EP adopts law to restore 20% of EU’s land and sea

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 28th February 2024

EU lawmakers on Tuesday gave the final green light to a milestone Bill aimed at protecting nature in the bloc, overriding conservative attempts to torpedo a law that has angered European farmers. The rules, agreed with the Council, are a central part of the EU’s ambitious environmental goals under the ‘Green Deal’ – a set of laws aimed at helping the bloc meet its climate goals – but farmers say they threaten their livelihoods.

The legislation demands the European Union’s 27 member states put in place measures to restore at least 20 per cent of the bloc’s land and seas by 2030. The text passed with the support of 329 lawmakers while 275 voted against. It will enter into force after formal adoption by EU states.

“Today is an important day for Europe, as we move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it,” said Cesar Luena (S&D), the lawmaker who spearheaded the legislation through Parliament. “The new law will also help us fulfil many of our international environmental commitments. The regulation will restore degraded ecosystems while respecting the agricultural sector by giving flexibility to member states,” he added. Liberal and socialist lawmakers as well as green activists hailed the move.

Farmers have a long list of grievances and have taken to the streets across Europe, clogging roads including in Brussels where EU institutions are based. Protests continued on Tuesday in Spain, where farmers in the northeastern Catalonia region gathered near the French border. Thousands of Polish farmers demonstrated against the Green Deal and other gripes in Warsaw. They lament what they say are excessively restrictive environmental rules, competition from cheap imports from outside the European Union and low incomes.

Trump, Biden win Michigan primary

Former President Donald Trump swept to an easy victory over former UN ambassador Nikki Haley in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Michigan – the first step towards claiming the state’s 55 convention delegates. Trump’s victory comes after Haley’s embarrassing loss in her home state of South Carolina. But the former UN ambassador has vowed to continue seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – and competing with Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden also swept to an overwhelming victory Tuesday in the Michigan Democratic primary, easily beating back efforts to protest his Middle East policy by promoting an uncommitted slate of delegates. Leaders and organisers in the state called on voters to choose an “uncommitted” option hoping it would send a message to Biden to support a cease-fire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“Suicide for our country” if  Trump wins – Nikki Haley

Former US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, slammed former President Trump in a Wall Street Journal interview, warning that if he clinches the nomination, the Republicans could lose in November. Haley has repeatedly cited Trump’s general election vulnerabilities as a reason for staying in the race despite having no clear path to win the Republican nomination. “This may be his survival mode to pay his legal fees and get out of some sort of legal peril, but this is like suicide for our country,” she said of the former president, who faces 91 criminal counts across four cases. “We’ve got to realise that if we don’t have someone who can win a general election, all we are doing is caving to the socialist left.” Trump has cruised to victory in every early primary contest, including most recently in Haley’s home state of South Carolina, but she has vowed to stay in the race, arguing that voters deserve a choice. “I’m doing what I believe 70 per cent of Americans want me to do,” she said, referring to polling that shows that a majority of Americans want an alternative to a Trump-Biden rematch in November. Haley, who earlier in her campaign committed to backing her party’s eventual nominee, ducked re-affirming that commitment during the Journal interview. “What I will tell you is that I have serious concerns about Donald Trump,” she said. “I have more serious concerns about Joe Biden.” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement: “Republican voters have delivered resounding wins for President Trump in every single primary contest and this race is over. Our focus is now on Joe Biden and the general election.”

‘No service for Navalny in Russian funeral parlours’

Russian funeral parlours have been ‘prohibited’ from hosting a service for Navalny, the Putin critic’s allies have claimed. Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said his allies had been unable to find a venue in Russia where people could pay their respects to the opposition leader, who many in the West believe was murdered at the request of Putin earlier this month. She wrote on X: “Since yesterday we have been looking for a site where we can say farewell to Alexei. We called round most private and public funeral agencies, commercial sites and funeral halls. Some places say the space is busy, some places refuse upon mention of the name ‘Navalny’. In one place we were directly told that funeral agencies were prohibited from working with us.” Manwhile, according to reports from several opposition newspapers and the NGO Ovd-Info, lawyer Vasily Dubkov, who defended Alexei Navalny and accompanied his mother Lyudmila to the Arctic region to obtain the return of the body, was stopped in Moscow.

Conference on Disarmament not functioning UN chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the Conference on Disarmament was failing in its objectives and called on the countries to accelerate the implementation of all nuclear disarmament commitments. Addressing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva,  Guterres said, “For many years, these bodies played an essential role in drafting the agreements that form the backbone of the global disarmament agenda.” He acknowledged that the victories for peace were “hard-fought and hard-won” but added that these were not “miracles”. They happened because countries recognised that the key to disarmament could be found in cooperation for mutual benefit – not competition for mutual destruction,” he said. The UN Secretary General highlighted that the Conference has not been able to function as intended and is failing in its objectives, leading to the fall of global trust.  He added, “We are calling for a new inter-governmental process, under the General Assembly, to develop reforms to disarmament bodies, including the Conference. We hope this could lead to a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.”

IAEA urges nuclear monitors’ return to Iran

Iran is continuing to enrich and stockpile uranium, some of it to levels close to what would be needed to make nuclear weapons, a confidential report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said. The IAEA report said that Iran had both increased the size of its overall uranium stockpile, and also accelerated production of 60 per cent enriched uranium in the previous quarter. The IAEA said Iran’s total uranium stockpile, enriched to any level, stood at an estimated 5,525.5 kg as of February 10. That is 1,038.7 kg more than what the UN nuclear agency accounted for the last time it released a report in November. It’s also 27 times the limit once agreed with Iran in a 2015 international deal that the US broke under President Donald Trump and which has not been revived since. The country also produced some 25 kg of uranium with a purity of 60 per cent between the end of October and February 25, according to the UN’s nuclear watchdog. However, its stockpile of highly-enriched uranium shrank during the same time period, because some of that highly-enriched material had been mixed with lower grade uranium again and diluted. Typical nuclear bombs would require uranium enriched to 80 per cent or more likely 90 per cent purity although with enough material, more impure uranium can in theory be used. Most nuclear power plant reactors require uranium enriched only to 3.67 per cent.

US sends $53m in aid to Gaza and the West Bank

The United States, through USAID, will provide an additional $53 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza and the West Bank. This was announced by the spokesperson of the US National Security Council, John Kirby, in a press briefing, underlining that “this brings the total amount of funding announced by the US government since October 7 to over $180 million”.

Macron does not rule out Western troops sent to Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron has openly discussed the possibility of sending European troops to Ukraine to help Kiev win the war against Russia, a potential major escalation to the largest ground war Europe has seen since World War II. Though the possibility of Western democracies putting boots on the ground in Ukraine remains remote, Macron’s comments following a summit in support of Ukraine prompted a hawkish response from the Kremlin and sent European leaders scrambling to backtrack. A NATO official told CNN the alliance had “no plans” to deploy combat troops in Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who attended the meeting in Paris, said that while there was a good debate and detailed discussion on the topic, summit participants were “unanimous” in their opinion against deploying troops. Macron had said at a news conference that while he and the other 21 European leaders present did not agree on deploying military personnel, the prospect was discussed openly. “Nothing should be ruled out,” he said. “We will do anything we can to prevent Russia from winning this war.” However, a raft of European officials came out Tuesday against such a plan. Among them were some of Ukraine’s more ardent supporters, including Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as officials from Hungary and Slovakia, two countries whose leaders have been criticised as pro-Russian. Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said the possible future presence of Western troops in Ukraine “would not go beyond the threshold of belligerence”.

The sending of Western troops to Ukraine as proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron “would be the escalation that we have always tried to avoid from the beginning – a scenario that I wouldn’t say is apocalyptic but fearful”, said Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Russia restructures military districts amid warnings of NATO war

President Putin has signed two decrees that officially re-establish the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts, codifying major efforts to restructure and reform the Russian military. According to the Institute for the Study of War, or ISW, the move has two parallel objectives: supports Moscow’s effort to consolidate control over Russian operations in Ukraine and prepare for a potential large-scale conventional war against NATO at some point in the future. The re-separated LMD will now run along NATO’s northeastern border, while the MMD will border northeastern Ukraine and Poland, which will allow Russia to simultaneously posture against NATO and streamline command and control for the war in Ukraine.

Russian court jails war critic Oleg Orlov

A Moscow court has jailed veteran human rights campaigner Oleg Orlov for 30 months’ jail for “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian military and the war in Ukraine. The 70-year-old, who is co-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, has dismissed the case against him as politically motivated. Prosecutors accused Orlov of discrediting the Russian army in a piece for the French online publication Mediapart. They claimed Orlov had displayed a “political hatred of Russia”. In closing remarks to the trial on Monday, Orlov lamented the “strangulation of freedom” in Russia, referring to it as a “dystopia”. Orlov had already been tried and convicted in October, when a court fined him 150,000 rubles (€1,500). However, prosecutors claimed the punishment had been too lenient and successfully appealed for a new trial.

Ukraine: Deep divisions among central European nations

The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia emerged from a meeting in Prague on Tuesday predictably split over the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. The four central European nations, all former communist Soviet satellites but now European Union and NATO members, form an informal political alliance known as the Visegrad Four (V4). But while Poland and the Czech Republic are united in staunch support for Ukraine, the populist leaders of Hungary and Slovakia are more skeptical. “I think I can say there are differences among us,” said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who hosted the meeting in the Czech capital. “I won’t keep it secret, it wouldn’t make sense, that we differ in the views of the cause of the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the ways of solving it.” Newly-elected Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called Putin a “war criminal” and said the sole cause of the war in Ukraine was “Russian aggression”. In the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion in February 2022, Poland quickly opened its borders and has since received more than a million Ukrainian refugees.

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine – Yellen

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday it was urgent for G7 nations to jointly seize profits from frozen Russian assets and redirect them to Ukraine, as the group prepared to meet on the issue. Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine using billions of dollars in bank accounts, investments and other assets frozen by the West over Russia’s 2022 invasion. “It is necessary and urgent for our coalition to find a way to unlock the value of these immobilised assets to support Ukraine’s continued resistance and long-term reconstruction,” Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she will attend a meeting of G20 finance ministers today and tomorrow. “There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward. This would be a decisive response to Russia’s unprecedented threat to global stability. It would make clear that Russia cannot win by prolonging the war and would incentivise it to come to the table to negotiate a just peace with Ukraine.” Yellen urged joint action by the Group of Seven – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, plus the European Union – after evaluating the risks, which include triggering financial instability. G7 officials say the group is due to meet on the sidelines of the Sao Paulo gathering to discuss support for Ukraine.

Transgender senator storms out of chamber after she was called ‘Sir’

A transgender Virginia state senator stormed out of the chamber as she was referred to as ‘sir’ by a rising star lieutenant governor.  Virginia-based Democrat Danica A. Roem, 39, was seen marching out of the chamber moments after being misgendered by Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears, 59. The remark caused the legislature to go into recess twice, with footage since emerging of the exchange between the two. Senator Roem can be heard asking: ‘Madame President how many votes would it take to pass this Bill with the emergency clause?’ The Lieutenant Governor replies: ‘Yes sir, that would be 32’, causing Senator Roem to leave the chamber. According to The Sacramento Bee, Earle-Sears initially refused to apologise for the comment, but later made made an apology to the chamber.

Photo: Arnau / Adobe Stock

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