France’s Emmanuel Macron outlines vision for Franco-German alliance

French President Macron has said boosting cooperation with Germany was crucial to regaining the trust of European voters. His comments came ahead of his first EU leaders summit in Brussels.

Frankreich Wahlen Macron (picture alliance/AP Photo/T.Camus)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called on Germany to work alongside France in fostering a fresh approach to European politics and winning back the trust of people feeling disenfranchised by the EU.

Speaking to a number of European newspapers ahead of his first EU leader summit in Brussels on Thursday, Macron said the greatest threat facing the bloc was the propensity for lawmakers and voters to veer away from liberal policies.

Read more: Opinion: Europe, En Marche!

“The question now is: will Europe succeed in defending the deep values it brought to the world for decades, or will it be wiped out by the rise in illiberal democracies and authoritarian regimes,” he said.

Watch video01:17

Let The Reform Begin

The French president called on Germany and France to drive the necessary reforms needed to reconcile citizens with the European project. Macron’s policy roadmap would see the EU promote “greater economic and social wellbeing” and introduce tighter rules on workers and make it harder for companies to employ low-wage labor from eastern Europe.

“One country’s strength cannot feed on the weakness of others,” Macron told reporters. The French president insisted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in total agreement and realized the need for deeper cooperation. “Germany, which underwent a series of reforms around 15 years ago, is realizing that this isn’t viable,” he said.

Doubts remain over new eurozone ministry

One area where Macron’s vision has drawn skepticism in Berlin concerns the euro currency. The French president has called for a common eurozone budget and a democratically controlled “Euro Ministry.”

Reports last month suggested that the proposal had been rejected in Berlin by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Read more: Macron’s EU ideals meet Merkel’s mastery

However, Macron insisted on Thursday that it was the “only means of achieving more convergence within the eurozone,” and that “Germany does not it deny it.”

On Tuesday, Merkel signaled that she would be open to the idea of a eurozone budget.

“We could, of course, consider a common finance minister, if the conditions are right,” the chancellor said in a speech at the annual congress held by Germany’s largest industrial lobby, the Federation of German Industries. However, Merkel ruled out any European body taking responsibility for member states’ risks and liabilities for debt.

Watch video25:59

Victory for Macron – Challenge for Europe?

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EU agrees to joint sanctions on cyberattacks

The EU has agreed to use a “cyber diplomacy toolbox” against hackers targeting member states. The move comes amid concern hackers may seek to influence German elections in September.

Symbolbild Cyberangriff (picture-alliance/dpa/MAXPPP/A. Marchi)

The European Union agreed Monday that a cyberattack on any member state would be met by a joint response, including sanctions on state and non-state hackers.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg said in a statement that the bloc would use a “cyber diplomacy toolbox” to respond to malicious cyberactivities targeting computer systems.

“A joint EU response to malicious cyberactivities would be proportionate to the scope, scale, duration, intensity, complexity, sophistication and impact of the cyberactivity,” foreign ministers said in a statement.

So-called restrictive measures typically target individuals, groups, companies or governments with travel bans, asset freezes and restrictions on doing business.

Read more: Vladimir Putin’s ‘freelance artist’ hackers

Election worries

With German elections coming up in September, there is rising concern within the EU that individuals or groups could carry out malicious cyberattacks to influence the elections, possibly backed by a foreign government such as Russia.

The German government last month warned political parties to take extra defense against the hacking of their computer systems after alleged Russian-backed cyberattacks to influence the US and French elections through the release of hacked emails.

Suspected Russian-backed hackers broke into the email accounts of German lawmakers in 2015, and subsequently targeted political parties including Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, said in early May that “large amounts of data” had been seized in the cyberattacks.

“Our counterpart is trying to generate information that can be used for disinformation or for influence operations,” he told a conference in Potsdam, near Berlin. “Whether they do it or not is a political decision … that I assume will be made in the Kremlin.”

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Election security in the digital age

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Jihadi arrests in EU nearly double in 2 years: Europol

The number of people arrested in Europe on suspicion of jihadi activities has almost doubled in the last two years. Overall, there were 142 “failed, foiled or completed terrorist attacks” in 2016.

French soldiers patrol in front of the Eiffel Tower (Getty Images/AFP/B. Guay)

Europol, Europe’s top law-enforcement organization, said in its annual EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report that 718 suspects were arrested on offenses relating to jihadi terror in 2016, up from 395 in 2014.

The number of attacks dropped from 17 in 2014 to 13 last year, six of which were linked to the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) group.

Armed police officers outside a rugby match at Twickenham in London. Lauren Hurley/PA Wire Security has been stepped up in the UK following recent attacks

The report noted that women and children, as well as young adults, were playing an increasingly important operational role.

One in four of those arrested in Britain in 2016 were women, an 18 percent increase from 2015, Europol said.

“Female militant jihadists in the West perceive fewer obstacles to playing an operative role in a terrorist attack than men, and successful or prevented attacks carried out by women in Western countries may act as an inspiration to others,” the report said.

In total 1,002 arrests were made in 2016 relating to terror activities. France had the highest number of arrest at 456, with almost a third of those detained 25 years or younger, Europol said.

There were 142 “failed, foiled or completed terrorist attacks” including those by jihadis, more than half of them in the UK.

Syria, Iraq as inspiration

Explosives mimicking those used in Syria and Iraq have become a leading threat to the EU, along with returning fighters, the report said.

The report noted that governments are paying close attention to the use of drone explosives by jihadi groups in Iraq, as homegrown extremists seek to replicate the weapons used there.

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Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Manchester and now another attack in London? European cities have been increasingly targeted by Islamist extremists in recent years. (04.06.2017)

The bomber who struck at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester last month, for example, used a backpack bomb packed with bearings and other small pieces of metal, similar to bombs used in attacks by al-Qaida and IS extremists.

The suicide bombing in  Manchester on May 22 killed 22 people. Two weeks later, a knife and van attack in central London left eight dead.

“The kind of attacks that ISIS have used in the conflict zone, including car bombs perhaps and others, if that technical capability is known within the organization then clearly there’s potential for that to be transferred into a European scenario,” Europol chief Rob Wainwright told The Associated Press, using an alternative acronym for IS.

“Although one shouldn’t underestimate, either, the difficulty in doing that on a consistent basis.”

Many Europeans have left IS after growing disenchanted with life under war, if not the brutality of the extremists themselves, Wainwright said.

The concern is how to distinguish them from others who are returning clandestinely to form new networks, he added.

“It’s a reflection of the very serious threat that we face in Europe and a reflection of the fact that I’m afraid we can’t get that threat down to zero,” Wainwright said.

Need for international cooperation

The report noted the need for closer cooperation in intelligence sharing among member states.

“Terrorists do not respect or recognize borders,” the EU’s safety chief Julian King said in the report. “In our resolve to defeat them we must draw on a newfound determination to work together, sharing information and expertise.”

Not all attacks were jihadi-inspired, with the majority of other attacks carried out by “ethno-nationalist” and separatists extremists. For example, dissident Republican groups in Northern Ireland were involved in 76 attacks, the report said. This lead to 123 arrests.

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London attack suspect appeared in jihad doc

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EU launches legal cases against Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic for not taking in refugees

The European Commission has launched legal action against three EU member states, claiming Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic have not “taken the necessary action” in dealing with migrants and refugees.

Infringement proceedings were launched by Brussels on Tuesday.

Warsaw, Budapest, and Prague have been accused of not fulfilling their obligations in dealing with migrants and refugees according to a 2015 plan.

The three EU states have acted “in breach of their legal obligations,” the commission said in a statement, adding that it had previously warned the countries to observe “their commitments to Greece, Italy and other member states.”

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland “have not yet taken the necessary action,” the statement says, claiming that the three EU members “have not yet relocated a single person.”

“Against this background… the Commission has decided to launch infringement procedures against these three Member States.”

Since January, other countries within the bloc have relocated almost 10,300 people from Italy and Greece, according to the commission. “The pace of relocation has significantly increased,” it added, saying it has witnessed “a fivefold increase” compared to the same period last year.

In total, nearly 21,000 asylum-seekers have been distributed throughout Europe, some 14,000 from Greece and the rest from Italy.

READ MORE: German men claiming paternity of migrant children in exchange for cash, prosecutors say

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka slammed Brussels’ decision and called its plan to deal with migrants “dysfunctional,” Reuters reports.

“The European Commission blindly insists on pushing ahead with dysfunctional quotas which decreased citizens’ trust in EU abilities and pushed back working and conceptual solutions to the migration crisis,” the news agency cited Sobotka as saying in an email statement.

Warsaw has also reacted to Brussels’ decision, saying it intends to carry on with its current migration policy and does not intend to accept its quota of refugees. It is ready to defend its right to not take in refugees in an EU court, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) on Tuesday.

The initiation of infringement procedures would only further escalate EU divisions, and push the bloc further away from a “necessary political compromise” to solve the migrant crisis on the continent, the Polish official said.

He also called the 2015 plan “erroneous,” and argued that Warsaw contributes to solving the migrant crisis by “engaging in protection of EU’s external borders and systematically strengthening its humanitarian involvement in the region.”

However, in its Tuesday statement, the EU Commission cited its migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, as saying, “When it comes to relocation, let me be crystal clear: the implementation of the Council Decisions on relocation is a legal obligation, not a choice.”

Relocation works if there is political will,” Brussels claimed.

READ MORE: ‘Ultimatum’: EU paints Hungary as ‘villain’ in migrant dispute, trying to pressure court – minister

In September 2015, EU ministers took up a plan to relocate over 100,000 migrants who have already reached the continent, throughout Europe. However, not all EU states have found the measures acceptable, saying that the migrant crisis cannot be solved through obligatory quotas.

The Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary have been staunchly opposing the plan. Despite warnings from Brussels, Budapest is determined to tighten its policy towards asylum seekers and carry on with its own border fence plan.

UK election result: What does it mean for Brexit?

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UK Theresa May election night speech in MaidenheadImage copyrightEPA
Image captionThe result was far from the “strong and stable” position that Theresa May wanted

So what does the UK political upheaval mean for Brexit negotiations, slated to start in 10 days’ time?

And does the hung parliament indicate that a hard Brexit, a softer Brexit or a cliff-edge Brexit (where there’s no deal and the UK simply “falls out” of the EU) becomes more likely?

All questions redirected firmly today by Brussels back to the Dover side of the Channel.

The ball is very much in Britain’s court.

Brexit – to state the obvious – has been driven by Britain all along.

Almost a year ago, the UK voted to leave the EU. Since then it has been riven by divisions between Leavers and Remainers, and between fans of so-called hard Brexit – where the UK leaves the EU single market and the customs union – and a softer Brexit, where the UK maintains the benefits of those associations.

It was the British government that delayed the possible start of face-to-face Brexit negotiations, by calling a snap election. And it is the new British government that can say, again, it needs more time, s’il vous plaît.

EU negotiators ready

The EU position is that it never wanted the UK to leave, but since Brexit is happening, it is ready and waiting.

While the UK has struggled internally with political turmoil ever since its referendum, Brussels has had almost 12 months to quietly get its Brexit ducks in a row and ensure a unified and detailed negotiating position, on behalf of the 27 member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Vote count in Kendal, EnglandImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThe results have shown again how politically divided the UK is

Theresa May called the general election, she said, hoping for a strong mandate, to improve her hand at the Brexit negotiating table.

This plan has backfired horribly.

But Brussels is not rubbing its hands with glee. It wants Brexit done and over with. Yesterday.

The EU has plenty more headaches to deal with: ongoing migration and eurozone problems, security concerns about Russia and an unpredictable US president… to name but a few.

UK election result: How the world reacted

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Brexit: All you need to know

What the election result means for Brexit

Brussels doesn’t care what political flavour the new UK government has, it just wants a stable UK government, with a secure prime minister at its helm, who will stay in place for the duration of the negotiations and who won’t waver and U-turn after agreements are made.

A wobbly British premier, unable to make tough decisions and sell them at home, increases the possibility of no Brexit deal at all – the so-called cliff-edge scenario – and that would hurt both the EU and UK badly.

Banks, businesses, ports and flights, the politically sensitive and economically significant Irish border, EU citizens living in the UK, UK citizens in the rest of the EU, UK healthcare – the list is endless UK-side.

The EU’s pressing concern is to get the UK to honour long-term financial commitments before it leaves, otherwise there’ll be a yawning hole in Brussels’ multi-annual budget.

EU unity – currently so evident on the Brexit question – would evaporate in a flash if member states suddenly had a cat fight over having to pay extra, or receive less money, should the UK walk out without stumping up a considerable sum.

Michel Barnier (R) from France and Guy Verhofstadt from BelgiumImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionKey EU players in Brexit: Michel Barnier (R) from France and Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium

On a day full of unanswered questions, one thing is certain: that clock is ticking.

The UK formally launched the Brexit process back in March. It now has only until March 2019 to secure a divorce settlement, never mind decide future EU-UK trade and other relations.

The later Brexit talks start, the less time there is to agree a deal.

The UK can always request an extension to the negotiations; it could also ask to cancel the process and return to the EU fold – though no one in Brussels believes that likely to happen. But both those scenarios require unanimous approval by the 27 EU countries and the European Parliament.

Theresa May’s dream of providing strong and stable leadership is in tatters.

But the political disarray in the UK has helped the EU in some quarters. It has dampened (though not extinguished) Eurosceptic rhetoric across the continent. And determination to protect the EU in a Brexit deal has united normally fractious EU member states – for now.

Today, after so many of its own crises, the EU is feeling stronger and more stable than it has in a long time, thanks to Brexit.

EU, China fail to issue joint statement due to trade status concerns

Disagreements over giving “market economy” status to China have prevented a common statement on climate change after an EU-China summit. The issues of dumping and access to investment clouded the talks.

Brüssel China-EU-Gipfel | Tusk & Li Keqiang (Reuters/V. Mayo)

The 19th EU-China Summit ended without a joint statement due to an ongoing row about China’s status before the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Officials described the meeting as warm, but China and the EU could not agree on a broader final communique meant to focus on a range of other issues discussed at the talks, including a commitment to free trade and measures needed to reduce a global steel glut.

The two sides failed to reach agreement on the problem of steel overcapacity and the EU’s stance towards Chinese dumping.

Speaking after the meeting, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said they had discussed with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (photo) both the steel issue and China’s demand that after its 15-year-membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it should no longer be treated as a special case.

‘Not there yet’

“We were able to narrow the positions but we are not yet there,” Juncker said.

China believes it should receive Market Economy Status (MES), which would allow it to enjoy the same market status as the United States and the European Union when it comes to anti-dumping investigations before the WTO.

As the world’s leading producer of steel, aluminum, cement and other industrial materials, many of China’s state-linked companies are able to export and offer products more cheaply to many of its trading partners. This has spurred allegations of dumping for several decades.

China | Illegale Stahlfabriken unterlaufen Chinas Emissionsgesetze (Getty Images/K. Frayer)An unauthorized steel factory in Inner Mongolia, China

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the EU should accept that China’s situation in the WTO had changed.

“This will send a signal to society and the market that we both abide by international rules and abide by multilateralism,” Li said.

Trade concerns

During the summit, EU officials pressed the Chinese government to tackle overcapacity in domestic industries such as steel and to ease restrictions on foreign investors.

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Li repeated a call for talks on an EU-China investment accord to be accompanied by a move toward a broader free-trade agreement.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom called for Chinese authorities to make good on a pledge by President Xi Jinping to a global audience in January to open further the market in China. She referred to a study concluding that many European companies found it harder to do business in China last year.

“As a consequence, EU investment in China is at its lowest level in years, while Chinese investment in the EU reaches record levels,” Malmstrom said. China needs to ensure “reciprocity” for European businesses in the Chinese market, the trade commissioner said.

“We are all waiting now for the remarks by the president to translate into action and make trade and investment more open, more free,” Malmstrom told the Brussels conference. “Our ongoing negotiations on an investment agreement are a constructive means to rebalance the situation and expand trade and investment.”

European Investment Bank Group and Silk Road

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the European Investment Fund (EIF) and the Silk Road Fund, outlining new strategic cooperation to support equity investment across Europe.

The EIF, set up in 1994, is an EU agency for the provision of finance to small and medium enterprises (SME), headquartered in Luxembourg. It does not lend money to SMEs directly but provides finance through private banks and funds.

The Silk Road Fund is a state-owned Chinese investment fund for increased investment in countries along the Belt and Road (B&R) in Eurasia. The B&R is a development strategy focusing on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries.

China Seidenstraßen-Gipfel Silk Road and Golden Bridge (picture-alliance/Photoshot/Z. Huansong)The ‘Silk Road and Golden Bridge’ in Beijing, China

The fund is expected to provide 500 million euros ($563 million) to support equity investment and should be operational within the coming months.

Last November, China set up a 10-billion-euro investment fund to finance infrastructure, high-tech manufacturing and consumer goods projects in Central and Eastern Europe. Central and Eastern Europe are part of China’s modern Silk Road, where Beijing is hoping to carve out new export markets for its companies as the domestic economy slows.

Climate worries 

The summit had coincided with comments from the United States on President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which has nations set targets to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Read more: World reacts to US withdrawal from Paris agreement

Standing alongside the Chinese premier, EU Council President Donald Tusk said Friday, “We are convinced that yesterday’s decision by the United States to leave the Paris agreement is a big mistake.”

“Today we are stepping up our cooperation on climate change with China,” Tusk said after hosting the climate and trade talks with Chinese Premier Li.

jm/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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China’s threat to steel in Europe

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Tripoli death toll mounts as ‘Libya revolution hero’ clashes with UN-backed govt forces

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Heavy battles continue to rage in Tripoli as rival factions duel for control of the Libyan capital. The assault on the UN-backed government is led by a Misrata commander whose success in the anti-Gadaffi rebellion was secured by the 2011 NATO intervention.

Clashes persisted in Tripoli Saturday between militias loyal to the self-proclaimed National Salvation Government (GNC) and forces loyal to the internationally-recognized Presidential Council (PC) which presides over the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

READ MORE: Dozens killed, 120+ wounded in Tripoli as rival factions clash for Libyan capital (VIDEO)

Fierce fighting erupted on Friday after the GNC’s militia’s top commander, Salah Badi, launched an attack on the GNA-allied Central Security militia in an attempt to recapture parts of the capital, the Libya Herald reported.

The gunfire and artillery explosions then continued in the districts of Abu Salim, Salahedeen, and Qasr Bin Ghashthen through Saturday.

Forces supporting the UN-backed government announced they lost 52 of their fighters by Saturday morning the Libya Herald reported, adding, that “dozens” had been injured.

GNC forces lost at least 14 of their fighters from the city of Misrata as well as an unknown number of local militants.

The health ministry said at least 47 people were killed while 183 others were wounded. It is unclear how many of those were civilians or combatants.

Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Libya condemned the violence in Tripoli, calling on all sides to cease hostilities, protect civilian lives and to work towards national reconciliation.

The UN official expressed full support for the PC as the “sole legitimate executive authority in Libya,” as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 2259 (2015) and 2278 (2016).

The assault of the capital is led by Badi – one of the Misrata’s top militant commanders who, actively supported by NATO’s aerial campaign, led his men against the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Since 2011, Misrata militias remain one the biggest armed groups in the country. Badi, who served as a Misratan member of Libya’s post-revolutionary parliament is now leading them into battle against the UN-backed government.

Named“a hero of the 2011 uprising against Muammer Gaddafi” by the Financial Times, Salah Badi is a leader of Fajr Libya (Dawn of Libya). He is “still fighting out the revolution,” according to an expert cited by the newspaper, as he backs neither the UN-backed current government nor the self-proclaimed National Salvation Government (GNC).

The Fajr Libya coalition is a controversial movement, as it embraces some fundamentalist groups.

“There are some pockets of fundamentalists in Fajr Libya’s orbit,” Badi told Al Jazeera in an interview. However, “the majority are the moderate ones.” 

Some voices in Egypt – who on Friday struck militant targets in neighboring Libya in retaliation for the murder of Coptic Christians by Islamist gunmen – believe that Misratan fighters are also terrorists.

“We should annihilate Misrata along with all those who people in it,” Egyptian MP Murtada Mansour said Saturday.

“Qatar and Turkey are sending weapons to Misrata fighters… Misrata, our target is Misrata, and all Libyans know that. We should support Khalifa Haftar and his army to help annihilate Misrata.”

Libya has descended into chaos after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, with multiple ‘governments’ and centers of powers competing for the control of the oil-rich country.

Libya has three major centers of power at present.

The first is the Presidential Council (PC), which has been based in Tripoli since March 30, 2016 and created following the signing of the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in December 2015. The Presidential Council presides over the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

The second ‘government’ is the rival National Salvation Government (GNC) headed by Prime Minister Khalifa Ghwell. The GNC was installed after a coalition of armed groups supporting it won the battle for control of Tripoli in 2014.

The third center of power is based in Tobruk and is aligned with Egypt. It completely rejects the GNC, partially recognizes the authority of GNA, and is headed by an anti-Islamist general Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA).

“Forces in Tripoli never accepted the authority of the GNA and at the same time, they have not been able to reach an agreement with the government that is based in Tobruk,” Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of Pan-African News Wire told RT.

“So all of these identifiable factions have their own interests inside the country and of course, this is a direct result of the failed United States, British, EU, NATO policy to topple the Jamahiriya some six years ago.”

Azikiwe went on to blame Western powers for the continued destabilization of Libya.

“They (the Western powers) are still interfering in the internal affairs of Libya by imposing the Government of National Accord. They are still arming specific factions inside the country as well,” he said.

“Egypt has a role in this entire process. They have backed Khalifa Haftar. And of course, now Egypt is stepping up its bombardments inside of Libya itself because they too are getting impacted by the instability,” Azikiwe added.