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Tag Archive: BRUSSELS


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EU warns of visas for US citizens if Washington implements visa waiver reforms

© Fred Greaves
The EU says it may retaliate if the US goes ahead with plans to impose visas for some members of the bloc who are currently part of the Visa Waiver Program. Brussels says it will not increase security and that US nationals may require visas to enter the EU.

A letter signed by 28 European member state ambassadors to the US was published in The Hill after Europe reacted furiously and with disbelief to plans by Washington to tighten-up the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which currently lets millions of citizens from the bloc travel to the US each year without a visa.

 

OP-ED: EU warns of visas for US citizens if Washington implements visa waiver reforms

 

Last week, the US House of Representatives adopted a bill to reform the visa program that would ban certain EU nationals from entering the US without a visa if they had visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan after March 2011. Some US politicians want the legislation introduced to tighten security following the November 13 Paris terror attacks.

“A blanket restriction on those who have visited Syria or Iraq, for example, would most likely only affect legitimate travel by businesspeople, journalists, humanitarian or medical workers while doing little to detect those who travel by more clandestine means overland,” the letter signed by the 28 ambassadors stated.

At present, 23 of the EU’s 28 member states enjoy visa-free travel to the US, with the remaining five nations keen to join the VWP. The bloc says it is imperative to keep the visa waiver program intact for business and tourism purposes, while the current system does not mean that it is “a license to enter the US with nothing more than the wave of a passport of an allied country.”

 

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BREITBART

EuroParliament Prez: Christians ‘Not Safe In Our Continent’

In a high-level meeting on religious persecution in Brussels, the President of the European Parliament (EP) said that Europe cannot afford to continue ignoring the fate of Christians, who are “clearly the most persecuted group” in the world.

In Wednesday’s meeting, EP President Martin Schulz said that the persecution of Christians is “undervalued” and does not receive enough attention, which has also meant that it “hasn’t been properly addressed.”

Schulz’s concerns were echoed by EP Vice President Antonio Tajani, who warned that Europe sometimes “falls into the temptation of thinking we can ignore this task,” referring to the protection Christians throughout the world who suffer persecution.

Speakers cited the work of Open Doors, a human rights organization that monitors the persecution of Christians, noting that 150 million Christians worldwide suffer torture, rape and arbitrary imprisonment. Christians in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, North Korea and Nigeria are among those hardest hit.

The Open Doors report for 2015 found that “Islamic extremism is by far the most significant persecution engine” of Christians in the world today and that “40 of the 50 countries on the World Watch List are affected by this kind of persecution.”

 

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ZeroHedge

“Social Explosion” Begins In Greece As Massive Street Protests Bring Economy To A Fresh Halt

One thing that became abundantly clear after Alexis Tsipras sold out the Greek referendum “no” back in the summer after a weekend of “mental waterboarding” in Brussels was that the public’s perception of the once “revolutionary” leader would never be the same. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what Berlin, Brussels, and the IMF wanted.

By turning the screws on the Greek banking sector and bringing the country to the brink of ruin, the troika indicated its willingness to “punish” recalcitrant politicians who pursue anti-austerity policies. On the one hand, countries have an obligation to pay back what they owe, but on the other, the subversion of the democratic process by using the purse string to effect political change is a rather disconcerting phenomenon and we expect we’ll see it again with regard to the Socialists in Portugal.

After a month of infighting within Syriza Tsipras did manage to consolidate the party and win a snap election but he’s not the man he was – or at least not outwardly. He’s obligated to still to the draconian terms of the bailout and that means he is a shadow of his former self ideologically. As we’ve said before, that doesn’t bode well for societal stability.

On Thursday, we get the first shot across the social upheaval bow as the same voters who once came out in force to champion Tsipras and Syriza are staging massive protests and walkouts.

 

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Bloomberg Business

Greece Comes to a Standstill as Unions Turn Against Tsipras

November 11, 2015 — 6:01 PM CST Updated on November 12, 2015 — 6:04 AM CST
  • Unions hold general strike to protest against austerity
  • PM races to satisfy creditor demands in exchange for funds

As Greek workers took to the streets in protest on Thursday, Alexis Tsipras was for the first time on the other side of the divide.

Unions — a key support base for the prime minister’s Syriza party — chanted in rallies held in Athens the same slogans Tsipras once used against opponents. Doctors and pharmacists joined port workers, civil servants and Athens metro staff in Greece’s first general strike since he took office in January, bringing the country to a standstill for 24 hours.

As many as 20,000 protesters gathered in central Athens while a small group of anarchists at the tail of the demonstration threw petrol bombs at police officers at around 1:30 pm local time, a police spokesman said, requesting anonymity in line with policy. The police responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Greece’s biggest unions, ADEDY and GSEE, are holding marches accusing Tsipras of bowing to creditors and imposing measures that “perpetuate the dark ages for workers,” as the country’s statistical agency released data showing that 1.18 million Greeks, or 24.6 percent of the workforce, remained unemployed in August.

The 41-year-old Greek premier, who was among anti-austerity protesters in previous general strikes, is now racing to complete negotiations with creditors on belt-tightening in exchange for the disbursement of 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) to be injected into banks. Failure to reach an accord with euro-area member states and the International Monetary Fund on policies including primary residence foreclosures, and stricter rules on overdue taxes, would put the solvency of the country’s lenders in doubt.

“The economic policies Tsipras has to implement are definitely harsher than warranted, and also harsher than they would be if it wasn’t for these seven months of brinkmanship and extreme political uncertainty,” said Manolis Galenianos, a Professor of Economics at the Royal Holloway, University of London. “This wasn’t necessary, it could have been avoided, and the government will now implement deeper cuts to achieve less ambitious fiscal targets.”

 

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Governments and NGOs: Germany Spied on Friends and Vatican

Efforts to spy on friends and allies by Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, were more extensive than previously reported. SPIEGEL has learned the agency monitored European and American government ministries and the Vatican.

The BND's listening station in Bad Aibling, Bavaria: In addition to spying on friends, German intelligence also monitored Oxfam, Care International and the Red Cross. Zoom

DPA

The BND’s listening station in Bad Aibling, Bavaria: In addition to spying on friends, German intelligence also monitored Oxfam, Care International and the Red Cross.

Three weeks ago, news emerged that Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), had systematically spied on friends and allies around the world. In many of those instances, the BND had been doing so of its own accord and not at the request of the NSA. The BND came under heavy criticism earlier this year after news emerged that it had assisted the NSA in spying on European institutions, companies and even Germans using dubious selector data.

SPIEGEL has since learned from sources that the spying went further than previously reported. Since October’s revelations, it has emerged that the BND spied on the United States Department of the Interior and the interior ministries of EU member states including Poland, Austria, Denmark and Croatia. The search terms used by the BND in its espionage also included communications lines belonging to US diplomatic outposts in Brussels and the United Nations in New York. The list even included the US State Department’s hotline for travel warnings.

 

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Thomson Reuters

REUTERS

World | Wed Nov 11, 2015 9:24am EST

Germany seeks clarity on whether spy agency snooped on own diplomat

Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service spied on a German diplomat, possibly violating the constitution, and on allies including French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, a German radio station reported on Wednesday.

Officials firmly declined to comment on the report, but the parliamentary committee that oversees intelligence agencies was due to meet later in the day with the issue to be discussed.

The report by the Berlin-based rbb Inforadio was the latest twist in a growing scandal over the activities of Germany’s BND stemming from revelations in 2013 by U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

Without identifying its sources, rbb said the BND had monitored German Hansjoerg Haber, from 2008-2011 head of the EU’s observer mission in Georgia and then a senior diplomat in Brussels. He is now head of the EU’s mission in Turkey and married to a state secretary in the Interior Ministry.

The BND declined to comment. A government spokeswoman, quizzed for about 20 minutes at a regular news conference, declined to comment on the report directly and said the oversight body worked “without discussing everything in public”.

 

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France

‘Nothing surprising’ about Germany spying on France


© AFP archive | French President François Hollande with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

 

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2015-11-13

No one should be surprised that Germany’s foreign intelligence service spied on French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, a former French Air Force intelligence officer told FRANCE 24 Friday.

Berlin public radio reported this week that the BND intelligence service had listened in on its French allies, prompting a show of indignation from French President François Hollande.

“We ask that all the information be given to us,” Hollande said Thursday on the sidelines of a migration summit in Malta. “These kinds of practices should not go on between allies.”

“I know that the chancellery will do everything it can to explain the circumstances to us in detail,” he added, saying he had been assured that such spying “had completely stopped”.

According to former French Air Force intelligence officer Alain Charret, who is a member of the French Intelligence Research Centre (CF2R) thinktank, Hollande’s show of outrage is just hot air designed to calm public opinion.

 

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At least 100 people have been arrested in Brussels, where hundreds more protested against TTIP, an impending free trade deal between the US and the EU, as the next round of TTIP talks approaches.

Roads were paralyzed in the Belgian capital as a force of more than 600 activists descended on EU headquarters, blocking traffic and the venue of the EU leaders summit in protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

People carried signs and chanted slogans such as “Stop TTIP, stop austerity” and “Sorry for the inconvenience. We’re trying to save the world,” at the march in Brussels on Thursday. “TTIP is death” another sign read. One group of protesters displayed a balloon ‘Trojan Horse’ as an allegory for the deal.

 

 

Green Fade-Out:Europe to Ditch Climate Protection Goals

By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Brussels

Europe may be backing away from its ambitious climate protection goals. Zoom

DPA

Europe may be backing away from its ambitious climate protection goals.

The EU’s reputation as a model of environmental responsibility may soon be history. The European Commission wants to forgo ambitious climate protection goals and pave the way for fracking — jeopardizing Germany’s touted energy revolution in the process.

The climate between Brussels and Berlin is polluted, something European Commission officials attribute, among other things, to the “reckless” way German Chancellor Angela Merkel blocked stricter exhaust emissions during her re-election campaign to placate domestic automotive manufacturers like Daimler and BMW. This kind of blatant self-interest, officials complained at the time, is poisoning the climate.

ANZEIGE

But now it seems that the climate is no longer of much importance to the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, either. Commission sources have long been hinting that the body intends to move away from ambitious climate protection goals. On Tuesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported as much.

At the request of Commission President José Manuel Barroso, EU member states are no longer to receive specific guidelines for the development ofrenewable energy. The stated aim of increasing the share of green energy across the EU to up to 27 percent will hold. But how seriously countries tackle this project will no longer be regulated within the plan. As of 2020 at the latest — when the current commitment to further increase the share of green energy expires — climate protection in the EU will apparently be pursued on a voluntary basis.

Climate Leaders No More?

With such a policy, the European Union is seriously jeopardizing its global climate leadership role. Back in 2007, when Germany held the European Council presidency, the body decided on a climate and energy legislation package known as the “20-20-20” targets, to be fulfilled by the year 2020. They included:

  • a 20 percent reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions;
  • raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20 percent;

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Environment Secretary will urge EU to relax restrictions on crop licensing

Genetically modified maize in Shropshire

Britain is to push the European Union to relax restrictions on the licensing of genetically modified crops for human consumption amid growing scientific evidence that they are safe, and surveys showing they are supported by farmers. The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, is expected to use a speech next week to outline the start of a new government approach to GM to ensure Britain “is not left behind” in agricultural science.

The move comes as 61 per cent of UK farmers now say they would like to grow GM crops after a disastrous 12-month cycle of poor weather that is expected significantly to reduce harvest yields. Senior government officials said that ministers are increasingly concerned that the potential moral and ethical benefits of GM are being ignored by costly and bureaucratic licensing regulations.

With one-twelfth of global arable land under GM cultivation they have privately warned that Britain faces being left behind in an important technology that has the potential to improve crop yields, help the UK’s agricultural industry and provide benefits to human health through vitamin fortification.

Government sources added that GM also had applications beyond food including the potential to combat diseases such as ash dieback and in developing new medicines.

“The point about GM is not simply about food production,” they said. “There are wider potential environmental and economic benefits to the technology both in the UK and internationally.

“What we want to do is start a dialogue within Europe on GM based upon the science.”

Ministers are hopeful of building support in Brussels for a change of heart on GM, with Germany seen as a key swing voter. However, any attempts to relax the rules could face opposition from countries such as Poland which in April became the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of GM crops.

Mr Paterson is said to believe that Britain should take the lead in moving the debate on from the knee-jerk reaction against GM for much of the last decade.

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Last-ditch lobbying to sway vote in Brussels to halt use of killer nerve agents

Beekeepers report higher loss rates In bee population

Bees are vital for pollination, and scientific studies have linked pesticides to huge losses in their numbers. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty

Europe is on the brink of a landmark ban on the world’s most widely used insecticides, which have increasingly been linked to serious declines in bee numbers. Despite intense secret lobbying by British ministers and chemical companies against the ban, revealed in documents obtained by the Observer, a vote in Brussels on Monday is expected to lead to the suspension of the nerve agents.

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, loss of habitat and, increasingly, the near ubiquitous use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

The prospect of a ban has prompted a fierce behind-the-scenes campaign. In a letter released to the Observer under freedom of information rules, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, told the chemicals company Syngenta last week that he was “extremely disappointed” by the European commission‘s proposed ban. He said that “the UK has been very active” in opposing it and “our efforts will continue and intensify in the coming days”.

Publicly, ministers have expressed concern for bees, with David Cameron saying: “If we do not look after our bee populations, very serious consequences will follow.”

The chemical companies, which make billions from the products, have also lobbied hard, with Syngenta even threatening to sue individual European Union officials involved in publishing a report that found the pesticides posed an unacceptable risk to bees, according to documents seen by the Observer. The report, from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), led the commission to propose a two-year ban on three neonicotinoids. “EFSA has provided a strong, substantive and scientific case for the suspension,” a commission spokesman said.

A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queens produced and big increases in “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips. Pesticide manufacturers and UK ministers have argued that the science is inconclusive and that a ban would harm food production, but conservationists say harm stemming from dying pollinators is even greater.

“It’s a landmark vote,” said Joan Walley MP, chairwoman of parliament’s green watchdog, the environmental audit committee, whose recent report on pollinators condemned the government’s “extraordinary complacency”. Walley said: “You have to have scientific evidence, but you also have to have the precautionary principle – that’s the heart of this debate.”

A ban has been supported by petitions signed by millions of people and Paterson has received 80,000 emails, an influx that he described as a “cyber-attack“. “The impact of neonicotinoids on the massive demise of our bees is clear, yet Paterson seems unable to escape the haze of sloppy science and lobbying by powerful pesticide giants,” said Iain Keith of the campaign group Avaaz. “Seventy per cent of British people want these poisons banned. Paterson must reconsider or send the bees to chemical Armageddon.” Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth said a ban would be “a historic moment in the fight to save our bees”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “As the proposal currently stands we could not support an outright ban. We have always been clear that a healthy bee population is our top priority, that’s why decisions need to be taken using the best possible scientific evidence and we want to work with the commission to achieve this. Any action taken must be proportionate and not have any unforeseen knock-on effects.”

“This plan is motivated by a quite understandable desire to save the beleaguered bee and concern about a serious decline in other important pollinator species,” said the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, “but it is based on a misreading of the currently available evidence.” He said the EC plan was a serious “mistake”.

Julian Little, a spokesman for Bayer Cropscience, said: “Call me an optimist, but I still believe the commission will see sense. There is so much field evidence to demonstrate safe use [and] an increasing number of member states who reject the apparent drive towards museum agriculture in the European Union.” However, Bulgaria is the only nation known to have changed its voting intention and it will reverse its opposition.

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Bee-harming pesticides banned in Europe

EU member states vote ushers in continent-wide suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides

A bee collects pollen from a sunflower in Utrecht

A bee collects pollen from a sunflower in Utrecht, the Netherlands. EU states have voted in favour of a proposal to restrict the use of pesticides linked to serious harm in bees. Photograph: Michael Kooren/Reuters

Europe will enforce the world’s first continent-wide ban on widely used insecticides alleged to cause serious harm to bees, after a European commission vote on Monday.

The suspension is a landmark victory for millions of environmental campaigners, backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), concerned about a dramatic decline in the bee population. The vote also represents a serious setback for the chemical producers who make billions each year from the products and also UK ministers, who voted against the ban. Both had argued the ban would harm food production.

Although the vote by the 27 EU member states on whether to suspend the insect nerve agents was supported by 15 nations, but did not reach the required majority under voting rules. The hung vote hands the final decision to the European commission, which will implement the ban.

Tonio Borg, health and consumer commissioner, said: “Our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the EFSA, [so] the European commission will go ahead with its plan in coming weeks.”

Friends of the Earth‘s head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton, said: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”

The UK, which abstained in a previous vote, was heavily criticised for switching to a “no” vote on Monday.

Joan Walley MP, chair of parliament’s green watchdog, the environmental audit committee, whose investigation had backed a ban and accused ministers of “extraordinary complacency”, said the vote was a real step in the right direction, but added: “A full Commons debate where ministers can be held to account is more pressing than ever.”

Greenpeace‘s chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: “By not supporting the ban, environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has exposed the UK government as being in the pocket of big chemical companies and the industrial farming lobby.”

On Sunday, the Observer revealed the intense secret lobbying by Paterson and Syngenta.

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Published on Apr 4, 2013

In almost every town and city across Europe there are signs of the economic crisis. The combined effect of even small closures contributes to the overall impact. Many of those losing their jobs are well educated and have good work experience. We spoke to one such man as he left a Job Centre in Brussels. The statistics agency Eurostat says more than 19 million adults are now without a job in the Eurozone. Unemployment in the 17 Eurozone countries hit a record twelve percent in February. This shows that some 33-thousand people in the bloc have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Greece has the highest jobless rate at 26.4% with Spain being just marginally lower at 26.3%. Figures show that in Greece and Spain, half of young adults under the age of 25 are unemployed.

Jerome Hughes, PressTV, Brussels

 

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Eurozone unemployment hits all-time high: 19 million out of work

Published time: April 02, 2013 09:25
Edited time: April 03, 2013 07:30

People queue outside a government employment office in Burgos.(AFP Photo / Cesar Manso)

People queue outside a government employment office in Burgos.(AFP Photo / Cesar Manso)

Eurozone unemployment levels have hit 12 percent – the highest in the history of eurozone record-keeping, since the currency was launched in 1999.

The average unemployment rate across the eurozone’s 17 constituent European Union countries rose from January’s initial 11.9 percent high to 12 percent in February, meaning a further 33,000 people were put out of work. Overall, 19.071 million are jobless across Europe.

Some countries, including Spain and Greece suffered unemployment rates as high as 26 percent over the month of February.

Spain and Greece have both been shaken by violent protests, with Greece experiencing a massive increase in suicides and attempted suicides in 2010 and 2011.

Conversely, the lowest unemployment rates are still to be found in Luxembourg (5.5 percent), Germany (5.4 percent), Austria (4.8 percent) and the Netherlands (6.2 percent).

Youth unemployment (under-25s) has also soared, leaving 5.694 million out of work in the EU 27 (3.581 million of whom were in the euro area).

In Greece, the figure of unemployed under-25s borders on 60 percent, while in Spain, 55.7 percent of the nation’s youth are still out of work.

In January, unemployment in the eurozone had reached a previous record high of 11.8 percent, according to the original Eurostat report, meaning it is continuing to rise, fueling concerns over the region’s economic crisis.

Some economic experts had forecast the rise in unemployment, especially after the earlier January figure was later revised upwards, to verge on 12 percent.

As the statistics relate to February, they do not yet take the impact of Cyprus’ bailout into account.

A separate survey, also released on Tuesday, indicated that the eurozone recession continued in the first quarter.

 

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Microsoft fined $733 million for breaking browser pactCredit: Getty Images

by TOBY STERLING / Associated Press

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 6:41 AM

Updated yesterday at 9:54 AM

AMSTERDAM  — The European Union has fined Microsoft (euro) 561 million ($733 million) for breaking a pledge to offer personal computer users a choice of Internet browsers when they install the company’s flagship Windows operating system.

The penalty imposed by the EU’s executive arm, the Commission, is a first for Brussels: no company has ever failed to keep its end of a bargain with EU authorities before.

In 2009, Microsoft Corp. struck a broad settlement with the Commission to resolve disputes over Microsoft’s abuse of the dominance of Windows, which had spanned more than a decade.

The company agreed to pay (euro) 860 million and promised to give Windows users the option of choosing another browser rather than having Microsoft’s Internet Explorer automatically installed on their machines.

Which Internet browser do you use? Join the Facebook discussion

But Microsoft failed to stick to the deal for some 15 million installations of Windows 7 in Europe from May 2011 until July 2012. The company admitted the failure last year, adding that it was an oversight.

The Commission’s top regulator, Joaquin Almunia, said at a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday that the fine reflected the size of the violation and the length of time it went on. It was also intended to make an example of Microsoft and deter other companies from doing same thing.

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