Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

LDESP USEUCOM News Update – June 2012


Disclaimer: The purpose of the LDESP news brief is to increase your situational awareness concerning events that may impact your mission. Articles are taken from established and diverse professional periodicals, news articles, and editorial commentaries from different countries, reflecting a range of political views/biases, that are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. External links may expire at any time depending on the archiving policy of the particular news agency. News summaries may highlight only a portion of an article that is relevant to the readers and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Opinions expressed in the articles/commentaries do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP staff.

Note: Click on the link below for a full text version of each news story.

Schengen decision may restrict freedom of movement

The European Parliament (EP) will vigorously fight a decision of the EU interior ministers to allow the 26 governments to reinstate national passport control at their state lines, EP President Martin Schulz said. The switch, an emergency mechanism of border control, was sharply criticized by almost all political groups as an attack on EU citizens’ basic rights. The move was agreed upon at a 7 June meeting in Luxemburg, prompted by the Arab Spring, “during which thousands of refugees from North Africa fled to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. In the east, illegal immigrants poured in through the porous border between Turkey and Greece,” German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported. “Some 55,000 people were caught while trying to enter illegally into Schengen territory through this hot point.” The Schengen Zone includes 22 EU countries, as well as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland — from Portugal to Russia’s borders on the Baltic, and from Reykjavik to Turkey’s border with Greece. Customs controls and barriers within the EU Schengen Zone were abolished after 1995. “The decision is very concerning for the EP. We will do everything to prevent change of Schengen rules,” MP Tanja Fajon told SETimes. According to Treaty Article 70, the EP has a decision-making role in the evaluation of how Schengen rules are implemented. The decision has also sparked concern in Southeast Europe. On 10 June, Fajon said that a Schengen revision would be dangerous for Serbia, due to a large number of asylum seekers. “If a mechanism of a temporary suspension of the visa-free regime is accepted, this will be very dangerous; some EU member states could request that Serbia be placed back on the black Schengen list,” Fajon said. (…) Kosovo does not have a visa free regime yet, although the country considers it one of its main aspirations. (SETimes)

Eurozone business activity falls to lowest level since 2009

Eurozone private sector activity sank to the lowest level for three years in the second quarter as business sentiment deteriorated in the crisis-hit region, a key survey showed on 20 June, AFP reports. The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) compiled by business research firm Markit was stuck at 46 points in June, the same level as May, indicating another month of contraction in activity. “The flash PMI for June rounded off the weakest quarter for three years, indicating Eurozone GDP is likely to have fallen by 0.6 percent,” said Markit chief economist Chris Williamson. “Of particular concern is the near-record deterioration in business optimism, combined with marked falls in employment and purchasing by companies,” he said. “This suggests that firms are preparing for conditions to worsen in the coming months, with the darker outlook often attributed to uncertainty caused by the region’s ongoing economic and political crises.” The survey of 4,500 companies in the services and manufacturing sectors showed that the economic downturn is “gathering pace and spreading” across the 17-nation eurozone, Williamson said. (Focus Fen)

EU should ‘undermine national homogeneity’ says UN migration chief

The EU should “do its best to undermine” the “homogeneity” of its member states, the UN’s special representative for migration has said. Peter Sutherland told peers the future prosperity of many EU states depended on them becoming multicultural. He also suggested the UK government’s immigration policy had no basis in international law. He was being quizzed by the Lords EU home affairs sub-committee, which is investigating global migration. Mr Sutherland, who is non-executive chair of Goldman Sachs International and a former chair of oil giant BP, heads the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which brings together representatives of 160 nations to share policy ideas. He told the House of Lords committee migration was a “crucial dynamic for economic growth” in some EU nations “however difficult it may be to explain this to the citizens of those states”. An ageing or declining native population in countries like Germany or southern EU states was the “key argument and, I hesitate to the use word because people have attacked it, for the development of multicultural states”, he added. “It’s impossible to consider that the degree of homogeneity which is implied by the other argument can survive because states have to become more open states, in terms of the people who inhabit them. Just as the United Kingdom has demonstrated.” The UN special representative on migration was also quizzed about what the EU should do about evidence from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that employment rates among migrants were higher in the US and Australia than EU countries. He told the committee: “The United States, or Australia and New Zealand, are migrant societies and therefore they accommodate more readily those from other backgrounds than we do ourselves, who still nurse a sense of our homogeneity and difference from others. ” And that’s precisely what the European Union, in my view, should be doing its best to undermine.” Mr Sutherland recently argued, in a lecture to the London School of Economics, of which he is chairman, that there was a “shift from states selecting migrants to migrants selecting states” and the EU’s ability to compete at a “global level” was at risk. (BBC News)

Regional drug fighting strategy needed in the Balkans

EU interior ministers agreed to reinstate border control after influxes of refuges followed the Arab Spring. Southeast Europe will remain vulnerable to drug trafficking unless a regional co-operation strategy is put into place, analysts said. But poor implementation and legal strategy is a hurdle to stopping the illegal trade routes. The Balkan route — a heroin transit route that starts in Afghanistan, extends via Turkey, the Balkans, Italy and Austria, to Central and Western Europe — is a key route for trafficking Asian opiates, according to the UN. Precursor chemicals required for the production of heroin and synthetic drugs are also trafficked along the Balkan route. Earlier in June, Kosovo police seized 2,109kg of marijuana in Podujevo, near Pristina, valued over 76,000 euros. According to police, the shipment was headed for a market outside of Kosovo. Three Kosovo citizens were arrested, and weapons and money were confiscated. On 1 June, the US sanctioned Nasar Kelmendi, a Kosovo-born Bosnia citizen, under its Kingpin Act. The US accuses Kelmendi of leading one of the strongest ethnic Albanian criminal families in the Balkans, heading an organization that traffics heroin and cocaine into Europe. The designation allows the US to freeze Kelmendi’s assets under its jurisdiction. (…) According to the US State Department’s 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Kosovo is primarily a transit country for drugs headed for Europe, and is not a significant narcotics producer. (SETimes)

Interfaith dialogue persists despite politics

As the region’s political leaders find grounds for disagreement, regional religious groups seek common ground. While the recent election of former ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic as the president of Serbia has already prompted several disputes between the new head of state and others in the region, interfaith dialogue between the high representatives of various religious groups is as critical as ever. Earlier in June, Patriarch Irinej, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, visited Croatia, in what many in the region have deemed a “historic” visit. During his three-day trip, Irinej met with the leader of the Croatian Catholic Church, Josip Bozanic, members of the Croatian Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Zagreb, as well as Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. Irinej also awarded Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic the Order of Emperor Constantine the Great. With the election of Nikolic, who comes burdened with controversy over his past association with late strongman Slobodan Milosevic and Hague indictee Vojislav Seselj, many have feared that the reconciliation process over the Balkan wars of the 1990s could stall or regress. But some believe that religious groups can play an important role in the reconciliation process. As Josipovic told reporters during the Serbian Patriarch’s visit, “In times that generate feelings that are not in the spirit of peace and reconciliation, contacts between churches, believers, talks and dialogue mean a lot for peace and reconciliation.” The Serbian Orthodox Church agreed that the visit was important for regional dialogue. (SETimes)

World Bank: Region faces growth slump

Six countries in Southeast Europe face the risk of a sharp slowdown in growth this year amid increasing turmoil in the eurozone, the World Bank warned. The Bank’s report — which covers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia — urged sustained fiscal consolidation to reverse the adverse debt dynamics and establish a foundation for more dynamic long-term growth… (SETimes)


Kosovo denies hosting Syrian opposition camps

Kosovo officials are denying Russia’s allegations that there are military training camps for Syrian opposition fighters on Kosovo territory that threaten ongoing efforts to bring peace to Syria and pose broader security consequences. “Kosovo is a country on the EU path, and NATO is omnipresent on all of its territory. No militants from any country have ever been trained in Kosovo,” Petrit Selimi, Kosovo deputy foreign minister, told SETimes. Russia raised the issue after a Syrian opposition delegation visited Kosovo in April. “The training of militants would run counter to the efforts of the UN and Arab League special envoy, which are supported by the entire international community,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador at the UN, told the UN Security Council. More than 30,000 refugees have fled Syria for Turkey to escape violence from the 15-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. At the end of May, Kosovo hosted a ten-day police and security training course for 25 former Libyan revolutionary brigade members, to share its experience in combatant rehabilitation. “Turning Kosovo into an international drilling ground where the militants of paramilitary formations would get training may become a serious destabilising factor reaching out to places far beyond the boundaries of the Balkans,” Churkin said. Kosovo officials and KFOR denied Russia’s claims; the former said Kosovo’s position on Syria is in line with EU and NATO policy. (SETimes)

EU delivers visa liberalization roadmap, some officials worried

After receiving their roadmap for visa liberalization in mid June, Kosovo officials voiced concern that the EU’s lack of a common stance on the country may cause the European Commission to include additional conditions that will slow the process. The roadmap lists 95 criteria — including border and migration management, document security, re-integration and re-admission, measures against organized crime and corruption as well as protecting fundamental rights and freedoms — that Kosovo must meet to secure visa-free travel for its citizens. This is the EU’s first practical move to include Kosovo — the region’s sole leftover — in the visa-free travel to the Schengen zone. Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia joined the EU’s visa-free regime in December 2009, followed by Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina a year later. Although Kosovo has been working to meet the criteria, officials said that fighting organized crime, corruption and illegal immigration will be challenging. (SETimes)

ICO exit from Kosovo is a step towards integration

As the International Civilian Office pulls out of Kosovo, a message of success and co-operation resounds, but Serbs said it could hinder the dialogue process. The end of supervised independence in Kosovo on 13 September will send a message of success to the region and other conflict-ridden countries, according to Pieter Feith, the International Civilian Office (ICO) representative in Kosovo. “It will also serve as an example of co-operation between locals and the international community.” The ICO was initiated in 2008 to oversee the status settlement for Kosovo, and assist local institutions in the process of EU integration. The office representative is the “final authority regarding interpretation” of the Ahtisaari Plan — the proposal covering issues related to Kosovo’s status process — and has the “ability to annul decisions or laws adopted by Kosovo authorities and sanction and remove public officials whose actions he/she determines to be inconsistent” with the Plan, according to the office. However, despite the progress made allowing the ICO to withdraw, the country will still face hurdles on its road to integration. “Kosovo hopefully will soon be fully integrated in the region, but this is something that the European Union will have to facilitate — we have still to face the challenge of Serb resistance. I am very positive about Kosovo’s European future,” Feith told SETimes in an exclusive interview. But, he said, steps have been taken to ensure the country is setting off on the right foot. “We have ensured that the communities have their protection and rights; religious and cultural heritage has been preserved. [With] the government opening an office in northern Mitrovica. the implementation of the decentralization plan in the northern part of Kosovo [has begun],” Feith told SETimes. It is important for Kosovo to facilitate contacts with the Serbian community in northern Kosovo in order to solve the impasse there. The solution, Feith said, must be based on three key principles: violence should not be tolerated, the country is not partitioned and the north should not end up as a frozen conflict. “The government must make this office functional as a municipal authority in northern Mitrovica so that it can provide services to its citizens,” he said. The end of the mandate may cause delays in dialogue between the two sides, officials said. (SETimes)


New mosque causes ethnic rift in southwest Macedonia

A village mosque that is to be built in Lazec, near Bitola, in southwestern Macedonia, has been creating tension for years in the ethnically mixed village, where 120 Macedonians and 80 Albanians live. The two groups cannot agree on the location of the new mosque. Lazec Macedonians said the original planned location that the Islamic community wants to build coincide with the foundations of the St George Orthodox Church. Tensions further escalated after the municipality council of Bitola decided to approve the mosque at the village entrance. Macedonians from Lazec said that they are not against the construction of religious buildings, but they oppose the planned location. “We want the mosque to be built next to the church, which will satisfy the request of the Macedonian people from the village, and will send a message that the village is multi-ethnic, where Macedonians and Albanians live together. Albanian residents again asked that the mosque be located at the village entrance, which hurts the Macedonians who say that if the mosque is built at the entrance to the village it will signal that only Albanians live here,” Orce Dandushevski, Lazec community president, told SETimes. The representative of the Islamic religious community from Bitola, Mufti Plumi Veliu, said that the community is waiting for a suitable moment to start the mosque construction. “The technical documentation is complete and sent to competent authorities, so the construction work should start soon. Reactions as always will be present, but everything is ready to start the construction work. We hope there will be no problems, because the location is determined by the state,” Veliu told SETimes. Meanwhile, multi-ethnic co-existence in Lazec has significantly diminished. Both communities cut contact with each other — even in everyday needs. The village now has two shops, one so-called Macedonian, the other Albanian. “The mosque … started damaging interethnic relations in Lazec six years ago …. Now everyone abides by the rule that everyone shops in their own store, even for bread. … The residents of Lazani blame politics for the situation,” Orthodox priest Father Oliver told SETimes. (SETimes)

Russia, Macedonia to establish free trade zone

Russia and Macedonia may establish free trade zone. The proposal came by Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski during a business forum in Moscow, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily writes. If the idea is realized, the volume of the mutual investments and trade will be boosted several times. In fact, it is possible to establish a broad free trade zone between the countries in former Yugoslavia and the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Macedonia has already signed such agreements with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein, almost all countries from the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova. (Focus Fen)


Kosovo, Montenegro deepen diplomatic ties

Montenegro’s decision to open an embassy in Kosovo during the 1st of June has drawn fire from opposition parties in Podgorica, who claim that the move will harm the country’s relations with Serbia. The move to further diplomatic ties was sparked by Kosovo’s pledge to accept the Montenegrin community as a constitutional category in the country. “We have good political, economic and trade relations with Montenegro. The opening of embassies will further enforce our relations,” Artan Behrami, the Kosovo foreign minister’s press adviser, told SETimes. The last two countries to break away from the Yugoslav federation, Montenegro and Kosovo have since developed positive bilateral relations. Montenegro recognized Kosovo in October 2008, a decision that strained Montenegro’s relations with its former union partner, Serbia. Opposition parties in Podgorica protested, which eventually turned to violence in the streets. Neven Gosovic, vice president of the Socialist People’s Party (SNP) — Montenegro’s biggest opposition party, said the move will only worsen relations. (SETimes)


Former ultranationalist wins Serbian presidential election

Former ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolić will be the next Serbian President after defeating the pro-European incumbent Boris Tadić in a runoff in 20 May. BETA, the EurActiv partner agency in Serbia, reports. Nikolić won 50.21% of total votes to Tadić’s 46.77%, preliminary results released by the Serbian Election Commission showed. Turnout was less than 50%. The non-governmental Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, whose observers monitor every election in Serbia, also said that the final estimate “shows without a doubt” that Nikolić was the winner. “Ballots were cast by 46.3% of the electorate, which is the lowest turnout since 2004,” the centre’s director, Marko Blagojević, also remarked. Nikolić heads the Progressive Party which took the largest number of votes – 24% – in parliamentary election on 6 May, which coincided with the first-round vote for the presidency. His will have 73 seats in the 250-seat Parliament. The second force was Tadić’s “Choice for a Better Life” coalition with 22% of the vote, or 67 seats. The Socialist party of Ivica Dačić won 14.5% of the vote and 44 seats. Nikolić, who lost two earlier contests against Tadić, has taken a pro-European stance since 2008, when his party decided to split from the nationalist Serbian Radical Party. But his European credentials remain to be proven. The historic leader of the Radicals, Vojislav Šešelj, is standing trial for war crimes at The Hague. According to analysts, Nikolić’s election may complicate the setting up of a government, which was reportedly almost agreed between Tadić and Socialist leader Dačić. (EurActiv)

In Brussels, Nikolic eases Europe’s fears

Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic managed to reduce the turmoil caused by his election and some surrounding controversies by holding a series of productive meetings with European officials in Brussels on 14 June. The election of Nikolic — a nationalist who in the past closely co-operated with Hague tribunal indictee Vojislav Seselj — created a storm in the region and beyond. Tensions were notched up by Nikolic’s statements that came just days after his swearing in, where he said there was no genocide in Srebrenica and that Vukovar is not a Croatian town. (…) However, Nikolic’s visit to Brussels on 14 June sent optimistic messages. Nikolic met with High Representative Catherine Ashton, European Council President Herman van Rompuy and EC President Jose Manuel Barroso. The new president professed that there is no better future for Serbia than the EU. “I think that I’ve convinced [Ashton] that I’m not even thinking about the possibility of a better future for Serbia and Serbs outside of EU membership,” Nikolic told reporters, adding that Serbia will do everything necessary to possibly get a recommendation for accession talks this year. Kosovo was also among the discussion topics. Nikolic conveyed the stance that the negotiations with Pristina should be resumed by the new Serbian prime minister, who is to be appointed soon. Ashton said she was very satisfied with the meeting. “I conveyed to Mr. Nikolic that I expect him to continue the European path and that the entire EU is supporting Serbia in those efforts. I also underscored that certain issues need to be resolved in order to move forward,” she said in a statement. (SETimes)

Turkey remains tough against Greek Cypriots’ EU presidency

EU candidate Turkey is sticking to its determination not to recognize the six-month EU Presidency of Greek Cypriots, which starts on 1 July. Ankara said it will not freeze its relations totally with the EU when Cyprus takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU next month, but officials are sticking by their determination not to attend any event presided by Greek Cypriots. “The relations and contacts with the EU will continue, but none of the ministries or institutions of the Turkish Republic will be in contact with the Union presidency in any of the activities related to the Greek Cypriot presidency,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters on 7 June. Didem Akyel, a Cyprus expert from the International Crisis Group, said the fact that Turkey will not go to events organized by the EU presidency for six months does not really affect the status quo of the drawn-out process. The EU will likely be focused on financial crises in Greece and Spain and on the creation of a new financial framework for the EU for the next several months, she said. “It is unrealistic to expect any real movement in Turkey’s EU process during Republic of Cyprus’ presidency, particularly in terms of opening new chapters,” she said. Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and was officially recognized as an official candidate in 1999. Negotiations have been proceeding since 2005. But Turkey’s objection to the Greek Cypriots’ leadership of the EU dates back to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declared independence nearly 20 years ago, but has not been recognized by the UN. (SETimes)

Caucasus Report: Russian Government Slashes Funding For North Caucasus

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has finally clarified the ongoing confusion surrounding the planned grandiose federal program for the socioeconomic development of the North Caucasus between now and 2025. Speaking on 19 June in Grozny at a session of the specially created government commission for the development of the North Caucasus Federal District, Medvedev said the program will be finalized this year. At the same time, Regional Development Minister Oleg Govorun divulged that the total funding for the program will amount to just 1.7 trillion rubles ($52.2 billion). That is less than half the 3.89 trillion rubles envisaged when the first draft of the program was unveiled in July 2011. It is not clear whether that drastic reduction in spending constitutes a victory for the federal Finance Ministry, which has consistently opposed the program in light of the astronomical cost, or whether other factors may have played a role. (RFE/RL)


U.S., France, Russia Issue Statement On Nagorno-Karabakh

The United States, France, and Russia have issued a joint statement calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to take “decisive steps” to resolve the long-running conflict over the Azerbaijani separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The statement, issued at the G20 summit in Mexico, expressed regret that the two countries have not responded to the joint statement issued during the 2011 G8 summit in Deauville, France. The three countries are the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group, which is charged with finding a negotiated settlement. Also on 18 June, the ambassadors of the three Minsk Group countries met in Paris with the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers. They expressed “deep concern” over the increased violence along the Line of Contact in the region in recent weeks. (RFE/RL)



OSCE Chief Calls On Yerevan, Baku To Show Restraint

The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Eamon Gilmore, has called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to refrain from further retaliatory measures amid a recent upsurge in violence. Speaking to journalists in the Armenian capital, Gilmore, who is Ireland’s foreign minister, condemned the latest clashes, which exacerbate tensions stemming from the lingering conflict over the ethnic Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh territory inside Azerbaijan. Gilmore warned the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides that the dispute cannot be resolved by force. At least nine soldiers from both sides have been reported killed in violence along the Azerbaijani-Armenian border and Nagorno-Karabakh border in a surge of hostility over the decades-old conflict, which has been simmering since a 1994 cease-fire was declared. (RFE/RL)

Explosives found at Sweden nuclear site in Ringhals

Security at Sweden’s nuclear power stations has been tightened after explosive material was found on a truck near the largest plant in the country. A routine vehicle check carried-out at the Ringhals power plant uncovered a fist-sized lump underneath the truck. Police said initial results from forensic inspections confirmed the material was explosive. Security has been tightened at all nuclear power plants by one notch, to the second-lowest level, police said. There was no detonating device with the explosives and the company which runs the plant, Vattenfall, said the material could not have caused major damage. No arrests have been made so far but police have opened an inquiry into the possibility of sabotage, they said in a statement. The Ringhals power station consists of four reactors in southern Sweden, near Gothenburg. It is the largest nuclear power station in Sweden, which relies on the source for about 50% of its electricity. (BBC News)



Germany’s Merkel pushes for stronger European political integration

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said 7 June that there was need for a stronger political union that is open to all EU countries willing to join in, even if it would mean creating a two-speed Europe. A deeper fiscal and political integration, which implies ceding more powers to EU institutions, is the best response to the ongoing crisis in the 17-nation eurozone, she said. “We need a political union first and foremost. Step by step we must from now on give up more competences to Europe, and allow Europe more powers of control,” Merkel said in an interview with German television ARD on 7 June. Her remarks came ahead of the EU leaders’ regular summit on 28 June. The German chancellor made it clear however that the upcoming meeting was unlikely to produce any major breakthrough. “I don’t believe that there will be one single summit that will decide on a big bang,” said Merkel. “But what we have been doing for some time, and on which a working plan will certainly be presented in June, is to say we need more Europe.” On Wednesday, the European Commission (EC) proposed a new directive on banking resolution as a step towards a continent-wide banking union. The legislation calls for closer co-ordination between countries and introduces new EU-wide rules for bank recovery and resolution that will ensure the means for more decisive preventive action and response to problems in the sector. (SETimes)

Germany Resists Concessions To Greek Bailout Terms

The party that won Greece’s parliamentary elections on Sunday has accepted the tough conditions international lenders imposed to bail out the ailing nation. But there’s been talk that the party wants to seek some concessions on the terms of the rescue package. At the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her tough line that bailout terms for Greece are not negotiable. After the summit, Merkel returns to a German electorate that is now fed up with a debt crisis that only seems to grow and worsen. Binde Balle, a 71-year-old retired doctor from northern Germany, is typical of many in Germany who see Greek elections as only a minor victory in the effort to keep the eurozone from breaking apart. She says that the Greek problem is far from solved. “The work is only just beginning,” Balle says. “Now, Greece has to move: Taxes need to be collected, people need to get back to work, and there must be investment. This simply can’t go on any longer. They’ve made the first step, but the problem is still very much there.” The G-20 report on 19 June included a pledge to consider concrete steps toward “a more integrated financial architecture” in Europe that would include common banking supervision. There are other proposals out there to slowly create a kind of fiscal United States of Europe. Balle is behind that idea and voices her support with a sense of urgency that her chancellor is often criticized for lacking. (NPR)


Contagion may drag Italy back to heart of crisis

Italy risks being pulled back to the heart of the euro zone debt crisis as the fallout from a Spanish bank bailout makes market access more expensive even though Italian economic fundamentals are seen as stronger than Spain’s. The correlation between moves in Italian and Spanish bonds has risen sharply since March, showing the increased risk attached to holding Spanish debt is feeding through to Italy. Many in markets believe rising borrowing costs will push Spain into a sovereign bailout, damaging investor confidence in lower-rated euro zone debt such as Italy’s and depleting the regional funds available if Rome needed assistance. Spain is the euro zone’s fourth largest economy and Italy the third. If Spain were to need a sovereign bailout, which many analysts predict, it would exhaust the region’s rescue funds. Contagion risk could make it increasingly costly for Italy, seen as the country most likely to fall under market scrutiny after Spain, to raise funds in debt markets in the absence of a crisis solution or further European Central Bank bond purchases. (Reuters)



Fearing the worst, Greeks withdraw their euros

Pre-election jitters and political uncertainty prompt the stockpiling of food and cash. There were no long, frantic queues, but as 17 June elections loomed, Greeks and businesses quietly began withdrawing as much as 800m euros a day, anxious that their country might be forced out of the eurozone and back to a deeply devalued drachma. “I’m worried. It’s the drachma and we don’t know what’s going on with politicians,” Petra Poursanidi, 35, told SETimes on her way out of an Alpha Bank branch in a western neighborhood of Athens. In the election, Greeks were facing a euro vs drachma argument: support the once-ruling parties of the New Democracy conservatives and their otherwise bitter rivals, the PASOK Socialists, who both supported austerity measures demanded by international lenders; or vote for parties opposed to the conditions, a choice that critics said could push Greece out of the eurozone. The country’s four largest banks, including Alpha, were so weakened by massive losses imposed by the government on them and private investors as part of a deal to write down the country’s staggering debt by 106 billion euros they had to get an emergency recapitalisation of 19 billion euros. Central bank figures showed deposits shrank by about 17%, or 35.4 billion euros in 2011, and to only 165.9 billion euros at the end of April. Bankers said the pace picked up ahead of the vote, with combined daily outflows from the major banks at 500-800m euros, includedg cash withdrawals, wire transfers, and investments in other instruments. (…) People are terrified by the prospect of returning to the drachma and some believe it’s good to fill their cupboard with food products,” said Vassilis Korkidis, head of the ESEE retail federation. “It’s over the top; we must not panic. Filling the cupboard with food doesn’t mean we will escape the crisis,” he told Reuters. The Troika has warned that any attempt by a new government to tinker with reforms could lead to the money pipeline being shut off and said the country has enough cash to last only a few weeks. It also wants another 12 billion euros in cuts, setting off a renewed debate over austerity. (SETimes)

Elections yield a pro-bailout winner

After two elections and bitter wrangling that divided the country, Greeks have given a narrow victory to the New Democracy Conservatives who supported austerity measures required by international lenders, but without enough of the vote to create a government. A likely coalition loomed with another pro-bailout party, the PASOK Socialists, which would allow the two parties that have controlled Greece’s government for the last four decades to share power. (…) The Socialists, under new leader Evangelos Venizelos, a former finance minister who doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor, finished a distant third with 12.3%. Together, New Democracy and PASOK earned 42% of the vote, an improvement over the 32% the parties earned in the 6 May election. Combined with the 50-seat bonus in parliament that New Democracy earned by receiving the most votes, the New Democracy/PASOK coalition would hold a 12-vote majority in the 300-seat parliament. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who wanted to tear up Greece’s bailout deal with the EU-IMF-ECB Troika, said he won’t join any government with New Democracy. Samaras had warned that Tsipras’ victory would have driven the country out of the eurozone, back to the drachma, and complete Greece’s catastrophe. Most Greeks — who said they wanted to remain in the eurozone but despised the pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions imposed on them for two years — are still opposed to the two traditional parties. (SETimes)


UK: ‘Arms’ Ship For Syria Heading Back To Russia

A Russian-operated ship said to be carrying military helicopters to Syria appears to have turned back after its British insurer removed coverage for the vessel, U.K. officials said on 19 June. Britain’s Foreign Office said the ship, the MV Alaed, changed course in Europe after news reports emerged about its alleged contents. Earlier, the Foreign Office confirmed it was aware that a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters was heading to Syria. The ship has “turned back now apparently toward Russia,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told British lawmakers in Parliament. The vessel appeared to have been avoiding UK territorial waters and EU territorial waters, his ministry added. “It is good news that the shipment of attack helicopters we’ve been tracking in the North Sea in recent days is heading away from Syria,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said during the G-20 summit in Mexico on Tuesday. “But we will continue to work to stem the flow of weapons.” The news came after the U.K.-based insurer Standard Club said it removed insurance coverage for the ship owner when it became aware it was carrying munitions, a clear breach of its rules. The BBC reported on 19 June that the ship was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Outer Hebrides off the northwest coast of Scotland. The Foreign Office said it was heading toward the Netherlands when it changed course to avoid Dutch territorial waters and turned north. Russian officials have not commented on the ship or its reported contents. The vessel’s Russian operator, Femco, refused to comment on 19 June. Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the G-20 summit that only the Syrian people have the right to decide whether their president, Bashar Assad, steps down. (NPR)

UK, Mauritius Strike Deal On Somali Pirates

Prime Minister David Cameron says the U.K. has signed an agreement for Mauritius to prosecute suspected Somali pirates captured by the British navy in the Indian Ocean. Britain has previously sealed similar arrangements with the Seychelles and Tanzania, under which the countries agree to process suspected pirates in their courts. The U.K. had complained suspects were being allowed to walk free because there was nowhere to put them on trial. It had urged nearby countries to help and take a role in international efforts to tackle piracy. Cameron said on 8 June that “pirates should be in no doubt that they will be arrested at sea, prosecuted in regional states and imprisoned.” Lawmakers previously warned that eight out of 10 suspected pirates captured off the coast of Somalia were released without trial. (NPR)


Clinton To Visit Russia, Syria One Likely Focus

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is planning to travel to Russia next week [28 June], a visit that follows recent talks between President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Mexico. The State Department said on 20 June that Clinton will attend a meeting of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in St. Petersburg on 28 June. Clinton also will hold private talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that will likely focus on the crisis in Syria and efforts to get Iran to comply with international demands on its nuclear program. Clinton’s visit was planned before the 18 June Obama-Putin meeting but she and Lavrov were expected to build on that discussion, which ended without apparent agreement on how to end continuing violence in Syria. Clinton will visit Finland and Latvia before Russia. (NPR)

Russia Warns Citizens not to Travel to Syria

Russia’s Foreign Ministry again warned its citizens on 21 June not to travel to Syria, Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said. “The Russian Foreign Ministry again reiterates its recommendation to Russian citizens not to travel to Syria either for tourism, or in general,” he said. The warning comes against the background of an increasingly violent insurrection in the country, which has claimed the lives of over 12,000 people according to UN estimates. Earlier this week the Russian Navy denied media reports that it was sending ships to the port of Tartus in case its nationals needed evacuating. (RIA Novosti)

Weak Measures Aggravate Global Economy – Putin

The international community needs to take decisive measures to resolve the global financial crisis, while half-hearted measures only make things worse, President Vladimir Putin said on 21 June. “Along with finance and budget deficits, we unfortunately see a deficit of decisive action,” Putin said at the opening of the St. Petersburg international economic forum. “As we see, many principal and obvious steps are delayed due to political, party, group contradictions, and the prevailing internal political developments in the leading world economies, while half-hearted measures only aggravate the situation; risks in Europe are on the rise and mistrust is increasing in trading floors,” Putin said. The global economy is sending alarming signals, he said. “There are a lot of imbalances, and also a lot of debts have been accumulated,” Putin said. Some factors, such as the results of the recent parliamentary elections in Greece, where pro-European parties won a majority of seats, were encouraging, Putin said. “The results of the Greek elections, the resolve of the European Commission and European Union leaders as a whole and some leading European countries to instil financial discipline and remove imbalances in the economy inspire cautions optimism,” Putin said. Russia plans to continue providing assistance to European countries, Putin said. “Despite the well known problems in the eurozone, we keep a considerable part of our international reserves in the euro and are not taking any unilateral measures that may aggravate the already difficult position of the single European currency,” Putin said. (RIA Novosti)



Bulgaria anti-mafia unit takes part in international operation against cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe

Officers with Bulgaria’s General Directorate for Fight against Organized Crime (GDBOP) take part in an international operation dubbed Phoenix, the press office of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry announced. GDBOP officers with the anti-drug department take part in a joint team for investigation of cross-border organized crime group dealing with trafficking and distribution of large amount of cocaine from South America to Europe. In the pace of the operation authorities have ascertained that part of the group members are staying on the territory of Bulgaria, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Spain, Slovenia and Uruguay. The investigation is coordinated by Europol in the frames of the Phoenix operation, which includes the police services of Bulgaria, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Spain, Slovenia, the UK, Uruguay and DEA-USA. As a result of the perfect cooperation and coordination in January, in the area of the Caribbean region a ship, sailing under the flag of the French fleet, detained two yachts, sailing under a Spanish and British flags. During the raids aboard the yachts, authorities found and confiscated around 12,000 kilos of high-quality cocaine, which was aimed for the European market. Thirty people were arrested in the frames of the operation, including Bulgarians. Work on the investigation continues. (Focus Fen)

EC asks Bulgaria to review terms of bilateral agreement with the United States

The European Commission has formally asked Bulgaria to put an end to certain duty and tax relief provisions contained in a bilateral agreement with the United States on technical assistance, a press release informs. Prior to its accession to the EU, Bulgaria concluded a bilateral agreement with the United States, which provides for duty and tax-free import of goods financed by United States and for goods and services purchased on the Bulgarian market with the funds of the technical assistance program. None of the exemptions set out in EU legislation justifies the duty and tax relief applied by Bulgaria under this bilateral agreement. Once it joined the EU, Bulgaria should have adjusted the terms of the agreement in question or, that was not possible, should have withdrawn from this agreement. The request takes the form of a Reasoned Opinion (the second stage of an infringement procedure). If the legislation is not brought into compliance within two months, the Commission may refer the matter to the European Court of Justice. (Focus Fen)

Bulgaria Truly Ready to Join Schengen – French MEP

Bulgaria complies with all criteria set for a Schengen Agreement membership, according to Sylvie Guillaume, vice president of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EP. (…) Commenting on the French socialists’ absolute majority in her country’s Parliament, the MEP stated that it would not alter the restrictions imposted by the financial crisis. (…) Bulgaria hopes it would see a positive development on its Schengen entry bid in September. (Novinite)

Romanians reject austerity in local elections

Romania’s former ruling party, which steered the country through recession, scored low at the local polls. Analysts said a general wave of dissatisfaction among voters due to austerity measures is to blame for the Liberal-Democrat Party’s (PDL) crushing defeat in local elections on 10 June. The big winner is the Social-Liberal Union (USL), the new tripartite ruling coalition headed by social-democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta. In total, USL gained 42% of the town halls and 50% of the county councils across Romania, while PDL garnered 16% of the mayor seats and 15% of county councils. PDL lost the two district mayoralties it previously held in Bucharest and lost in major Romanian cities, such as Craiova and Ploiesti. For the first time in post-communist Romania, a woman — social-democrat Olguta Vasilescu — became mayor of Craiova. In Bucharest, Sorin Oprescu, an independent candidate who had the support of USL, secured a second term. “PDL has paid the price of austerity, but also of its incapacity to communicate,” Raluca Alexandrescu, a political science professor with the University of Bucharest, told SETimes. “It was a negative vote, which sanctioned first the austerity measures and then the manner in which the liberal-democrats chose to carry out their electoral campaign. PDL was basically absent from the political landscape during the campaign and it looks like its ruling experience wasn’t at any good to them,” she said. (SETimes)

Roma relocations draw international ire

The European Commission is the latest to criticize a decision by the mayor’s office in Baia Mare to move a small community of Roma onto the premises of a former copper mining company that was not entirely decontaminated. European Commissioner for the Human Rights, Latvia’s Nils Muiznieks, has asked the Romania government to respond to what he called “a flagrant human rights infringement.” The criticism came after about 100 Roma families were moved into the building of the former Cuprom Company, which, until 2006 when it closed down, was the second largest polluter in Romania. After the group was moved, 21 Roma, including many children, were taken to hospital due to contamination from bottles of toxic chemicals that were not removed. The decision to relocate the families from the Craica neighborhood came just a week before the June 10th local elections. Moving the Roma was a core campaign promise made by social-democrat Catalin Chereches. He was re-elected with a stunning 86% of the votes. “I think the Romanian authorities should start a serious investigation to establish exactly what happened and who is responsible for those people’s health problems,” Muiznieks was quoted by Mediafax as saying. The US Embassy in Bucharest expressed similar concerns. “The current situation constitutes a failure by the city authorities to provide basic protections to its citizens. It also contributes to the strong perception of willful discrimination towards the Roma community,” an embassy statement read. The Anti-discrimination National Council said it was investigating the circumstances under which the families were moved. Roma NGOs are outraged by the relocations. “We once again show Roma are treated as second-hand citizens, endangering their health and their civil rights,” Romani Criss, a leading NGO, said in a statement to SETimes. (SETimes)



‘Panorama’, Moldova: Ukraine strengthens customs surveillance at the Moldovan and Belarusian border

Ukraine has strengthen its customs surveillance at the Moldovan and Belarusian border, informs the ’Panorama’ newspaper. From the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine was informed that the strengthen customs control will continue by the beginning of September. The reason for the extra surveillance is the ongoing tourist season. According to data presented by the Ukrainian Road Transport Inspectorate, during the summer season, a wide range of vehicles transports passengers to Ukrainian resorts, without corresponding to all requirements enjoined by international agreements. (Focus Fen)

Euro 2012 Prompts Ukrainians to Learn English

While members of the Ukrainian parliament are fighting over the status of the Russian language in Ukraine, English is becoming more popular in the country – without any government directive. Market forces – in which supply dictates demand – as well as the Euro 2012 football (soccer) championship, co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, are having an impact on Ukrainians becoming trilingual. Euro 2012 has changed Ukrainians’ daily routine, especially those who live in the host-cities. The championship has attracted many tourists to the country, who remind Ukrainians that while the national parliament struggles to decide which language they should speak – Russian or Ukrainian – more and more people around the world are turning to English, especially in international business. With that in mind, some Ukrainians, on their own, have begun speaking and running their businesses using several languages. “We organize many tours with English-speaking guides, but most of them are still ordered by some self-organized travel groups that are coming here to Kyiv,” said Arseniy Finberg, project coordinator for Interesting Kyiv. The Ukrainian capital is also switching to English. The names of subway stations are now announced in Ukrainian and English, and all the signs are in both languages. And restaurant owners have added a few extra menus in English to those they already have. (VOA News)

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