LDESP NEWS UPDATE FROM EUROPE: 30 October 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.
Women quota plan for EU corporations delayed
A proposal to introduce a mandatory 40 percent quota for women on boards of publicly-listed companies across the EU by 2020 was pushed back on 23 October amid questions about its legality and opposition to the plan by a number of the bloc’s members. European Commission (EC) President Jose Manuel Barroso decided against putting the proposal to the vote at the EU executive arm’s closed-door meeting on Tuesday to avoid its being rejected. Had that happened, the plan would have to be scrapped altogether. The proposal was met with opposition by nine EU member states, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands and the UK. Their authorities sent a letter to EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, who drafted the legislation, acknowledging that there were an insufficient number of women on the boards of directors, but said they were against “the adoption of legally binding measures at European level.” Ginka Mashova, a spokesperson for Bulgaria’s Labour and Social Policy Ministry, said the government’s policy is to promote equality between men and women and oppose discrimination based on gender in recruitment. “The imposition of quotas would not solve the problem,” she told SETimes, adding that there is a need to first promote Reding’s initiative within Bulgarian society in order to raise the understanding of the issue. Reding said on Twitter she would “not give up.” She said the legislation would return to the EC agenda “before the end of November.” “Across the EU, company boards are currently dominated by one gender: 86.5 percent of board members are men,” Reding said. The commissioner appealed to the bloc’s largest companies last year to take measures voluntarily to increase the number of women on their boards, Nina Andreeva, Reding’s spokesperson, told the Bulgarian National Radio in a recent interview. “A year later, the number of women on company boards has increased by 2 percent only — self-regulation proved ineffective,” she said. “That is why Reding wants to [remove] the glass ceiling still preventing talented women for reaching the highest-level managing positions.” If Reding’s proposal is approved and enters into force, companies that fail to fulfill the obligation to set aside 40 percent of their board seats for women by 2020 would face EU fines. (SETimes)
EU budget rise: Lead negotiator Cyprus wants 50bn-euro cut
The EU’s next multi-year budget proposal should be cut by at least 50bn euros (£40bn; $65bn), says the Cypriot government, chairing hard negotiations. The suggestion has been rejected by the European Commission, which drew up the plan for the 2014-2020 budget. The Commission is calling for a 5% rise compared with the 2007-2013 budget. EU leaders will hold a budget summit on 22-23 November. The UK and some other countries want the current EU spending levels to be frozen. A budget analyst at the Open Europe think-tank, Raoul Ruparel, said the UK call for a freeze in real terms would mean a cut of about 105bn euros in the budget plan proposed by the Commission – more than double the Cypriot cut. A Cyprus presidency statement on 30 October said “it is inevitable that the total level of expenditure proposed by the Commission… will have to be adjusted downwards”. The Cypriot proposal, called a “negotiating box”, is a basis for detailed discussions on the figures. Meanwhile, the European Parliament has backed the Commission plan, so at the moment the negotiating positions are far apart. The Commission’s proposal for the long-term budget, called the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), sets the ceiling at just over one trillion euros, that is, 1.03% of EU gross national income (GNI). The biggest items of spending, accounting for about 80% in total, are agriculture and cohesion funds – aid for Europe’s poorer regions. France is especially keen to maintain agriculture spending, while cohesion is a big issue for the ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe. Under EU rules the parliament has to reach a deal with the Council – the 27 member states’ governments. If there is still no agreement on the MFF by the end of next year the 2013 EU budget will be rolled over into 2014 with a 2% rise to take account of inflation. That would leave much uncertainty about the EU’s long-term spending programmes. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has threatened to veto a deal at the November summit if other EU leaders support a budget rise beyond current spending levels. He says national governments’ tough budget cuts, dictated by the scale of the debt crisis, make the case for reining in EU spending all the more compelling. Sweden and the Netherlands are reported to be close to the UK position, and France and Germany also want cuts to the draft MFF. They are all net contributors to the EU budget. (BBC News)
Clinton says EU, NATO Membership Way To Bosnian Stability
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Bosnia “belongs in Europe” and its access to the European Union and NATO would be the best way to ensure lasting stability in the country. Clinton spoke in Sarajevo at a joint news conference with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on 30 October. (…) Clinton, who had met earlier with Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, also criticized Bosnian Serb leaders who have repeatedly threatened to break away. “In addition, it is totally unacceptable that 17 years after the war ended, some still question Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said. “Such talk is a distraction from the problems facing the country and serves only to undermine the goal of European integration. The Dayton accords must be respected and preserved, period.” Sarajevo lags behind its neighbors in terms of the progress it has made toward joining the EU, as it is the only Balkan country that has yet to apply for EU membership. Clinton, however, expressed Washington’s full political support for Bosnia’s membership in both the EU and NATO. (…) Clinton and Ashton travel to Belgrade later on October 30 to press Serbia to restart the EU-brokered dialogue with Kosovo. (RFE/RL)
Perisic appeals against war crimes verdict at The Hague
The Hague tribunal is hearing an appeal by Momcilo Perisic, the most senior officer of the former Yugoslav Army to be convicted of war crimes. Perisic, who commanded the Yugoslav Army during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, was jailed for 27 years by the UN war crimes tribunal last year. He was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes but acquitted of a direct role in the Srebrenica massacre. Perisic insists he was not aware of or responsible for atrocities. The tribunal convicted him of aiding and abetting murders, inhumane acts, persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, and attacks on civilians in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. He was also found guilty of failing to punish his subordinates for their crimes of murder, attacks on civilians and injuring and wounding civilians during rocket attacks on Zagreb in Croatia. (BBC News)
EU opens door to regional programmes for Kosovo
Kosovo will start negotiations with the EU to participate in the Union’s community programmes after the Council of Ministers greenlighted the European Commission (EC) to open talks on a framework agreement with the country during October. After the agreement is signed and specific conditions are agreed, “Kosovo will have the right to participate in all the EU programmes which are open, or will be opened in the future, for the Western Balkans,” Kosovo Minister for Integration Vlora Citaku told SETimes. The programmes are designed to help countries become familiar with EU methods and policies, and in the case of the Western Balkans, is part of their European perspective. “Access to the EU programmes will bring Kosovo citizens closer to the European project, will support the achievement of the joint European aims and will create direct contacts between the citizens and the institutions of the EU and Kosovo,” Citaku said. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia all have access to the EU programmes. The community programmes cover topics such as culture, education, health, youth and innovation. Serbia has now full participation in the CIP Community programme on competitiveness and innovation, the Seventh Framework Research Programme, the Progress programme for employment and social solidarity, and the Tempus programme, which covers higher education. Macedonia participates in Culture, Europe for Citizens, Fiscalis, Progress, Youth in Action, Lifelong Learning, Customs and the Seventh Framework Research Programme. Fatmir Curri, European Integration Programme co-ordinator at the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation, said Kosovo should catch the rest of the region and “narrow the gap” in programme participation. However, he warned, “The participation in them should not create any illusions that the relations between Kosovo and the EU have gone into the contractual phase,” Curri told SETimes, noting that five EU member states have not recognised Kosovo. According to the EU, the participation is based on the needs and priorities of each country. Curri said one of the greatest benefits of the programmes will be co-operation with the EU. Kosovo’s participation will create chances for citizens to access the EU-funded projects and activities, it will help to raise the capacities of the civil society and the municipalities and will also assist their networking with regional and EU partners. But it will come at a cost. “Kosovo will be asked to participate and allocate finances, because the participation is not free,” Curri said. For each programme, the EC and each country “decide the arrangements and conditions for participation, including the financial contribution to be made by the country to the EU’s general budget,” the Union said. The financial contribution is based on the needs of each country, and the countries can receive support for their financial contribution through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) or any other external aid for which they might be eligible. (SETimes)
Critics call for tougher broadcast oversight in Kosovo
Observers and experts are calling for the media regulatory agency in Kosovo to more firmly monitor broadcast standards and practices. Established in 2005, Kosovo’s Independent Media Commission (IMC) includes 31 staff members and seven board members who regulate the frequency spectrum and enforce broadcast rules. Critics say the IMC has become politicised and has fallen behind on handling rules violations. Milazim Krasniqi, dean of the journalism department at the University of Pristina, told SETimes that the Independent Media Commission was active in Kosovo during the UNMIK period, but it was under political pressure, which remains a problem. “Since the Kosovarisation of IMC, there has been a weakening of the role of this institution, because noncompetent people are chosen as members of the board,” Krasniqi said. “They were people who have not gone there to strengthen IMC and to strengthen legality, but simply to carry out some partial interests. “IMC, in recent years, has been diminished to its functioning and its impact. The fact is that Kosovo has a local broadcaster anarchy which has destroyed the advertising market … and IMC has not been able to impose order in this area.” According to a commission report for 2011, 19 local and regional broadcasters have violated regulations that prohibit teleshopping advertisements during certain hours of the day. All 19 have continued these broadcasts in spite of warnings from the IMC. The agency’s legal department handled 18 cases of rules violations last year, mostly involving advertising. There were 23 cases dealing with regulations involving protection of minors from harmful content. Broadcasters did not comply with the IMC’s written notices in five of those cases. There were also 86 cases of failure to pay licensing fees, and 23 of those have proceeded to the Economic Court of Pristina. Krasniqi said the IMC has been focused only on the public broadcasters, enabling chaos in the broadcasting market in Kosovo. (SETimes)
EU aid for law and order criticised by auditors
The EU law and order mission in Kosovo is inefficient and the territory remains plagued by organised crime and corruption, European auditors say. EU help for Kosovo’s police and judiciary “has had only modest success”, says the Court of Auditors, whose job is to scrutinise EU spending. Per capita, Kosovo is the biggest recipient of EU aid in the world. Serbia – which lost control of Kosovo after a war and Nato bombing in 1999 – does not accept its independence. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Kosovo’s capital Pristina on Wednesday, as well as the Serbian capital Belgrade. They were meeting Bosnian leaders on 30 October. In a statement on 30 October, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said Kosovo’s judiciary “continues to suffer from political interference, inefficiency and a lack of transparency and enforcement”. It also highlighted “important shortcomings” in witness protection and lamented the failure to extend the rule of law to northern Kosovo, where minority Serbs loyal to Belgrade reject Pristina’s authority. (BBC News)
Protesters gather in Pristina after Kosovo-Serbia meeting
Politicians from Serbia and Kosovo spoke the language of diplomacy on 19 October after formal discussions with EU representatives in Brussels, but protests against the meeting by a Kosovo nationalist movement turned violent on Monday in Pristina. Members of Kosovo Movement Vetevendisje clashed with Kosovo police in front of the government building in Pristina, trying to block the entrances. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. More than 60 Vetevendosje protesters were detained, and several protesters and police were injured. Two of the protesters, a German citizen and a Vetevendosje member of the Kosovo Assembly, were injured seriously. (…) The meeting between Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, Kosovo Premier Hashim Thaci and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton marked the beginning of high-level political dialogue, an important step for Belgrade’s path toward EU accession. One of the EU’s conditions for Serbia is the normalisation of relations with Kosovo. The main slogan of the protesters was “No bargains with Serbia.” Kurti accused Thaci of “forgiving Serbia for the crimes it has committed in Kosovo, through shaking hands with Dacic.” Thaci said objections to the meeting “are in accordance with the agenda of the opponents of the independence of Kosovo.” In Serbia, Dacic drew criticism in Serbia over the meeting with Thaci, who is suspected of crimes against Serbs. “No one can reprimand me for holding talks with Thaci, because I was at war with Thaci too, but my role as head of the government is not to repeat wars,” Dacic said. (SETimes)
Agreement to improve Muslim relations in Belgrade
A recent agreement between Belgrade authorities and the Islamic community of Serbia will significantly contribute to better mutual understanding and respect between the two groups, analysts said. The agreement, signed earlier this month between Belgrade Mayor Dragan Djilas and Serbian Mufti Muhammed Jusufspahic, allows Muslims to be buried in full accordance with their customs. Muslims have shared burial space with members of other faiths, which prevented graves from being properly oriented. According to Islamic beliefs, graves should be oriented in a southwest-northeast direction, and the right side of the deceased should face Mecca. Christian burial plots are oriented in an east-west direction. (…) Muslims in some neighbouring countries where they are a religious minority used to have similar problems. In Montenegro, there are separate burial sites and chapels for preparation of the deceased in Podgorica. Cemeteries in Budva, Kotor, Herceg Novi and Tivat do not have separate plots, and many Muslims from those areas are buried in Podgorica. (…) In Macedonia, where Muslims comprise about a quarter of the population, Jakup Selimovski, representative of the Islamic religious community, said Muslims are part of the country’s indigenous population. Muslim burial in Macedonia was fully in accordance with the regulations of Islam from the time of the Ottoman state. (SETimes)
Hundreds still drawing salaries from Pristina and Belgrade
Six months after Serbian officials ordered Kosovo Serbs drawing salaries from both Pristina and Belgrade to choose one source and stop double dipping, the Serbian government is investigating a report that more than 1,300 people in northern Kosovo are still on both payrolls. The news is a sore point for people in the region, where Kosovo suffers through the highest unemployment rate in the region – more than 40 percent – and Serbia is facing steep economic problems. Belgrade launched its new investigation after a report by B92 TV, which reported that several Serb political parties were among more than 1,300 Serbs from Kosovo who are still receiving multiple salaries. According to B92 TV programme Insajder (Insider), some Kosovo Serb government employees have been “practically receiving three salaries for years.” They are paid from Belgrade’s budget, and receive an additional 50 percent of their salary from Serbia as an allowance for working in Kosovo. Many also take salaries from Kosovo’s government, the programme alleges. Serbian state news agency Tanjug reported that the Serbian government asked for measures to be taken on the issue based on the laws that “regulate working relations, rights and duties.” Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that the action is “a kind of fight for a fair relation in which Serbia’s taxpayers will know who receives money” in northern Kosovo and other parts of the country. (SETimes)
After a filibuster, defenders law again is at issue
A controversial draft law that provides social security for Macedonia’s defenders and their families was forced to be withdrawn after a filibuster. Two weeks after a controversial law on the rights of Macedonia’s defenders in the 2001 conflict was withdrawn following a rare filibuster in parliament, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity party will again try to have the draft law passed. VMRO-DPMNE MP Vele Georgievski said the proposal will be submitted in a summary procedure and be signed by all 46 members of the party. MP Talat Xhaferi of the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration party blocked the work of the commission for five weeks in a filibuster by reading poetry, fiction and having others read for him. Xhaferi, who says the draft law is discriminatory, said that a filibuster is his democratic right and that it did not harm the work of the assembly. After several sessions with one to two hours of silence, Xhaferi spoke referring to a European Commission report that said that Macedonia should resolve the status of “victims of the conflict in 2001.” “The report says that should compensate all damaged during the conflict in 2001, without emphasising one or the other side. The draft law on the defenders is discriminatory because all are not treated in the same way … that’s why we use all the institutional capabilities to prevent its passage. We [DUI] are keen to resolve the issue, but for all those who suffered in 2001, as is suggested in the latest report of the European Commission,” Xhaferi said. Filibusters are unprecedented in regional politics. In Montenegro in May 2012, and in Serbia in 2010, the rules of procedure were changed to provide time limitations on MP presentations, but neither country has a limit on the number of amendments that can be proposed to laws. (SETimes)
Russia Caucasus: Imam shot dead in Derbent, Dagestan
Attackers have shot an imam and two of his male relations, as they drove to a mosque in the Russian North Caucasus region of Dagestan. They were shot on their way to morning prayers, close to the imam’s home in the Caspian Sea town of Derbent, law enforcement sources told reporters. (…) Islamists have been blamed for attacks on moderate Muslims in the region. Dagestan, a mainly Muslim region, has been gripped by an Islamist insurgency since 1999, when militants backed by fighters from neighbouring Chechnya launched an offensive against Russian control. Three imams have been shot dead in the region since March, the Russian news website utro.ru reports. Mr Ibragimov is said by Russian media to have been a “Salafist”, a term used for Islamic radicals. Nonetheless, according to utro.ru, he “often gave sermons and made appeals for peace and Muslim unity”. (BBC News)
Armenian, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers To Meet In France
The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers were scheduled to meet in France on 27 October to discuss the issue of the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The announcement was made by the Armenian Foreign Ministry on 25 October. It said the meeting between Armenia’s Edward Nalbandian and Azerbaijan’s Elmar Mammadyarov will be mediated by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Nalbandian and Mammadyarov last met in Paris in June. Ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan worsened after Azerbaijan’s president pardoned a soldier who had been sentenced to life in prison in Hungary for murdering an Armenian soldier. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict for more than two decades over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has a majority Armenian population. A fragile cease-fire has been in place since 1994. (RFE/RL)
U.S. Ambassador Voices Concern Over Armenia’s Oskanian Charges
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern says criminal charges filed against former Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian are “bad for justice and democracy in Armenia.” Oskanian was summoned to the National Security Service on 8 October and formally charged with misappropriation of some $1.4 million donated by a U.S. philanthropist to Oskanian’s Yerevan-based Civilitas Foundation in late 2010. Oskanian denies the charges, calling them politically motivated and aimed at derailing chances for his Prosperous Armenia party ahead of a presidential election scheduled for February 2013. Heffern also mentioned the timing of the charges against Oskanian were “troubling.” Heffern called on the Armenian government to “live up to its commitments to the systematic, fair, and transparent implementation of the rule of law.” (RFE/RL)
Azerbaijani Guards Arrest Iranian In Shootout Along Border
Azerbaijan’s State Border Guarding Service says an Iranian national was wounded and arrested after a shootout between Azerbaijani border guards and a group of armed individuals. Officials say the group tried “to illegally cross the border” with Iran, but they did not given the date of the incident. (…) Azerbaijani border guards have issued an official protest note to the leadership at Iran’s Aslanduz border checkpoint. They are demanding a thorough investigation into the incident. Tensions between Tehran and Baku escalated this year after Azerbaijan arrested a number of men with alleged links to Iran. They were reported to be plotting attacks in Azerbaijan. (RFE/RL)
Azerbaijan Wants Tighter Oversight On BP-Led Project
Azerbaijan’s Energy Minister Natiq Aliev has said there should be tighter control over the work of an international consortium led by British Petroleum. Aliev said production at the Azeri-Chirag-Gunsehli site was “abnormal.” The Energy Minister’s comments come after President Ilham Aliev said on 12 October that “numerous mistakes” by the BP-led consortium might have cost his country some $8 billion in lost revenue. BP Azerbaijan says it is working with Azerbaijan’s state company SOCAR to address production issues. In 2010, production at the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli site peaked at more than 823,000 barrels per day but in 2011 averaged only some 717,600 barrels per day. (RFE/RL)
Tbilisi Says No Diplomatic Ties With Russia While It Occupies Georgian Territory
Georgia’s new foreign minister, Maia Panjikidze, has reiterated to journalists her government’s position that it will continue a policy of refraining from formal diplomatic relations with Moscow until Russia ends its “occupation” of two breakaway Georgian regions. The incoming government led by Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili was confirmed by lawmakers on 25 October. Critics and political rivals have sought to paint Ivanishvili, a billionaire who made much of his fortune in Russia, as overly cozy with Moscow. He has vowed to improve relations crippled since a five-day war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 over two breakaway Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “Twenty percent of Georgian territory is occupied by Russia, and Russia is the country that is occupying Georgia,” Foreign Minister Panjikidze said on 26 October. “It opened two embassies in Tskhinvali and Sukhumi, and as long as what I have said remains a fact, diplomatic relations with Russia will not be restored. Despite the fact that we don’t have diplomatic relations, it’s possible to have a dialogue, just as the former government was able to work with Russia in different spheres.” Following the 2008 war, Moscow recognized the independence of the separatist-led South Ossetia and Abkhazia. (RFE/RL)
Parliament Approves New Georgian Cabinet
Georgia’s parliament has confirmed a new government led by billionaire-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili. Some 88 legislators were in favor, while 54 voted against. Eight members of parliament were not present at the session held in the western city of Kutaisi. Ivanishvili’s formerly opposition Georgian Dream bloc won a majority of 85 seats in the 150-member parliament in the 1 October elections. Georgia’s new prime minister reiterated before the parliament that he planned to quit politics in just 18 months. “I will be responsible for the team, which I plan to leave in a year and a half, and I know that our opponents will use this situation, and I don’t want them to sow nihilism in society,” he said. “That’s why I want to stress this: within a year and a half, we will be able to create such legal grounds, such laws that will really help develop our country.” Ivanishvili has said that after he quits politics, he will become an active member of civil society. The new prime minister told journalists that he would continue President Mikheil Saakashvili’s pro-Western foreign policy, including pursuing European Union and NATO membership. (…) He also promised to continue cooperation with the United States and to improve relations with neighboring Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008 over the Georgian breakaway territory of South Ossetia. (RFE/RL)
38 Inmates To Leave Georgian Jails
The Georgian Interior Ministry says 38 inmates are scheduled for release from penitentiaries on 30 October. Georgia’s new Penitentiaries Minister Sozar Subari told journalists the previous day that more than 300 convicts who were sentenced for minor crimes and have served two-thirds of their prison terms will be freed. On 30 October, Subari added that a special commission will be working on ending suspended prison terms for some 4,000 individuals. The move comes days after Georgia’s new government officially started work. The government is led by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition won the country’s parliamentary elections on 1 October. (RFE/RL)
Kazan: Three dead in Russia gun battle
At least two suspected Islamic militants and a member of the security forces have been shot dead in a clash in the central Russian city of Kazan, local officials say. The shooting came after the militants were surrounded in a residential building in an operation against “especially dangerous criminals”. Police said one of the dead militants was wearing a suicide belt. Kazan is capital of a region with large numbers of Muslim Tatars and Bashkirs. Officials said the militants had been planning an attack to coincide with the Kurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha) holiday, to be celebrated on 25-26 October. Special security operations against Islamists are relatively common in the volatile North Caucasus region but rare in Tatarstan. Officials said the gunmen had been holed up on the ground floor of an apartment building in the suburbs of Kazan. (BBC News)
Special Report: Worldwide Spending and Priorities
Defense spending by Europe’s four biggest military powers is set to steadily fall over the next few years as continuing financial strains force further austerity measures. Britain, France, Germany and Italy have all been in retreat on defense spending for some time as the need to reduce budget deficits has taken priority. That situation is unlikely to ease soon, and the budget calculations being made around major Western European capitals will likely entail further hits to defense equipment. A senior French defense official summed up the situation last week: “We probably have very difficult days ahead of us,” he told a 17 October conference on NATO’s Smart Defense initiative organized by the think tank Institut Français des Relations Internationales. The official was talking about France, but he could have been speaking on behalf of the other big players in Western Europe as well as many of the smaller spenders in the region, such as the Netherlands, Spain and Greece. France, Europe’s second biggest defense spender, is in a budgetary holding pattern as the government prepares a defense and security white paper for publication at the end of the year. The report will update strategic objectives and effectively set the scope for France’s military reach in the world. That will allow planners to draw up the 2014-19 multiyear defense budget law, which translates the geopolitical outlook into program funding. The outlook for the multiyear defense budget, however, is grim as the government seeks to balance the budget. (DefenseNews)
UK economy returns to growth with help from Olympics
The UK economy emerged from recession in the three months from July to September, helped by the Olympic Games. The economy grew by 1.0%, according to official gross domestic product figures (GDP), which measure the value of everything produced in the country. The Office for National Statistics said that Olympic ticket sales had added 0.2 percentage points to the figures. The figures will be welcomed by business and ministers, said the BBC’s economics editor Stephanie Flanders. “The positive ‘surprise’ in these figures is largely to be found in the service sector, which is estimated to have grown by 1.3% in the third quarter, after shrinking by 0.1% in the three months before,” she said. The data also exceeded expectations from economists, who had predicted an increase of 0.6% in the quarter. (BBC News)
U.K. To Equip Support Vessels With Phalanx Protection
Britain’s Ministry of Defence is to increase the ability of naval support ships to defend themselves against swarms of fast attack craft and other threats. The MoD said it has signed a deal with Raytheon to supply five Phalanx 1B close-in weapon systems for fitting to Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships. All five weapons systems are scheduled to be delivered next year. Babcock Marine will install and support the weapons in service. (…) The close-in weapon systems are being purchased to increase the protection of vessels going into potentially high-threat areas like the Arabian Gulf. A statement released by the MoD said the Gatling gun was capable of defending ships against threats such as “groups of gunboats.” Swarms of small high-speed attack craft are a capability developed by Iran and aimed at overwhelming the defenses of opposition naval forces. A spokesman for the MoD declined to name the vessels the gun systems would be fitted to. (DefenseNews)
Q&A: EU crime and justice opt-out
The UK is considering opting out of EU measures on crime and policing. Here is a guide to the issue:
What is the UK opt-out on crime and policing?
Before signing up to the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the last Labour government negotiated an opt-out for Britain on 130 measures on cross-EU cooperation on crime and justice that had been agreed before the treaty came into force. The measures cover a range of areas but are designed to make it easier for police across the EU to cooperate and also to ensure fair treatment in different judicial systems for all EU citizens.
Why is it being discussed now?
Responsibility for policing EU laws in these areas will pass to the European Court of Justice from December 2014, after a five year transition period following the Lisbon Treaty. At this point, the UK either has to opt-in and accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice on all the 130 pre-Lisbon measures or pull out of them completely. If it chooses to opt out, it can, at a later date, try and opt in to individual measures on a case-by-case basis, but this will be subject to approval by the rest of the EU.
What does the government want to do?
In a statement to MPs on 15 October, Home Secretary Theresa May said current government thinking was to opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice matters. She said they would then negotiate with the European Commission and other member states to opt back in to those individual measures “that it is in our national interest to rejoin”.
What would be affected if Britain chose to opt-out?
The most high profile and contentious measure is the European Arrest Warrant, which has been used in a number of cases to bring suspects back to the UK. (…) Other measures covered by the opt-out are the laws that establish the EU’s judicial and policing organisations Europol and Eurojust and shared databases of criminals and DNA between member states.
Do the Conservative and Liberal Democrats agree?
The issue could lead to tensions between the coalition partners. In their last manifesto, the Conservatives opposed the arrest warrant but the Lib Dems said they wanted to keep it and the UK’s membership of Europol and Eurojust. (…) However, the Lib Dems are expected to push for the readoption of the European Arrest Warrant and renewed participation in EU-wide policing bodies.
What does Labour say?
It was under the Labour government that the opt-out was originally negotiated, but shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has stressed the importance of the European Arrest Warrant in fighting crime and securing justice for victims. If the government chooses to opt out of all the measures, Labour wants it to set out clearly how it would replace the European Arrest Warrant and say whether it would, in the future, choose to opt back in to the system.
What does the legal profession think about the opt-out?
The Law Societies of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have jointly expressed concerns about a wholesale opt-out and, along with the Bar Council, want a full public consultation before the government makes a decision. …
What happens next?
A number of parliamentary committees are expected to scrutinise what opting out will mean for the UK and provide recommendations to the government. There will also be a vote in both Houses of Parliament, although exactly when this will take place has yet to be decided, with a clearer timetable expected in the new year. The final decision on what the UK does has to be taken by 31 May 2014. (BBC News)
Belarus, China agree to strengthen investment cooperation
Belarus and China have agreed to strengthen investment cooperation, which is beneficial to both parties. This is one of the results of the 13th meeting of the Belarusian-Chinese intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation held in Minsk on 30 October. According to Vice Premier of Belarus Anatoly Tozik, credit and investment cooperation between the two countries over the past year served as the basis of bilateral economic relations and was very dynamic. With the use of Chinese loans Belarus carried out important projects to upgrade the Belarusian economy. Today, the total amount of credit support from China for investment projects in Belarus stands at about $5.5 billion. (BelTA)
Belarus to host Days of Culture of Serbia in 2013
Belarus will host the Days of Culture of Serbia in 2013. The agreement was reached by Culture Minister of Belarus Pavel Latushko and Minister of Culture and Information of Serbia Bratislav Petkovic, who signed a cooperation program in culture and art for 2012-2017. Pavel Latushko noted that the Days of Culture of Serbia in Belarus is a response action. The Days of Belarusian Culture were held in Serbia in 2005. Back then Belarusian art was represented by the State Chamber Orchestra, vocal group Kamerata of the Belarusian Philharmonic, song and dance company “Belye Rosy” of the Grodno Regional Philharmonic, the soloists of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater of the Republic of Belarus. In his words, the sides are expected to pay more attention to joint work in cinematography. Belarus has been invited to hold the Days of Belarusian Cinema in Serbia in 2013. The Days of Serbian Cinema will be held in Belarus in 2014. There are plans to involve filmmakers and producers of the two countries in considering joint cinematographic projects. The cooperation program approved by the two ministries also envisages development of contacts in music and theater art, museum and library affairs, exhibition activity, protection of historical and cultural heritage. (BelTA)
German Refusal on Bank Aid Mars End of Europe Summit
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany damped expectations on 19 October that Irish and Spanish banks hobbled by the financial crisis would receive direct aid from a newly established European bailout fund. If her view prevails, and Germany’s often does, European rescue loans for the troubled banks, at least in the near term, would be carried on the books of the governments in Dublin and Madrid, adding to their debt burdens. The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has been particularly intent on avoiding that burden. But Ms. Merkel’s comments on 19 October, at the conclusion of a two-day summit meeting of European leaders, made it clear that Germany was among the countries not willing to let bailout money flow directly to troubled banks any time soon. And even if it consented someday, the money would be meant to solve the banks’ future problems, not to clean up existing messes. “If recapitalization is possible, it will only be possible for the future,” Ms. Merkel said at a news conference. Spanish and Irish hopes had been buoyed at a summit meeting in June, when the bloc’s leaders agreed on a way that direct aid to banks might be able to flow from the new bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism. The condition was that a central regulator for euro zone banks first be put in place under the aegis of the European Central Bank. But market pressures have eased significantly since June, and with them the sense of crisis. And Germany, backed by Finland and the Netherlands, has been urging a more carefully considered approach to centralized banking regulation for the region. (…) Germany is the biggest contributor to the permanent bailout fund, and Ms. Merkel faced the unwelcome prospect of dipping into that pot before national elections in Germany in September 2013. Such aid could be an election issue because German citizens have grown weary of paying most of the bill for bailouts, and they are wary of using more money to help Spanish banks. At the news conference, Ms. Merkel denied that one of her goals at the meeting had been to block the prospect of any new German-financed bailouts before the elections next year. But she acknowledged that it would be hard to erase that perception. (NY Times)
Germany, France Say November Key to Keeping Greece in Euro
France and Germany will strive over the next four weeks to stop Greece from unsettling markets as officials work to put the country’s faltering bailout plan back on the rails, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said. Moscovici made his comments at a joint press conference in Berlin today with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble, as their deputies entered a second day of negotiations in Brussels to lay the groundwork for a Greece-related conference call tomorrow. The working group “is making good progress step by step in the difficult question of Greece,” Schaeuble said. “I just want to underline that we continue to seek a comprehensive solution during the month of November, to end the uncertainty,” Moscovici said. “And we will marshal all of our forces for that.” Germany and France are equally determined “that Greece stays in the euro zone, and that Greece makes the necessary efforts to ensure the integrity of the euro zone.” Euro-area finance chiefs are readying for talks as the 17- nation bloc grapples over ways to fill Greece’s financing gap and ease investor concerns that it might have to exit from the euro. Ministers are due to hold a conference call at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, then a Nov. 12 meeting in Brussels, with a possible special gathering slated for 8 November. (Bloomberg)
Greece agrees deal with creditors on austerity plan
Greece has reached agreement with its international creditors on new austerity measures necessary to release fresh bailout funds. Parliament was due to vote on the package, plus a budget, on Tuesday, but this has been delayed a week. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said: “If this deal is approved and the budget is voted, Greece will stay in the euro and exit the crisis.” If passed, Greece will impose 13.5bn euros ($17.4bn; £10.8bn) of cuts. Details of the budget cuts remain sketchy, but Mr Samaras is seeking broader powers to privatise public services. However, there has been dissent among members of the three-party coalition government, and the delay in voting on the package will give Mr Samaras more time to reach a consensus. He has warned that Greece will run out of cash next month unless it receives 31.2bn euros in loans from the EU-IMF bailout fund. The prime minister said in a statement on 30 October that he had “exhausted all the available time” to try and reach a consensus in parliament. “The problem is not whether we (introduce) this measure or that measure,” he said. “On the contrary, it is what we would do if no agreement is reached and the country is led into chaos.” But a coalition party, the Democratic Left, has refused to back the austerity cuts. The party said in a statement on Tuesday: “The Democratic Left has fought on the issue of labour relations, to protect workers’ rights which have been already weakened. “It does not agree with the result of the negotiations. The Democratic Left sticks to its position.” (BBC News)
Spain recession drags on with no aid in view
Spain fell deeper into recession in the third quarter and prices rose sharply in October, piling pressure on the government to revive a paralyzed economy as it stalls over requesting aid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is in no hurry to apply for a politically humiliating financial rescue that would kickstart an ECB bond-buying programme and ease financing costs. But the worsening economy, along with spreading civil unrest, may force his hand. Numbers published on Tuesday added to evidence that the country is trapped in a ‘stagflationary’ spiral of shrinking growth, high inflation and high unemployment. Gross domestic product shrank for the fifth straight quarter between July and September, dropping 0.3 percent, while consumer prices rose by 3.5 percent year-on-year in October, the two sets of National Statistics Institute data showed. Elected just under a year ago on an austerity ticket, Rajoy has signed off on a belt-tightening programme worth over 60 billion euros through to the end 2014 to cut the public deficit. But the spending cuts have dented investment while tax rises have hit consumers’ pockets and driven prices higher. The cutbacks have also led to increasingly frequent protests focused on Madrid and fuelled already strong separatist sentiments, notably in the powerful northeastern province of Catalonia. (Reuters)
Russian Lawmakers Denounce EU Parliament’s Magnitsky Resolution
Russian lawmakers are denouncing a proposal by the European Parliament that all EU member states impose travel and financial restrictions on Russian officials implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky. On 24 October, Leonid Slutsky, a State Duma deputy and the deputy head of the Russian delegation to the European Parliament, called the proposal a “gross interference in Russia’s internal affairs.” Aleksei Pushkov, the head of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee said it “aims to divide Europe and Russia.” The European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a resolution with the recommendations on 23 October. Magnitsky, a Moscow attorney, was allegedly tortured and beaten to death in custody in 2009 after reportedly uncovering fraud by Russian authorities. (SRFE/RL)
Russia Says Syria Rebels Have U.S.-Made Stinger Missiles
The Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have shoulder-launched missile systems, including Stingers made by the United States, Russia’s top general said on 24 October. Russian chief of staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov, whose country is the Syrian regime’s top arms supplier and has refused to back the rebels, said it was not clear who had delivered the weapons. (…) “We need to still find out who has delivered them,” he said. Makarov said it was possible that these and other weapons could have been delivered to the rebels from abroad on several means of transport, including passenger planes. “For this all kinds of transport could be activated, including civil aviation. This is a serious matter,” Makarov said. NBC News of the United States had reported in July that the rebel Free Syrian Army had obtained two dozen surface-to-air missiles (man-portable air-defense systems known as MANPADS) that were delivered via Turkey. Makarov noted that Washington has denied sending arms to the rebels but said the information that U.S.-made Stingers had appeared in the rebels’ arsenal should now be taken into account. (DefenseNews)
Russia Ready To Start Rearmament
The head of the company that manufactures MiG warplanes says he expects the Russian Air Force will start receiving new MiG-35 fighters in 2014. Sergei Korotkov said he expected final contracts for the deal would be signed with Russia’s Defense Ministry on 25 October. Korotkov’s comments come after the chairman of the Russian Duma’s Defense Committee, Vladimir Komoyedov, said on 24 October that Russia would spend around 100 billion rubles (about $3.2 billion) on its nuclear weapons force by 2015. President Vladimir Putin announced during his campaign for reelection earlier this year that Russia would spend about $770 billion on rearming its military over the next 10 years. (RFE/RL)
Romania’s foreign reserves under threat from debt
The President of Romania’s Fiscal Council Ionut Dumitru has warned that Romania’s external debt payments will spike in the next two years and the country will have to cough up EUR 13 billion in repayments. The size of the payments due to service the debt could put Romania’s foreign reserves in serious danger, unless urgent steps are taken, cautioned the Fiscal Council President Ionut Dumitru. (…) Romania’s Central Bank (BNR) is to repay around 7.6 billion without interest to the IMS over 2013 and 2014, while the Ministry of Finance can expect some EUR 1.8 billion in maturing bonds in 2013 and around EUR 1 billion the following year. According to Ionut Dumitru, if the funding gap cannot be covered by the BNR’s international reserves, a new adjustment of the current account deficit will have to be accepted. This, believes Dumitru, would be accompanied by exchange rate depreciation and ultimately compromise economic recovery (Romania-Insider)
Region’s Struggles Seen in a Romanian Scandal
This summer, after the police arrived at the handsome villa of Adrian Nastase, a former prime minister of Romania, to arrest him on corruption charges, he apparently pulled out a revolver and tried to kill himself. Millions of Romanians watched on television as Mr. Nastase, 62, was carried off on a stretcher, a Burberry scarf wrapped around his neck. He survived, and one week later was behind bars. But this is Romania, where everything, it seems, is a matter of dispute. Anticorruption advocates hailed Mr. Nastase’s downfall as a seminal moment in the evolution of a young democracy. Others have called his conviction for siphoning $2 million in state funds for his presidential campaign a show trial. Mr. Nastase’s opponents now allege that he faked a suicide attempt in an effort to avoid prison. His son, Andrei Nastase, who was at the house at the time, said the accusation was absurd. Whatever the truth, Adrian Nastase now occupies a cell measuring 43 square feet. On his jailhouse blog, he recently recounted how prisoners ate cabbage and potatoes, braved rats and had hot water for two hours twice a week. Today, analysts here and abroad say the Nastase case has come to reveal as much about Romania’s political polarization and dysfunction as its halting steps toward greater democracy. It comes amid heightened fears in the European Union that its newest and weakest members are not up to the task of rooting out corruption that is a legacy of decades of Communist rule and, indeed, of weak governance before that. Across Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans, countries are experiencing a surge of instability that, analysts say, stems almost in equal parts from endemic corruption and the sometimes ham-handed efforts to combat it in the context of bitter political rivalries. The European Union, with 27 member nations, is so concerned about creeping lawlessness among its new members that Romania and its neighbor Bulgaria, which both entered in 2007, have not joined the bloc’s passport/visa-free travel area. (NY Times)
Ukraine Ruling Party Poised For Majority
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s party and its allies appear poised to secure a parliamentary majority in elections that have been condemned as flawed by outside observers. Nearly complete results from the 28 October voting showed the Party of Regions leading with more than 32 percent. Projections say that with results from voting in single-mandate precincts, and expected support from allies such as the Communist Party, the Party of Regions appears likely to lead a majority in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. Half of the Rada’s seats are filled from party lists, the other half from single-mandate constituencies. The partial results show the Fatherland bloc of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in second place, with around 24 percent. The Communist Party was in third with about 14 percent, followed by the UDAR party of boxing champion Vitaly Klichko at around 13 percent, and the nationalist Freedom party at around 9 percent. In a written statement, Tymoshenko denounced the elections as “falsified from start to finish.” (RFE/RL)
OSCE Criticizes Ukraine Elections
International election monitors have given a strongly negative assessment of Ukraine’s parliamentary vote while ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has gone on hunger strike to protest the manner in which the poll was conducted. Speaking on 29 October at a press conference in Kyiv, Walburga Habsburg Douglas, the head of the short-term monitoring mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), maintained that the vote had dealt a severe setback to Ukraine’s democratic gains: “Considering the abuse of power and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine,” she said. Habsburg Douglas blamed ruling politicians for using administrative resources to influence the outcome of the vote. She also said the campaign was marked by biased media coverage and a lack of financial transparency. The Western monitoring groups, which included observer missions from NATO and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), noted relatively few irregularities on voting day. But monitors criticized the tabulation of the vote count, which they said was conducted privately with no room for impartial oversight. (RFE/RL)
Public Support Low for Possible Fight Against Syria
The chances of a war erupting between Turkey and Syria appear to be rising. But the heated rhetoric of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government does not seem to be matched by public enthusiasm for conflict. The escalation in tension follows an incident 3 October, when Syrian shelling killed two women and three children in the Turkish border town of Akcakale. The Turkish parliament responded on 4 October with a motion sanctioning military intervention into “foreign countries.” In the days since, Turkish artillery has been returning fire at the Syrian army. “We have retaliated [for Syrian shelling] and if it continues, we’ll respond more strongly,” Turkish media outlets have quoted the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Necdet Ozel, as saying. While the Turkish Foreign Ministry has warned that “enough is enough,” opinion polls suggest a hardening and ever-increasing majority of Turks oppose armed intervention in the Syrian conflict. The latest opinion poll, conducted from 14-19 September by Metropol, an agency considered close to the Turkish government, found 76 percent of 3,000 respondents opposed going to war with Syria unilaterally, although the figure fell to 58 percent if such an intervention was supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Turkey is a member. “Most Turks consider Turkish intervention as such a quagmire like Iraq was for the United States,” cautioned Semih İdiz, a foreign-affairs columnist for the daily Milliyet. “There would be no public support.” Despite daily news broadcasts showing the latest horrific pictures from Syria, opposition to Turkish armed action, until now, has been largely passive. But on 4 October, thousands of people protested in the heart of Istanbul against a potential war with Syria. Similar, smaller protests were held nationwide in the first significant display of public opposition to Turkey’s stance on Syria. (EurAsiaNet)
As always, we’re eager to hear feedback on the usefulness of this service as well as your suggestions on improving it.