Shuttered: EU ditches summit 'family photo'

Shuttered: EU ditches summit 'family photo'
EU leaders pose for a family photo during the European Summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on June 28, 2016 (AFP Photo/JOHN THYS)

EU founding fathers signed 'blank' Treaty of Rome (1957)

EU founding fathers signed 'blank' Treaty of Rome (1957)
The Treaty of Rome was signed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, one of the Renaissance palaces that line the Michelangelo-designed Capitoline Square in the Italian capital

Merkel says fall of Wall proves 'dreams can come true'

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013. They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."
"Update on Current Events" – Jul 23, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Subjects: The Humanization of God, Gaia, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Benevolent Design, Financial Institutes (Recession, System to Change ...), Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Nuclear Power Revealed, Geothermal Power, Hydro Power, Drinking Water from Seawater, No need for Oil as Much, Middle East in Peace, Persia/Iran Uprising, Muhammad, Israel, DNA, Two Dictators to fall soon, Africa, China, (Old) Souls, Species to go, Whales to Humans, Global Unity,..... etc.)
(Subjects: Who/What is Kryon ?, Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" Managed Business, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)

"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Is Weinstein scandal a watershed for French women too?

Yahoo – AFP, Jessica LOPEZ and Clare BYRNE, October 21, 2017

Since the recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein, thousands of women
 have spoken out about their experiences of sexual harassment (AFP Photo/

Paris (AFP) - It took the fall of a US movie mogul to breach the culture of silence around sexual assault and harassment in France, but French feminist Caroline De Haas believes the country has turned a corner.

"There will be a before and an after #balancetonporc," she told AFP.

The #balancetonporc (expose your pig) hashtag is the French variant of the #metoo campaign launched in response to the plethora of abuse allegations that toppled movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Over the past week, social media accounts in France -- like in the US -- have been awash with accounts of harassment or assault, with tens of thousands of women (and some men) adding their names to the list of alleged victims.

In a country long seen as soft on sexual harassment -- where the predatory style of ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was an open secret before he was brought down by a US assault case brought by a hotel maid -- feminists see the flood of testimonies as a turning point.

"Even if many women didn't share their stories they will certainly have been impacted," Haas said. "They (the accounts) give voice to a legitimate anger that has been contained for too long."

The French campaign was started by US-based French journalist, Sandra Muller, who shared a story on Twitter of a humiliating advance from a top French executive.

French feminist Caroline De Haas believes France has turned a corner in
standing up to sexual assault and harassment (AFP Photo/JOEL SAGET)

"You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night," she quoted him as saying in a tweet urging others to also out tormentors or aggressors.

Similar stories of harassment or abuse -- on the street, on public transport, at work -- flooded in immediately.

One woman described an "old man in his 70s who undressed me with his eyes in the metro".

Another noted that "the saddest thing, in fact, is that we all have similar anecdotes".

Christine Bard, a professor of feminist history at Angers University in western France, described the outpouring as unprecedented.

"All these women, from all over, saying the same thing, breaks the silence and the individual logic which makes you think you're the only one afraid," she said.

Over half of the French women surveyed for an Odoxa-Dentsu poll published Friday -- 53 percent -- said they had been victims of sexual assault or harassment.

Rape reporting 'explosion'

While the French film industry has so far avoided being caught up in the fallout from the Weinstein scandal, the host of a French TV talent show has been taken off air over allegations of misconduct involving a leading jury member.

M6 broadcaster said it had decided to pull France's answer to "America's Got Talent" after several women came forward with allegations of harassment or assault against Canadian impresario Gilbert Rozon.

The chauvinistic world of French politics has also been thrust back into the spotlight.

This week, the daughter of a former conservative minister accused an elderly former Socialist minister of having sexually assaulted her at the Paris Opera -- allegations he denied.

Calls to the French Collective against Rape hotline have "exploded", the group's
 head Emmanuelle Piet said (AFP Photo/ALAIN JOCARD)

An MP in President Emmanuel Macron's party is facing claims of harassment by his former parliamentary assistant, Franceinfo radio reported Friday, while a member of the greater Paris regional council has been excluded by his party after claims made by two female associates.

In a sign of the momentum behind the campaign, the government has announced plans for tougher sanctions against offenders.

Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said she aimed to introduce on-the-spot fines for the harassment of women on the street by early 2018 -- after a taskforce comes up with a definition of harassment.

"Today, all too often, people don't complain because they don't dare," Macron said on Sunday.

French associations for the victims of sexual assault have meanwhile reported a sharp rise in calls since #balancetonporc went viral. Emmanuelle Piet, head of the French Collective against Rape said the group's hotline had "exploded".

Feminists like De Haas hope that many of the women who shared their stories will dare to show their faces at a November 25 rally to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Odoxa poll showed most women -- and a small majority of men -- supporting the #balancetonporc hashtag.

But a sizeable minority -- 38 percent of women and 47 percent of men -- said they feared it would serve as a conduit for "unverified complaints that can lead to all sorts of abuses".

And as with other social media campaigns that mobilise millions online, the proof of its effectiveness will be in whether it succeeds in changing behaviour in the real world.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Rutte: send EU accession money for Turkey to human rights organisations

DutchNews, October 20, 2017

Photo: Maarten Hartman
Some EU leaders want to give less financial support to Turkey in preparation for possible EU membership because of concerns about human rights violations, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has said. 

Rutte told the media that this was the subject of the first day of meetings of the 28 EU leaders in Brussels. 

According to NOS broadcaster, he said on Thursday night that subsidies currently given to the Turkish government would be better off diverted to human rights organisations. 

The proposal to stop pre-accession funding comes from German chancellor Angela Merkel, who criticised the ‘absolutely unsatisfying human rights situation in Turkey’ but said she did not want to ‘break bridges’ or have a showdown with the NATO country. 

Rutte said that accession negotiations with Turkey are at a standstill. ‘They are comatose, and that will not change,’ he said. But he added that there is no consensus among EU leaders for a Dutch proposal to shut down funding to the country completely. 

Brexit is also on the agenda for the European leaders.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Slain Malta journalist's sons dismiss reward, tell PM to quit

Yahoo – AFP, Robin MILLARD, October 19, 2017

Matthew Caruana Galizia (C) and Peter Caruana Galizia (2ndL), son and husband
of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and policemen walk past the wreckage of the car
bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia (AFP Photo/STR)

Valletta (AFP) - The sons of a murdered Maltese journalist on Thursday dismissed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's offer of a reward to help find her killers and called for him to quit.

Muscat has ruled out quitting and has vowed to bring those responsible for killing a reporter he has described as his "greatest adversary" to justice, with the help of FBI investigators.

On Wednesday Muscat told parliament that the government would put up a "substantial and unprecedented reward," for information leading to a conviction over Monday's car bomb killing of anti-corruption campaigner Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Her sons revealed that the government was putting up a million euros, but said they would not bow to pressure to endorse the idea.

"We are not interested in a criminal conviction only for the people in government who stood to gain from our mother's murder to turn around and say that justice has been served," they said.

"The Prime Minister asked for our endorsement. This is how he can get it: show political responsibility and resign."

Caruana Galizia had used her widely-read blog to highlight numerous cases of suspected corruption, including several scandals implicating Muscat's inner circle which had left her facing a string of legal suits.

Daphne Caruana Galizia had used her widely read blog to highlight numerous 
cases of suspected corruption (AFP Photo/Matthew Mirabelli)

Her sons, Matthew, Andrew and Paul, said Muscat should resign because he had worked to "cripple our mother financially and dehumanise her so brutally and effectively that she no longer felt safe walking down the street.

"And before resigning he can make his last act in government the replacement of the Police Commissioner and Attorney General with public servants who won’t be afraid to act on evidence against him and those he protects."

Muscat called and won an early election in June after the late journalist said she had evidence that his wife Michelle was the beneficiary of a secret Panama bank account.

Caruana Galizia, 53, alleged the account was used to stash kickbacks from Azerbaijan's ruling family linked to an Azeri bank gaining a licence to operate in Malta.

Muscat asked a magistrate to investigate the claims and has vowed to quit if any link is established between him and hidden offshore accounts.

The investigation, which the opposition has derided as rigged, is ongoing.

The journalist's killing has caused shock around the world and prompted much soul-searching in Malta over whether the country is becoming a cesspit of corruption against the backdrop of an economic boom which some see as having allowed both organised crime and a kickbacks culture to flourish.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Three killed, 360,000 without power as freak storm hits Ireland

Yahoo – AFP, Julien LAGACHE, October 17, 2017

Dark clouds gathered over the Irish Sea and Dublin as Ireland braced for the
passing of the storm Ophelia that left three dead and hundreds of thousands of
homes without power (AFP Photo/Ben STANSALL)

Dublin (AFP) - Ireland was hit by what officials called an "unprecedented storm" on Monday that left three people dead, more than 300,000 customers without power and shut down schools as well as government offices.

A police spokesman said one woman in her 50s was killed outside the village of Aglish, near the south coast, when a tree fell on her car. A female passenger in her 70s suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

One man died in an accident while he was clearing a fallen tree with a chainsaw near the town of Cahir, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) further inland.

And the third victim was a man killed on the roads by a falling tree north of Dundalk in the northeast, close to the border with Northern Ireland, police said in a statement.

Ophelia, the largest hurricane ever recorded so far east in the Atlantic Ocean and the furthest north since 1939, was downgraded to a storm before it hit the Irish coast but nonetheless wrought havoc.

"It will still however bring violent and destructive winds for a time," Met Eireann, the Irish National Meteorological Service, said on Monday.

Flooding was also expected "due to either heavy thundery downpours or storm surges in coastal areas," the service said after issuing a red alert for the whole country.

Winds reached 191 kilometres (119 miles) per hour at Fastnet Rock, Ireland's southernmost point, while the strongest winds recorded onshore were 156 kph (97 mph) at the entrance to Cork Harbour in the southwest.

Seventeen millimetres of rain fell at Valentia on the southwest coast, including nine millimetres (third of an inch) in one hour.

The Electricity Supply Board said 330,000 customers were without power, due to more than 3,200 individual faults on the network.

Map showing the path of Storm Ophelia (AFP Photo/Laurence CHU)

PM says stay indoors

"We can predict that it will take a number of days to restore power to all customers. Five to 10 per cent of this number will be without power for up to 10 days," it said.

Dublin Airport scrapped 180 flights while Cork Airport cancelled most flights in what it said was the worst storm seen in its 56-year history. Meanwhile several services to and from Shannon, the third-biggest airport, were also grounded.

Across the border in Northern Ireland, Belfast airport also saw extensive delays and cancellations.

Power cuts affected 18,000 customers in Northern Ireland, after power lines and poles came down due to strong winds and flying debris, supplier NIE Networks said.

"Stay indoors wherever you are until the storm has passed," Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in comments to reporters.

"I don't want anyone to think that this is anything other than a national emergency and a red alert."

The Department of Education closed all schools, colleges and other education institutions on Monday due to the "unprecedented storm", with minister Richard Burton saying schools would remain closed on Tuesday.

Government offices were also shut.

Ireland's top football team Cork City were hit when their stadium roof collapsed, the day before they hoped to seal the league title at their Turners Cross ground.

The eye of the storm is forecast to track across Northern Ireland and then Scotland.

Though it will weaken as it goes, gusts are expected to reach 80 mph (129 kph) in the UK.

Huge waves strike the harbour wall and lighthouse at Porthcawl, south Wales, on 
October 16, 2017 as Storm Ophelia hits the UK and Ireland. (AFP Photo/Geoff CADDICK)

Britain's Met Office issued amber severe weather warnings for Northern Ireland, Wales, and southern Scotland, saying power cuts, transport disruption, flying debris and large waves were likely.

"This leads to the potential for injuries and danger to life," the national weather service said.

The fringes of the storm turned the hitherto sunny afternoon skies over London a murky shade of brown-orange, due to the southerly warm winds bringing dust from the Sahara Desert.

Ophelia came 30 years to the day after the Great Storm, which ravaged southern England in the early hours of October 16, 1987, leaving 18 people dead.

Hurricane season

Ophelia is the 15th named storm of the 2017 Atlantic season, which is expected to last until the end of November.

Three major hurricanes -- Harvey, Irma and Maria -- caused catastrophic damage in the Caribbean and the US Gulf Coast.

Ophelia was classed Category 3 on Saturday as it passed near Portugal's Azores islands, which means it packed winds of at least 178 kilometres per hour.

Though seven of the nine islands in the Azores were on high alert, the storm did not cause major damage.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hundreds march through Kosovo's capital for the strongly conservative country's first gay pride parade

Dutch finance minister to stay on as Eurogroup chairman

DutchNews, October 10, 2017

Finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem on the annual spending review. Photo:
Finance ministry still 

Dutch caretaker finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem is to stay on as chairman of the influential Eurogroup of finance ministers until January next year, even though he will no longer be a minister by then. 

Members of the group decided unanimously on Monday that Dijsselbloem can remain in the job until the second of his two terms in office expires at the beginning of 2018. His replacement will be chosen by the Council of Ministers on December 4. 

Dijsselbloem, a Labour minister, has won praise for the way he has carried out the job, particularly in his support for an EU banking union, according to the NRC. 

He has also faced calls for his resignation after last year telling a German newspaper that there is a need for budgetary discipline among the member states in the Eurozone. ‘I cannot spend all my money on drink and women and then ask for help,’ he said. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

EU orders Amazon to pay Luxembourg tax bill

France24 –AFP, by Alex PIGMAN

AFP/File / by Alex PIGMAN | Europe's competition chief Margrethe Vestager accused
tiny Luxembourg of an illegal deal with internet shopping giant Amazon to pay less tax
than other businesses

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The EU turned the screw on US tech giants Wednesday, ordering Amazon to repay Luxembourg 250 million euros in back taxes and referring Ireland to the top EU court for failing to collect billions from Apple.

Europe's competition chief Margrethe Vestager accused tiny Luxembourg of an illegal deal with internet shopping giant Amazon to pay less tax than other businesses.

The two cases are part of a wider offensive by the EU on Silicon Valley behemoths as Europe seeks ways to regulate them more tightly on issues ranging from privacy to taxation.

De expositie "Women House" door 40 vrouwelijke kunstenaars in de Monnaie de Paris, uitgebeeld door kunstenares KASHINK
"Luxembourg gave illegal tax benefits to Amazon. As a result, almost three quarters of Amazon's profits were not taxed," Vestager said in a statement.

The tax demand comes a year after the hard-charging Vestager ordered tech icon Apple to repay 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) in back-taxes to Ireland in a decision that shocked the world.

In a sign that it was not letting up, the EU on Wednesday referred Ireland to the EU's highest court for failing to collect the bill.

"The European Commission has decided to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice for failing to recover from Apple illegal state aid," the EU's anti-trust regulator said in a statement.

For its part, Amazon rejected the charges and said it would "study the commission's ruling and consider our legal options".

"We believe that Amazon did not receive any special treatment from Luxembourg and that we paid tax in full accordance with both Luxembourg and international tax law," it said in a statement.

Silicon Valley targeted

Vestager's announcement comes days after the EU said at a special digital summit that it was drawing up a special tax targeting Google and Facebook, a policy championed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Launched three years ago, the European Commission's probe into Amazon's deals with Luxembourg was part of several investigations into sweetheart tax arrangements between major companies and several EU countries.

The commission -- the EU's powerful executive arm responsible for policing its competition rules -- opened the probe in 2014 in the belief that Luxembourg's tax favours to Amazon constituted "state aid" that distorts competition.

Many came in the wake of the "Luxleaks" scandal which revealed details of tax breaks given by the tiny but wealthy duchy of Luxembourg to dozens of major US firms.

The revelations came as a particular embarrassment for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who was prime minister of Luxembourg at the time when the tax deals were made.

In similar cases, Vestager decided against the tax deals for coffee-shop chain Starbucks by the Netherlands and Italian automaker Fiat by Luxembourg -- both companies were ordered to pay roughly 30 million euros.

The Amazon case hinges on the belief that a tax deal between Luxembourg and Amazon in 2003 constituted illegal state aid, giving the company an unfair advantage over competitors.

Once found at fault, a country must recover the amount granted in illegal state aid, potentially a huge amount of money given that some of the tax deals date back many years.

Amazon has sharply rejected the allegations, arguing that it employs 1,500 people in Luxembourg and that its business remains unprofitable in Europe.

Vestager's biggest decision was by far against Apple in Ireland, which shocked Washington. The iPhone maker, as well as Ireland, have appealed the decision.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

German gay couples tie knot after decades of struggle

Yahoo – AFP, Tom BARFIELD, 29 September 2017

Some 94,000 same sex couples in Germany can marry after a June vote which
gave participants cause to celebrate at Berlin's annual gay pride parade weeks later

Germany's first gay couples to be married will tie the knot Sunday, after decades of struggle that campaigners say still has ground to make up.

Couples will convert existing civil partnerships or set the seal on their relationships for the first time in Berlin, while others exchange rings in Hanover, Hamburg and other cities.

Local authorities rushed to get weddings underway as soon as possible, after lawmakers voted on June 30 to give Germany's roughly 94,000 same-sex couples the right to marry.

But German bureaucracy being what it is, government software will be unable to officially record two men or two women as married until next year -- meaning some online paperwork will still register them as "husband" and "wife".

"Finally our country is joining the rest of Europe!" said Joerg Steinert, head of gay and lesbian rights organisation LSVD in Berlin and Brandenburg state.

The Netherlands was the first country to legalise gay marriage in 2000, followed piecemeal by 14 European neighbours like Spain, Sweden, Britain and France.

But Germany made do with a 2001 civil partnership law, extended over the years to remove more and more gaps between gay and straight couples' rights.

That was "a first breach in the institution," Steinert said, paving the way for Sunday's "very symbolic step."

"We won't be a second-class couple any longer," Bode Mende, who with partner Karl Kreil will form the first couple to marry in Berlin, told newspaper Neues Deutschland Thursday.

Mende and Kreil, together since 1979, have for years campaigned for equal marriage rights.

The law now reads "marriage binds two people of different sexes or the same sex for life".

By extending existing law to same-sex pairs, they automatically gain the same tax advantages and adoption rights as heterosexual families, avoiding the endless back-and-forth in some nations over adoption.

Along with the Greens party, the LSVD began its battle for equal marriage rights around the year 1990.

By 2017, same-sex relationships have become so normalised that polls show around 75 percent of Germans are in favour of gay marriage.

Unlike in France, there were no rallies of hundreds of thousands against the law.

"Lots of people were amazed by the end that it hadn't already happened, asking themselves, 'surely we have that already?'" said MP Johannes Kahrs, gay and lesbian affairs commissioner for the SPD -- who himself will act as witness in a close friend's wedding Sunday.

Despite a "memorable experience" meeting a lesbian foster couple German 
Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the June bill while giving other conservative
lawmakers the chance to follow their personal conscience

'Thanks for nothing!'

Lawmaker Kahrs enjoyed a flash of fame in June, when he laid into the snap decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel allowing conservative MPs to follow their conscience on a gay marriage vote -- the trigger for the rush to pass a bill.

"Thank you for nothing, Frau Merkel!" he stormed, pounding the lectern in the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) with rage.

Merkel explained her thinking changed after a "memorable experience" when she met a lesbian couple who lovingly care for eight foster children in her Baltic coast constituency.

Her surprise shift in position -- after 12 years of blockade by her Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies -- was seen by some as a cynical ploy to rob her challengers of a popular cause ahead of September's election.

The chancellor herself voted against the bill, arguing that the German constitution still defines marriage as "the union of a man and a woman".

"I still think it was indecent to delay for so many years, and the fact that she voted no," Kahrs told AFP.

Even now, the conservative Bavarian government has put experts to work investigating a constitutional challenge against the law.

But Kahrs is confident that a case will never be brought -- or, if it were, that judges would uphold gay marriage.

Long way to go

June was a bumper month for gay rights in Germany, as MPs also voted to quash the convictions of thousands of men convicted under a Nazi-era law against same-sex relationships which had remained on the statute book until 1994.

But there are still an array of issues familiar across western democracies, like blood donation or access to reproductive medicine, where homosexuals can be treated differently.

And the constitution -- which forbids discrimination based on sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, religious or political opinions or disability -- must be extended to protect against discrimination over gender or sexual orientation, Kahrs insisted.

"These are all things that we'll tackle bit by bit," the MP said.

"The important thing is that we've pushed through the opening of marriage, and that's the signal everyone needed."

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Fish finger fighting fund to aid EU food crackdown

Yahoo – AFP, 26 Sep 2017

Fish finger fighting fund to aid EU food crackdown

Brussels (AFP) - The EU unveiled plans Tuesday to crack down on food makers selling poor quality versions of products including Coca-Cola, Nutella and fish fingers in different parts of the bloc, particularly in eastern Europe.

Eastern member countries have complained bitterly of "food apartheid" or being treated as "Europe's garbage can" by manufacturers who use the same label for everyday goods that are of far lower standards than in the west.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm and watchdog, will give member states one million euros to help improve tests for comparing products to detect differences in quality.

"These products are presented in exactly the same packaging but for instance the coffee contains less caffeine and more sugar, fish fingers contain less meat in one country than another," EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Vera Jourova told a news conference.

"So when I say I take this issue very seriously I mean it," she added.

The plans also include making sure EU states are fully aware of the way to enforce the bloc's food rules.

The steps unveiled on Tuesday came after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a keynote speech earlier this month that "there can be no second class consumers" in the EU.

"Slovaks do not deserve less fish in their fish fingers. Hungarians less meat in their meals. Czechs less cacao in their chocolate. EU law outlaws such practices already," Juncker said.

Jourova held back from "naming and shaming" the products but said she was waiting for evidence of cheating.

Asked which EU country had the worst fish fingers, she added: "There was an alarmingly low percentage of meat in my country, the Czech Republic, but it can be the case also in some others."

In February Hungary's food safety authority said many food products sold with identical packaging were superior in neighbouring Austria.

Among a list of discrepancies, the agency said the version of Nutella, the children's favourite chocolate-and-hazelnut spread from Ferrero, appeared to be "less creamy" than the Austrian version.

The aroma of Coca-Cola was seemingly "less rich, less complex" in Hungary, the agency said, while the flavour of Nestle's Nesquik cocoa powder was "more harmonious and intense" in Austria.

Friday, September 22, 2017

France's Macron enacts contested labour reforms

Yahoo – AFP, Gina DOGGETT, 22 September 2017

France's Macron enacts his contested labour reforms

Paris (AFP) - President Emmanuel Macron on Friday signed sweeping changes to France's complex labour code into law, ramming through a landmark reform four months into his administration despite protests from hardline unions.

"The reform... constitutes an unprecedented transformation of our social model (and) the economic functioning of our country," the 39-year-old Macron said, adding that it had been "carried out in record time".

The measures are designed to give employers more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while making it easier and less costly to shed staff.

Macron signed the reform, contained in five executive orders, seated at his desk in the Elysee Palace before television cameras in a US-inspired novelty for a French president.

The overhaul, eagerly awaited by the business community and France's EU partners, was fast-tracked via executive orders as a way of avoiding a prolonged debate in parliament.

The measures chip into worker protections that have long been sacrosanct in France, frustrating reform-minded governments whether on the left or the right.

But Macron insisted Friday that the reform contained "new rights and new protections", such as a provision for higher payouts to workers made redundant.

'Watch out, Macron!'

Three months of negotiations with union leaders produced a split between those willing to compromise -- the CFDT and FO -- and those determined to fight the reforms, led by the largest and most militant union, the CGT.

But the resistance has been weaker than that faced by Macron's Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande over his more limited changes to the labour code, which sparked a wave of sometimes violent protests last year.

On Thursday, some 132,000 people demonstrated across France, just over half the numbers who took part last week in the first major protests to challenge Macron since his election in May.

The CGT has vowed to continue to combat his reforms, while radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon wants to get tens of thousands into the streets on Saturday.

Melenchon, the head of the France Unbowed party, has led opposition to the measures, occupying ground vacated by the traditional left and right parties, which have been eclipsed by Macron's centrist Republic on the Move.

But the reform comes as the former investment banker's approval ratings plunge, with recent polls showing that only around 40 percent of French voters are satisfied with his performance.

Protesters have seized upon his recent criticism of opponents to the labour market changes as "slackers", with slogans such as "Watch out, Macron, the slackers are in the street".

France's 'pharaoh'?

CGT leader Philippe Martinez warned Macron: "When you are president, you should show humility rather than strutting about."

Philippe Braud, professor emeritus at Paris's Sciences Po university, said he believed popularity was not a concern for Macron.

"He knows he won't be defeated in the street," Braud told AFP.

Macron insists that his signature reform offers the best cure to France's stubbornly high unemployment rate, which stands at 9.6 percent, roughly twice the levels in Britain or Germany.

"The reform offers pragmatic solutions for very small companies and small and medium-sized businesses... which create the most jobs today," he said Friday.

Public opinion is divided, according to a recent BVA poll, with most respondents saying they think the reform will boost France's competitiveness but fail to improve employees' working conditions.

Critics say the use of executive orders -- which kept parliamentary debate over the proposals to a minimum -- bolster perceptions of Macron as a monarchical or even "pharaonic" leader.

But Macron insists he has a mandate for change after his presidential win in May and his party's thumping parliamentary victory in June.

"Democracy does not happen in the street," Macron said in New York on Wednesday in another broadside at the protesters.

The reform will enter the statute books on Monday, though a few changes, including a measure to streamline workers' committees, will not take effect until the end of the year.

Dutch prosecutors reach $274m deal with Telia in Uzbek corruption case

DutchNews, September 22, 2017


Three Rotterdam based subsidiaries of Swedish telecom giant Telia have agreed to pay $274m in an out of court settlement for bribing government officials and keeping inaccurate books and records. 

The fine relates to the company’s efforts to gain access to the Uzbek telecom market, during which officials paid bribes to the eldest daughter of the former president of Uzbekistan via its Dutch subsidiaries, the public prosecution department said. The deal covers the period 2007 to 2010. 

Telia has also reached settlements with the US department of justice and the US securities and exchange commission. In total, the company has agreed to pay $965m to settle the charges. 

The Netherlands considers the fine as ‘appropriate’, the Dutch prosecutor said in a statement. ‘It is a punishment that hurts, and it does justice to the significance of the acts committed as well as to the disruption these acts caused to the legal order.  The parallel [US] government action against corruption demonstrates that corruption is tackled internationally.’ 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Serbia's lesbian PM at Pride takes tolerance 'one step at a time'

Yahoo – AFP, Rachel O'BRIEN, September 17, 2017

Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic (2nd right) attends the Gay Pride parade
on September 17, 2017 in Belgrade (AFP Photo/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)

Belgrade (AFP) - Serbia's lesbian prime minister said Sunday that she was working "one step at a time" towards a more tolerant society, as she joined Belgrade's annual gay march held under heavy security.

Ana Brnabic, 41, became one of the few openly gay government leaders in the world when she came to power in June, but activists say homophobia remains a widespread problem in the conservative Balkan country.

Setting off on the Pride parade with hundreds of activists waving rainbow flags and balloons, Brnabic was keen to give a more positive message, saying Serbia was "finally showing what I believe is its true face".

"We do have a very loud minority, an aggressive minority of people who are against this, but most of the people in Serbia, I think, are people who think in terms of 'live and let live'," she told AFP.

She encouraged gay youths to be "full of understanding for people who are very traditional and who do not yet truly understand what this is about".

A child helps to wave a huge rainbow flag during the Gay Pride parade on
September 17, 2017 in Belgrade (AFP Photo/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)

In 2010, Belgrade's Pride parade descended into clashes between anti-gay protesters and police, injuring more than 100 people and prompting a three-year ban on the event.

This is the fourth consecutive year the march has gone ahead under a huge security presence, and the first time a prime minister has attended.

Brnabic, who wore jeans and a dark jacket and posed for selfies with marchers, said the parade was "more relaxed" than in previous years, with a sharp reduction in police numbers.

Around 2,000 armed officers guarded the cordoned-off streets as activists marched through the city, accompanied by a soundtrack of pop music and a police helicopter buzzing overhead.

'Pinkwashing' suspicions

Brnabic was chosen for the top job by her predecessor, Aleksandar Vucic, after he was elected president. She had entered politics less than a year earlier as public administration minister.

Her appointment, endorsed by parliament, made international headlines. But sceptics suspected an attempt at "pinkwashing", with Brnabic used as a puppet by Vucic to improve Serbia's image as it campaigns to join the European Union.

This is the fourth consecutive year the Pride march has gone ahead under a huge security 
presence, and the first time a prime minister has attended (AFP Photo/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)

Critics allege that Vucic -- still the country's most powerful politician -- is a populist authoritarian who styles himself as the only one capable of maintaining Serbian stability.

Brnabic, a technocrat with a business background, has dismissed allegations that she was chosen merely because of her sexual orientation.

"I'm proud to be living in a country with a president who has actually, out of all the people, said 'I do not care whether she's gay or straight, I care whether I think she's capable'," she said at the march.

'A pragmatic person'

In a survey conducted in 2015 by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, only 12 percent of Serbian respondents said they would completely support their child if he or she were homosexual.

Although the country has various legal acts addressing gender identity and anti-gay discrimination, rights activists say that implementation is poor.

They are now campaigning for the adoption of a law on same-sex partnerships, for which they hope to win the premier's support.

Asked whether she would like to see the law pass, Brnabic said: "I can't give you my personal opinion right now because I'm here as the prime minister representing the Serbian government."

People carry signs and rainbow flags during the Gay Pride parade on
September 17, 2017 in Belgrade (AFP Photo/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)

She said she would discuss the issue with ministers and civil society groups to "see what is it that we need to do to enable civil liberties in Serbia".

"I'm a very pragmatic person, for me it's one step at a time, and I think if we go one step at a time, that is how we build a more tolerant society."

The premier's attendance at the march drew a largely positive response from participants who spoke to AFP, though Ivana Mitrovic, a 35-year-old from the northern city of Novi Sad, was sceptical.

"I don't like the government. It's all for show," she said.

Others thought Brnabic's visibility could inspire young gay and transgender people even in traditionally minded villages.

"For me that's a good thing," said Nevena Pupic, 34, a rights activist and financial officer from Belgrade.

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