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EU ministers criticize recent memorandum between #Libya and #Turkey on the #EasternMediterranean


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya

Arriving at today’s (9 December) EU Foreign Affairs Council, Josep Borrell Fontelles, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission was asked about the recent memorandum between Turkey and Libya that would give access to a contested zone across the Mediterranean Sea.

The memorandum of understanding on maritime borders signed between Turkey and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord is thought to have no legal standing and contravenes the provisions of the International Law of the Sea. Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and France, along with the EU and the US State Department. US State Department. The US State Department spokesperson stated: “The announcement of a signed Turkish-GNA delimitation memorandum of understanding has raised tensions in the region and is unhelpful and provocative.”

The agreement was endorsed by the Turkish parliament last week and prompted Greece to expel the Libyan ambassador to Greece. The agreement aggravates tensions that already exist over exploratory drilling in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone and a long-running dispute of Turkey with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece has expelled the Libyan ambassador in response to the deal. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said that he sided with Greece on the respect for international law. The Austrian minister for foreign affairs, Alexander Schallenberg said he was “a little bit astounding how they (Turkey and Libya GNA) split up the Mediterranean between themselves.”

Josep Borrell said that “it’s not a matter of sanctions today,” adding that ministers would study the “memorandum of understanding” agreed upon between Turkey and Libya. The Turkish and Libyan GNA  MoU also includes a deal on expanded security and military cooperation. The agreement is considered to be illegal since it is contrary to the International Law of the Sea and has not been reached with the consideration of the legitimate rights of other states in the region.

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Category: A Frontpage, Economy, EU, EU, European Commission, Politics





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‘The risk of #Brexit happening without a ratified deal still exists’ Phil Hogan 


European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan

Speaking at his first event in Ireland as the European Commissioner for Trade (6 December), Phil Hogan addressed what he described as the ‘seemingly endless’ question of Brexit, as well as other pressing trade issues.  

Hogan is hoping that next week’s UK general election will provide clarity and unblock paralysis. He told Irish business leaders that ‘we are not out of the woods yet’ and that the risk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit still exist. He advised the audience of Irish businesses to continue with their work on preparedness given the lack of certainty. The Commissioner appeared to unwittingly acknowledge that a new government, of any hue, will not deliver clarity on what the UK’s situation will be at the end of 2021. 

EU still in the dark about what the UK wants 

Hogan accused the British media of quoting him out of context when he said that he thought that a deal was achievable before the end of 2020. He said the truth was that there was no accurate way to predict how long it would take to negotiate a deal with the UK as there was no precedent. He said that the UK needs to focus on content, the ‘nuts and bolts’ not timing. 

Hogan said he was still in the dark about what type of Free Trade Agreement the UK ultimately want. He said that the UK must outline preferences, define its offensive and defensive interests for each stage of the negotiations, consider the necessary trade-offs and compromises. He urged UK negotiators to involve also stakeholders in defining each stage of negotiations and to have a frank discussion about pros and cons. He said that there was little point negotiating a deal without knowing whether it will gain domestic approval. 

Hogan said the new agreement will secure that there was no hard border on the island of Ireland, but did not address the checks and controls that would apply across the Irish Sea. Today, the Labour Party revealed the contacts of a report on future arrangements written by Her Majesty’s Treasury. Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit Keir Starmer accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of lying about his deal when he has made repeated claims that it would mean no customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.  

Hogan told his audience that he warmly welcomed the deal’s commitment to maintaining EU state aid and VAT rules in Northern Ireland, enforceable in the European Court of Justice.  

Making a point that has been made by the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, he made it clear that given the EU’s geographical proximity and economic interdependence the EU would expect solid guarantees in relation to state aid, labour, environmental protection and tax arrangements. He said that the EU has made it abundantly clear that an ‘ambitious’ deal will be contingent on these guarantees.  

It is the UK’s desire to diverge from these EU level-playing-field standards that will be highly problematic. During the campaign Johnson has promised that he will introduce new state aid rules, that will allow the government to intervene more in the economy.  

Hogan lamented that many in the UK had not yet ‘woken up’ to the fact that anything other than EU membership would be greatly inferior to the status quo. 

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#BOLDT sponsors stunning exhibition of De Bock photography



©
Jimmy De Bock
The way we see the world is often best captured by a photograph. Iconic images of mankind’s plight and triumphs have over and over again been seared into our collective memory,
writes Martin Banks.  

In this spirit, on Tuesday, 3 December, BOLDT – in co-operation with Fondation Franz Weber – sponsored a photo exhibition of Belgian photographer and BOLDT’s Creative Director Jimmy De Bock’s latest work.

It is a series of haunting images of elephants, lions, giraffes, cheetahs and other threatened species that could become extinct in the wild within a decade if poaching continues at current levels.   

De Bock, along with Vera Weber, Fondation Franz Weber CEO, Catherine Bearder MEP and Jeremy Galbraith, BOLDT Managing Partner, collectively called on Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, to incorporate a ban on all trade in ivory and ivory products to, from and within the EU as part of the European Green Deal.

Vera Weber, CEO, Fondation Franz Weber, said: “Since 1975 – basically my entire life – we at FFW have been campaigning to protect and preserve all wildlife and particularly elephants, which continue to be killed in huge numbers for their ivory every year. The EU and Japan – who would believe it – are the largest ivory markets in the world. If they followed the example of France, the UK, Luxembourg, China and the US, which have all closed their markets – with Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Singapore soon to follow suit – I believe we could end the trafficking of ivory and save elephants from extinction in the wild.”

UK MEP Catherine Bearder said: “This endangered species photo exhibition is timely. The EU Action Plan, which includes Wildlife Trafficking, runs only until 2020. It is little known that the world’s fourth largest organised crime is wildlife trafficking. The European Union must revisit this monumental issue. A new Action Plan, under the Commission President’s guidance, must sit squarely as part of the European Green Deal, due in December. 

“Europeans have a vital role to play in protecting global biodiversity – and yet too often we are the marketplace that drives the destruction. A new Action Plan is urgent and should do more to protect threatened and endangered species, so they have a fighting chance of survival in the wild.”

Jimmy De Bock, Photographer & Creative Director, BOLDT, added: “Taking pictures of wild animals is an intense experience. I get to spend hours watching the details of their behavior and interactions. It is incredibly powerful to witness but I think it is the rawness of these animals that fascinates me the most.  I believe African animals, and Africa as a whole, are part of who we are, part of our soul.”

Jeremy Galbraith, Managing Partner, BOLDT, commented: “My passion for elephants began over 30 years ago when I cared for two baby elephants. Unfortunately, they were in captivity but it sparked what has become an incredible passion for elephants. It is quite staggering that these majestic animals are now endangered. Today, an image is so much more powerful than words. Jimmy’s photographs are a reminder of what is at stake. Ending the trade of ivory is an achievable goal but the EU needs to step up its game – because it is simple: all legal ivory markets fuel poaching and trafficking of ivory.” 

Fondation Franz Weber was founded in 1975 by Franz Weber. Ever since, the organization has passionately carried out a diverse range of campaigns around the world to protect animals and nature. Until the end of 2020, 10% of the proceeds of all sales of Africa. Endangered. prints will be donated to the Fondation.

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#Huawei ‘is a trusted ally of Europe’


In response to the opinion piece by US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo published today (2 December) in Politico Europe Huawei issues the following statement:

“Huawei categorically rejects the defamatory and false allegations spread by the government of the United States. These are malicious and well-worn accusations. All they do is to undermine the reputation of the United States. Furthermore, they are an insult to Europe’s sovereignty and to the technical expertise of telecom operators.”

We wish to make it absolutely clear:
Huawei is a 100% privately-owned company. We are not controlled by any arm of the Chinese state.

Huawei does not receive favorable subsidies from any government. Certainly Huawei is not particularly favored by the Chinese government. And certainly there is no “massive state support”.

Huawei is not and has never been involved in espionage of any kind.

We have an extraordinary reputation: Huawei leads on Cybersecurity and has a clean track record without one single major data breach incident in the last 30 years. As Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has underlined: rather than hand over customer data to a government, we would shut down the company.

Huawei welcomes and encourages the EU’s facts-based approach towards the security of 5G networks. Indeed, this is the model that both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have endorsed as the gold standard for 5G verification.

Huawei is Europe’s natural partner for deploying 5G together and for supporting Europe in attaining its digital sovereignty.

Huawei’s 5G solution is safe and innovative. It is a key contributor towards mitigating the effects of climate change and connecting the world. And it is a central element to safeguard Europe’s values and the European way of life for future generations.

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Political will was not enough for justice reform in #Moldova


The lack of political will to carry out rule of law reforms is frequently the reason why reforms are not fully implemented. The case of Moldova proves that in societies where strong vested interests still persist, political savviness is equally as important as political will.

Old and new political power brokers in Moldova struck a fragile pact in June to oust Vladimir Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc had built a network of corruption and patronage with the help of the Democratic Party, which he treated as a personal vehicle and which allowed him and a small economic elite circle to enrich themselves off of government institutions and state-owned enterprises, to the detriment of Moldovan citizens and the health of their political process.

Maia Sandu, co-leader of the pro-reform ACUM electoral bloc, then formed a technocratic government with a remit to implement Moldova’s lagging reform agenda. Though made up of ministers with the integrity and political will to implement difficult transformational reforms, its biggest weakness was its coalition partner – the pro-Russian Socialists’ Party and its informal leader, Igor Dodon, the president of Moldova.

Now the Socialists – threatened by how key reforms to the justice system would impact their interests – have joined forces with Plahotniuc’s former allies, the Democratic Party, to oust ACUM, exploiting the party’s lack of political savviness.

Reform interrupted

It was always clear the coalition would be short-lived. President Dodon and the co-ruling Socialists joined to buy themselves time, with the hope that they could restrict the most far-reaching reforms and tie the hands of ACUM ministers. In less than five months, however, the Sandu government initiated key reforms in the judicial system, aimed at dismantling Plahotniuc’s networks of patronage but also impacting the Socialists, who to a large degree also profited from the previous status quo.

The red line came over a last-minute change in the selection process of the prosecutor general proposed by Sandu on 6 November, which the Socialists claimed was unconstitutional and gave them the justification to put forward a motion of no confidence in the Sandu government. This was conveniently supported by the Democratic Party, who appeared threatened by an independent prosecutor’s office and saw an opportunity to return to power.

Thus, the political will to reform proved insufficient in the absence of a clear strategy on how to address the concerns of the old regime that they would be prosecuted and their vested interests threatened. Here, ACUM’s lack of political experience let them down. With their hands tied from the beginning in a fragile coalition with the Socialists, ACUM were unable to prevent sabotage from within state institutions and their own coalition, and could not find consensus to proceed with more radical methods to tackle corruption.

Less than two days after the Sandu government was out, a new government was sworn in on 14 November. Prime Minister Ion Chicu was an adviser to President Dodon before taking office and former minister of finance under the Plahotniuc-backed government of Pavel Filip, as part of a cabinet of ministers consisting largely of other presidential advisers and former high-level bureaucrats and ministers from the Plahotniuc era.

The new government

A top priority for the Chicu government is to convince the international community that it is independent from President Dodon, and that its ‘technocrats’ will keep the course of reforms of the Sandu government. This is critical to preserving the financial assistance of Western partners, which the Moldovan government heavily relies on, particularly with a presidential election campaign next year, when they will likely want to create fiscal space for various giveaways to voters.

But within its first week in office, Chicu appears incapable of walking this line. Reverting to the initially proposed pre-selection process of prosecutor general signals that the post could be filled by a loyal appointee of President Dodon. Moreover, Chicu’s first visit abroad was to Russia, allegedly a major financial contributor of the Socialists’ Party. With the Socialists now holding the presidency, government, Chisinau mayoralty, and the parliament speaker’s seat, the danger of an increased Russian influence on key political decisions is very real.

A government steered by President Dodon risks bringing Moldova back to where it was before June, with a political elite mimicking reforms while misusing power for private gains. The biggest danger is that instead of continuing the reform process to bring Moldova back on its European integration path, the new government may focus on strengthening the old patronage system, this time with President Dodon at the top of the pyramid.

Lessons

This new minority government, supported by the Democrats, is a more natural one for President Dodon and therefore has more chances to survive, at least until presidential elections in autumn of 2020. Both the Socialists and the Democrats will likely seek to use this time to rebuild their own methods of capturing state resources. But with the Socialists relying on the Democrats’ votes in parliament, this is a recipe for further political instability.

Similar to Moldova, several other states across the post-Soviet space such as Ukraine and Armenia have had new political forces come to power with the political will and mandate to carry out difficult reforms to strengthen rule of law and fight systemic corruption in their countries. What they all have in common is the lack of political experience of how to create change, while old elites, used to thinking on their feet to defend their vested interests, retain their connections and economic and political influence.

Moldova is a good example of why political will needs to be backed up by clear strategy on how to deal with threatened vested interests in order for new political forces to be able to maintain themselves in power and reforms to be sustainable. When the chance comes again for fresh leaders to come to power, it is importantthey are politically prepared to use it swiftly and wisely.





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David Casa MEP calls for European Council intervention to defend #RuleOfLaw in #Malta


In a letter sent today (25 November), Casa stated: “Malta has been gripped by crisis from the moment the late Daphne Caruana Galizia reported on the Panama Papers. It was a scandal that exposed corporate structures reeking of money laundering and connected to secretive deals with Azerbaijan. Those involved were Prime Minister Muscat’s closest political allies.

“Keith Schembri is still his chief of staff, and Konrad Mizzi, is still a cabinet minister. He held portfolios from Health to Energy and now Tourism.

“Joseph Muscat defended them through the Panama Papers, through revelation after revelation, as the web of corruption continued to be exposed. Daphne Caruana Galizia was considered to be Joseph Muscat’s most vociferous critic, but when she was assassinated by a car bomb on the 16th October 2017, not a shred of political responsibility was shouldered.

“The situation today is degenerating into unprecedented desperation.

“The arrest of Yorgen Fenech was supposed to bring us closer to justice, but Muscat’s interference poses a nauseating predicament that is rapidly further eroding trust in the institutions of the State. Yorgen Fenech, the chief murder suspect and owner of a Dubai company linked to Schembri and Mizzi’s Panamanian companies, was arrested trying to flee Malta on his luxury yacht.

“Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are implicated in serious crimes. With each passing day it is becoming all the more clear that Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered so as to prevent her from exposing these very same crimes.

“Joseph Muscat’s incessant protection of Schembri and Mizzi to this day has inevitably rendered him complicit in their actions.

“To add insult to injury, members of Muscat’s cabinet are being questioned by the police in relation to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Instead of resigning, Muscat has increased his role in this investigation.

“While the police commissioner is refusing to comment, the prime minister is informing the public on the progress of a murder investigation that could implicate members of his cabinet and connects the chief murder suspect to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.

“Joseph Muscat also has the power to recommend presidential pardons. He has already given assurances that he will recommend such a pardon to the middleman involved in setting up the assassination. Now Yorgen Fenech has also asked for a pardon. How can the prime minister decide on such matters when his political fate is intrinsically tied to those that Yorgen Fenech could expose? Given his glaringly obvious interest in the case, it is nothing short of obvious that Muscat should step aside and allow the investigation to carry on independently of undue pressure.

“The prime minister wields domineering influence on supposedly independent institutions giving him effective control. The fact that he has attached himself so forcefully to the murder investigation is seriously undermining Malta’s democratic credentials.

“Prime Minister Joseph Muscat alone is responsible for the constitutional crisis in which Malta is trapped. His resignation is imperative. The Prime Minister no longer holds the moral or political authority to represent our nation as a European country with democratic credentials.

“I am therefore calling upon you, as President of the European Council, to intervene to help safeguard Malta’s democracy and to ensure the respect of the values listed in Article 2 of the Treaty in Malta and in particular, justice and the rule of law.”





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#Huawei says latest US ban based on ‘innuendo’


Huawei logo

US telecommunications regulators have declared Huawei and ZTE national security threats in the latest action by the US government against the Chinese tech giants, writes the BBC.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also proposed forcing US customers to replace equipment previously purchased from the firms.

Huawei called the decision “profoundly mistaken”.

It said it was based on “innuendo, and mistaken assumptions”.

Huawei had made inroads in the US market, winning customers among rural telecommunications operators with relatively inexpensive network equipment.

But US officials have increasingly raised concerns about ties between Chinese tech firms and their government in Beijing.

In declaring Huawei and ZTE threats , the FCC on Friday cited the companies’ “close ties to the Chinese government and military apparatus” and “Chinese laws requiring them to assist with espionage”.

The agency ordered that money from an $8.5 billion aid programme to improve mobile and internet coverage in poor and underserved areas could not be used to buy equipment from firms deemed national security threats.

‘Cautiously optimistic’

Lobby group Rural Wireless Association said it was “cautiously optimistic” that members with Huawei or ZTE equipment will be able to comply with the order without disrupting service.

The FCC has estimated that replacing the equipment would cost about $2bn.

Huawei criticized the FCC’s actions, saying they would have “profound negative effects on connectivity for Americans in rural and underserved areas across the United States.”

It added that the FCC had presented “no evidence that Huawei poses a security risk. Instead, the FCC simply assumes, based on a mistaken view of Chinese law, that Huawei might come under Chinese government control.”

The US has alleged that Huawei’s equipment could be abused for spying and urged other countries to bar Huawei from 5G networks,

The White House placed Huawei on a trade blacklist in May citing national security fears. The move barred US firms from doing business without special approval

The Commerce Department had offered waivers, including for telecommunications firms in rural areas that relied on Huawei’s equipment to continue to receive service.





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