months. Speaking before the 15-member council in New York on Monday, Federica Mogherini said the migrant crisis "is not only a humanitarian emergency but also a security crisis since smuggling networks are linked to and finance terrorist activities." "Our first priority is to save lives and prevent further loss of lives at sea," she added. Military action Mogherini is currently in the US seeking support for a controversial EU plan which aims to stem the tide of refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. The blueprint suggested by the EU involves military action to destroy boats used by migrant smugglers, who have seized on the chaos in Libya to set up operations. "We cannot work alone. We need a partnership if we want to end this tragedy," Mogherini said. Faced with more than 1,800 dead this year alone, Mogherini described the migrant flow as an "unprecedented situation." "We need an exceptional response," she told the council. Call for support within the EU UN Security Council members Britain, France, Lithuania and Spain are currently working with Italy on a draft resolution that would endorse the EU migrant crisis plan. For months, Italy and other southern European states have been demanding help from other EU nations, with pressure for action intensifying last month when 800 migrants drowned as a ship sank off the coast of Libya. The latest plans to take military action have been condemned by human rights and aid organizations, however, who argue that the focus should instead be on broadening legal avenues for migrants to reach Europe.

The EU’s foreign policy chief has told the UN Security Council that the first priority in confronting the Mediterranean migrant crisis is to save lives. Some 5,000 refugees have died in the last 18 months. Speaking before the 15-member council in New York on Monday, Federica Mogherini said the migrant crisis “is not only a humanitarian emergency but also a ... Read More »

Cameron retains foreign, finance ministers after electoral triumph

Britain's PM Cameron has decided to keep a number of his ministers in their posts after his Conservative Party's electoral success. World leaders have congratulated Cameron on his re-election. George Osborne and Philip Hammond will retain their positions as finance minister and foreign secretary respectively, and Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and Home Secretary Theresa May will also continue in their posts, Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed on Friday after his victory in the UK general election. Cameron's Conservative Party emerged victorious in the elections, winning 331 of 650 seats in the House of Commons, which allowed the 48-year-old premier to govern Britain for another five years without the help of coalition partners. Finance Minister Osborne had led the previous coalition's austerity program and is likely to guide through a second wave of cuts during his second term. Osborne has also been promoted to first secretary of state – technically the prime minister's number two. Hammond faces the delicate task of Britain's negotiations with the European Union partners ahead of a proposed referendum on the country's EU membership by 2017, whereas May, who has held the home secretary's post for the past five years, will deal with the sensitive issue of immigration. Britain's EU future In a speech on Friday, Cameron reiterated his promise to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership. EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said Friday that Britain's cost of leaving the Union would be "considerable." "Britain's place is in the European Union, in its own interest and in the EU's interest," Moscovici said on French Radio One. "All economic studies show that the political and economic cost of what is called a Brexit would be considerable, and first of all for the United Kingdom," he added. Earlier on Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk, the former center-right Polish Prime Minister, said he was "deeply convinced that there is no better life outside the European Union, for any country." "A better EU is in the interest not only of Britain but of every member state," Tusk concluded. 'Impressive' win In Washington, President Barack Obama congratulated Cameron on his "impressive" victory. "I have enjoyed working closely with Prime Minister Cameron on a range of shared interests these last several years, and I look forward to continuing to strengthen the bonds between our countries, as we work together on behalf of global peace, security and prosperity," the president said in a statement. In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk also sent out congratulatory messages to PM Cameron.

Britain’s PM Cameron has decided to keep a number of his ministers in their posts after his Conservative Party’s electoral success. World leaders have congratulated Cameron on his re-election. George Osborne and Philip Hammond will retain their positions as finance minister and foreign secretary respectively, and Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and Home Secretary Theresa May will also continue in their ... Read More »

European Union increases Nepal earthquake funds

The European Union has spurred its financial assistance for Nepal's quake victims. Meanwhile, the Nepalese government said a shortage of helicopters is hindering its relief efforts in worst-hit remote areas. The EU has approved $22 million (20 million euros) to help the Himalayan nation deal with the relief efforts in the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake, which has devastated large parts of the country. The EU's direct emergency funds for Nepal will now be doubled from $3 million to $6 million, Christos Stylianides, the EU's Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said Monday in Brussels. "As soon as the needs assessments are completed, we will look into how we can further assist," said the EU's development commissioner Neven Mimica, adding that the Nepalese authorities must also focus on addressing the long-term consequences of the disaster. The EU has already allocated $360 million in its budget for Nepal, which will be delivered to the South Asian country by 2020. Earlier, the Nepalese government said it was facing a huge funding problem, and requested the international community to step up its support. The EU warned that the upcoming monsoon rains in the region would hamper the rescue efforts and increase the risk of landslides. The Death toll in Nepal's magnitude-7.8 earthquake has surpassed 7,000, and the damage to the impoverished country's infrastructure has been massive. More than 14,000 people have been injured. Shortage of helicopters Nepal's government said Monday it needed more helicopters to reach the country's difficult mountainous terrain. The authorities are currently using 13 helicopters, including seven private ones, while India has provided 14 for relief operations in the worst-hit regions of the country. "We do not have enough helicopters to deliver relief materials and conduct rescue operations simultaneously," interior ministry spokesman Laxmi Dhakal said. The Himalayan state's rescue efforts have been boosted by the addition of four Osprey aircraft provided by the US, but Dhakal said "these are not enough." "We need at least double or three times more than what we have right now," he added.

The European Union has spurred its financial assistance for Nepal’s quake victims. Meanwhile, the Nepalese government said a shortage of helicopters is hindering its relief efforts in worst-hit remote areas. The EU has approved $22 million (20 million euros) to help the Himalayan nation deal with the relief efforts in the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake, which has devastated ... Read More »

EU ships rescue more than 3,400 migrants from Mediterranean

Italy has said that more than 3,400 migrants have been rescued off the Libyan coast. This comes amid stepped up EU efforts to prevent migrant deaths on the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian coast guard announced early on Sunday that a total of 3,427 people had been rescued from vessels in the Mediterranean Sea over the course of Saturday. It said a total of 16 ships had been involved in the rescue operations and that the migrants were to be taken to the Italian region of Calabria as well as the islands of Sicily and Lampedusa. Among the ships involved in the operation were a French naval patrol boat, the Commandant Birot, which has been operating in the region over the past couple of weeks as part of the Triton mission under the command of the European Union's Frontex border security agency. The Commandant Birot picked up 217 migrants in distress from three separates boats and according to a maritime police statement, two alleged people traffickers were arrested and handed over to the Italian authorities. The AFP news agency also quoted the Italian coast guard as saying the Italian frigate Bersagliere had rescued 778 migrants on Saturday, while the Italian patrol ship Vega had plucked a further 675 from the sea. Three people were also drowned when a boat carrying migrants capsized off Egypt's Mediterranean coast. Thirty-one others were rescued and detained, according to Egyptian state media. Single disaster spurs action The increased efforts by European countries to rescue migrants fleeing war and poverty in places like war-torn Syria, Libya or sub-Saharan Africa come after a single incident last month in which one migrant boat seeking to make the journey across the Mediterranean to EU territory capsized, killing more than 700 people. This led EU leaders to convene an emergency summit in Brussels, where they agreed to contribute more funding and equipment to efforts to prevent further loss of life on the Mediterranean. Among the countries that pledged to send more naval vessels to the Mediterranean were Germany, France and Britain.

Italy has said that more than 3,400 migrants have been rescued off the Libyan coast. This comes amid stepped up EU efforts to prevent migrant deaths on the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian coast guard announced early on Sunday that a total of 3,427 people had been rescued from vessels in the Mediterranean Sea over the course of Saturday. It said ... Read More »

Ukraine conflict dominates meetings of NATO, EU

The growing belief that Russian troops are aiding separatists in Ukraine has lent added urgency to meetings of NATO and EU foreign ministers. The German government is now speaking of a "military intervention" by Moscow. The escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine has unleashed a flurry of diplomatic activity, as Western nations increasingly see their suspicions of direct Russian involvement in the conflict confirmed. NATO ambassadors held talks in Brussels on Friday with the head of Ukraine's mission at the alliance, Ihor Dolhov. Following the meeting, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russian intervention in Ukraine must stop. "We urge Russia to cease its illegal military actions," he said. NATO said on Thursday that at least 1,000 Russian troops were in Ukraine, later releasing satellite photos purporting to show Russian self-propelled artillery units moving last week. It also said Russia had massed 20,000 troops near the border. Appeal for help Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk earlier this week asked the alliance for "practical help" in dealing with the insurgency in the east of his country, which pits pro-Russian separatists - who Ukraine alleges are supported by Russian troops - against government forces. Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko is also due to travel to a NATO summit in Newport, Wales next week where he is scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama. Any move by Ukraine toward NATO will be met with disapproval from Moscow, which fears having a member of the alliance on its direct border. More sanctions? Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers have gathered for an informal meeting in Milan, Italy, where they were to debate adopting a tougher stance toward Moscow on the Ukraine crisis as calls to step up economic sanctions grow. No decision on new sanctions was, however, likely at Friday's meeting, with discussions likely only to prepare possible further steps that could be announced at a summit of the bloc's 28 leaders on Saturday. The EU and the United States have already imposed sanctions against dozens of Russian officials, several companies and the country's financial industry, with Moscow retailiating by banning food imports. Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on Thursday that Russia must face further consequences for its actions. 'Very serious developments' In view of growing evidence of a Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine - which Moscow again denied on Friday - the German government is now speaking of a "military intervention" by Moscow. "We expect explanations from Russia on the reports of the repeated violations of the Ukrainian borders that add up to a military intervention," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Friday. He called the developments in Ukraine "very serious and completely unjustifiable," saying that there had been indications of the "presence of Russians and the use of Russian weapons" for some time. 'Control from Moscow' This comes after top separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko agreed to an appeal by Russian President Vladimir Putin to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian troops surrounded in the town of Ilovaysk. Zakharenko told Russian television that his men would let Kyiv troops withdraw if they left behind their weapons. Ukrainian security chiefs said in a statement that the agreement showded the degree to which the rebels were controlled from the Kremlin. According to UN figures issued on Friday, almost 2,600 people have been killed since April when the separatists began their insurgency against Kyiv's rule.

The growing belief that Russian troops are aiding separatists in Ukraine has lent added urgency to meetings of NATO and EU foreign ministers. The German government is now speaking of a “military intervention” by Moscow. The escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine has unleashed a flurry of diplomatic activity, as Western nations increasingly see their suspicions of direct Russian involvement in ... Read More »

EU, US leaders launch free-trade talks

ENNISKILLEN: The United States and European Union launched negotiations on one of the world’s most ambitious free-trade agreements on Monday, promising thousands of jobs and speedier growth on both sides of the Atlantic. Such a plan was first considered three decades ago but knocked down by France in the 1990s. Europe has now managed to get Paris onside, opening the ... Read More »

EU shifts policy focus in quest for growth

BRUSSELS: After three years of deep spending cuts, the European Union confirmed a shift in policy on Wednesday, telling countries they must focus on structural economic reforms to boost growth, while not abandoning budget discipline. In a long-flagged move reflecting growing frustration among euro zone governments and voters over the hardships of austerity, the European Commission announced that several countries ... Read More »

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