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Austria calls for less money for EU states opposing refugee distribution

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has called for increased pressure on countries shirking their responsibility in the redistribution of refugees. "Solidarity is not a one-way street," the Social Democrat said of the EU. Ahead of an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern called for increased pressure on countries in the 28-member bloc that continue to fail to take in refugees. "In future, the money from the EU budget must be distributed more equally among the member countries," Kern told German daily "Die Welt." "If countries continue to duck away from resolving the issue of migration, or tax dumping at the expense of their neighbors, they will no longer be able to receive net payments of billions from Brussels," Kern said in the article published on Wednesday, arguing that "solidarity is not a one-way street." On issues such as economic development, security interests or sanctions against Russia, some EU countries expect solidarity from other member states, Kern said, "but on other important issues they do not want to know anything about solidarity." "Selective solidarity should in the future also lead to selective payability among the net payers," the Social Democrat (SPÖ) leader said. EU members shirking responsibility In net terms, Austria accounted for some 851 million euros ($898 million) of contributions to the European Union in 2015. Other net contributors were Germany (14.3 billion euros), the UK (11.5 billion euros) and France (5.5 billion euros). Several Eastern European countries, on the other hand, receive more money from the EU than they contribute. The largest net recipient is Poland with 9.5 billion euros, followed by the Czech Republic (5.7 billion), Romania (5.2 billion) and Hungary (4.6 billion). At the same time, some of the same countries have also so far refused to help in the redistribution of a total of 98,000 refugees by September this year. So far only 13,500 refugees have been redistributed within the EU area. Poland which, by now, should have taken in 6,182 aslyum seekers, has not yet received a single person, while the Czech Republic, which was due to accept 2,679 refugees has so far accepted a total of 12 people. Austria for a strong Europe Speaking to "Die Welt" Kern emphasized that he did not want to threaten any of his 27 fellow EU member states but merely wanted to point out connections. "Germany or Austria will struggle to transfer billions to the EU budget if nothing's done about wage and social dumping, and a fair distribution of refugees to all EU countries is deemed impossible," he said. Insisting that his country has an interest in a strong Europe, Kern said: "If Europe is weak, it will also weaken Austria."

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has called for increased pressure on countries shirking their responsibility in the redistribution of refugees. “Solidarity is not a one-way street,” the Social Democrat said of the EU. Ahead of an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern called for increased pressure on countries in the 28-member bloc that continue to fail to ... Read More »

Tensions run high over Brexit court hearing

Can the British government launch Brexit without seeking parliamentarPrime Minister Theresa May argues that the referendum result, along with existing ministerial powers, means that MPs do not need to vote before Article 50 is triggered and the formal process of exiting the European Union begins. However, in early November, the High Court ruled that the government could not do this without the approval of parliament. The government is appealing the ruling, and the case will now be heard in the Supreme Court. "Normally, in order for there to be a strong likelihood of a different outcome you would expect new evidence to be presented, some material change in the testimony to the court. That is not going to be the case here. They're simply going to be asked whether the evidence that was the basis of the previous judgment was misread by the High Court," Matthew Cole, lecturer in history at Birmingham University, told DW. In Britain's currently highly politicized climate, the court battle has been portrayed as a ruling on whether Brexit can go ahead. This is despite the fact that both the Conservative and Labour parties have indicated that they would vote in favor of triggering Article 50. The government fears that if a full act of parliament is required, the House of Lords could cause long delays by tabling amendments.y approval? That is the question that Britain's highest court will decide in a hearing that starts on Monday. Samira Shackle reports from London. Constitutional crisis The issue at stake is in fact a finely tuned constitutional question about the powers of government. "The most important thing to bear in mind in this case isn't about whether Brexit should happen; it's about whether the government has the right to use their powers to undermine an act of parliament, and it's hard to see why the judgment would change," Oliver Patel, research associate at University College London's European Institute, told DW. Britain's constitution is uncodified and based on laws and statutes. The legislation that enacted the referendum stated that the result would be only advisory, not legally binding, so the leave vote does not automatically overturn the 1972 legislation that took Britain into what is now the EU. In the UK, governments need the approval of parliament to overturn or undermine legislation. "Our constitutional authorities regard parliamentary sovereignty as the supreme authority in British law-making," says Cole. "We joined the EU by a parliamentary statute, and therefore only a subsequent statute, or at least only by a resolution of parliament, could you undo that decision. Referendums have no binding legal status. Parliament can choose to ignore them or delay their implementation if it wants. And the High Court in a sense was merely confirming that." The government's lawyers are likely to argue that triggering Article 50 doesn't mean leaving the EU, and that parliament would still be allowed a later role. "The question is: does the government have the right to use prerogative powers to undermine previous legislation?" says Patel. "In the interests of constraining potential authoritarian governments in the future, the judges would probably want to say no." Testing the judiciary The High Court ruling in November caused huge controversy, with an unprecedented level of criticism in sections of the media. The Daily Mail, an influential right-wing tabloid, published a front page declaring the three judges "Enemies of the People," while the right-wing broadsheet The Daily Telegraph ran a similar headline: "The judges versus the people." Across the board, the tabloids portrayed the ruling as an attempt to block Brexit. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage had threatened to hold a 100,000 strong march on the Supreme Court during the hearing, but it has now been called off. Protests by both pro-Brexit and pro-remain groups are still expected to take place outside the court. "The ability of judges to act independently of outside pressure is going to be tested," says Cole. "The British judiciary has a strong tradition of being able to resist that sort of pressure, but this is an unusual level of attention on an individual judgment." The British judiciary is broadly seen as apolitical and independent, and it enjoys a level of respect and popularity. The high tensions over the Brexit vote threaten to undermine this. "The judiciary is a real pillar of UK democracy, and it would be alarming if the public respect and trust started to change," says Patel. "All eyes are on the government to see how they respond. If they lose, the best thing to do with respect to protecting the independence and credibility of the judiciary, would be to say, 'We respect their decision and the judges upheld the law.' Ideally they'd condemn media attacks." The case will be heard by 11 judges - the maximum number - and will take place over four days. The verdict is expected in the new year.

Can the British government launch Brexit without seeking parliamentarPrime Minister Theresa May argues that the referendum result, along with existing ministerial powers, means that MPs do not need to vote before Article 50 is triggered and the formal process of exiting the European Union begins. However, in early November, the High Court ruled that the government could not do this ... Read More »

Stalemate in Turkey’s EU accession talks

Threats from the Turkish president. Threats from the European parliament. The path to a peaceful EU accession has turned rocky. Turkey first applied to join the European Economic Community, the precursor to today's European Union, in 1959. But it wasn't until 2005 - 46 years later - that accession talks with Turkey actually began. That was mainly due to reluctance on the part of EU states that saw the country, which is geographically mainly in Asia, as too Muslim, too strange, and too underdeveloped. Erdogan a driving force That changed in 2003, when current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister. The Islamist, who once rejected the idea of EU membership, reformed his country at top speed. His stated goal was to make economically up-and coming Turkey ready for the EU - to join the bloc as quickly as possible. In an interview he gave to DW in 2004, he was anything but timid. He said he wanted Turkey to become the most important state in the EU. Erdogan and the EU made compromises to prepare the way for accession talks. The question of a Turkish withdrawal from the occupied northern part of Cyprus was put on ice. Erdogan proposed a course of reconciliation with the Turkey's Kurdish minority. The driving forces on the EU side were then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The United States also expressly supported EU membership for NATO ally Turkey. Atatürk dreamed of a European Turkey But Turkey's road to Europe began long before 2005. The country's founder, Kemal Atatürk, was enthused by the idea of "European civilization" in 1923. With methods that seem questionable today, he tried to leave the Ottoman legacy behind, separate church and state, and institute European values. In 1952, Turkey joined NATO. The United States needed a geopolitically important country at the juncture to the former Soviet Union. In 1964, the European Economic Community and Turkey signed an association agreement that, over the course of several steps, resulted in a free trade area for almost all goods. Economically, Turkey and the EU already had close ties when accession talks began in 2005. And it was Erdogan, an Islamic politician who gave religion a much more important role than Atatürk would have ever tolerated, who succeeded in taking his vision to the next step. Short-lived honeymoon But by 2006, the accession talks were in crisis, because Turkey refused to allow Greek Cypriot ships and planes to anchor or land in Turkey - a position it still holds today. And that is a far cry from the necessary recognition of the state of Cyprus as a member of the European Union. Over the last decade, there has been no movement on the Cyprus question. Several attempts to reunify the island, which has been divided since 1974, have failed. The most recent attempt ended in an impasse this past Monday night. According to information from the European Commission, significant results have been reached in only three out of 35 negotiation chapters. No single chapter can be closed as long as the Cyprus question hangs in the balance. Politically, there has been opposition mainly from Germany, France and the Netherlands. Interest has also been lagging in Turkey. Polls show that public opinion of the European Union has gone down. Erdogan, who has since been elected as president of Turkey, has announced plans to hold a referendum on EU membership. An increasingly autocratic ruler, Erdogan feels left behind by the bloc. "The EU is currently trying to force us to abandon the process," he said recently in the "Hürriyet" newspaper. But Turkey's patience is limited, he added. "If they don't want us, they should say so openly and make the relevant decisions." The European parliament could take this step and call to suspend accession talks. Atatürk's dream in jeopardy The EU's hesitation to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens is also contributing to Ankara's annoyance. Turkey has refused to make the changes to its anti-terror laws that the EU has demanded. Erdogan is considering re-introducing the death penalty. From the EU's point of view, that would spell the end of accession talks. So far, only Austria has demanded the suspension of negotiations. The EU would require a unanimous decision from all member states in order to formally cancel accession talks with Turkey, just as it did to open them in 2005. Turkey's former EU ambassador Selim Yenel has demanded that his country be an EU member by 2023, when Turkey marks 100 years since its founding. It would be the fulfillment of Atatürk's dream. But at the moment, it doesn't appear likely to happen.

Threats from the Turkish president. Threats from the European parliament. The path to a peaceful EU accession has turned rocky. Turkey first applied to join the European Economic Community, the precursor to today’s European Union, in 1959. But it wasn’t until 2005 – 46 years later – that accession talks with Turkey actually began. That was mainly due to reluctance ... Read More »

EU lawmakers cancel Turkey trip over coup criticism

Talks aimed at restoring political dialogue between the European Union and Turkey fail to get off the launch pad. Ankara objected to meeting one MEP because of her harsh criticisms of Ankara's post-coup crackdown. Top European Union lawmakers cancelled a trip to Turkey after Ankara announced it would refuse to meet one MEP because of her critical comments about Turkey's post-coup crackdown. Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee and Kati Piri, the assembly's rapporteur on Turkey, were scheduled to "hold high-level meetings with Turkish authorities and representatives of the opposition and civil society with a view to restore political dialogue," according to a statement released by the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. "The Turks agreed to meet Brok but they did not want to meet Piri" because of the positions she has taken, an unnamed source tells AFP. Schulz had talked to the two MEPs and decided "to postpone the visit until Parliament's prerogatives are respected." "Brok and Piri represent the European Parliament and we cannot allow (them) to have a pick-and-choose approach on who speaks to whom," Schulz said in the statement. Lines of communication The head of the parliament had previously contacted Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, and on Tuesday he met EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik to keep the lines of communication open, according to the statement. "The European Union remains committed to dialogue. Dialogue however requires the two sides to be willing to talk to each other," Schulz said. "I continue to hope that the European Parliament will be able to visit Turkey soon." Meanwhile German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrapped up a tense visit to Ankara on Tuesday. The EU has long been critical of Turkey's human rights record. The coup purge, with tens of thousands of people being detained, has strained relations to breaking point. Many MEPs support breaking off already difficult membership talks with Ankara. But EP President Schulz stressed the importance of dialogue in his statement. "The European Union remains committed to dialogue," he said. "Dialogue however requires the two sides to be willing to talk to each other. I continue to hope that the EP will be able to visit Turkey soon." But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly rejected EU criticism of the post-coup crackdown, and on Monday he warned the bloc it should decide by the end of the year whether the membership talks should continue. Formal talks began in 2005 but there has been painfully little progress despite the two sides agreeing to speed up the process in March as part of an accord aimed at curbing migrant flows into Greece.

Talks aimed at restoring political dialogue between the European Union and Turkey fail to get off the launch pad. Ankara objected to meeting one MEP because of her harsh criticisms of Ankara’s post-coup crackdown. Top European Union lawmakers cancelled a trip to Turkey after Ankara announced it would refuse to meet one MEP because of her critical comments about Turkey’s ... Read More »

Brussels: Turkey could face economic sanctions

Hard-line President Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks losing Turkey's lucrative customs union with the EU, its main trading partner. European Parliament chief Martin Schulz has said economic sanctions are being considered. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has confirmed rumors in Brussels that EU leaders at their summit in December could opt for economic sanctions in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ongoing crackdown on dissent - instead of terminating controversial EU accession talks. Schulz told Germany's "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper that breaking off talks with Turkey would rob the EU of the channels to help Turkey's opposition and the tens of thousands held in detention since July's failed putsch. Instead, Schulz said: "We as the EU will have to consider which economic measures we can take." He warned, however, that should Turkey under Erdogan reintroduce the death penalty - in breach of its obligations within the 47-nation Council of Europe - then accession negotiations "would be ended." Trade: Erdogan's 'weak spot' Schulz's remarks followed a commentary Saturday on German public radio Deutschlandfunk by the Brussels correspondent of "Handelsblatt" Ruth Berschens. Since the signing of the customs union in 1995, the deal on duty-free exchanges in industrial products had made the EU into Turkey's biggest trading partner, Berschens wrote. Erdogan has wanted to widen the customs union to include more of the agricultural and service industries, she said. Should the EU terminate the customs union, subject to renegotiation since 2015, this would amount to a "bitter setback" for many Turkish companies, she wrote. "His political rise as chief of the governing AKP party was due especially to his successful economic policies. During Erdogan's [prime ministerial] period of government a new middle class emerged in Turkey," Berschens said. "The president cannot betray their interests otherwise he could lose political support across the country," she said. "That is Erdogan's "weak spot," alongside the EU's deal on refugees reached in March and Turkey's role as NATO partner hosting troops from alliance nations. "Exasperation is mounting among Europeans. In Brussels something is brewing. If the Turkish president persists [on his current course] then a decision could be made at the EU summit in December that could hurt Erdogan," Berschens predicted. The European Commission had numerous reasons for not breaking off protracted talks on Turkey's bid for EU accession, she continued, added that Brussels would walk "into a trap" set by Erdogan. "The Turkish president is only waiting for the EU to finally place the stool before the door," said Berschens, adding that Europe and especially Germany still had good reputations in Turkey. "Erdogan doesn't want to take personal responsibility for a final rupture with Europe, because he would end up in great distress explaining himself to his fellow citizens," she said. "Many Turks reject a total break with Europe." Cumhuriyet head detained Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said late Saturday thatAkin Atalay, the chief executive director of the Turkish opposition newspaper "Cumhuriyet," had been remanded in custody after returning from Germany. Nine other "Cumhuriyet" staff and executive members are already under arrest. Since Ankara declared a state of emergency in July following an attempted coup, some 37,000 people have been arrested in Turkey and more than 100,000 government employees have been dismissed or suspended. More than 170 media outlets have been shut down. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus claimed Saturday that the closures were necessary in order to address multiple terror threats.

Hard-line President Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks losing Turkey’s lucrative customs union with the EU, its main trading partner. European Parliament chief Martin Schulz has said economic sanctions are being considered. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has confirmed rumors in Brussels that EU leaders at their summit in December could opt for economic sanctions in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip ... Read More »

NATO, EU trying to improve Libya’s legacy

Five years after a NATO-led intervention toppled then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the military alliance and the European Union are ramping up efforts to rebuild and reform the country. Attending a NATO defense ministers' meeting Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced as a "very important step" the launch of the bloc's training program for 78 heavily-vetted members of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy. It's part of the EU's broader naval mission Operation Sophia, aimed at disrupting the migrant influx in the Mediterranean Sea. Mogherini thanked NATO ministers for their Wednesday night approval of reconnaissance and logistical assistance for the operation. Human rights group calls for halt Some human rights groups, however, say the NATO and EU initiatives will compound, not correct, the problems in the tumultuous north African state. Ruben Neugebauer thinks such self-congratulation is completely unwarranted. His organization Sea Watch has asked the EU to call off the plans to train officers and upgrade equipment for Libyan forces. That's because of incidents, like last Friday, when a rescue ship from the privately-funded group answered a distress call in the Mediterranean just in time, Neugebauer explained, to see what appeared to be a Libyan Coast Guard vessel with armed men aboard purposely sink a dinghy struggling to stay afloat with roughly 125 people aboard. The Berlin-based organization is a privately-funded initiative that describes itself as "dedicated to putting an end to the dying on the Mediterranean Sea." Neugebauer said the Sea Watch crew did everything it could to pick up the desperate passengers as the European-made Libyan vessel shut off its lights and raced away. At least four people didn't make it. Mogherini's European External Action Service announcement describes the training program's objective as enhancing Libyans' "capability to disrupt smuggling and trafficking in Libya and to perform search and rescue activities which will save lives and improve security in the Libyan territorial waters." Neugebauer said the EU is much more interested in the first half of that "objective" than the latter. "It's not at all caring about the humanitarian situation, but rather shutting down the border by all means necessary," he said, "and this is simply unacceptable for us." Neugebauer said if the initiative launched Thursday proceeds -- as it obviously is, with 78 Libyan trainees already aboard two EU ships -- the bloc should "dump [its] Nobel Peace Prize right in the Mediterranean Sea." Trying times in Tripoli But EU and NATO officials insist they're not glossing over known problems in Libya's governance and institutions. Asked by DW Thursday whether there's deep enough vetting of Libyan partners,NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged the "situation in Libya is not easy" with different militias fighting each other, while the international community tries to shore up the UN-recognized government of national unity in Tripoli. "NATO's main focus is how we can build security institutions," he explained, in order to address these issues. "To be able to train the right people and to be able to build the right kind of forces," he said, "we need the security institutions which shall organize and lead them." EU officials use a similar logic to explain why they're choosing to forge ahead now with Libyan trainees, after a long process of narrowing down candidates. Officials underscore that a substantial part of the program involves becoming better versed in human rights and international law, trying to bring up the level to international standards. Mogherini mentioned recently in New York that many of these migrants and refugees coming through Libya have already been on the run for a long time. They "have been through a form of modern slavery," she acknowledged, and "often live in inhumane conditions in Libya" as well. "We are working to improve their situation," Mogherini pledged. Meanwhile, the UN's latest figures show that the crossing between Libya and Italy is becoming ever more deadly, with those who attempt it more likely to drown this year than in 2015.

Five years after a NATO-led intervention toppled then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the military alliance and the European Union are ramping up efforts to rebuild and reform the country. Attending a NATO defense ministers’ meeting Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced as a “very important step” the launch of the bloc’s training program for 78 heavily-vetted members of the ... Read More »

Banks mull Brexit exit from UK

Big banks are said to be getting ready to move some operations away from London amid uncertainty over the Brexit. Meanwhile, a newspaper reported that the UK could threaten the EU with slashing corporation tax. Large financial institutions are preparing to move some operations away from Britain in early 2017 due to mounting concerns about the possibility of a "hard Brexit." Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers' Association, said the country's future relationship with the European Union was mired in uncertainty. He said the public and political debate was "taking us in the wrong direction." "Most international banks now have project teams working out which operations they need to move to ensure they can continue serving customers, the date by which this must happen, and how best to do it," said Browne in Britain's "Observer" newspaper. "Their hands are quivering over the relocate button. Many smaller banks plan to start relocations before Christmas; bigger banks are expected to start in the first quarter of next year." Many major international banks have their European headquarters in Britain, with the financial sector employing more than two million people and making up about 12 percent of the economy. Passporting v equivalence London's banks rely on a system of "passporting" - available to all members of the European Economic Area - to serve clients across Europe. Browne expressed concern that pro-Brexit UK ministers have suggested this would not be needed, and that London could rely on so-called "equivalence," which allows non-EEA actors to have access to European markets. "The EU's equivalence regime is a poor shadow of passporting, it only covers a narrow range of services, can be withdrawn at virtually no notice, and will probably mean the UK will have to accept rules it has no influence over," said Browne. "For most banks, equivalence won't prevent them from relocating their operations." In the wake of the June referendum vote to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May says she will invoke Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the EU by the end of March 2017. While she has expressed keenness to remain part of the single market, a number of EU leaders have insisted this would depend on Britain accepting free movement of workers from the bloc. Holding a crucial card? Meanwhile, the "Sunday Times" newspaper reported that the government was considering slashing corporation tax from 20 percent to 10 percent if the EU refuses to agree a free trade agreement with the UK. Such a move could damage the EU by luring firms from the bloc to Britain. The newspaper said the idea had been proposed by advisers to Prime Minister May. "People say we have not got any cards," the paper quoted an unidentified source as saying. "We have some quite good cards we can play if they start getting difficult with us. If they're saying no passporting and high trade tariffs, we can cut corporation tax to 10 percent," the source said.

Big banks are said to be getting ready to move some operations away from London amid uncertainty over the Brexit. Meanwhile, a newspaper reported that the UK could threaten the EU with slashing corporation tax. Large financial institutions are preparing to move some operations away from Britain in early 2017 due to mounting concerns about the possibility of a “hard ... Read More »

Russia accuses Belgium of bombing civilian targets in Syria

The foreign ministry in Moscow has summoned Belgium's ambassador following claims that Brussels' fighter jets bombed civilians in a village in Aleppo province. Belgium has denied the charge. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed that Belgian Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen had appeared at the ministry in response to a summons after Moscow alleged that two Belgian F-16s had bombed a village. Moscow had claimed on Thursday that two Belgian F-16 fighter jets flying from a base in Jordan bombed the village of Hassajek in the war-ravaged Aleppo province on Tuesday, killing six people, Russia's state-financed broadcaster "Russia Today" said. Later that day, Belgian Defense Minister Steven Vandeput issued a statement saying the identification numbers of the two aircraft did not belong to the Belgian airforce. He also demanded a "formal retraction of this groundless and unsubstantiated allegation." Belgium 'deceiving' world Russia's foreign ministry condemned the denial, saying Vandeput was "deliberately deceiving people in Belgium and elsewhere in the world, or his subordinates and the Americans are lying to the leadership of Belgium," RT quoted Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying. Belgium is part of the US-led coalition fighting "Islamic State" militants in Syria. According to Konashenkov, the Belgian warplanes struck the village in Aleppo at 00:35 GMT on Tuesday, killing six civilians and wounding four others. The planes were tracked to Iraq and to Deir ez Zor in Syria, where a US KC-153 tanker refuelled them. He said that his country had "effective air defense measures" that were capable of monitoring the sky above almost all of Syria. "Detailed information about the operation of the Belgian F-16's in the Syrian sky will be delivered to the Belgian side through diplomatic and military channels," he added. The Russian general emphasized that this was "not the first time when the international coalition conducted airstrikes against civilian targets and later denied responsibility for them." Russian flotilla nears English channel Meanwhile, EU leaders on Friday debated ways to tackle Moscow as a flotilla of Russian warships neared the English Channel en route to Syria's coast. The leaders discussed Syria and the Russian annexation of Crimea, but stopped short of issuing sanctions. British warships had been sent to shadow Russian aircraft carriers, news agencies reported. British frigate HMS Richmond escorted Admiral Kuznetsov and HMS Duncan sailed from Portsmouth to monitor the ships' passage. The vessels were sailing in international waters and NATO forces, including those of Norway, the Netherlands and Britain will not be able to restrict their movement. "Russia's strategy is to weaken the EU," European Council President Donald Tusk said ahead of a two-day meeting in Brussels. Referring to the ongoing truce in Syria, French President Francois Hollande said it was imperative to find a path "toward talks and negotiations and to bring an end to atrocities that we have witnessed for too long." Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said that the EU ministers had approved a document which pushed the need to come to an agreement as soon as possible and reach a real truce.

The foreign ministry in Moscow has summoned Belgium’s ambassador following claims that Brussels’ fighter jets bombed civilians in a village in Aleppo province. Belgium has denied the charge. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed that Belgian Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen had appeared at the ministry in response to a summons after Moscow alleged that two Belgian F-16s had bombed ... Read More »

EU governments unite behind urgent call to ‘save Aleppo’

The EU's foreign policy chief has said it is the bloc's top priority to save the besieged city of Aleppo. European leaders called out Russia for aiding the Syrian regime, but stopped short of proposing punitive action. United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he'd conveyed to European Union foreign ministers just how stark the scenario is right now at ground zero in Syria, the rebel-held city of Aleppo: "Between now and December," he said, "if we are not finding a solution for Aleppo, Aleppo will not be there anymore." De Mistura, who'd been invited to the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, said the rebel-held city had been bombed "for more than a month [with] no access to it" for humanitarian aid. Of the 275,000 inhabitants who have remained in the city despite the incessant air attacks, de Mistura said 100,000 were children. He urged the EU to unify and find a way to save these people. His words seemed to have an impact, as foreign ministers ended up approving a final statement more forceful than the language most had used on their ways into the meeting, perhaps stronger than many had thought could be mustered with unanimity: "Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate and the deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure, as well as the use of barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and chemical weapons, constitute a catastrophic escalation of the conflict and have caused further widespread civilian casualties, including amongst women and children and may amount to war crimes," the statement read. EU 'appalled' by actions of regime 'and its allies' "Priority number one now is to save Aleppo, to save the people of Aleppo," Mogherini said. "Our strong call is on Russia and on the Syrian regime to stop the bombing on Aleppo and to continue talks with the US and other key players on the ground to avoid a …humanitarian catastrophe in the city." The document also calls on Russia to make all efforts to "halt indiscriminate bombing by the Syrian regime" - though without going so far as to mention Russia is doing much of the bombing itself - and demands "immediate and expanded humanitarian access" to besieged civilians. Will Russia respond? While ministers debated, the head of Russia's military general staff announced there would be a "humanitarian pause" on Thursday so that sick and wounded civilians could be evacuated. While Mogherini welcomed "anything that could alleviate the humanitarian suffering, the catastrophe that we're seeing in Aleppo," she also noted that UN humanitarian experts had said they'd need 12 hours to perform the needed rescues. As for whether being "appalled" by Russia's actions means EU governments are willing to consider punitive measures against Moscow, analysts aren't betting on it. So far only German Chancellor Angela Merkel - and only to one newspaper, "Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" - has called for increased European Union sanctions against Russia for its actions in Syria. But it's unclear whether Merkel herself will be making that recommendation later this week at the leaders' summit in Brussels. Sanctions an option, but not one anyone wants Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at London's Institute for Statecraft, isn't surprised the meeting resulted in mere condemnation rather than a proposal for more punitive measures. "The EU always finds it difficult to agree whether to be tough or encouraging on Russia," he said. "Some EU states look at Russia and see a problem, others look at it and see an opportunity, so they pull in opposite directions." Nimmo notes even the already complicated path to getting sanctions passed by the EU 28 is much harder now because of the raft of penalties currently in place on Russia. "The easy targets have already been sanctioned," Nimmo pointed out. Even if there were willingness among governments, he told DW, "agreeing on further measures would require a lot of debate as to what and who, exactly, should be sanctioned." Marc Pierini, who served as the EU ambassador to Syria, doesn't think battling over sanctions would be a productive use of EU might anyway, because the two men who could change the fate of Aleppo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have no impetus to do so, regardless of EU ire. Now a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, Pierini says the situation is basically stuck. "The regime cannot afford to lose Aleppo," Pierini said, and Russia will continue helping them do that, unless Putin sees that it's hurting him politically. But instead, Pierini explained, "domestically Putin is gaining from this kind of brutal image, so I don't have much hope."

The EU’s foreign policy chief has said it is the bloc’s top priority to save the besieged city of Aleppo. European leaders called out Russia for aiding the Syrian regime, but stopped short of proposing punitive action. United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he’d conveyed to European Union foreign ministers just how stark the scenario is right now ... Read More »

Brexit boss Boris Johnson hails EU in unseen column

"The Sunday Times" has published a previously unreleased column by Boris Johnson urging Britain to stay in the EU. The article was penned days before he became chief Brexit campaigner. Boris Johnson's uncertainty about joining the Brexit campaign ahead of June's referendum is not itself news to the British public. But a previously unpublished column printed in "The Sunday Times" has now shed light on exactly how Johnson would have made the case for staying in the European Union. The original text was revealed in "All Out War," a new book by the newspaper's political editor, Tim Shipman. Just two days before Johnson broke from Prime Minister David Cameron's "Remain" camp, he wrote that the United Kingdom's remaining in the EU would be "a boon for the world and for Europe." Johnson, who became foreign minister after the referendum, went on to warn that Brexit could lead to "economic shock" and the breakup of the union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Directly contradicting comments made this week in which he described the European single market as "increasingly useless," Johnson wrote that "this is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms: The membership fee seems rather small for all that access." "Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?" Johnson wrote. 'Some big questions' Johnson warned of "the Putin factor": "We don't want to do anything to encourage more shirtless swaggering from the Russian leader, not in the Middle East, not anywhere." "There are some big questions that the 'out' side need to answer," Johnson wrote. The former London mayor also made an emotional plea to voters to consider the impact of Brexit on future generations, writing: "Shut your eyes. Hold your breath. Think of Britain. Think of the rest of the EU. Think of the future." In or out? Responding to the publication, Johnson told journalists outside his London home that he had been "wrestling with the issue" in February and wrote a long article that was "overwhelmingly in favor of leaving" the EU. "I then thought I had better see if I could try and make an alternative case to myself, so I wrote a kind of semi-parodic article in the opposite sense," Johnson said. "I set them side by side, and it was blindingly obvious what the right thing to do was," Johnson said. "And I think the people made the right decision." Plummeting pound Fifty-two percent of voters favored leaving the European Union in June's referendum. In the aftermath of the vote, the pound has fallen 18 percent against the dollar and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined her plans for a new referendum on Scottish independence. Cameron also resigned, leaving the door to number 10 Downing Street open for Theresa May. Last month, the UK's new prime minister announced that she would trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March to begin two years of negotiations on Britain's departure from the European Union.

“The Sunday Times” has published a previously unreleased column by Boris Johnson urging Britain to stay in the EU. The article was penned days before he became chief Brexit campaigner. Boris Johnson’s uncertainty about joining the Brexit campaign ahead of June’s referendum is not itself news to the British public. But a previously unpublished column printed in “The Sunday Times” ... Read More »

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