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EU and Africa: Partners with different interests

With an increasing number of migrants from Africa crossing the Mediterranean, the EU-Africa summit is going to be about forging a new kind of partnership to deal with this. But will it serve both sides' interests? German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken at the EU-Africa summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, saying the European Union wants to work more closely with Africa to address illegal migration. Speaking days after the horrific details of the slave trade in Libya caused an international outcry, she said, "It's very important that we simply support Africans to put a stop to illegal migration, so people don't have to suffer in horrible camps in Libya or be traded." Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has urged EU leaders to work more closely with Africa to deal with migration and security issues. He told the Associated Press news agency that he and the younger generation of leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who are also attending the summit, must seize this opportunity to put Africa-EU relations on a new footing "I come from a generation that sees Africa as a partner," Michel said. "There is no more room in our generation for nostalgia about the past or a sense of guilt." Read more: Jean-Claude Junker: Migrants 'need legal ways to come to Europe' High hopes for summit agenda Two years ago, when European and African heads of government met halfway on the Mediterranean island of Malta, the main issue up for discussion was how to deal with irregular migration. The agreements made at that time have only been partially honored — and this applies to both sides. With EU leaders now travelling to Abidjan to meet with their African counterparts, there are hopes of forging more far-reaching goals. There are discussions about the need to create a new partnership that will recognize the differing needs of Europeans and Africans. With Africa's population set to double by 2050, the main objective for Europeans is to avert the threat posed by irregular migration by strengthening development and cooperation on the ground. Africans, on the other hand, are calling for EU policy development to recognize them as equals, and to be treated with respect as partners. It is a difficult balance. "We must work together to solve our problems," Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, told DW. Tajani listed the main topics on the agenda: "Migration — this is a problem for both sides," he said. Also to be discussed are the common issues of terrorism, youth unemployment and the consequences of climate change. Both Europeans and Africans are affected, he said, and must work hand in hand to find a way forward. This summit is not about providing a photo opportunity, he said, but about a real search for solutions. In about 30 years, the population of Africa will be more than two billion. Tajani believes that if the problems facing Africa are not tackled now, millions of people will look to moving to Europe. As a result, a main focus of discussion in Abidjan is going to be about policies for dealing with Africa's youth. Africa is already the youngest continent in the world and Tajani said that it "must be able to guarantee its young people a future." Read more: Evacuate migrants enslaved in Libya, urges France's Macron Tajani went on to say that a "Marshall Plan" must be drawn up, as discussed after the last G20 summit in Germany. The EU cannot perform miracles, he said, but it must do much more. Europe remains the largest development aid donor, having given €20 billion ($23.6 billion) last year. At the same time, African countries received around €21 billion from their citizens' remittances to their homelands. That is one reason why many countries refuse to accept returning migrants when they are sent back from Europe — after all, they are good for business. At €32 billion, however, the EU's direct investment in Africa is relatively modest. The African side is hoping for significantly more money and involvement. Werner Hoyer, head of the European Investment Bank, has proposed creating a special bank for Africa, where loans and guarantees for projects could be pooled. This could raise the existing small-scale development cooperation to a new level. How quickly this will happen, however, and how much money the Europeans will really make available remains open — despite the grand statements about a Marshall Plan that would be supported by Germany, Italy, Spain and France. Better governance as a basis for success According to Denis Mukwege, a medical doctor and activist from the Congo, "Development aid without conditions often rolls out the red carpet for dictators. And we know very well that such people let their citizens starve, cheat in elections, change the constitution and lose all European respect, he told DW. But, he believes, democracy and good governance are not purely European concepts. They belong to mankind's common heritage, which includes Africa, he said. And he went on to stress that future relations between Africa and Europe must be based on such values. Mukwege has become famous through his work and commitment to women in the Congo who have been abused and mistreated on a massive scale in acts of war and unrest. He takes a very critical view of many African rulers: "If you look at some African countries today, their problems do not come from a lack of human or material resources, but from bad government." Mukwege believes that Africa must free itself from the role of being the eternal beggar. There is a link between peace, security and development, but this is only possible if there is an established basis of democracy and good governance, he said. Europe and Africa must work on an equal footing According to Ruffin Touadera, president of the Central African Republic, the vision for the future has changed. "The EU wants to work with African representatives now. It's about creating a real partnership. The issues of Africa's youth and the question of migration are directly related to the lack of development." He told DW that investment in education, agricultural productivity and water supply is needed. The president also said that young people must be given future prospects, because uncontrolled migration is a natural result of the current situation. Touadera wants to attract direct investments from abroad in particular and admits that local conditions need to be improved. "We have our responsibilities, but we also need the support of our partners once we have made decisions together," the president said. He fully supports the idea of a Marshall Plan for Africa, which could solve many of the continent's problems through massive investments. But the hope of fast and substantial financial commitments from the EU could be deceptive since so much of Africa is suffering from home-grown political crises, corruption and mismanagement. African countries are bringing high expectations to the summit. But Europeans are necessarily guarded about investing billions in insecure states. Any new partnership will entail a drawn-out process with many small steps along the way.

With an increasing number of migrants from Africa crossing the Mediterranean, the EU-Africa summit is going to be about forging a new kind of partnership to deal with this. But will it serve both sides’ interests? German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken at the EU-Africa summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, saying the European Union wants to work more closely with ... Read More »

PESCO: EU paves way to defense union

The majority of EU nations have committed to a joint defense cooperation, focusing on military operations and investments. Europe is looking to cement unity, especially since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Defense and foreign ministers from 23 European Union countries signed up to a plan to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which will allow countries to cooperate more closely on security operations and building up military capability. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the signing of PESCO as a "historic moment in European defense." "This is the beginning of a common work - 23 member states engaging both on capabilities and on operational steps, that's something big," Mogherini said. The decision to launch PESCO indicates Europe's move towards self-sufficiency in defense matters instead of relying solely on NATO. The EU, however, also stressed that PESCO is complimentary to NATO, in which 22 of the EU's 28 countries are members. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the launch, saying that he saw it as an opportunity to "strengthen the European pillar within NATO." Stoltenberg had previously urged European nations to increase their defense budget. "I'm a firm believer of stronger European defense, so I welcome PESCO because I believe that it can strengthen European defense, which is good for Europe but also good for NATO," Stoltenberg said. Who is involved? Under the scheme, EU member states will be able to develop greater military capabilities, invest in joint projects and increase the readiness of their troops. Participation in PESCO is voluntary for all of the EU's 28 member states 23 countries have signed up to the plan Ireland, Portugal and Malta are still undecided whether or not to join Denmark, which has a special opt-out status, is not expected to participate The United Kingdom, which is scheduled to leave the EU in 2019, is not part of PESCO either but can still choose to take part in certain aspects even after Brexit - if that participation is of benefit to the entire EU. Those who didn't sign initially can still join at a later date and countries not living up to their expected commitments could be kicked out of the group. With the notification signed, a final decision to launch the defense cooperation framework is expected in December. The reaction from Germany German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said it was important for Europe to stand on its own feet when it comes to security and defense - "especially after the election of the US President," referring to President Donald Trump's dismissive attitude towards NATO. "If there is a crisis in our neighborhood, we have to be able to act," she said. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel meanwhile also lauded the agreement as "a great step toward self-sufficiency and strengthening the European Union's security and defense policy – really a milestone in European development." Gabriel said that working together under the framework of PESCO was "more economical than if everyone does the same. I think that European cooperation on defense questions will rather contribute to saving money - we have about 50 percent of the United States' defense spending in Europe, but only 15 percent of the efficiency."

The majority of EU nations have committed to a joint defense cooperation, focusing on military operations and investments. Europe is looking to cement unity, especially since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Defense and foreign ministers from 23 European Union countries signed up to a plan to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which will allow countries to cooperate ... Read More »

EU leaders disagree on Brexit progress at summit

Theresa May has not left Brussels empty-handed, but at the end of a two-day EU summit, the bloc still lacks "all the details we need." EU leaders remained at odds on some internal reforms, as well. The EU summit wrapped up Friday evening on a warmer, if still uncertain, note about the state of negotiations between the United Kingdom and the 27 remaining member nations. The bloc agreed to take up internal discussions on the future of a UK-EU relationship, though it pushed talks between the divorcing partners until after December, at the earliest. EU leaders also discussed the bloc's priorities beyond Brexit. Read more: Opinion: Trouble brewing in every corner of Europe Some progress, not enough On the second day of the two-day summit, European Council President Donald Tusk said that the so-called EU-27 had agreed to start preparatory talks between the remaining EU member states on a possible future relationship with Britain. He cast aside rumors that Brexit negotiations had come to a standstill, while admitting that work was still needed in key areas. "My impression is that reports of the deadlock between the European Union and the UK have been exaggerated, and while progress has not been sufficient, it does not mean there is no progress at all," Tusk said. The EU says that "sufficient progress" needs to be made in three key areas — citizens' rights, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and a financial settlement — before talks with Britain can move into phrase two and discuss the post-Brexit economic relationship. "We have some details, but we do not have all the details we need," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on Friday. British Prime Minister Theresa May met Friday morning with European Council President Donald Tusk and later with other EU leaders before leaving the remaining 27 leaders to discuss internal Brexit matters. May, who faces domestic political devisions, has been pushing for talks on the UK's future relationship with the EU. In a dinner speech on Thursday evening, she issued an impassioned plea for negotiations to turn to the future relationship. Before departing, May told reporters she had pledged that Britain would honor its commitments to the EU on Brexit and that other countries would not lose out in the current budget plan. However, she declined to say whether she had offered EU leaders a higher financial settlement, instead repeating that the divorce bill's total must wait. "The full and final settlement will come as part of the final agreement that we're getting in relation to the future partnership," May said. According to DW's Georg Matthes, May appeared at least a little encouraged by the Brussels proceedings as she headed back to London Friday morning. Opinions from the 27 In a Friday press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her opinion on May's recent announced that the UK would institute a two-year transition period after the March 2019 exit date, calling it an "interesting idea," but saying it could only be addressed later on. The chancellor confirmed that the leaders hoped they could decide to take up Phase 2 of Brexit talks in December, but that this depended on how Britain moved on the financial settlement with the EU. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen appeared to share Merkel's careful optimism in comments he made on Friday. "We need [May] and the British negotiators to move this into the negotiation room. And hopefully we will soon have made sufficient progress that we can continue into the next phase. And I think that's what we all hope for," Rasmussen told journalists including DW's EU correspondent Georg Matthes. Read more: Brexit Diaries 14: Boris Johnson rocks the boat But not all European heads headed home with the same shared Merkel's cautiously optimistic assessment. French President Emmanuel Macron said that "there is a lot of work left to do" to lay out Britain's departure from the EU. "We have not gone even halfway down the road," he said. Tax, Iran and Turkey EU leaders also spent time discussing other critical issues for the bloc including tax, security and migration policy. Macron has made a strong push to reform the bloc. One of his more contested proposals is to make giant tech companies such as Google and Facebook pay taxes where they make profits so as to avoid tax havens. However, he received pushback from smaller EU states such as Ireland and Luxembourg, which benefit from the companies' presence in their countries, and who argued that the issue should be approached globally. Also discussed was US President Donald Trump's opposition to the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran. The EU leaders reached unanimous agreement to support the accord as a means of bolstering global peace and allowing renewed trade with Iran, a long-time trading partner of European countries. The leaders also agreed on wanting to maintain "full control" of the EU's exterior borders in the face of global migration and agreed on the need to oversee migration routes, fight human trafficking and undertake more deportations. The EU states' heads also agreed to maintain the migration deal with Turkey that has been in place since spring 2016. At the same time, the group examined whether and how to cut pre-accession finances to the neighbor nation over alleged human rights abuses and aggressive rhetoric towards Europe.

Theresa May has not left Brussels empty-handed, but at the end of a two-day EU summit, the bloc still lacks “all the details we need.” EU leaders remained at odds on some internal reforms, as well. The EU summit wrapped up Friday evening on a warmer, if still uncertain, note about the state of negotiations between the United Kingdom and ... Read More »

UK PM Theresa May: Citizens’ rights ‘first priority’ as she heads to Brussels

May has sought to reassure EU citizens on their post-Brexit future. Her letter came as the EU and the UK are desperately seeking a breakthrough in talks — though some in May's team are calling for the UK to crash out. Ahead of her trip to Brussels to take part in the next round of Brexit negotiations, the United Kingdom's Prime Minister Theresa May published an open letter Thursday on her Facebook page seeking to reassure the some 3 million European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom that they will be able to remain there post-Brexit. Read more:Brexit - what's the 'no deal' fallout? "EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay," she said, also writing that the UK wanted them to remain. She added that the country would develop a digital process for EU residents to apply for "settled status" — a post-Brexit category for EU citizens who have lived continuously in the UK for five years before a yet-to-be-determined cut-off date and who wish to remain. However she did not provide more on detail on the criteria surrounding how the government would calculate continued residency. The ability for settled status individuals to bring family members to the UK was also not addressed. Agreement is but weeks away… In her letter, May wrote that her government and the EU were in "touching distance of agreement" on the rights that EU and UK citizens would have once the UK leaves the bloc in May 2019. In addition to residency rights, May said the upcoming agreement would also touch on how health care, pensions and other benefits would work for both EU and UK nationals living in one another's respective territories. Some one million UK nationals live across the EU's 27 member states. The EU has regarded May's prior assurances on citizens' rights until now as unsatisfactory. In addition, she has been accused of using EU citizens as "bargaining chips," a criticism which she sought to deflect in her open letter. "I have been clear throughout this process that citizens' rights are my first priority, May wrote in her letter. "And I know my fellow leaders have the same objective: to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU. Her letter came the same day she was heading to Brussels to take part in the next round of Brexit talks. Both the UK and the EU will be looking to make progress after negotiations stalled during the previous meeting. If citizens' rights do become the focus of Thursday's sixth round of negotiations, it would mark a retreat away from the UK's insistence on working on the future economic relationship between the UK and the EU. The 27-member bloc had stated that "sufficient progress" needed to be achieved on the rights of citizens, as well as the UK border with Ireland and the financial commitment of the UK, before proceeding to other areas. To crash or not to crash? In an interview with German daily Die Welt, lead UK Brexit negotiator David Davis said he believed that the UK had fulfilled its promises thus far. "We think we made progress," he said, but then pointed out it was in the European Council's power to decide if this was true or not. David added that Britain would meet its financial "international obligations" but that a judgement on how much the UK owes to the EU "should be informed by everything, informed by the whole deal, not informed by a figure picked out of the air." The British government at times has struggled to give an appearance of unity in negotiations. On the same day as May's Brussels highly anticipated trip, leader of Britain's parliamentary opposition Andrea Leadsom said that the body would not discuss the EU withdrawal bill before representatives left for their autumn recess next week. She told lawmakers, "There is nothing odd or anything to fear from this slight pause." The legislation, known as the Great Repeal Bill, would transpose much of EU law onto British books in order to ensure as seamless a transition as possible. However, concern has been growing that political divisions over its content could complicate May's ability to complete a negotiated Brexit. In addition, fears have been voiced on both the EU and the UK side that if an agreement is not reached shortly with enough time to set up its implementation, then the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal come March 2019. Some politicians from May's conservative party, including former Treasury head Nigel Lawsom ex-Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, have also urged May to turn her back on the negotiation table if a breakthough does not materialize. In his Die Welt interview, Davis said that a no-deal outcome was neither the UK's intention nor very probable. "I think it is a very distant possibility," he said. "That being said, we have to prepare for it." When pressed by the interviewer to clarify who one should call when one wants to understand the UK's position, Davis replied cheekily. "You want my number?"

May has sought to reassure EU citizens on their post-Brexit future. Her letter came as the EU and the UK are desperately seeking a breakthrough in talks — though some in May’s team are calling for the UK to crash out. Ahead of her trip to Brussels to take part in the next round of Brexit negotiations, the United Kingdom’s ... Read More »

Brexit talks: EU, Britain say ball is in the other’s court

Six months of Brexit negotiations have passed with little progress. With British Prime Minister Theresa May due to address parliament, both sides have now said that the other is responsible for making the next move. As the EU and Britain started the fifth round of Brexit talks on Monday, both sides quarreled over who was responsible for making the next move in the stalled negotiations over Britain's departure from the bloc. Theresa May told the British parliament on Monday that a new agreement "will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU," adding that "the ball is in their court." Key points from the speech: - Britain will not be a member of EU institutions during the two-year "implementation" period after it leaves the union on March 29, 2019, but it will retain access to the EU single market until the implementation period is over. - Both sides can only resolve the problem of how much Britain owes the EU if they consider the future EU-UK relationship after the implementation period. - Britain will not revoke Article 50, which would stop the Brexit talks and keep Britain in the EU. - Government ministries have been preparing "for every eventually," a hint that Britain could accept leaving the EU without a deal. But before May had given the speech, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas had told reporters in Brussels that "there has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings." "So the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen," he said. Phase one troubles The EU has repeatedly said that both sides can only discuss a new partnership agreement – which is expected to include a new EU-UK trade deal – after "sufficient progress" had been made on Britain's exit from the union. The first four rounds of negotiations have so far focused on three major exit issues: - How much Britain owes the EU - The status of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland - The rights of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU after Brexit British leaders have criticized the EU for demanding a strict division in the talks, saying agreements on specific exit issues depend on whether both sides can agree on the terms of the post-exit partnership. But EU leaders have so far resisted that call. Initial plans to complete phase one by mid-October has looked increasingly unrealistic after talks during the summer failed to achieve much progress. The will to compromise Both sides have indicated they may compromise to avoid Britain exiting the EU without any final deal. May said in a speech in Florence, Italy in September that Britain would agree to abide by EU rules and pay into the common budget for two-years after Brexit in March 2019. She also said London would pay any outstanding amount it owed to Brussels, but did not say how much she thought the bill should be. Both sides have clashed on how to calculate the final exit bill. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper on Monday, Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen called on Britain and the EU to be flexible, saying "this will never be a 100 percent win for one side or the other side. This will be a political compromise." All eyes on Brussels EU leaders are set to meet in Brussels for a summit on October 19-20 wherethey will formally decide whether "sufficient progress" has been made to open up phase two negotiations. With six months of the two-year negotiating period already up, officials and business leaders have become increasingly worried that both sides may not agree to a final deal in time. May, however, struck a confident tone during her speech on Monday, telling MPs: "I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong."

Six months of Brexit negotiations have passed with little progress. With British Prime Minister Theresa May due to address parliament, both sides have now said that the other is responsible for making the next move. As the EU and Britain started the fifth round of Brexit talks on Monday, both sides quarreled over who was responsible for making the next ... Read More »

Europol postcards tell Europe’s most wanted: ‘Wish you were here’

Police agency Europol has issued a series of sassy postcards telling criminals on the run that a special welcome is waiting for them back home. The mock-ups promote a 'Europe's Most Wanted 2017' summer campaign. The EU-wide policing agency Europol is hoping to track down some of the continent's most wanted criminals with the help of a bold summer campaign imploring villains to return home. The "friendly" postcard messages are mainly aimed at provoking a feeling of homesickness in individuals who have committed serious crimes in some 21 countries. Each postcard features one country's most-sought fugitive thought to be hiding in another country. Each appeals to that individual by their first name followed by a "wish you were here" message. Read: German police seek volunteers for facial recognition surveillance "Dear Artur, Belgian fries are the best and we know you miss them," says the postcard from police in Belgium. "Come back to enjoy them - we'll have a nice surprise in store for you." Hardest to catch Full information about each real-life miscreant, including a picture of them, is featured on the Europe's Most Wanted Fugitives website. "If you click on the website you can see the real picture and name of the criminal as well as a form that goes directly to the team in the country, for instance Belgium or Italy, that would follow it up," Europol spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth told DW. "The main goal of Europol is to arrest as many EU fugitives as possible. These are the ones that are hardest to catch, and there's a real need to catch them." Read: German police shortages 'threaten rule of law' Since the Hague-based policing organization launched the Europe's Most Wanted Fugitives website early in 2016, more than 2.5 million unique visitors have been to the website.

Police agency Europol has issued a series of sassy postcards telling criminals on the run that a special welcome is waiting for them back home. The mock-ups promote a ‘Europe’s Most Wanted 2017’ summer campaign. The EU-wide policing agency Europol is hoping to track down some of the continent’s most wanted criminals with the help of a bold summer campaign ... Read More »

Walesa: Germany must assume a leading role in Europe

Germany needs to put its complexes aside and assume a leadership role in Europe, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Polish President Lech Walesa said in an interview with DW. DW: Where is Europe headed at the moment? Lech Walesa: That's a good question, and one that we need to find an answer for. We need to take a hard look at Europe's foundations, its economic system, its democratic model. We have to come to terms with populism, demagoguery, and abuse of political office. We have to take the mood on the street seriously, because people are unhappy, they have lost trust in established parties. Look at France: None of the established parties had a candidate in the run-off vote. Their new president is an independent, without the backing of a party. That teaches us that the structures we have don't fit with the reality. We're entering a new epoch, and we need a debate about new structures. On June 4, 2014, former US President Barack Obama gave a historic speech in Warsaw's Royal Square before many European heads of state, and he thanked you for your contribution to the fall of communism and the liberation of Eastern Europe. How do you feel when you see that same location serving as the backdrop to a march by right-wing radical nationalists, as was the case a few days ago? We don't have any solutions. And in the absence of solutions, demons will awaken. Some will go too far to the right in their search, others - like in the United States - will make an astonishing choice. And this is why we have to drive the debate forward in the search for better solutions. We have to improve our democracy, because if we don't, there will be a revolt. Which direction do you see Poland headed at the moment? Poland is moving too far to the right, and there is also too much mixing of religion with politics. People are trying things, because a lot of what we have built up in Poland since the fall of communism is incomplete. What's happening now is a response to undesirable developments, and it is challenging us to find good solutions. But it's the same situation you see across all of Europe. The discontent is everywhere, so now we need heal what ails us. The government in Poland is pursuing the wrong kind of therapy. You have to solve problems, but not in a way that breaks with democratic principles. What can be done, then, to stop the rise of populism? We have to be clear about what we don't like. We need to create the appropriate programs and structures, and use our power at the ballot box to force politicians to implement them. The right-wing scene in Poland likes to employ anti-German sentiment and paint horrific scenarios about German dominance. Do you think Germany is a threat? I feel I have the right to address this point, because I lost my father in the war. Today, Germany is the most honorable country in Europe. But the Germans have complexes. They need to put these complexes aside and assume a leading role in Europe, because as the largest power, they bear responsibility for Europe's development. We can see that there are forces out there that want to destroy Europe. It's up to Germany to be prepared for this, and to be ready to establish a new, better Europe! Interview conducted by Bartosz Dudek.

Germany needs to put its complexes aside and assume a leadership role in Europe, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Polish President Lech Walesa said in an interview with DW. DW: Where is Europe headed at the moment? Lech Walesa: That’s a good question, and one that we need to find an answer for. We need to take a hard ... Read More »

When Theresa met Jean-Claude: What really happened at that Brexit meeting?

May and Juncker were all smiles after their Downing Street meeting but a German paper has revealed how it really went. Juncker was so alarmed he quickly phoned Merkel to warn her that May was 'living in another galaxy.' President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of being "delusional" over her demands for Brexit, German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" reported on Sunday. May dined with key European Union figures at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, but details of just how poorly the meeting went were only now revealed by the paper, which was briefed by a senior Commission source. "I leave Downing Street 10 times more skeptical than I was before," Juncker reportedly told May at the end of the meeting. May made no compromises over the two hour meeting, insisting that a free trade agreement be negotiated from the start, "Frankfurter Allgemeine" reported. The EU has repeatedly said a free trade agreement could only be negotiated once the terms of separation are agreed upon. EU not a golf club Brexit secretary David Davis reportedly denied claims during the meeting that the UK would owe upwards of 60 billion euros (US$65 billion) to the EU, saying it could not force them to pay up. Juncker reportedly responded the EU was not a golf club and a refusal to pay would mean no trade agreement. May suggested issues surrounding EU and British expats could be cleared up at a June meeting of the EU Council, prompting surprise from the EU side, who said that timetable was far too optimistic. May asked Juncker and his colleagues for Brexit negotiations to take place in confidential four-day sessions each month. But she was told confidentiality would be impossible given the need to keep member states and the European Parliament informed. May was optimistic in the meeting, saying "Let us make Brexit a success." Juncker countered that "Brexit cannot be a success," given its position as a third state. Living in a different galaxy Juncker called German Chancellor Angela Merkel early the following morning, telling her that May was "living in a different galaxy", prompting Merkel to warn May against her illusions. Read: Merkel warns against British 'illusions' as Brexit talks begin "A third-party state cannot enjoy the same advantages or be better positioned than an EU member. I have the feeling that some people in Britain maintain illusions in this regard. They're wasting their time," Merkel told the German parliament on Thursday. A UK government spokesman said in a statement on Monday: "We do not recognise this account. As the prime minister and Jean-Claude Juncker made clear, this was a constructive meeting ahead of the negotiations formally getting under way." May spoke with the BBC on Sunday, adopting a tough stance and repeating her insistence that no deal would be better than a bad deal. "No, look, I’m not in a different galaxy," May told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show. "But I think what this shows and what some of the other comments we’ve seen coming from European leaders shows is that there are going to be times when these negotiations are going to be tough." The Labour Party's shadow Brexit Minister Keir Starmer accused May of overplaying her hand. "By refusing to acknowledge the complexity and magnitude of the task ahead the prime minister increases the risk that there will be no deal, which is the worst of all possible outcomes," Starmer said in a statement. Tony Blair reenters politics Meanwhile former British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on Monday that he was reentering domestic politics to fight against Brexit. Blair, who led the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007, said he would not stand in the June 8 election, but said he wanted to build a political movement to shape the policy debate ahead of Brexit. "I don't want to be in the situation where we pass through this moment of history and I hadn't said anything because that would mean I didn't care about this country. I do," he told the "Daily Mirror" newspaper. On Saturday leaders from the 27 remaing EU states unanimously agreed on guidelines for negotiations on the UK's divorce from the bloc.

May and Juncker were all smiles after their Downing Street meeting but a German paper has revealed how it really went. Juncker was so alarmed he quickly phoned Merkel to warn her that May was ‘living in another galaxy.’ President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of being “delusional” over her demands for Brexit, ... Read More »

‘There’s a pro-European mood in Bulgaria’

Bulgaria holds parliamentary elections on Sunday. Whatever the outcome, the next government would be well advised to continue the European course, says German Social Democrat politician Gernot Erler. DW: Mr Erler, what are your expectations for the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on March 26? Gernot Erler: I hope very much that this election will give Bulgaria the chance to form a stable government again. The last couple of years were not a good era in Bulgarian politics, with three resigned cabinets and three transitional governments in the last three years. This is some kind of unfortunate record in the Balkans. In this regard it will be important that this is the beginning of a period in which an elected government can remain in office and govern successfully for the term of four years. What kind of government would you like to see in Sofia after the election? I'm quite certain it'll have to be a coalition government. When we look at the polls, we have at this point a stalemate situation between the two major parties, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Boiko Borisov's GERB (Editor's note: a member of the European People's Party), which had run the country until recently. This is a challenge as both have said so far that they don't want to govern with each other. So the question is, how can a government be formed? In principle, an attitude like that is unsuitable for a democracy - democratic parties saying "No, we don't want a coalition under any circumstances." Speculation is rife as to the direction of foreign policy the new government may take. Some have mentioned Moscow's growing influence on Bulgarian politics. What do you expect in this regard? I'm very glad that the EU approval rate in Bulgaria is among the highest in the whole region. I also believe that, until now, Bulgarians have benefited from their governments' pro-European politics. This should continue by all means. Bulgaria is a key stability factor in the region and endeavors to have good relationships with all neighboring countries. Since we currently have great problems in some other regions of the western Balkans, it can be very important how Bulgaria performs there, how capable it is to act in order to advocate and strengthen the European idea there. What are the main problems that the new Bulgarian government must tackle? Regrettably, they haven't changed. First on the list is the fight against corruption and organized crime, along with continuing the reform of the judicial system. Simultaneously, Bulgaria has to regain trust, and this applies to the economic sector as well. Last year, foreign investment in Bulgaria plummeted by 60 percent, which indicates that there's a confidence gap on European markets when it comes to Bulgaria. Moreover, this view is shared by Bulgarian business representatives as well. Therefore it'd be very important to restore that confidence. Several political parties and politicians in Bulgaria recently tried to exploit an alleged danger posed by refugees and Turkey interfering in Bulgarian internal affairs for election campaign purposes. What's your view of that approach? We could indeed observe that sort of interference. For example, the Turkish ambassador in Sofia made an appearance during a campaign rally organized by one of the Turkish parties in Bulgaria (the DOST party), whose views are akin to those of the AKP and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. On that account, the ambassador was summoned quite rightly - this was regarded as meddling with Bulgarian internal affairs. I can understand the Bulgarian side, especially since Ankara has issued clear recommendations to the Turkish population in Bulgaria as to who they should vote for. This is very close indeed to outside interference, and I understand very well that Bulgaria refuses to tolerate that. My understanding, however, has its limits when Bulgarian nationalists gather at the border and try to prevent expatriated Bulgarian Turks (or Turkish Bulgarians), who had fled communist Bulgaria prior to 1989, from entering the country. That is, of course, against the law. As far as the refugees are concerned - this issue should not be exploited for election campaign purposes. According to the latest count, there are now some 4,500 refugees in Bulgaria. If you compare that to other countries, also taking the country's size into account, this is a challenge that can be handled. And when you look at refugee routes, you'll see that Bulgaria is situated slightly remote from them, and that includes the famous Balkan route. Of course, we still need a functioning government in Sofia, also as a partner in a prudent refugee policy. How would you explain that, in contrast to other countries in central and Eastern Europe, a vast majority of Bulgarians endorse the country's EU membership? Bulgaria had to fight - as Chairman of the German-Bulgarian Forum in Germany I was right in the middle of it when we worked together to achieve EU membership. There was the fortunate decision to grant Bulgaria full membership status from 1 January 2007; however, that was not the end of the debate. We then had to establish the EU's Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), because some pledges and assurances were not implemented quickly enough by the Bulgarian side. This mechanism is still in force, and we continue to receive reports which are detailing the implementation of those measures. However, Bulgaria has benefited from EU accession. There has always been a pro-European sentiment in Bulgaria, which was a good basis for coping with the difficult path to EU membership. Although minor anti-European parties (the United Patriots, for example) exist in Bulgaria as well, it is gratifying to see that there's a vast pro-European majority in Bulgaria - something that is far from natural these days. Gernot Erler, of the center-left Social Democratic Party, is a member of the German parliament. Between 2005 and 2009, he was deputy foreign minister. Since January 2014, he has been the German government's representative in charge of relations with Russia. He is also the Chairman of the German-Bulgarian Forum. The interview was conducted by Alexander Andreev.

Bulgaria holds parliamentary elections on Sunday. Whatever the outcome, the next government would be well advised to continue the European course, says German Social Democrat politician Gernot Erler. DW: Mr Erler, what are your expectations for the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria on March 26? Gernot Erler: I hope very much that this election will give Bulgaria the chance to form ... Read More »

Britain to trigger Article 50 on March 29, formally launching Brexit process

British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50 at the end of March, her office has announced. The move would then set off two years of formal negotiations on Britain leaving the European Union. Prime Minister May will write a letter to the European Union on March 29 to formally announce Britain's withdrawal from the soon-to-be 27 member bloc, a spokesman for the British leader said on Monday. The UK informed European Council President Donald Tusk's office of May's intention, the spokesman added. Triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will start the clock on two years of formal negotiations, at the end of which Britain will leave the EU. The British parliament backed May's Article 50 plan last week after 51.9 percent of participants voted for Brexit in a referendum last June. "Next Wednesday, the government will deliver on that decision and formally start the process by triggering Article 50," Brexit Minister David Davis said in a statement. "We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation." EU is 'ready' The European Commission said on Monday that it is prepared to begin Brexit negotiations after the British government confirmed the date it will launch the process. "Everything is ready on this side," Margaritis Schinas, the chief spokesman for the EU executive, told a regular news briefing. On Twitter, Tusk said that he would present the other 27 member states with draft Brexit negotiating guidelines within 48 hours of the UK triggering Article 50. Before negotiations with the UK can begin, the other EU member states must meet to confirm the Commission's negotiating guidelines. Officials say that a summit is likely to be held in early May. Merkel: 'It makes no difference' Monday's announcement comes just days before the EU celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which created the bloc. German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected that the UK's announcement will overshadow a summit to mark the anniversary. She said "it makes absolutely no difference whether the notification comes one day earlier, or three or seven days afterward." Merkel added that Europe's focus in the coming years will be to work on Brexit negotiations and "how we can strengthen the cooperation of the 27" other members. Scottish resistance May's preparations for Brexit were hit hard last week by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's announcement that she planned to hold a new independence referendum in order to maintain the country's ties to the EU. On Sunday, Sturgeon said she was prepared to delay the vote to appease the government in London after initially pushing for the vote to take place in late 2018 or early 2019. The nationalist party Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, which made major gains in regional elections earlier this month, has also called for a referendum on breaking away from the UK and uniting with the Republic of Ireland. Out of the United Kingdom's four nations, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU while England and Wales voted to leave. 'Hard' Brexit concerns In June, British citizens narrowly voted in favor of the UK leaving the EU. Ahead of the vote, the pro-Brexit movement campaigned on an anti-migrant platform. Prime Minister May has said she will prioritize controlling immigration during the negotiations. Brussels, however, has warned that if the UK fails to provide freedom of movement, it will not have access to Europe's single market.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50 at the end of March, her office has announced. The move would then set off two years of formal negotiations on Britain leaving the European Union. Prime Minister May will write a letter to the European Union on March 29 to formally announce Britain’s withdrawal from the soon-to-be 27 ... Read More »

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