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

Six months of Brexit negotiations have passed with little progress. With British Prime Minister Theresa May due to address parliament, both sides have now said that the other is responsible for making the next move.

Union Jack flag next to exit sign

As the EU and Britain started the fifth round of Brexit talks on Monday, both sides quarreled over who was responsible for making the next move in the stalled negotiations over Britain’s departure from the bloc.

Theresa May told the British parliament on Monday that a new agreement “will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU,” adding that “the ball is in their court.”

Theresa May in the House of Commons

Key points from the speech:

– Britain will not be a member of EU institutions during the two-year “implementation” period after it leaves the union on March 29, 2019, but it will retain access to the EU single market until the implementation period is over.

– Both sides can only resolve the problem of how much Britain owes the EU if they consider the future EU-UK relationship after the implementation period.

– Britain will not revoke Article 50, which would stop the Brexit talks and keep Britain in the EU.

– Government ministries have been preparing “for every eventuality,” a hint that Britain could accept leaving the EU without a deal.

Margaritis Schina speaking in BrusselsMargaritis Schina refuted May’s claim that the EU would need to make the next move

But before May had given the speech, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas had told reporters in Brussels that “there has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings.”

“So the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen,” he said.

Phase one troubles

The EU has repeatedly said that both sides can only discuss a new partnership agreement – which is expected to include a new EU-UK trade deal – after “sufficient progress” had been made on Britain’s exit from the union.

The first four rounds of negotiations have so far focused on three major exit issues:

– How much Britain owes the EU

– The status of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

– The rights of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU after Brexit

Watch video00:55

May: ‘Our most important duty is to get Brexit right’

British leaders have criticized the EU for demanding a strict division in the talks, saying agreements on specific exit issues depend on whether both sides can agree on the terms of the post-exit partnership. But EU leaders have so far resisted that call.

Initial plans to complete phase one by mid-October have looked increasingly unrealistic after talks during the summer failed to achieve much progress.

The will to compromise

Both sides have indicated they may compromise to avoid Britain exiting the EU without any final deal.

May said in a speech in Florence, Italy in September that Britain would agree to abide by EU rules and pay into the common budget for two years after Brexit in March 2019.

She also said London would pay any outstanding amount it owed to Brussels, but did not say how much she thought the bill should be. Both sides have clashed on how to calculate the final exit bill.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper on Monday, Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen called on Britain and the EU to be flexible, saying “this will never be a 100 percent win for one side or the other side. This will be a political compromise.”

Watch video02:09

European lawmakers vote against advancing Brexit

All eyes on Brussels

EU leaders are set to meet in Brussels for a summit on October 19-20 wherethey will formally decidewhether “sufficient progress” has been made to open up phase two negotiations.

With six months of the two-year negotiating period already up, officials and business leaders have become increasingly worried that both sides may not agree to a final deal in time.

May, however, struck a confident tone during her speech on Monday, telling MPs: “I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong.”

amp/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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Brussels attacker: Bomb making materials found in home

Belgium’s prosecutor says the man behind a bombing at Brussels central station may have supported the “Islamic State” extremist group. Investigators also found materials used to make explosives in the 36-year-old’s home.

Belgian police outside a house in Brussels

Police who raided the suspect’s home found “possible chemical substances and materials were found that could serve to make explosives,” Belgian federal prosecutor’s spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt said Wednesday.

The Moroccan national, identified by the initials O.Z., was shot dead by a soldier at Brussels main train station on Tuesday after trying to detonate a nail bomb.

“The preliminary results of the search carried out in the residence of the suspect O.Z. in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, showed that he probably made the bomb there,” Van Der Sypt said in a statement.

Investigators said they also found indications that the suspect had “sympathies for the terrorist organization IS.”

Brussels on alert 

Belgian will keep its current terror alert level at three on a scale of four, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, added security forces will be deployed across the country. Authorities also said that no events would be canceled, but warned those planning to attend not to carry backpacks with them.

Watch video03:15

Brussels explosion – DW’s Max Hofmann reports

Security will be particularly beefed up at the 50,000-seat King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, where British rock band Coldplay is scheduled perform later on Wednesday.

Michel chaired a meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday morning, after which he reported that authorities have no information suggesting further attacks are imminent.

Following the meeting, he tweeted: “We will not let ourselves be intimidated by terrorism. We will always defend our values of liberty and democracy.”

Brussels central station remained shut overnight, re-opening at around 8 a.m. local time (0600 UTC) on Wednesday.

Brussels has been on high alert since a group of suicide bombers carried out attacks at the Brussels airport and a subway station in March last year, killing 32 people.

Attacker details coming to light

Belgian media reported that the assailant lived in the largely immigrant Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, a home and transit point for a number jihadis who carried out terror attacks in Brussels and Paris last year.

Read more: Molenbeek: Kicking away terror

Belgian authorities have carried out a host raids in the area over the past year.

Watch video00:31

Brussels suspect dies after ‘terror’ blast

Assailant used nail bomb in attack

Authorities revealed that the attacker detonated a suitcase containing nails and gas bottles. The passenger approached a group of around passengers at the station before grabbing his suitcase and causing a “partial explosion,” Van Der Sypt said.

“Fortunately nobody was hurt,” he added. “It could have been much worse. It is clear that he wanted to cause more damage than he did.”

The man left his luggage before it exploded a second time. He then charged at a soldier at the scene while screaming  “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). The soldier opened fire, killing the suspect.

Earlier reports had claimed that the attacker had worn an explosive belt, although those claims were dismissed.

dm/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)

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Brussels suspect shot after ‘small explosion’ in main station

Following what prosecutors called a “terror attack” at Brussels’ main train station, Belgian officials have said they identified the man allegedly responsible for the explosion. The suspect was the only casualty.

Watch video00:31

Brussels suspect dies after ‘terror’ blast

Authorities said on Wednesday that they determined the identity of the suspected terrorist thought to have set off a small explosion at Brussels’ main train station but would not immediately release his name, the Interior Ministry said. Investigators are working to establish further information on the suspect’s background.

“The terrorist’s identity is known. We have been able to identify him,” Interior Minister Jan Jambon told RTBF radio television on Wednesday without giving further details.

Following the explosion on Tuesday, the suspect was shot dead by soldiers patrolling the station.

The train station reopened Wednesday morning, according to DW’s Max Hofmann in Brussels.

Read more: Madrid to Manchester to London: A chronology of terror in Europe

Authorities later said that there were no other casualties in the incident.

Investigators are treating the incident as a “terrorist attack,” said Erik Van Der Sypt, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office.

Watch video02:16

Person ‘neutralized’ at central station: DW’s Georg Matthes from Brussels

The attack took place around 9 p.m. local time (1900 UTC) when the historic city center was packed with tourists and locals. Police evacuated the station, Gare Centrale, as well as the nearby Grand Place. Belgian media reported that a number of other public places in the Belgian capital had also been cleared.

Prime Minister Charles Michel and his interior minister were monitoring developments from the national crisis center.

“Thanks to our soldiers, security forces and SNCB (rail company) personnel for their professionalism and their courage,” Michel later wrote on Twitter.

Merci à nos soldats, aux services de sécurité et au personnel @SNCB pour leur professionnalisme et leur courage. Demain 9h CNS

Police wrote on Twitter that the situation was under control and urged the public to follow instructions. Gare Centrale and its surrounding roads remained closed through the night and into Wednesday.

‘Wasn’t exactly a big explosion’

National newspaper La Libre Belgique quoted the Brussels prosecutor’s office as saying the suspect was wearing a backpack and an explosive belt.

A witness in the train station told Agence France Presse a man “cried ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), and … blew up a trolley.”

Belgian media reported that the assailant is believed to have used a nail bomb, which failed to detonate completely.

Belgien Explosion am Zentral-Bahnhof in Brüssel (Reuters/Twitter/@remybonnaffe)Pictures reported to be of the explosion in Brussels’ central station were widely circulated around the social media.

“I was behind a wall when it exploded,” the witness, railway sorting agent Nicolas Van Herrewegen, said. “I went down and alerted my colleagues to evacuate everyone. He (the suspect) was still around but after that we didn’t see him.”

“It wasn’t exactly a big explosion but the impact was pretty big. People were running away.”

Brussels has been on high alert since twin suicide bombings killed 32 people on the Brussels subway and airport in March 2016. The bombings were carried out by the same extremist cell behind the November 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Since then, combat troops have been stationed at major public buildings and landmarks around Brussels. The Belgian capital is home to the headquarters of NATO and the European Union.

nm/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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Madrid to Manchester to London: A chronology of terror in Europe

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

UK London am Tag nach dem Anschlag (Reuters/P. Nicholls)

London, March/June 2017

Watch video02:20

London police shoot attackers dead

On June 2, three men drove a van into civilians on London Bridge then exited the vehicle and stabbed people in restaurants and bars in the nearby Borough Market area. British police killed the three perpetrators, who were wearing fake suicide bomber vests, eight minutes after the first call was received by emergency services. An attacker steers a car into pedestrians on a bridge in the center of London and then stabs a policeman. Of the victims on the bridge, four eventually die of their injuries. British security forces shoot the perpetrator dead.

Read more: Opinion: In Britain, we stand against terror together

Manchester, May 2017

After a concert by US singer Ariana Grande, a 22-year-old suicide bomber detonated a bomb near the event’s exit area killing himself and 22 civilians, including several children. Over 100 more people were injured.

Stockholm, April 2017

Five people die after a truck hit pedestrians on a busy shopping street in the Swedish capital. On the same day, police arrested a 39-year-old Uzbek on suspicion of carrying out a terrorist act.

Paris, February/March/April 2017

In a series of incidents across the French capital at the start of the year, soldiers are targeted at the Louvre Museum in February and Paris’ Orly airport in March. In April, a gunman opens fire on a police vehicle on the Champs Elysees, killing one officer. The attacker, identified as a 39-year-old Frenchman, is quickly shot dead by other officers.

Berlin, December 2016

Twelve people are killed shortly before Christmas, when the German capital becomes a target. A supporter of the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group steers a captured truck into a Christmas Market. A few days later, the 24-year-old Tunisian is shot dead in a police check in the Italian city of Milan.

Deutschland Neun Tote und viele Verletzte auf Berliner Weihnachtsmarkt (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken)Shortly before Christmas, an attacker steered a truck into a Christmas Market in Berlin

Nice, July 2016

At least 86 people are killed when an attacker drives a truck into the crowded Promenade des Anglais in the southern French coastal resort. IS claims responsibility for the atrocity.

Brussels, March 2016

Islamist attackers detonate a number of bombs at the airport of the Belgian capital and in a metro station, killing 32 people.

Istanbul, January 2016

An IS suicide bomber blows himself up in the middle of a tourist group near the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, killing 12 Germans.

Paris, November 2015

IS supporters kill 130 people and injure hundreds more in a coordinated series of attacks on the Bataclan music venue, several restaurants and the Stade de France football stadium.

Copenhagen, February 2015

A 22-year-old opens fire on a café in the Danish capital, killing one person. The attacker then shot and killed a man who was guarding a synagogue before himself being shot dead by police.

Paris, January 2015

Seventeen people die in an attack on the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a seperate incident at a kosher supermarket in the French capital.

Brussels, May 2014

A French Islamist is arrested after four people are shot in the Jewish Museum of Belgium. The gunman, a self-proclaimed jihadi, had previously fought in Syria.

London, July 2005

Four British Muslims detonate bombs on the Tube – London’s underground rail system – and on a bus. The attacks kill 56 people and injure about 700.

Madrid, March 2004

Some 191 people are killed and 1,500 are injured when coordinated bombs explode on Spanish commuter trains.

wa/rc (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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EU Parliament condemns Israeli settlements

The European Parliament has denounced Israel’s latest settlement push and announced an EU peace initiative. An Israeli group says it is the first time the EU has mentioned alleged Palestinian funding of terrorism.

Symbolbild Israel Siedlungen im Westjordanland (picture-alliance/newscom/D. Hill)

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Palestine West Bank holds elections as Gaza Strip left behind

Bitter rivalries between the Hamas and Fatah parties were highlighted by the West Bank’s municipal elections.

Steinmeier navigates tricky visit in Israel

After UNESCO Jerusalem vote, Israel cuts UN funding

Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in two decades

Members of the European Parliament on Thursday attacked Israel’s settlement policy, particularly a law that retroactively legalized Jewish settlements on privately owned Palestinian land.

A “two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states” was the only viable option for lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, MEPs said in a resolution.

The resolution called for Israel to immediately stop construction of new settlements as they were “illegal under international law, undermine the two-state solution, and constitute a major obstacle to peace efforts.”

The resolution condemned all acts of violence and terrorism and all acts of provocation and incitement, including on Israelis.

MEPs signaled their intention to launch a new EU peace initiative to focusing on the two-state solution and to achieve concrete results within a set period.

Five major parliamentary groups voted in favor of the resolution, which singled out the so-called regularization law approved by Israel’s parliament in February.

The Brussels-based American Jewish Committee Transatlantic Institute commended the EU’s resolution, saying previous resolutions lacked balance.

“While we would have wished for even clearer language, we appreciate the important step Parliament has taken to end the counterproductive habit of sheltering the Palestinians from legitimate criticism,” said Director Daniel Schwammenthal.

“By unflinchingly addressing also the Palestinians’ own shortcomings that prevent the creation of an independent Palestinian state – such as incitement, terror, corruption, lack of rule of law, internal division – the EU can play a truly constructive role in the peace process.”

His comments referred to language in the resolution he interpreted as an “indirect condemnation of the Palestinian Authority for paying significant salaries to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons.”

About 600,000 Israeli settlers live in more than 200 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In December, the Israeli government lashed out over a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian Territories and called on Israel to stop immediately.

aw/rt (AFP, dpa)

Watch video26:00

Hanan Ashrawi on ‘Conflict Zone’

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Brussels bemoans Russian strategy to weaken EU, backs down on sanctions threat

EU leaders have voiced wariness that Russia is seeking to weaken the bloc, according to EU President Donald Tusk. However, an EU plan to threaten Russia with sanctions for its part in attacks on Aleppo was put on hold.

EU Gipfel in Brüssel - Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel (Reuters/F. Lenoir)

EU leaders rowed back from explicitly threatening Russia with sanctions on Friday, but said they would consider “all available options,” if the bombing of Aleppo continues.

EU President Donald Tusk said that leaders listed Russian “airspace violations, disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, interference in political processes in the Balkans and beyond” among the threats posed.

“Given these examples, it is clear that Russia’s strategy is to weaken the EU,” Tusk said after the summit meeting in Brussels ended on Friday morning. “We have a sober assessment of reality and no illusions. Increasing tensions with Russia is not our aim, we are simply reacting to steps taken by Russia.”

Watch video01:42

EU leaders discuss Russia, Brexit

‘Inhuman bombardments’

In a watered-down statement, leaders said the EU “strongly condemns the attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia, on civilians in Aleppo.” It urged an “immediate cessation of hostilities.”

“The EU is considering all available options, should the current atrocities continue,” it added, amending an earlier draft that threatened sanctions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit that the EU “cannot accept these inhuman bombardments.”

“If this kind of violation continues, of course we will envisage all available measures in order to react to this,” she told journalists.

Watch video01:41

EU leaders fail to find consensus on Russia

Meeting with Putin

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have called for sanctions to remain on the table after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks on Wednesday night in Berlin.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg joined the condemnation of Russia, saying the alliance feared that a Russian aircraft carrier and other ships heading to Syria could be used to increase attacks on Aleppo. Moscow has agreed to an extended humanitarian pause in its Aleppo operations until Saturday.

At their next summit in December, leaders from the 28-member bloc are due to decide whether to renew sanctions over the Ukraine crisis for another six months.

The EU remains divided over policy in dealing with Russia. Countries such as Italy and Greece favor a policy of selective engagement to improve relations with a major economic partner and supplier of energy.

Watch video02:45

Can sanctions against Russia work?

rc/jr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

 

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EU Sagas of Greece, Transaction Tax Back in Focus: Brussels Beat

Photographer: Yorgos Karahalis/Bloomberg

Jonathan Stearns
October 9, 2016 — 11:00 PM BST
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Two European Union financial sagas return to the spotlight this week. One is Greece. The other is the financial transaction tax being pursued by 10 EU governments.
During much of last year, it would have been reasonable to bet that the FTT initiative had a better chance of succeeding than Europe’s efforts over half a decade to keep Greece in the euro area. Concerns about the health of Deutsche Bank AG and other European lenders add to the reasons why that’s no longer the case — and just how far the tables have turned will be on display when EU finance ministers gather in Luxembourg on Oct. 10-11.
Euro-area finance chiefs will decide on Monday whether Greece, in its third international rescue program since 2010, qualifies for another disbursement of aid. At stake is a 2.8 billion-euro ($3.1 billion) payout tied to Greek overhauls in areas in such as pensions, bank governance and the energy market.
The signal from numerous European officials including EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici is that the Greek government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has done enough to win the transfer, which is what remains of a 10.3 billion-euro tranche that euro finance ministers approved in principle in late May.
“I hope that we will be able to conclude on this point,” Moscovici said on Oct. 4. “Major legislative initiatives have been taken in virtually all sectors of the economy.”
Outlook Clouded
The broader outlook for Greece remains clouded. The European Commission expects the Greek economy to shrink in 2016 — marking the eighth annual contraction in the past nine years. And the commission says the Tsipras administration should aim to complete the next bailout review by international budget inspectors as soon as November to help ensure a return to economic growth in 2017.
That target date would be ambitious for any government. The timetable is all the more ambitious when considering that the next review will touch on issues such as labor-market deregulation that are especially sensitive for Tsipras’s Syriza party, which has communist roots.
Two factors that may help provide government rigor:
the prospect of debt relief offered by the euro area
the possibility of the European Central Bank extending its quantitative-easing program to cover the country (ECB Executive Board Member Benoit Coeure could offer signals at an Oct. 12 appearance at a European Parliament hearing on Greece)

Back with the finance ministers, the Austria-led group of 10 EU countries working on a common tax on financial trades faces a make-or-break moment. The other nations are Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
Financial Crisis
The FTT saga is almost as old as the Greek crisis. Forged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, it took concrete form in 2011 with a commission plan for levies on stock, bond, derivative and other trading as a way to curb financial speculation and get the industry to make a “fair contribution” — projected at 57 billion euros a year — to state budgets.
The proposal failed the following year to garner the needed unanimous support of EU governments and was revived in late 2012 by a smaller group of national capitals under European “enhanced cooperation” rules that require the participation of at least nine member states.
Four years on, amid persistent worries about the economic and political consequences, lingering question marks over the nitty-gritty and recent market jitters regarding the resilience of Deutsche Bank, the FTT initiative is hanging by a thread.
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Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt has said he opposes the plan and wants to persuade partners in Belgium’s coalition government to withdraw, Slovenia and Slovakia are potential dropouts, and German finance chief Wolfgang Schaeuble has said the project may require an accord at global level — where EU allies already shot down the idea. Given that context, Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling has pledged to step down as leader of the FTT group should no decision be reached this week.
Few EU initiatives ever really get killed; they simply get shelved until the political winds change. The FTT plan may be a rare exception.
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