EU agriculture ministers to discuss farmers’ protests today

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 26th February 2024

EU agriculture ministers meet in Brussels today to discuss the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and new European Commission proposals aimed to change regulations at the heart of the farmers’ discontent. These greviances have led to Europe-wide protests against EU regulations and taxes. More than 3,000 farmers from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium are in Brussels to ask for concrete answers from the Europeam Commission, Coldiretti President Ettore Prandini told Ansa, adding that they propose to simplify the Common Agricultural Policy immediately, increase the ceiling on state aid, authorise a debt moratorium for agricultural companies and remove environmental constraints that reduce food production in Europe and encourage imports from other continents. “This is not the Europe we want; an urgent change of pace is needed. The times of European bureaucracy are not those of businesses. We will continue to monitor Brussels for a long time, because the future of the sector is decided here,” he said.

Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks over what they have identified as the three main issues that need to be addressed: First, the EU should eliminate the surplus of agricultural products from duty-free Ukrainian imports; Second, the EU should adapt environmental regulations and ensure fair compensation for farmers; and Thirdly, they are calling for a simplification of the EU’s CAP to decrease the bureaucracy that farmers are facing.

The EU Commission has already made some concessions, including extending the partial exemption from the conditionality rule for fallow land. In addition, the Commission will withdraw the proposed regulation that would have reduced the risk of pesticide use by 50 per cent by 2030. However, farmers remain unsatisfied with the EU’s measures. If the European Commission does not present a plan that realistically addresses all the problems outlined, the announced border protests and road blockages would be repeated, the Czech Agrarian Chamber said.

The latest protest was Sunday when Polish farmers blocked the A2 motorway near Slubice, in the east on the border with Germany. Last week, representatives of agricultural organisations from Central and Eastern European countries –  the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, and Latvia – met in Poland to agree on the organisation of joint protests against EU agricultural policy. Polish farmers say they are targeting the European Union’s so-called Green Deal on energy, transportation and taxation, which is an element of the 27-nation’s bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They say they have been especially hit by increased taxes and other rules.

The request to the European institutions is to give “immediate answers and certain tools to change the rules that threaten the survival of the sector, between restrictive rules and inadequate regulations that increase the costs borne by companies, depressing national production to the benefit of imports from abroad”.

A demonstration will be held in Brussels this morning, ending near the European Commission and Council premises. Alongside Coldiretti president Prandini, farmers and breeders from all over Italy will gather to demonstrate their opposition to European rules that undermine the agricultural sector. Trade associations from different parts of the European Union will also be present in the square, including Spain (Asaja), Portugal (Cap), and Belgium (Fwa), which will join Coldiretti to transform the protests into concrete proposals. Prandini will also meet some MEPs and Italian Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, to whom the reform proposals developed by Coldiretti will be delivered.

European Left elects Walter Baier as lead candidate for June elections

The European Left has elected virtually-unknown Austrian Walter Baier as their pick to lead the European Commission following the elections in June. Baier, 70, who hails from the Austrian Communist Party, has been the group’s president since December 2022 but had, until then, little experience in European politics. He defended his lack of European credentials at the group’s meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, telling reporters that “frankly speaking, Europe is not just Brussels”. “Europe is 27 nations and hundreds of cities and millions of citizens. The European Left wants to be the voice of these people, whose voices are rarely heard in Brussels,” he said. Despite being the group’s spitzenkandidat, Baier is not on any national list and will therefore not run for an MEP seat. The party’s assembly, which unlike the other groups was held behind closed doors, also served to agree on a manifesto for the European elections scheduled to be held between June 6 and 9. The Left has set five priorities for the upcoming campaign: civil rights, peace and democracy, the cost of living, the climate crisis and public services and social rights.

The lead candidate system allows European parties to choose their leader for the European elections. If the party secures the highest number of seats, the candidate then becomes the top contender for the European Commission president job. The incumbent, Ursula von der Leyen, is currently the one to beat after she announced earlier this week her wish to run for her second term. She is expected to be formally endorsed as the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) candidate at the group’s conference in early March. The EPP is the biggest group in the hemicycle and is projected to remain so after the ballot. The Greens have already picked Terry Reintke and Bas Eickhout as their leaders for the elections while the Social Democrats are expected to anoint Nicolas Schmit, the current European Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights, for the role at their meeting next week. The Left’s chances of winning the leadership of the European Commission are very low.

31,000 Ukrainian soldiers died in Russia’s full-scale invasion

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on anounced Sunday that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion two years ago, giving the first official figure for more than a year. Zelensky told a news conference in Kiev that he could not disclose the number of wounded because it would help Russian military planning. Russia does not disclose military losses, which it regards as secret. Reuters reports Ukrainian army chief Oleksandr Syrskyi and Defence Minister Rustem Umerov visited command posts near the front line to analyse the battlefield and boost defences. Kiev’s military is struggling to stave off Russian forces along the sprawling front line as Moscow’s full-scale invasion passes its two-year mark. Syrskyi added that “the situation is complex and requires constant monitoring”.

Europe breaks free of Russian oil

Western Europe has broken free of direct Russian oil imports for good in a blow to President Putin, research by the European energy consultancy Rystad suggests. Analysts found that the UK and much of Europe have reversed a years-long rise in reliance on Russian oil and gas before the Ukraine conflict, shifting instead to other suppliers such as the US and Canada. Jorge Leon, Rystad’s senior vice president for oil markets, said: “I think people underestimated how flexible the energy system is. Just before the war, just the idea of, we’re going to stop buying oil and gas directly from Russia, would have been crazy. But it has largely happened.” According to Eurostat, in 2020 imports from Russia made up 39 per cent of the gas used in the European Union, 23 per cent of oil imports and 46 per cent of coal imports. On official figures this has now fallen to practically zero. It is thought that quantities of Russian fossil fuel have still been arriving through refineries in other countries, although Leon – who will be speaking at International Energy Week in London this week – said that the overall amounts are still diminishing. Leon said the key to breaking Russian dominance had been a surge in supply from other sources which were also outside Opec, the cartel of mainly Middle Eastern countries to control supply and prices.

Israeli forces will move into Rafah – Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israeli forces would push into the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah regardless of the outcome of talks to pause the fighting that appear to have been making some progress in recent days. “It has to be done,” Netanyahu said. “Because total victory is our goal, and total victory is within reach.” However, he did say that if a cease-fire deal was reached, the move into Rafah would be “delayed somewhat.” During 20 weeks of war, Rafah has served as a last refuge for hundreds of thousands of Gazan families forced from their homes. The push toward Rafah has drawn warnings from Israel’s closest ally, the United States, because of the potential for mass civilian casualties beyond the nearly 30,000 Gazans who have already been reported killed in the war, more than half of whom are women and children.

Meanwhile, ahead of the expected Israeli offensive in Rafah, the Israeli army has presented a plan for the evacuation of the civilian population from the “combat zones” of the Gaza Strip. The crowded town in the southern Palestinian territory has been presented by Netanyahu as the “last bastion” of the Islamist movement Hamas.

Israel to allow humanitarian aid to the north of the Strip

Israel will start sending humanitarian aid to the northern Gaza Strip today, thus accepting pressure from the United States, according to a report by public television Kan. Yesterday Unrwa, the UN agency for refugees, announced that it was last able to deliver food into northern Gaza over a month ago. Unrwa Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini called for food aid to be allowed into the area on a regular basis. “Our calls to send food aid have been denied and have fallen on deaf ears. This is a man-made disaster.” One in six children in northern Gaza is “severely malnourished”, the UN agency highlighted. The World Food Programme, another UN agency, announced on Tuesday that it was also forced to pause deliveries of food in northern Gaza “until the conditions are in place that allow for safe distributions”. According to Kan, aid trucks from Egypt will be inspected at the Niztana and Kerem Shalom crossings with Israel and continue their way into Israeli territory up to the northern sector of the Strip. Local elements, added the broadcaster, will finally distribute them to the population.

Man set himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy in Washington

 A man set himself on fire on Sunday afternoon outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. Officers with the US Secret Service extinguished the fire outside the embassy, in northwestern Washington amd the man was taken to a nearby hospital with life-threatening injuries and remains in critical condition. He appeared to have filmed the protest and livestreamed it on the social media platform Twitch at the time that the police said they responded to the incident.

Lukashenko to seek re-election next year

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994, said on Sunday he intended to seek re-election next year, which could extend his rule to 36 years. He was speaking on the day Belarus held parliamentary elections decried as a sham by the opposition and the West. “Tell them I will run in the (2025) election,” Lukashenko said, according to a social media channel run by his team.

Belarus election chief slams US election criticism

Belarusian Central Election Commission Chairman Igor Karpenko criticised the United States, calling on the country to focus on addressing its own internal issues instead of assuming the role of a global watchdog. This reaction came on Sunday following Washington’s condemnation of Belarus’ parliamentary and local elections. Earlier in the day, Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US State Department, labelled the elections in Belarus as a “sham” and claimed they were taking place in “a climate of fear”.

The CEC chief also announced that the overall voter turnout in the parliamentary and local elections on a single voting day reached 72.98 per cent at the time of polling stations closing. Most candidates belong to the four officially-registered parties which all support Lukashenko’s policies. About a dozen other parties were denied registration last year. Lukashenko’s exiled opponents had urged Belarusians to stay at home and boycott the vote.

Burkina Faso attack during mass leaves 15 dead

Fifteen Catholic community faithful were killed in Essakane, in Burkina Faso, as they were attacked by terrorists while they were celebrating Sunday mass. Twelve died on site and three in the health centre due to their wounds. Two others were injured. This was announced by the bishop of the diocese of Dori, Mgr. Laurent B. Dabire, who prayed for the conversion of those who continue to sow death in his country.

Oppenheimer sweeps top SAG awards

The historical drama ‘Oppenheimer’, which portrays the race to build the first atomic bomb, continued to dominate Hollywood’s award season by winning the top honors at the 30th Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. The Christopher Nolan movie won the top award for outstanding movie cast. Cillian Murphy, the actor who played scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, was named the best movie actor while his co-star Robert Downey Junior won the best supporting actor prize. The wins, in addition to those at the Golden Globes and BAFTA, contribute to the mega-hit movie’s chances at next month’s Oscars. Lily Gladstone, star of the historical drama ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’, won the best acress award while Da’Vine Joy Randolph won supporting actress for playing a grieving mother in ‘The Holdovers’. The SAG awards are considered an indicator of the Academy Awards since actors form the largest group of voters for the Oscars next month.

Ex-Everton player Li Tie sentenced to life in prison

Former Everton player, Li Tie has been sentenced to life in prison for corruption in his home country of China. In a televised confession on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Li said he had paid around £330,000 to manage the national football team. He also revealed he had played a role in a match-fixing scandal to secure promotions with club teams he featured for in China. The 46-year-old managed the China national team between 2019 and 2021. Li made 40 appearances across all competitions for Everton having spent four years at the Premier League club from 2002 to 2006. He had a spell at Sheffield United as player in the past. The former midfielder is now set to spend the rest of his life behind bars, amid a Chinese crackdown on corruption in football.

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